4 min read

You Big Stupid

Extremely nice pajamas, a too-handsome man, an unwanted reunion, brief fisticuffs.

Previously: Batya is a hired goon. She gets ambushed in a hotel kitchen by a bunch of other hired goons and knocked out. Is she dead? Is this story a lot shorter than I thought??

— 02 —

Batya wakes up, no idea where, no idea when, but this sort of thing happens all the time. She stuffs the panic back down in her gut and gets her bearings. What do we know and not know.

She’s in a twin bed under a hideous grandma quilt. Sits up and her ribs creak—oh right, the cannonball. Hurts to breathe. She peeks under the covers and is relieved to find herself clothed, in unfamiliar but very luxurious pajamas. These pajamas, reader, good heavens.

The room is cramped, dimly lit. There’s a quiet but constant hum. The walls are curved and steel, and the only exit seems to be an oblong door. There’s an old rolltop desk and deep blue damask curtains which don’t jibe with the stained utility sink and industrial shelves filled with plastic bins.

Bat slips soundlessly out of the bed and checks the blind spots. Hanging on the door are her work clothes: a basic charcoal suit with a number of hidden pockets, tailored loose to give her plenty of room to jab, kick, chop, etc. Arranged on the desk, with disturbing precision, are the contents of those pockets: her rings, some aspirin, a tampon, a stiletto, a sewing kit, two shuriken.

She tiptoes over to the curtains and slides them open. At first she thinks she’s looking at some kind of botanical garden, with thin green fronds waving gently in the breeze. But then she sees a silver school of anchovies swimming by. And a throbbing jellyfish. A column of bubbles floating upward. A sea star stuck to the window.

She’s mad at herself. How did she not know she was underwater? You moron. You amateur. Should’ve felt the difference in pressure, right? She peers up, figures she’s a few hundred feet below the surface. She’s trying to decide if breaking the glass is a great or terrible idea when the door behind her squeals open. She turns and roars, already in a defensive stance.

A too-handsome man yelps and recoils, raising his hands to protect his too-handsome face. Bat runs through a quick list of lines but goes with the usual: “How bad you want this to go?”

The man lowers his hands, places one against his impressive chest. “No need for bad, Miss Batya.” British accent. “I beg you.”

Bat looks him over. Seems soft. Probably not a threat? She takes it down a couple notches. “You know my name, friend, so what do I call you?”

“Anthony. I’m the—”

“Anthony,” she says, all neighborly, making her body look relaxed even though it’s not at all relaxed. “I was coldcocked and brought here against my will, wherever here is, and while I was out, somebody stripped off my clothes and put me in these nice pajamas I’m gonna keep.” Just two pals jawing. “Was it you, Anthony?”

“I was asked to attend to your comfort, however—”

“Did you see my this? Anthony? And these?”

“Rest assured, miss, I take no interest in those or that.”

It’s less like she’s moving toward him and more like the room is slowly withdrawing behind her. “My these and that in particular or…”

“Just, in general, just, not my preference.”

“How about my tattoo, Tony? You see that? Not a lot of people have.”

He goes to adjust a cufflink but seems to find it perfectly adjusted. “Indeed.”

“Did it give you feelings?”

“Is…revulsion a feeling?”

“Sure, Tone,” Bat says, now within reach. “One of my favorites.”

“If you could give me a moment to explain before doing anything untoward…”

“Untoward?” she asks, confused, and then she’s on him, and he’s down on the carpet, his beautiful jawline pinned under her knee. The pajamas stretch and flex like a dream. “You mean like this?”

“Batya!” a voice snaps from out in the hallway.

Bat instantly forgets what she’s doing. That voice hits her right in her aching rib cage. She feels something she can’t quite put a name to, a nauseating mix of rage and shame and relief.

A sleek, lean woman forces herself into the room. “Good god,” she says. “Can you go like one minute without kneeing somebody in the face? Get off him.”

Bat finds herself getting back up, almost as if her body is no longer under her control. And this instinctive deference makes her even angrier.

The woman helps Too Handsome Anthony to his feet, gives his biceps a concerned squeeze. “I apologize for Batya’s…” She casts about for the right phrase. “Whole deal.”

He coughs, gives them both a tight smile. “Don’t give it a second thought, Miss Wilhelmina. It was an invigorating encounter. I shall take my leave.” He makes a beeline for the door, shuts it behind him with a clang.

The woman comes in for a hug. “You big stupid!” she says. “I’m so happy to see you!”

This is Mina Hull, Batya’s big sister. Bat punches her in the ear.

This has been Chapter 2 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.

Next up: No Serious Damage