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Zakariah Johnson
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willistonbylee.jpg
Art by Lee Kuruganti 2014

Williston

By

Zakariah Johnson

 

 

Deputy Kent Egeland aimed his sheriff’s cruiser down the black barrel of North Dakota Highway 22 at eighty miles an hour. His knuckles were turning white as he clenched the wheel and listened to Ricky’s ongoing rant. The weather didn’t care it was March; snowflakes had started falling thick and fast just minutes earlier, vanishing into the road to build up hidden slicks of ice. The wind was picking up, too, but Ricky could always shout louder than the wind.

“You owe me, man!” Ricky said.

“Yeah,” Kent said. “I know. And I’ve paid.”

“Not enough.” Ricky said. “You—”

A sudden gust of wind shoved the car over the dividing line, and Ricky shut up as Kent adjusted. Out the driver-side window, Kent peered through the growing flurries over the endless landscape of yellow and brown grass dappled with patches of snow. It was nearly the same scenery he’d seen in Afghanistan this time of year, except for the miles of barbed wire and the abandoned farmhouses bleached gray by the sun and wind.

“You’d never see a wooden house in Kandahar, would you?” Kent said.

“Shirley’s calling.” In tuning out Ricky’s yelling, Kent hadn’t heard the dispatcher’s call. He snatched for the mike to respond.

“Hold on,” said Ricky. “It’s a 10-33; just standby.”

A “10-33” was the call for “attention all units.” A moment later, the hard consonants and penetrating twang of the sheriff department’s female dispatcher cut through the cab.

“Listen up, boys,” Shirley said. “We just lost a 911 call. It came in on a outta state cell phone number, and it got cut off before we could fix its twenty. This is urgent. Assault in progress on a female at an unknown location. I’m gonna play back the recording now. It’s short, so listen.”

Her voice came over the radio again, but Kent realized this was the recording:

 

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Help me!” a woman shrieked. “He’s gonna kill me! He’s got a knife and he’s…oh God, he’s kicking in the door! He’s—NO!” Her voice morphed into a wordless scream. A man’s voice could be heard shouting stray words and phrases in the background, “…kill you…open this door…”

“What is your location? Where are you?” Shirley said.

“I’m at Calistin! Calistin! Hurry!”

“What’s the number? Are you in an apartment? Are you—” The sound of splintering wood came over the radio, followed by another high-pitched scream, followed by silence.

 

“That’s all we got, boys,” Shirley said once the recording ended. “Where is she? Over.”

Only static answered her. She waited five beats.

“Who knows where Calistin is? Who knows what Calistin is? Over.”

Again there was no answer.

“Hey,” Ricky said to Kent. “What about Celistina?”

“Assault in progress, gentlemen. Where is she?” Shirley said.

“That has to be it!” hissed Ricky. “Answer the call!”

“Egeland here,” Kent said into the mike he found himself holding. “Could she mean Celistina? Over.”

“Celistina; what’s that? Over,” Shirley answered.

“The new Fierzman Energy man-camp,” said Kent. “It’s out on 22 past mile marker…15 or so,” he said. Man-camp was the local term for any new or temporary housing for the thousands of oil workers—almost all young, male, and single—who’d arrived and tripled the county’s population in the previous eighteen months. The modern-day gold rush of the oil-fracking boom was feeding growth that turned locals into strangers in their home towns overnight, and the boom was feeding a growth in crime to go with it.

“It’s all we got. Get over there, Kent. Over,” Shirley said.

“On it. At least ten minutes out. Over,” Kent replied. He flipped on his blues-and-reds and pulled a sudden U-turn, nearly getting hit by a Chevy diesel with a snow plow on the front as he swung into the lane heading away from the county seat of Williston and against the flow of end-of-shift traffic heading toward the Friday bar scene.

“Miller, can you give back up? Over.” Shirley said.

“On my way,” Deputy Miller responded over the radio. “Make it twenty minutes. Hang tight till I get there. Over.”

“You knew right away it was Celistina,” Ricky said quietly in the cab.

“No, I didn’t. We still don’t know it,” said Kent. “That call could have come in from Montana for all we know.”

“Sure, boss.”

Kent knew any woman under attack in a man-camp was probably a prostitute, most likely serving a crowd. With temperatures regularly hitting twenty below zero, the county’s oil boom-towns didn’t have streetwalkers. Instead, numerous Internet “hostesses” supplied house-call services wherever requested. The risk was that when things went bad for a young women working alone in a rural area, a ten-minute wait for the help might as well be ten days for all the good it did her.

“Go faster,” Ricky said. The car was already weaving like a snake through oncoming traffic and around vehicles pulled to the side on the shoulderless road.

“Crashing the car won’t save her,” said Kent.

“Will cowardice?”

Kent nudged the accelerator, if only to keep Ricky quiet. Despite the constant stream of bar fights, prostitution busts, and meth seizures, as a deputy Kent had found more serenity in driving the county roads than he’d ever known collaring gang bangers and heroin addicts back in the Twin Cities. After more years with the National Guard in Afghanistan than he’d felt he rightly owed, there wasn’t anything to go back to in Minneapolis anyway, so he’d jumped at escape by taking a job he’d hoped was in the middle of nowhere. It turned out Williston wasn’t nowhere, but sometimes you could see it from there. He’d even felt himself healing until his former comrade-in-arms had turned up. Ricky’s egging him on to overreact had already earned Kent two reprimands. And he knew he’d take Ricky’s bait every time, despite knowing Ricky’s ultimate goal wasn’t help; it was revenge.

“You’ll be glad I’m with you today,” Ricky said.

“I always am.”

It was about a half-hour before sunset and the snow was thickening into a blizzard as Kent made out the three-by-two-foot sign for the Fierzman Energy “Celistina” trailer park coming into view. Even with new paint, the dozens of pale-white trailers looked grimy against the swirling snow.

“Approaching Celistina,” Kent relayed to Shirley. “It’s a trailer park, looks like about forty units. No office visible. Over.”

“I got the Fierzman HR director on the phone,” Shirley replied. “She’s heading over but said it’s all men there as far as she knows. No women assigned. She gives you permission to search any unit you want—it’s in their housing contracts. Over.”

“Driving in now. Over.”

Kent turned into the gravel drive and stopped, but left the lights and sirens still going. There was a single set of tire tracks in the new snow, telling him he’d beat the day-shifters home. The trailers were arranged in tight groups of fours and sixes spread over more than an acre. A gravel roadway wide enough for two cars wound through the clusters. None of the units showed any lights, but Kent knew that meant little since men who slept days put up curtains to block out the sun.

To Kent’s left, the door of the trailer nearest to the patrol car opened, and a man in sweatpants, a bathrobe, and flip-flops gingerly stepped down the metal steps into the snow. Kent cut the sirens and lowered his window so they could talk.

“What’s going on?” the man asked.

“911 call from a woman. Heard any screaming?”

“Nah. I haven’t heard a thing. I got the TV turned up. No women here anyhow.”

“Is there any other road out of here?”

“No. Just the one.”

“Step back then.”

Kent put the cruiser in reverse and drove it to block the entrance to the camp. The entranceway passed over a four-foot diameter culvert pipe covered with gravel that let cars pass into the court. A steep-sided drainage ditch of the same depth ran in both directions paralleling the highway. With his car in the way, nothing could drive in or out.

“You should have kept him in sight at all times,” said Ricky.

Kent parked. He switched off the siren, but left the emergency lights going and got out of the car.

“What’s the setup here?” he asked the man in the bathrobe. “Does each group of trailers keep the same schedule? Day shift, night shift; know what I mean?”

“It’s all day-shift here. The whole shebang.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I got the flu. Last time I skip my shot, I tell you.”

Kent heard the man’s breathing; it was raspy but relaxed, even talking to a cop, and he smelt of cough syrup. The pocket of his bathrobe was overflowing with used tissues and his nose looked like a frozen chunk of ground beef.

“Go back inside,” Kent told the man. “If another officer comes, tell him to follow my footprints.” The man started to protest until Kent raised his palm, “Just do it.”

The man nodded submissively and then bounded back through the snow to his trailer. The wind slammed the door shut hard behind him.

Ricky started to speak, but Kent cut him off, “There’s nobody else in there.”

Kent turned and walked between the rows of silent, unlit trailers. The snow-covered road passed through the first cluster of four trailers on the left and four more on the right, all set perpendicular to the road. Other than the single set of tire tracks down the middle of the road, there were no signs the snow had been disturbed. He decided against checking any of those. The units were packed close enough the boarders would hear each other snoring, let alone screaming. Most of the oil workers were decent people, not to mention young; and young guys like to be heroes—if there’d been any screaming and anybody were home, he’d already be arresting a bloodied john instead of looking for a missing woman.

After the fourth mobile home, the road turned left. The wind gusted and flurries stung his eyes as Kent walked around the fourth trailer’s corner. Advancing in the snow-packed wind, he made out clusters of six trailers each on both the left and right. Unlike the other batches, these twelve were set longways to the road and had semi-permanent wooden porches with railings tacked on to their fronts. The tire tracks he was following ended at a four-wheel-drive pickup truck parked in front of the second trailer on the right. As Kent passed it, he could hear the tick of the engine cooling and saw the tracks in the snow had barely filled. Whoever lived there couldn’t have entered the court much earlier than he had, certainly not before the call was made. Kent kept walking. He was halfway down the row when he heard a door open behind him and turned to his right.

Through the snow, he made out a man wearing brown denim coveralls and carrying a rifle coming onto the porch. The man was eating a sandwich with one hand and struggling against the wind to close the door with his hand holding the gun. The man didn’t look up and moved in a methodical, unhurried way. The wind shifted and Kent caught the scent of crude oil mixed with cigarettes. The smell alone told him the man had just gotten off a shift; roughnecks would hit the showers the minute they got home.

“At least unstrap your gun,” hissed Ricky.

“Shhsst! Listen!” Kent’s left fist instinctively snapped up, making the infantry “freeze” signal. He cocked his ear toward the fourth trailer in the right row: two empty beer bottles covered in snow sat on the railing. A snow-shovel beside the door was also covered. He jerked his attention to the third trailer on the left. He struggled to hear the sound again, but could only hear the wind. His eyes told him more.

“That’s it!” Ricky rasped in his ear. “You see it? The third one. She could be dying in there!”

Kent looked long enough to confirm that what he saw was real, then turned and jogged up to the man, still obliviously fiddling with the rifle on his porch.

Kent spoke in a hoarse whisper, “Hey…is that thing loaded?”

The man started in surprise as Kent appeared suddenly through the snow. “Oh…no, officer,” he said. “No, I’m just heading to the dump to—”

“Shoot coyotes,” Kent said. The man nodded. “Load the gun. Now.”

The oil worker laid the remaining bites of his white-bread-and-baloney sandwich on the snowy porch railing and started thumbing .243 caliber bullets out of the pocket on his left sleeve. He swallowed and asked, “What’s going on?” His voice was tense but his hands were steady.

“Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. When did you get in?” Kent asked.

“Hurry up,” Ricky muttered.

“A couple minutes ago,” the man answered Kent. “I left a little early to hunt. My super said it was okay so—”

“How about the rest of these trailers? They work the same shift as you?”

“Yeah. All of ’em. Both sides.”

“Then listen,” Kent said, pointing across the narrow road. “If anybody comes out of that trailer, you order them to halt. Keep your finger off the trigger and don’t fire first. Got it?” The hunter squinted through the snow toward the trailer and nodded.

“Let’s do this!” Ricky said.

“Cover me!” Kent said over his shoulder as he began running across the snow toward the darkened trailer lying third in the opposite row. Without slowing his run, he looked again at where someone’s hand had wiped away a few inches of new snow from the railing. Closing in, the tracks from at least two sets of man-sized work boots in the snow on the porch also became clear. There were no tire tracks around the trailer, but at least two people had come out on that porch in the half hour since the snowstorm had begun.

Even in the seconds it took him to cross the narrow lane, he knew his justification was thin. Such flimsy suspicions would never support a warrantless entry in Minneapolis, or even in the Williston that had existed two years ago, now only in memory. It was company-owned housing and he had permission, but a no-knock entry still reeked of civil rights violations, inadmissible evidence, and a probable firing. Kent heard all that in his mind, but he heard Ricky yelling louder: “Go, go, go!”

Gun drawn, Kent burst through the door, his silhouette backlit by an aura of light and blowing snow. The two men on the couch jerked up their heads as he suddenly burst in, splinters pelting them as the door twisted and hung crooked by its top hinge. One was shirtless, the other naked. The ammonia smell of burning meth filled the room.

“Nobody move!” Kent shouted.

Eyes adjusting, Kent saw the third man, on the floor between the other two, lying face down, clothed except for his buttocks. On either side of his blue-jeaned legs other legs—bare, shaved, and female—lay feet up. Kent held his gun out to cover both men on the couch as he lunged forward on his left leg, grabbed the man on the floor by his hair, and yanked up.

“You, get off the woman, now!”

Kent stood up again, pulling so hard on the man’s hair that he lifted him off the ground, bending his neck backward. The man rocked back on his knees and started to turn, but Kent cracked him hard over the head with the barrel of his pistol and the man went down hard. Then the men on the couch ran in different directions —the shirtless one toward the master bedroom and the naked one toward the bathroom at the opposite end. As they ran, Kent cast a quick glance down at the woman, naked and unconscious. Her face was bloodied and flattened, her neck cut and scratched by the electrical cord now wrapped loosely around it. “Celistina” had been the right place after all.

“Go left!” shouted Ricky. “Get the one in the bathroom!”

Kent knew more than he’d ever wanted to know about trailer interiors after six months of responding to domestic incidents, wrestling with drunks or crazed tweakers in their narrow corridors and tiny bathrooms. He knew the bedroom had a window large enough to climb out of, and perhaps a coat the man could grab before jumping out into the snow and escaping. The bathroom window was too small for escape—the other man would have only have gone there for a weapon.

Kent heard the wavering voice of the roughneck from the road, “Hold it right there!” Outside, a pistol fired once, followed by a rifle firing twice. Continuing forward into the dimly lit mobile home, Kent turned left and moved down the hall toward the bathroom, holding his gun out in front of him in a two-armed stance. The first door on the left, the bathroom door, lay in splinters on the floor. As Kent advanced, the naked man stepped out through the open doorway. The man’s left hand and most of his body had moved into the hall before Kent saw the pistol in his right hand. The hand was rising. Kent kept his eye on his pistol’s front sight as he fired three times into the man’s chest from six feet away.

Moments later, a half-deafened Kent paused to watch as the gun-smoke wafted over the dead man’s body like a departing soul before being sucked away through the bullet holes in the wall by the cleansing prairie wind.

Then he heard Ricky yelling, “There’s still one outside!”

Kent ran back through the living room. The man he’d pistol whipped wasn’t moving. The woman was still unconscious. Kent peered out the smashed doorway but couldn’t see through the blur of wind and snow.

“You good out there?” he called.

“I’m…yeah, good here.” Kent recognized the oil worker’s voice.

“Police officer coming out. Don’t fire.”

Kent stepped gun first through the shattered door frame onto the porch. The man with the rifle stood in the gravel road over a shirtless man lying face down in the soppy, reddened snow. The dead man’s pistol was still in his hand and two large exit wounds had cratered his back.

“I didn’t have a choice—”

“I know,” Kent said. He gently squeezed the hunter’s shoulder. “You did good. Go back to your porch and set the rifle down. More help’s on the way.” Turning away, Kent put his hand to the microphone on his shoulder and pushed the broadcast button: “Egeland here. Shots fired. Three suspects down. Four people in need of assistance. I need immediate backup and ambulances. Approach is clear. Scene is clear. Over.”

He heard Shirley relaying his requests but ignored her string of questions as he went back into the trailer. Inside, the unconscious man seemed to be breathing all right, so Kent cuffed him. Then he knelt beside the naked woman. Finding her pulse, he was startled by how cold her skin was. He pulled the ratty blanket off the couch to cover her against the cold wind blowing in from the shattered doorway. Then he began untwisting the cord from her neck.

“You lived again,” Ricky said. “Feeling proud?”

“No,” Kent said. “Just stupid. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, kicking in that door would’ve been a disaster. But that’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“I just want what you owe me.”

Kent tuned out Ricky’s voice again as he focused on removing the cord, and he softly spoke to the woman as she began to stir. As his hands followed the first-aid methods he’d performed too often to forget, his mind drifted off to a different winter field…

 

“Where are they?” Kent whispered. “I don’t see them.”

“Behind the second house, I think,” Ricky replied, nodding to the right. “Get ready.”

Kent watched as Ricky lowered his rifle to detach a grenade from his vest. At that instant, a shape appeared in the alleyway to their left. Kent was stepping behind Ricky to aim his M4 rifle when another figure appeared to the right, around the corner of the mud-brick house they’d been watching. Ricky tossed his grenade past the corner of the house as the shapes on left and right opened fire on them with AK-47s. Kent shot the man on the left; then he turned to shoot the second target as the grenade went off at the man’s feet and ripped apart everything below his knees, spinning him twice with his arms curled over his head like a ballerina as he fell.

Ricky wasn’t firing, but when Kent turned to check on him Ricky shouted, “Get the other one!” Kent ran toward the corner of the house, colliding with a third man who came rushing from the other side. Kent’s size advantage made their fight a short one.

He hurried back to Ricky, now on his back clutching at his sides where the bullets had penetrated his body armor.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” Ricky said.

Kent was pulling out blood-clotting powder to seal the wounds, but he could tell it was too late. “I had to step around you. Shh…try to be still.”

“You hesitated. Warriors don’t hesitate…we can’t…warriors……you owe me…”

It had been the last thing Ricky ever said.

 

Kent snapped back to the present when the woman started to moan.

“Shh,” he said. “Try to be still.” Over the rushing wind, he could dimly hear the sirens of what he assumed was Miller’s patrol car arriving at the trailer park’s entrance. “You’re going to be okay.”

“What’s next, boss?” Ricky interrupted.

“I think…I think this is where we say goodbye, Ricky.” Kent said.

“No way. You need me—your hesitation’s going to get you killed.”

“Not true. Not then, not now. I’m a cop. Acting like a soldier—like a lunatic—storming into houses, hitting first every time, that’s what’ll get me killed.”

“You still owe me.”

“Dying won’t bring you back. See this woman we’ve saved? Consider her life payment in full.”

“I’ll never forgive you.”

“Then I’ll have to forgive us both. Goodbye, Ricky.”

“Goodbye?!” the woman gasped, gripping Kent’s arm. “Don’t leave me…”

“Shh, I’m right here,” said Kent.

“Who are you talking to?” she whispered, her eyes fluttering closed as she slipped back into unconsciousness.

“Nobody,” he said. “Just you. Be still, I’m staying right here.”

She shivered hard, and Kent slipped under the blanket, holding his chest to hers to keep her warm and from going into shock. The wind whistled and moaned through the open doorway at their feet, but the only sounds he heard were his own gasping sobs that began to convulse him as her arms clasped him tight. Ricky’s voice was gone.

 

 

###

willistonbynoelle.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2014

evie.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2015

Evie’s Song

 

By Zakariah Johnson

 

 

 

“It’s only goin’ down, on the rainiest nights

When the sinister prowl, on the roads without lights.”

 

Rain beats an unwavering drumroll on the roof of Evie’s little Honda. The car’s overworked fan whirrs along, struggling to defog the clouded windshield. Chewing her lower lip, Evie squints through the clouded glass at the blurry yellow circle hovering ahead, taps her brakes, and squeaks to a halt as the light turns red.

There are no street lights in the sprawling office park, but she’s pretty sure she sees a four-door sedan, its lights off, idling on the other side of the intersection. Between the wavering sheets of rain, the big car seems to phase in and out of existence. Evie tugs a frayed, purple bandana dotted with sequins from her raincoat and rubs it over the windshield. Through the circle she makes, she confirms the sedan is really there. Instinctively, she flicks her headlights off and on three times to alert the other driver he’s traveling dark.

“Probably a drunk,” she sniffs, hoping to convince herself. “No, probably just tired, or confused by the storm.”

Whatever the driver’s reason for neglecting his lights, Evie feels righteous for warning him. It’s not an act many citizens do anymore. The city’s drivers have given into fear, fear of the “urban legend” (as the newspapers declare it) sweeping through their gated communities and featureless apartment blocks of a vicious gang initiation targeting Good Samaritans like her. The modern myth goes like this: that newbies trying to join a gang are sent to prowl the nighttime streets with their headlights off, until the first car flashes them a warning. Then, to earn their colors, they must then run it down and kill everyone inside.

“Complete nonsense,” say the papers, quoting the mayor, the chief of police, and the local college sociology chair-woman. “Tourists and business have no reason to stay away. This is a safe, family town.”

Evie doesn’t read the papers. She’s never had an Internet connection and has no idea what an “urban legend” even is. Her world is much smaller, smaller still since losing her sister to violence years ago. But Evie believes in community and hands out first chances like free candy to everyone she meets—including whoever it is watching from inside the big car, half-hidden in the blinding rain across the intersection.

***

In the darkened sedan, three men see the lights of Evie’s Honda blink off and on three times. Two of the men smile. The third man catches his breath.

“There’s your mark,” says the driver to the unbreathing man beside him.

“Looks like your lucky night, James, my boy,” mocks another voice from the back seat.

***

Evie sees the smudge of red turn to green through her blurred windshield. The sedan’s headlights snap on. Evie shifts her lavender rain boot from brake to gas, and her little Honda moves forward. Humming tunelessly, she passes the other car without turning her head, but from the corner of her eye sees there are three figures inside. Looking in her rear-view mirror, she watches as the other car turns in a wide arc, plows through the overlapping rivulets of water, and starts to follow on her.

“No, they’re not following me,” she insists, heart racing. “They’re just...going in the same direction.” But to where? In the office park, all businesses are closed. The area has no bars, no diners, no way stations of any sort…

“And no police,” Evie thinks.

She chews her lip again and picks nervously at the well-worn callous on her thumb. She catches herself humming, stops, and squares her shoulders. She jerks the steering wheel and turns sharply into a vacant parking lot. The sedan’s tires squeal behind her. She guns her engine and speeds toward the back of an empty, three-story office building. Her pursuers turn as well. Their headlights cut across her car and white-out her foggy windows a second before she darts around the corner of the building.

“No, no, no,” she chants. “Please, Jesus, don’t let them follow me.”

Behind the building, she finds an empty parking lot hemmed in by a tall, chain-link fence and blocked from view by buildings in all directions. Her car is perpendicular to the big sedan as it rolls in and stops thirty feet away, its brights blinding as they bore into her. The sheets of rain obscure the drivers’ views of each other. Evie clasps the bandana but does not wipe away the fog from the passenger-side window. She does not want these men to see her.

***

From the sedan’s front passenger seat, James peers through the deluge at the little Honda trapped before him. Their car’s massive V8 engine rumbles deeply as they idle, vibrating the cab. James hopes the vibration is enough to hide the shaking in his hand from the other two as he presses the 9 mm flat against his leg.

“There’s your future sitting there,” says Moses from the driver’s seat beside James. “It’s Will-to-Power time, boy.”

“What?” says James. “What’s that mean?”

“It means, my jittery friend,” Smoke’s voice resonates from the back seat, “tonight’s the night you unchain your god-like potential from the shackles of your bourgeois morality.” (“Not bad,” Smoke thinks, “Gotta remember that for the blog.”)

James turns toward the voice to buy more time.

“Don’t look at me—look to yourself!” Smoke demands. “Now get out of this car and finish it before I put one in you.”

Still shaking, James stuffs the gun into the pouch of his sweatshirt and slowly opens the sedan’s door. He climbs out stiffly, like a new-born fawn unsure of its legs. The cold rain strikes him and he’s instantly soaked. He pushes the door closed so reluctantly that it barely latches, and he stands beside the car, leaning his head forward, squinting to see Evie through the downpour.

“We appear to have misjudged that lad,” Smoke says to Moses, as James shivers beside the car without advancing.

Mo purses his lips as he blows out a sigh. “Let’s do this,” he says. He and Smoke open their doors without hesitation and climb out.

***

Through the rain, Evie sees the blurry image of the first man emerge from the sedan. He stands beside his car without advancing, but then his companions open their doors and climb out as well, leaving the vehicle empty. Evie pulls up her rain-hood and exits her driver-side door, the side where they still can’t see her. She is so small, the purple cowl of her hood barely reaches level with her car’s roof.

She hears two of the men laughing. The last two who emerged from the car wear matching bandanas whose sharp color she can see clearly. The first man who climbed out doesn’t wear one. Evie steps forward around the front of her car.

As she rounds the bumper, the building’s security lights fall on her water-slicked raincoat, lighting it up like fireworks, and the men see her clearly for the first time. They see a woman dressed from head to toe in shiny purple raingear. A woman with lavender, horn-rim glasses. A woman with a sequined purple bandana dangling loosely from her left hand and pointing something at them with her right.

Moses and Smoke lurch back, but James can’t move. His mouth stretches like a drain spout as his eyes absorb what he sees. In his head, the lyrics to an underground hit suddenly fill his ears:

 

It’s only goin’ down, on the rainiest nights

When the sinister prowl, on the roads without lights.

The black-and-red wheel, has come full circle;

And you’ve lost your last deal—to the Lady in Purple!”

 

“No!” James screams. “You can’t be...you’re a myth! A myth!”

He pulls his gun too quickly. Its hammer snags on his sweatshirt pocket and it fires uselessly at the ground. Smoke and Moses snatch for their own weapons, but neither’s gun has cleared the waistband when three quick pops crack like rim-shots through the drumming rain. The three men drop like sandbags, guns bouncing uselessly beside them. Flying in an arc, three shiny, brass shells land on the lavender reflection that stretches toward them like an accusing finger.

Lying in the cold, swirling water, James’s hands flap uselessly at the bubbling hole in his throat. In what remains of his consciousness, the throb of the V8 engine beside him reminds him of yet another song. It’s not the underground song called The Lady in Purple—“Evie’s Song,” though she’s never heard of it. Instead, James hears an older tune, one his grandmother sang to him years before, a lullaby he cooed as a baby when his life still held the promise of joining a better choir…

***

Evie uses her frayed bandana to wipe the fingerprints off the small semiautomatic. She lets the gun fall at her feet, but keeps the bandana. She’ll attach three more sequins to it tonight. She gets back in the Honda and drives around the other car, leaving the bodies to cool beside it in the falling rain.

At the first stop sign, she crosses herself and mumbles a prayer, the prayer for her sister, the prayer she always chants on nights like this. Were these men who’d done it? She knows she’ll never know for sure. And just because of that, she will never stop hunting.

# # #





Zakariah Johnson lives in coastal New Hampshire. His short fiction has appeared in Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Danse Macabre, and Smoky Quartz (Fall '15). His long fiction is still gestating.

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