The smell of gunpowder and blood lingered in the air, overheated metal and gasoline adding to the stench as they concealed but did not quite cover the odor of vomit and loosened bowels. The afternoon sun beat down mercilessly on the scattered bodies, the occasional moan or sob finally audible as the sound of souped-up engines began to dwindle into the distance.
A few of the survivors stayed behind to help the doctor load up their own dead and wounded into the ambulance. No sense in leaving bodies here to stir up more hate. When the vigilantes were found, which they would be, there’d be enough hunting for scapegoats. Why hand them any more ammuntion?
“Hey. Hey, Luz!” Julio was balanced on the trunk of one of the few remaining cars, buying himself line of sight over the top of the compound walls. His bandana had been torn free and lay limply across his shoulder, stained with blood – he could no longer remember whose. “Fucking – Luz!”
“Nobody’s coming, man.” Jorge and his sketchbook were propped in the back seat of the car, looking swiftly from the paper to the carnage and back. “That’s why the batards set up out here in the first place. No witnesses. As for noise, who’d hear it, the coyotes?”
“Our luck won’t hold forever,” Julio retorted, glancing back into the compound. It took him a moment to spot Luz. “And put a shirt on!”
“You want her to put a shirt on?” Jorge looked up at him, skepticism blending with surprise.
He had a point. Luz was a fine looking woman, even spattered with blood and missing an eye. It wasn’t as if she were naked, or even any more exposed than any other woman in a bikini. On the other hand, staring for too long would not only be disrespectful to their leader, she was still carrying heavy, automatic weaponry. Plus, she was currently pointing that weapon at a nun, and there was nothing sexy about that.
Nothing that Julio would ever admit to, anyway, even under torture.
“Luz!” He shouted again, still unable to distract her from the nun. What was a nun doing out here anyway? She certainly wasn’t offering last rites.
“You hurt?” The voice distracted him, and Julio glanced down to find himself with a glorious view. Two breasts, pleasantly and barely contained by a plunging neckline of thin white cotton, commanded his entire attention. They looked somehow twice as exposed as the ones he’d just been thinking about and he stared for just a moment too long. “If you aren’t, you will be in a minute.”
“Sorry, Mona!” He jerked his eyes to her face. “Nah, not me. Jorge?”
“Fine here.” The almost absent movement of his pencil guaranteed that Mona’s very attractive breasts would be immortalized for future review. Mona raised an eyebrow at him, and he smiled without apology.
“Then get out of here.” Despite her scanty white uniform and completely impractical shoes, Mona’s current authority came not from her position within the Network or even as a nurse, but from the semi-automatic weapon in one hand.
She gestured to the elderly ambulance. Fully loaded, it was rolling slowly toward the smashed gate of the compound. “We’ve got everyone. Time to clear out.”
“We’ll take care of Luz.” The departure of the ambulance revealed the last few cars maneuvering to follow the ambulance, and a second nurse loading munitions into the back of a Jeep. “Go clean up and find yourselves an alibi.”
“Now, or I’ll tell your mama just what you look at when you’re talking to a girl.” Not that she’d made any attempt to cover up while she was talking to him. “Go.”
With a roll of his eyes, Julio dropped down into the car. Working with Luz had taught him never to argue with a woman tougher than he was – even one in a tiny, thin white mini-dress with a plunging neckline. Maybe especially one dressed that way.
“We thought she was dead.” He hadn’t meant to say it aloud.
Mona gave him a smile that was just a flash of white teeth. “You got no faith.”
He gunned the engine, flipped her the finger, and headed for the exit to the compound. Julio had faith all right. “But faith isn’t enough,” he muttered. He deliberately did not look back.
Mona watched the car as it bucked and bounced out of the compound, her gun against one shoulder. Amusement could be seen on her face, had anyone been watching, tinged with tired malice. “Kids.”
Across the compound, Luz was thinking more or less the same thing, although she was old enough that it wasn’t entirely hypocritical. “Look, girl, it’s over. Time to go home.”
The argument had been going on for several minutes, ever since Luz had discovered the pseudo-nun standing at the edge of the carnage. It hadn’t taken much to recognize the face of Michael Booth’s spoiled brat of a daughter, habit or no habit.
“Killed your father, yeah, I know.” Luz pressed her free hand to her face, feeling the tug of the heavy painkillers that were keeping her on her feet despite the ugly throbbing in her head. “These things happen. Best you can do is pick up the pieces and get the hell out of here before anyone else shows up, all right?”
April stared back at her, tears still slowly making their way down her face, leaving trails in the dust kicked up by the now-departed vehicles. She said nothing at all, swaying slightly on her feet, heavy gun still in one hand. The energy that had driven her here, to murder, to intimidate a crowd of armed and brawling men, had finally deserted her.
Luz knew shock when she saw it. “Ah, fuck. Lisa! Get over here!”
“I am here,” came the dry observation from behind her. “And if you weren’t so hopped up on pain killers, you’d’ve known.”
White wedge shoes stained with blood, another reddish brown smear across her white mini-dress, Lisa moved past Luz to grab April’s chin. April batted at her, but Lisa caught her arm. “Shock. No surprise there. “ She glanced back at Luz, ignoring the fact that April still had a gun. “You gonna leave her?”
“Not my style.” Luz took April’s gun, pulling it from fingers that seemed to have gone numb. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
They parked the Jeep outside a truck stop somewhere just past midnight. Luz went in to pay for showers and some food, a flannel shirt thrown on to attract fewer stares. Mona pulled a duffel bag from the back of the Jeep and slung it over one shoulder.
“Hey, blondie.” Lisa poked at April, who’d almost disappeared inside her stolen habit. “C’mon. Time to get cleaned up.”
The muffled response was easily interpreted, and Lisa gave a shrug. “You can get out and walk anytime.”
Mona reached into the Jeep and took a handful of the long habit. “You’ll wash – or we’ll wash you.”
“We’ve handled tougher.”
As April unwillingly began to move, Mona pulled on the habit and Lisa shoved her from behind. The blonde found herself falling out of the Jeep and into Mona’s arms. From there, she was propelled in a business-like fashion through the back door of the truck stop and into the showers.
“I’ll take care of this,” Mona told Luz, as she held the door for them. “Lisa’s keeping an eye on the Jeep.”
Luz sighed and rubbed again at her face. “I’ll watch the door, then. Hurry up. I need sleep.”
“You need more than that. You’ve got maybe another hour before you fall over – and this time you’ll have to sleep it off.”
April pulled against Mona’s grip on the nun’s habit. “Who are you people?”
“Did I say you could talk?” Mona shook her head at Lux and dragged April into the showers.
“You can’t do this to me!” April aimed a punch at Mona, but it was easily deflected.
“Let me tell you, blondie, once you’ve handled drunken brawlers in the OR, a skinny little girl like you is no challenge. Now get naked.”
Even taking into account the high wedges that Mona was wearing, April was considerably taller. Looking down at the petite nurse, she opened her mouth for a furious rebuttal –
Mona took a firm hold on the habit and yanked.
Ninety seconds later, April found herself dazed, naked and soaking wet, being forcibly held underneath a rusty showerhead as lukewarm water came sluicing down on her.
“Don’t even think it,” Mona advised her cheerfully. She had both April’s hands twisted up behind her. “Just wash – and if you behave yourself, we might get you some real clothes.”
“You’ll get her something else to wear. She’s not a very convincing nun.” Luz was leaning in the doorway, ensuring privacy in case of other late night bathers. “Besides, we can hardly drag a naked blonde around with us. People might talk.”
“Let go of me!”
“I think she’s recovering,” Mona said. “You, blondie –“
“My name is April!”
“Whatever. Are you going to wash, or do I have to do it?”
“Just let go.”
Mona did. She turned away and began stripping out of her blood smeared mini-dress.
“She’s not gonna cause any trouble,” Luz said. “It’s not like she’s got anywhere to go. Murderers can’t go home.”
April flinched. She retreated beneath the slowly warming water. Anger had been shielding her from the realization that she’d lost her mother as well as her father with one act of rage-driven revenge. “Maybe –“
“Don’t kid yourself, blondie.” Mona had unwrapped the ribbons of her shoes and was just stepping beneath the shower head across the way. “Not everyone we left there was dead – and at least some of them got away.”
“There’s always a witness,” Luz said. “Always. Nun costume or no, someone will put the facts together. You don’t want your mama to have to visit you in prison, do you?”
“He deserved it,” April said. She hunched her shoulders, looking down at the cracked drain at her feet.
“No argument here.” Mona waved to Luz. “Scrub my back?”
Luz snorted, but opened Mona’s duffle. “Just hurry up. I need to wash too, and we don’t have a lot of time to spend screwing around.”
“So you say.” Mona took the soap and then glanced over at April. Lowering her voice, she asked, “You sure about this?”
“No, but when has that stopped me?”
“Then you might want to see if you’ve got anything that’ll fit her. She won’t fit in anything we’ve got in our bag,” Mona said.
“I’ll find something,” Luz said. She smiled at Mona, tugging gently at a lock of dark, wet hair. “Hurry up.”
It took a bit of prodding, but April eventually cleaned up and climbed into an old pair of Luz’s jeans and a t-shirt. Lisa and Luz took their turn in the showers while Mona made a phone call and April waited sullenly outside the showers.
As the Jeep pulled away from the truck stop, leaving a plume of dust in its wake, April took a good, hard look at her situation. She was a murderer, on the run from the law. It sounded romantic and rebellious, until you found yourself face to face with reality. She was riding in a Jeep along a random highway in southern Texas in company with a pair of…
Words failed her. The reality of Mona and Lisa in their tiny, revealing white mini-dresses as they leaped into combat, ridiculous high-wedged shoes had somehow slipped past her. April had been so focused on the senator that very little else had permeated. Now, however, having watched Mona and then Lisa peel out of uniforms that would be more at home in a fetish shop than a hospital, she was forced to wonder just who the hell they were. Their current clothing choice wasn’t much better, jeans cut off to a point just short of indecent and tiny halter tops that obscured nothing at all. April would’ve been jealous, but she had more on her mind than appearance just then.
- and then there was Luz.
Luz had crashed hard the moment they’d all gotten back in the Jeep, not even waiting for the dry, gas station sandwiches Lisa had handed around. Just a sprawl of limbs on the seat beside April, she still managed to be as intimidating as hell. Maybe it was the eye patch?
April looked up, catching Lisa’s eye as the other woman twisted in her seat. “My name’s not –“
“Your name is gonna be on wanted posters, blondie. Better find a new one,” Mona said.
“Shut up. Look, Luz has a sweet and forgiving nature, but if you want to stick with us, it’s not gonna be easy.” Lisa gave a shrug that threatened to cause the straining fabric of her top to give way. “It was your daddy’s friends that shot her in the face, and she can still put that aside to give you a hand.”
“The rest of us aren’t so forgiving,” Mona threw in.
“I don’t believe it.” April stared at Luz’s sleeping face and the black patch over her eye. “My daddy –“
“Your daddy knew some bad people, blondie. Just look at the former senator,” Lisa said. “You wanna make something of your life? Stick with us. You wanna bury your head in the sand, cling to denial and pretend the ugly stuff doesn’t have anything to do with you? We can drop you off anywhere along here.”
April sank back in her seat, looking again at Luz. As the wind tangled her hair, and put a new layer of dust on her freshly cleaned skin, she thought again of gunfire and how it had felt to stare down a group of armed men, watching them give way to her. She’d been a spoiled, petted brat all her life, surrounded by money and privilege. She’d sought her kicks in drugs and in exhibitionism and in making her father angry.
Now – she couldn’t go home. Her father was gone and she’d committed murder and her mother must be half insane….
She turned to look out at the sunset, taking in for the first time the huge, empty stretch of land around them as they hurtled down the highway. She’d been rescued (or maybe kidnapped) by a trio of women with skin and hair of a color she’d been taught meant ignorance and criminal tendencies at best.
In a moment of honesty, she had to admit that she couldn’t exactly throw stones on either count.
“What do you do?”
Lisa threw a grin at Mona. “We help people, blondie. Sometimes even people like you.”
“It’s just sometimes we help them with violence,” Mona said. She looked back at April herself, not worried about a collision on the empty highway. “We always heard you were a thrill-seeker, blondie. We’ve got plenty of those.”
“Help people.” It wasn’t something April had ever been interested in. April had never been interested in anything other than April. With a forced change of view and the sharp memory of a gun kicking in her hands ….
“Yeah, I could do that.”
“It’s a start, blondie.”