Before she was Annie Laurie, she was Elizabeth Smith. A simple name – too simple – one that pointed back to the kitchen sink simplicity that she had escaped when she skipped town on her folks and run off with the circus like a little kid.
That little kid had been a boring, average little girl. She’d been born on a dirt farm near the Oklahoma border, the middle kid in the family, ignored in favor of her saintly older sister and her troublesome younger brother. Her parent’s idea of taking care of her involved making her spend hours in the field mowing hay while they ran themselves ragged keeping the livestock alive, or rushed off to handle her brother’s latest crisis. Elizabeth would come back to the house on shaky, wavering knees, slurping water down until she felt sick to her stomach. There was never enough food left for her scrawny, starving body – her crafty sister would eat her fill and then go to catechism class, leaving Annie with one slice of pie, one piece of chicken. It was never enough, never.
Elizabeth grew taller, meaner, watching her brother get swallowed up by the prison system, watching her parents mortgage the house, watching her sister ascend to sainthood while stealing anything she could from Elizabeth. It was getting to be too much, the lie – the attempt at being a good girl, the BS that she had to continuously project.
One day the circus came to town. Her parents said they didn’t have enough money to take her, and her sister didn’t want to go and her brother – well, she couldn’t ask him to come, like she could when she was younger and less bitter. Elizabeth snuck into her sister’s room, stole her piggy bank and hitched a ride on the neighbor’s truck into town – and then she spent the whole Saturday roaming about, trying to find a way to entertain herself.
Eventually she ended up in the geek tent, where she watched a shootist cut a rose from between a woman’s lips with a bullet.
A little thrill went through Elizabeth at the sight of the shootist’s assistant. She was glamour, from head to toe, her pretty face and her red rouge making her glow in the torchlight like one of her sister’s beloved saints –only she was a lot more fun because she seemed real, like Elizabeth could touch her. But the most thrilling thing was that gun – that big, shiny, beautiful implement of death that made the shootist suddenly and starkly the most interesting man in the whole wide world to Elizabeth.
After the show, the girl approached the woman. “Do you think I could hold the gun?” she asked, her eyes eerie-bright, her fingertips just itching for a taste of it. Fortunately the women in charge was lackadaisical – she’d seen too many towns and been to too many places, and the girls’ enthusiasms was almost amusing to her.
“Sure. Just don’t smudge it. The guy gets all pissy if someone fucks with his piece.”
Elizabeth nodded solemnly before the woman reached into the valise, pulling out the gun, pushing back the brushing cloth to let it shine. Elizabeth remembered the thrill that went through her as her fingers squeezed around the handle.
She felt POWERFUL. For the first time in her life, like she was in charge of her own destiny. Her eyes went bright as she brushed the barrel of the gun against her sleeve, feeling the chamber spin.
“Careful now. You don’t want to set it off.”
“What if I do?” She asked.
The assistant raised an eyebrow, but didn’t stop her from taking aim at the target. Elizabeth squeezed the trigger and fired, once.
The thrill that licked up her spine told her that this was her destiny. And that the little hole in the target told her that her aim would only get better.
“How do I join up with you?”She asked suddenly.
“Have to convince the boss man. I’m not the one who makes the choices around here.”
Elizabeth felt her muscles coil, like a tigress ready to kill. “Mind introducin’ us?”
So the first step – after buying her way onto a berth following the circus out of town – was to buy herself a new identity. Took some pouting, a little manipulation – nothing she wasn’t already experienced with, of course. Eventually she got exactly what she needed, what she wanted, in the form of a flustered county clerk.
She grinned at the sight of her new birth certificate, at the name she’d selected. Annie Laurie Starr. It had quality, had standing – was the name of somebody who would be important, come hell or highwater.
She was willing to fight for that – to claw and scratch and scramble her way right to the top of the heap if she needed to. And if somebody got crushed under her heel? Well, so be it.
The show was running as smoothly as it always usually does when one of the rubes in the audience takes up the offer – agrees to shoot at her. She was not surprised – men will boast and men will brag, and they just love to prove a little lady like her wrong.
When Bart stepped up to the stage and took the gun in his hand, she felt…something. Some new thrill. It was almost more than enough that she finally feels something after so many nights out and away.
Her eyebrow rose.
The bullet flew.
She lived and her heart lurched toward perdition.