6. Number Uncertain

A woman’s figure, clearly, cut from the shadow with an undeniable curve despite what time in gyms and jungles had done to her. Keenly aware of the unfairness of fashion, she walked on flat boots, cargo pants tucked into leather grip. Tank top, over which a flannelette shirt hung, covering her from neck to wrist, with only hands – hidden mostly under fingerless gloves – and throat exposed. Face hidden underneath a bandanna, strangely bright and gaudy considering the dowdy colour scheme she’d selected. A a collage of blue, white and green, the bandanna, with its black base and white skull-jaw design, flashed brightly at the viewer, and further cast in contrast her red eyes. Skin, pale and wan, with the faintest hint of sickly paleness, furthered the comparison to a skull, and those eyes, red as blood, brought with them all the menace one could expect of a one-woman army. Hair that had genetically earned its place on beautiful senoritas who spent their time being kidnapped refused to break its tradition, fulgent and curly, even though it was as shocking white as it could get.

There was nothing about her that looked right. Nothing that looked normal, that looked like it belonged. Cheekbones of a model, hips of a dancer, shoulders of a teamster, eyes of a serial killer. It all looked so much worse from this position, towering over a prone form, staring from helplessness up at the business face of the golden-barrelled, rhinestone-studded gun.

“I, uh,” he sputtered, holding his hands up, over his head, hands flailing briefly. This white death hadn’t killed him in the initial fire-fight – she may well have spared him for a reason. “DEA,” he croaked, the blood in his mouth adding to his torment. Gesturing with a fingertip down at himself, he started to haphazardly fumble around the edges of what he meant to say, hoping against hope that he wasn’t going to fuck this one up further. He lowered his head for a moment, to get his attention off the gun, to look at himself and maybe piece together where his badge and identification were.

Lowering his head, he saw the floor – the spreading red patch around a discarded golden handgun, glittering rhinestones tainted with a wet pink, the large flecks of white that had to be sections of skull and teeth, the smear of footprints that led to the bottom of her combat boots. Straining to contain the retch, he looked back up again, seeing the gun barrel once more – and next to it, a plain white business card, with a handful of words centred in it.

English?

 

“S-si?” A response, a nervous nod. The card next to the gun, held in her hands, gave the yawning circle of darkness that was the barrel something more terrifying, like it was some hungry abyss into which he had to cast his words, that they be consumed and judged. Thumb flickered against the business card, and from the stack in her hand, another flicked out, held before his gaze.

Today your life was spared. Today you lived. Today your superiors will hear about a conflict between two local gangs and determine it too hot to stay here.

 

Another flicker, like a card trick.

Do I make myself clear?

 

“Y-yes.” Swallowing, he looked back up the golden gun. Everything about her was so practical – yet the gun’s studded barrel and glittering facade looked like something he’d have seen north of here, in some redneck’s cabinet to be guffawed over.

When I want you, you will respond, and you will tell nobody.

 

The card flickered again.

This is not negotiable.

 

Another nod, helpless, silent.

You will be collected in the next twenty-two minutes.

 

She stepped back, raising the gun, finally, and with that motion weight hauled off his shoulders. As if his lungs remembered their purpose, he dragged in a long breath, not even realising he’d stopped. Raising her own arm, she yanked back on the casing of the gun, ejecting the clip and throwing the bullet into the sky, wiping the handle just once and throwing the golden gun over her shoulder. It landed in a puddle, skidding just a fraction, flopping impotently before spinning silently, the red ooze of the dead clinging to its golden facings.

Tucking clip into the back of her belt, she turned and left, a practical movement that showed no sway or swagger, her fists clenched by her side.

Twenty minutes later, he’d given up hope for his rescue. Two more minutes, and the thud-thud-thud of helicopters made his heart leap in his chest. An hour later, he sat, slightly stunned, his expression helpless, in an EMT’s care, while they drove him back to the city, where a discharge from this detail was waiting for him. This far south, there was no place for cops – it was a warzone, a world haunted by blood.

The first line of his report, written in shaky hand with the fingernails growing back, was as formal as he could manage: While held prison for interrogation, I was witness to a gunfight that broke out between two sizeable gang forces. Numbers uncertain.

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