So Long Warren
by Ash Krafton
“If it were up to me,” Warren said. “You’d pack your Prada with all the cash you can carry and leave town tonight. Preferably to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US.”
“Shut up,” I hissed. I wasn’t alone in the bright hallway. A one-sided argument drawing attention was all I needed right now.
At the other end of the hall, an elderly woman took her time at an apartment door, making a big business out of getting her key in. As if I didn’t see those furtive peeks of hers. Who was she, the neighborhood watch? I adjusted the tops of my gartered stockings and gave my cleavage a boost, hoping she’d go into her apartment before I got into it with Warren again.
He, on the other hand, didn’t care who overheard us. Consciences were like that. They could scream at the top of their disembodied voices and nobody would be the wiser. I wished I could just ignore him. Life would be easier. Hell, I’d look saner.
Instead I’m standing outside my ex’s door carrying a letter and a gun. Depending on what happened on the other side of the door, I’d be using one or the other. Neither was the lesser of two evils.
Decisions like that are hard enough without having to contend with a conscience like Warren. It was his fault I was here in the first place. Listen to your conscience, my mother always said. Little did she know I’d end up with one who knew how to pick locks.
“Will you pay attention?” Warren sounded irritated. “You have to twist the wrench and hold it before you start feeling for the pins. Not that way–better. Feel how it gives a little?”
I poked each of the lock’s pins, feeling the last one click up out of the way, and smiled. I had to admit the scary truth: Warren might be a complete degenerate but my days were not nearly as boring as they used to be.
I twisted the knob and cracked the door. Glancing at the old woman one last time, I blew her a kiss before going in.
An hour later I was on the subway. My hands were cold. I guess they were making up for my feet. My purse, despite lacking a certain steel bulge, still didn’t fit under my arm, thanks to my newly-acquired wads of cash. Stupid purses were so impractical.
I saw the young hood, halfway up the car, eyeing my purse when he thought I wasn’t looking. Part of me wanted him to try something, just to see what Warren would say.
“Who steals purses these days?” Warren scoffed in the back of my brain, a harsh rasp of a laugh that sounded like smoky bars and seedy motels. The rasp was a hint of the lung disease that eventually killed him, but his laugh wasn’t a sad or a hopeless sound. It was limitless, fearless, and totally bereft of consequence, like the wind. “Where’s the challenge? Where’s the honor?”
Warren might have been in the back of my head but he couldn’t hear my thoughts. Sometimes, that was good. Most of the time, however, Warren deserved an answer, and I ended up talking to myself in awkward situations.
Thank goodness I had a decent rack up front. People overlooked a little bit of crazy when you gave them a pair of distractions.
“Honor, Warren?” I dipped my head and spoke into my shoulder. The clackety-clack-clack of the rail kept our conversation more or less private. “What do you know about that?”
“Everything I need to know. There’s a code. It’s what makes us different than the scumbags that surround us, sucking up all the good air.”
I shook my head and watched the stains of light splash by, flashes on the subway walls. There had to be light at the end of my tunnel. “Well, you let me know what that code is, sometime.”
“You already know it,” he said. “It’s not the outcome that counts. It’s the execution.”
Yeah. I chewed my lips. It was the execution, all right.
Stops came and went and I remained standing at the bar, even though several seats opened around me. Opportunities were like that. Warren would have flopped down and kicked his feet up, maybe even flashed a dangerous smile at the thug who couldn’t take his eyes off my purse.
But I wasn’t Warren. Not yet.
I got off uptown, figuring a long walk might help me sort my thoughts. They ricocheted around my skull, clattering like a jar of pennies. Sometimes a thought would come up, free and clear, only to get knocked away by another. Noisy thoughts. Wasn’t enough to drown out the street noise, though. I knew I was being followed.
What, was I the poster child for attracting the wrong kind of guy? I kept walking, pretending the kid from the subway wasn’t behind me. Ever since Warren moved in, it had gotten easier to ignore the world around me.
“So, you do nothing,” Warren rasped. “How predictable. How mainstream. How nice.”
“What else am I supposed to do?” I chewed a nail as I walked. “Confronting someone behind closed doors is one thing. Doing it in the middle of the street is another.”
“Location? Is that what you’re worried about? A piece of real estate? Location is relative, doll. You are always where you at. Remember that.”
How could I forget? I glanced around. I never came to this part of town, where the streets and shadows stood too wild for a girl like me. “And what if I’m in a bad place?”
“You mean a coward’s place.”
Coward? Oh, no, he didn’t. Now I didn’t care if anyone overheard.
“How do you figure? I did everything you told me to do. I broke into my boss’s apartment, for crying out loud. That casino in Vegas? I worked the dealer just like you said. Even though you abandoned me once I got the cards–“
“You know I don’t play–“
“Bullshit, you don’t!” I stamped my feet. “That’s all you do is play!”
“It’s not about me.” Warren paused and drew a labored breath. “It’s about why you can’t do anything without me pushing you do it. You gotta be told. That’s not living free. That’s being a puppet. I thought you didn’t want that anymore?”
I knew he was right. It was why I let him in. I needed him. “I–I don’t. It’s just…these things you make me do. They’re so…wrong.”
“It’s not wrong, it’s life. You knew I wasn’t a hero when you took me in. You’re gonna be brain dead if you don’t keep living and if you die, I die. And I’m too young to die now.”
The irony of it all made me stop in my tracks, although the second set of footsteps took a moment to catch on and hold up. That stupid guy was still following me.
Couldn’t be good. I started moving again, too tense to turn my head, not even to watch the traffic. “I’m afraid one of these nights, I will die.”
“And that’s why I’m still waking up in the mornings with shaking hands.” Warren sounded disgusted again. “Trying to find a girl who understands me.”
My vision blurred, and a salty streak slid down my cheek, into my mouth before I could wipe it away. I hated Warren so much that it made me feel like an earthquake. My fingers trembled so I balled them and pressed them to my mouth, trying to still them.
“See what I mean?” He sighed. “My damn hands just won’t stop. Where’s a bullet when you need one?”
I leaned against the corner of the building and watched the traffic stream by, streaks of red and white under a starless sky. Eventually the glow of street lights hurt my eyes, and I looked over my shoulder, down the long, dark alley. The belly of the beast.
Maybe Warren could find a bullet down there, amidst the trash and the throw-aways. Why not? According to him, that’s where he found me.
Maybe it was time for a break.
I hooked my purse strap with my index finger and slid it down my arm, slowly, like a stripper’s stocking, before rolling away from the wall and sauntering into the alley. I knew the punk would follow.
He had no choice. I didn’t give him one.
Halfway down the alley, beyond the reach of the streetlights, he called out: “Hey, baby.”
I shuddered. He sounded like a young version of Warren. Hey, baby. You look lonely. Wanna little excitement in that dull gray life of yours?
I spun like a startled rabbit, gasping and pulling at the silk scarf knotted around my neck. Guys walked so dumb when they wore those wide-waisted pants. Kinda like arthritic cowboys, stiff from a ride on the range. Why not just wear a belt? Oh, wait. That would be too easy.
His fashion sense was scary but not enough to make it look like I feared for my life. I whimpered like a soap opera diva and heaved my chest, making sure my assets were primed. His gaze was trapped. Locked and loaded.
“What do you want?” I sounded scared. Breathless, at any rate. I clutched my purse to my bosom. With stealthy fingers I peeled back the zipper and felt around inside for my hat trick.
Ah. There. Another present from Warren, he of the rapier wit. I gripped the mother-of-pearl handle. Sliding it out, I palmed it down to my side. Suddenly time stretched, the aftermath of complete clarity. Hindsight spun forward.
He chortled, too young for a smoker’s rasp, and spread his hands wide. “Easy, baby. Just wanna talk is all.”
“No. Leave me alone.” I backed further into the alley. I couldn’t see the dead end. He might have, if he’d bothered to take his eyes off my chest. I allowed him, one step at a time, to corner me, just like I’d almost let Warren.
“Oh, come on.” He grinned, a predatory flash of teeth under a flat-rimmed oversized baseball cap. “I’m not gonna hurt you. Pretty thing like you.”
It was too late–I couldn’t possibly get anymore hurt.
Maybe I couldn’t get back at Warren but I could certainly pay it forward. I was determined to be the last thing this little punk would remember. He thought I was a cheap whore with a big set of loose cannons. Well, this would be just the thing to light his fuse.
I pressed the knob on the switchblade, feeling the quiet snick in my palm. His eyes were on my chest, mouth open with a hungry smile. Hypnotized, the prey before the cobra. He’d forgotten all about my purse.
He lunged, hands on my shoulders, and pushed me against the wall. A snarl of scents: body spray and coffee and weed. I met his eyes. There was nobody home. Oh, well. I guess I’ll leave a message.
I struck out, driving the blade deep into his groin. It sank into the soft hollow between his abdomen and thigh, striking bone. I shoved it in as far as I could and yanked upward, twisting the knife when I pulled it out.
His scream shrilled through my left ear. He shoved me, and my hand came away hot and wet, flashing cold in the chill air. The punk swung a fist at me but his injured leg buckled and he tripped. Rolling onto his back, he screamed and pushed his hand against the wound. Maybe if he didn’t have such stupid pants on, he might have been able to get some decent pressure on it. Femoral bleeds were nasty little things.
Good thing he picked such a long alley. There wasn’t a soul in sight.
I paced a slow circle around him, taking it in from all sides. A bright red puddle had grown under him, like a vampire who lost control of his bladder. Blood pumped up through his fingers. He stopped screaming, his breathing fast and pitched, almost whistling. “Lady. Call for help.”
“I’ll help.” I pulled my scarf off and smiled. A bandage. A tourniquet. It could have been either of those things.
“Get away!” His voice was high-pitched and thin, the cry of a helpless child. “You did this! Crazy bitch!”
“I’m not crazy,” I said. “I’m just tired of not being good enough for him. Here.”
I knelt by his head and slid the scarf around his neck. A trump card.
I twisted the silken cord until he stopped shaking. The blood stopped pumping out of the tear in his pants. Good. What a fricking mess this punk left behind. No one ever cared about what they left for the clean-up crew.
Neither did I. For the first time since Warren showed up, clean-up wasn’t my problem.
Tugging the scarf free, I wiped my hands off as well as I could. Blood stains on Prada purses–I couldn’t commit that kind of felony.
I had standards, damn it.
On my way to the airport, my conscience was uncharacteristically quiet.
You’d think he’d be halfway onto his customary celebratory bender (though I had never quite understood where he got the spirits from) and yammering away with tales of yore and past conquests and then-there-was-the-time stories. Maybe he was tired from all the trouble I spent to get my passport photo. Little picture, big pain in the ass.
It was kind of lonely sitting in the cab, just me in my head. To pass the time I Googled a list of countries that lacked extradition treaties. Oh, boy. China? North Korea? Dandy. I’d totally blend.
I tapped my lip. Maybe it was time to take a little risk. “What about Peru, Warren?”
The driver glanced over his shoulder. “Sorry, miss?”
Figures I’d get a cab driver with manners. Warren didn’t even have a smart comment, even though I stood with my back turned, looking down the path.
“Peru’s nice,” I said. “I don’t remember you singing about it.” Between the two of us, I figured I’d have enough Spanish to get by. Lima? Miraflores? Maybe. The gambling was supposed to be good…
I smiled and winked at the driver, who’d been casting dubious glances at me in the rear-view mirror. Miraflores sounded perfect. Too bad Warren sucked at cards, though. I’d be completely on my own.
Then again, that might not be a bad thing.
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer whose work has appeared in Absent Willow Review, Expanded Horizons, and Silver Blade. Ms. Krafton resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts, forthcoming in 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.
© 2011 All rights reserved Ash Krafton.