I wasn’t sure if she was going to stay with the Group and neither was she. On the next job, a Code One, I was surprised to see her.
We knew from David that no one else would be home. The target was older – thirty-four – and lived with his mom, though who was caring for whom was uncertain: she was on anti-depressants and got blackout drunk and sang karaoke – Neil Diamond - with her work friends Friday nights. She came home late, and some weeks, not at all. When Mom was away, her boy got online, David told us, and looked at porn for hours. Her son also posted anonymous, violent things, especially against women, in various chatrooms. That was how he drew our attention.
It was cold and starting to snow. They were calling for five to eight inches overnight. The four of us – Rev, Mary Ann, Val, and me – slipped past the target’s truck, our shoes squeaking the thin layer of wet snow. Oversized tires, flashy rims, a chromed up chimney stack to roll coal. The usual bumper stickers. The truck had a pair of rubber testicles hanging from the back. As we snuck past, Val plunged a butterfly knife into them and left it there, swinging.
We caught him easily enough. His skin was pale and thick; his extra chin and neck spilled over his collar like unbaked dough. We found the guns. They would be anonymously turned in, serial numbers filed off, to a police station the next day. We also found a wad of cash. We took most of that, too. David would funnel it through the internet and channel it anonymously into various charities to help victims’ families.
When the target was tied to the chair, Big Rev started to give him the Big Scare. As he was doing it, just for emphasis and to be sure we had his attention, Val slid the kid’s pointer finger – his trigger finger – into the circle of a chromed cigar cutter. It was a tight fit around that pudgy sausage-finger, and he freaked out a little, his glasses sliding down low, only half on his nose. But with three of us holding him down, there wasn’t much he could do.
Big Rev was just getting to the scripture, the part about what happens if thou dost that which is evil, which is where we usually remove the cigar cutter and warn them that next time it won’t be bloodless, when the kid started screaming. For a split-second, no one could figure out why. Then I saw his finger on the floor.
I don’t know if Val did it on purpose. Maybe she sneezed. Maybe she was thinking about the shooting in Alabama, or her son, or one of the other ones. But she was holding the bloody cutter without expression and the finger was on the floor and the kid was screaming. It had never happened before. Even Big Rev took a step back, away from the boy. I looked around for a shirt or a towel to stop the blood.
I’d never seen Big Rev not know what to do. Never heard his voice go still. But we didn’t have much time. It was a suburban neighborhood and someone was going to hear the yelling. There would be police.
That was when I saw her. Mary Ann glided across the room. Floated. It was the most elegant goddamn thing I’ve ever seen, like she was part of the air, effervescent, like Shelley’s wild, west wind whispering across the room.
Mary Ann drifted to Big Rev, the euphony of slacked thighs, melted her body into his. He was too shocked to move. When she peeled herself from him, she had his blade in her hand. The whole thing moved at this perfect rhythm, unrushed, unclumsy, as though she were the center spoke of a just and caring universe.
I knew what she was going to do before the others. Before she rolled up her mask and looked into the boy’s eyes, silencing him.
She spoke in a voice we had never heard before : “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Back at the hotel she came to my room without a word. We disposed of our bloody shoes and clothes in black garbage bags which, cutting a path through the snow across parking lots, I hauled to the dumpster of an Applebee’s two blocks from our hotel. It was cold. I stuffed my hands into my coat pockets to keep them from going numb. Behind me the snow was falling harder, silencing the dark city with easy wind and downy flake.
She was waiting when I got back to the room. We stepped into the shower; it was scalding hot. We scrubbed the blood from each other. Kept scrubbing. We squeezed out all the soap, the shampoo. Emptied the bottles and threw them toward the sink, rubbed the mini-bar of soap down to a nub; it slipped through the tiny holes in the drain. When we were done scouring, we dropped the rough washcloths to the floor of the shower. Our bodies were red and raw, the skin. When the hot water was gone and the bathroom too steamed to see even the door, we dried each other. We used all the towels, piled them in damp barrows on the tile.
Together we walked to the bed. When I entered her it was foreign and familiar, our fingers intertwined for the duration, nothing but her eyes. The curtains were cracked just enough to see the snow, blowing hard through the pale yellow light of a parking lot lamp. In her warmth I found it. That pace, that perfect tempo. The balance.
Winner of the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award, Adam Kotlarczyk's short stories have been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. Adam's fiction has appeared in the Tishman Review, Madcap Review, and Fictive Dream, among others. He teaches at a gifted school near Chicago.