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Eddie told her she wasn't going to die. His hands strong on her back, fingers finding raw nerves in open fissures of flesh. He laughed when she cursed him, then shifted his position so his hips curved behind her own. He was cutting again, and her fists knotted until she felt the tendons give. He hummed an improvised drone that had nothing to do with comforting her. Part of her felt she'd earned the right to scream, to let the aches go in curses, but she hated the sounds she made. Once, after breaking a guy's thumb, she'd heard him whimper and cry like a blind baby. A big guy, so out of control. She wouldn't make noise like that.

It wasn't that bad, couldn't be. But her head swam with the pressure of his fingers on her skin, from a shock which didn't numb enough. She knew she wouldn't die, kept reminding herself of this while Eddie gouged at her back. A piece of glass wedged itself further in and to keep from punching him she gripped the sink with both hands.

"God damnit." She tried to think herself somewhere else, turn burning nerves into sun on her back. It didn't work. She blinked sweat from her eyes and stared down. Blood, her blood, showed in elliptical splashes against the stained cream porceline. Toward the top the spots were darkening, crusting over, but lower down they thinned and ran with the dripping of the faucet. She concentrated on the shapes, imagining bloody constellations as Eddie sent another piece of glass clicking into the sink.

"Was a deep one," he said from behind her. "Fuckin rather pick out slugs than glass." She nodded and he touched her shoulder gently, the first friendly gesture of the evening. "Want to stop?"

She shook her head a slow but firm no, but he stepped back anyway. She rested her head against the sink, but it had long since warmed to her, hard and ungiving as Eddie's hands. He liked her, she knew, but was as ungentle in his treatment as he would have been with anyone. She almost laughed. As if he needed to develop a bedside manner, as if she deserved compassion. Half stooping, she sank down, not caring that her knees were bleeding again. She rested her arms and chin across the ledge, hanging her hands into the bowl of the sink. Across the tiny bathroom, Eddie dropped onto the toilet, his legs splayed loosely, and wiped his hands on an already bloodied towel. He lit a cigarette, smoked it in a thoughtless silence.

Gina slowed her breathing. She hadn't felt any pain during the excitement. She'd felt only the adrenaline rush of trouble, the synaptic high of having to think her way clean. She'd wanted to laugh during much of it, at least after the first dog had bitten her, and not for the first time she questioned her own sanity.

"Fuck me," she whispered. "Fuck me to hell for being so stupid."

Eddie nodded but said nothing.

"What am I gonna tell Claire?"

Eddie shrugged again.

"Goddamn Trinny." Hours ago she'd seen him standing in the semi darkness of his den. He'd led her back through the house with quickened gestures, overshowing calmness. As he crossed to the bar she took off her jacket with a practiced casual air, allowing him to see the semi-mag in her shoulder holster. He offered her a drink, one of his collectable wines, something in red. He laughed, she turned him down. He poured himself a glass, recklessly professing its fine qualities, and Gina found herself bored with him and his decor. A jumble of expensive oddities, it smacked of new wealth. She leaned against the couch, fingered the kid leather.

"Sit." He gestured, nearly spilling his wine. "Don't be a heathern. It's a couch, you fuckin sit on it."

"Chill, T." She folded her arms, pointing her thumbs toward the ceiling. It looked friendly enough, but they both knew it kept her hand near her gun. He was rank with a nervousness she could taste at the back of her tongue, and the muscles of her hands twitched, anticipating action. But she kept herself lax and ready, trying to read what he'd do. She hitched her shoulder, shifting the gun slightly, smiling at his visible flinch. He stared at her right hand, so near the gun.

"What the hell you think? I'm gonna do you?"

He laughed, stopped when she didn't. "Let's get down to business then," he said.

"Why don't we?" He swirled the wine in his glass, and laughed again. She shifted her weight, kicking one foot forward.

"You got an answer for me, or what?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "Shields and Yarnell."

"What?" A second behind his words, two dogs, slabs of muscle and meat and bone, slipped out from behind the bar, teeth bared in a silent growl. She moved fractionally, just touching the pistol grip, and the dogs stepped mechanically forward.

"This a joke?"

"On you. Godammit, on you." He pointed wildly, slapping at the bar top in victory.

"I'll cap your fuckin dogs, you don't call em off." She started to drop one arm to her side, but the dogs inched closer. "Don't move. And don't even touch your fuckin piece."

"This is uncool, T. I'll nine em, I swear."

"I don't even have to give em a command if you move too much." He tapped at the rim of his glass, and they waited for the ringing to die away. "What you want a bet they rip out your throat before you get a round off." He paced up and back, finally unable to contain himself. "One goddamn round."

"I'm not kidding here."

"Me either. You go tell Bone I'm not his skirt. I want some space, some respect."

"Damnit, he'll ex your ass for this. I'll fuckin ex your ass."

"Go for it cowgirl." He drained his glass, quickly refilled it, wine spilling onto the counter. He laughed, slapped at his hip and brought his hand up, finger extended. "Draw." That was it, she decided. No matter what happened, she was going to shoot him. She watched the dogs, watched him. He had a gun, he had to, but his aim was for shit, everyone knew it. She started running scenes in her head, looking for a way to come out on top.

"You shoulda tried the wine."

"You better think about this," she said.

"Shut up."

"Bone's gonna be pissed. Call the dogs down, and I'll tell him you just said no. But don't piss us off here."

"Shut up," he said again, but was less cocky. "I wouldn't want you accidentally saying the attack command."

"Hey, it's your skin." For a second he just stood there, and then she could see the realization move through him.

"Ah, fuck," he said.

"You can't dance this dance, man," she said. "Somebody's got to do something here. What's it gonna be?" He looked at her then, and for all his nervousness she could see he was going to give the command even before he drew the air to do it. The metal on leather glide of the Baretta pulling free seemed to take forever.

"Eat the bitch," he said. The first of the dogs was on her, tearing at her elbow. She'd caught the second dog's lower jaw, twisting down until she could kick it into temporary submission. It staggered, let go of her hand. She couldn't get off a clean shot with her arm being jerked by the first dog. She changed the gun to her bloodied hand, shot the dog low in its spine, again in the neck. Behind the bar Trinny was still laughing. Too late, she brought the gun up. She felt nothing when the second dog, now recoverd, leapt, throwing them both back out the french doors. Like the rattle of bone china, glass shattered, all was a confusion of teeth and flying shards. The sudden impact with the decking knocked the air out of her, and she found herself looking up at the roofline, the fuzzy blanket of stars beyond, the crashing cage of teeth. The dog landed down on top of her, an impossible weight, still snapping, and she put three rounds in its throat before she pulled free of it. Time spun out, smelling of blood and sweat, of dead dog, and she heard Trinny coming toward the door. She rolled off the side of the deck, jamming her knees against her chest as she hit the grass. It smelled freshly cut, wet with clean dew. Trinny set his glass on the railing as she struggled to get up again. Bullets popped harmlessly into his back lawn behind her as she ran. Up and over the privacy fence, through another yard, another fence. She ran, almost not remembering to tuck away her gun before she was seen.

Her keys and cell phone were still in her jacket pocket, back in Trinny's den. She'd get them later, but first she had to get herself taken care of. Shadow ducking, she found a payphone at the darkened corner of a gas station. Blood smeared around her jeans pocket as she searched for a quarter.

"I'll kill him just for this," she said, and punched in Bone's number. Three rings, then four, and Bone was on the line. She gave him a brief report, carefully editing out her own anger and frustration. He took the number to the payphone, told her to wait there til he called her back. She had her own medic on call, but it was a point of honor for Bone to offer his. The few minutes was an eternity of night sounds, of holding onto the metal booth frame to keep from pacing. Bone called her back, told her where to meet Eddie. She wiped away the bloody hand prints, then went to his place. It was only when Bone's voice sounded over the phone the second time, tinny and distant, that the pain had hit. Now it was worse, throbbing and insistant. She wiped the washcloth across her head, ignoring the sour smell of her blood and spit.

"Ed..." He looked at her, waiting. She nodded toward the bottle of Wild Turkey he'd been using to clean out the cuts. He took another drag, leaned over and handed her the bottle. She'd never been much of a drinker, but she took several long swallows, the sugary warmth an absolution on her tongue. Then she passed the bottle back. Eddie smiled, took a drink, reached out and wiped his towel across her cheek.

"So what you going to do?" he asked.

"Don't know," she said.

"Bone'll want him done now, for sure."

"He's not the only one." She curled her fingers, testing the waning flexibility. They'd taken care of her hand and arm first, and already blood was showing through the bandages in widening red dots. She sighed.

"I'll have to think up a good cover for Claire. Damn."

"You ever going to tell her about the life?"

"She's not stupid. But I guess I should tell her something before she figures it out on her own."

"Whatever," he said. "Just be sure she really likes you first."

"She'll throw me out." She thought about Claire. They'd met sharing studio space, and it hadn't taken them long to move in together. She looked down at her hands, one thickly wrapped, wondering what Claire would think if she knew these same hands that welded sculpture more comfortably wielded a gun. She knew Claire suspected her dark edge, had admitted to being turned on by it. But Gina wondered if Claire really had any clue at all.

"Never had to fix you before," Ed said. "You don't seem to have nights like this. That's why Bone likes you so much."

"I could just settle. I'm a good sculptor." She waited for a reaction, but Ed just stared. "And Claire isn't a bad thing to go home to at the end of the day."

"I don't know," he said. "From what you've said, she sounds kinda soft."

"Soft isn't so bad."

"You aren't the soft type." He took another swig from the bottle, offered it back to her. She shook her head.

"Let's get this done." She stood shakily, not bothering to cover herself. Her own nakedness didn't phase her, they didn't have time to be shy. He poured the whiskey over her back, and it collected in the waistband of her jeans, making her shiver.

"How much longer?"

"Still plenty left," Eddie said. "Gotta stitch yet."

He smoothed back his thinning hair, recollecting it in a bunch at the back. He wrapped a rubber band around it, snapping it for effect. She turned back to the sink, squeezing the sides as he continued to dig glass.

"What'd you do, fucking jump through a second time?"

"Goddamn dog," she answered. She bit her lip when Eddie pulled a new piece free. "All this, and all I did was cap the fucking dogs."

"They deserved it."

"I know. But I feel kinda bad."

"Aw sure, it was their upbringing and they couldn't help themselves."

"I'm gonna kill him for that," she said. "He knew I'd nine 'em. Where the hell did he get them anyway?" She half turned so that Eddie had to stop. "And why didn't anyone fucking tell me?" Eddie turned her back to the sink.

"Let's go, or we'll be here all night."

Two hours later he handed her one of his t-shirts and said he'd drop her off. She climbed in the Volvo gingerly, half grinning at the dry cleaning bags that covered his seats. She stopped smiling when he insisted she buckle up. It was hard to sit without touching herself against the seat. She was already bleeding through in places, and as he pulled up to the curb he told her to keep the shirt.

"Can't deal with bloodstains if they're not mine," he said. He hardly waited for her to shut the door before pulling off. She stood on the sidewalk for a moment, felt the seconds creep past her toward nowhere. Above her curtains fluttered as Claire pulled back from the window. She shook her head, knowing she'd screwed up. She was late, should have called, especially with the excuse she'd come up with. It was as close to the truth as she could keep it, but Claire would be crazy with her coming home injured. Collecting herself, she used her passkey and let herself into the building. Claire was halfway down the steps, a frantic angel, her bathrobe flying open as she descended.

"Claire, I meant to call..."

"What the hell happened? Oh my God, look at you..." Claire made a grab for her, but Gina held her arms up to ward her off.

"Careful. I'm sore all over."

"You're bleeding all over, is what. What happened?"

"I...I cut through the park..."

"You what? What the hell were you thinking?"

"I guess I wasn't. So anyway, I guess I scared this guy, and he sicced his dog on me. There was glass all over the place..."

"Aw God, your back..." Claire reached for her but Gina took her hand.

"So the guy says, like sit tight, he's gonna go call an ambulance. But he just took off."


"He didn't come back. He bolted. I didn't get a good enough look at him to describe him to the police. They said they'd check it out, but they didn't hold out much hope of finding him."

Claire opened the door, and they went inside. "You must have been terrified," she said.

"It was pretty scary."

"Who dropped you off?"

"A guy from the ER. His shift was ending, so he waited and gave me a ride."

"Why didn't you call me to come get you?"

She felt pinned through with Claire's expectant look. "I didn't want to worry you."

"Here I was, scared to death you'd been mugged or raped or killed, or all three, and you didn't want to worry me."

"I wasn't thinking very clearly."

Claire gave her a quick forgiving kiss, then met her eyes. "You must be in so much pain." Gina was beginning to feel numb from the demerol Eddie had given her, but she nodded anyway.

"How many stitches?"

She stopped, trying to think if Eddie had offered up the information. She'd felt every one, but hadn't thought to count them. Uncertain what a realistic number would be, she simply guessed. "Fourty three."


"At least that's what I think he said."

"Figures," Claire said.


"That you wouldn't remember such a detail. You just don't have any sense of injury, do you?"

"Guess not. But I know tired."

Claire gently took her arm and walked toward the bedroom. Gina closed her eyes, hating the lies, hating what she was bringing home. She was a thug. A grown up person who handled insults with violence, who accepted money to destroy things. But Claire was soft shapes, torrents of red hair, eyes full of curious yet innocent light. They sat on the bed together, saying nothing. For a moment Claire held her, her arms barely touching down, her hands slender and soft, tapered, the bones delicate. Gina took Claire's hand between her own. Bird light, she could have crushed it easily. Could have snapped the wrists and splintered fingers that threw such deft and fragile pottery.


"Shhhh." Claire helped her off with the shirt. She set it aside, tracing over the bandages that littered her back. Silently, she lifted one, peeling tape and gauze slowly. Gina felt Claire's breath on her skin, full lips touching down on the twist of surgical thread. A warmth began in her hips, and she shifted, her own breath catching. Claire smoothed the bandage down again, cupped Gina's shoulders, began a curious massage. Pain receeded, and a comfortable detatchment filled its silence.

"I forget sometimes," Claire said.

Gina came back to herself. "Forget what?"

"How solid you are. You seem so tiny and frail. I forget how tough you are."

"I don't feel so tough right now." She pinched at the bridge of her nose, feeling tired and stupid. A lie, a failure.

"You want something to eat?" Claire asked.

"No," Gina said. "I just want to sleep."

Gina woke early the next morning, stiff, feeling the stitches pull with her every movement. Beside her, Claire was still sleeping. She didn't look innocent, but like an aging elf, full of life. The image didn't make her any less capable of being hurt. Gina studied her for a moment, trying to find an answer in the way she breathed. There was nothing but air, pumping in and out. Finally she got up, slipped into sweat pants and a robe, dropping a pistol in her side pocket. This morning. She was going to tell Claire. It thumped against her leg as she went to stare into the cool cosmos of the refrigerator.

She was hungry, tried to make coffee, annoyed at the effort such a simple task. But the pain only made her more determined, more creative. Finally she fumbled a filter free from the rest and pushed the on button with a knuckle. She listened as the water began to seep into the pot. She turned and saw Claire leaning in the doorway, her smile pouty and full.

"I should have done this for you," Claire said.

For a moment Gina stared at her hands. "No, this is about right," she said. "We gotta talk."

Claire pulled her robe tighter. "Sounds serious."

"Let's have coffee first." They didn't speak as the coffee brewed. Claire filled their cups and set them on the table. She smiled hopefully at Gina, as if she had done something terribly wrong. Gina took a slow drink, tasting vanilla and cream. She set her cup down and the words just slipped out.

"I didn't really cut through the park last night. There was no old man."

"I..." Claire pushed at her hair, already tucked behind her ear. "But, there was a dog..."

"Actually, there were two." She half smiled at Claire's confusion, then sobered. "I went to mess with someone last night. To scare him. He set his dogs on me."

"Mess with someone?"

"Mess with someone," Gina said. She slid the gun from her pocket. "Mess with them," she said again. "Look -- I've got a gun."

"Oh...Oh my god." Claire took the gun, hefting it uncertainly. It looked overly large in her hands, toylike, unreal. She leveled it, and Gina pushed the barrel toward the floor.

"It's not a game," she said.

"Is it loaded?"

"No." She dropped the clip onto the table, but Claire didn't touch it.

"What are you, hired muscle?" she laughed.

"Well..." Gina felt herself redden. "Yeah, something like that."

Claire leaned closer, smiling. "Ever kill anyone?"


"Have you?"

"Do dogs count?"

"You killed those dogs?"

"Duh, yes."

"But you sculpt," she said finally. "I mean, you're a sculptor, aren't you?"

"Why do you think I make my end of the rent, even when I haven't done any work?"

"I thought maybe you were a drug dealer."

"Well, I'm not."

"So do you work for a dealer?"

"No." She scrubbed at the back of her neck, unsure what should come next. "We work in information distribution. Keeping things running smoothly..."

"Wow, really? This is all so cool."

"Shit, you sound like you've won the lottery."

"Maybe I have."


"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I thought you'd be upset. Freak a little maybe. But this..."

"What, can't I be cool with what you do? Sure is more interesting than being a clerk or an office manager." Claire waved the gun, and Gina took it back. Claire bounced in place, her smile so full of excitment that Gina couldn't look at her.

"Remember when Pardos went up last year?" Claire nodded. The owners, Tom and Lil, had spent hours in their dining room, crying over their loss while they consoled them and mixed them drinks. "Who do you think lit the match?" It wasn't true, but she said it anyway.

"If you did do something, they must have deserved it, right?"

"That easy. You can accept this that easy."

"Why not?"

Gina stood up then. "This is just a little strange."

"And what you do isn't? Come on, who says just because you can deal, I can't." Gina rubbed her forehead, trying to come up with something to say. Claire smiled at her. "You think becuase I'm supposed to be the fem, I'll be squemish. Well, forget it."

Gina sat back down and Claire picked up the gun again. "How does this work?"

"Give me that." Gina took it away again, this time placing it out of Claire's reach. "What, next you'll want to come watch me work, then you'll be my sidekick?"

Claire touched Gina's waist. "No. I just want to know how it works, that's all."

Gina spent the next few days trying to recover. Physically, she was healing, but the constant reassurances from Bone and Claire were driving her crazy. And the sex. There was a fun but furious edge to it, and although she enjoyed it, Gina suspected that she shouldn't.

"Level with me here," Gina said finally. "These aren't sympathy fucks, are they?"

"Are you kidding? I've been fantasizing about you in all kinds of trouble. This could really make things interesting."

Bone had her car and jacket picked up, delivered to her door. At his request, Eddie showed up at her apartment to check up on her. He gave her some extra pills, promised to come back to remove the stitches, and gave her the number to his direct line.

"Bone thinks you're the second coming," Eddie said. When he cleaned her cuts this time he used hospital disinfectant. "Shit, girl, you're made." Bone sent her flowers, a bottle of champagne and fresh strawberries that Claire served for breakfast. He called to check up on her, let her know that they were looking for Trinny. He'd gotten the dogs from his cousin Mic, who didn't know what they'd be used for. He promised when Trinny was found, she'd be the first one called.

Two days later she got the call. Trinny had called Bone, swearing apologies and complete allegiance. Bone said he forgave him, then called Gina.

"Little prick," Bone said. "I want you to give him my blessing, and I don't care how you do it." He gave her an address, a time, and hung up. It was freeing, but strange, to get ready, shielding nothing from Claire. As she slid the gun into its holster, Claire touched her shoulders.

"Be careful."

"I will."

"Take this for luck." Claire hung a medallion around her neck. Gina craned her head, lifting the gold disk, expecting to see an engraved saint beaming a benefaction back at her.

"It's Donald fucking Duck," Gina said.

"Uh-huh," Claire agreed, touching the pendant. "You come back safe."

She'd parked three blocks away. Keeping to the shadows, she watched the building. Roadwork equipment choked the street off, and she crouched against the seat of a roller. Flashing lights on sawhorses outlined the curbing and the crumbled remains of asphalt to be replaced. A greyish scar stretched for half a block, and a large yellow Men at Work sign hung like a low moon off to her left. In its grime someone had scrawled an "Wo" in front of the Men. She smiled, thinking of the hard hatted woman who must have written it there. It was such a Claire kind of thing to do, and for a moment she could see her standing there in front of the sign, fingers streaking through the layers of dirt, red hair escaping from the plastic hat. She felt at her breastbone for the pendant, then took it out, looking at it in the flashing yellow warning lights.

"Hail Donald, give me strength and a steady hand." She kissed it, tucked it away, and went back to watching the house.

Clean shots through windows presented themselves, but she didn't want to cause Mic any clean up problems. Besides, she liked this kind of work to stay outdoors, closer to the elements. If Trinny had known this, he'd have waited to sic the dogs on her until she asked him to step onto the deck for fresh air, which she wasn't going to do. At least that night. She checked her watch. Mic had promised to find a way to get him out of the house by ten. It was quarter after, and as she decided to wait another ten minutes the side door opened. Trinny stepped into the alleyway. He was smoking, pacing toward the next block on the other side of the buildings. Gina eased off the seat and followed, watching her back carefully. Mic saw her moving across the sidewalk, pulled the curtain closed as she passed. This time no dogs, this time she had the go. The alleyway was clean and clear, and she walked soundlessly, stepping when Trinny stepped. Her gun was out, pointed skyward, as if she could blow another star hole. He paused, blowing smoke, and she stepped up behind him.

"Woof," she said. He turned, his eyes wide in shock. He backed up against the brick wall, the cigarette still dangling from his lower lip. No protests, no sound, just his eyes rolling back, his hands shaking. It was an easy shot. A bit of pressure, the hammer would fall, the firing pin would set off the tiniest of explosions. Less than a second, and it would be done. She thought about Claire, and pulled the trigger.

By the time she got home, the excitment of revenge had worn off. She was no longer pumped up, no longer felt the high keen edge of transgression. It had burned itself black and now she was only tired. It was late, the air so still she felt it being displaced as she walked. She opened the door to the apartment and was surprised to see Claire.

"You shouldn't have waited up."

"But I did." Claire hugged her. "Come into the kitchen. I'll make you breakfast."

"I'm not hungry."

"Sure you are. Long night at work, you're hungry." Claire smiled and Gina followed her into the kitchen. She sat, staring at the pattern of the table cloth, the scars in the linoleum. It had been there. The steak was perfect, juicy and pink on the inside. Claire played at feeding her, using her fingers instead of a fork. When they were finished, Gina pushed her plate away and sipped at her coffee.

"Well?" Claire asked.

"Well what?"

"So tell me how it went."

"I killed him," Gina said.

"Did he put up a fight?" Claire leaned forward, her elbows set wide apart, her chin in her hands.

Gina twisted her mug. "No. He just stood there, and I shot him."

Claire moved closer. "So tell me about it."

Gina looked again at the patterns of the table cloth, then at Claire, leaning forward, waiting. She slid the Baretta free from its holster and placed it carefully on the table between them.


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