Author: Guede Mazaka
She got people’s attention, men’s heads turning. A tall, cool blonde sauntering in on any low, gritty wet night would do that, but something was a little different with this one. Something that made the hairs on Dwight’s neck stand up and his hackles flatten like a cat crouching back on itself. He’d long since gotten used to the guns weighing down his coat, but suddenly their weight was new and dragging on his shoulders.
Maybe it was the big damn dog she’d brought in with her. It was at least a hundred pounds of purebred meanness, all lean rippling black muscle and frothing jaws. Its snarl alone kept off most of the tourists, but as she stepped up to the bar, one especially drunk fool thought it was his lucky day. He reached out and drew a squiggle down her arm with his fingertip. “And what can I do for you, baby?”
Dwight saw it coming and picked up his glass. The clinking of the ice in it didn’t quite cover up the snap of bone. Now the idiot’s arm was a squiggle. He was lucky his friends dragged him away before the dog got at his balls.
“Tequila. Best brand you have. Line them up,” she said. She paired a black-and-white suit so sharp it could’ve cut glass with sunglasses big enough to shade Sin City from itself. Her fingernails weren’t painted, but they were polished to a much higher gloss than the wooden bar against which they were tapping. And either she was the prettiest, most well-hung transvestite Dwight had ever seen or she had something special tucked between her legs.
The long black thing swung out and around to click on the bar, and everyone moved back except for Dwight. He still have a quarter of his drink left and he figured he’d better finish it, given how familiar that sword hilt looked.
The woman tipped back the first shot like she was making love to it, then turned to smile lazily at Dwight. “What the fuck are you staring at, handsome?”
She had the right kind of voice, all right. Didn’t mean that Dwight’s balls were tempted into peeking any farther out. “Got something in my eye. Sorry if it came off the wrong way.”
He put the glass down and eased far enough off his stool to get one foot flat on the ground. Then the dog planted itself in front of him, lips pulling back so Dwight could see its back teeth. They were even nastier-looking than the front ones.
Another two shots had gone down the woman’s throat without any apparent effect on her. She was good, getting the lime wedges and the salt and the shotglass all in the same hand without even looking like she was trying. “Hang on a second. I know I’m worth a longer stare than that.”
“You certainly are, ma’am, but it’s past my bedtime and I’m trying not to get into trouble.” The gun slid halfway into his hand just as she casually reached over to click an inch of shiny steel from the scabbard. Dwight paused, then stayed where he was. “You ever been here before?”
“Yeah. A couple of times, back in my wild youth,” she drawled. The sarcasm was laid on thick as a stick of butter. Her fingers slid slowly up and down the sword, caressing it.
At Dwight’s feet, the dog dipped its head under an invisible hand. Then it lolled over in that unexpected, quick way animals had and whined in encouragement. Of what, Dwight didn’t like to guess at.
“In fact, I think I might still have a few friends around. Girl-gang, you know? Same swords and cute little things like that.” Her sunglasses gave him an opaque but still eerie stare.
There was something wrong about that, something that made Dwight frown and look more closely at her. He coughed and muttered for good effect about Sin City having a lot of girls and some other bullshit while his eyes ran from hair to sword and then to hands. She was walking her hand over the bar to pick up each shotglass. She made it look teasing, like she was doing it on purpose…but hell, she was doing it on purpose.
“You’re asking the wrong person—I’m an old-timer around here, and things go with age. I don’t see too well nowadays.” Dwight twisted the last couple words and kept a good grip on his gun. He watched for the clench in her jaw, saw it, and got ready to have a Japanese sword swinging at his head.
Her hand tightened hard on the hilt, but instead of taking a slice, she took another shot. The bartender had been around even longer than Dwight and had long since retreated to the other side, so neither of them were likely to get refills soon. Too bad—when Dwight wasn’t thinking about how to get to the door, he was thinking that some more Scotch would help smooth things over.
Suddenly the woman laughed, deep down in her throat where the sound would hurt beneath the rasp. She tossed her hair over her shoulder, dislodging her sunglasses so Dwight caught a glimpse. In the middle of her wince, the woman cut loose with a snarl and yanked off the shades so Dwight could get a good, long look. “Well, baby, I’m thinking you’re about as creaky as I am pretty.”
Dwight stared, and he didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. But he didn’t stare for as long as she probably thought he would. It was pretty damned bad, but that was what he saw on a daily basis. “You age pretty quick in this part of town.”
“I can imagine,” she lightly said. Her fingers curled around the last shotglass and tapped it against the wood, each hit ringing out like a gunshot. “I bet there’s a girl, too.” Tap tap. “There’s always a girl, because you goddamn men can never get your act together. One wink and you’re dumber than a dog.” Tap tap tap. “You’re just so desperate to ignore your own faults that you want something pretty to look at. But Christ forbid it get messed up because then you have to admit that you’re just distracting yourself and she’s not any better than you are even though she still gets to fucking walk and you’re stuck in hell—”
As she’d been talking, her voice had risen and stretched thin so the air hummed with anger. And now the glass came down and something cracked.
The stools banged against the floor. Somebody screamed. The dog abruptly went yelping behind the woman, tail between its legs.
“So how’s it feel to be the sucker born every minute?” the woman asked, head playfully tilted. She scratched the sword-tip lightly over Dwight’s cheek.
Dwight cocked back his safeties. Both of them. He watched the noises register on her face; she hadn’t heard him take out the second gun. “Why don’t you tell me?”
The sword drew blood as her hand shook, grip on the hilt going white. Her jaw worked in fury for several moments.
“I think I know who you’re looking for,” he said quietly. “But I have this feeling she’s not the one you need.”
“Well, beggars can’t be choosers, can they?” After a moment, the woman put down the sword and reached out onto the bar. Her palm hit the broken glass, but she didn’t flinch. Instead she slowly turned her hand over and smiled at the bloody skin. Then she reset her shoulders and put her sunglasses back over those empty sockets. “She wasn’t a blonde, was she?”
Dwight watched her for another moment, but the wild rage seemed to have died away, iced back behind her previous cool. He hesitated, then put one gun away and dropped his arm behind the bar to get a bottle, which he pushed halfway over to her. When the barman began to protest, Dwight threw a couple more bills on the counter. “No. Brunette.”
“That’s a little bit better.” She hissed sharply at the dog and picked up the bottle, then spun on her heel. Her sword slapped once against her hip before it disappeared beneath her long coat. “Pass on my regards to Miho, if she’s not listening in from the roof like usual. And tell her big sister Elle and big sister B are having it out, so she should stay the fuck away.”
He was tempted to ask if hers was a blonde, but with blood already dripping down his cheek, Dwight didn’t think it was wise to push it. So he watched her go.
Fifteen minutes and a stiff glass of whiskey later, he pushed his way out the back door. He wasn’t exactly surprised to see a clean, empty line when he looked up at the roof.
Gail had been off work for an hour, so she had breakfast warming up on the stove and was stretched out on the couch when Dwight came in, the red marks where the buckles rubbed slowly fading from her skin. She didn’t look up at his step, but she did when he knelt down to put his head in her lap. “First Miho, then you tonight. What’s up?”
“What was I like after Ava tried to kill me?” Dwight asked. He pressed his face against the warmth of her knee and inhaled so he could smell the Turkish tobacco, sweat, musk perfume. The semen of other men, the sewage of the streets, the clean salt and sweet beneath that. The sheer truth of her.
“Mad as hell, and about time.” Her fingers swirled once through his hair. “But you scared me, a couple times when you still had the bandages on your face. She made you crazy.”
A dry, painful laugh worked itself out of Dwight. “Am I better now? You think killing her really finished it for me?”
“What’s up?” Gail repeated, digging her nails into the back of Dwight’s neck.
He let her for a few minutes, then pulled his head away and sat back on his heels. Her eyes went to the cut on his cheek, but he didn’t say anything and she didn’t ask. Just scraped her thumbnail against it so he started bleeding again.
“It rolled out of town,” he finally said. “No damage. Here, anyway.”
“You should’ve cleaned this up before it scabbed over. It’s going to hurt more when I do it now.” She picked harder at the cut, then levered herself up off the couch. “Stay there. I’ll go get the kit.”
“Yeah.” Dwight scooted forward and laid down his head where she’d been sitting, soaking up the warmth. He was careful not to get blood on her cushions. She could keep trying to do that, and maybe someday, he’d be convinced that it had stuck.