Part 2: No Loose Ends
February 13th, 1980. Romance was in the air just like the stink of petrol, and all the little street-side booths had filled their trays with cheap candy and half-rotting flowers. A time for love, as commercialized as that had become. However, as the damp world outside her apartment bustled with life, Corey Zolagg sat alone in her half-emptied apartment, staring at the floral pattern wallpaper directly in front of her couch. Her eyes lingered there, tracing the outline of some crudely flower-shaped splotches, before her gaze drifted down to her television. Shaky images with over-contrasted colors danced about, a reporter was babbling, but all the tinny-sounding words that came from the speaker merely drifted past her head.
Until they brought up the foiled robbery, that is. As soon as the words ‘convenience store’ settled in her ears, she shook herself out of her self-induced daze and honed in on the television. A male anchor with a cheap-looking suit and grease-slicked haircut began to recite everything Corey already knew; yesterday, around ten at night, on a street less than two kilometres away (granted, they used ‘miles’ here, something Corey despised), a man was killed by a “masked savior” who had entered the store shortly beforehand. A poorly-shot interview of the cashier, who looked quite a bit more chipper, followed the general report.
“I’m thankful, yah know?” He coughed. “That asshole was-“ the cashier was reminded off-screen that he was on live television, and he corrected himself, “sorry, the uh, the guy was on the verge of shootin’ me. But, that lady saved my life! Wish I got her name, at least, Hell I’d shake her hand if I could!”
The interview was abruptly cut away as the anchor began to babble the obvious, but Corey had already tuned out once more. The praise she was getting, even if it was blunt and simplistic, warmed her soul in a way she’d never felt before. She saved a man’s life! And he was grateful! The public was grateful! She sloughed over on her couch, resting her head in the separation between the couch’s back pillows, running these thoughts in her head over and over again, milking them for all the dopamine they were worth. Saviour. Hero. Heroine.
A burst of knocks rattled through her front door, and she quickly slid off the couch and turned off the television. The revolver laid on the coffee table between the couch and her television, so she grabbed the thing and shoved it under a couch cushion, before briskly walking to her front door. An eye pressed against the peephole determined the obvious, as barely anyone else visited her.
She unlocked the deadbolt and drifted the door open slightly, peering with a tired gaze through the gap between it and the frame. “Hello, detective.”
Marvin Purdue, detective, merely replied with a meek nod, pulling his hands out of his pockets. “Can I com’in?” He slurred.
“Jus’ want to see how you’re doin’, that’s all. Is that okay?”
Corey sighed, but begrudgingly allowed him to push the door open and walk past her. Detective Purdue was no Serpico, but he was still an honest man in a dishonest city. He had been the first, and only person, to question her after the bombings, a fact that surprised both of them. Partially out of spite, but mostly out of a sense of duty, Purdue would let little snippets of the investigation slip out during their conversations, to try and reassure Corey that something, anything, was being done. But the truth was, even he didn’t really know that.
The detective tugged on his striped blazer as he loitered around the sliding door to Corey’s balcony, looking out at the skyline in the distance. Corey crossed her arms and stared at him for a minute, hoping he’d speak up and explain his sudden appearance.
“You hear the news?” He finally asked while turning to face Corey. “And where’s your shirt?”
Why’d he even notice that, Corey thought quizzically. Her usual attire of a red skin-tight ribbed sweater was gone, instead replaced by a black tank-top. “I was doing push-ups.” She lied; she had been doing sit-ups to try and use up her excess energy from last night. All night. What even is sleep, anyways? “And yes, I did. Why?”
Marvin chuckled. “Push-ups, tfft.” He glanced back out the transparent sliding door, before adding, “People don’t expect shit like that, ‘round here at least.”
“No, fightin’ back. Can I bum a smoke?”
Corey quickly got him a cigarette, and he lit it with his own brass Zippo. After making the initial drag and allowing the smoke to waft from his mouth, Marvin commented, “Y’know, I respect her, the lady who did that. Takes guts to tackle a guy twice her size.”
“He wasn’t twice her size.” Corey failed to catch herself, but quickly added, “The news report said he was about six feet tall, and this lady was uh, about my height.”
“And how tall are you?”
Corey had forgotten how tall she was, never actually having any use for that knowledge before. “Err, one point, seven and a half metres, I think?”
“What’s that in English?” Martie chuckled, but Corey’s intense staring made him realize what he had just done. “Wait.” He finally winced at his self-inflicted accidental pun. “I mean, in inches.”
Corey began to count her fingers. “Five feet and eight or so inches?”
“Ah, ‘bout my height, then.” Marvin sucked on the cigarette for a few more seconds before asking, “How’re you doin’?” He book-ended his words with a cough.
Corey walked over to her couch and sat down on it, turning her body and laying an arm across the top of its back pillows as she spoke. “…I’m fine? Why do you ask?”
“Well, there was the whole… thing, yah know. Just wanted to make sure you were doing alright, that’s all.”
“Hmph, it almost sounds like you care about me, detective.”
Marvin shrugged. “That a bad thing?” Corey merely shrugged back, and a brief smile appeared on the cop’s face, and he looked over at Corey’s door, eyes fixed on her shoddy deadbolt lock. “You got a gun?” He suddenly asked.
“No.” She lied again, as the revolver’s steel frame painfully pressed into her lower back through the seat.
Corey answered with a question of her own. “Do I need one?”
Marvin pondered this. “…I dunno yet.”
Corey, having been picking her nails out of boredom, furrowed her brow and asked, “Yet?”
But he was already gone, having quickly waltzed out her open front door.
Well that totally wasn’t unnecessarily cryptic, Corey mused as she got up from the couch to close the door. Purdue did stuff like this all the time, appearing out of the blue, dropping a few tidbits of information, then buzzing off to wherever wannabe-noir-heroes go. She hated the way he carried himself, like some sort of arbiter of hope, and she could see in his eyes the minor disappointment that she wasn’t grovelling at his feet for more updates on the investigation. At least, that’s what her brain had convinced her she was seeing.
Corey returned to her couch and this time sat on the cushion that wasn’t concealing a small handgun. After a few moments of reflection, she dug her hand underneath and pulled out the gun, examining it further. A little snub-nosed revolver, with an internal hammer, blued finish, and five shot cylinder that currently only held one live round. When she was… home, she was taught to always treat weapons with respect. Being in a guerilla war, there was no reassurance they’d be using the same tools for every sortie, or that they wouldn’t have to scavenge equipment in the field, so she would examine every gun she could lay her hands on as closely as she could, just in case she’d have to use it. When she held a weapon, it became an extension of her, more important than any other part of her body. Corey pushed forward on the cylinder latch and let it swing out, idly tracing the bases of the fired cartridges, her nail slipping under the rim of the last live round and plucking it out into her hand. She let the .38 Special round lay in her palm as she examined it, none of her thoughts coming to any sort of fruition, her idle hands having led her to this point. She pinched the brass casing between two fingers and held it up above her head, watching the sundown’s faint orange light glint off of it.
That same light twinkled off the ankh necklace she now wore as well.
Corey decided a few minutes later that she should probably dump all the “evidence” she still had. Even though there was absolutely zero proof anyone even knew she was involved, or that she would even be prosecuted if they did, she still wanted to wipe her hands clean of the events of last night, to move on with her life. She had to move on from Linh, she had to move on from all this. Her life needed to get back to normal, whatever that was.
As such, she left her apartment a few minutes later, wearing her sweater and clutching her black overcoat, the zebra mask stuffed in one of its pockets with the revolver alongside it. She briskly walked through the winding streets of Hell’s Kitchen, the edge of which her apartment complex was unluckily sat upon; that’s why the rent, which she had managed to pay with her savings now that Linh was gone, was so affordable. She was trying to make her mad dash to the shoreline not obvious, so she stopped into an antique store to help calm her nerves, but she didn’t find any neat trinkets worth buying, so she resumed her camouflaged sprint. Soon, the coast was visible, and just as the waves lapped at the sand that bordered Manhattan, a wave of assurance began to flow through Corey’s core. She’d forget this, go home, find a good job, and put that fancy new degree nailed to use. Her agony shouldn’t control her. Lyla was right.
But the wave stopped, and turned into ice as soon as she passed an alleyway where some sort of quarrel was taking place. Two voices, an older man, a younger girl, flowed out from the alley’s mouth, and she doubled back to peer around the edge. A bald, stout man had shoved a young lady to the ground and was shouting a whole manner of expletives at her, so Corey began to listen in;
“You think you’re fuckin’ funny?” The man spat in a heavy Brooklyn accent as the woman grovelled on the asphalt, mascara beginning to drip from her eyes. “You need to pay what you owe, and you owe me a LOT now!” He reached down and wrapped a mitted hand around her neck, dragging her to her feet and slamming her against a dumpster. “So, how’re you gonna repay me?”
Corey’s body seized up. That little voice in the back of her head was screaming, begging her not to get involved, to find the cops. This was a sick world, this stuff happens all around her, even if she can’t see it. But it was getting late, and the streets had entered that short phase where nobody is around to give a damn before the animals of the night emerge. Nobody was around to help, except her. As such, that voice was soon overtaken by a new one, her instinct made audible; stop him.
Somehow, the mask had left the confines of the coat, which now laid upon Corey’s shoulders, and it was instead clutched by its sculpted mane in her left hand. It swayed limply in the evening breeze, crumpled latex with shoddily painted black stripes, hollow ovals for eyes staring back at her. The revolver, now in the forefront of her mind, sat heavily in her right hand, and her thumb found the cylinder release, pressing it forward, allowing the weight of the cylinder to swing it out to the side. She tilted the gun skywards and gave it a shake, letting the empty casings fall out, but used her thumb to hold the remaining live cartridge in place before pushing the gun against her hip to close it, simultaneously scooting the empty casings into a nearby storm drain with her foot. Mechanical in her motions, she felt the cool rubber slide over her face and bunch her hair against the nape of her neck, her eyesight constricted, her breathing heavy in her ears.
She pulled the trigger of the revolver, hearing its hammer audibly click as it fell on an empty chamber, the live cartridge now in place. The only thought in her mind as she rounded the corner was what the news would say tomorrow, or whenever they decide to report it, regardless of what happened. She was being recognized for her actions, for the first time, ever. She had tasted her fifteen minutes of fame, and now she wanted fifteen days of it.
Lyla’s eyes lit up as soon as Corey sat in her chair, having evidently instantly noticed her chipper mood. The previously destitute-looking woman had gained a weak smile, and her hair, previously a ragged mess, had been brought into a short ponytail behind her head. She’d even replaced the massive coat she usually wore, a visible symptom of her insecurities as it made her feel ‘concealed’ (although it was still currently sitting on her lap), with a brown v-necked sweater vest, and, much to her own surprise, Lyla’s handcrafted ankh necklace sat in the v-shaped collar, outlined by Corey’s red sweater beneath. Who even wears a sweater vest and a sweater together?
Corey herself didn’t even fully realize she was smiling, but when she did, judging by the odd looks the other members of the therapy group gave her, she quickly stuffed a cigarette into her mouth and lit it. The group babbled about their experiences over the past week, and while Corey was smiling, she didn’t talk much. There was a kind of hollowness in her eyes, where she kept getting stuck in empty stares and having to shake herself out of them, and Lyla, while originally cheerfully surprised, was now wary of this different behaviour. If Lyla knew exactly why Corey was smiling, she’d be a hell of a lot more than just worried, that’s for sure.
The events of last night were playing in repeat in the veteran’s head; the reactions of the two in the alleyway, the man’s response to being shot, the yelling, Corey telling the woman to go to the police, and what happened after she and the wounded man were left alone. It was like Corey had a cassette of her memories, and every time she imagined rewinding it, she would outwardly daze off, a sick feeling forming in her gut, the remnant of that ‘other voice’ trying to make her feel terrible for reveling in that act. But she couldn’t help it. The relief on the woman’s face, the terror and rage in the man’s eyes, his head disappearing under her steel-toed boot. The overwhelming emotional slurry in her brain.
And the crunch of his skull as she threw her whole weight into her foot, over and over and over and over again. It was almost euphoric to play that sound again in her head, and the smile she currently wore was created due to this sense of pleasure. The memories of her blood rushing, her mind flicking off as her emotions and body movements took control, the burst of emotions as the man’s head finally flattened out, gray matter flowing like a dropped watermelon, all of it made her feel so…
But, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, right?
That’s what she told herself as she forced her mind to stop fixating on last night, even managing to peel it away from the tabloid printed that morning, so fresh off the press she swore the ink stuck to her hand; a man was found with a dumpster overturned onto his head, and a woman who had ran to a nearby police station was claiming a ‘lady in a zebra mask’. Black italicized words headlined the paper: “MASKED WOMAN STRIKES AGAIN; WHO?” That was me, Corey thought as she pulled the stub of a cigarette from her mouth, having puffed it to ash faster than usual due to her breathing bordering on hyperventilation, her mouth caked with a dirty, smokey taste. I was her hero. I was a hero. I am a hero.
Lyla put a hand on her shoulder, everyone else having already left.
“You still in there? You barely talked the entire meeting.”
Corey shuddered, blinking a few times rapidly before turning her head to stare up at Lyla’s soft, hooded face. “W-What, oh, yeah, sorry. Feeling a bit sick today, I am. Scratchy throat.” She coughed to try and sell the illusion.
It didn’t work. “Uh-huh. What happened?”
Corey looked down at her hands, which vibrated as they anxiously clutched her knees. “It appears I am.”
Lyla chuckled, extending her free hand to let Corey shakily grasp it, helping the lankier woman to her feet. “Do I need to walk you home? You don’t look well.”
“No, no, I’m a big girl.” Said the big girl, who towered over Lyla easily, the Egyptian being only about five feet and maybe an inch to spare. But then, Corey thought for a moment. It would be nice to have… somebody with her, even platonically, that is. “…actually, that sounds, nice.”
Lyla beamed a smile up at her. “Great, now I’ll have time to question that creepy smile of yours.”
“Creepy? You have a way with words, Lyla.”
The ladies both stifled giggles.
A full moon was out, and Corey’s sight was fixated more on Lyla than the world around them. Those telltale orange street lamps flashed overhead like before, but Corey allowed herself to simply stroll along at a leisurely pace, not wanting to outpace her friend. Lyla had taken her to get a drink at one of the few shops still open at this hour, and Corey gratefully accepted the offer of a free black tea, although her body was finally screaming at her to get some rest; silence, damned cells, I shall sleep when I want to, if I want to. She clutched the small plastic cup in her left hand as her other hand sat in her black overcoat’s right pocket, a pocket that also contained the newest member of her arsenal and her ‘trophy’ from the goon she had dealt with the previous day. Her hands fondled the black plastic grips of her new handgun as her eyes finally from Lyla’s walking form and flashed around the environment, eyeing the opening of every alleyway hungrily, but even she wasn’t sure if it was out of a want for another fight instead of just general worry.
“I noticed you’re wearing my necklace.” Lyla commented when the pair stopped at a crosswalk as a taxi dawdled by, the tired driver giving the pair a simple nod before returning his eyes to the road. “Did my point finally land?”
“Possibly.” Corey smirked. “Or maybe I just thought it was pretty and a shame to not show off your handiwork to the world.”
“You flatter me.” Lyla joked as the pair hopped across the painted stripes on the asphalt to the other side of the street, but Corey continued to talk.
“I’m being serious. It is genuinely quite impressive.” She pulled her right hand out of her pocket and held out the ankh slightly, running her thumb over its polished surface. “I appreciate you giving this to me, Lyla, a lot.”
Lyla was surprised by this; for once, there was no subtle mockery or hissing added to Corey’s words. “T-Thank you, Corey! That’s, the first truly nice thing you’ve said to me, I think, ever.”
“I am just full of surprises, aren’t I?”
“I guess so!” It was like the pigs had flown; for the two or so months she’d known Corey, that woman was nothing more than a snark factory, making rude jabs or hissing about the horrors of her life at the support group. She would only come into each successive meeting looking worse and worse, but after tonight, when she at least tried to look more chipper, Lyla felt something had changed about her. Something drastic, in fact. If only she knew the depth of Corey’s changes, she’d be able to avoid what was next.
“Hey.” A young man’s voice came from the other side of the street. Corey’s head instantly snapped towards the voice, and she watched two young men, one white, one latino, run across the street to meet the pair. The clothing they wore and the way they carried themselves, with sass in their step and furrowed brows underneath sweaty bandana, told all Corey needed to know; gangbangers, more precisely, members of one of the groups that avoided the Hoe Avenue peace meeting back in ‘71, where the city’s gangs signed an unofficial treaty promising not to try and butcher each other or random citizens of this fine, upstanding city. But obviously, not everyone was present there, and the crude blue lining of these boys denim vests identified them as one of the fledgeling gangs of the area, the Low Street Leslies, fixtures in the local newspaper. “Hey.” The voice came again, Corey identifying it as coming from the white one, and she and Lyla stopped dead in their tracks. To her back was a chain link fence, their left, a street corner, their right, more fence and a line of parked cars; no good avenues of escape. Corey wordlessly shepharded Lyla behind her, and the smaller woman tensed up with fear as she shuffled behind Corey, who stared daggers at the two men.
“You know the drill.” The hispanic one said, spitting a loogie on the sidewalk to try and increase his intimidation factor, although Corey merely thought it was pathetic. “Wallets, now.”
As Lyla fussed to try and pull her wallet out of her back pocket, Corey calmly crouched down and sat her half-empty cup of black tea on the ground, slipping her right hand back into her pocket as she stood back up. With her free left hand, she put it on Lyla’s shoulder and gave her a light squeeze, and when the smaller woman looked up at Corey, she merely gave her a slight shake of the head, indicating that maybe forfeiting her wallet wasn’t the best idea.
“Hey.” The white kid said again. He sure said that a lot. “We ain’t got all night.”
Corey gulped, before shimmying her shoulders and straightening out her neck. “Then move on. You are not getting our wallets.” She danced her eyes from one goon to the other, her face completely still, not even a blink to be seen. That inner voice had begun to speak up again, but her apartment was right there, just two more streets over. If only she-
“Heh.” The white kid scoffed, before pulling out a folded switchblade and twiddling it between his fingers, still a common sight with hoodlums even to this day. “Wrong answer. But,” he pointed the folded knife at her, “because I’m generous, I’ll give you another shot. Give us,” he paused for effect, “your wallets.”
Another shot, huh. I’ll give you a shot alri-Corey felt Lyla tug on her arm. “Corey, please.” Corey merely glanced back at her, locking their eyes for a moment, before letting a slight smile appear on her face, the same smile he had worn at the meeting.
Her right hand wrapped around the grip of her pistol, a Beretta 81, .32 ACP, plucked from the waistband of the pimp she’d popped the previous day, a full magazine of twelve rounds sitting on tap. As she laid her pointer finger over the side of its frame, feeling the gun become an extension of herself as her fingers tightened around its grip, she turned back to the harassers and commented, “Last chance.”
“Tch, at what?”
Corey slightly cocked her head. “Last, chance.”
The pair of hoodlums exchanged looks before laughing, and with a smile still on his face, the white gang member lifted up his hand holding the switchblade and depressed its button, letting the stiletto chop into place with a light chlick. “Wrong answer. Gut ‘em.”
As the other gang member, who had pulled out a short knife with a stubby curved blade from his vest, lunged it at her, Corey’s vision tunnelling just barely managed to clear the Italian pistol from her coat pocket, leaning back to allow her arm to fully extend out and press the barrel into the man’s chest, pulling the heavy double-action trigger until it broke and the gun let out a deafening CRICK. The man pushed on, however, so she pulled the handgun off him as she backed up, shoving Lyla out of the way by accident and pressing her back to the fence, and she fired again from the hip, accidentally letting off two shots due to the handgun’s crisp single-action trigger. As the three gunshots echoed down the darkened streets, the man’s body finally realized something was wrong, and he stopped his charge only to instantly collapse to the ground, wheezing.
The other gang member, dumb-struck by Corey having a gun, nonetheless icing his friend, tried to lash out at Lyla, who was standing there frozen in the middle of the sidewalk. But Corey was faster, turning her hips and firing as the end of her overcoat was still trailing her movement, sending a bullet straight through the man’s mouth from the left side. He teetered off course and slammed his side into the fender of a parked car, before sliding forward onto the sidewalk, a steady stream of red liquid gushing from his cheeks on either side of his face, little glistening objects flowing out every few moments; that was what remained of his teeth, Corey thought as the man landed on all fours, shaking violently as he choked and gasped. His head slowly turned to look up at Corey, and the intelligent, logical thing to do in this situation would’ve been to pocket her firearm and have Lyla run off and find a police officer. But this was not Corey thinking; it was the instinct, the big voice, the emotions in her having taken full control.
And her instinct said: no loose ends. So she nonchalantly shot him in the forehead and watched the red mist puff from the back of his skull as he keeled over, not even twitching as liquid continued to flow from the now-three holes in his head. Done and done.
The other man was still moving, however, so she simply walked over to him and put a bullet straight through his forehead as well. Her face was still the entire time, and the shakiness present before was nowhere to be seen. She finally turned to look at Lyla, who was still frozen in place, gave her a weak smile, and then Corey bent over and vomited black tea and last weekend’s lunch all over the pavement.
Lyla merely blinked. She had her own experiences with violence, yes, courtesy of her upbringing near an active ground war, but nothing like this, and not so… personal. In a stuttery, yet stabilized voice, she gulped before stammering, “Th-That was-”
Corey held up a finger, and another wave of vomit came out of her face. Lyla politely waited for her to stop vomiting, before giving up on talking completely as it didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. So as Corey ejected the contents of her stomach and the blood of the two men began to pool around their feet and mingle with her putrescence, Lyla simply walked off to the curb and leaned against a street light, her eyes as wide as globes, her own body shuddering beyond belief. It’d take her a while to fully comprehend what had just happened, but right now she was safe. Corey had protected them, no, she protected me. Corey saved me.
And Corey knew this too, so when the vomit finally ended and she was finally able to stand up straight, she looked down at the handgun in her hand, barrel still smoking. I am a saviour, she thought. I am a hero. I am me.
She lifted the ankh she wore, Lyla’s ankh, to her mouth and kissed it.
And I feel alive.
Lyla didn’t report the event to the police; they decided to was better to let the pair of bodies be found by the early risers than risk any sort of reprisal due to their non-white faces being plastered all over the newspaper. They wordlessly finished their walk to Corey’s apartment (after she picked up the brass casings dotted around the sidewalk) and exchanged small glances with one another as Corey unlocked her door and pushed it open, leaving one another with smaller nods; they were both too tired to reply in any other way. Corey immediately threw off her blood-flecked overcoat, dumping it in her bathtub as she didn’t have a washing machine, before raiding her fridge for something, anything of sustenance to replace the kilograms of vomit she’d propelled out of her system. Last week’s Chinese take-out leftovers would have to do.
After microwaving some chow-mein and chowing down, Corey dawdled over to her couch and fell onto it, adjusting her legs so her head was up against the arm rest. Her whole body ached, even though barely any physical strain had occurred; the adrenaline that fueled her had ran its course, and now her body was letting her know it over-exerted itself for nothing. Story of my life, she thought as she tossed over onto her left side and pressed her face into the musty back cushion, but the painful jabbing in her right thigh told her she had forgotten something. Spinning back around and holding up her right hand, she realized she was still clutching her Beretta, finger firmly pressed into the side of the frame, thumb safety still off. She turned on the safety and placed the pistol on her coffee table, but instead of shimmying back around to face the couch cushion once again, she hesitated.
Instead, she stuck her hand underneath the couch itself, pulling out the small revolver she’d acquired two nights ago from the convenience store robber, and placed it alongside the Beretta. To finish off, she pulled out the switchblade from the mouthy goon from tonight, and added it to her burgeoning collection. A new trophy. She didn’t even know why she had this urge to collect things from those she’d killed, but it made her actions feel complete. She’d taken a piece from them, literally and figuratively, and this was her reminder. Now, the weapons were able to do some good in her capable hands, not theirs.
Her eyes sat there for a bit, before she finally turned over on the couch and pressed her head back into the cushion. How quaint, she inaudibly whispered to herself, her lips unconsciously moving but no sound coming out. It was her fallback term, something to explain the world to herself with, to give meaning as to why she was doing these off-kilter things.
The world was quaint, so she must be quaint in turn.
It was also violent, deranged, and nonsensical, but she was fairly certain that stage was at least a week off. At least.