Graeme Smith - Books
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Shadow Child - Shadow Dance (Chapter One - Dead Hunk Talking)
It started out like any other day. Mom was big on homework, even over breakfast. But her idea of homework wouldn’t suit most classrooms. Things like where to find an unregistered M15 in Denver. Or the best place in Cleveland for C4. I told her we’d done that stuff when I was six. She told me it wouldn’t matter if the one time I forgot, I was fifty. I’d still likely be dead. She had a point. I have this weird memory thing. Important stuff, I’m OK - Mom makes damn sure. So I can field strip my Glock with my eyes closed. But other stuff I forget. Like whether it's Tuesday or Christmas. Or what I did on my birthday last year. Once I looked for a book for half an hour and it was in my damn hand all the time. That’s why Mom never lets up. So every morning we do stuff again. And again. And again.
Before I left for school, we did the car check, like Mom said I had to every day. Lights, brakes – smart kids did those. But Mom made me do other stuff. Not the James Bond shit – rocket launchers and oil slick sprayers. That’s for the movies. The real stuff. Nitro levels and running a glass underneath to check for things that might go bang. Most kids don’t do those. But most kids aren’t Mom’s. Once we were done, I kissed Mom and lifted her purse. Like, there’s more things than one a girl’s gotta keep up on after all. As I slid in the car, she held her left hand out. Her right had the Glock that was supposed to be – I checked – in my thigh holster. I grinned, and traded her. Mom grinned too. “Bye, SWAB. Don’t kill anyone I wouldn’t kill.” It’s a Mom joke. Not the kill thing. SWAB. ‘Sixteen – with a bullet’. Every year since I was seven, she just changed a letter.
Why seven? That was my first wet job. Mom had to do PTA and she had some unfinished business for the people she worked for. Even Mom couldn't be in two places at once. So we traded. I took out her mark – and Mom went to talk to the bitch who’d given me a Fail in Math. I got a new Math teacher after Miss Mathews left town all of a sudden.
Well, that’s what people said she must have done. They sure never saw her again.
I gunned an engine that would have given a 455 Rocket things to think about if I wanted it to, but looked lemon Popsicle if anyone lifted the hood. Then I flipped a quarter. That’s another of Mom’s tricks. Never drive the same route. Never have a pattern. So the first few turns, I flip. And I watch. You always watch. Because the one time you don’t is gonna be the one time someone’s there. But that time wasn’t this one, and I pulled into the school lot.
“Hey, Maya baby.” The lot was empty. I was early. But so was someone else. The mouth was Steve Logan - Quarterback of Middle-of-Nowhere-High Football. Six foot three and two twenty pounds. Most of it ego. I smiled, and walked over. I reached out, and I grabbed some bits he bragged a lot about using on every chick in town, even if Mom’s files said the only tail he’d ever got was some his Dad bought him on his sixteenth birthday. “It ain’t May-a. ‘Cos no, you may not. And I ain’t your baby. I’m the chick with your balls in my fist, so it’s My-a. As in I own your ass. Got it?” I made my smile a little sweeter, in case anyone was looking. Then I clenched a little harder, in case he wasn’t listening.
“If he hasn’t, it sure looks like you have. Got it, I mean. Or them, maybe?”
I didn’t know the voice, but I sure knew the face. Mostly because I’d put a 357 hollow-point in it yesterday. I looked at Cute Hunk Guy. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
He grinned. I had to admit, he was pretty good at it. “I guess you missed.” He grabbed the hand I wasn’t using and raised it to his lips. He kissed it.
I snatched my hand back. Or I would have, if he hadn’t already dropped it. “Missed? Missed? I…” But he was gone. Which was also kind of strange. Apart from him walking round all not-dead I mean. Because we were still in the parking lot and there wasn’t anywhere for him to hide. He must have hid in some place that wasn’t there, because he was sure gone. So I smacked a left hand that could still feel Cute Guy's kiss into Logan and dropped him flat. I probably should have let go of what I still had in my right fist first – but I figured it might let the lesson stick longer. “Like I said. M-a-y-a. My-a, jerk. So if you don’t want me to do this again, somewhere your buddies can see, remember. My-a.” I smiled. “Later, slick. Like, a lot later. Like, never. Got it?” I let go, and got up. I had more important things to do. Like kill a dead guy.
I don’t do sports. Well, not ones that involve short skirts and jumping as high as possible so guys can see what they ain’t going to get. Or shorts that would give a can of spray paint a run for its money. Skirts or shorts, they play merry hell with a thigh holster - even one like mine. And don’t even talk to me about changing rooms and showers. I had to make two girls with rather more curiosity than was good for them ‘leave town’ just as suddenly as Mom had done with Miss Mathews. I told Mom it was a choice between me being a good school citizen and getting with the program, or me wearing hot and heavy. Mom? Mom got me a bigger Glock. And a new holster. Brand new and secret Organisation gear. Said she got it from one of the guys in their lab who thought he was cute. Mom never missed a trick, even if her tricks didn’t know that was all they were. It was a combo armpit and thigh holster. Wrapped round me real close, like a best friend with great benefits. But it had different kinds of benefits. Knives wouldn’t cut it. And you couldn’t tell it from skin. Mom called it ‘trans-dimensional chameleon skin’. She said how it wouldn’t just look like me, like my own skin colour. She said it was high-tech. Opened up a space in, well, space. One my Glock would fit in real sweet. Waterproof, and only I could get it open. So no gun bulges, and my stride would still glide. She said once I put it on, nobody would ever know I was carrying. Which was the good news. The bad? Bad was, it was bio-tech. Integrated bio-tech. Once it went on it was never coming off. It would grow with me, but it would be me as well. I said, fuck bad. Anything let me wear my Glock in the shower or a swimming pool was cool. Damn cool. And how did I put it on?
But still, the type of Phys Ed Mom had on her agenda didn’t come in schools. So the ones I went to got letters from big important doctors saying I had something totally invisible but I might drop dead if I saw a playing field. And the Principals got late night phone calls from untraceable numbers about whatever dirty secrets they had and how they could stay secret. The Principals mostly figured I was a good Family girl, the other kids figured I was either a wimp or a lucky bitch, depending. Me? I got to go for long walks. Like this one. Thing was, the walks were supposed to be alone. Like, it turned out, this one wasn’t.
“Hi.” As Cute Hunk Guys go, he had it down pat. The tree he was leaning against was just a frame for his Olympic Gold in ‘cool’. But I’d spent a long time at the School-of-Mom, and Cute or otherwise, nobody follows me without me seeing them. Apart, it seemed, from this Cute. I pulled my Glock. As my skirt dropped again, he grinned. “Nice… holster.” Since mine was damn near invisible, I figured he wasn’t talking about any place you could put a Glock. Not unless you made kink look straight, anyway. Oh, and it sounded like he was big on one liners. Me, I let my Glock do my talking. A clip later he raised an eyebrow. As opposed to spouting blood. Or looking surprised. Or being dead. So I swept his ankles, yanked his arm and dropped him flat. My foot on his throat held him down while I checked the tree. The splinters round the holes and the buried lead told me nobody had been messing with my clip. But 357 slugs aren’t supposed to go from Glocks to trees without messing anything in between real bad. And – I looked down – Cute Guy was a lot of things, but a mess wasn’t one of them. Right now what he was mostly doing was looking. Like, up. There was a small chance he was looking for the buckle on my thigh holster, but a much bigger chance he wasn’t. Which was fine. There wasn’t any buckle anyway, so if he wasn’t going to play nice and be dead at least he could play guy and be distracted. I moved my foot, maybe to get a better hold on his throat. But mostly to give him a better distraction. “Thing is” I ground my foot into his throat a little harder, letting my thighs ‘accidentally’ spread a bit wider “Thing is, if it was a vest, there’d be no slugs in the tree. So it ain’t no vest. But if it ain’t no vest you’re all dead already. So what gives?”
“Well, maybe we should talk about that.” He was still grinning. And looking. Then he looked up. At me, not my skirt. “Or maybe we should do the whole small-talk thing, if we’re going to get all personal. Like – do you like poetry?”
Poetry? Poetry wasn’t good. Poetry could make a bad day a lot worse.
He grinned some more. “Like my favourite. I wonder if you know it? Robert Frost. ‘I must go down to the sea again…’ He waited.
Poetry. Right. Frost. Who never got closer to any lonely sea and sky than ‘Sand Dunes’. Riiight. But there was still a chance. I grinned as well. “Sure. I know that one. ‘And all I ask is a chance to see the Catcher in the Rye.’”
Now he wasn’t grinning. “And a Boojum, and a Bandersnatch, and a Snark soft waiting.”
It was my turn. And it was this week’s code. The Big One. The Emergency One. The one Mom made me memorise every Sunday. The gun Cute Hunk Guy hadn’t had in his hand until he did said I’d better get it right, unless I knew his trick with bullets. And I didn’t. So I pulled him up. Now I wasn’t grinning either. “And a Walrus, and a Carpenter, and the oysters quaking.” Because dead or not, Cute or not – Cute Guy and Mom went to the same staff dances.