In case you’re late to the party, I’ve decided to force myself into editing That Damn Book (aka “Kumir”) by committing to releasing a chapter a week here online, for free! This is definitely a Work In Progress – feedback is welcome and appreciated! If you missed it, Chapter 1 is here.
The cold morning wind blew the paper litter around the woman’s legs as she walked with an easy stride out of the coffee shop and turned into the alley. The shadows were graying with the slow creep of dawn, and her unruly blonde hair, skin and leathers seemed to glow with a rainbow of pewtered shades. She held the whip loosely in her right hand, the coils making a dull tap with every step as they bumped against her leg. As she passed her toppled bike she spared it an ironic half-smile, but made no move to set it upright. She looked down the alley, now empty, neither bikers nor bums in sight. She stood there, weight balanced, as though she were waiting for something she knew was going to happen.
Sudden flashes of red light slashed over the alley walls, and she glanced over her shoulder to see an ambulance pulling up. A vague logo emblazoned with “St. Antoine’s Free Clinic” was barely visible under the street grime covering the side. The driver, eyes crazed by too many stimulants and too little rest, looked at her through the rolled-down passenger window. His scruffy beard was a shade darker than the sandy blonde receding hairline that straggled down to his collar. There was a distinctly Jesus-like aura to his hopped-up alertness.
“Hey, lady! You don’ wan’ be there, lady! They takin’ Mr. Doukas’ woman home, and you even look at her, they cut you! Bad!” His voice was a frenetic staccato, but there was a feeling of genuine care underneath. “They cut the last fella whut looked down that alley, and it was bad…real bad. Doc Jonesy had to take care of him.” The driver looked down in mournful remembrance. “That guy, he used to be so pretty…Doc Jonesy can’t make him pretty again. Best he could do was make his face-parts work again.” His face looked sad as a basset hound. “Mostly…”
Jane thought for a moment, and then smiled at the driver. “I bet I can guess your name.”
The driver smiled beatifically back. “Really? That’d be a neat trick.”
“It’s Jonesy, isn’t it?”
The man shook his head with puppy-like eagerness. “Nope!” As she frowned, he laughed with manic glee. “It’s Crew Chief Jonesy!”
Her smile widened at that. “Ah. Yes. Your turn to be crew chief, I guess. Double shift?”
Crew Chief Jonesy’s smile kind of dwindled. “You know it, lady. Every fucking day.”
The woman’s smile turned thoughtful. “You really used to care, before the speed, didn’t you?”
The man grinned happily at her. “Still do! That’s why I’m on it – there ain’t no other drivers, and somebody’s gotta take care of business. Just dropped off another chica from the Toy Shoppe. She split her –” suddenly he stopped, eyes looking wildly up, then worriedly back at her. “Wait. Am I doing that TMI thing again? Doc Jonesy told me I needed to stop talkin’ so much…”
Jane waved a benediction to the driver. “No problem, Chief. And thanks for the warning about looking down here. Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.” At a sound from down the alley, her head snapped around with a raptor’s speed, and she saw a group of Incubikers exiting into the alley from a side door, a separate silhouette tall and slender in the midst.
“It’s Monique!” Jonesy whispered reverently from behind her. “Mr. Doukas’ woman. I’m tellin’ ya, lady, ya shouldn’t be here.”
Jane squinted at the veiled figure surrounded by the five men. It was hard to tell if it they were honor guard or prisoner escort. Without looking, she motioned the driver to leave. “You might want to tell Doc Jonesy to get three beds ready. I think you’re going to get some more business.”
As the ambulance left with a squeal of rubber on asphalt, Jane watched the Incubikers escort the shrouded woman down the alley towards her. As soon as he saw her the leader held up his fist, stopping the group. His face twisted into an ugly smile as he recognized the woman in brown leathers. He tapped the man closest to the woman on the shoulder, nodding towards the side of the alley. “Take Miss Monique over there and watch her. This’ll just take a second.” The younger man looked surprised, but he reached for the woman’s arm to pull her away from the group. The night rang out with a harsh slap and the young man yelped, his hand moving up to his cheek.
“Tell the probie not to fucking touch me, Beecee.” Monique’s precise tones belied the profanity, her low alto voice almost a growl. The leader – Beecee – shook his head as though annoyed, turned towards the young man and matter-of-factly punched him in the face. It wasn’t an especially hard punch, only bringing the younger man to his knees, but Jane thought she could see blood dripping onto the asphalt from his mouth.
Beecee looked on dispassionately. “Don’t fucking touch Doukas’ woman, probie. But take her over there while we take care of the minibike-dyke.” He turned away, motioning with his hands at his companions to follow.
The four men spread into a semi circle, slowly walking towards Jane. The formation enveloped the petite woman, but she didn’t move save for the regular tap of her snakewhip against her leathers.
Beecee stared hard at her, but when she failed to show any fear he shrugged, hitching his hands in his belt and puffing out his chest.
“You, cunt, are either the stupidest skank on the planet or you have balls of steel where your tits should be.” He glanced at the whip and spit towards it, narrowly missing her boot. “What is that shoelace supposed to do, scare me? Or maybe it’s just a cute little sex toy to go along with that piece of shit you rode in on?” He nodded over her shoulder towards her toppled Honda, shards of mirror twinkling around it in the morning light.
“Yeah, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Jane said, her voice even and friendly. “See, I don’t really care much what you call me – cunt, bitch, dyke, I’m used to it, and truthfully, in the right circumstances – and if you were even a little more creative – it’s kind of a turn-on.” She smiled wider, showing more teeth. “But my bike, my little shliukha, well, she’s kind of sensitive. She can’t help what she is, after all – she was born that way. You calling her names? It’s just kinda cruel.”
The bikers looked at each other, confused, and she chuckled a little. “Here – Beecee, is it?” Without waiting for an answer, she motioned from him to the bike behind her. “I’ll make it simple for you. Apologize to my little shliukha,” she paused, holding up a finger. “And get her a new mirror…and there’ll be no problem.”
Next to Beecee, a man with CHUCKLES embroidered on his vest let out a whoop and slapped the leader on the shoulder. “You hear that, Beecee? She wants you to fuckin’ apologize to her little moped!’ He looked to the other men one by one, winking. “Rich, Oscar, can’t you just see Beecee fixing a goddamned piece of shit Honda? ” The other two men started to chuckle along, but their guffaws faded as they saw the anger growing on Beecee’s face.
The woman’s smile twisted into a more feral grimace. “Why you gotta be laughin’?” she snapped, and their mirth suddenly faded. There was something unfamiliar and dangerous in her voice. “Why you gotta be makin’ my little shliukha feel bad?” The air thickened, a violent potential energy building. Beecee’s hand lifted ever-so-slightly towards Jane.
Then she moved.
A flick of her wrist wrapped the whip around Beecee’s throat and as his hands went up she pulled down and twisted into a slight crouch, pulling hard. The large man was thrown off balance, stumbling into the path of Chuckles and Oscar, who had charged forward at their leader’s signal. They swore as Beecee’s strangling body tangled with them, and Jane took advantage of the confusion to snap a whip kick into Rich’s jaw. The slapping sound of her leather boot to his face mingled with the gritty crunch of his jaw breaking.
As her leg followed though the kick Jane yanked the whip again, forcing Beecee to his knees. Bringing her leg gracefully down onto his back she stepped up onto him, surprising Chuckles and Oscar with a sudden high-lever threat. She pushed off, shifting the whip to her other hand and delivering a palm-strike to Chuckle’s nose. There was a wet crunch of cartilage just before his shriek as he felt his nose break. Jane came down lithely behind Beecee, still connected to him through the whip, and faced the last Incubiker, the one they had called Oscar.
She held the predatory crouch for a moment, ready for him – then slowly straightened up, a tsk-tsk coming from her mouth. Oscar’s hands were shaking as he cowered behind them, trying to protect his face. Jane shook her head slightly and gave another little tug on the whip. It loosened from Beecee’s neck and his breath came in hoarse gasps. Jane ignored him, watching Oscar. The man seemed to be slowly realizing that she wasn’t attacking. One hand started to reach down under his vest, going for the bulge there under his arm.
Jane suddenly smiled again, and it was not a nice smile. “Aw, Oscar, here I thought you might be growing a brain. Ah, well.” Her leg moved, a hard snap sweeping against the side of Oscar’s knee, and he collapsed with a cry, hands cradling the damaged ligaments and tendons.
With a muttered “Crybaby,” she turned, surveying the alleyway littered with the injured Incubikers. Finally her gaze landed on Beecee, still on his hands and knees. In one stride she was in front of him, grabbing his hair and pulling his head up sharply, higher and higher, letting him find his feet.He staggered upright, glaring at her as she released his greasy hair and wiped her hand on her leathers with some distaste. “You know, Beecee,” she said calmly, motioning at his fallen comrades, “they were just in the way.” She nodded towards him. “You, though,” with a pause she spit, precisely landing the phlegm on his boot, “you pissed me off.” She lifted the snakewhip and jabbed the knobby handle into his chest for emphasis.
Growling, he took the bait and grabbed her wrist. Moving with a twisting, almost reptilian speed, she crossed the whip handle across his forearm and pressed at a very precise angle. He yelped as unexpected pain filled his arm and moved in the only direction that seemed to offer relief – back down to his knees. She whipped her foot forward, landing a heel kick square in his chest, and he let out a whuff as it knocked the air out of him. He landed flat on his back with a grunt.
Jane stepped forward, up onto his groin, her bootheel digging into his crotch. She looked down at him for a moment, dispassionately, as if calculating something. With a sudden crack her whip flashed forward at his face.
His wail sounded like an animal as his hands lifted far too slowly, feeling the slickness of blood there. “Bitch! You fucking blinded me! Gonna kill you, bitch – fuck! My eyes!”
“Shut yer hole, you big baby,” she said, coiling her whip slowly. “If I wanted your eyes, I’d be chewing on them right now. I just gave you a sexy scar. So you’ll remember me and my shliukha.” Stepping over him, she nodded at the fifth biker, the probie, looking lost against the wall with the shrouded woman. Seeing that he was not going to move, Jane turned back towards the coffee shop. She paused as her eye caught the glimmer of long red curls shining as the morning light finally broke over the buildings. Monique had stepped away from her escort and lowered her hood.
Jane froze. Monique took a step closer, and then another. Her eyes were lowered at first, looking at the smaller woman’s boots, but they started to lift, taking in the tight brown riding chaps, the brass buckles, the tight-fitting rawhide bike jacket. Jane was motionless under the inspection, staring straight at Monique. When their eyes finally met, Jane’s tongue flicked out, touching her upper lip speculatively.
Two steps were all that separated them, but Monique moved no closer. She simply stood there,no expression readable on the elegant lines of her face. She had a sculptured beauty, smooth marble planes broken by the crimson chaos of her hair. Her eyes, though, more than made up for the stoicism of her face. They were filled with a liquid sorrow that seemed to scream from deep within. A necklace adorned her alabaster throat, a slender chain glittering with stones that echoed the orange glow of the morning. The chain dangled into the shadow of the wrap she held over her décolletage. It was obvious from the silhouetted nipples perking in the chilly morning air that she wore nothing at all underneath it.
“Oh. My.” said Jane, whip almost falling forgotten from her hand. Her grip tightened and she seemed to shake herself. “Ahem. You have a good morning, Miss Monique.” Miming a tip of the hat, she turned and went to the door of the café. As she reached for the door handle, she stopped for a moment and turned to look across the street, directly at one of the security cameras festooned on the Toy Shoppe building, where a lit “T.S. Enterprises” hid the cyber-porn factory in plain sight.
Jane waited until she was sure at least two of the cameras had her in view, and mouthed exaggerated syllables: “Tony. Call me.” Her free hand mimed a phone at her ear as she winked audaciously. Turning, she pulled open the door and disappeared into the cafe.