5.12.2022

Walk All Over You

 Howdy.

 Been a while, huh?  Yep.  But occasionally I still write things (and far less occasionally type them up and revise them).  But I did that now, so, here we go.


This is a sequel to an earlier story I wrote, Gone Shootin'.     It was biker fiction/ crime stuff, and reading it first is not necessary, although it may help a bit, and if I did everything right you'll want to hear more about this chick, anyway.   She just can't stay out of trouble... or stories with titles borrowed from AC/DC songs.  This one's maybe a bit warmer 'n' fuzzier, but it's still got plenty of animosity and a couple fights and a big car chase which is me trying to write something like Bullitt.  And probably failing because, face it, nobody can write something like Bullitt.   But hopefully it'll be entertaining to watch me try.

You can and should soundtrack the whole thing in your head when it starts happening in the story, that'd help a lot! 


 Since Morgan originated in some post-apocalyse "roadwarriorbullshit" stuff I work on a lot, I tried to write a short story.  But there's ten characters to juggle and characterize in that thing so any story with them in it tends to grown into a novel.  Otherwise they'd just be a bunch of cardboard you'd never keep straight or care about.  But, I'll probably keep trying...  I also have some more horror stories in the works, so, one of these days...

 

As always, if you liked this (or even if you didn't), there are more stories here, by me and by others.  Almost all of them are horror stories, so if biker-chick-mayhem isn't your thing, maybe that will be.  Here's a handy-dandy list to all of it.

KickerOfElves:
Profbolt:
My stuff:
And little descriptions of actual nightmares I’ve had

Now, let's hit the fuckin' road.

 

 

                                                                                WALK ALL OVER YOU

 

It had been eleven days since Morgan Stack had killed three men and now that she was two states and a new name away from the bodies, her paranoia level was finally beginning to settle.   A bruise on her tummy from a fight with one of the deceased had faded enough that she was baring it with a torn-off tank top, happily getting some relief from the sticky Louisiana summer. She had better tee-shirts, but was using one nearly-new one as an oil rag.  Considering what had gone down in the last town she didn’t want to be seen wearing Ghost Patrol support gear and help local law enforcement make connections.  Connections were also why she was looking over her bike, considering painting it green.  She hated green bikes, but nobody was looking for one.

Someone was decidedly eyeballing her bike as she sat on the sidewalk tuning it up, but this guy didn’t raise her hackles much, since he was only about seven years old.  She pulled out a spark plug, looked hard at it, glanced over at the kid, then started gapping it.  She let a minute pass, then since he hadn’t moved she said, without looking up, “You know, you could see better if you came over here.”

He stood there and she could feel him gathering his nerve.  Morgan scowled around at the sunlight brightening the trees.  Somewhere a lawnmower was going and she could smell fresh-cut grass.  Time passed. 

She smirked at the spark plug, then glanced back at him so he couldn’t pretend she wasn’t talking to him, and twisted the plug in the rag.   Slowly, like someone approaching a firework that hadn’t gone off, he crept toward her.  She didn’t look up again until he stopped about ten feet away, head-start distance.

He was a little black kid, dark skinned, skinny, with some fresh band aids and old scars that gave her a bad feeling.  She’d had similar scars at his age, put there by the monsters who were her father and uncle, the first two people she’d killed.  She hoped this kid just played a lot of football or something, didn’t have such relatives, but in this neighborhood she doubted that kind of luck.  She’d stand out too much in the happy-kid neighborhoods.  She widened her eyes at him to let him know he was expected to say something.

“Harley D-uh-avidson,” he said, stuttering a little, pointing at the chrome on the tank.  “Is it a r-real one?”

“Real as Milwaukee was making ‘em back in the ‘70’s,” she said, then smirked at the spark plug she was still polishing.  “Which is a far-piece realer than they make ‘em now.”   “Far” came out “fur” and she winced; she’d worked hard to scour the West Virginia from her accent but sometimes it crept back in.  Identifying marks.

“Is it yours?”

“It better be, since I’m taking it apart.”  She held out the spark plug.  “Know what this is?”

He shook his head no, then said, “Is it a s-spark plug?”

“Yep.  See, you knew after all.  You’re smarter than you thought.”  She smiled.

He smiled back.  “My mom’s boyfriend works on his car sometimes.”

“Yeah?  You help him?”

“N-no.  He won’t l-let me.”  He shrugged.  “Tells me to get l-lost.”

“Well, that’s no good.  How’re you supposed to learn stuff if you have to get lost?”

He shrugged and pulled his fingers and kicked at the ground, saying unspoken things that she recognized with a little ache.  “How old are you?”

He held up both hands with the thumbs tucked in and Morgan pointed to each, making a big show of counting them like it was a big number.  “Eight.  That’s over a handful of years.  That’s old enough to know some stuff.  Somebody should take time to show you instead of chasing you off.  Here.”  She showed him the plug, and he stepped closer, carefully.  “See this part?  It’s ceramic.  See how it’s grey?  That’s good.  It means it’s getting the right fuel flow.  If it’s white it’s not burning enough, if it’s black, that’s carbon, and it’s running too hot.  Make sense?”   He shrugged, and she laughed.  “That’s okay.  Lotsa people riding these things don’t understand it, either.”  She held it out to him.  “Tell you what.  You put this back where it goes for me.”

“I d-don’t know where it g-goes.”  He tugged at his fingers some more, then took the plug, examining it.

“Bet you can figure it out,” she said, leaning back on her palms.  “Try.”

“What if I do it wrong?”  He turned the plug around, looking at the bike.

“I won’t let you do it wrong, don’t worry.  I love this bike too much.  I built it.”

“You built it?”

She nodded, smiling her eyes at him.  The eyes were so light grey they threw back the light like chrome, remarkable eyes that always shocked anyone who saw them, especially given the contrast with her long brown hair.  Morgan was an astoundingly beautiful young woman, the kind you’d see once at a bus stop and then remember on your deathbed.  It was a fact she wasn’t too crazy about most of the time, since she was a criminal and didn’t want to be noticed.  It was an asset she could exploit, but a bigger liability, since it attracted unwanted people and made her too easy to notice and describe.  “Look for the supermodel in the stolen car,” that narrowed it down, damnit.

“I didn’t know girls could build motorcycles.”  He smiled, knowing it might be dangerous ground.  Chauvinism, but it charmed her since he was eight.

She laughed.  “Maybe girls can’t, but women kick butt at it.  Show me how kids are at it.  Go ahead, look at the engine there, where do you think that goes?  Look close, take your time.”

The boy leaned in and stared at the big modified V-Twin.  “Can I touch it?”

“Sure.  You’re kinda gonna have to to fix it, right?”

He found a hole and poked it with his finger, then looked at her and she raised an eyebrow.  “You’re gonna stop me if I do it wrong, right?  I don’t wanna mess up your bike.”

“I’ll stop you.  Don’t be nervous.  This is serious steel, you’d have to beat hell out of it to hurt it.  Anyhow, I have faith in you.  You look like a smart fella.”

“You don’t even know my name,” he laughed.

“Easy enough to fix.  So, tell me.”

“It’s Paul.”

She held out her hand.  “Glad to meet you, Paul.  I’m Jane.”   That was a lie, but one she could produce two forms of I.D. to support if she had to.  She could be any one of six people at the moment.  Jane seemed the best fit for this town, since her driver’s license was from the state capitol.  In the next town she might use Abigail.  It seemed a challenge, being an Abigail.  Sounded girly.  They were all names of people who’d died in infancy, and Morgan was their ghost, the only life they’d ever have.  She doubted they’d like what she did with it, but, too bad.  That’s what you get for dyin’.  She figured she’d get her turn soon enough, and then she’d probably be a Jane again: Jane Doe.  That’s if they even found anything to stick a label on.

Paul shook her hand.  He stared at the bike, then poked the spark plug in the hole.  He tried it the wrong way and it didn’t fit, so he tried it the other.  He turned it and it felt right and he smiled, knowing he’d solved it.  Morgan winked at him and handed him a wrench.  “Right tighty, lefty loosey.”

“What’s that m-mean?”

“Turn it to the right – this way” – she took his hand – “and you tighten it.  Which is what you want to be doing.  Turn it to the left and you loosen it.  At least, that’s how it works in the Western hemisphere.”

“Is it different other places?”

“I have no idea, sometimes I just say stuff.”  He looked confused and she smiled.  “Water goes down the drain counter-clockwise in, like, Australia.  You probably wouldn’t know that, so it’s a dumb joke.  Forget it.  Just try the wrench.”  She started it for him, then let him finish, then dabbed a little dielectric grease on the tip of the plug.  “Now, this wire here, where might that go?”

He shrugged.

“Look at the other one, here.”  He looked, then slipped the cap back onto the plug and laughed.

Morgan clapped.  “Good work!  You know how many grown-ups have never done that?  You’re halfway to being a mechanic.  Big help, thank you!”

He smiled big.  “Can I take the other one out?”

“Yeah, save me the trouble.  Go to it.”  She sat back to watch, glancing up and down the street.

Paul fiddled with it.  “You’re nice.”

“Not always.  But you look worth being nice to.  And I could tell you like my bike.  I like people who like my bike, most of the time.  All of the time if they’re eight.”

“Would you ride me on it?”

“Not unless your mom says okay.  No Amber Alerts going out on this chick, bruh.”

“What’s an Amber Alert?”

“Something you never want to be a part of.  Anyway, you better be careful, wanting to ride with people you just met.  It’s a creepy world.”

“Yeah.  I’m not even supposed to talk to you.”

She nodded and made a face.  “Yeah.  We’re out on the street, though, and everybody can see us.  It’s not that bad.  Gotta be careful, though.  Be safe.”

“You don’t look like you’d hurt anybody.”

She wanted to laugh.  Bad judge of character, this kid.  She’d hurt more people than she could keep track of, and put a few in the ground… three who were barely cold yet.  None of them had been kids, though, and never would be.  So, maybe he wasn’t too far off. She felt good, giving him that vibe.  It meant, damaged as she was, she could turn the menace off when she wanted.

“You’re really pretty,” he said.

“Thank you.  You’re quite handsome yourself.”

“I never seen eyes like yours.”

“I get that a lot.  Did they scare you at first?”    He laughed.  “Uh-huh, admit it.  They’re monster eyes, huh?  Blaaagh!”

“Maybe a little.  I like them, though.”

“Yeah, me too.  Seeing stuff is useful.  Be hard to ride, one hand on the handlebar, the other on the road.  Guess I could get one of those canes.”  He didn’t laugh, and she said, “It’s okay, I know I’m not very funny.”  She helped him start the plug, and once it was loosened, she let him ratchet it.

“My dad’s brother is blind.”

“Yeah?  That’s rough.  Sorry.”

“He’s got diabetes.  He’s nice, though, like you.”

Probably can’t afford to be not-nice, she thought.  The more options people have for being an asshole, the more they seem to take.  Instead, she said, “Good.  People ought to be nice to you.  You’re a helpful kid.”

“Aw, I’m not really helping.”

“Sure you are.  I get tired of wrenching everything.  And anyway, you’re keeping me company.  It gets lonely, being new in town.”   The last part, at least, had some truth to it.  Morgan spent most of her life being new in town.  That bike was her home, and it moved fast.  And even though she didn’t like people much, seeing them all around made her feel singled out.  Usually people were better as part of a blur.

“You gonna live here now?” Paul asked hopefully.

She shook her head.  “As long as I’m able to move I’m not gonna live anywhere.”

“Never?  Even when you get old?”

Morgan smiled.  The kid was cute, thinking she’d live that long.  “Maybe if I get so I can’t handle the bike anymore.  ‘Til then, nah.  Not for me.  I’m here a week or two, then gone-ski.”

“I wish I could move,” Paul said, quiet, like a secret.

“Yeah?  Got stuff you want to get away from?” Morgan probed, feeling a chill, more due to her own past than his present.

He nodded.  “M-mean people around here.”

“Mess with ya, huh?”

He shrugged, tugging at his fingers.  She gave his shoulder a squeeze.  “Well, they shouldn’t.  Someday you can move.  Or they will.  Things always change.  Not everybody’s mean, right?  You got your uncle.  How about your mom?”

“Yeah, she’s n-nice.  When she can be.  Her b-boyfriend yells at her when she is, though.”

“One of those guys who doesn’t believe in being nice, huh?  There’s always a jerk.”

“He’s an asshole,” Paul said, squinting to see if he’d get in trouble for saying the word, being a risk taker.

“Sounds like maybe he is.  Won’t let you watch him work on cars, that sounds pretty assholish to me.  Tell you what.  If you’re interested in engines and stuff, ask me anything you want about this bike, what any part does, and I’ll tell you about it.  I don’t think you’re too young to learn some stuff.  You seem smart.”

“I’m not bothering you?” he squinted.

“Nope.  I like you, you’re a good guy.  You helped me change my spark plugs, you kept me company in a lonely town, and I think answering your questions is a good use of my time.  Somebody’s gotta keep riding these things after I get too old.  So, what do you want to know?  Lotsa funny-lookin’ gizmos there.  Pick one.  Let’s play stump the biker chick.  I always win.”

He grinned and started pointing to things, and she gave him a non-tech version of what they were and how they worked.  If they were easy to take off, she did it, and let him put them back on.  She figured he wasn’t understanding it all, but he was feeling respected and that’s something she’d have loved at his age.  Maybe if she’d gotten it she wouldn’t be needing to ditch a gun, which he was keeping her from doing, but that was okay.  Time was money, but it was a good idea to invest some.  The happier he got, she noticed, the less he stuttered.

They kept it up until Paul’s mom called him and he had to go.  He shook hands with her and left, and Morgan judged she still had plenty of time to get a gun deal in operation, so she swung onto the bike, fired it, and headed out.

   *******************

                The biker hang-out in this town was called, not very originally, The Iron Horse Stable Company.  And that was the most original thing about it; the place, and the people in it, looked like a hundred other places and people Morgan had seen, decorated in secondhand deja-vu right down to the neon beer signs.  She didn’t particularly want company, but she did want a new off-the-books firearm, and places like this were the best place to find a hookup, so she’d dropped around a couple of times, asking likely people appropriately vague questions.

                A fat old guy she’d talked to before spotted her and walked over, smiling.  He hadn’t been obnoxious, either by nature or by being too old to get away with it anymore, so he hadn’t caught as big a dose of the usual Morgan Stack go-to-hell as most did.  “Howdy!  Jane, was it?”

                “Was it?  Yeah, I guess it was.  I sometimes forget what name I’m using,” Morgan said, knowing the truth would be taken as a joke.  It was fun to fess up and be thought a witty bitch for doing it.  She bumped fists with him.  “Arnold, right?”

                “Yep.  Thanks a lot, dad,” the old guy sighed.  “Always wanted me a cool nickname instead, but the onliest one I could ever scare up was Turtle, and even Arnold’s better than that.”

                Morgan winced.  “Yeah, even I’d take Arnold over Turtle.  What, was you slow, or couldn’t get up if somebody flipped you on your back?”

                He laughed.  “Naw.  Believe it or not, worse.  Before my fusion surgery, I used to poke my face forward all the time.  I can’t even do it now to show you.”  He rubbed the back of his neck.

                Morgan laughed.  “Bikers can be so fucking mean.”

                “Yeah, you tell me.  That why you was looking for a gun?”

                “Oh yeah, gotta shoot some dudes up,” Morgan said with a teasing smirk.  “Sumbitches been trying to call me ‘Turtle.’”

                He laughed.  “Smartass.  I like you.  Hell if I can think of a reason why, though.”

                “I’m awful pretty,” Morgan shrugged.

                “Well, that’s got something to do with it.  ‘Cept you’re that kinda pretty that scares me, that kind that’ll make a guy do stupid things for you.”

                “Like get involved in illegal arms deals?”

                “Exactly.   If you’re still in the market, the one you want to talk to is here.”  He raised his chin toward the back of the room.  “Cowboy.”

                Morgan squinted through the smoke and neon, seeing a couple of guys shooting pool.  Both of them looked dumb as shit and Morgan’s hopes sank.  They’d be on every cop’s radar.  Want to blip hard, get you some prison tats, preferably those fucking teardrops on your face.  God.

                “In the booth back there,” Arnold said.

                “All I see back there’s a girl.”

                “Yeah, that’s Cowboy.”

                Morgan’s eyebrows raised.  Well, this was a new one.  She dug a twenty out of her black leather jeans, dropped it on the bar, and squeezed Arnold’s shoulder.  “Pour yourself anything you want and keep the change.”

                “Unnecessary, but appreciated,” he said, and Morgan went across the room toward the girl in the booth.

                The girl was quite pretty, shoulder-length blonde hair with bangs hanging in her green eyes, freckles sprayed across her turned-up nose and cheeks, rangy lean build.  She looked up at Morgan.  “You Cowboy?” Morgan asked.

                “Yaw-zzzzzz,” the girl purred.  “Do something for ya?”

                “Could be.  I hear you deal guns.”

                “Guns?  Never heard of ‘em,” the girl said, smirking and rolling her eyes.  “Oh, you must mean gum.  Yeah, I like spearmint.”

                Morgan slid into the booth across from her.  “If you think I’m a cop or an eighty-F I’m gonna get my feelings hurt.  I am, in no way and by no means, affiliated with law enforcement other than being the occasional guest, and only when they insist and I’m not roadrunner enough for they coyote shit.”

                Cowboy laughed.

                “Now that entrapment’s off the table, can you hook me up?  Ideally I’d just need a new barrel, but I’ll go the whole shmear if that’s not doable.”

                “New barrel?  Somebody’s been a bad girl.”  Cowboy smiled and the freckles went everywhere.

                Morgan shrugged.  “Somebody was being a bad boy.”

                “Shit does happen, don’t it?  What kind of a barrel?”

                “.45 Detonics.”

                “Whoa.  Those are unusual.  Usually everybody don’t know no better and just has a shitty-ass Glock, because everybody else has a shitty-ass Glock. Plastic Hasbro bullshit.   Do you know the same factory that makes Glocks makes Barbie dolls?”

“Is that true?” Morgan laughed.

“I have no idea, but I like saying it.  You handle a .45?  They got a habit of jamming in female hands.”

“Never had that problem,” Morgan said.  “Maybe my hands aren’t dainty enough.”  She held them up, and they were the least feminine part of her, scarred and maltreated.  As a young child she’d developed an obsession with carrying tree stumps around, trying to get strong enough to fight off her daddy and uncle, and it had left her arms sinew-strong enough to handle a .45 the way most did a .22.  Wrecked ‘em for pretty, though.

Cowboy looked at Morgan’s arms, pressed her lips together, and raised her eyebrows.  “Could be.  Well, my brother’s really the one with most of the connections, but he’s locked up in Angola for a while.  I betcha I can shake a Detonics barrel out of a certain tree I know about, though.  Can you handle a wait of a couple’er three days?”

“Oh yeah, should be no problem.  Sometimes I go a whole month or two without shooting anybody.”

Cowboy laughed.  “You must be from one of the good neighborhoods.  Best I’ve managed is a week.  And that was only because daylight savings time started.”   Morgan laughed, mostly for diplomacy, and Cowboy bumped fists with her.  “So, your name?”

“Oh, sorry.  It’s Jane.”

Cowboy nodded.  “Tarzan the reason you need a replacement barrel?”

“Yep.  Knocked that booger right off the vine.  You shoulda heard him yell then.”

Cowboy covered her face and laughed.  “I should not laugh at these things.  In fact, we ought to go shoot.  I was gonna get tipsy but you caught me on my first, and I’ve got a range about five minutes off.  Feel like making some noise?  Making life bad downrange?”

“Sure.  Wouldn’t want to miss a chance to shoot with a girl named Cowboy.”

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but my real name?  It’s Jane.  Not that your real name is.  Nobody buying barrels uses their real one.”

“Ah, there’s always an exception,” Morgan smirked and rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, but exceptions are dumb, and I can already tell you ain’t that,” Cowboy said, standing up.

“So, anyway, Cowboy, huh?  Cowboy Jane.  Sounds Brokeback.”

“Yeah.  I like horses and stuff, and my brother claims I’m too good at it for a girl.  Insult and a compliment.  You like horses?”

“Only the steel ones.”

“You should try the organic kind.  Bet you’d like it.”

Morgan shook her head.  “I can ride them if I have to, but I don’t like things that have to depend on me.  The organic kind’s too much like a relationship.  You end up shoveling somebody’s shit.”

Cowboy stopped to hug a guy on the way out and said, “Sworn to fun and loyal to none, huh?”

“What’s ‘fun’?” Morgan asked.

Cowboy laughed.  “Get in the truck and I’ll show you.”

Morgan nodded to her bike.  “I’ll follow.”

Cowboy looked at the bike.  “Wow. Shit.  Okay, I maybe would give up a horse for that.”

“No shovel required.  Ain’t even a shovelhead.”  Morgan threw a long leg over it and stomped it to life.  “I’ll ride you back to your truck if you want to pack on.”

“Hell,” Cowboy said, and climbed on behind Morgan.  “Gonna let you play with my guns, the least I can do is play with your bike.”

Morgan knuckled it and they were gone.

  *******************

 The next day Morgan pulled her bike up after a ride and swung off of it, rubbing her bruised shoulder.  There’d probably be another on her hip, considering what she and Cowboy had fired the day before.  She was heading into her cheap rented room when she heard “Jane!  Jane!”  Remembering that was supposed to be her, she turned and saw Paul running up to her.  He stopped, smiling big and breathing so hard in excitement he couldn’t talk.  He was so happy to see her that for a second she wanted to cry.

“Hey, I know you.  You’re Paul, my mechanic,” she said, crouching down so she wouldn’t loom over him.  She held out her hand and he shook it.  “What you been up to?  Fixing any more bikes?”

“Naw,” he laughed.  She noticed he had a new band-aid under one ear.  Kind of an odd place to hurt yourself, unless somebody smacked you.  “What you been doing?”

“Getting some groceries,” she said.  “Can you wait here while I run them in?  I’ve got some frozen stuff.  Promise I’ll come right back out.”

“Okay,” he said, and looked at her bike while she stashed her stuff inside, frowning over that band-aid.  She wanted to ask him about it, but remembered what it was like having to answer questions like that.  Kind of put you on a spot about a secret you wanted to keep.  She went back out and sat on the front step, and Paul ran over.  “Is the bike running good?”

Morgan kissed her fingers and flicked them out.   Magnifique.  You did extra good work.”

“Aw, I didn’t really do nothin’.”

“I was there, you can’t fool me.  Takes technique to turn that wrench just right.  Nope, you’ve got the knack and you’re stuck with it.”

He laughed, swinging his arms back to front, back to front, so full of happy he had to burn some off.  “So, where’d you ride to?”

“Well, the grocery store, just now.  But I’ve been lots of places.  Hung out with a girl named Cowboy.”

“Cowboy’s a funny name for a girl!” he laughed.

“I know, right?  She didn’t look a thing like a boy, either.”

“Should be Cow-girl.”

“That’d make a lot more sense.  Anyway, she had horses and stuff.   You like horses?”

“I guess.  I never met one.  I petted a cow on the head once, though.”

“You must’ve been taller back then.  Cows are up here.”

He made a face.

“That’s pretty much the same thing, really.  Horses are kinda like fast cows on a diet.  So, what’ve you been up to, school and stuff?”

“It’s summer.  School’s out.”

“Ah.  So, running around like a crazy person?”

He laughed.  “I guess.  Some.  Watching TV, reading books.”

“Ooo, I love books.  Whatcha reading?”

“Harry Potter, Captain Underpants.  I got some Batman and Spider-Man.  Archie.”

“Captain Underpants?” Morgan laughed.  “Is that really a thing?”

“Yeah!  You never heard of Captain Underpants?”

She shook her head.  “Nope.  That’s a new one to me.  Guess I’m old and missing all the good stuff.”

“You’re not old.  You’re cool!”

“Can’t be old and cool, huh?”

He shrugged.  The arms went round and round.  “So what’re you reading?”

“Well, I was reading Shelby Foote’s history of the Civil War, but it was at the library in the last town I was in, and this town’s library doesn’t have it.  Or they do and it’s checked out, which amounts to the same thing, right?  So I’m re-reading a Stephen King book I have.  ‘Bout vampires, with fangs and scary eyes like I got.”  She hooked her hands into claws and bared her teeth.

“I know about the Civil War,” Paul said.  “That’s when we fought the Yankees.”

Morgan winced inside at the “we” coming from a black kid, but let it go – he’d learn the facts later, they were too heavy for her to tackle and for him to carry right now.

“You like the library?”

“I love the library.”  Morgan had missed most of the school she was supposed to go to, and had self-educated by staying in libraries most days.  They were like homeless shelters where people weren’t allowed to pester you, and they killed a lot of time, safely.  “Don’t you?”

Paul shrugged.  “I never go.”

“Ah, you should.  All the books you could ever want, free.”

“I bet they’ve got Captain Underpants.  You should read those, they’re funny.”

“I’ll bet.  I’m laughing just knowing they exist.”  She looked up and saw a young woman crossing the street towards them.  She looked pleasant so Morgan guessed she wasn’t in any trouble.

“Hi, are you Jane?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am,” Morgan said, standing up to shake hands.

“I’m Cynthia, Paul’s mother.  I hope he isn’t bothering you.”  Morgan was surprised she was white.  With this knowledge she could see a little of a mix in Paul, but his mom’s DNA hadn’t done much.

“Not at all.  On the contrary, actually, he’s really good company.”

Paul held his hands and swayed back and forth, overjoyed.  Morgan looked at Cynthia’s hands, for rings, the kind that could leave cuts.  There were none, and he seemed easy around her.  Morgan noted a bruise on her arm, too, right at the point where you’d be grabbed and shaken by someone angry.

“I think so, too.  Well, he certainly likes you.  For the past couple of days he keeps talking about Jane, and how Jane is his friend, and Jane builds motorcycles, and Jane is Miss America.”

Morgan laughed.  “I don’t know where he got that last part.”  She frowned at Paul.  “Are you telling people I’m Miss America?”

“Well, you could be,” he said.

“I agree,” Cynthia said.  “I’m glad to meet you, and see you’re real.  The way Paul’s been talking about you we were starting to think he made you up.”

“Nope, I’m real.  He came out the other day and helped me tune up my bike.  He did a good job, you should be proud of him.”

“I am,” Cynthia said, stroking his head, and Morgan decided that if anyone were marking this kid up, it wasn’t his mom.  She took Cynthia off her hit list.  “He’s a good boy.  Thank you for being so nice to him.  He’s been next to the moon about it.”

“Can we have Jane over for dinner, mom?”  Paul asked. “Please?  She’s nice!”

“I can see she’s nice,” Cynthia said, embarrassed.  “I’d love to, but you know how Marcus is.  I’m sorry, I…”  Cynthia looked at Morgan.  “I have an unfriendly boyfriend.  Well, not a boyfriend… more something I’m dealing with.”

Morgan nodded.  “I think we’ve all been through that.”  She hadn’t—she’d never put up with it, not since she’d shotgunned her father and uncle – but knew that not everybody could go where she’d gone.

“I hate Marcus,” Paul said.

“Now, son, don’t say things like that.  In any case, I’m sorry, I…”

“No explaining needed.  I don’t have anything to wear, anyway.”  Morgan gestured, showing off an old Motorhead tee-shirt someone had given her, and her black leather pants tucked into motorcycle boots so banged up steel was showing through a toe.

“That wouldn’t matter.  Anyway, thanks for being nice to him.  It’s good for him.”

“No problem.  I enjoy his company, and he deserves it.”

“Yes, he does.”  Cynthia smiled shyly and walked back across the street, and Paul stayed.  “So, did you ride horses?”

“No, I just looked at ‘em,” Morgan said, sitting on the curb.  “I’m better at things with handlebars.”

“So what did you and Cowboy do then?”

Morgan thought about telling him “we shot a B.A.R. and cycled a belt through an M-60,” but decided that might not be a good idea so she said, “Oh, girly stuff.  Playing with dolls and all.”  She wrinkled her nose at him.

“You did not!” he laughed.

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“Yeah!”

She laughed.  “Got me.  I’m gonna call it teasing instead of lying, though.  For lying I’d have to tickle you.”  She poked him.

He laughed.  “Teasing’s just lying that’s not mean.”

“You’re wise.  I’m stealing that.”

“You don’t have to steal it, I’m giving it to you.”

She pointed at him.  “I like your style, bud.  You’re quick.”

He snorted like a goof and she had to giggle at him.  It felt strange, she wasn’t used to it.  He didn’t look used to being so happy, either.  “Got anything else you need fixed on the bike?” he asked.

“Nope, runs perfect.  When my mechanic wrenches something, he does it right.  I am forgetting what some of the parts are and what they do, though.  Think you could remind me?”

“Yeah!”  They went over to the Harley and passed about an hour.  Morgan probed a bit about the bandaid under his ear and when he became evasive and started stuttering it told her all she needed to know, so she got him to tell her about Captain Underpants instead.

Morgan was pretty sure she hated Marcus, too.

 

  *******************

 

The next morning Morgan was heading out for a ride and a big Olds Cutlass, 1971 model, rumbled by her, and Morgan took note.  Her father and uncle had fixed up several cars and made her run ‘scrips and weed and shine in them, stupidly figuring the cops would blame her if she were caught and only send her to juvie.  One of them had been a ’71 Olds, and she’d loved the big 442 engine.  This one was painted a bright lime green and Morgan decided that no, she would not paint her bike green even if not doing it risked prison.  What an awful thing to do to a nice car.  The guy in it gave her a scowl.  Most guys tried smiling at Morgan, hoping to win points.  Not this prick.

Surprisingly the Olds pulled in at Paul’s house.  It bubbled exhaust a bit, then shut down and a convict got out.  Morgan had been around so many people who’d done time that she could spot them almost immediately from certain mannerisms.  This guy was built like a golf tee, all upper body muscle from hitting the weight pile, stacked on skinny legs from sitting playing cards all day.  He walked like there were people in front and behind him, a lunch-line waddle, the institution conga.  He’d been in, and for a while, too.

He looked back over at her, went in the house for a minute, then came back out, lunch-lining towards her.  He was a big guy.  He wouldn’t be fast but she wouldn’t want to let him get a grip on her.  That’d be bad.  Not that she couldn’t get out of it, but it’d require hardware, which would make it a felony.  The legs were a target. He’d be watching his groin.  She’d go upside his knee with a kick-stomp if it came to that, maybe jab his eyes then while he worried over his leg, then she would kick him in the balls, put him on the ground, and start raining boots.  Or, backup plan, knife slash, then stick-stick-stick.  Felony again, but she was a female, he was male, who’d convict her, especially if she cried about how scared she was?  She was a good enough actress.

This wasn’t animosity on Morgan’s part, just an exercise she ran whenever anybody who might be a problem approached.  A lot of people wondered if they could take someone out; Morgan just thought of how.  She raised off the bike and waited, calm.

“You’d be Jane,” he said.  She glanced at his hand – yep, there was that ring – then looked back at his face.  It was wide, with a flat nose that likely wasn’t genetic, hound-dog eyes of a dull green, and a wide mouth that creased at the sides from being pulled down a lot.  A deep scar bisected the corner of it.  His forearms sported tats featuring locks and bars and “hard time” slogans – proud of getting caught and wanting everyone to know it.  Dumb sonofabitch.

Morgan gave him flat-effect and said, “Marcus?”

He looked surprised, not happily, but nodded.  “My girlfriend’s kid been out here botherin’ you.”

“Nope,” she said, smiling a bit, easy.  “He’s been out visiting me a little, hasn’t bothered me once.  He’s a good kid.”

“He’s a dumb kid and needs to mind his own business.  Wants to mess with my car now.  You got him thinking I should be showing him how to work on engines.”

“Why don’t you, then?”

“Because he’s fucking eight.  And because he’s a pain in my ass.”

Morgan thought about telling him some of the amazing things she’d learned before she was eight, but you don’t hand a guy like Marcus anything he can use.  “Well, he’s not a pain in mine, and mine’s prettier than yours, so there.  He was interested so I showed him some things.  Could be you showed him some things you’d find out you like him, too.”

“None of that’s any business of yours, is what I’m saying.  You gone stop talking to him because it gives him ideas and makes him bother me.  Get me?”

“Nope.”

He stared at her and shifted, trying to make himself look bigger, and it amused her that she’d made him feel like he needed to.  He rocked his weight to his left leg.  Left knee, then, that’s what she’d hit.  Throw her weight into a stomp-kick and he’d go down like a tent.  Except a tent doesn’t get danced on after.   “Nope what?”

“Nope I don’t getcha.”  She smiled.  “Do you want me to getcha?  You won’t like it much.  Really hurts.”

Marcus stared, not believing this.  Most men backed away when he barked, and now a fucking supermodel was lipping at him, didn’t seem scared?  He did not like that.  “What’d you say?”

“Ah, let’s not play ‘what’d you say,’” Morgan sighed.  “’What’d you say,’ when you damn well heard what I said, is boring.  You want to throw down, then throw, and I’ll show you something not boring.”

He stared.  She raised her eyebrows at him, like she was waiting.  “Bitch, you crazy.”

“Uh huh, that’s what they say.  Not as crazy as any sumbitch thinks he’s gone tell me what to do, though.”

He huffed.  “Cunt, you ‘bout to make me mad.”

“How would I do it?” she smirked.  “I’d like to.”

“You don’t really want to find out, believe that,” he said.

“Well, I’d tell you to calm down, but there’s no reason to be calm.  Not after you come at me barking bitch-this cunt-that you’re-gonna.  Kinda shit gets you hurt.  So you should be keyed up, close as you are to some serious bleeding and finding out if the Lord loves ya.”

Marcus stared at her, then laughed.

She smiled and said, “Oh, I hate to see you being such a good sport about it.”

“You really are crazy,” he laughed.  “God damn!”

Morgan smiled big and made wide crazy eyes, then eased back down.

“Okay, then.  Well, I’m not sure what to do.  If you were a man I’d beat the shit out of you.”

“And if you were a man you wouldn’t make excuses for being a coward.”

Marcus snorted.  “You think I won’t hit you just because you’re a woman?”

“No, I think women and kids are pretty much all you swing on.  Try it on me and I’ll show you something interesting, like what the inside of your arm looks like.”

He grinned and scowled at the same time.  “What if I call your bluff, cunt?”

“Then I’ll see you die ugly.  Uglier, I mean.  You’re already at ugly.”  She leaned back on the bike, let that hang in the air.  Left knee, then throat.  Yep.  Take two seconds, then kicking and stomping as long as she felt like it, which was usually a while due to the mean streak she got from her daddy’s side of the family.

He laughed, but it was nervous.  “Okay.  Well, you got a sense of humor.”

Morgan nodded.  “I do, but a buncha dudes missing some pieces will tell you it’s better if I don’t use it.”  She stepped away from the bike and looked into his eyes.  “Look, I get it, you’re a tough guy.  Unless you want a damn girl to help you find out how tough, you’ll quit gulping air to make you look big, ‘cuz I’m not impressed, I’ll just pop you.  All I did was be nice to a little kid who deserves to have people be nice to him.  That’s how it should be.  If that makes you look bad, that ain’t my problem.  You take it out on him, though, that’s going to be your problem, because I know where you live.  And I doubt you got anybody who likes you enough to be wiping your ass while both arms are broke.”

                “All right, well, shit,” Marcus said, then came at her.

                He managed to grab her shoulder with such force she suddenly felt fragile as a baby bird and wondered if she’d made a mistake, but nothing goes neatly in a fight so she changed plans on the fly and pulled him over her hip and dumped him on the ground, trying to put a little extra spice in it.  He wuffed but scrambled back up and came in again.

                She stepped into his left knee and threw her weight against it, like she was trying to stomp-start a stubborn panhead on a cold morning.  His legs were tougher than they looked because it didn’t snap and fold in, but he still started down and met Morgan’s knee coming up, catching him in the jaw instead of the throat because things get messy.  It still didn’t do him a whole lot of good, though.  He heaved up a second, scrambling on all fours and trying not to go down, and she was on him, smacking him in the side of the head.  When he grabbed at her she tried to hook his arm so she could trap it and snap it, but he was too strong and kept stripping it away before she could get a good grip on it.  Morgan snarled in frustration, really wanting to break Marcus’s elbow.  She’d had her heart set on wrecking the arm that he’d hit Paul with, but he just wasn’t providing the opportunity.

When he started trying for her leg a chill went through her and she stepped away, not risking anything she didn’t have to.  It was a move she’d been looking for: a guy like that would want to scoop her up and throw her down and she couldn’t have that; it’d be over. 

If she had to go to the ground, she needed to take him with her. Morgan had trained with an old wrestling “shooter,” a really brutal mean old sonofabitch who’d delighted in teaching her everything when he’d seen how well a girl could take to it, so if she and Marcus went to the pavement she’d know what to do, and she could probably take out that elbow.  But it was better to avoid that situation with a guy a lot stronger than her, so she hung back and watched him.  Marcus got to one knee and tried to get up, but a kick in the ear sent him to the asphalt and then she sailed her steel-toed motorcycle boots into him hard, trying to kick something on the other side of him, letting him get in the way.  He whuffed and she felt ribs give and his squeak made her laugh.  She wanted to feel him cave in and snap in half, but he had too much beef wiring him together.  He was hurt, though, damn sure hurt.  Then she sat back on the motorcycle and caught her breath while she watched him writhe.  She enjoyed it so much that she was almost ashamed of her sadism.   She loved doing this so much she worried there was really something wrong with her.

                Groaning, he looked up at her.

                Morgan worked some spit around in her mouth and sent it at his face.  She missed and it slid down his arm, making some poorly-inked prison bars shiny.

                “Hope you realize how nice I’m being, not still stomping you,” she said, taking out her buck knife, snapping it open just to show him how fast that could happen.  “Or gutting you with this.  I could be doing all sorts of real nasty shit I’m just not doing.  I am being one hundred percent sweetgirl right now.”  She spun the knife, closed it, and put it back.  “And that’s in hopes you figure out there’s nasty shit you don’t have to do, either.  You crawl back to that nice car you did such mean things to with the paint you found at the pistachio ice cream billboard factory and you go somewhere the fuck else.  Leave that kid and his mom alone.  Or I’ll forget how to be sweet.  Being cool is over.”

                Marcus lay frozen, afraid.  She wasn’t sure if it was enough fear to stick for good, but he wasn’t going to look at her as just a “girl” anymore.  The surprise element was gone, so next time she’d probably need the knife.  Or double her order from Cowboy.

                He started to get up and she kicked him in the side of the neck, rolling him back over.  “Uh-uh.  You get up when I say you can get up.  Or you’re gonna eat my boots instead of just your pride.”

                He scooted back, out of her reach, rubbing his neck, rotating it, stretching his arm, seeing if everything still worked.  “You’re making a mistake, bitch.”

                “One of us is.  And I don’t walk like I’ve been in a lunch line every day for five-to-ten so who’s got the history of making big ones?  You’re tatted up bragging you were there.  Me, if I ever let a cop pull me over it’s because I wanted to take his gun.  Now, we’re done playing.  Get up.  And get in that car and go somewhere else until you don’t feel anything that needs takin’ out on somebody, or I will rise up and block out the sun for you, motherfucker.  I’ll cut a door in you, kick it in, and walk through it.”

                He stood up.  For a second he didn’t look like he could stay vertical.  “You talk a lot.”

                “I don’t have to,” she shrugged.  “Only talking because I still think there’s a chance you might listen.  You should hope I don’t shut up.”   She knew he was considering another charge at her, in which case she’d start sticking him, but a step on that leg made him decide not to, and he limped back toward the house.  He stopped beside the car a minute, making up his mind again, then got into it and drove away.

                Morgan let out a breath and made her pulse slow down.  It had taken as much effort to let no fear show as it had anything else, but without the display of utter calm he probably would have tried again.   A lot of guys didn’t respect a woman’s abilities even after she’d dropped them on their heads.  Their pride needed to think it was just luck.  And pride would almost certainly not allow him to just live with having gotten his ass kicked.  He had fear now, but when it faded a bit, pride would overpower it and he’d come at her.  Stupid-making thing, pride.

                Even stupider thing, him thinking she was ever lucky.

   *******************

 

                “Hey there, buhhh-dee,” Cowboy said as Morgan slid into the booth across from her.  “How’s things with the other half of the Fabulous Janes?”

                “Fair to middlin’,”  Morgan settled back in the booth.  “How’s your end?”

                “Holdin’ it up.  I got your stuff.  Not on me, back at the ranch.  My conniving way of getting you to come back over and do some more shooting with me.  That was fun and I want more!”

                “Yeah, don’t think you’ll have to twist my arm.”

                “Good, ‘cuz I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.  You got some guns on you for a bitch of the species.”

                “World’s mostly made up of people I want to be able to whup.”

                “Ain’t that the damn truth?  For a while I pumped iron hoping I’d get big enough to hit my dad back, but I figured that wouldn’t work, so I just moved out.  My brother, he tried it, got a scar that chopped his eyebrow all up.”

                “You had one of those too, huh?  Never met a bad girl with a  good daddy.”

                “Hey, now, I’m not bad.  I just deal in illegal firearms,” Cowboy laughed.

                “Yeah, I sell Girl Scout cookies myself.”

                “Two boxes of thin mints, please.  Oh shit, you done made me think about ‘em and now I want some.”

                “Sorry.  Speaking of people with bad daddies, I wonder if I could ask you kind of an odd favor.”

                Cowboy raised her eyebrows, twisted her mouth to the side, and waited.

                “I know this kid.  His mom’s boyfriend… aaaaggh, he fuckin’ sucks.  She doesn’t like him much, either, but they’re having some trouble shaking him.  He’s one of those possessive assholes.”

                “And you want me to split his head in two with a lawnmower blade,” Cowboy said, making her voice deep.  “Mmm-hmmm.”

                “That ain’t a bad idea, but… what?”

                Cowboy stared at her.  Sling Blade. Oh my god, you’ve never seen Sling Blade?  Cowboy stared with her mouth open.

                “I’m guessing that’s a movie.  I’ve hardly seen any movies.”

                “Oh, hon, you gotta see Sling Blade.  That’s mandatory, I will not allow this.  Okay, after we shoot you’re staying for dinner and then we’re watching Sling Blade.  Even though I fucked up and spoiled a plot point.”

                Morgan shrugged.  “If you want.  I’ve got no plans.”

                “Good.  It gets lonesome over there with my brother gone, tell ya the truth.  And I enjoy your company.”

                “I don’t hear that much, but, ‘tiz mutual.  And I say that even less than I hear it.”

                Cowboy smiled.  “So, this kid?”

                “Yeah.  I won’t be around town much longer and I’d like him to have somebody he could call, y’know?  If shit gets too deep.  He’ll probably never call, but would you mind if I gave him your number?  You don’t have to kill anybody, just maybe come get him, see he’s okay.”

                “Sure.  I’ll look after him if need be.  I’ve even got an old lawnmower blade around someplace.”

                Morgan smiled.  “I’m not asking that of you.  He’s a real sweet little guy, though.  Um, I don’t know if this matters, but he’s black.”

                Cowboy blinked.  “I’m a hick, Jane, but I ain’t that kind of hick.  For a while I thought I might have some black kids myself, but me and the guy couldn’t work it out.  That’s not an issue, not with me.  It is with my brother, a little bit, since he’s been in prison and prison forces that crap, but he wouldn’t hold it against any kid.  How old’s he?”

                “About eight.”

                “Yeah, my brother’d take him fishing, play catch with him.  He loves any kid.  And he probably won’t be around anyway, though.  He caught the book and if it requires good behavior to get out early, no member of my family’s getting out early.  So, what you gonna do to the boyfriend?”

                “Me?  Nothin’.”

                Cowboy gave Morgan a look.  “Uh-huh, if you say so.”

                “I say so.  And I’ll keep saying so until the statue of limitations runs out.”

                “Generous of you to confine yourself to things that have a statute of limitations.  I can get you another Detonics barrel otherwise, if you need it.  I don’t mind.”

                “Mind a sawed-off .12 gauge?” 

                Cowboy stared at her.  One of her green eyes had an amber spot in it, Morgan noticed, like a drip of ink diffusing.  “Jane…”

                “Yaaasss?”

                “What’re you planning, you crazy bitch?”

                “To get me a cool-ass shotgun?”    Morgan raised her eyebrows and tried to look innocent, more her way of telling a joke than anything she expected Cowboy to buy.   Cowboy didn’t know her, but she knew her type.

                “You realize if I had knowledge of a homicide about to happen, it would be imperative upon me to go to the authorities,”  Cowboy said, “and tell them that you were over at my place watching Tombstone when it occurred.”

                Morgan smiled with just her eyes  “Better pick a different movie, I haven’t seen Tombstone either.”

                “Fuck!  Fuck, Jane, you kill me.  Oh, hell no.  Haven’t seen Tombstone?   I can’t do business with you, girl, you’re just wrong.  You’re from space or some shit.”

                Morgan shrugged.  “You’ve been on my bike so you’ve been to my house.  There’s no TV.  I’ve been too nomadic and busy to have seen many movies.  If you tell ‘em we were reading a book together I can maybe cover it.  Done a lot of books.”

                Cowboy sighed and shook her head.  “I was sent by the angels to make sure you see Sling Blade and Tombstone.   I watch a lotta-lotta movies out there by myself, and Tombstone is my favorite, favorite, favorite one.  It hurts me, hurts me, that you haven’t seen it.  You know what it’s about, at least?”

                “Yeah, the Earps and the Clantons.  I’ve read books on that.”

                “There’s books?”  Cowboy blinked, teasingly.

                “I’m nobody’s angel sent to do anything, but bring up Amazon and I’ll find you the good ones.”

                “Since you’re not going to do anything with it, pinky swear,” Cowboy said, giving her a look, “what kind of scattergun you looking for?  Double-barrel, pump, or just anything where you don’t have to worry about ballistic tracing being a factor?”

                “That one, the last one.”

                Cowboy sighed and shook her head.  “You are trouble.  I feel like I should be talking you out of something, but that’s not my business.  Yeah, I could fit you out.  Give you an old Mossberg cheap because I hate the damn things and taking a hacksaw to one wouldn’t hurt my feelings much.  Five hundred.”

                “Sounds like a bargain for an under the table.”

                Cowboy shrugged.  “It is, but we’ve got too many shotguns.  It’s not my place, but I do hope this is a plan B for you, not a plan A.”

                “It’s more around plan L, M, N, O, P.   Plan A’s always dynamite.”

                Cowboy laughed.  “You’re a trip.  But one I don’t want to go on, so Johnny Law finds that boomstick on you I’ve never seen nor heard of any such a thing.”

                “Who are you?  I’ve never even been in this place.”

                Cowboy nodded.  “If I couldn’t count on that I wouldn’t sell you so much as a frickin’ slingshot.”

               

               

   *******************

 

 

                A couple of days later, Morgan slung a leg off her bike and a doll-sized green dune buggy rattled up the street at her.  She watched it whine along, bounce over rocks, stop, correct, aim, rev, and run into her boot.  She looked around and spotted Paul crouching under a bush, laughing.  “Okay, smart guy, what’s the idea of trying to run me over?  I thought you ‘n’ me was friends,” she said.

                “It won’t hurt you.  I ran it into myself a bunch of times,” he said, laughing, crawling out from the bush.  “You want to drive it?”  He held the control box out to her.

                “Hell yeah I want to drive it.  It looks cool as hell,” she said, noticing a new band-aid on the edge of his eyebrow, thinking it looks like the kind of cool-as-hell thing your mom buys you after somebody’s been real shitty to you and she doesn’t know what else to do about it.  Thinking you can balance the scales when the only thing that works is taking the damn weight off.   

                Marcus, apparently, didn’t listen too good.  And that chilled her because it meant she’d have to get louder.

                Morgan took the box and said, “Show me what to do, this looks complicated.  I’m not sure I’m smart enough.” 

                She crouched down and Paul showed her forward, reverse, how to control the speed.  The little steering wheel was self-explanatory.  Morgan could have figured it all out by the labeling but Paul was proud of being the one who was able to explain something, so she played dense.  She made the dune buggy gun up the street, turn, and come back, then handed the controls back to Paul.  “You better do the driving, bud.  You know what you’re doing more than I do.  I’ll just watch.  Impress me.”   She sat down on the curb and Paul sat beside her and did a few tricks, making it jump off a cardboard ramp and zoom past them and go into a power-slide.  He’d obviously been practicing with it.

                Eventually it started slowing down and the whine dropped an octave.  “Aw, man, I think the batteries are wearing out,” Paul said, watching it stutter back to them.

                “Pop ‘em out and put ‘em back in, sometimes you can get a little extra juice that way.”   He opened it up and pried the batteries out, and she couldn’t stop looking at the band-aid.  Left eyebrow, right where a right-handed Marcus would smack a kid.  Fuck, I wish I’d broken that arm.   She felt cold inside, and tense, like she was trapped, sad and mad and thinking about her shotgun.  The batteries were big fat D’s, the heavy kind, and she thought about them, too.  Paul fit them back it, bu the buggy only twitched along.  He sighed.

                “Tell you what,” Morgan said, squeezing his shoulder.  “I need some dead batteries.  I’ll get you some new ones and trade you.  Deal?”

                “Sure!  But what do you need dead batteries for?”

                “I need weights.  Like, fishing weights.  Sinkers, you know?”

                “Nuh-uh.  What’s that?”

                “When you go fishing, the weights drag the line down, takes the bait to where the fish are.”

                “You use batteries for that?”

                “I do.  But I’m a weirdo.”  She widened her eyes and puffed her lips like a fish.

                He laughed.  “You go fishing?”

                Morgan made a face.  “Not really, but Cowboy – you remember I told you about her?  She wants me to go.  So I could really use some batteries.”  Morgan felt bad for lying to the kid but thought she was really good at it, as always.  She did have a use for the batteries, but it had nothing to do with fishing.

                “Is fishing fun?”

                “Yeah, it’s okay.  Not real exciting.  You just sit there holding a pole most of the time.  A lot of the time nothing happens, you just sit there.  How fun it is kinda depends on who you go with.”

                “I bet it’d be fun if you and me went,” he said.

                “I know it would, dude.”  She squeezed his shoulder, getting madder at the sight of that band-aid.

                “We can just sit here and it’s fun.”

                “Yep.  I like it.  Won’t catch any fish, but other than that it’s the same.”

                “I don’t want to hurt any fish anyhow,” he said, shrugging.  “We could just sit here and leave the fish alone.”

                “Being left alone’s pretty good.  Even for fish, I bet.”

                He nodded.  “I wasn’t trying to run over you.  I was just playing.  I knew it wouldn’t hurt you or I wouldn’t drive into you.  I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,either.”

                “You didn’t,” she laughed.  “I was just teasing.”

                “I know.  I just wanted to make sure.  I like you and stuff.”

                “I like you and stuff too.”  She stared out at the street.  Feelings climbed up her throat.

                “You d-don’t think I’m s-stupid.”  He pulled his fingers.

                “I know you’re not stupid.  Anybody who thinks you’re stupid?  They’re stupid.  I know stupid and you aren’t it.  Not even close.  You can’t even see stupid from where you are, bud.”

                He looked at her.  She looked back.  He yanked at his fingers.  “My mom says it’s bad to hate people.”

                Morgan shrugged. “It’s bad to have to hate people.  And it’s bad to hate people for no reason.  But if somebody’s really mean to you it’s okay to hate ‘em.  I don’t mean, like, your mom telling you you can’t stay up late or you gotta eat your peas or something.  Don’t hate over that.  But if somebody hits you, or always tells you you’re stupid – especially when you’re eight and haven’t had time to learn everything – then it’s normal to hate ‘em.  Some people you gotta hate to keep liking yourself.  And you should like yourself.  You can get away from everyone else.”

                He gnawed on his lip.  “You hate anybody?”

                “I have before, yeah.”  She sighed and rubbed her hands together, looking up and down the street for a minute, then looked back at him.  “I hated my dad and my uncle.”

                “They were mean to you?”

                She nodded.  “Real mean.  Used to tell me I was stupid.  Used to beat me up a lot.  For nothing.”

                “Yeah?”

                She nodded.

                Paul frowned.  “Thinking about hitting you makes me want to throw up.”

                Morgan smiled, swallowing hard.  “That’s because you’re a good dude.  You don’t want to be mean.  Stay that way, okay?”

                “Okay.   You got away from your dad and uncle?”

                “Yeah.  Took a long time, but they’re gone and I’m not.  I win.”  She threw her arms out, triumphant.

                He nodded, twisting his mouth around, thinking.  Then he smiled.  “Anyway, I wouldn’t hate over peas.  I like peas!”

                She laughed.  “Me too!   I just needed an example.”

                “I mostly like the green ones.”

                “Yeah, English peas.  They’re English be-caws they tok like this.  Say, guv-nah, I want a spot of tay!”

                He giggled.

                “Yeah.  And the black-eyed peas are peas that have been in a fight.”

                He laughed harder.

                Morgan poked him.  “You’re not dumb, but you laugh at dumb jokes.”

                “Hey, I’m eight.  I haven’t had time to learn the good ones.  Gimme a break, lady.”  He poked her back.

                She laughed.  “That’s lucky for me, because dumb jokes are the only kind I can make up.”

                “I know one.  Knock knock.”

                “Oh no.  Okay, who’s there?”

                “The interrupting cow.”

                “The inter…”

                “MOOOOO!”  He leapt at her a little, eyes wide.

                Morgan laughed, genuinely, and Paul was pleased.  “I thought you’d have heard that one.  It’s real old.”

                “Well, I never heard it,” she laughed.  “The only kind people ever tell me are dirty jokes.  And most of those aren’t as funny as that one.”  She was still laughing.

                “I know a couple of those.  Wouldn’t tell ‘em to a girl, though.”

                “Sexist, but I appreciate it.”

                “I wish you’d live here.”

                “Sorry, bud.  I’m not here much longer.  But I might come back and visit sometimes, though.  I come back through areas sometimes, and I won’t forget you.”

                “You stop here whenever you’re around, then.”  He looked at her so she’d know he meant it.

                “Will do.”  She looked back, just as meaning-it.

                “’Cuz I’ll miss you.”  He looked down.

                “I’ll miss you, too.  But I’m not gone yet.  I’ll be around a few days.  Let’s not miss before we have to.”

                He twisted his mouth and nodded.  Morgan thought that if everything worked out, if she came through again she could crash with Paul and his mom, because Marcus wasn’t going to be around.

                Paul was quiet for a minute, then got up and found a couple of sticks.  He handed her one and and then spent an hour on the curb, fishing.

                Or Paul did.  Morgan was already hunting.

   *******************

 

                Morgan sat out on the front steps of her rented room, waiting.  To be a good predator, first you have to learn patience, and Morgan was exceptionally good at waiting.  She sat and watched and re-read books in her head to pass the time.  She’d memorized a lot of things and used quiet moments to freshen the memories up, like tending a garden.

                She heard the bubbling exhaust long before she saw the Olds.  She knew well what a 442 sounded like; she’d driven them, helped soup them up ever since she was a little older than Paul.  Adrenaline kicked in right as she heard the sound, and she got up and walked to the street, tugging on her gloves.

                The big green Olds ground the gravel and stopped, and Marcus started to come out of the car at her but she leaned on the door and smiled crazily in at him.  “Hiya, fuckface.”

                “I thought I told you to get out of here, you cunt!” Marcus snarled.

                “And I thought I made it real-real clear I don’t take orders from no pumped-up prison pass-around.”  She smirked, watching for a chance.  If she could get him out of the car it’d be his own dumb fault.  If he just shot her in the street, it’d be hers.  Fear was there but she felt clear.  After last time, Marcus would have plenty of fear himself.  She saw it in his eyes, but not as much as she wanted.  “Surprised you’re even talking to me instead of tucking tail and hauling, you big ugly punk.  Since you’re here, though, let’s go for a ride.  I’ll drive.”

                “You out your damn mind.”

                Morgan sighed and rolled her eyes.  “That’s what the psychiatrists keep telling me.  I don’t believe ‘em, though, they’re all out to get me.   Hey, how’s your leg?  And ribs?  And sense of manhood?”  She laughed.

                “You goddamn bitch, I’m gonna…” he snarled, shoving open the door.

                “Gonna gonna gonna,” Morgan said, “everybody’s always gonna.”   She blinked and smiled, then her arm flew up like she was sowing corn in a field, the sock she’d been dangling behind her leg flying up like a magic trick.  Presto!.  It met his face with a sharp CLACK that might’ve been the batteries hitting each other, or might have been his teeth, or his jaw going into halves.  His hands flew up to his mouth and clamped there and he roared an “OOOOO!” sound of agony. 

                Morgan saw a gun sticking out of his waistband in the back, but he’d forgotten he even had it; he wasn’t thinking about anything now but his mouth.  Morgan whipped the sock back around, hard across his eyes, and he reached out to grab the car’s doorframe to keep from falling out into the street.  That’s when she threw herself against the door and slammed it hard on his hand.  Marcus howled and caught another lash of batteries across his mouth, and she shoved him back into the car.  He rolled over onto the seat, trying to get up, and she yanked the pistol out of his waistband.  A Glock, of course.

                “You were gonna something?” Morgan asked, and gave him a few more whacks with the batteries, and that dropped him in the floorboard.  He was likely already out but she cracked him a few more to make sure he’d stay there;  he was a big bastard and she didn’t want to deal with him.  She lifted his hands to the dashboard and gave them a few solid battery-shots, too, just to make sure they wouldn’t work so good if he came back from where the batteries sent him.  For her own satisfaction, she clamped his right arm and wrenched, forcing the elbow back against its joint until it  cracked and gave sickeningly.  “Now I’m gonna.”

                She put the gun on the dash and muscled him over into the passenger seat.  The angle was awkward and she strained her back a bit, but he balled up into the floorboard, out of view.  Good.  She took a quick glance up and down the street to see if anyone had noticed, but there was nobody out.  Far, far off some guy was tending his yard, but his back was to her and he hadn’t noticed anything.

                Morgan slid into the driver’s seat and jammed her hair under the baseball cap she pulled from her pocket.  Marcus’s windows were all tinted, but they might get shot out or cash out in a crash; there was no sense risking anything more than she had to.  She looked over at him again, noticing he was bleeding pretty good and snoring through a nose that wasn’t really a nose so much as a barely-adequate breathing hole now.  He’d be no trouble.  She put the Olds in gear and pulled out, not being flashy, not wanting to attract notice.

                Once out of the neighborhood she ran through the gears, getting a feel for what the old tank would do.  Not bad.  He didn’t know much about a suspension, too much engine for the carriage, but she’d make it work.  She’d have to underplay corners more than she usually did, but the mill wasn’t all just show, baby could move.  From the sound she’d bet there were dual four-barrel carbs under that hood.  Heading for the route she’d scouted several times on her bike, she pressed her foot to the firewall and speed glued her pleasantly to the seat, shaking her unconscious companion further into the floor board.  “You’re going to miss a lot of fun, scumbag,” she laughed, all eyes and hands now. 

                She topped a hill and saw the town laid out before her.  She breathed deeply, looking at it.  She was about to hit it like a bomb.  There was a murmur under the engine’s rumble and she figured out the stereo was on.  Turning it up she recognized AC/DC, which made her want to laugh.  AC/DC seemed to follow her around; it had been playing last time she’d done something crimey.  The guitar was perfect, speaking of something building, a prologue to something big.   As she started working through the gears to feel them out the music picked up and she laughed, feeling like she had a partner.  Cooperate with me, AC/DC, my old friends.  She was moving fast now, flashing through traffic, finding holes and filling them and then on to the next one.

                She pulled next to a guy in a new Challenger who looked at the Olds and revved.  She laughed.  A little cap-sunglasses-beard boy trying to posture, his car all tricked out with noisy glasspacks, screaming “look at me, look at me!”  He was a joke, the noise one big clown-horn to make sure everyone in town knew where he was while he was playing bad-dude.  The real bad dudes didn’t want attention.  They wanted to not be noticed, they wanted to be underestimated.  They didn’t go around waving knives because they didn’t want you to even know they had one until you felt it going in.   If this Olds belonged to Morgan, it would be dead grey instead of bright pistachio green.

                Bon Scott’s voice yowled out of the speakers, “Out of my way I’m a-runnin’ high, take a chance with me and give it a try.”

                “HA!” she laughed, slapping the wheel, officially in dangerous violation of the speed limit now, loving what the car could do.  She shot past the Challenger, and the Cadillac in front of her put on its brakes and she quickly cut in front of the Challenger with inches to spare and pressed the gas, zooming around the Caddy and…

                “WHOOOOOA, baby, I ain’t got much, resistance to your touch.” Bon continued.

                That’s for sure, Morgan thought. She handles beauty, this big ol’ bitch.  My perfect partner in crime.

                “I wanna walk all over you, Walk all over you.”

                Exactly what she planned on doing to this town’s cops.  Walk all the fuck all over ‘em in heavy boots, and send Marcus the bill for every stomp.  The guitar tore into a hard and fast riff and she was driving to it, feeling it.

                They were in town traffic now, doing eighty in a thirty-five, and Morgan juked it through a red light, causing a lot of screeching brakes from the cars around.  She pursed her lips in concentration and weaved past other cars, cutting through traffic tight enough to cause panic in drivers who weren’t as good at this as she was.  Horns were going off, and probably a few cell phones, too.  Oh, Marcus was noticed all right, driving like a for-real asshole, and it wouldn’t be long now before the big blue fellas started showing up and mad as hell.

                She hauled past a blur of commerce, McDonald’s-Wendy’s-Denny’s-CVS-some bank-some clothes shop, weaving past traffic, quickly checking the next intersection, deciding it was do-able, and blowing through another red light.  “Traffic lights are like good advice, Marc,” she said, “you don’t have to take it.”  More brakes, more horns, and she laughed and wondered if maybe a guy who’d once called her a psychopath had been onto something, because fuck but she was having a good time.

                Up ahead she saw a sherrif’s deputy and smiled.  “Well, hello there, Mr. Officer Man.  Hope you’re up for some shit.  Time to get our skedaddle on, Marcus,” she yelled.  “Beep-beep-zip-tang!”  She tromped on the gas, roaring past the cop car at all-out.  A glance in the rear view showed blue lights coming on and a siren whooped and Morgan took a deep breath.  She’d found a playmate with a radio and soon there’d be more.  As he fell in behind her she juked the wheel from side to side, shaking the Old’s ass at the pol-leese.  Nothin’ bad boys chase harder than a sassy bitch.  Come and get me.

                Compensating for some inadequacies in the wheelbase, Morgan whipped the big car into a side street and high-tailed it.  A glance at her passenger showed he was still wherever good blunt-trauma sent you.  Maybe he was dying from a brain-case bleed, but that’d suit her, too, she really didn’t give a fuck.   Far behind her the blue lights made the corner and Morgan eased off the gas just a little; small-town cops usually weren’t much and she didn’t want to lose him completely.  She wished she had a police band radio like she’d had in her whiskey-runners when she was a kid.   It was always fun  listening to the pigs scramble to put a strategy together when they were faced with the kind of fuck-with she laid on them.  Also, she really didn’t want to foul this up and actually get caught. 

                Making sure the deputy would have a chance to see her do it, she hooked into another side street and zoomed through a shady neighborhood she’d scouted a few days ago.  It was an old-people neighborhood, nobody likely to be in the street, but she kept the speed down enough to account for any surprises, anyway.  This was supposed to be Marcus’s bad day, nobody else’s. 

                AC/DC was roaring now and Morgan was calm, cool, alert but not keyed up.  All eyes and hands, doing the thing she was best at.

                She rounded a tree-heavy corner and pulled into a driveway, waiting.  In a few seconds the deputy flew past and she backed out and then whipped in behind him, peeling Goodyear skin and making the engine roar with fury, filling his re-view mirror and then blowing past him, juking the rear end again, all mad-making smartass.  “Oh, Marcus, you are making these boys furious!” she said.  “You are being such a BAD boy, you are just CRAZY!” she laughed, then put the Olds into a long skating slide and came back at the deputy, sending him into the ditch.  She checked the rear-view and saw him struggle into a U-turn, scattering mud.  He really wasn’t very good.  He’d have to lie a lot if he bragged about this.  Have to lie a lot even if he didn’t.

                Up ahead she saw more blue lights and cut a guy off as she turned into an intersection.  Things would be getting thicker now, more intense, less fun, risk going way up.  These Podunk cops likely didn’t have the kind of experience needed to deal with a driver like her, but there’d be several of them now, networked by radio, and they’d be stunk-up with attitude, mad as hell and showing off for each other, shit to prove.

                Morgan barked some curb and saw blue lights in the mirror, then more.  She stepped on the gas, building some distance to work with, blowing through stop signs, counting on the sirens and the Old’s thundering 442 to warn people off.

                Squealling sideways into another corner she saw a unit already waiting.  A cop was standing beside it, ready to throw out a line of tire spikes.  “Fuck,” she growled, slamming on the brakes and feeling a chill, stopping just short of the spikes as the guy tossed his line.   Blue lights were coming up behind.  “Okay, assholes, here we go, “ she said, putting it in reverse and looking back over the seat, zooming backward through the intersection, noticing two other cop cars heading in from one of the side roads.  There were at least half a dozen involved now.

                She cranked the wheel hard to the left and felt the car slew hard around in a Rockford.  Once it had one-eightied she flat-shifted forward and tromped the pedal to the floor.  The rear shimmied, overpowering.  She ran through gears, gauging RPMs by ear and by feel. 

                Three cops back there now and she played chicken with another who slewed into the ditch.  More were coming up a side street, trying to box her in.  “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she said.  Time to start finding a good way out of this.  She’d racked up more than enough of a bill, and the odds were just way too bad. 

                The Olds caught some air at the top of a hill and came down hard, leaving sparks and dumping Marcus even further into the floorboard.  The car rolled on, not feeling quite right, making a sh-sh-sh scraping sound.  It was handling like a wheelbarrow now, rattling her, but still fast, oh yeah, still way fast.

                She plowed through a turn and headed out into the country, opened up wide.   She bought a little time through high speed but the cops weren’t as far behind as she’d like.  When her lifetime’s worth of burnt-out nerves started feeling fear she knew it was time for exit strategies, and started looking for a likely tree to stack the bitch into.

                There, on the edge of a pond, a big dead oak.  Slamming on the brakes, she steered toward it and left the road, mud and sod roostertailing as she tried to slow enough. 

                Morgan ducked down across the seat and the Olds hit the tree harder than she wanted it to, rattling her hard against the dash, but when it stopped, she figured she wasn’t injured.  Gonna be bruised like the last banana in the store tomorrow, but bruising wasn’t injury by her standards.   Smoke buried the vehicle, stinking of oil and antifreeze and  transmission fluid all over the manifold.  She was panting, breathing it in.  “Sorry,” she said, talking to the car; fuck Marcus. 

                Quickly, shaking a little, she undid the belt, yanked hard on Marcus to drag him over the seat, tossed his gun into his lap.  She pulled out her sock full of batteries and swung it hard into the windshield from the inside, so it’d look like his head had hit it.  AC/DC kept yowling, something about being shot down in flames, playing along to the end.

                “You’re gonna wake up and find out you’ve been really bad, Marcus.  Good luck, motherfucker.  At least they’ll think you’re a fuckin’-A driver,” she said, then ducked out and ran into the bushes as the sirens grew in the background.  She ran through the woods, hearing them getting louder.  They’d be focused on the wreck and whoever might be coming out of it, not looking for an accomplice they didn’t know existed.

                When the sirens were far enough off in the distance, she tossed the cap and the sock full of batteries into an old drainpipe, then started walking through a neighborhood.  Taking out her cellphone, she called Cowboy with a story about some guy giving her a ride and then getting pissed off and stranding her at Subway.  It would sound like bullshit later on but Cowboy had dealt with enough of her kind not to question things.  Morgan ordered a sub and sat and ate it, using the extra napkins to wipe all the mud and pinestraw – evidence -- off her boots while she waited.

                When Cowboy pulled up in her truck, the first thing Morgan said as she climbed in was that she wanted to go watch Tombstone.

   *******************

 

                On the ride back from the hours spent at Cowboy’s there were still cop cars all over town.  In a small place where nothing ever happens, when something does happen everyone expects something else to happen, now that they realize it can.  Once stirred, small town sediment is slow to settle back into its bed of dull mud.

                Paul was out on Morgan’s steps as Cowboy’s truck pulled up, and Morgan realized he’d seen her bike, thought she was at home, and expected her to come out.  “There’s the kid I want you to meet,” Morgan said.

                “Cool deal, let’s do it,” Cowboy said, shutting down the engine.

                “Jane!”  Paul said, running to the truck as Morgan stepped out.  “Hi!”

                “Hi yourself.  What’re you up to?”  She handed him some batteries she’d picked up at the same CVS she’d driven by earlier.  She’d gotten Cowboy to swing in so she could grab them; Morgan Stack was one to keep promises, to the delight of some and the sorrow of many.

                “Nothing.  Where have you been?”

                “Watching movies with Cowboy here.  You ever see Tombstone?”

                “Yeah, about five or eight times!  I love it!”

                “See?” Cowboy said, giving Morgan a little shove.  “Smart kid.”

                “Okay, I’m out of step with the world, big surprise.  Paul, this is Cowboy, Cowboy, this is Paul.”

                “Hi, Paul, how are you?” Cowboy said, crouching.

                “Hi!” Paul said, starting to be shy but he looked at Morgan, then stuck out his hand.

                “You got me wrong, I’m a hugger, not a handshaker,” Cowboy said, holding her arms open.  Paul hugged her.  “Morgan has told me a lot about you.  She says you are, like, the coolest dude ever.”

                “She’s teasin’,” Paul laughed.

                “No I’m not,” Morgan said.  “Maybe there’s a cooler dude someplace, but I haven’t met him and probably won’t.  Hey, guess what Cowboy’s real name is.”

                “Cowgirl?”

                “It ought to be, you’d figure,” Cowboy said.  “I think my brother must be nearsighted, calling me Cowboy.”

                “Yeah,” Paul said.  “So, what is it?”

                “Jane,” Morgan said.  “You’ve got two friends named Jane now.”

                “Yeah, what’re you going to do?” Cowboy said.  “Gonna be confusing.”

                “Guess we have Cowboy Jane and Motorcycle Jane,” Paul said.

                “Good solution, I love it,” Morgan said.  “As long as I get to be Motorcycle Jane.  So, what you been doing with your day?  Not sitting here the whole time, I hope.”

                “No, I was trying to build a treehouse with my friend Mike.  We suck at it, though, so we’re just going to build it on the ground.”

                “You’ll be glad you did if you fall out,” Cowboy said.  Paul laughed.  “Well, I am very happy to meet you, Paul, but I better get on back to the ranch.  I’ve got some horses need feeding.  Jane – Motorcycle Jane – said you’ve never met a horse.  Would you like to, sometime?”

                “Sure!” he said.

                “And she said you might want to go fishing.  Maybe you could come out sometime, if your mom says it’s okay.  Or she could come with you.  I like to show off my horses.”

                “Yeah, that’d be cool!”

                “I’ll check back with you later, then, we’ll work something out.”  She bumped fists with Paul and got back in her truck.  “Later days, Motorcycle Jane, you come see me when you’re through again.  Be careful with yourself, don’t do the bad stuff.”

                Morgan nodded and watched her drive off, into the sunset, like a cliché.   Paul grabbed her hand.  “We should go see her horses tomorrow!” he said, and she flinched.

                “That’d be great, but I’m afraid I’ll have to do that some other time, bud.  I’m going to be leaving in the morning.”

                “Awww…”  Paul said, and it was like the rug got pulled out from under his happiness.  Morgan felt a deep ache, but Marcus would probably start talking, once they got his mouth working, and if his ego could handle letting cops know a woman had rag-dolled him like that, they’d be around.  So it was better if she wasn’t.

                “I know it’s hard.  But I’ve got a place I’ve got to be,” Morgan said, sitting down on the curb, thinking, and that place is called away.  Seems like I always have an appointment there.   “I don’t want it to make you sad.  We’re still friends, wherever I go.  Distance ain’t distance.”

                “Y-yeah,” he said, pulling his fingers.  He wiped at an eye.  “I just hoped you’d stay longer.”

                “I know.  I hoped so, too, but I got some work and if I don’t go there now I’ll miss out.  Don’t want me to miss out, right?”

                “No.  I’ll miss you, though.”

                “I’ll miss you, too.  I’ll miss you big.  You’re pretty much my favorite person.”

                “You too.”  He looked down.  “I wish I had a big sister like you.”

                “You do.”  Morgan pointed at herself.

                Paul laughed, sniffling.  “But you’re white and I’m black!”

                Morgan looked at her arms and feigned shock.  “Well I’ll be damned.  Think that matters?”

                “I guess not, no.”

                “You got a white mom, you can have a white sister.  So alright, then, little brother.”

                “I’m not that little, I’m eight,” he said, trying to joke, and god, did she appreciate him for it.

                “Yeah, you’re big enough.  Bigger than most people I meet.  Hey, you hugged Cowboy.  Got one for me?”

                “You want one?”

                “I think I need one.”  She clutched him and held him for a minute even though it hurt her new bruises, and her eyes stung.  She was surprised to find that could still happen.  Usually the only time she cried was when she woke up after nightmares that threw her back to when she was six and her daddy and her uncle were still alive.

                She let him go and he went to get his sticks and they “fished” until he got called in for supper.  It wasn’t long, but by then it was dark and the bug noises were getting loud.  Somehow that helped.

   *******************

 

                Morgan got up before sunrise to load up her bike, hoping to sneak out and avoid another goodbye.  They were just too fucking hard.  Fights, car chases, stabbings, shootings, fucking murder… she could handle all of that, her inner-self had been well-trained for all of that and it made her feel nothing, but this, damn, this was rough.

                And Paul had gotten up earlier than her and was sitting on the front steps.  Damn.

                He stood up when he saw her.  “Hey.  I got you something to take with you,” he said.  “So you won’t forget me.”

                “Little brother, I will never forget you, that’s something you don’t have to ever worry about.”  She rubbed his head.

                He laughed.  “Anyway, here.”  He handed her a book.

                Morgan laughed. “Captain Underpants!”

                “It’s a good one, it’s really funny,” he said.  “It’s the best one.”

                “Sure you want to give it to me?”

                “Yeah!  I can get another copy, I want you to have it.  You’ll laugh!”

                “And what’s this, a drawing?” she asked, unfolding a sheet of magic-markered paper that was tucked in the book.

                “Yeah, I drew it.  That’s me and that’s you.”

                Paul had drawn himself the same size as her, and she liked that.  Her Harley was beside them, the sun was out, and they were holding hands.  She had a fishing pole in her other hand and he had a wrench.  A comic-book balloon coming out of his mouth said “MOO!”

                “Oh my god, I love this!  I love it, thank you!” Morgan laughed.  “It’s perfect!”

                Paul laughed.  “I hope everything will go good where you’re going.”

                “I hope everything will go good here with you.”

                “It might.  The police took Marcus off.”

                “They did?  What’d he do?”

                “Drove around like a crazy person and wrecked his car.  Mom says he was probably drunk.”

                “Sounds like it.  Bet if he’d let you help him work on his car he never would have wrecked it.  Anyway, I’m glad they got him. He was an asshole.”

                Paul nodded.  “I think it’s okay to hate him.”

                “We are in agreement, little brother.  Okay, big hug now, I got to scoot.”

                Paul hugged her hard.  “You gotta come back sometime.”

                “I’ll make a point of it, since I have family to visit.”

                “Maybe if Marcus gets put in jail you can stay with Mom and me.”

                “I would love that.  And I love this,”  She patted the book and picture and stuffed them in her saddlebag.  “And I love you.”

                “I love you, too,” he said.  She stomped the Harley to life and, with a wave, she left, into the sunrise.

   *******************

 

                Morgan didn’t stop for anything but gas and a meal until she was in Florida.  By then the feelings loosened up, and she felt more like her mean cold bitch self, not having to love anyone.  Much more comfortable.

                Once she got a room lined up, she walked around a park to get the road-ache out of her legs.  She was bruised and sore from wrecking the Olds, but being Morgan Stack seemed to be a constant flux of healing from one trauma or another, never being fully well.  Good thing she was a pro at dealing with it.

                She sat on a park bench and read the Captain Underpants book, laughing over it, thinking how funny the juvenile humor would feel in Paul’s 8-year-old mind.  She hadn’t had much of a childhood, and felt that Paul was sharing his.  Passersby gave her a few funny looks but she didn’t care, they didn’t know anything, they weren’t anybody.

                She went to a couple of hobby stores until she found a model kit of a Harley Davidson Sportster she liked.  She also got a nice big color photocopy made of the picture Paul had drawn for her, got it laminated, and wrote a letter on the back.  She put the model kit, her beat-up copy of Salem’s Lot, a six pack of fresh batteries, and the picture into a box addressed to Paul.  She took the picture out one more time to make sure the letter was right.

                “Hey, brother!

                “Here’s a bike for you to work on.  It’s not the real thing but it’ll show you where all the parts go.  But you know that already, right?  The book may be a little old for you but you’re smart, I think you can handle it.  I really like Captain Underpants, he’s my favorite superhero now besides Paul the Mechanic.  And I wanted you to have a copy of your drawing.  I can’t draw and you made us look really good together so I think you need one, too.  I’ll drop in and see you whenever I’m in the area.  In the meantime, if you need something, call Cowboy.”  She’d written in Cowboy’s cell number.  “And tell her hello from me if you guys go see the horses or go for-real fishing.  It’s okay to bother fish, but I still like our way.  Anyway, gotta run.  Just wanted you to know you have a friend out in the world.  And so do I.”

                Satisfied, she drew a heart and a peace symbol, then accidentally forgot and signed it “Morgan.”  She thought about scribbling it out but instead wrote “(Jane)” beside it.

                Once in a while you had to take a risk and just trust somebody a little.

                Before she sealed the box, she added one more line:  “P.S. – MOO!”

 

 

 

                                                                                                The End