I PARKED THE PORSCHE a few houses down the street from the target. I’d borrowed the car from a couple brunching at Saint Jacques French Bistro, conveniently located in North Raleigh near the home of the asshole I would be visiting. The unlucky couple would have an unhappy surprise when they went to look for their posh sports car after finishing their risotto solei and apple tart tartin.
I watched a terrier walk its owner, circling, yipping, and straining on its leash. A student rode by on a bike, no helmet, earbuds blocking out street noise—preparing for a future as roadkill. Shaking my head at the stupidity of the educated masses, I opened the glovebox, shook some white powder into the crease of an envelope, and inhaled. I took another hit, feeling the coke rush, and put the empty container in my pocket.
It took me less than three seconds to close the distance from the car to the front steps. I cautiously scanned the street in both directions as I climbed the stairs. My target’s front door was a joke, simple wood in an even cheaper wooden frame. He apparently thought being a New York police lieutenant meant he didn’t need decent security. He obviously hadn’t met Red Riding Hood, a.k.a. me, his worst nightmare. He might as well have left the door open for me.
I checked the Beretta in my shoulder holster. I took a second Beretta out of my pocket, opened the chamber—a round was there. Both guns were full-size .45 caliber pistols, each with a four-inch barrel—a man’s gun. I’d carried a .45 as a homicide detective in Raleigh. Old habits die hard.
One hard kick to the door—it burst inward with a satisfying crash. Unless he were deaf, the target had heard my entrance.
Sure enough, he didn’t disappoint. A burly man ran toward me swinging a Glock, a towel wrapped around his six-pack waist, his hair dripping from the shower, muscles rippling in his six-foot frame. I would have been impressed, but when his towel fell, I was embarrassed for him—his equipment was inadequate by my standards. Little Bob the Wonderworm, needle dick the bug fucker.
“Need a hand?” I asked and fired the Beretta. His Glock dangled and fell from what used to be his hand. I kicked the gun across the carpet.
“Son of a bitch,” he swore, spittle dripping from his quivering lips. “Goddamn motherfucker.” He wrapped his bloody hand in his towel, sucked in a breath, obviously in pain. “You … are dead.”
“You got that wrong. ’Cause I’m the one holding the gun,” I said, my voice low and gravely. I aimed the Beretta for his kneecap, pressed the trigger. Nothing happened—the damned gun jammed. A chill ran up my spine—that’s why I always carried a spare.
I reached for the gun in my holster, but he was faster. He delivered a blow to my mouth, followed by another to my stomach. I saw stars. So much for not leaving any of my DNA on the scene, I thought, red spittle dripping from my lips onto his carpet. He delivered another blow to the gut. My opinion of him went up a slight notch, but that didn’t change my objective.
Shuddering, I sent an elbow to his neck, straightened and roundhouse-kicked his kidney. It wasn’t enough. He gut punched me again. I leaned into it, tightening my abs. No stars, but it still hurt like hell.
There’s an art to beating up a man larger than you—it’s in the legs. So, I delivered a kick to his solar plexus, hard, and a second to his bloody hand. “Your wife sends her regards.”
He went down, finally, but grabbed for the Glock with his good hand.
I kicked the gun away. I had to give him credit. He had stamina.
When he could talk, he gasped out, “What do you know about my wife?” His eyes narrowed to beads. “My wife’s visiting her sister.”
“You are quite wrong. Your wife is safely in my underground. You will never see her again.” Kick to the other kidney. “Do not try to find her.” Kick to the neck. “Do not even mention her name.” I stomped his bloody stump.
He screamed and then gasped out, “You will never get away with this.” He sucked in a breath through quivering lips. “Do you know who I am? I will find you … and … kill you, fucker.”
“Not likely.” Then, I pulled the other Beretta, shot his kneecap, and pointed the gun higher toward his crotch.
“Don’t shoot.” He squealed like a baby. How pitiful. I had hoped better from this rock of solid muscle who beat his wife on a daily basis.
“Payback is a bitch.” I ground my boot in his face, hearing the crunch of bone. Blood ran from his nose. A broken nose is about the worst pain imaginable. I rubbed the bump on my nose, remembering. “It’s a bitch to fight someone who actually fights back. Isn’t it?” I shifted the gun and scratched my beard. “If I hear you are trying to locate either me or your wife, I’ll be back.” I shot the other kneecap and raised the gun. “If I come back, I won’t be shooting at your knees.”
I left him alive. He would call 911, but he would never find the man who attacked him.
I ran a quarter mile to a gas station, went into the bathroom, and locked the door. I found the plastic bag I’d left behind the toilet, pulled out women’s clothes, and began to change. First, I cut the binding holding my breasts. Ah, that felt good. I put on a woman’s business suit that showed some cleavage, removed the false beard, teeth, and makeup. My lip had quit bleeding. It was swollen, but makeup covered it pretty well. I completed my new look with a red wig and cherry-red lipstick, noting new crow’s feet around my eyes. I thought I could pass for a trendy, college professor.
Putting the men’s clothes, beard, and guns into the bag, I walked out of the restroom and drove off in an old beater car I’d left parked in the lot.
The door jingled, announcing my entrance to Big Bad Wolf, Incorporated.
“Hello, Molly.” I nodded to my receptionist. One of the jobs she had listed on her résumé was “circus clown.” I wasn’t sure she realized she’d changed professions. There was enough foundation caked on her face to paint a battleship. Red blotches on her cheeks, blaze-blue eyeshadow, and jet-black hair made her look like a real Bozo. I doubted that she could even type. She spent her days painting her nails and refreshing her clown look.
I settled in the office chair, put my feet up, and called into my service for my phone messages. Although most of my business came from word of mouth, I ran an ad in local newspapers of some of the major US cities:
Big Bad Wolf, Incorporated. Got a problem? Need help? Call Red Riding Hood. Fees negotiable.
I meant it. I took care of problems, many of them nasty. All of them unsolved—and many unsolvable—by the police. My fees varied. The higher-paying jobs took care of the pro-bono cases, like the lieutenant’s wife. A Google search for “need help” or “desperate” called up the Big Bad Wolf, Inc.’s website.
“A Mr. Little is here to see you.”
A heavy, dark-skinned man walked to my desk and sat down. Rings of perspiration wet his underarms. His eyes on my cleavage, he said, “But … you’re a woman.”
“No, really? I didn’t know.”
“Word on the street is that you solve problems.” Digging at his greasy combover, he took a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow. “But this is not a job for a woman.”
“Then, I’m probably the man for you. I can handle whatever you got.” He didn’t look convinced. “I’m sure the person who recommended me told you what I did for him.” I raised my eyebrows, remembering.
I’d done some initial research on Mr. Little. His real name was Ned Bearskin, a member of the Saponi Nation. Bearskin lived in south Raleigh and managed a thriving car dealership. His marriage failing, he checked into the Super 8 each week, dusted off the old schwanzstucker with a local hooker.
None of that interested me. But his daughter had been killed a week ago, shot during a robbery gone sour. That interested me. The police had made no arrest.
“I know about your daughter. Whatever you need, I can handle it. Name’s Red.” I was born Rosa Cabalina, but I hadn’t used that name in years. More recently, I’d been Detective Rosa Wolfe with the Raleigh Police Department. Until my husband died, a victim of the Iraq War. Unable to cope, I had lost my badge for beating a man to near-death while working a case. Now, I got paid for the same.
Mopping his brow, Bearskin looked me straight in the eye and described a job that nearly made me lose my lunch.
“What you describe is horrific, even by my standards.” I named a high six-figure fee that I knew would clean out his savings, sure he’d decline my services. Instead, he agreed.
I carefully packed my workout bag, but not with gym clothes or sneakers. The most important piece of equipment was the hunting knife, a skinner with a four-inch blade.
The sun was just peeking out on the horizon as I drove to the Raleigh Country Club. I parked, the sky oozing pink and orange. I opened the car door to a wall of humidity, took a breath of heated air, smelling the familiar scent of leaves, flowers, ragweed, and musty soil. My shirt already plastered to my back in the predawn, I considered living somewhere with a milder climate, but knew I’d never move away from the city.
I had grown up at Chavis Heights public housing complex in Raleigh. I was ten the first time someone shot at me. My brother and I were walking home from school when a group of young men drove up to us and started firing, a gang initiation. My brother died in the ambulance. That was the day I decided to become a policewoman. End gang crime in Raleigh. I shrugged, perspiration trickling down my back. It hadn’t worked out quite the way I expected.
I wheeled a road bike out of the back of the SUV, perspiration trickling between my breasts. I put a Smith & Wesson double-action .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol in my back holster, which I covered with a loose bike shirt. Next, I belted my knife case to my waist, inserted the knife. Absently, I felt for the badge clipped to my belt—my fingers swept nothing but belt. Even now, years out of the force, I still felt naked without the gold.
I shook my head and pulled my hair into a band at my neck, then completed the outfit with a helmet. Anyone seeing me would think I were a member of the country club.
I cycled the backstreets, whistling and trying to look carefree. Houses got older and seedier. I swerved to miss a drunk who staggered into the road in front of me. “Eat road somewhere else,” I yelled.
At Beauty Avenue I rode past a house shedding what little blue paint was left on the wooden siding. I turned my bike around, got off, and wheeled the bike into a garage a couple houses down. I’d driven this street at various times over the last few days. I knew that the couple who lived there never came home during the day. The bike would be safe in their garage. I opened a small vial and sniffed, feeling the coke rush. I took another hit and opened my bag. I put a Glock in the right pocket of my bike shorts. I felt confident with the new gun. After firing it over 2,000 times, it hadn’t jammed once. I was no longer using Berettas—too unstable.
I walked cautiously to the street, glancing both ways. A man walked toward me wearing a dirty coat, torn jeans, obviously homeless. Who else would wear a coat in August? I was in no mood.
“Some help, lady. Anything you’ve got.”
I recognized Nick the Nick, real name Nicholas Nicholson. I’d used Nick the Nick before, and I trusted him. I never liked using a partner, but I needed backup on this job, and he knew how to keep his mouth shut.
During my surveillance, I had counted five people living in the house, my guy, a.k.a Prince Charming, two other men, and two women. Others came and went, but the five were permanent residents. Prince Charming had shot Mr. Little’s daughter. Her life in exchange for electronics that had a street value of a couple hundred dollars. He was stupid enough to sell them after the shooting. I tracked him down through his fence. I had methods of persuasion that the police could not use.
Charming was my target, and could expect no mercy from me, but a little collateral damage could be expected.
Nick the Nick and I used the shrubs for protection. I pulled two stocking caps from my bag. We each pulled one on and walked warily up the porch steps. They hadn’t left the door open for us. Unlike the police lieutenant, these gangbangers had a good-quality aluminum door. I’d break my foot, ankle, and leg before I kicked in that door.
I took the lock pick kit out of my bag, nervous about the noise it’d make. I had hoped to catch them asleep. Nick the Nick grabbed my shoulder and shook his head, pointing at the old wooden doorjamb. I decided I liked working with Nick. He was always prepared.
I pulled the Glock out of my pocket and tried to stop my heart from hammering. I was more than a little scared. I always felt an adrenaline rush at the start of each job. It was all part of the challenge. Nick pulled a crow bar out of his long coat and pried the door open in less time than I could have picked it.
I rushed in, the Glock steady in my gun hand. Nothing. A woman slept on the couch, dressed in panties and nothing else, a six-pointed star tattooed on her tummy—a Crib gang sign. How cute!
I gestured. Nick covered the woman’s mouth with duct tape and tied her wrists and ankles with plastic ties. We both crept toward the bedrooms: there were three. I opened the first bedroom door while Nick the Nick watched the hall. A woman and a man lay naked in bed. Not our guy. I started to back out of the room, but the man roared up in bed, a pistol aimed at my head. I shot him between the eyes. The .45 sounded like thunder in the small room. That ought to cause some attention.
I nodded toward the door. The woman took the hint, grabbed the sheet to cover herself, and ran out the door with me close behind.
Two burly men burst out bedroom number two, both brandishing knives—Charming and a close friend. Hmm. No sign of the other resident.
I shot Friend in the knee. He kissed the carpet, screaming, still grasping his knife.
Charming—not too smart, apparently—kept coming. I guess he thought his knife trumped a pistol. I almost felt bad about killing him. Almost.
That’s when all hell broke loose. Gangbanger number five must have just gotten home because I felt movement behind me and then a thundering shot. I turned to see number five go down, shot through the heart by Nick the Nick. I definitely liked working with Nick, I decided.
I shouldn’t have been so careless as to turn my head. While I was distracted, Charming slashed my shoulder, dangerously close to my carotid artery, causing me to drop the gun in my right hand.
Friend staggered toward me, slashed at my Achilles tendon with his knife. I lost my balance, went down. Friend scooped my gun off the floor. He had some intelligence, I thought, as I reached for the S & W in my back holster. I was fast. Friend was faster.
Friend aimed my own .45 at my temple. I cursed my stupidity and prepared to meet Satan. Two loud shots. Blood ran into my eyes. I felt a heaviness in my chest, but no pain. I realized I wasn’t hit. Instead, Friend’s body was smothering me, his blood covering me. I rolled Friend off me, swiping blood off my face. The hole between his unseeing eyes left no doubt he was dead, courtesy of Nick the Nick.
Charming lay in a pool of blood, not dead, but gasping for air, probably a collapsed lung—Nick’s second shot. I knew that Nick hadn’t aimed for Charming’s heart. If he had, Charming would be dead.
Nick and I searched the house. Three men were dead, the woman on the couch still tied, looking terrified. The pain in my ankle was intense, but fortunately, the Achilles was not severed, just cut.
Now, I would begin the job. With Nick on the lookout and wishing desperately for a hit of coke, I pulled Charming upright. Limping, I got behind him, thrust my knee in between his shoulder blades, seized a tuft of hair in one hand, and with my hunting knife in the other, cut around the skin of his head. He was in no condition to fight back, barely able to groan. I slid the knife under the skin where I’d cut and pulled the whole piece of scalp away.
I said the words Ned Bearskin had paid me to say, “Life is sacred and should be respected. You have violated the balance of life and upset the spirits. The spirits must be appeased.” Then, I inserted Charming’s scalp into his mouth, shoved it all the way into his throat with the end of my S & W. What was left of him tried to gasp for air.
I added my own farewell. “Payback is a bitch.”
♥ End ♥
Trina Allen is an educational consultant and longtime writer whose stories can be found in magazines such as The Dead Mule, Chiron Review, Word Catalyst, and Thunder Sandwich. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two Lab-mix dogs. This story first appeared in Luna Station Quarterly.
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