Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 218 - Jake Hinkson

THE GIRL FROM YESTERDAY - JAKE HINKSON

Originally published in Crooked Issue #2, February 2009

She was pregnant but terribly underweight at the same time, with a black eye starting to go purple and hunger chapping her bruised lips. The guy with her didn't look like the type of guy to knock around a pregnant girl, but you can never tell. He was balding and quiet, wearing dirty black slacks with holes in the knees. I was willing to bet they were both dressed entirely in clothing they'd picked up at shelters like ours. The guy looked fifty or even sixty. The girl was about nineteen.

I was hanging up my office phone as they sat down at one of the long tables. I'd been watching them for a while, since they walked in the door. It was noon and the shelter was full of drunks trying to hold off their drinking until after lunch. My wife, Betty, was in the kitchen and I could see her through what had once been the order window when our mission was still a restaurant. Her graying hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, and she was barking orders at someone behind her in the kitchen. When she yells, Betty still looks like the twenty year-old girl I married.

I got up and walked to the door of my office. The pregnant girl and her man sat down at one of the tables by the exit. The volunteers from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, most of them teenagers, were passing out the bowls of stew. A kid named Nate—a nice kid with a big funky afro—was cutting up pans of cornbread into little squares. He was cutting them up too small, probably because Betty had told him the day before that he was cutting them too big. He loaded the slices onto a tray and started passing them out. The pregnant girl ate her little square of cornbread as soon as Nate handed it to her.

I was smoking a cigarette. Betty didn't like me to smoke and especially didn't like me to smoke in the shelter, but I mashed out my cigarette and dropped it in a Coke can. The pregnant girl was tearing into her stew, but the old guy with her just stared at the tablecloth.

I walked over to their table.

The girl didn't stop eating, and the old guy didn't stop staring at the tablecloth. He wasn't drunk, though. I can spot a drunk from many miles away. His problem was that he wasn't right in the head. I see a lot of guys who aren't right in the head, too.

Lonnie, a regular who is drunk twenty-three out of every twenty-four hours, was sitting next to the girl. He was wearing red sweatpants and a brand new t-shirt with an American flag on the front.

"Howdy, Fred," he said.

"Lonnie," I said. "How goes it?"

"Pretty well. Stew's hot."

"Betty keeps the pots burning," I said.

"She don't like me," Lonnie said.

I shrugged. Betty probably didn't like Lonnie. "She got up this morning and spent the day making you stew, didn't she?" I asked. "What were you doing at nine o'clock this morning?"

Lonnie smiled a gappy grin. "Sleeping down by the river."

"Drunk?"

Lonnie shrugged. "Beats thinking."

The girl and her man had not changed what they were doing this whole time. She finished her stew and reached for his. He didn't flinch as she took it. She patted his shoulder and started into the stew.

I sat down.

"Hello," I said to her. I could tell he wasn't much of a talker.

She nodded and kept eating, getting faster at it like she thought I might take it away.

"Fred Porter," I said. "I run this place with my wife."

The girl nodded.

"What's your name?" I asked. No harm in asking.

"Rita," she lied. She took a long pull off of her glass of water.

I nodded. "Haven't seen you here before."

"Passing through," she said.

"Who's your friend, Rita?"

She put down her spoon and looked at me disappointedly. "Why are you asking me these questions?"

I shrugged.

She looked at the old man. He was a dirty character. Grime filled the grooves of his rough face. Now that I was closer to him, I was pretty sure he was actually younger than I'd first thought.

Without taking his gaze from the tablecloth, he touched his forehead, and I noticed for the first time some bruises at his receded hairline.

"What happened?" I asked him.

He shook his head. One of his eyeballs was bloody.

The girl looked around as if she were starting to get scared.

"Why don't we go sit in my office?" I said.

The girl wasn't happy about it and looked at the old man for a sign of what to do. He touched his forehead again and tears welled up in the girl's blue eyes.

I led them to the office. The old guy shuffled, but the girl had a bizarrely quick step, as if she'd been walking so long she'd forgotten she was pregnant.

I motioned at the two chairs in front of my desk and walked around it, sat down and closed the spread out newspaper. I dropped it beside my swivel chair.

"What happened, Rita?"

"We were attacked a couple of days ago."

"Attacked where?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Downtown. We were coming up here from Texas and our car broke down."

"Where were you going?"

"North."

"I assumed you were heading north if you came up from Texas," I said "but where up north?"

She looked at the old man as if she expected him to answer. She tapped her stubby, dirty fingernails on the seat, and he didn't move. "He hasn't been right for a couple days," she said.

"So what happened a couple of days ago?" I asked.

"Our car broke down. He couldn't fix it because he didn't have the right part. The Lord led us down to the river."

I nodded. Between the two of us, Betty is the religious one. Before we got married she made something exceedingly clear. "I'm going to serve the Lord until the day I die," she said. Betty believes in God. I believe in Betty.

I asked Rita, "What happened at the river?"

"We slept there a couple of days."

I nodded at the old man. "What's his name?"

She looked at him. He was staring at my desk like it was whispering something to him he couldn't quite hear.

Rita said, "He is the one the Lord calls The Revelator." When she said it, she sounded like a automated phone operator.

"I see," I said. "So you and the, uh, Revelator here were down at the river and then what?"

"A man came," she said.

"Who was this man?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. The Revelator was suspicious of him from the beginning."

"Was he a homeless man?"

"No."

"How do you know?"

"We had seen him a few days before," she said, letting out a sigh that was all exhaustion and no attitude. Then, "We were getting food out of a dumpster behind a restaurant, a Mexican food place. This man came out of the back door and told us to go away. The Revelator told him that as God had fed Elijah in the wilderness, causing the ravens to bring him meat and bread, that," she tumbled over the words, "that he, that God would provide for the Revelator and his bride."

"You're married?" I said.

She nodded.

"You don't have a ring," I said.

"We were married by God, not by Man," she said.

"Oh. And then what happened?"

"We left and went back to the river. The next day, or maybe two days, I don't know, the man came down to the river."

"Why?"

She shook her head. "He wanted to take me away from the Revelator."

"He wanted to take you where?"

She shook her head and looked at the Revelator. The Revelator was asleep.

"Where did he want to take you?" I asked.

"To hell. He wanted to stop the Revelator from finishing his work. The Lord hath decreed that the Revelator should take his bride and hasten the second coming."

I nodded. "And what would happen if you were taken away?"

She sat up very straight in the chair. She paid so little mind to her swollen stomach it was as if she wasn't aware of it. "The Revelator and his bride are one body. No one shall separate the body without destroying it. The Lord hath decreed the bride of the Revelator should burn in the lake of fire with the Deceiver if she be taken away from him. The bride's family should die the deaths of the heathen and darkness should fall on the face of the earth."

I looked at the Revelator. A line of spit was running down his chin. There looked to be a little blood in it.

She said, "The evil man wanted to take me away, to men with guns. The Revelator struggled with him, but the Deceiver was strong with the man and he," her voice cracked, "he hit the Revelator with a pipe."

"What did you do, Rita?"

She shook her head.

"Please tell me," I said. "What did you do? The man hit the Revelator with this pipe, hit him on the head it looks like."

"Yes," she said, wiping her tears. "Several times. Hit him." She shook her head and put her knuckle to her mouth. "I didn't know what to do. My mother..."

"You were afraid the man with the pipe was going to take you away from the Revelator."

"Yes. And the Lord hath decreed that the bride's family should die the deaths of heathens if she be taken away." She sighed exhaustedly again. "Or run away."

"So you protected the Revelator?"

"Yes. We had a knife in our bag. It was long and thin. I drew it across the evil man's neck as the Revelator had taught me."

"You'd done this before?"

"No," she shook her head. "But the Revelator showed me how."

"I see. Then what?"

"I put the man in the river. But," she choked up again and touched the Revelator lightly, almost maternally, on the arm, "...but he wasn't...right. He'd always said we should avoid the heathen and their places but, but I was so hungry. I was so hungry, and the ravens never came to us."

I nodded. I picked up the paper and opened it and slid it across the table.

It was yesterday's paper. Under a picture of Rita, taken some years earlier when she was clean and young and smiling at the camera like she was thinking of what she was going to wear to prom, a caption read, "Karen Nelson, Missing for Three Years From a Church Youth Trip, Was Seen in Texarkana Two Days Ago. Police Say This Is 'The Best Lead in Years.'" Next to the text of the article was a picture of Rita and the Revelator standing at the counter of a gas station in Texarkana.

Rita looked at it. Behind her, I saw four uniformed officers walk in. I was impressed with how quickly they'd responded to my phone call. One walked over to the kitchen window. The drunks and homeless souls sitting at the tables all stiffened up. Betty, her eyes wide with alarm, pointed the cop to my office. Her blue eyes met mine, and I tried to smile reassuringly.

"There are people here," I said. "They want to talk to you, Rita. They're going to take you and the Revelator to the hospital. He needs his head looked at where the man hit him with that pipe. And you need your baby looked at."

She regarded her stomach for the first time. "I don't want them to take my baby away from me."

"They won't," I said. I stood up. The cops were at the door. One, a handsome, silver haired guy, came in slowly.

Rita turned and, when she saw them, she screamed. The cops poured into the room and tackled the Revelator. They threw him to the ground, and he kicked him a little. He wasn't really even awake, but they held him down despite his lack of struggle. One of the cops was a stocky, pretty blonde with a hard mouth. While the guys subdued the unconscious man on the floor, she put some handcuffs on Rita before I could see her do it.

"She doesn't need those," I barked.

"Back up, sir," the cop barked back.

The cop with the silver hair jumped up and put his thick hand on my chest. "You need to calm down, sir," he said.

Betty was in the doorway. Her hair was pulled back in a scarf and sweat beaded her face. I took a deep breath. Rita had crumbled to the floor.

Quietly, I said, "I am calm, sir. I think the girl is already very agitated, and she doesn't require handcuffs."

The cops were pulling the Revelator to his feet. Rita was turning red. "Don't hurt him," she said.

I knelt down next to her and put my arms around her. She sunk into me. "He'll be okay, Rita," I said.

The silver-haired cop knelt down. His voice was soft, and he seemed to be following my lead now. "Ma'am," he said.

"Don't hurt him," she said.

"We won't hurt him," the cop said. The others had pulled the Revelator up and put him back in the chair. "I need to ask you some questions."

The girl wouldn't look at him. Her face was buried in my chest.

"Are you Karen Marie Nelson?"

She shook her head.

"Tell him the truth, Rita," I said.

The cop said, "Are you Karen Nelson of Arlington, Texas?"

Rita drew her head up and looked at me. "That was the name Man gave me," she said. "God hath given me another name in heaven."

"Good Lord," Betty said.

The cop frowned and looked at me. Then he pointed at the Revelator and asked Rita, "Who is this man?"

She stared at the drooling old man and touched her stomach. "The flesh of my flesh," she said.

BIO: Jake Hinkson has been hard at work all summer long on his book about film noir. With a rush of recent evil inspiration, we are the beneficiaries of this story. You can find his fiction at The Flash Fiction Offensive, Crooked, A Twist Of Noir and Powder Burn Flash, among other places. You can learn more about Jake and his projects at his own blog, The Night Editor.

3 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul D. Brazill said...

A fantastic story.

Joyce said...

Powerful stuff. Well done.