Pulse by K. M. Indovina

There was the city and the pulse and Natalie Bloom and Matthew Ballantino taking Natalie out of that pulse.

Natalie matched her footsteps to the beat and tilted her head towards the streetlights. Nothing Natalie loved more than sliding into the thump thump of her beloved city’s heart. Nothing Natalie hated more than something that disturbed the thump thump.

“What that jungle booty doing on a white girl?”

The young man’s friends stopped their heeing and hawing real quick when Natalie Bloom’s ballet flat ground his throat against the pavement and the muzzle of her Glock licked the bottom of his chin.

“Say that again,” said Natalie.

The young man’s eyes bulged out of his head and he wheezed. “I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t tell you to apologize,” said Natalie. She flicked off the safety of the Glock. All but one of his friends ran off. “Say that again.”

“What that jungle booty doing on a white girl.” The statement was no longer a rhetorical question but a plea.

Natalie eased her foot off his throat like easing off a gas pedal. “Okay.”

The jungle booty detector and his friend stumbled off, like a Romeo and Juliet that lived. Natalie had no idea why she thought that. She figured the song of the city demanded it and she liked that reason. Just as the syncopated beats demanded she take care of the Matthew Ballantino tugging at her heart and tugging her out of the city’s song.

The city’s rhythm moved her hips and dictated the tempo of her feet. She knew stars laid above her even if no one could see them, an invisible metronome on high.

Natalie skipped up onto the porch of an old house and peered through the filmy curtains.

“Tick tock,” Natalie said.

Nothing. Like the stars and their metronome influence, there was something beyond the curtains, in the darkness, disrupting the mood. Breaking up the harmonies and throwing off the back beat. A heckler’s interrupting taunts. This just won’t do.

Natalie jimmied the lock and slipped through the door like oil. She could not see him, but she could smell him. Hear his atonal sounds. Flat against her ear.

“Matthew Ballantino,” Natalie said. “Tick tock.”

Crash above.

“The lights,” Matthew said. “She’s here. The lights.”

“They’re not turning on, Matt.” A woman’s voice. Tinny on the ear. Affected on the ear.

As Natalie went up the stairs, she felt the rhythm fall back into place.

“Tick tock,” Natalie said.

Cursing. The woman’s voice crescendoed to a high pitched whine. A shadow built like a brick on the top of the stairs.

“Tick Tock, Matthew Ballantino,” said Natalie.

A shot in the dark. The bullet sailed over Natalie’s head. Crash of glass.

“Matt. Matt,” said the woman as if chanting his name was going to make Natalie go away.

What Matthew Ballantino’s brown eyes could not pick out in the dark, Natalie’s subtle greys could see as if there was the light of the day.

“Tick tock, Matthew Ballantino,” said Natalie. The syllables were punctuated by shots from Natalie’s Glock.

“Oh God,” chanted the woman. She was a wraith floating to and fro. The gauzy fabric of her red bathrobe billowed in the darkness.

One bullet to the shoulder, another to the hip. One through the hand, the other in the shin.

“Agh,” cried Matthew.

“Oh God,” said the woman.

“Tick tock, Matthew Ballantino,” said Natalie. She settled on top of him and nudged the mouth of the gun to his forehead. “Why am I here?”

“Suck it, dyke,” said Matthew.

“Oh God,” said the woman.

“Why am I here?” said Natalie. She tapped the trigger with every word.

“Go to hell,” said Matthew.

“Oh God,” said the woman.

“I’m here because your extortion and your stealing and your raping and your killing is messing with my city’s groove. Tick tock, Matthew Ballantino.”

Boom.

The woman screamed. Natalie left. For a short while, the city and the pulse and Natalie were back.

Keep It Tight, Keep It Clean by K. M. Indovina

“Oh Jesus. Oh fuck. Oh Jesus. Oh fuck,” chanted Eddie.

“Just hold him together. Shut up and hold him,” yelled Frank from the front seat. His knuckles were almost blue from gripping the steering wheel tight.

Jared moaned. A low, soft exhalation. I hoped the poor bastard wasn’t conscious.

Both of Eddie’s huge hands were clamped onto what was left of Jared’s face. It was hard to tell how much blood Jared had lost. He and Eddie were dressed in black shirts and black tracker pants. Let’s say it looked like both of them had gone for a swim.

I couldn’t believe Jared was still kicking it. Maybe the kid was made of sterner stuff than we had given him credit for.

“You should have taken a left there, Frank,” I said. We just passed the exit I thought was closest to Dr Nobody’s clinic.

“I’m the one driving. I know what I’m doing, Randall. So sit back and shut up,” said Frank.

I wasn’t going to waste any more precious air on Frank. When he gets like this, a blonde wearing nothing but a smile couldn’t get through to him.

“Oh Jesus. Oh fuck. Oh Jesus. Oh fuck.” Eddie chanted quieter now. It was the only sound in the car other than Jared’s haggard breath.

I looked out the window and got lost in the landscape accompanied by this lovely soundtrack. I ran over the chain of events, trying to figure out what went wrong.

It was supposed to be me, Eddie, Frank, Jared, and Vin. Arnold was the spotter, keeping an eye on the outside of the mansion. We got word some Mr Big’s ex wife jilted him out of a few million’s worth of valuables. Antiques, jewelry, the usual. Grab the goods, if we scared the ex it was a bonus. Get in, get out. Keep it tight. Keep it clean.

At four in the morning, we got the word the house was clear from Arnold. Security grid was disabled. We had a couple hours before anyone would be the wiser. Frank waited in the car. Vin was making sure we all got in scot free via the back french doors. Easy.

We got to the french doors. They were open. We waltzed in. There was no sign of Vin. I didn’t think anything of it. I must have assumed he was already in. First big mistake.

Eddie and Jared scampered off to the north wing. There were three pieces to pick up. I went east, to get two other antiques and head up the stairs for the jewelry. I radioed Arnold to fill him in. All I got back was the walkie talkie squawking to announce he hit the send button.

Second big mistake.

Got the Lionel train. Got the timepiece some astronaut had worn to the moon. Stupid stuff. Whatever, long as we get paid. I headed up the stairs.

The ex wife’s bedroom was third to the right. There were jewels hidden in the closet of the room opposite. The ex wife’s door was ajar. Don’t know why, but I peeked in.

Ever notice that people’s bedrooms have a smell to them? Maybe good, maybe nasty, but it’s there. No scent. May as well have been a display in a department store.

That’s when I heard the screams.

I sprinted down the stairs. Jared was crawling on the floor, leaving a trail of wet like a slug. Gunshots echoed. Eddie came running from the side room.

“Bitch. Vin and that bitch. She cut him,” yelled Eddie.

“Pick him up. Move,” I told Eddie.

It wasn’t till we got to the car that any of us realized how bad Jared was hurt. Frank swore up and down a storm, but he was smart enough to gun the accelerator.

We pulled into the scum brown building where Dr Nobody held shop. Damn near kicked down the door. Eddie carried Jared in. Nobody gets out of this business alive. But there’s no reason for a kid to get half his face ripped off. I was going to have a little chat with Mr Big.