Blitz swung the chain at Snow’s head, but she ducked in time. The half-inch links powdered the damp wall of the abandoned room. White dust and plaster bits rained on her head and into her mouth. Spitting, she rolled to the right and scrambled behind the skeleton of an arm chair to a corner littered with crumbled foam rubber and rat crap.
His shouting echoed off the walls like an avalanche. She shivered, from the cold, from the adrenalin. Where would the next blow come from? Then she heard the clatter, smack, whir of the chain again. He was now beating the fuck out of the bicycle he’d ripped off last week.
“Stop it,” she screamed even though he wasn’t listening.
Snow knew Blitz was crazy. They’d met at the shrink’s office, so of course she knew. Maybe that had made it part of the fun: tight gut, razor-cut black hair, six feet two inches tall, and nuttier than a wino ranting and raving in the back car of the L train.
Who wasn’t crazy in this motherfucking world, one way or another? So if he lost it once in a while and smacked her around, she could deal, and give it back at him, too. She was no weak, pathetic bitch like her aunt. Men were pigs, everyone knew that. You just needed to be an asshole right back at ‘em so they knew their limits.
But this, Snow thought, looking up over the back of the chair, this might be her limit for once. She’d never seen that look in his eyes before—his baby blues replaced by super-shiny ceramic orbs from a horror movie. And what the hell was he saying…screaming?
“Fucking terrorists. Killing kids, cops. It’s the CIA, that’s what it is. Navy SEALS. Out to control us. I’ll get the rat bastards. Wipe. . . out. . . every. . .”
With a last swing of the heavy chain, he rapped himself in the back of the head, the tip circling with a sickening thwack across his face. He staggered and turned toward Snow and she could see his eyes again, glassy and wide above a bloody broken nose. His breath made cold clouds in the frigid air, two hazy breaths, before he fell, sloping slowly left and thudding against the floorboards.
He started crying then, blubbering, snot-filled cries like a baby, like her brother Alejandro when he thinks he’s going to get yelled at. Yet worse, somehow, deep and disturbing. She closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears. Not to shut Blitz out, not really, but in reaction to the familiar buzzing in the pit of her stomach like a frenzied swarm of insects.
She’d known this was coming, the crack up, the end. She’d been dealing with his paranoid mutterings, the single stick needle sleeves strewn all over the one room squat they shared with three others. The dope had made it better for a while, taking his head to someplace other than the paranoia, but it had gotten so bad he was shooting anything he could get his hands on. Huffing even, his mind gone, gone, gone while his body wasted to a thin stick with a bit of meat on it.
When she looked again, he had pulled himself to the wall and sat leaned against it. His gaze caught hers and for a second she recognized the guy he used to be, trapped behind the madness: Barry Cochran, twenty-three, from South Bend, Indiana. Then she saw the knife in his hands as he reached up to cut a long deep arc across his throat, red, gaping, bloody.
He was still alive when she reached him—she saw fear in his eyes and a look like he was asking for something. But what, what? To stop the blood that pumped steadily from the wound? Or to let him die so he could have some peace now?
His eyes clouded over.
“No,” she sobbed, wrapping her hands around the gash. The warm stickiness leaked through her fingers, soaked through his coat. She shrieked, a breath-starved sound more like a whine. “Barry, Barry, come on now, Barry. Stop it, okay, just stop it. We’ll call Dr. Levinson, the bastard. The useless. . .” The bleeding slowed, stopped. “. . . shrink. . .” He looked at nothing now, saw nothing. “. . . fucking bastard.”
Snow lowered her hands, staring at the blood on them.
“No,” she muttered. “No, no, not again.” She wiped her hands on her coat but she couldn’t clean them. She knew she couldn’t clean them. She’d always known that. Blood on her hands. Always on her hands.
She gagged at the coppery smell and stifled a scream that rose like vomit. Steadying one hand against the floor, she rose to her feet.
Her fault, her fault, always her fault.
Chílwitwapsúx, her mother had called her. Little Devil. Screaming all around her. Alejandro crying somewhere. Her mother calling her names, cursing her. “Filthy girl. Born in blood. You will die in it.” Rough hands pulling her away, thankfully away from something she didn’t want to see.
There was no one to pull her away now, to protect her. She held her bloody hands in front of her, looked down at the sticky mess on her coat. No water to wash with, no way to rinse it all away. She stripped naked, kicked the clothes across the room, and tried to clean up from a small snowdrift blown inside through a broken window pane. She rubbed her fingers till they were numb, clawed at the traces of crimson around the nails, in the creases. She used their sleeping bag to dry herself, shuddering, shivering, then pulled on dry clothes from her backpack, jeans, a hoodie, but no coat, no gloves. Both their coats were covered in blood and the drop-in center had been out of gloves when they tried to get some yesterday.
Snow did not look at Blitz again, but she could see him still, would always see him, slumped against the wall with wide, dead eyes, a trail of drying blood from neck to lap.
The house they were squatting in had all the ground level doors and windows boarded up, which had made it feel safe when they first settled in. The only way to exit was by descending into the dark basement and climbing out the side window. Lifting a loose board that hid the cracked glass, she wiped at the dusty panes and peered out. Wisps of snow twirled in the empty lot next door, but nothing else stirred. She threw her pack out first and squirmed through, lowering the window quietly behind her.
The snow had stopped and gray clouds made it nearly night already. A cold wind cut through her sweatshirt as she pulled on her backpack and headed across the lot. The west side of Chicago was changing and not too far away new townhouses were going up, old brownstones being renovated. Here in gang territory, however, it still looked as demolished and war-strewn as 73rd and Paxton.
A stray dog looked up from a pile of trash when she passed, ready to run if he had to. She crossed California to the alley behind a half demolished building. A dumpster sat, half filled with rubble from the destruction, and there was a spot between it and the wall where the ground was still dry. Squeezing into it butt first, Snow used her backpack as a seat cushion. Wind kicked up light flakes around the building she’d just left, like some ugly, dirty snow globe.
Squatting with her arms tight around her legs and forehead pressed to her knees, Snow rocked on the balls of her feet. To the south, the hum of traffic along the Eisenhower Expressway. Nearer, beneath the dumpster, the scurry of rats looking for supper. That feeling in her center, the one she couldn’t describe except to say when she was a kid she thought it meant she was going to die, tightened her chest, filled her mouth, made it hard to breathe.
You must learn to trust. The remembered words seemed to echo against the metal dumpster. Snow shivered but it had nothing to do with the cold. You must learn who to trust. I can’t help you if you don’t. Even your brother knows that.
Her throat hurt. She plucked at the sleeve of her sweatshirt like something was stinging her. She shook the shrink’s words out of her head.
Blitz had trusted Levinson, at least at first, as much as any paranoid psycho could. But that hadn’t helped. Nothing ever helped. It had only grown worse. She’d watched Blitz get so bent and twisted he didn’t act like himself any more. She thought she could see that starting in Alejandro. Everything spinning out of her control. Would her brother end up in an abandoned squat with his throat slit and no one to stay with him but the rats?
Not if she could help it. Not at all. No matter what she had to do. She’d already shown that, hadn’t she? Blood on her hands, on the knife in her hand. Screaming in her ears. This was nothing compared to what she remembered in her nightmares.
Her resolve eased the tension, pushed the memories back. Settling herself more comfortably, she pulled a plastic grocery sack out of her backpack and found a stolen candy bar to eat for supper, wishing to hell she had some fresh water to drink and a coat, a goddamn coat against the cold.
After eating, she lit up her last, half smashed cigarette, and sat cross-legged, waiting while the night lowered and the wind began to clear the clouds overhead. Soon Jinx would come, or Tina, and they’d crawl through the window and find him, crazy, fucked up Blitz, with his throat slit and her fingerprints all over the room. And somehow, someone would let them know, the police pigs. And they’d come looking. Like they did before. But this time they wouldn’t find her.