By Patrick M. Tracy
Right away, I feel bad for her. I mean, she’s had a tough road getting here, and now I’m holding a dead man’s switch and threatening to blow the whole precinct away. Shit.
Her hand’s a metal claw. I can see that it’s just two titanium rods, all the way up to near the elbow. She wears an eye patch, and one side of her face is all scarred up. No more than twenty, twenty-two, and with hair as bright and gold as you can imagine. Her one blue eye looks at me, almost blank. There’s no fear left in her. She’s used it all, had it all blown out of her. So pretty. They still sent her to war. Just one more way the world ain’t right.
I pull my eyes away from her. The cops are all around, crouched behind desks, using them to steady their pistols. There’s a big-boned transvestite on the ground, his workman’s hands cuffed together behind him, his garish skirt all out of kilter.
“Just let my brother go, and I’ll walk. You shoot me, we’re all going straight to hell.” It’s quiet, so I don’t have to yell this time.
“Are you talking about Reggie Mercante?” one of the cops asks. He’s one of those guys whose hair goes that pretty silver color by the time they’re fifty. He has a boxer’s nose and a voice like a radio DJ.
Someone laughs. It’s a nervous yip, pulled high at the end like it hurt coming out.
“Hard luck, sport. He got moved to County lock-up three hours ago,” Silver Hair says.
My heart starts booming, hollow in my chest. I can feel each pulse of it, see it in my eyes like waves of heat coming off a smelting furnace. Inside, it’s like an empty fifty gallon drum, some kid beating on it with a stick of rebar. I look back at her, the girl with the metal hand.
“I’m sorry about all this,” I say to her. “It’s my brother, you know?” Of course, she doesn’t know. She can’t know about having a brother like Reggie, about living your whole life trying to keep him off the needle, out of the slam, and coming home at night alive. She can’t, just like I can’t know her story.
She smiles. “It’s okay. I’ve been blown up before.”
She steps closer to me. It seems like all I can see is her one blue eye.
“Lady, get back! Leave this to us, Ma’am!” Silver Hair yells. His buddies, burrowed deep behind the old metal desks, don’t speak up so loudly. It’s not like she’s listening, anyway. She’s got her own world, and the moment I look her straight in the eyes, I’m there, too.
She offers me her hand. Not the fleshy one, but the one made of metal. She’s close now. I can see a big shrapnel wound on her neck, raised and vivid. “Come on. Your brother’s not here, right?”
“No. They say he’s gone, and I believe them.” I hold her by the cool metal wrist. She walks me out of the station, down onto the street. I can feel how heavy her limp is. There must be damage I can’t see. As much as I’m aching for Reggie, I knew I couldn’t really save him this time. Seeing her, how she’s wrecked, my whole body begs to find a way I can help. Of course I can’t. At this point, I can’t help anyone.
The street’s quiet. It’s 1:30 in the morning, after all. We walk a few paces away from the precinct steps, out near a rusted Olds parked on the street.
“You felt it, didn’t you?” she asks.
I swallow. “Yeah.”
She turns to me, taking my face in her one good hand. I feel the hardness of her metal claw against my shoulder. She kisses me real soft, leaning me against the Olds. It’s like our bodies are electric.
“We’re ready,” she tells me. She touches my hand, bringing it to her chest. It still clutches the dead man’s switch. “You can let go now.”
I look into her blue eye. She smiles just a little. “Okay.” I let my hand relax at last.