She had just about finished her cigarette and was considering chaining a second one off of the first when the metal door behind her burst open and Frankie, Gerry’s nephew, stumbled out into the parking lot.
“I heard you needed cash,” he slurred. “You wanna make a few extra buck, give me a ride home. I’m too fucked up to drive. Get my car, it’s around back.” He drunkly shoved his keys into her hand.
Matching the keychain with the make, Pigeon slipped into the driver’s seat of an early model sports sedan. Frankie slid in beside her, instantly filling the car with the smell of cheap booze and cheaper cologne.
“Where am I taking you?” asked Pigeon.
“We can do it right here, baby,” he mumbled, sliding his hand down her inner thigh.
“She’s a slut,” said a voice.
“She’s a whore,” said another,
“She should kill herself,” chimed in a third.
“Hell no,” she said, elbowing him off of her.
“Bitch,” said Frankie, slumping against the window. “Take me to Jessica’s place. She’s always down.”
He rattled off the address, somewhere in North Van, and Pigeon gunned the engine, merging onto the highway. The sooner she could stop playing taxi driver to this slob, the better. Luckily, he spent most of the car ride engrossed in his phone.
“We’re here,” she said finally, wheeling into the parking lot of the condo complex.
“Thanks, baby,” said Frankie. With agility surprising for someone so inebriated, he lunged over the console at her, pinning her to the seat, and dropped his hand down her shirt.
His tongue flicked out like a lizard and he aimed it right for her mouth, which had dropped open in shock. It took her a moment to get over the sheer surprise of the thing, by which time his tongue had slithered down her throat like a grimy, noxious worm. She bit down on it as hard as she could and he jumped back with a yelp.
Firing a quick fist into his kidney, she shoved him the rest of the way off her. His head hit the passenger-side window with a hollow pop.
“Oh, you bitch!” he screamed, throwing his phone at her head. “I don’t need this shit! I got pussy on speed dial!”
After clawing at the door for a few moments he finally got it open, half falling out of the car and almost landing in a sizable puddle. “I don’t need this shit!” he repeated, staggering over to building’s front door. Pigeon didn’t wait to see whether he made his inside, instead squealing the car’s tires as she peeled out onto the street. It took her a moment to realise that he hadn’t paid her what she had been promised. She swore under her breath.
She needed that money. Sighing deeply, she got back on the freeway. She would have to drop Frankie’s car back at Gerry’s garage, and then figure out her life from there. She was about halfway there when an odd beeping noise began emanating from under her seat. At first she ignored it; if the voices were back, a few odd noises weren’t out of the ordinary either. However, after a brief moment of silence it started up again. Concerned, Pigeon pulled the car over to the side of the road and started fishing under the seat.
She touched something small and vibrating and pulled out Frankie’s cellphone. It seemed to be the source of the beeping, and the screen was lit up with the word “Donald” splashed across it. Unsure of what to do, she hit the big green button and brought the device up to her ear.
“Hello?” said Pigeon uncertainly.
“Oh,” said Don. “It’s you. Put Frankie on.”
“Frankie isn’t here. He threw this thing at me and stormed off. Without paying,” she added quickly.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” scoffed Don. “That kid is a little shit.” This assessment of Frankie gave Pigeon a small appreciation for Don.
“Don’t trust him.”
“You can’t trust him.”
“He knows what you are.”
“He wants you dead.”
“He wants your secrets.”
“You’re not safe.”
“He can hear your thoughts.”
“Listen,” Don continued, “I had work for Frankie but Gerry says I can trust you so maybe this can work.”
“This can work,” said Pigeon shortly.
“Good,” said Don. “Do you have a car?”
“I’m borrowing Frankie’s ride,” she replied.
“I’ll tell him I need it for a thing. He’ll understand. You know Nunya’s? The diner on Main and East 1st?” Don asked.
“Yes,” said Pigeon.
“Good,” replied Don. “Meet me there tomorrow evening. We’ll talk.”
“What should I do about this phone?” asked Pigeon.
“Keep it,” replied Don without hesitating. “Sounds like that little creep owes you. His uncle can buy him a new one. Consider yourselves even.” Then he hung up.
Pigeon slid the phone into her jacket pocket and pulled on to the next closest exit to Downtown. She swung the car into her pharmacist’s parking lot and dropped the seat into recline.
A billboard hologram cast an eerie glow over the empty swath on pavement, a rolling advert for a service that offered sex-for-money with anatomically exaggerated ‘droids. Tomorrow would be a new day, thought Pigeon as she fell into an uneasy sleep. The billboard rolled over again, a single word splashed across it:
Pigeon awoke to the sun starting its slow crawl towards the horizon, the smog burning orange below a thick layer of low rain clouds.
A cool wind blew some leaves and pieces of trash across the parking lot, now partially full. She had slept most of the day, and there was an odd buzzing in her head. The voices had merged into one single droning monotone that was narrating her every motion.
She’s looking around the car now. She’s noticing the pair of panties stuffed under the passenger seat. She’s thinking of Frankie. She remembers the phone she acquired last night. She’s patting her self-down. She found the money that Gerry had paid her. She’s getting out of the car. She’s walking towards the pharmacy…
“Typify Eternna ,” said the little man behind the counter, reading the total off the cash register and holding out his hand. Pigeon grumbled, forking over the last of her cash. “PharmaCorp renewed the patent on tritipine, which means prices are going up for the injectable and the pill form, which means the costs are getting passed on to the consumer.”
He pressed the airhypo to her skin, and it gave a pneumatic hiss as it deposited its payload of medicine into her upper arm. “Of course, most people are covered. But if you want to stay outside the System…
“It’s pay to play,” said Pigeon, finishing his sentence, taking the handful of pills he offered her. Pigeon worked up some saliva by sucking the inside of her mouth and swallowed them in a single gulp.
She started feeling drowsy almost immediately, more of a placebo effect than anything. She knew from experience that the real sedation would start in about half an hour, and that the only way through was to sleep it off.
“See you soon!” said the pharmacist as Pigeon left the small shop, door jingling cheerfully behind her.
Back in the car, she fiddled with her new phone until she found the alarm. Setting it to go off a few hours before she was due to meet with Don, she laid back in the seat and closed her eyes, allowing the drugs to take effect.
Everything around her felt small, and she felt floaty and distant. The voice commented on this, but she ignored it. Soon, things would be quiet and she could focus on getting her life back together after this terribly botched Run.
It was raining again when she pulled into Nunya’s rear parking lot. The meds were still taking effect, but the voices had already been reduced to whispers, nattering back and forth.
She was still tired, though, sleep dragging her eyelids down. She had almost run two red lights on her way there, and came far too close to rear-ending a cop car. Luckily, she had made it there in one piece and some coffee would be perfect for slicing through the sedation.
“Glad you made it,” said Don as she slid into the booth. By some coincidence, it was the same booth that she had sat at just a few days previous. Had it been a few days? Or a few weeks? Pigeon couldn’t quite recall.
“This is Peter, and that’s Paul. They’re friends of mine.” Each of them nodded in turn as Don introduced them. There was a girl at the table too, dressed in dirty plaid flannel with lank, dirty-blonde hair. “Petey and Paulie are new at this but Kim’s an old hand, so you’ll all be taking direction from her.”
The girl flashed a piece sign lazily over her coffee mug. “Pigeon here is new as well,” continued Don, “so I expect all of you to be on your best behaviour while you’re showing her the ropes.”
“The job is simple,” said Kim. “In and out, no more than two minutes. Pete and Paul, you’re the heat so your job is to keep everyone in line. I’m on cash detail, which means I ride shotgun and I do all the talking. Don’t get twitchy, we don’t need any bodies piling up.” The two young men nodded in understanding.
“Pigeon, you’re the driver. I have a getaway car, you’ll be outside waiting for us to make the jump. Don says you have a ride?” Pigeon nodded. “Good. Once we’re a few blocks away, we ditch the getaway and switch to yours. We’re not safe until we bail out of the neighbourhood. Got it?”
Pigeon motioned to the waitress, who filled a mug with coffee and slid it in front of her. “Seems simple enough,” she said, yawning. “I’m in.”
“The tip off,” said Don, “is that the place has bad security: no panic button and only one clerk on at a time. The take is four ways less my finder’s fee, flat rate. Peter, Paul, this is your in so don’t fuck it up. Pigeon, I expect this to be clean. No yawning when you’re on the clock. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Pigeon, stifling another yawn.
“Good,” said Don. “Now, everyone chip in on this bill. I don’t tip.”
The hot coffee filled Pigeon’s empty stomach and insulated her from the cold, rainy night as she stepped out into the parking lot. Peter and Paul followed Don to his car while Pigeon stood under the awning and lit a cigarette.
“Can I buy one off of you?” said Kim, appearing behind her unexpectedly, giving Pigeon a little start.
“Jesus,” said Pigeon. “Don’t sneak up on me like that. Here, just take it,” she added, refusing the handful of coins that Kim was offering.
“Thanks,” said Kim, producing a lighter from the breast pocket of her shirt. “You know, Don’s a misogynistic piece of shit. But he pays well, so I’m sort of stuck with him.” Pigeon nodded, and Kim continued. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in this for material gain. Any money I make goes to a better cause. Have you ever heard of the Skeleton Army?”
“No, never,” said Pigeon truthfully, shaking her head. She was exhausted, the medication still working its magic. She just wanted this conversation to end so she could take another nap in the car.
“We do a lot of organising in the community, but some of our bigger projects need funding.”
“Right,” said Pigeon flatly. Why won’t this girl leave me alone? she thought.
“You know,” Kim added thoughtfully, “you and I are a lot alike. We’re both women in a man’s world. And we need to look out for each other, have each other’s backs. You know?” Pigeon nodded hesitantly. “Do you have a phone? Let me give you my number.” She pulled a cellphone from her pocket and tapped it against Pigeon’s, which gave a little ping. “If you ever want to talk women’s lib, or any kind of politics, give me a shout. We’re sisters and we’re in this thing together, okay?”
Pigeon nodded again, stubbing her butt out on the bottom of her shoe. Kim flashed her a peace sign again and smiled broadly. Pigeon noticed that she was missing a lot of teeth, and that the ones she had were very crooked. Without another word Kim turned and disappeared into the rain, leaving Pigeon alone and rather confused.
Despite her slightly odd interpersonal manner, Kim was in fact an old hand at armed robbery. Don’s tip off had been solid, and the entire job went off without a hitch. After Pigeon was instructed to give back Frankie’s car, she realised that she had nowhere to sleep. After spending a couple of nights curled up in the alcove outside the pharmacy, she responded to a couch-surfing ad in the classified section, paid in cash.
The robbery hadn’t given her enough to replace her modded chip, let alone shell out for Gerry’s fancy new car theft gizmo. So that was how she spent her time: sleeping the day away in the living room of the basement suite that she shared with four other people and working all night long.
Cheap cars were easy enough to come by, and Gerry was always happy to take on more stock. Meanwhile, she was becoming closer with Kim, who was always looking to knock over another convenience store or gas station, Peter and Paul resolutely in tow.
In return, she had to put up with Kim’s political diatribes. Pigeon tended not to keep up with the news, so she rarely contributed much to these conversations. Kim, however, seemed more than content to monologue uninterrupted. Pigeon had never met someone quite like Kim before.
She wasn’t a Runner, but instead burned bright with self-righteous indignation, seemingly able to turn any issue into a black-and-white conflict between ultimate good and abhorrent evil. Pigeon had described her to Maria over coffee at her new place, and he had described Kim as Robin Hood turned G.I. Joe, a characterisation that Pigeon thought was far too accurate.
Aside from politics, though, Kim rarely talked about her personal life. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have bothered Pigeon, who tended to insulate herself from most people, and tried to ask as few questions of people as possible.
Better not to be saddled with the burden of becoming attached to people; a Runner technique as old as the first Run. However, Pigeon found herself drawn inexorably to Kim. More than anything, she desperately wanted to know more about the Skeleton Army that Kim had alluded to so cryptically in their first meeting.
Finally, after they had been working together for what seemed to Pigeon like an eternity, she could contain her curiosity no longer.
Cutting Kim off in the middle of rant about prison abolition, she blurted out, “So what the hell is the Skeleton Army?” Kim looked taken aback, staring at Pigeon as if surprised to see that there was someone in the car with her.
“Well,” said Kim deliberately, weighing every word. “The Skeleton Army is a political movement based on the principles of voluntary participation and mutual aid.”
“In English?” said Pigeon, giving her a hard time.
“Well, it’s everything that I’ve been talking to you about, really,” responded Kim evasively. “We provide an alternative to mainstream politics.” With that, she shifted the conversation to an article she had read in some obscure zine, railing against the evils of hydro-electric megaprojects. Feeling decidedly unsatisfied with the response, Pigeon settled back in her seat. What sort of political movement was funded by armed robbery? she wondered.
By the time Kim dropped Pigeon off at home the sun was just starting to rise. They had casing a liquor store for their next job, and Pigeon was too exhausted to pay attention to the slip of paper tacked to the front door. She figured it was some bill collector after one of her roommates, and besides which she couldn’t read it in the early-morning gloom.
She didn’t have the energy to take her shoes or coat off, instead flopping down onto the couch fully clothed, thoughts racing. Her roommates usually awoke around this time, so she wasn’t expecting to fall asleep immediately anyways; they were archetypal Squatters, and they tended to give her a wide berth.
Thus, she was startled when a voice hesitantly spoke her name aloud from the shadows as the floor lamp clicked on dramatically. She was halfway towards reaching for the knife that she kept under her pillow when she realised it was one of her roommates and let her arm drop.
“Jesus,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Don’t do that to me.”
“Sorry,” he said, “but we need to talk.” Pigeon noticed that he was shifting uncomfortably in his seat, as if this was a task he had been put up to but didn’t particularly relish.
“Okay,” she said tersely, dragging herself up to a seated position, her joints groaning in protest. “What’s the beef?”
“The police were here last night asking about you, and we are concerned that you are involved in… criminal activities.” He spoke with the hesitant reverence better suited to addressing a cult leader or mass murderer than sort of petty thief that Pigeon was. She rolled her eyes, so hard that she thought they might unscrew themselves and fall out onto the floor.
“No, Tim, I’m not involved in ‘criminal activities’,” she said, a little exasperated. This lie seemed to put him somewhat at ease, so she continued. “What did you tell them?”
“We told them the truth,” bragged Tim.
“Being?” asked Pigeon.
“Being that we hardly saw you at night and never talked to you during the day,” he responded. Pigeon breathed another sigh of relief and flopped back down onto the couch, covering her eyes with the Pigeon of her elbow.
“Anything else?” she mumbled.
“Well,” he said, suddenly hesitant again. “You have to be out of here by the end of the week…”
“What?” exclaimed Pigeon, sitting upright again. “You’re kicking me out over this?” Tim stared at her blank-faced for a moment before replying.
“You didn’t read the notice on the front door?” he asked, dumbfounded. Pigeon shook her head no. “We’re being evicted. The landlord is renovating the place, and he wants us out.” With that, he stood up, threw on his coat, and left for work.
“Jesus,” Pigeon mumbled to herself, grabbing her bag out from under the couch. She was almost too exhausted to move, but if the cops had been here once, they could come back at any time. She needed to get moving.
More than that, she needed to figure out how they kept picking up her trail. Had she become sloppy? Complacent? She didn’t think so, but at the moment she was too tired to reason it out.
First sleep, then she could play detective. She had bought an old beater station wagon off of Gerry and, swiping a blanket off of Tim’s bed on her way out the door, she built herself a little nest in the trunk where she finally managed to drift into an uneasy sleep, lulled by the light patter of rain on the car roof, and haunted by dreams of her parents’ faces.
She awoke with a start, the reality of situation hitting her suddenly like a tonne of bricks: she was being hunted.
So far, she had managed to evade the System through nothing more than luck, and her Runner’s sense told her that her luck had run out. She needed to get to the bottom of this mystery, and quick.
The thought of Detective Pendleton’s hungry blue eyes spurring her on, she clambered over the back seat of the car and slid into the driver’s seat.
Grinding the sleep out of her eyes with the palms of her hands, she willed her brain to start churning. After a few minutes, a thought popped into her head.
“Who,” she asked herself, “knew about my couch surfing?” Aside from her roommates, she knew there were only two possibilities. “Kim and Maria,” she answered.
The nearest payphone was on the corner, and her first call was to Maria, the only phone number she had memorised. After letting it ring for what seemed like an eternity, she gave up trying to reach him. He was probably asleep anyways, at this time of day. Her next call was to Kim, copying the number off of her cell phone. She picked up after the third ring.
“Hello?” Kim said loudly. There were a lot of voices in the background. It sounded like she was at some sort of party.
“Kim, it’s Pigeon,” she said.
“Oh, hey. Listen, I’m just in the middle of a thing. Can we talk later?” said Kim.
“The cops were at my place last night,” replied Pigeon.
“Oh, shit, are you okay?” asked Kim.
“Yeah, just a little rattled. Are we still on for tonight?” They had planned to do the robbery that evening.
“Oh, we probably shouldn’t. Not until the heat comes off of you a little bit. Let’s talk soon though, yeah?” said Kim.
“Yeah,” said Pigeon. “Yeah, let’s talk soon.” After they hung up, Pigeon spent a minute mulling it over. Regardless of whether she was guilty or not, it made sense that Kim wouldn’t want to be committing crimes with someone who might be under police surveillance. Gnawing at her bottom lip, she tried calling Maria again. Again, no answer.
She swore under her breath. Between the two, she was more inclined to believe that Kim- brash, opinionated, outspoken Kim- was the rat. More so than Maria, especially, who was the closest thing in the world she had to family.
Still though, she felt the need to confront her. She needed to know who she could trust, and if Maria happened to lose a few minutes of sleep to assuage her doubts, then so be it.
As soon as Pigeon arrived at Maria’s apartment, she could tell that something was wrong. She knew that Maria was a light sleeper, and yet there was a bar of light under the door and the sound of muffled music. She pounded on the door with her fist, calling her name.
After several minutes without any response, Pigeon made up her mind. Taking a deep breath, she starting kick at the door right near the knob: once, twice. On the third kick, the lock finally gave way in a shower of splinters, and the door came flying open.
“Maria!” shouted Pigeon at the top of her lungs. Still no answer. Right away, she noticed the coffee still sitting on the kitchen table. Pigeon touched the side of the mugs: still warm. Someone had been here recently.
She called her name again, voice reverberated in the empty space. There was no response, only the music. Following it to its source led her to Maria’s bedroom. The door was ajar, and she opened it cautiously, preparing for the worst.
She was met with a grotesque tableau: Maria, unconscious and sprawled out on her bed, surrounded by piles of cash and expensive booze. The sound system was resting on the floor next to her. A small was of bills lay under her head like a pillow, a rectangular piece of paper resting on top. As Pigeon drew closer, she saw that it was not a scrap of paper, but a business card.
The VPD logo glared up at her, beneath it was some contact information, as well as the words ‘Detective Pendleton’.
Pigeon inhaled sharply through gritted teeth. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest that she could hear it, thought that it might explode. Kneeling next to the stereo, she turned the dial until the music was at an intolerable volume that drowned out the frantic beating of her heart.
Maria didn’t stir, not so much as a flinch. She was so far out of it, she didn’t react even when Pigeon drew the blade of her knife across her windpipe. Flipping the knife over in her hand, she pushed it between her ribs, feeling the dense, still beating heart muscle give way.
“Au revoir,” she whispered in her ear. Until we see again.
Standing over Maria’s lifeless body, a single tear welled up in each eye. She wiped them away with her index finger and took a deep breath, trying ineffectually to harden her heart. Her first instinct was to leave immediately, but the pile of cash was too tempting.
Stuffing the bills into her pocket, she hesitated momentarily before deciding to take Pendleton’s card. She wanted as little evidence as possible, and leaving the card behind could hint at a potential motive.
Using her sleeve to wipe her fingerprints off of the front doorknob, she took the fire exit stairs two at a time until she was in parking lot, where a torrential downpour soaked her through almost instantaneously. Throwing herself into the beat up old station wagon, she struggled to keep her composure. She needed to talk to someone. But who did she have left?