Of All the Gin Joints in the World

The rain had begun shortly before five, and hadn’t let up since then. I splashed through the puddles as I crossed the street, and I was almost clipped by a Chevy Bel Air. I’d been too wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hadn’t seen the car barreling down the street. It honked its horn and I threw the bird after it as it turned the corner. The rain beat steadily against my umbrella, and the neon lights of the gin joints and gambling halls reflected in the puddles of rainwater that had gathered in the potholes and gutters of the street.

I walked into a cocktail bar called The Wicked Social. Its neon sign was flickering in and out of existence, and soon it would just be called The Social. It wasn’t close to last call, but by the inside of the joint, you’d have thought it was already closed. My yellow dress stood out in a joint like this. The black obsidian bar and the bottles of black liquor absorbed the lights. Old, blue-grey smoke hung from the ceiling like a factory’s smokestacks. Two walls were red brick that may have well been black.

I found her in the back, alone and curled up in an egg chair. Her black leggings and white crop sweatshirt stood out sharply against the red fabric of the chair. “Lorelai,” I said.

Lorelai opened her pale eyes and looked up at me through a few lose strands of straw-colored hair. “Tell me, Tabitha, do you like Suzuki?” she asked, pushing the headphones off her ears.


“Sleepy Suzuki,” Lorelai answered. “I used to be a lounge singer, you know.”

“I know. That’s how we met.”

“That’s right. Sammy Casati’s old place on Vine Street. What was it called again?”

“The Vine Street Lounge,” I said. “Come on, it’s time.”

“Sleepy Suzuki makes such soulful music. You can hear his heart in his piano work.”


“What does it matter anyway?” Lorelai put the headphones around her neck and stood up. “At least I got to listen to him one last time.”

“Don’t be like this, Lorelai.”

“Don’t be like what, Tabitha? I’m not the one who–”

I grabbed Lorelai by the arm and pulled her close. “Listen here, Lorelai. I don’t have the time or the energy to put up with your games.”

“Why don’t you just do it right now then?” Lorelai asked.

“Come on.” I pulled Lorelai away from the table and out of the bar. “Do you have an umbrella?”

“No, why would I?”

“Here.” I opened the umbrella above us, slipping an arm around Lorelai’s waist to keep her close and to stop her from running away.

“Why are you doing this?” Lorelai asked.

“It costs nothing to be polite,” I said. “But I don’t like doing this. I don’t relish this job.”

“Then why do you do this?”

I shrugged. “You of all people, Lorelai, should know what happens when someone tries to leave the Outfit.”

“I wasn’t trying to leave,” Lorelai said.

The rain had slackened off to a drizzle by now, but the occasional clap of thunder warned that more would be on its way. Steam was rising from underneath the city, coming up from the subway system through grates and manhole covers. Lorelai stepped in a puddle and groaned as the water soaked in through the thin canvas sneakers she was wearing. Long shadows were cast across her face, and I found it hard to get a read on her emotions.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll make it quick and easy, and leave you pretty enough for an open casket funeral when they dredge you out of the harbor.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Lorelai asked.

A car drove by, and it slowed down as it passed us. Someone shouted something at us, but they were too drunk to be heard clearly.

“No, it’s supposed to make me feel better.”

We were walking along the waterfront now. The Lockheed Marine Works yards were across the harbor, light up like a birthday cake even in this weather. There was no boat traffic, and even the tourists had retired to bed. The air smelled of salt and fish, but I could still smell a cloying hint of peppermint from Lorelai.

“Why do you do this?” Lorelai asked.

“It puts bread on the table.”

“There’s a million other jobs you could do.”

“I’ve only ever been good at one thing, and ever since the Mutiny, there’s been less and less legal killing that needs doing.”

Lorelai stopped. “Here?”

“This is fine.”

I unhooked my arm from her waist and took a step back.

“This is where I had my first,” Lorelai said, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“This exact spot?” I reached into my purse for my gun, a silenced .22.

“Maybe, I don’t know. Somewhere along the waterfront.”

“I’m sorry, Lorelai.”

“You know my cat, Mr. Whiskers?”

I nodded my head. “Yeah, I know him.”

“Make sure someone looks after him.”

“I will.”

“I’m glad it was you, Tabitha.”

Three quick shots into her back, clustered near her heart. She stumbled forward and fell into the water. A bolt of lightning arced across the sky and the rain began to pick up. I still needed to get Mr. Whiskers from Lorelai’s apartment.

From the Dusty Mesa – Pt. IV

The agency police were after him.  Conroy knew they were, though he hadn’t seen them for several miles now.  His thighs hurt but he couldn’t stop.  His horse was panting from the effort and seemed to be slowing down.

Could horses sweat?

Conroy had ridden south from the Lumpong Agency, around the Owl Creek Canyon and through the seemingly endless national forests.  He’d underestimated just how many trees the Hawatama Territory had.  The Lumpong Agency had been the empty, red desert he’d been expecting.  He hadn’t much time to gawk at the Owl Creek Canyon, but even that was behind him.  The trees were tall and narrow ponderosa pines, covering sparse and rocky land.

He reached for his canteen, but it was empty.  Where was the nearest water source?

“I’m going to die out here,” he said, licking his parched lips.  His vacation down from the orbital states was certainly not going as planned.

His horse had slowed down to a shuffling trot.  “Come on, buddy,” he said, patting its neck.  “Just a little bit further.”

His horse slowed to a stop, wobbling where it stood.  Conroy jumped down and the horse collapsed.  “Son of a bitch,” he muttered.  He took what he could from the saddle and began to run.

Conroy didn’t make it far before he tripped and fell face forward into a muddy wash, scrapping his hands on the rocky outcroppings.  He pushed himself to his feet and saw that he’d stumbled onto a camp.  Two Andalusian mustangs were tied to a nearby tree, and a single orc was standing over a smoldering fire.

“Son of a bitch,” Conroy muttered again.

It was a female orc–green skin, low forehead, heavy jaw.  She wore dusty jeans and a tight, grey t-shirt that said HAWATAMA in red and gold letters across her chest.  One side of her head was shaved, and the rest of her black hair was tied into braids.

“What?” she asked flatly.

“What are you doing here?” Conroy asked quickly.  She didn’t look like agency police, but she still an orc.

“Hunting,” the orc answered.

“Hunting what?”

A battle rifle was leaning against a nearby tree, as was a gun belt with a revolver.  She’d come prepared for something. “Elk.”

“Look, you have to help me,” Conroy said.  “There are some bad people after me.”



She narrowed her eyes.  Most of her face was obscured by a tattoo of a handprint that ran diagonally from above her left eye down to her right jawline.  “Why?”

“Look, if you get me to Carbonate safely, there will be a big reward for you.”


“Yes, reward.  My family is quite rich and will pay you for rescuing me.”

The orc didn’t say anything.

“What’s your name?  My name’s Conroy.”

“Odima,” the orc said.

“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Odima,” Conroy said.  He heard distant shouting behind him.  “I assure you, you will be paid handsomely if you–”

“There,” Odima said.

“There what?”

Odima pointed to a hollow under the tree.  “Hide there,” she said.

Conroy scrambled and hid inside the hollow.  Odima untied her horses and moved them to obscure his hiding space.  His heart was thumping in his chest so loud he was afraid the agency police would hear it.  After several long minutes, he heard the sound of approaching horses.  There was shouting in the harsh guttural language of the Lumpong orcs, and there were several voices, including Odima’s.

He was too afraid to move and eve to breathe, so he lay there, motionless and listening to a conversation that he couldn’t understand.

The agency police finally departed.  He was about to let out a sigh of relief, but a hand reached down to pull him out.  He struggled and shouted as the hand grabbed him by the collar of the shirt.  Odima pulled him and pointed a revolver at his head.

“Rape,” she said through gritted teeth.


“They say you rape orc.”

“Okay, look, that was just a misunderstanding.  We were both drunk and she didn’t want to tell her parents that she–”

Odima turned her revolver around and whipped Conroy across the face.  “You bad man.”  She spat on him before pistol whipping him again and again and again.  When he tried to protect his face, she kicked him with her boots.  She finally stopped.  “Garbage.”

Conroy spat blood and several broken teeth.  “I’m sorry.”

Odima holstered her revolver, strapped a black ballistic vest across her chest and slung the hunting rifle across her back.  “It more cruel to leave you here,” she said.  She untied her horses and mounted one.

“You can’t leave me here!” Conroy said, but it came out heavy and slurred.

Odima looked down at him, a scowl on her face.  She turned and began to ride south without saying another word.  Conroy tried to get to his feet to follow her, but he stumbled and fell.  He rolled onto his back and stared up at the branches of the pine tree obscuring his view of the red sun.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, closing his eyes.