Okay! Now for the conclusion of Cocaine, a standalone #iHunt tie-in story. So. If you haven’t been reading this story up until now, you can start with Chapter One.
Geena asked me to stop by her place in north Palo Verde. It’s a pretty hardcore gentrified neighborhood—ten years ago it was the kind of place conservative politicians point to when they want to pump millions into the police force, and now it’s mostly hipster artists and younger downtown professionals. I read somewhere that the property values have doubled in a decade. I knew an old guy who was a night security guard for the old movie lots. He could walk to work every night from his house he inherited from his father. But over the past few years, the property taxes went up so much that it was cheaper to just sell, get an apartment in the suburbs, and commute in every day.
Her place is a newly renovated condo. A couple of years ago, it was one of the only remaining rent-controlled buildings in the area. Some developers tried buying it. When they were denied by the state, they took it to court. It made some news when the California Supreme Court ruled against the state, and allowed them to buy the building for pennies on the dollar. They exploited some loophole that basically said it was stunting competitive pricing for the local real estate firms, so the state would have to pay billions in damages if they didn’t let the place sell at a ridiculous markdown. It went from this old building with charm and personality to this factory-fresh, eggshell white monolith to capitalism. The first floor is a public art gallery, showcasing local artists. This, the developers said, was their way of giving back to the community. I had a friend sell a piece there—the developers take a 30% cut of every sale. Giving back, my ass.
I knock at her door, room 34.
“Just a second!” I hear bumping and shuffling. She sighs as she opens the door. She forces a smile. She’s got this great frazzled look. Long brown hair pinned up haphazardly. Mid-tone, ethnically ambiguous. Gentle, big, vulnerable brown eyes. She’s in a navy blue sweater and black knee-length skirt. She moves to the side and waves me in. “I should have asked. Are you okay with tapas?” The second she mentions it, I smell salsas and toast and olives and shrimp and cheeses and fried onions.
“Um. Yeah. I’m not picky. Thanks?” I step inside and look around. I take off my Chuck Taylors and do the obligatory search for exits you have to do when you’re a monster hunter. I don’t think Geena’s a monster, but who knows what might bust in or be hiding to jump us? The apartment’s beautiful. It’s full of modern artwork, beautiful rugs from all over the world, and gorgeous, dark furniture that’s probably handcrafted. I immediately wonder how much it’d cost her if I drop some of those sauces on her fancy rugs. Over her TV, there’s a Greek bas-relief of a woman holding a set of scales. While I’m not that educated, I know mythology—you need to know mythology to fight monsters from mythology. That’s Astraea. The Romans took her and called her Iustitia, or “Lady Justice,” the blind woman with the scale and the sword you see all over the damned place. “Beautiful condo.”
“Thanks. It’s a little strange here now. It feels empty.” She moves in and starts taking platters from the kitchen to the coffee table.
I follow to help her with the dishes. “I understand that. So, what did you want to know about the monster?”
“The AI.” She says, taking another couple of tiny plates, these covered in cold cuts and cheeses.
“Sorry. The AI. What do you want to know about the AI?”
“I don’t know…” She sighs and goes to get more plates with sliced tomatoes and onion rings. No. Calamari. “Did it say anything? Did it seem to have any pattern to its behaviors? I don’t know why it went awry like it did.”
I get a couple of plates with toast and assorted peppers. “Truth be told, I didn’t get a chance to talk to her. She didn’t seem the talking type. She was covered in blood, and I figured she’d come at me the moment she noticed me. So I snuck up on her. We tussled. She cut me up real damned good, but in the end, I won. Once I took her down, she started sparking, so I got out of there since you said she had a self-destruct mechanism.”
She swallows hard, takes a deep breath, and nods. Her cheeks are reddening. She’s fighting back tears. “What was she doing when you got there? Did she have a victim there?”
I shake my head. “No. Nothing like that. Weird enough, she was just sitting there, watching TV.”
She pats the sofa. “Have a seat. I’ll get the rest.” I sit on the black leather sofa. It reminds me of my therapist’s office when I was a teenager. She goes to the kitchen. I can hear the crack in her breathing—she’s struggling. “What… What was she watching?” She comes back with two red wine glasses and a bottle, and puts them on the table.
“Big Bang Theory? I don’t know if she was actually watching it, but it was on. She didn’t seem to respond. Maybe she was just going through the motions.” I smile up to her as she sits down beside me. I don’t even know why. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to compensate for her pain.
She winces. She doesn’t respond immediately. Instead, she gets two small plates, and hands me one. She puts a little metal skewer on either plate. “Becca used to watch that show. I’d tease her about it. I told her I didn’t want it in my house. I wonder if…” She closes her eyes and breathes deeply.
“I’m sure it’s a coincidence.” I poke a piece of toast, a piece of tomato, and a piece of some mozzarella and put them on my plate.
She sits there, silent for the moment, eyes closed.
“Geena?” I reach out, considering whether or not I should put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
She lets loose. She bawls, she turns, and she puts her head to my shoulder. I use all my hunter instincts to keep my plate aloft and balanced, and carefully rest it on the table. I put an arm around her back, and the other hand to her hair. It’s silky soft and smells like lilac—I’m sure her product costs more than I can imagine. “It’s okay.”
That’s one of those stupid things everyone says that’s never, ever true.
She sobs. She chokes down a louder response. I can feel it shudder through her. “I’m sorry.” She says, and pulls back up, and dusts off her lap. She smiles, and every second of it looks like a lie. She takes her plate and starts grabbing some little lobsters.
Or are those crayfish? I don’t know. I think maybe they’re crayfish.
She pours wine. We eat and drink in silence for the next ten minutes or so, until she breaks the silence. “How’d you get into this line of work? You don’t just put in an application, do you?”
“Hm? Monster hunting?” I look around and take another drink. “Not really. I…”
I don’t like talking about this stuff. But, she needs someone right now.
“A demon killed my brother.” Her eyes go wide. I stab a chunk of artichoke with a tiny plastic sword. “It was plaguing the trailer park where we lived. It made the people there do some really awful shit. It made him do some really, really bad stuff. Unforgivable stuff. Then…” I pause. I sigh. I pop the artichoke into my mouth. “The cops came for him. I don’t know if it was the demon, or just his desperation, but he pulled a gun on the cops.”
“Oh my god!” She says, jaw dropping.
I shrug. “Someone came to clean up the mess, to slay the demon. She found me. I was already suspecting weirdness. But she explained everything to me, helped me put together the pieces. Then asked if I wanted to stop this kind of thing from happening again. How do you say no to that?”
“Wow. I… I don’t even know what I’d say to that.” She pops a cherry tomato into her mouth. She’s giving me this sort of dopey, drunk, admiring smile.
I shrug again. “You say the only thing you feel you can. You say ‘of course, how do I start?’ But aren’t you a defense attorney? You probably do that for a good reason too, right?”
She chuckles softly. “I’m not a public defender. I’m not a hero—I’m a mercenary. The kind of men who can afford to pay me? They’re mostly guilty; I just help them find loopholes and get mistrials. I make very good money in exchange for my conscience.” She crosses her legs on the couch to face me.
“Ouch. But, gotta do what you gotta do to get by, right? I mean, I take contracts on monsters that… aren’t really that monstrous sometimes. I feel bad about it. But then I ask myself if I’m interested in eviction, and I choke it down.” I put a knee up on the couch so I can turn toward her a bit more.
“So. I feel like Rebecca did this because of me. I judged her. I kept telling her to not follow her dreams. To play nice with the system. To chase grants. To be the model scientist that gets featured in Vanity Fair’s ‘Women in STEM’ special issue. She felt betrayed, like she didn’t have anyone on her side. So she went off the deep end.”
I shake my head and put a hand on her knee. “Don’t do that to yourself. It wasn’t your fault. She made those choices. Maybe you weren’t a perfect wife, but nobody’s perfect, and most people don’t make monster killer death robots over it.”
She chuckles, blushes, and glances down for a moment. “I guess you’re right. Just… I feel like I could have made different choices, and this would have been different. That maybe she’d still be here. You know? It’s been a year. This place is so big, and every time I think I’ve gotten rid of the last traces of her, I find a sock or a CD or something else that reminds me of her. I’m tired of being alone with her ghost. In a way, I wish I hadn’t found out about Eve. I wish she’d have just disappeared, instead of dragging all this back up and reminding me that I’m here and she’s not.” She looks back up to my face and bites her lower lip.
I reach over and put my palm to her cheek. She smiles. “I’m sorry. But it’s good you found out. You saved lives. And fucked up as it might sound, this is closure. There’s nothing up in the air anymore. You don’t have to be alone. You deserve it.” The wine’s got me warm, relaxed.
“You think?” She pauses, and leans her head into my hand. “I dunno.” She takes another drink, and watches me with those huge brown eyes. “I just want a chance to just dive in, you know? To just be together. No judgment. Just support. Just two people connected and to hell with the rest of the world.”
My heart falls into my stomach. It’s like I’m a door covered in keyholes, and everything she’s saying is a key. I purr. “That sounds beautiful.”
“Yeah? I don’t think that’s what people really want.” She smiles, watching me.
“I think you’re wrong.” I lean forward slowly, and guide her face toward me a bit. She closes her eyes. I move in the rest of the way, and kiss her gently. She gasps against my lips. I feel her move in subtly as well. She puts a hand on my hand on her lap.
Then, she chuckles and pulls away. I open my eyes, she’s blushing. “Oh my god.”
“Huh?” I tilt my head. “Garlic breath?”
“No.” She laughs. “I mean, yes. But no. I… You?” She laughs again.
I’m frozen in place. Dracula could jump me right now and I don’t think I’d try to stop him. “Um, yeah? Me? Like…”
“No offense. We can’t do this.” She shakes her head.
“Why not?” I say, narrowing my eyes. My shock is quickly becoming hurt.
She raises an eyebrow. “Because we’re not compatible. I have a career. You don’t have your life together.”
She’s not wrong.
“What are you talking about? I totally have my life together.”
She sighs. “Well, for one, you’re high.” That feels like a slap across the face.
I’m feeling confrontational now. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You know what? Maybe you’re right. Maybe that doesn’t matter. But you drive a broken-down old Hyundai. You’re a paycheck away from being evicted. You put your life at risk every day.” That feels worse than a werewolf claw to the gut.
Okay. She’s technically right. But I’m not about to let that go.
“So what? Cops put their lives on the line all the time.”
“It’s different and I think you know it. Look Lana, I’m sure you’re a nice girl. But this? This just isn’t going to happen. I think maybe you should leave.”
My face is on fire. I’m holding back tears. My fists clench. I want to argue. I want to get in her face. I want to scream. I want to tell her she’s doing exactly what she said drove her dead wife away.
But I don’t. I swallow my pride, I stand, and I nod. I don’t even know what I’m nodding to. “Sorry.”
She looks away, over toward the door. I head out.
I drive for a while. Nowhere in particular. I just drive down the highways surrounding San Jenaro, collecting my thoughts, letting the wine work its way out of me.
About an hour later, I get a message on iHunt.
Sorry about that. I was out of line. You helped me out back there.
Then I get the payment confirmation. 15% tip. I send her a “Thanks,” and delete her message.
She had her chance. She’s going to keep making the same stupid mistakes, and she’s going to keep wondering why she’s never happy.
There you go! We’ve wrapped. I hope you enjoyed Lana’s misadventure. But, the show’s not over yet.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be blogging the shit out of my process for writing this particular story, and I’ll be blogging the shit out of my revision and editing process. The idea is, I’m going to get together enough material to do a short book on writing, tentatively titled: Revising the Fuck Out Of Your Fiction (Then Adding More Fucks In The Second Draft). It’ll feature some of the pieces I post here, but it’ll also have some exclusive pieces of writing and editing advice. But not like the classic On Writing style “writer’s block is a myth, yadda yadda” stuff. Specific tricks I use to overcome challenges in my work.
And as always, if you haven’t already purchased #iHunt, please consider it.