Crossroads

We wander. Our feet glide over cobblestones and dirt.

I spill my guts; tell her everything that happened in Bitter Flower, the things I’ve been seeing, the colors, hallucinations, everything I can think of. The pain in my body is like last month’s headlines. My legs work as they ought to. My teeth still wiggle a little, but split gums are closed and despite a few aches and groans I’m all but open for business.

“This is the second time I’ve had hurt healed by something that felt alive,” I tell Jenny.

We’re in the market, now swarming with early morning busybodies and the competing smells of fruits and fish.

“Alive,” she replies, drolly, “is that how it felt? Unlike the last gal you necked with, I take it.”

“Har har,” I say. “The drug Sylvia gave me which closed a bullet wound the German gave me, it felt blue, and moved in my veins like it was alive. Same feeling here.”

“You think that kid had the same schmek?” She asks, stopping to stare at a row of ripe mangos on a fruit seller’s cart. Her tummy rumbles.

The fruit seller offers her one but she shakes her head and he turns his attention away to shout at a group of golden monkeys loitering on the wall above him.

“Had to be. How many miracle cures are there in the world?” I say. “Not hard to see why selling it might have made a penny, though I’m a little beat as to how the Laughing Girl delivered a dose from between her teeth.”

“Well don’t think too hard about it, brilliance, you’ll strain something.” Jenny stares at my face.

“You see me pucker up? I didn’t ask to get kissed and a one-way necking is a violence no matter who’s on offer. At least when the door warden stuck his club in my face he didn’t think he was doing me a favor. She could have handed me the drug. Why are we still talking about this?”

“No reason at all,” says Jenny, firmly, then starts walking again.

She steers me away from the market, toward a walled courtyard where ancient trees surround an artificial mountain, carved in the shapes of layered monkeys, each holding up the ones above. Jasmine flowers creep over the wall and twine the tree trunks. Their sweet smell drifts with the monkeys playing in eddies of breeze. It’s a temple and I recognize it. We’re not far from Garland’s club, and back at the five road market.

We’ve come back close to Bitter Flower, which was nearly under my nose the whole time, though I didn’t have the eyes to see. Now I wish we were a little further from it.

We drift through the open iron gates of the shrine and hide in the shadow of its wall. The carved monkeys stare at us like we’re overlooking something important. A few gnarled trees spread dark green leaves, casting a patchwork of shifting shadows that don’t much cut the rising heat.

Some of the street dogs curl in the shade of those trees. The patchwork fellow with the many scars raises his head and points his nose my way. He approaches and, with perfect poise, bows to touch Jenny’s toes.

“What I don’t understand,” Jenny says, watching the dog as it approaches me next, “Is why my sister would have ever given you a dose of this wonder juice to begin with. No offense.”

I shrug. “I don’t have any idea what’s in your sister’s head, but I do see a choice in front of us.”

“A choice?” She crouches in the shadow of the wall and pulls a mango from her purse. “It seems like we’re short on choices. I can only think of one, and a choice of one isn’t much of one.”

Her teeth cut the mango’s skin with a sharp twist and she starts chewing. The patchwork dog sits down and watches her with eager eyes.

“You have to peel it,” I tell her. “The skin’s no good.”

She stares at me and her lips part slowly, revealing the chewed scrap of mango-skin like a lump of flesh. I shrug. She spits it out and then rubs her tongue with her palm and makes a face.

“I see what you mean,” she says and starts peeling the mango.

“Yeah anyway I see at least two,” I say. “Choices, not mangos. Somebody at the embassy is going to be looking into your guy’s death. That same body is like to be interested in the Bitter Flower and its goings on, which surely can’t be legal. We go that road, we might get some coppers kicking down the club’s door. No telling how that falls out, but I bet old Agafya won’t go quiet. We get real lucky, maybe Sylvia’s still alive when the dust settles. Maybe she doesn’t end up in prison. Maybe even if she does, we find a way to talk with her, convince her to walk away with us.”

“Lots and lots of maybe,” slurs Jenny, around a dripping mouthful of mango. “But that’s where I was thinking. Oh this is really good.”

She tilts her head back, trying to prevent the mango juice going down her chin. It doesn’t work.

“I don’t see a lot of options that aren’t loaded with a whole lot of mango, I mean maybe.”  I tell her. “Did you lift that from the fruit stall? Swanky.”

She offers me the remaining half. Golden mango juice fills her palm as she holds up the fruit, dribbling over her wrist and down her arm.

“Thanks.” Yellow explodes in my mouth like a sweet tsunami. My teeth don’t even wiggle.

Jenny says: “Option number two is to do like you say the bald necker told you and head to someplace called Ayodia and find some kind of wizard.”

“Like I say? You heard her too.” I hand the fruit back to Jenny and let the dog lick my hands clean.

“I heard her jaw some gibberish.” She tosses the mango seed into the gutter and then watches as a golden monkey snatches it up and sniffs it. “I don’t speak the local, remember.”

“She was speaking the local? I didn’t even notice.”

“Yeah and I didn’t even notice a parade. You sure you’re feeling alright?”

I rub my jaw. “No parade?”

“Nope.” Her eyes have narrowed.

“Well, I’m feeling fine. Great. Dandy, in fact. There’s a ruin to the north of here called Ayutthaya. The capital city until it was raized by invasion a hundred years ago. I know the road and it isn’t far.”

Jenny sighs and dries her hands with a scoop of dirt. “I don’t see the advantage in doing something just because some pint-sized prosty tells you, even if you got the meaning straight. That one looked more than half screwy and sounds to be doped.”

“Prosty?” I ask, and she quirks an eyebrow in reply. “Half the time I don’t know what you’re saying. Pretty sure that lady was some kind of priestess, but either their sect’s a weird one or the church is in disarray. Or both.”

Jenny eyes me for a second but shrugs, resigned. “The copper option is also not so good, but if we’re right and Agafya has David’s files then we can’t take a raincheck. We’ve gotta move, keen on options or no. I’ll head to the embassy. They know David’s name, and somebody will know mine.”

I nod. “I know the place called Ayutthaya. If there’s something to the Laughing Girl’s tip, it couldn’t kill us to know what. We meet up at Garland’s club, where I fought before. If nothing else goes well then I’ve still got to owe him for the things he did, if he’s still kicking.”

She blinks at me. “You actually figure that’s worthwhile?” she asks.

“That temple worries me,” I tell her. “A drug brings me back from the dead? People without faces? There’s more going on here than mobsters and politics. The Laughing Girl gave me something to look into. Even if all it does is earn her thanks, that’s one more thanks than we’ve got so far. Besides, I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane. I might as well follow it to the end.”

“You have memories of this Ayutthaya place?” She asks.

“Bad ones.”

Jenny stares at the temple. Her face is carefully neutral. With a sudden flick of her chin she stands, dusts off her hands, and looks me up and down.

“What’re you looking at?” She says.

“Splitting up is a risk.” I tell her. “I don’t like it much. There’re too many people we’ve got nothing on trying to make us miserable or dead. Be careful.”

“My side will be politics and paperwork,” she says. “I can handle it. I’ve got some practice. You be careful too.”

She opens her purse and reaches past the black bulk of her pistol to produce a pair of American dollar bills.

“Your wallet’s empty right?” she says, “I’ve only two of your four daily. I’ll owe you the rest.”

She tugs both bills between her fingers to get the wrinkles out, then offers them to me. Her face is smooth, nervous. Her hand is steady, her nails split. The purse looked empty except for the gun.

“This all you got?” I ask.

“They’ll loan me at the embassy,” she says.

“Alright but you gotta get there and you can’t walk. Keep one. You can owe a little more later.”

It takes her a moment to decide to put one of the bills in her own pocket. Then she breathes on the other and smooths it between her palms.

“You gonna give it here or futz over it?” I ask, “Daylight’s wasting.”

She holds it out with an almost smile and says: “One in green, check for the rest.”

“Yeah. It’s in the mail right? It don’t show and I’ll find you wherever you’re hiding.”

Jenny turns to the nearby market, staring out the shrine gate. A policeman in a drab uniform lounges by the bumper of a black automobile at the market’s edge. He flourishes a cane, paying us no mind. Carts rumble into and through the market. An awning goes up. A donkey brays. The peacock salesman seems to have loosed his ware; the peacock perches atop an awning, watching us with its fan of blind feather eyes.

“Hey,” Jenny says. “Speaking of how you work for me, do me this favor. See if Garland will go with you on this trip for biscuits.”

“What?” I blink. “Why?”

She’s still staring at the policeman and the black car. “Every time I leave you alone you get yourself beat up or shot. Don’t do that.”

“Yeah,” I tell her, frowning. “Sure thing.”

She looks me right in the eyes for a second and nods as if confirming a suspicion.

Then she’s walking. Her green slacks are coated in dust, and the rolled up sleeves of her kakhi shirt don’t cover pale arms already sunburnt. She strolls away into the market, her hat at a jaunty angle and her little purse swinging from one hand.

One Reply to “Crossroads”

  1. Laura Moos says:

    Aww, she’s jealous! And cares about him getting beat up or killed! That’s adorable.

    It amuses me that she considers the embassy option an option. I can’t see how that’s going to work out in any way useful, but you never know.

    Really hope Garland survived, I want to know more about why he’s going so far out of his way for them.

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