The slab of precision-machined blue steel felt heavy in Tara’s tiny red purse, so heavy it had its own gravity, pulling her hand in every few moments for a reassuring squeeze. She shifted the purse strap from shoulder to shoulder to relieve the weight, but she didn’t dare set it down, not even for a second.
A green Chevy rolled up slow on her corner, pulled over to the curb. A rental tag dangled from the rearview mirror. Brad’s car had been a rental. Brad said he came to town once a month. Could it be . . . ?
The passenger window rolled down.
Tara’s heart raced. Her palms went slick. She gripped her purse tighter and approached the car. She took a deep breath, then leaned down and looked inside.
A chubby, swarthy man sat behind the wheel. Sweat beaded his brow as he took in her tight red one-piece, her strategically-arranged cleavage, and a hem short enough to reveal her slender legs but long enough to conceal the scars. He licked his lips and adjusted the front of his pants.
No, not Brad.
Not a cop, either. Too nervous. Too eager.
Not Brad, but someone just like him.
She chose to be direct. “You got money, honey?”
A vigorous nod and a smile full of bad teeth. “For you? I have much money.” She didn’t get the accent, and she wouldn’t know the geography if he told her.
Tara mirrored his smile. This guy had passed several girls before he got to her. They were all older, and already nasty from three hours on the street. Tara caught this guy’s eye by being young, fresh and clean. Same as she caught Brad’s eye three months back, and how she hoped to catch it again.
“Let’s find a little privacy.” Tara opened the door and slid in beside the chubby john. She didn’t bother to buckle in. The purse fit snug between her thigh and the door. She rested her hand on it as he pulled away from the curb.
A calm fell over her as she directed him through a few turns. Picking up her first few johns—the ones before Brad—had her trembling, sweating, on the verge of throwing up. One said it turned him on, like popping a cherry all over again.
Her first pickup after Brad, she couldn’t go through with it. She had her purse but lost her nerve, and she bolted from the car to throw up on the sidewalk. The john took off. She followed through with the second after Brad, though. And the third.
“After me, you’ll never feel the same,” Brad had told her. Just a plain, boring, suburban white dude with a plain, boring, suburban white dude name. He hadn’t been wrong.
Tara pointed to a driveway up ahead. A moment later they arrived at the spot she’d scouted a week ago, a dark wedge of parking spaces between an electrical substation and an old tool & die shop. The john nosed up to the rickety wooden fence separating the tiny lot from the graveyard portion of the rail yard, an acre of rusted-out and graffitied railroad cars.
The john killed the engine. The electric hum of the substation buzzed around them.
“How do I know you’re not cop?” the john asked.
Tara tugged at the fringe of her skirt. “Do cops go commando?”
The john smiled and pressed a clammy hand to her thigh. She flinched, but just a hair. His hand worked higher, higher, slid the skirt up toward her hip, then stopped.
He grunted something, a foreign word loaded with confusion.
He’d found her scars. The scars Brad had created with his knife, stabbing and cutting. Leaving her unable to feel down there, unable to birth a child, unable to even fucking pee right.
Tara’s hand went into her purse, came out loaded. The john looked up and saw the big blue steel barrel look him dead in the eye.
The shot hammered her ears in the confines of the car, left them ringing. The bullet blasted through the john’s head and shattered the driver’s side window. Sticky red splashed the interior, fell in a fine mist on Tara’s face and arms.
It didn’t matter. She’d been bloodied worse.
Tara raided the john’s wallet, took his “much money” and got out of the car. She slipped away into the darkness, thinking, no, she still didn’t feel the same. She didn’t feel much of anything.
But she hoped she’d feel something when she finally found Brad.