She came down again 20 minutes later dressed in black leather pants, a black silk shirt, her motorcycle jacket, and was carrying her motorcycle helmet along with her black crow mask. It was designed to look like a black crow mid dive. The Old Man had said her great-grandmother would have approved when she finally finished making it.
She retrieved her keys from the hook in the hallway.
“I’m heading out Old Man!” she shouted down the hall.
“Any idea when you’ll be back?” he called back leaning out of his office door.
“More than likely after dark. I don’t know if I’ll have time to come back before going to work.”
“Be careful out there kid.”
“I will do my best.” She took the stairs down to the basement/garage where they kept their various vehicles. She owned two. Her pride and joy was her ‘67 Mustang GT that was black with white racing stripes. But that was not what she needed today. Today she needed speed. So she got on her old Harley. She put her mask in her inside coat pocket and put on her motorcycle helmet. She would prefer to put on her mask before reaching The City. But it was difficult to wear both at the same time. The helmet would cover her face enough to keep the facial recognition cameras off her tail. She revved the engine in a last signal to all inside that she was leaving. Then the garage door creaked and shuddered and finally made its way up. She rode out onto the nearly empty street and headed for the bridge.
She hated the bridge. It was the dividing line between The City and The Sinner City. Long ago painted half white and half black to signify which side it belonged to. It was a hulking monstrosity of metal and asphalt that always made her nervous. In the middle were the giant steel teeth that could still open to let tall ships sailing the Mississippi through. She had always been afraid of bridges. But this one in particular. As a child she always thought it might open while she was crossing the middle and let her fall into the muddy waters below.
As she was breathing through her nerves, she saw a figure walking along the side on the pedestrian walk. He was young. He was shaking. But what really caught her eye was the silver collar around his neck. That meant he had been sentenced to the Sinner City. He wasn’t a by choice resident like Connie and a few of her companions.
“You don’t have time. You don’t have time. You don’t. Have. The. Time.” She was trying to convince herself and she knew it. She looked back and saw he was getting near the middle. That was a really bad idea. “Fuck.” She checked the traffic. There wasn’t much coming in. She made a dangerous U turn and headed back to the Sinner side. Then at the light into her town again made another U turn. She pulled over into the emergency lane and came to a slow stop. The kid was still about ten feet away from the point of danger. She got off her bike, took off her helmet, and jumped the fence.
“Hey kid!” she called out.
The kid jumped and turned back to see who had shouted. He was breathing quickly now.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. But, uh, if I were you, I wouldn’t step across that line. Not if I wanted to keep my head.”
His face screwed up into a scowl. “Fuck you. What do you care?”
“I care because I’d rather not see someone else blow their head off on this bridge. I’ve seen far too much of that.”
“It’s just a trick. They just say that to scare people.’
Connie’s tone now turned serious. “I can assure you kid, they are not saying that just to scare people. I’ve gotten sprayed with blood and bone too many times.” She reached out to him. “Just, step away from the edge here and talk to me. You’re making me nervous standing that close.”
He was still shaking. “What do you care?”
“I care because I was driving past and I’d rather not have my new coat get messed up, which would have most certainly happened had I not stopped.”
He scowled again. “That’s all you care about? A coat?”
She sighed. “It was a joke kid. Just, step away from there and let’s see how much trouble you’re in.” She was now close enough to clasp his skinny wrist and pull him towards her. Once she got a look at the silver collar he was wearing, she realized it was a permanent one. “Christ kid, what did you do?”
He wrenched his arm away from her and in the process got very close to the line. “I didn’t do anything!”
“Okay! Okay!” she replied with her hands in the air. “You didn’t do anything! Just step away from that line. You’re about to give me a heart attack.” She decided on a different tack and took a few steps away. She pulled out her cigarette case, selected one, and lit it.
The kid was now looking at the cigarette in her hand hungrily.
“I’ll throw in a cig if that helps.” She held out her open cigarette case.
He scoffed. “Yeah, so you can kill me with it?”
Connie raised an eyebrow. It was times like this she really wondered what they taught everyone about the Sinner City. She took a long drag off her cigarette and then offered it to the kid. “If it kills you it should kill me too.”
He stared at the offered cigarette for a few moments. Then he stepped away from the line and took the cigarette she was holding out. He gingerly inhales and then looks shocked.
She selected another cigarette from her case. “How is it supposed to kill you? I mean, other than the eventual lung disease and cancer.”
“The tobacco you use isn’t pure,” he replied. “It’s poison.”
She let out a laugh. “I’ll have to remember to tell Grey that.”
“The farmer that I get my tobacco from. He got the original seeds from an old heritage line of the stuff.”
He stared at the cigarette in amazement. “This was grown in the ground?”
“Precisely. Home grown, sun dried. I get a supply from him about once a month. He keeps me in tobacco. I make sure his farm is protected.”
“So… you’re a boss?”
She snickered. “Not that powerful. 1st lieutenant more like. I follow orders and give orders.”
“You’re a sinner?”
She nodded. “Have been since the age of fourteen.”
“What did you do?”
“Why did you get sent here?”
“Oh, I wasn’t sent here. I chose to live here.”
She looked out to the river for a minute. “That’s a long story kid. And now is not the time for that story. What’s your story?”
He swallowed. “It’s a short story.”
“I’ve got time.” Internally she chided herself. She didn’t have the time. But she was making the time. Maybe she would skip confession today.
He screwed up his courage and blurted out, “It was just an accident.”
She nodded. “Okay?”
He started rushing his speech. “Look, my mother is sick… was sick. I was trying to get money for medicine and I thought I could just steal it. I picked this old guy’s pocket and he caught me, grabbed my wrist. I pushed him and he fell against this big concrete planter thing and it killed him.” He grabbed her arm. “It was just an accident!”
Connei nodded. “I get it. I understand that you didn’t mean to kill him.”
He gripped her arm tighter. “I DIDN’T kill him.”
“No, you did.”
“Easy kid,” she said patting the hand on her arm. “I need that arm later.”
He blushed and let go of her arm.
“And I understand what you’re saying. You didn’t intend for the old man to die. But die he did. And you were the reason for that.”
“You sound like the judges in the City.”
She let out a burst of laughter. “Wow, that’s the best insult I’ve heard all year. And I hear a lot. That one takes the cake. I need to write that down. She pulled out a little notebook from her inside coat pocket where she also kept her mask. She also pulled out a pen and began to scribble down the words he had just said.
He stared. “Are you… writing that down?”
She nodded. “Yep, gotta remember something like that.”
“So you can come kill me later?”
She looked up at him to see if he was serious. He was. “For an insult? Please. Half the Sinner City would be dead if I killed people because they insulted me. I like to remember the really good ones. Sometimes I get to use them on others.” She stamped out the cigarette with her foot. She really did need to get going now. “Where are you staying?”
“Halfway house called Brooks.”
She nodded. “I know the place. It’s run by Mrs. McGilliham. It’s a good place to be. She’s tough, but fair.”
He had a sulking look on his face. “She seems just tough.”
“Well, she has her reasons. She’s been burned a few times by the people who have come here. Don’t cross her, and she will treat you well.”
“If I do cross her?”
“I’ll be the one she calls to kick you out.”
He squinted at her. “What is this? Do you run security for everyone?”
“Not everyone, just the good people that I know. The ones that do need protection.”
“Protection from who?”
She smiled. “Ah, now see that was a very good question. You just might make it here kid.” She reached into her other pocket and pulled out one of her business cards. “Text me some time if you find you need something.”
He looked at the card. It was a black crow in dive on one side and a phone number on the other. He looked up and shouted, “It doesn’t have your name!”
Connie threw her leg over her bike and looked back over her shoulder. “The name’s Connie.” She pulled her crow mask down over the top half of her face. “See you around kid.” She took the stand off the bike and revved the engine. Then rumbled into the City.