Nikki fell through a familiar darkness. She was almost past the mirrors before she realized that the son of a bitch had shot her. A line of frameless mirrors created a horizon in the featureless blackness, and she drifted slowly toward it, falling in a direction that seemed to be neither up nor down. As she came closer she could see images moving in all of the mirrors, her myriad other selves.
The mirror directly in front of her showed her bullet-punctured body on the floor of Mabry’s Machine Shop. Her eyes were open. Jerry and Mark were dragging a filthy tarp over it while Julia said something to Ruben, putting her hand on his chest. There was no sound from the mirror, though; what they were saying was a mystery.
Nikki let herself float to the next mirror. The image before her was at once herself and not herself; the mirror-Nikki’s hair seemed slightly shorter, her clothes more outlandish, her nose pierced.
Twice she’d died in two days. This was absurd. No matter how many times she took them, there were always more images, more mirrors, more time to borrow, but it was still absurd. The anger burned even brighter in her than it had the day before, at the bank. Nikki reached into the mirror, felt her hands pass through its surface, felt the image wrap itself around her fingers like warm silk. She pulled, and the mirror-Nikki came free with minimal resistance and a soft tearing sound like a grapefruit being peeled. It flowed over her arms, down her body, pressing itself into shape. She gained density and dropped away from the endless line of mirrors, picking up speed in the airless vacuum she floated in.
Nikki sank back to her body…
Hard concrete at her back. Beneath her. Something oily and dry over her face. Even though the wound was completely healed, she could still feel the path the bullet had carved through her body; a train tunnel from sternum to spine. A forty-five caliber. He’d blown her heart right out, probably vaporized most of her lungs and blasted a vertebra out of her spine, too. No wonder she’d died so quickly.
They had left her on the floor under a tarp, like a piece of trash. Pins and needles consumed her body, as if every inch of it had been slept on and fallen asleep, as the blood began to move again. It hurt to breathe at first. She bit her lip hard to keep herself from gasping, in case anyone was around. Her back was cold and damp, too; she was lying in an awful lot of her own blood. She tried to flex her fingers but the only response was painful prickling. She couldn’t tell if they moved at all. She was going to be on the floor for a few minutes.
It was impossible not to come back pissed off. Nikki took it personally, being killed. How could she not? There wasn’t really a worse insult than telling her beyond a shadow of a doubt that her life meant nothing.
This was the sixth time she had died; four times at Taiisha’s hands, as “practice,” and then twice this week. Nikki always came back enraged, and she didn’t care to restrain herself. She stretched her fingers again; feeling was returning now, the hands-asleep feeling fading slowly. Soon. She’d be ready soon. She could have gotten up and walked right away, but she’d be clumsy. Better to wait.
* * *
After Ruben and Georges left in their silver Porsche, Jerry, followed Mitch back upstairs. He had been watching them make deals and quote prices and argue about fees for almost an hour, and he still had no idea what was going on. Ruben and Georges seemed to be pissed off that Sharp himself hadn’t shown up. “All right,” he said, “so explain to me again what those guys need this dead chick for?”
“They wanted both of them,” Mitch replied. “They’re gonna take her and put her on some guy’s yacht. I forgot the guy’s name. Politician, I think.”
“He caused some trouble for them. They’re tryna get him out of office. Some shit like that.”
Jerry shrugged; politics didn’t interest him much. “Yeah, well, the asshole could’ve let me fuck her before he blew her away. I ask him if he wants to go first and he says ‘no she ain’t got any tits’ and blows her chest out. It’s selfish, man.”
“And then the FBI wants to know what your dick was doing inside her after they find her in Hawaii. You’re a goddamned idiot, Jerry,” Mitch said, pushing the door to the office open.
“I never saw anybody get greased before,” Jerry said. “That was some shit. Look at me, it was like an hour ago and I’m still jazzed. That was some shit. You ever see anyone die, Mitch?”
Mitch grunted, unimpressed. “Yeah.”
Julia was upending Nikki’s bag on the closest desk as Mitch and Jerry returned to the office. The crashing, clattering avalanche got their attention, and woke up Mark, who had been dozing in Mitch’s chair. “God-damn. How much did that thing weigh?” he said.
“What’s she got in there?” Jerry asked.
“Look for yourself,” Julia said, not looking up at him.
“Oo, she had a shiv, check this out,” Mark said, picking up Nikki’s striped knife.
Mitch took it from him, testing the edge of the eighteen-inch blade with his thumb. “That ain’t a damn shiv. It’s a jungle knife. Now get out of my chair.” He gave Mark a shove away from the expensive Recaro desk chair.
“You want the makeup?” Jerry asked Julia. “It’s all black and dark purple and shit.”
“A devil-girl. No thanks.” Jerry tossed it into the trash.
Mitch opened Nikki’s sketchbook, flipped through it without much interest.
“Pictures,” he said, handing it to Jerry and flipping clothes around, looking for something that was worth something. Julia was stacking books off to one side; softcover versions of Our Mutual Friend, The Blind Watchmaker, and Dolores Claiborne.
Jerry took the sketchbook. “Hey, it’s good. This is freaky, check this one out.” He held the book out to Mark.
The lights went out. The steady whirr of the furnace died as well, and the sounds of the city at night began to leak in from outside. “Aw, now what the hell is that?” Mitch said. “It’s too damn cold for the power to be goin’ out.”
“It’s not the city. There’s lights outside,” Julia said, looking through the office window.
“Must be a breaker,” Mark said.
“Thanks for volunteering, numbnuts. Go and fix it.” The metal desk boomed as Mitch yanked a drawer open. A flashlight clicked on. “Here you go. Breakers are on top of the box.”
Mark grumbled, but he took the flashlight and went.
* * *
After she turned off the power, Nikki did two things, quickly. There was just enough light squirming through the high windows for her to yank the 220-volt power cord from a nearby mill and hotwire it to the electrical box and switch. As she moved silently toward the upstairs office, easily avoiding the flashlight-toting Mark, she flipped on as many power switches as she could find. She made it upstairs without so much as a squeak from the metal staircase, and waited.
When the lights came on, the sudden cacophony of mills and lathes easily drowned out the noise, if any, that Mark made while he was being electrocuted.
As soon as the lights came on, and Nikki heard their startled exclamations at the sudden whirr of machinery from the shop, she shoved the door to the office violently open and walked in.
It was very nearly worth the pain of dying to see the looks of utter horror on the faces of Mitch, Jerry, and Julia when she banged the office door open. The three of them froze over her bag. There were no cold sneers this time, only gaping mouths. Though she’d snapped the too-big overalls so they’d stay up, the massive bloodstain and powder burns were clearly visible on her white shirt. It was a good time for a cutting one-liner, but Nikki didn’t bother.
They had her things separated into little piles. Jerry was holding her sketchbook. Julia was looking at her sewing kit. The striped knife was on the desk in front of her. Mitch had a pair of her underwear. All of them were pasty-faced with shock.
Seeing her belongings, she forgot about the cramps in her arms and legs in a sudden rage of violated ownership and charged them. She reached Jerry first. He was too frightened at seeing her alive to do anything but throw his hands up in front of his face.
Taiisha had taught Nikki that her size was an advantage, but only if time was her enemy. Most men could lift her one-handed. She needed to strike while she had the advantage of surprise. She could almost hear Taiisha telling her to frighten them as badly as she could and take them one at a time, while they were frozen. So when her hand slipped past Jerry’s waving arms to his face, she sank her fingers into his eye sockets, as far as they’d go, hooked them, and pulled forward. He howled incoherently and stooped, trying to escape the fingers that were holding him by the cheekbones. Nikki yanked down and he dropped obediently to his knees, flailing at her arm.
Julia threw the stapler at Nikki, who caught it with an almost contemptuous flick of her right arm, barely looking at the woman. She dropped it and snatched her sword off of the table. Julia rose halfway and reached into the desk drawer in front of her. A hard sidestroke of the blade opened up the side of her neck and nearly knocked the sword out of Nikki’s fingers. Julia clapped a hand to the wound with a little cry.
Jerry got his hands around her wrist; when he tried to get some leverage Nikki bellystabbed him and let him go. He let out another gurgling scream and began crawling around in circles on the floor while he died.
Mitch had lost his opportunity to rush her while she was busy with Jerry, and knew it. He hefted his Recaro chair and threw it through the window overlooking the shop. He heaved himself up on the low file cabinet and began climbing out the window.
As soon as Jerry hit the floor, Nikki turned toward Julia, who was bolting for the door. Julia flung a trashbasket at her as she ran past. Instead of chasing her, Nikki ducked, spinning as she did, and stroked her blade across Julia’s right hamstring. The sharp metal severed flesh and tendon easily; the blond woman took one more out-of-control step and pitched through the doorway on her hands and knees. Mitch made it through the window then and ran past her, pounding down the steps and ignoring her cry for help.
Nikki walked out of the office, casually, almost strolling. Julia pulled herself up on the railing, one hand held out, warding her off. She was crying with fear and pain, and the wound in her neck was bleeding furiously. She looked younger than Nikki had thought her to be. “I’m sorry,” she blubbered, almost unintelligible under the clatter of the machinery downstairs. “Please. I’m sorry–“
The striped sword cut from right to left and back again in a quick forehand-backhand. On the way out it swatted Julia’s hand aside, severing two of her fingers. On the way back, it opened up the uninjured side of her neck, slicing through artery and voicebox.
Julia stopped screaming.
The van’s engine started. Mitch was about to escape. Nikki guessed he was about ready to drive through the closed door, if he had to. But that wouldn’t do at all. He couldn’t leave. Her fear of heights completely forgotten for the moment, she ran along the walkway until she was above the van, then vaulted over the railing and dropped six feet down onto its roof. She thought she heard a muffled cry from inside. Before Mitch could get the thing in gear and drive it through the metal door with her on top (which would likely have resulted in her having to borrow time again, and his escaping for certain), Nikki swiveled her hips for leverage and stabbed her bloody sword through the windshield. The glass shattered but stayed in place; she left the blade hanging there and slid off of the roof on the driver’s side.
The blade had stopped less than a foot shy of Mitch’s face. He had the presence of mind to lock the door; Nikki punched the window out with the heel of her left hand. Some part of her mind registered that she’d done damage to it, but she didn’t care right now. Mitch had to die.
He was scrambling out the passenger side door. When Nikki ran around to that side of the van, he had a stainless steel rod, three feet long and an inch in diameter, cocked and ready. She dodged his swing easily, coiled her left arm around the rod as it went past her, and took it away from him with childish ease. It was heavy, and she tested its weight, twirling it quickly through both hands like a quarterstaff. He took a step back, blinking, and mustered the last of his bravado. “I was a Marine, cunt!” he yelled, giving her the finger. “Come on and fight, if you–“
That was all he got out before she broke his bird-flipping hand with the steel. He was shifting gears to scream, clutching the shattered hand to his chest, when she broke his jaw with a one-handed backswing of the rod. Pieces of his teeth clattered on the floor like broken ceramic; Nikki stepped in as his head recoiled from the impact and shattered his skull with a punch to the temple. Mitch crumpled. Just to be sure, she kicked him hard in the sternum to stop his heart. Her legs were much stronger than her arms.
Nikki went upstairs quickly, but without rushing. Stepping indifferently over Jerry’s body but careful to avoid the blood he’d managed to spread around before he passed out, she swept her things back into her bag and went back to the filthy bathroom to change. In there, she stripped off the bloody fleece shirt, ruined T-shirt (she’d have to remember the My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult concert some other way, from now on), the tatters of her bra and Eddie’s coat, and donned a fresh shirt from her bag. She used the soiled shirts to wipe her hands after she washed them, and kept the overalls. She retrieved her sword and washed it as well. Her left palm was bruised from breaking the window, but there were no sprains or serious damage. She could ignore it.
Outside again, Nikki stopped, weighing the merits of burning Mabry’s to the ground. She didn’t want to. The anger had burned away, and she felt tired and dirty. She wanted a bath. She wasn’t ashamed of what she’d done, because they had deserved it, but she was unhappy that it had ended up being her task in the end. Was Mitch a friend of Eddie’s? How was she going to explain what had just happened to him?
In the end, Nikki decided that it didn’t matter, since Eddie wasn’t going to live long enough to complain much. The thought of killing him lacked the resolve it’d had earlier, but it didn’t matter.
She burned the machine shop.