Welcome to Chicago

        Sappho stared out the bus window.  The driving snow had stopped, but it was still piled high alongside the road.  She could hear the whisper of the tires as they rolled over the packed powder.  She vaguely wished the bus driver was a more confidence inspiring fellow, but that couldn’t be helped.  They were already running slightly late, but with luck she would be in Chicago in time to make her connection.  If not, the company would reimburse her, she’d learned, and she could continue her journey on the next available ride out to New York City, leaving in the morning.
         But she desperately wanted to catch that bus.  She didn’t want to spend even ten minutes in Chicago, a town which exemplified for her all that was wrong with the world.  She sat straight up in her seat, as though she could move the large vehicle by sheer force of will alone.
         come on come on we can make it …she thought, then realized she was biting her thumbnail into the quick.  She put her hand on her lap, drumming her fingers impatiently.  A magazine, bought in the last rest stop, sat unread next to her on the seat.  She couldn’t read very well anyway, had always thought it was a human thing to do, but she had been bored and unable to move around, so she tried to puzzle together the sentences.  She had finally given up, throwing it down in disgust, and napped briefly.
         But now she was awake and jittery.  She ran her fingers through her hair, picked imagined lint off her jeans, shifted her position once, twice, a dozen times.
         Anything to avoid thinking about Chicago…
         About what had happened there…
         She finally drowsed again, and as she slept, the big bus pulled into the town, over the ice-clogged river and into the downtown area, where the terminal sat.
         She was jolted awake by the hiss of the air brakes and the sharp cold as the driver opened the door.  As she lugged her bag down off the overhead, the driver turned to his passengers.
         “Dispatcher says the Chicago to New York bus is delayed an hour to give the road crews time to salt the roads again.  There’s hot coffee and restrooms inside the terminal.  If you’re going on to St. Louis, stay close to the bus; if not, have a good trip and thanks for choosing Greyhound.  And folks, a word of personal advice; this isn’t the best neighborhood in town.  I wouldn’t leave the terminal if I were you.”
         He smiled in an apologetic sort of way.  Sappho nodded slightly.
         He didn’t have to tell her how bad this town was.  She’d come face to face with some of its worst elements, and lived to tell the tale.
         Or at least survived.

         Fifteen minutes later, she was pacing nervously in the terminal.  There was little to no chance anyone from the old days would be here, would recognize her, but still she was anxious.  Bone Gnawers had a reputation for selling secrets, and all she needed was to be made before she could even get…
         She paused for a moment, trying to think out a plan of some sort.  She had avoided the thought, because she really had no idea of where to go, except east.  Her sister’s spirit had said to find the Gypsies, and the only place she knew of Gypsies being in one place for any length of time was Daytona Beach.  Her bus ticket would get her as far as New York City, and she had enough on her to probably get a little further south, but after that she was at a loss.
         you’ve been on vision quests before, girl, she reminded herself,  and then sighed.  If only she could be sure she were on a quest, that the whole incedent in Seattle wasn’t some alcohol hallucination, then she could plan better.
         The thought of alcohol made her feel at once sweaty and cold.  She glanced up at the terminal clock, then outside.  Two blocks down, she knew, there was a package store.  She had gone there once or twice when she had been in the city last.  She had bought wine there for an intimate dinner that had never happened…but she blocked that memory from her thoughts.
         She briskly walked to the door, then over to the wall of lockers.  She paid a dollar and deposited her bag in one of the larger ones.
         it’ll be safe there…til I get back…
         Then she pushed open the door and stepped out, into the night.

         The cold wind bit into her like a knife as she made her way across the street.  Traffic was heavy as always, and she had to zigzag between cars and trucks spilling exhaust fumes into the air.  Her eyes watered somewhat from the stinging cold.  But the old brick fronted building was still there, and still held a liquor store.  She smiled and pushed her way into the heated store.
        The clerk eyed her nervously as she walked in.  But apes were always odd, so she paid it no attention.  She stepped to the back of the small store, picking up a bag of munchies to take the edge of her rumbling stomach.  Then she saw them, out of the corner of her eye.
        Two men, both with guns, crouching behind the counter.
        ah fuck…just my luck…talk about shitty timing…
        One of the men, who both looked in their late teens, saw her eyes flicker across him.  He jumped up, shouting something in guttural street Spanish, and brandishing what appeared to be a nine.  The other kept his shotgun trained on the clerk, who was now covering his head with both hands and wincing.
        She immediately dropped the bag of chips and put both her hands outward.  No sense frightening anyone; they just looked as if they wanted to rob the place and leave.  She had forty dollars and some change in her pocket, no purse, no i.d.  They wouldn’t get much from her, and the store was insured.
        The first gunman began to shout something at her in Spanish.  She knew the language, but  didn’t respond quickly enough.  He tried it in English:
        “Get over there and don’ yell!”
         He grabbed her forearm roughly and pushed her toward the counter.  She felt a tingling of rage within her, something she hadn’t felt in years.  But it was cold and small.  It was not the hot tearing of the beast.  She stood silently near the door.
        The second  robber was gesturing with the barrel, poking it at the clerk as he stuffed money into a paper sack.  Sappho noticed the sweat beginning to bead on the boy’s lip.  He kept glancing over at her, at the counter, at the gun, and back at her again.  She could see something in his eyes.
        oh shit he’s gonna try to be a hero…she thought.
        She stared into the eyes of the boy holding the gun on her.  He was young, younger than she’d thought at first, maybe fourteen or fifteen.  His eyes were watery, and his nose was running as well.  The hand holding the gun shook like a leaf in a strong breeze.
        why do I have the feeling he aint just got a cold…?
        “Don’ look at me, puta!” he spat.  Sappho felt her hand involuntarily twitch into a fist.  She took a deep breath.
        Then the little bell on the door tinkled.  They all looked up to see a woman, bundled in a threadbare coat, standing in the doorway.  She was oriental, probably Vietnamese, thought Sappho.  Her face had the weariness of one who has faced guns and violence before, and now she was just tired of it all.  She clutched the hand of a small pig-tailed child, about five years old.  She pulled the child half-behind her when she realized what she had walked into.
        Then the clerk chose his opportunity, and scrabbled for a weapon under the counter.
        The sound of the shotgun going off was deafening in the small space.  Sappho wheeled her head around in time to see the candy race disintegrate into a thousand chocolate slivers and metal fragments.  The wrappers flew into the air like confetti.  What was left of the clerk slumped down behind the counter.  Shotgun boy swung his weapon around to point at the woman.
        Sappho saw her lips move, almost in slow motion.  She could have been saying a prayer or a curse, Sappho did not know.
        As he brought up the barrel to fire, Sappho stepped in front of the woman and her child.
        “Run!” she shouted, spreading herself across the doorframe and pushing them out the door.  The woman gasped and stared into Sappho’s face.
        In that moment, time stood still.
        Sappho felt the first shot, the pellets cutting into her jacket and then into her back, carrying pieces of her clothing into her body.  She felt as though she had been hit squarely with a sledgehammer.  One of her knees almost buckled, and she bowed forward with the impact.  She looked down at her body, then at the woman, who was backing away much too slow.  Sappho took an agonizing deep breath, then screamed at the woman as loudly as she could.
        The next shot hit her lower, slamming across the small of her back and this time Sappho did lose her grasp on one side of the doorframe and fell heavily against it.
        But the woman was already gone, running down the street and screaming like a siren at the same time.
        She was safe: she was away.
        Sappho shakily turned her head in time for the next blast to knock her to her knees.  She hit the cold pavement, the door swishing against her leg.  She tried to turn her head, to get her arms working so she could crawl away.  Then she heard the voice of the other kid: the one with the nine.
        “Fucking pendejho bitch!”
        Something cold touched the back of her neck, and then her world shattered like a mirror and the pieces ran like water into a puddle of quicksilver.

        Witnesses on the scene said that the robbers ran from the liquor store clutching a bag of money and several guns.  One stopped over the woman’s body and fired two shots point-blank into the back of her head, then smiled and blew the smoke from the barrel of his gun like an old time cowboy movie star.  Then they jumped into a late model four door and screeched off down the street, sideswiping three parked cars in their haste to get away.
        After leaving the scene of the spectacularly botched robbery, they fell to fighting, which ended with shotgun boy dead with a nine millimeter slug in his head in an alley four miles from downtown.
        His compadre was found three days later in a public lavatory, works still hanging from his arm.  His face wore a look of surprise and terror.  The heroin he’d bought tested at 98% pure.
        The Chicago police closed their books on the crime.  Life in the big city went on.
        All except for the woman in the ICU.

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 And then what happened...?