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The Naming of Hurricanes
By Ren Martinez
*Editor's Note: Originally published at Margins Magazine.
It was a Wednesday night when clouds began to gather, thin and brittle as cheap glass. The town was used to strangers rolling through, dust weeds pushed along by the wind. The Roadhouse sheltered many, offering them whiskey and chili fries and a roof over their heads, but just for one night. It hadn’t even begun to rain when the woman walked in.
Raina didn’t pay much attention at first, making sure to finish the tab of a few regulars. When she turned, the woman had perched on a bar stool at the end of the bar, boot heels set inside the posts. Her black jeans wore her like leather, though her denim jacket was just a size too big.
“What are you feeling?” The bartender asked, drying the glass in her hand.
The woman frowned for a second. “You have any gin?”
“We got Hendricks,” Raina replied.
“That will do, thank you. With a twist of lime, please.”
The bartender shrugged off the pleasantries, sliding the drink down once it was made. The woman sipped it, tilting her head as she savored the taste. Her mouth slanted upwards, and she continued drinking.
The first offer was made only ten minutes later. A barrel of a man skidded over, his hand crawling across the bar to enclose the space around them.
“You seem like you could use a little company,” he drawled. His breath smells like expired milk. “Wouldn’t want a lady like yourself getting lonely.”
The woman’s gaze cracked over to him. “Please leave.”
“Aww, don’t be that way, sugar. I bet you taste real sweet.”
Her hands curled into fists, knuckles popping. “I’m not going to ask again.”
“Fuck you, then,” he huffed, lumbering away. “I ain’t got time for prissy shit.”
Three more men come to her in succession, each one sent away by the storm cloud look on her face, the bright cherry of her lipstick a sailor’s warning. Her fingers rolled on the bar top; somewhere, thunder answered.
It was the fourth man that should have heeded the old creed about red skies.
He slid into the stool next to hers, smile easy despite the threat of rain. He was young, with close-cropped hair and soft hands, the kind that have never seen a day’s work but always seem to be pointing the blame elsewhere. A bottle of beer was resting between his fingers before he set it onto the bar top.
“I’m sorry about those assholes,” he offered. “They don’t know how to treat women like people, I swear.”
The woman turned to him. “And, you do, I suppose.”
“My mama raised me right,” he answered with a grin. “I’m Jim, by the way. Jim McCarthy.”
The white of the woman’s teeth was like lightning sparking through the dark.
“Nice to meet you, Jim,” she crooned. “My name is Olivia. Olivia Sanchez.”
A moment crashed like thunder, and Jim finally recognized the storm in front of him.
There was a flash of silver, and Jim howled, a fox caught in a trap as surely as the knife buried in his hand. He tried to yank free, screaming, but the hilt scraped against his knuckles, the blade deep in the wood. The woman stood, the Browning Hi-Power nestled behind that too-large denim jacket already in her hand.
“I have no quarrel with any of you,” she explained, like a teacher in front of a class of children. When some of the men reached for their waistbands, she gave them chiding looks. “But, I will if you make me.”
She then turned back to Jim McCarthy, whose face was red and ugly. It suited him.
“I suppose you remember me now,” she began, sitting back on the bar stool. “It hasn’t been all that long. Four years? You only met me the once, but I thought that first impression would stick.”
He snarled at her, spittle smearing his lips. “You fucking bitch-”
“I can’t imagine why you would have forgotten Maria having an older sister,” Olivia continued. “The one she didn’t get to see very often. Always away on government business, you see. Not that Maria ever gave you details, of course, laughing it off as some acronym she could never remember, never mentioning more than me being some sort of ‘government desk jockey.’”
She leaned forward, smiling the way a wolf smiles. “Do you think I’m a desk jockey, Jim?”
The man didn’t answer but, even pinned by a knife, his hand was trembling.
“But she was so excited for me to meet you, Jim, that I made sure to come home just for that.” Olivia leaned back, her smile receding. Her gaze turned far away, but her aim didn’t waver. “And, I’m glad I did. I’m glad I met the man who abused her, who brutalized her, who held her down and raped her for cutting her hair without permission. The man who left her for dead in the middle of her kitchen floor after shoving a broken wine glass in her stomach.”
As her words rolled from her mouth, Jim McCarthy began to struggle against the knife, screaming as it scraped against bone and nerve. Sweat poured down his face, his features mangled by agony, as his blood slid across the bar top and dripped onto the floor.
Her eyes slid back from nowhere, black as gun oil. “I’m glad I got to meet you, Jim. It’s made it that much easier to find you.”
Olivia raised the Browning and shot Jim McCarthy between the eyes.
The thunder of it still echoed as she stood, yanking her knife from where it was buried. The corpse slid from the stool onto the floor, collapsing. She barely looked long enough to step over it, replacing her gun at the small of her back. There was just a fleck of blood on her cheek as she looked to the bartender, placing a twenty beside her empty glass.
“Don’t worry,” she promised. “It’ll be like I was never here.”
In the calm after the storm, a group of men in black suits would sweep through the Roadhouse, taking the body of Jim McCarthy and handing over a packet of official-looking documentation from a federal agency no one in the town had ever heard of. They would shake hands with the local sheriff and make statements about “keeping everything in-house” and “it’s no longer your problem.” There would be no official investigation and nothing in the morning news.
In the calm after the storm, a curious bartender would look up the name “Olivia Sanchez” and find an article about the death of a young woman from Sacramento, killed in an accident during Marine Corps training. She would recognize the face of the storm that had rolled into the Roadhouse, who had killed a man in front of her. Recalling the list of his sins, Raina would raise a glass in gratitude.
She would remember reading somewhere that hurricanes named after women were twice as deadly.