Several of the restaurants lining Market Street had opened their outdoor seating areas. Haze sat down at one and ordered a turkey club and an unsweetened lemon iced tea. He was sipping the iced tea and waiting for his sandwich when someone yelled at him from behind.
Haze recognized the voice and knew it was meant for him. He refrained from turning.
“Don’t ignore me, bitch,” the voice continued. “You know I won't go away.”
Yes, he knew it well.
“Look at the disrespect I get.”
What piqued Haze’s curiosity was the implication of another person. He turned and saw Chip accompanied by a young woman in a leather jacket with at least half a dozen facial piercings and a variety of colors in her hair. She packed a revolver that looked like it would knock her backward fifty feet if she actually tried to fire it.
“Check out my new body guard. Ain’t she a piece of ass?” Chip looked at Recoil and twirled his finger. “Spin for him, darlin’.”
She responded by looking directly at him. Haze smiled to see Chip’s expression crack.
“What's a fine gentleman like you need a body guard for?” Haze asked.
“Oh, you’re a funny one. You know there’s bounties on me. For some reason people find me repulsive.”
“I can’t imagine why.” Haze glanced at Chip’s orange shirt.
“You like it?” Chip asked, pulling the shirt down as if to make it more legible. “I gave some guy like five thousand yen for it.”
“It’s a fine piece of attire.”
Haze’s eyes kept flicking to the body guard. She stood there calmly, dispassionately, taking everything in.
“Care to join me?" Haze asked.
“Naw, too hot out. I’m gonna eat over at the diner. But hey, before I go, maybe you wanna tell me what Patty’s got you up to these days.”
“Come on, I’ll pay you.”
“I've got ten eagles on me." Haze remained silent. "No? Alright, I lied. I got fifteen.”
The waitress finally arrived with Haze's sandwich. He had momentarily forgotten about the food, but now his stomach rumbled heartily when she put the plate in front of him. He wished Chip would just leave.
“You piece of shit. What do you want? Twenty? Thirty?”
It was all part of the ritual. Haze took a bite of his sandwich. It tasted good.
“You know, you could've been as rich as me, dingleberry,” Chip said as Haze chewed. His face had grown red and taut. “You could've had anything you wanted. Then you wouldn't need to go around sucking off Plotter hotshots, would you?"
The fat man started again on his way down the street, and his petite, pierced bodyguard followed. Haze swallowed the bite of turkey club and called after him.
“What the fuck you want now?" the other said, wheeling around.
“If you’re so happy with all your money, then why do you come begging me for information?”
Chip pointed at Haze and looked at Recoil.
“Kill him,” he told her.
She calmly stared back at him. Haze laughed and took another bite.
“Fine. If you're not gonna shoot him, go be his whore. That’s prolly what you're best at anyway. You're fired.”
Chip turned to storm away, but immediately he was jerked back. Haze noticed Recoil’s left hand gripping the big man’s bicep.
“Pay me,” she said.
“Pay me,” she repeated quietly. She let go of Chip’s arm and rested her other hand on the butt of her gun.
Chip crackled at that, and Haze expected him to turn away. However, after a brief moment, Chip reached into his pocket and took out several gold coins. Haze thought Chip was going to throw them at her, but again he was wrong. Instead, the other man offered them to her almost gently. The ex-body guard plucked the coins from Chip’s palm and pocketed them while maintaining her cool gaze.
“And a little extra for my early severance,” she said, not taking her hand off the gun.
Chip's faced looked like a red balloon about to pop. But he sunk his chubby hand into another pocket and came out with some more gold, passing it over to the body guard. Finally, looking as though he had just lost high-stakes card game, Chip made his escape. The body guard watched him a moment and then shook her head. She turned to Haze and nodded. Then, started walking the opposite direction from Chip.
“Hey, stay a minute,” Haze called to her. She stopped. “Come have some lunch with me.”
“I’m good,” she replied. “I’m good for awhile, in fact.” She shook her pocket and smiled at the sound of coins clinking together.
“Hey,” Haze continued, “you can pay for yourself. I just wanted to have a conversation with the first person I've ever seen who successfully put Chip Krispy in his place.”
The young woman laughed.
“Okay,” she said and walked to his table.
“First things first,” Haze as she sat down across from him. “What's your name?”
“Erin,” she replied, “but everyone calls me Recoil.”
“Haze,” Haze replied, holding out his hand. “Everyone calls me Haze.”
She shook his hand.
“That’s not your real name, though.”
“Close enough. Just one letter off. My full name’s ‘Hazen.’ But why do people call you Recoil?"
“Because they're surprised when I don’t.”
It took Haze a moment to understand what she meant. The waitress came and Recoil ordered a wrap.
“Sorry you lost your job,” Haze said.
“Firing me may have saved his life. I was starting to get tired of his mouth.”
“He has that way about him. How’d you get the gig?”
Recoil gave Haze the same calm gaze she had given Chip. It was unnerving, but Haze managed not to look away. He noticed her eyes were green.
“Friend of a friend of a friend,” she finally replied slowly. “You do this long enough and you learn where to look for the good money.” Recoil pursed her lips so that the left side of her mouth drooped in a half frown. “I should’ve known better than to take it though. Nobody else wanted it.”
“So, you’re new here, then?”
“Why? You the tax collector?”
“Just an interested party. I remember faces pretty well, and your's — well, you stand out a bit. I’m sure I would've noticed you around before.”
“Maybe. Or maybe I don't always look like this.”
“I arrived this morning,” Recoil said.
“And you made it to lunchtime. That’s not bad, actually. Most people can’t stand more than a few minutes with him. Of course, now he’s gonna die, ‘cause of all the bounties on him and whatnot.”
“Nobody really wants to kill him. If they did, he’d be dead.”
Haze nodded and took a bite of his sandwich. Recoil watched as he chewed.
“How do you know him?” she asked.
“We go way back.”
“Way back to what?”
“College. We were roommates once.”
“Oh,” Recoil said. It was the first indication Haze noticed that she could be surprised. “That’s — unfortunate.”
“He's really not that bad. Loud and obnoxious, sure, but he’s also very smart. Also, very rich.”
“So I’ve heard. How rich is he?”
“I honestly don’t know. He’s also a compulsive liar.”
Recoil’s wrap arrived. They ate in silence for a few minutes.
“How does someone like you get in the body guard business?” Haze asked.
“You do what you know how."
“So you went to body guard college?"
“There is such a thing?"
"You're the professional. You tell me.”
Recoil looked at him for a long moment.
“My parents, I guess,” she said eventually.
“Something like that. I grew up in Texas. My dad did some security work. He taught me how to shoot when I was a kid.”
“When you were a kid? So what, like two years ago?”
It just slipped out. Recoil cocked her head slightly.
“I was a kid a couple years ago,” she acknowledged, “depending what state you’re in. But I learned to shoot more like ten years ago.”
Haze opened his mouth, but he wasn’t sure what to say, so he closed it again.
“Trying to figure if you want to rob the cradle?” she asked.
“I — no. I——“
“I’ll save you the trouble. You seem nice and all, but one lunch ain't gonna do it, buddy.”
“I thought you were paying for yourself.”
“I have a feeling you'll be happy to pay for me.”
Haze couldn’t think of a reason he wouldn’t be.
“I want to ask you something,” he changed the subject. “But I'm afraid you'll be offended.”
“You can ask me about anything except my piercings.”
“Oh. Then never mind.”
Haze had finished his sandwich. He rubbed his hand absently along the tablecloth. Then, unable to think of anything to say, he took a long drink of iced tea.
“I was just kidding. You can ask me about my piercings.”
“What’s up with your piercings?”
“It helps to have your face go unnoticed in my line of work.”
“I would’ve thought they’d draw more attention to your face.”
“Nope. People remember the piercings, but not me. Besides, I’ve never had a good enough excuse to take them out.”
“What kind of excuse are you looking for?”
“Any kind that isn't predicated on money, guilt or general human weakness.”
“That doesn't leave a whole heck of a lot of excuses.”
“Like I said.”
“Seriously, though, you should consider removing them.”
“So I can mold myself to your idea of physical beauty?”
Recoil laughed. It was loud and unexpected, and it made Haze laugh, too.
“At least you’re honest,” Recoil said when her laugh subsided.
“I try to be.”
“How would I know if that's true?”
“I think you're just trying to get into my pants.”
“Well, like I said, it’s gonna take more than one lunch. And before you ask, I’m dyeing my hair tonight.”
“I’d think you were blowing me off except for two things.”
“First, given the rainbow of fruit flavors you've got going on up there, I assume you probably are dyeing your hair tonight.”
“Point for observation. What's the other?”
"Second, I wasn’t going to ask if you were free anyway.”
“No. But only because I'm not free myself.”
“Ah, I get it. I’m more likely to want you if you taunt me with your unavailability. You sure that’s gonna work with me?”
“Perhaps. I’ll let you know tomorrow when you meet me here again for lunch.”
"What makes you think I want to come back here?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Their lettuce tastes like bark.”
“You've eaten bark?”
"Once, on a dare. Chipped a tooth.” Recoil pulled her lips back and pointed to a bicuspid. “That one, right there.”
“Looks fine to me.”
“I got it repaired.”
The waitress brought the bill.
“So, where would you rather eat?”
“You pick and let me know.”
Their banter had played out. Neither felt an immediate urge to get up, so they sat awhile sipping their drinks and watching the light traffic of Market Street.
Haze caught himself staring at her more than once. He didn't know why the piercings bothered him so much. He wondered if he could prove her wrong and learn to see past them. She caught him staring at her, and he smiled. She smiled back, and then she stood. She didn’t say goodbye, nor did she look back as she walked away. Haze watched her until she turned down another street. Then, he paid the check and left as well.
It wasn’t until later that evening that he realized he had no way of letting her know where to meet him for lunch tomorrow.