Little Red Riding Hood

The admin with brassy blond hair shot with hot pink streaks slid a manilla envelope across the reception counter.

“Scarlett, can you get this across to Benjamin, Barnes, and Wanker in fifteen minutes?”

The messenger nodded, grabbed the package, shoved it in her bag, and ran for the elevator. She planned the route and the short cut. The next pick up would have to wait. She talked into the radio pinned to her shoulder.

“I have a rush delivery near Doc Box. Will pick up Grubbs after.”

Two older men dressed in suits, probably lawyers by their look, eyed her and resumed their conversation. She ignored them and pushed past. With a quick flick, she unlocked her bike, jumped on the seat and rode into traffic. She crossed four lanes of one-way traffic to make the next right. As usual, cars, trucks, and buses clogged the road, surging between greens and spewing foul exhaust at reds. She passed behind a Mercedes and caught the eye of a delivery truck. His slow acceleration allowed her to dart in front of his grill to the other side. She checked again, this time, a pizza delivery clunker followed by an Eritrean Cab. She avoided both; letting them pass, while keeping pace with the traffic just inches from mirrors on either side. Finally, a space behind a cab broke open and she sped across, angled in front of a city bus and made the right.

Now she needed to cross just two lanes of one-way traffic to make a left three blocks down. Fortunately, a small Mazda hung out in the left turn lane. She pulled up next to the red convertible and waited for the light.

A balding man with sunglasses sat behind the wheel; he wore a black t-shirt, and jeans. A straggly white dog fit neatly into the seat next to him and eyed Scarlett suspiciously.

“You look like a goddamn Christmas Tree.” The man growled with amusement. She wore LED blinking lights all over her helmet, arm band, bike frame, and every spare inch of her handle bars.

Scarlet smiled and the light turned. She took off, raced to the right side of the lane; trying to stay car-door length from the row of parked cars. She banked another right, and there wasn’t a vehicle on the road: they were stuck at the stoplights. She breezed down an alley, turned right, veered left and climbed one of the hills. Standing on her pedals she made short work of the incline, running a red light some idiot placed half-way up. She had seen cars, even busses run the same light. She continued up the street and then savored the quick down hill. Scarlett let her bike catch up to the cars. She would have loved to know how fast she and they were going, but some jerk had swiped her computer her first week as a bike messenger.

She skid around a corner at the bottom, darted across another three lanes of traffic and jumped the sidewalk, scaring a man peering into shop windows.

“Scarlett, cool it.” Yelled the security guard. She didn’t know his name but everyone seemed to know hers. There weren’t many girl bike messengers in this city and even in the black tights, red hooded wind breaker, and red helmet, one could see from a block away she was female.

She locked her bike and ran inside. A quick scribble at the desk and another guard nodded that she could enter the elevators. As she rode up the old, noisy contraption, and thanked God she wasn’t a security guard. They just stood or walked all day; how boring. She stepped out on the fourth floor and handed the package to a plump woman with gold glasses and bright orange lipstick.

“Thanks Scarlett. They told me you were coming.”

A quick signature and she returned to the elevator. The doors opened and she saw it packed with people.

“There’s room for one more.” called a friendly voice from the back. The folks in the front shifted, she smiled gratefully and stepped in. As the doors closed, her radio crackled. Someone made a farting sound over the radio, followed by boyish giggling. More body sounds erupted from the black gizmo and she turned down the volume. As she did she heard the dispatcher rebuking the other messengers.

“Bike Messengers” uttered a woman behind her. She turned and nodded to the svelte, brown-haired lawyer wearing a custom-fitted suit. “Oh, you’re a girl!” As if this excused everything. Scarlett wondered if it did. She would never cuss over the radio or make rude noises, but she still cut off drivers and swerved unnervingly close to pedestrians and cars.

The doors opened and she strolled over to her bike.

“You know, I can watch your bike for you.” Said the security guard standing outside the building. She nodded.

“Thanks, but I’d just as soon keep it locked; it only takes a moment for someone to steal it and then what would you do? Chase after them?”

He nodded. He stood a good foot taller than her with brown eyes, brown skin, and wonderfully deep but friendly voice. “Yeah, I suppose you have a point. I can call the cops; they can get him.”

“Most stolen bikes aren’t recovered and most cops won’t track it down; too much work for too little.”

“No! That can’t be right.” She nodded.

“A cop explained that to another messenger who had his bike taken last week.”

“That’s just wrong. Well, I’ll keep an eye on it anyway, and on you too. You look like a lamb among wolves, Scarlet.”

Her radio crackled. “604, 604.” That was her number. She wasn’t sure why the dispatcher didn’t just use names.

Scarlett nodded to the guard and began riding her bike to the next destination, while talking into her shoulder. Of course, she rode a little slower as she answered.

“604.”

“350 called in sick, can you take the evening shift?” She thought about this. It would be her first time working until midnight. She’d text her Mom not to expect her.

“I can do it.”

“Great! I’ll put you on the board.”

Lawyers, realtors, and mortgage companies made up most of the bike messengers trade until around 6:30. Then they started delivering food. Sometimes a professional working late had them move documents across the city, and the papers would arrive at the next destination smelling of pizza, Indian, Thai or Chinese food. Scarlett’s transport company negotiated a deal with the downtown restaurants and then provided the messengers with cargo bikes. These were oversized tricycles equipped with mountain bike tires, straight handlebars, multiple gears, and an insulated box between the rear wheels. They did not hug the curve when you zipped around the corner. Still, it was biking at night in the city and what could be better than that? Also, the restaurants loved to give the messengers free food. And messengers bike between 30 and 50 miles every day; they really could use it.

Scarlet looked forward to her first night as a messenger. She took a break around 4:00 before the Mad Rush began and met a friend for espresso and a Powerbar. It must be human nature or perhaps lawyers and real estate professionals attract procrastinators, but every day the entire messenger service whipped around the city delivering last-minute contracts before banks and offices closed. She drank from her water bottle, downed the shot of coffee like a pro, and then headed back out.

The Mad Rush lived up to its expectations. Twice she narrowly missed cars merging into her and once Scarlett actually hit a car. Actually, she bumped her bike into a white station wagon. But, all in all, it was uneventful. At 6:30 she got the signal and headed back to headquarters.

The TransMobile Corporation took up the corner of a parking garage, including a chain-link enclosed room for cargo bikes, spare bikes and parts called The Cage. Scarlett rolled up to the shop, the fluorescent lights shone down, changing healthy, tan-cheeked riders into ghastly, green zombies. The dispatcher stepped out of her cramped office, still wearing her head set with a long black wire trailing back inside.

“Hey Scarlett, first night riding deliveries?” Said Fiona. She wasn’t as pretty as she sounded, a little plump, with long, stringy blond hair and really bad acne. But Fiona had a wicked sense of humor and quick tongue. She was perfect at getting some fifty-odd young men to do her bidding.

“I rode deliveries a few times with Eeshon.” Fiona nodded.

“That’s right. Good, he’s careful and fast. I want you to be the same. Also, I want you checking in every twenty minutes. I know I don’t ask this during the day, but the night shift is different. I’ll buzz you if I don’t hear, got it?”

Scarlett smiled. Another messenger rolled the cargo bike over to her. He started to show her the compartments; the cold, the hot, and the napkin/utensil bin. She let him ramble, even though she knew it already. She noticed that boys like to explain things and it seemed like more trouble to stop them. When he paused, she asked.

“Can I put my bike in here?” She gestured to the cage.

“Yeah, sure, of course.” He blushed. She wasn’t sure why.

“Woah, you have Teflon Jaguar coated brake and shifter cables, Sweet!” She looked at the gray tubes and shrugged.

“Yup, Mordecai put them on for me at the last tune up.” She admitted it, she didn’t tune up her own bike. She knew how to lube it and fix flats, but she took it to a friend and he worked on her Specialized Thing, as she referred to her bike. It was a cross bike: the wheels too tall and narrow for mountain biking and the tread too knobby for road biking. She had painted it matte black and stuck glow-in the dark stickers and LED lights in every spot. Mordecai had even wired most of the lights together so she only had to turn them off in two spots; she did so now.

Even inside the Cage, she locked her bike to the side and returned to the food delivery trike. She adjusted the seat to her height as the dispatcher and the other messenger stood aside watching her. Next, she flipped on the lights. A powerful halogen beamed from the front and three from the back, even the sign on the side of the box glowed neon, “TransMobile Food Delivery Service”. She climbed on and looked at Fiona.

“Right, your first top Forbidden, followed by Thai Basil, Kyle’s already doing Papa & Domino.” Scarlett cringed, she would have to work with Kyle tonight. The guy never let up, always teasing her; over the radio, in her face, everywhere. She pedaled off, feeling like a granny after zooming around all day on her Specialized Thing. Still, even with the trike, she looked down and saw she was moving at 16 mph. This computer hadn’t been stolen, yet. Not bad for a tricycle going up hill.

She headed for Forbidden Paradise, not a massage parlor or sex shop, but a Chinese Restaurant with all the ambience of a high school cafeteria. However, the aroma wafting from the back kitchen watered her mouth. A middle-aged woman greeted her, waved and returned with brown bags.

Scarlett had learned from Eeshon to let the women at Forbidden place the food in the container. No other business did this, but these women had definite ideas of what went where. The woman showed her the delivery list, addresses and bags, pointing which went where (they were clearly labeled). Scarlett nodded, sealed the compartment and trundled off to deliver the hot food. She brought the first batch to a woman working alone in one of the high rises, the second to a young man in one of the high-rent condos, and then slipped over to Thai Basil, which was on the way to the next Forbidden customer.

A man hailed her from the kitchen door. The odor of rotting garbage mixed with the spicy thai and started a battle in her stomach. He remembered her from before and handed her the food, saying, “Hot, very hot .” or “Cold, keep it nice and cold.” Then he gave her white take-out container. “For you!”

She beamed. “Thank you!”

He nodded. “But deliver first, right?” She grinned and held up her thumb.

To her relief, the Thai deliveries were clustered in the same area. She hit the last Forbidden first, a small family in a hotel, and then trundled over to the University. The academics must have had a hankering for Thai. First she took an order to the Physics Department, then over to the undergrad dorms, another couple of bags to the bookstore, and finally, one to a rundown house crammed with students on the edge of campus.

Night had fallen and now, Scarlett pedaled in the dark, still dodging cars, zipping across lanes, and sometimes riding up sidewalks. But now there were far fewer cars, trucks and buses on the road. There were drunks, and a few yelled something vague at her near one of the night clubs. She ignored them and stayed on her schedule.

The Thai Basil snack was lemon basil chicken on rice and a little later the Forbidden folks gave her a container of dumplings. These sent her straight to paradise but she didn’t think it was forbidden.

Her radio squawked. “Little Red Riding Hood, are you there?” Chided Kyle. Scarlett didn’t answer right away but sipped water from her plastic Velo Girl bottle. She was waiting in back of Forbidden for the next delivery. “Come on, Little Red, I have something for your little basket?” followed by laughter.

“What is it Kyle.” She wondered Fiona was listening.

“Fiona’s on a dinner break and she asked me to ask you to check in with the Naan Palace. They have a delivery and since I’m on, well, covering for Fiona, you’ll have to do it.”

“Yeah, right.” But she wasn’t sure. There were just six of them working, including Fiona and the dispatcher did take time off at some point. She also had a more experienced messenger handle the calls while she ran over to her boyfriend’s restaurant for a quick bite.

“Little Red, would I lie to you?” They both knew that answer.

“Alright Kyle, I’ll do it but if this is a joke you’ll be sorry.” A rude sound echoed over the radio just as the woman came out from the Forbidden kitchens.

“Thank you for waiting. Here is the delivery; it is just one but a big order. Four orders dumplings, two spicy chicken, three beef and broccoli, and three garlic bean. No rice. Must be a party.”

She looked at the address and sighed. There were hills. The food trike did not handle hills very well, although it did have gears. One could feel the heavy box of food increase in weight the longer the hill, and this address was at the top of the longest hill in the city. Scarlett raced across town, trying to scheme a better route to the top. She couldn’t. There were shorter and steeper grades but most of them ended in steps. That was the one thing she couldn’t climb in this contraption. She tackled the incline and by the time she hit the half-way point her legs pedaled furiously in grandma gear. As she crested the hill, the cold evening felt tropical and her red jacket dripped with from the exertion. She locked the trike and climbed three flights of steps to the front door. It was not an apartment, just a row of odd houses built high off the main street. The door answered and four teenage boys took the order and signed the slip. No one else seemed to be home.

As she unlocked the cargo bike, Scarlett plotted her route to Naan Palace. The quickest route brought her through some dicey neighborhoods but had a sweet downhill. The safer way included another climb, more stop lights, and usually took at least five, if not ten, minutes longer. She opted for the short cut.

Scarlett tapped her brakes a few times whizzing down the hill, the cargo bike stayed firm and true. At the bottom, she slowed to a crawl to turn right and then sped up on the straight away. Around her the buildings grew dark, cars lined both sides of the street, and “Checks Cashed” signs blinked from every corner. A few blocks over, cabs still crawled along looking for customers; not here. She couldn’t see a yellow or blue car for miles, and yet men and women stood along the sidewalk as if waiting for something. Some hollered at her as she passed, still she pedaled on.

Finally, she turned down a quiet street, a well-known bike corridor, back to the business district. There were no stop lights, but plenty of stop signs. Usually she breezed right through these, but a black and white appeared out of nowhere. She came to a complete stop at the next intersection. She glanced at the cop, a woman in uniform talking on her cell phone. The lady officer seemed oblivious to Scarlett, but you could never be sure. The messenger had to stop at two more stop signs before the police car made a left and disappeared. Sighing with relief, Scarlet moved ahead and turned right through a wide alley. This too was a familiar jaunt to cyclist, it avoided a crazy five-point intersection and opened on a one-way with a dedicated bike lane; a rarity in this city. Within a few minutes, she pulled in front of Naan Palace. In spite of the late hour, the place was packed with people; mostly indians. A woman ran out wearing a flowing butter yellow salwar kameez.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! We have a delivery, it is not far!” her voice had the sweet sing-song quality.

Scarlet could not help but smile at the young woman as she carefully placed the aromatic parcels into the proper bins.

“You are a woman! Isn’t it dangerous to be biking so late?”

“I’m fine. Thank you, though.” She smiled again, signed the paper and climbed on the cargo bike.

Her confidence sank as she looked at the address. Back in the neighborhood she had just crossed. Within minutes she found herself cycling under broken street lights, dark shapes haunting the sidewalks, music blaring from bars and clubs, and sometimes shouts carrying across the night. Goose bumps broke out on her arms and the hairs on her neck rose. Trees lined the road on either side, but some beetle or fungus had reduced the once-lush canopy to dead branches reaching over the pavement like skeletons. She found the street, a row of brick townhouses rising four stories tall. They looked clean, well-tended, and thoroughly out of place in this neighborhood. She checked the number: “3331 1/2 Cuthbert Avenue” A small note next to the address added “Apartment off alley.”

Great. I’m sent down a dark alley in the worst neighborhood at 11:00 at night. She thought. She took a deep breath and plunged into the darkness.

The single lane road divided the residential from the commercial. The townhouses had huge, long back yards that stretched up to the alley, on the other side sat an office building and a parking lot sprinkled with a few cars and some gardener’s truck. Fortunately, the street lights trailed down the alley and flooded the parking lot as well. She followed them, carefully counting the houses until she saw a discreet “3331 1/2” shine from among the over grown ivy. She stopped but didn’t see anything to lock her bike up to. A tall, brick wall covered in vines enclosed the property with an arched gateway near the address number. Scarlett locked the bike to itself, removed the food, then locked the container as well. She found and pressed the button. Inside a demon sounded. He snarled like two hundred pounds of monster that ate delivery people for dinner. Her heart raced. She held her ground though. A short, firm command hushed the cur and soon the gate opened.

An artist coated in paint and smelling of turpentine accepted the food and signed the receipt. Music blasting from a room at the back and Scarlett could see a pitiful-looking dog just over the young man’s shoulder. God had given the poor mutt the body of a full-size German Shepherd but the tiny legs of a weaner dog. The ridiculous beast caught her eye and snarled; he definitely snacked on messengers like her. “Matty, Hush!” he ordered as he shut and locked the gate. Scarlett turned and unlocked her bike, and froze.

A group of men had silently crept up on her. She stood alone in the alley surrounded by not just one but five or six guys. They were white, this surprised her. She wasn’t sure why.

“What have you got in the box, little girl?” The one with a baseball cap on backwards asked. He leered at her and the others joined in making whistling and howling noises. They looked and sounded like a pack of wolves. She wondered if the artist could hear but the steady beat of his stereo dimmed her hopes.

“I just delivered my last order. I don’t have anything; not even cash.” The bumper sticker slapped on the side of the box stated this, but she said it if they couldn’t read.

Another wolf, chewing gum or something else, moved closer to her. “That’s okay, sweetie, why don’t you come with us and party?” Something in his tone made her skin crawl. She didn’t think she’d be the one having the party. The others slid around until they formed a circle, pinning her and the food trike against the brick wall.

She whipped out her heavy, metal U-lock. The wolves laughed.

“What are you going to do with that? Lock us up?” The fellow with the cap offered. Another scratched behind his ear and mumbled.

“I’ve already been locked up; too many times.”

“Shut up, already, Beater.” snapped the creepy one. Then he turned his attention back to her. “Come on, Shorty, you’re with us now.”

He closed in.

An engine roared, not a car or even a motorcycle. It was the unmistakable sound of a chain saw. The wolves whipped around, a man stepped out of the shadow of his gardening truck, he wore a white cowboy hat and carried a chain saw like a pro. The men surrounding her made various noises of incredulity. Beater left first, (perhaps that’s why they named him that, she mused). Soon, others followed, as her rescuer took bold strides towards them, swinging the whirring machine in an arc. Finally, the last thug disappeared around the corner at the end of the alley.

Scarlett and the gardener stood alone in the alley. He shut off his chain saw; the silence was deafening.

“That was close. What are you doing over here at this late hour, Little Miss?” He spoke with a Mexican accent.

“I’m working, delivering Indian food. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Thank you, thank you so much.” She gushed. He nodded.

“Do you deliver here often at night?” She shook her head.

“No, tonight is my first night on the late shift, but I hoped to work it again. My mother and I need the money to pay off my college loans.” He nodded. She could see now, he was old enough to be her father; wrinkles sprouted at the corner of soft brown eyes and gray sprinkled his mustache.

“Are you gardening here at night?” She wondered aloud.

“No, I moonlight cleaning offices. My cleaning van is in the shop, so I used my gardening truck. Lucky for you, I came out to get another mop head.” They talked awhile and debated calling the police. Scarlett was against it; she was afraid Fiona would never let her work the late shift again. “My name is Joan Miro, after the artist. It’s pronounced ‘Juan’ but spelled like the woman’s name.

“I am Scarlett Jaeger, named after the character in ‘Gone With The Wind’.” She shook his hand.

“Ahh, your mother loved that movie?” He asked.

“No, she hated it. It was her mother who loved it and my mother loved my grandmother, also she didn’t mind the name.” She didn’t know why she told him all this, it must be the adrenaline. “Are you related to the artist?”

He nodded, “Yes and no. My mother insists her grandmother had an affair with the artist while she was a student in Spain and that my mother was the product; but who is to say?” He shrugged eloquently. “I tell you, Miss Scarlett, I do not feel right about you biking about here at night. But, I am not your father.” he put the chainsaw on the ground and unbuttoned the flap on his shirt pocket. “However, I will do this. I always carry my cell phone. I will come if you need me. Let me see your phone.”

She handed over her phone and watched his thick brown fingers fly.

“Good! You have the GPS feature. My phone can track any cell phone anywhere, see?” He held up his phone to show here. “I enter your phone here, and as long as you have this setting here, I will find you. This way, if you are in trouble, you text or call me; you do not have to talk. Right?” She nodded.

“If you want privacy, just change the setting. But I will not bother you unless you call me.”

They talked a bit longer and she learned that Joan came not from Mexico but had lived in Venezuela most of his life. He had been a high school teacher until his wife left him for a younger man. Then, he picked up and moved back to the United States, for he had been born here. He had two grown sons living and working here as well. Now he ran his own business and took classes in computer programming over the internet.

Her radio came to life suddenly. “604, 604, check in.”

Scarlett excused herself and answered back. “604 here. Just finishing a delivery from Naan Palace.”

“What? Jason was supposed to make that run.” Somehow Scarlett was not surprised to find Kyle had messed with her again.

She said farewell to Joan and offered to make any delivery for him for free. He said he’d call if he thought of something.

The orders became sparse during the last hour and before she knew it, Fiona was calling her in for the night. After submitting her receipts and turning in her gear she pedaled her Specialized Thing the short, two-mile ride home.

Scarlett lived with her mother on the third floor of an old brick apartment building; which meant no elevators. Fortunately, her bike didn’t weigh much, she climbed to their hall and then wheeling the bike to their balcony. Even here, she locked it to the railing. She couldn’t afford to lose her only mode of transportation.

Her Dad lived on the east coast somewhere and except for phone calls on her birthday and at Christmas she never heard from him. They had divorced when she was a toddler. Her mother had been a successful mortgage broker; they had lived in a huge, three-bedroom house out in the suburbs and her mom always had a new car in the garage. But then the real estate market crashed and banks tightened up on their loans. The mortgage company her mother worked for mismanaged too many accounts and came under fire from the local prosecutor. Her mother lost her job, and although none of the loans spotlighted were hers, being tied to the criminals ruined her reputation. She sold the house before she lost it, but only made about ten thousand dollars after closing. Then she sold the car, she almost bought a clunker but Scarlett convinced her mom she wouldn’t need any car if they moved into the city. And so now, they shared a two bedroom apartment; larger than anything they could afford in the suburbs. And together, they managed their money to pay off their debts and build up their savings. It wasn’t easy but they were making it.

“You’re home, Scarlett?” her mother sounded sleepy. She went in and kissed her mom on the forehead.

“I’m home and safe, you go back to sleep, Mom.” Then she went back to the kitchen to search for a snack. She didn’t have to, her mom had made a pot of chicken stew with potatoes. She zapped a bowl in the microwave and savored each bite. Home cooked food soothed her soul and gave her strength after her harrowing experience with the wolf pack.

The next few weeks flew by without incident, even though Scarlett began working nights regularly. She passed Joan twice on the street and waved to him and finally tracked him down one slow afternoon and treated him to a yogurt smoothie at a local juice place. They learned more about each other. Joan was quite interested in her mother’s experience with mortgages and real estate. Scarlett discovered one of Joan’s son’s worked in hollywood making movie sets and the other one ran a bed and breakfast in Colorado.

One night Scarlett had the pizza shop business and made delivery after delivery until around 10:30. She looked down at the order and cringed. It was back on the street where she met the wolves. She distributed pizzas to the addresses in safer neighborhoods first. As she headed over to the road lined with dead trees she decided to give into her fears and she pulled out her cell. She pushed Joan’s number, he answered immediately.

“Joan, it is me, Scarlet.”

“You okay?”

“Yes, I have a delivery at the same street as the last time.”

“The Alley?”

“No, around front, on Cuthbert, the street with the dead trees.”

“I’ll be there. I’m close by.”

She pedaled on and felt silly for calling him. Joan works two jobs, he probably doesn’t have much spare time and here he was racing around protecting young women.

In a few minutes, she turned down the road. She didn’t see his garden truck. A clean white van parked under one of the trees with its lights on. It honked and she grinned. She found the number, locked her bike, and carried the boxes up to the front door. She heard an infant wailing in the bowels of the brownstone and a visibly harassed, young father opened the door. Without a word, he signed, gave her a tip, and shut the door. She turned, skipped down the steps and crossed to the van. Joan waited outside wearing his white cowboy hat, leaning against the truck.

“Here, I think this is yours.” She handed him the tip. He looked at the cash and then at her.

“No, Seniorita, you take it, buy another smoothie.” She grinned and pocketed the cash.

“Thank you for coming. I feel silly, now.” He gave her one of his graceful shrugs.

“It is better to be safe than sorry. Besides, I needed to clear my head of the ammonia; I am cleaning windows.”

The chatted a bit before Fiona radioed another job. Scarlett and Joan parted ways, they thought it was the last time they’d see each other that night. They were wrong.

Scarlett coasted into the parking garage and over to the Cage. She could see Fiona in a deep conversation through the bullet-proof glass. She also saw Kyle leaning against the Cage with a smirk on his ugly mug.

“Little Red Riding Hood!”

“Get lost, Kyle.” She got off the food trike and began assembling her receipts.

“Aw, common, Lil’ Red, don’t give me that.” He kicked the gate behind him, the crash echoed off the empty walls of the garage. He looked impressed with his new trick. “Hey, that was cool.” And he kicked the gate again, and again.

“Kyle quit it.” barked Fiona from the sliding window. It slammed shut.

He stopped and then, hands in pockets, strolled over to Scarlett. She ignored him.

“So, what are you doing after this?” Mentally, she rolled her eyes. You have got to be kidding, she thought.

“I am going home.” She stated this slowly and firmly. She checked the food container again and entered the office. When she came out, she didn’t see Kyle. It didn’t take her long to turn in her work, clean the trike, and lock up. The telltale sign of pitter patter hitting the sidewalk warned her it was raining. She pulled her hood over her head before she put the helmet on top. Then she waved Fiona, who was still talking on the phone, and headed home on her own familiar bike.

The brief shower rinsed the dust from her red wind breaker, giving it a vinyl sheen. As she neared her apartment, she noticed a light in her mom’s room and her spirits rose. Her mother had texted her earlier that evening that she planned to hang out with her buddy, Cat. Usually their nights went long and ended with a taxi dropping the inebriated ladies at the curb. It was early yet for that, perhaps Cat didn’t feel well or met a guy.

Hanging her helmet from the handlebars, Scarlett climbed the stairs with her bike on her shoulder and neared the door. She saw it wasn’t locked at all. That was unusual for her mother, but not unheard of. Especially if she had had a night of margaritas.

Scarlett, still balancing her Specialized Thing on her shoulder, opened the door. As it swung wide she heard a drawer slide open and the sound of someone rummaging. The door bumped against her back tire and made a sound. The rummaging stopped.

“Mom?” She called loudly.

No answer. Her hand grasp the bike lock still attached to the bike. Her other hand reached in her pocket and quick-dialed Joan.

Scarlett silently stepped back. She hoped to make to the hall and use the Specialized Thing to block her path.

A familiar voice behind her said. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Little Red Riding Hood.” For a crazy moment, she thought Kyle had followed her home. But that was not his voice, but it was one she had heard before. She whipped around and her skin turned cold. “Hey, Beater, look who we have here!” A face emerged from her mother’s bedroom, it was the same guys. The Creep and the Coward stood in her home and one of them had just put his filthy hands on her mother’s stuff. Anger boiled in her veins, she gritted her teeth.

“Ooooh, a fighter! I love fighters!” He grabbed the bike and shoved it off her shoulder she whipped out the bike lock and caught him on the chest, his collarbone cracked. Blood rushed to his face and his fist flew to her neck. Instead of hitting her he smacked her head against the wall and held it there. One huge hand under her jaw, pinning her neck to the wall.

“I’ll teach you, bitch!” He fumbled with something, she couldn’t see. Her knee shot up to hit his groin but he nimbly shifted out of the way.

From the hallway, Beater whispered. “No, man, not again. You’ll get us busted!”

“Shut up, Beater.” Her attacker snapped, same tone, same phrase. His fingers pressed harder against her neck. Now it was it hard to breath. She tried twisting and shoving her elbow into his stomach, he blocked her. She fought, scratched, kicked, and clawed at the loser.

A thud sounded near her ear and her attacker released his grip. He stumbled back. A black rod whizzed around a second time. The Creep held his head and looked murderously at the person in the door. Scarlet heard her before she saw her.

“Not my daughter, you bastards.” Her mother swung again and this time made contact with a bone in the Creep’s leg. It sounded like a wet bag of sand and he sagged to the side and passed out on the floor. Both Scarlett and her mom switched their attention to Beater. He drew a gun from behind his back and pointed it at the two women. They froze. The weapon trembled in his hand.

“I’m not going back.” His voice hoarse and low. “I’m not going back to prison.”

Scarlett sought her mother’s hand. She dropped the tire iron and they held each other for a second before an object shot out from between their bodies. It wrenched the gun from Beater’s grasp. A shot sounded. The bullet whizzed over their heads and shattered the plaster in the hall. The pole still held the gun and tossed it to the ground. Then it smacked it’s serrated metal end against the coward’s skull, sending the man to the ground. Blood trickled from the site of impact.

“Joan!” She gasped, he nodded. He no longer wore his cowboy hat, a streak of gray ran through his black hair.

“Call the police.” He ordered. Her mother told him she had already called when she was in the hall. Sirens sounded from outside the apartment and a herd of elephants bounded up the stairs. Joan still held his fiberglass pruning pole in his hands, aimed at the two men, squirming on the floor when the police entered, guns drawn.

Later, in the early hours of the morning, the three congregated in the kitchen back in the apartment. The Crime Scene people had already taken the fingerprints and photos and even her bike lock, with them. The cops hauled the two men off to jail and probably to prison. Now Scarlett, her mother, and Joan were just hungry and tired. Her mom scrambled some eggs with zucchini and mushrooms, toasted bread, and even brewed a pot of coffee.

Scarlet and Joan watched her mix, cook, and prepare their meal. Stephanie Jaeger had the same long brown hair as her daughter, but hers was streaked with gray. They both had pale blue eyes and a sprinkling of freckles. However, Scarlet inherited a tall, lean, muscular body from her Dad. Her mom stood a good five inches shorter and sported more curves than tone. Scarlett’s heart swelled with pride and her eyes with tears when she recalled her mom wielding the tire iron with such force. Joan misreading the tears, patted her hand.

“It will be okay, Scarlett.” He said.

“I know. I’m just so proud of my Mom, and you.” He smiled.

“Your mother is a tigress!” He announced. And then more quietly, he said, “You did not warn me of her beauty!” His eyebrows went up and down. She laughed.

“Almost ready.” Her mother called as she slid the eggs onto a dish. She carried them over to the table and the three began to eat.

“Mom, where did you get the tire iron?” She asked between bites.

“Oh, it’s been outside of the Super’s door for weeks. I saw the light on in my bedroom and knew it wasn’t you, so I called the cops and grabbed the iron.” She sipped her coffee and looked at Joan. He grinned at her. “I heard all about the earlier run in with those men in the alley. So, Joan is your knight in shining armor again!”

Scarlett grinned, “No, Mom, I think Joan is our knight in shining armor.” She winked at her gardener friend but he had eyes only for Stephanie. Her mother blushed.

The End

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