Stiletto – Daniel O’Malley

The woman was crouched in an alley, her back against the wall and her hands pressed awkwardly to the bricks behind her. She was not an appetizing sight. A tangle of dirty dirty-blond hair hung down over her grubby face. Behind it, her eyes were open a slit, showing white. A string of drool dangled from her mouth. Apart from her ragged breathing, she was utterly still. She was dressed in several layers of filthy clothing and a pair of trainers whose mesh sides had rotted away almost completely and whose soles were peeling off as if trying to escape. She was also not an appetizing smell. There was a pungent odor coming off her, one that suggested an ongoing lack of access to bathing facilities. And laundry facilities. And toilet facilities. She was actually pretty enough behind the dirt, but to discover that would require several minutes’ concerted attention with a damp sponge and, possibly, a trowel. As she was, she fit into her surroundings perfectly. The alley was terribly narrow, more of an incidental gap between two sets of row houses. Hypodermic needles, feces of unspecified provenance, improperly disposed-of prophylactics, and general domestic rubbish were the primary topographical features.

For a few minutes, rain drizzled in and soaked her, but still she did not move. A rat scurried between the rubbish, presumably on its way to somewhere more salubrious. Finally, she moved her hands away from the wall behind her and opened her eyes wide. She took a deep breath that would have been cleansing had she been in a place that was slightly less vile. She licked her lips, felt the drool that had dripped down her chin, and moved to wipe her face with her sleeve before realizing how disgusting her sleeve was. She sighed and, still crouching, swung her arms about stiffly. Then she looked up blearily at the sound of someone approaching down the alley. That someone was a tall redheaded man with lily-white skin and freckles that had cornered the real estate market on his face. Behind him was another someone who looked much the same except that he was bigger and had shaved his head so there was only a corona of orange fuzz. Both of them were dressed in clothes that did not look at all out of place in the alleyway.

“Oh, hello,” said the first man. The woman squinted up at him and grunted. “Look at this, Petey,” he remarked to his associate. “We’re looking for something to do, and here something is.” “What?” she said. “Shut up,” said the man easily. Then, just as easily, he punched her in the face. Her head slammed back against the wall, and she fell onto her bottom. “The fuck?” she spat, pressing her hand against her jaw. “I told you to shut up,” said the man mildly.

“Now, me and my mate are gonna have a bit of fun right here, and you’re not going to give us any trouble unless you want another fist to the face.” “And that’d be just for starters,” said the other man, Petey. Rather than being terrified by the prospect of a vicious assault upon her person, however, the woman seemed unperturbed and somewhat incredulous. “Are you serious?” she said. Her accent was not one you would have expected to come out of the mouth of a person in those environs. It bespoke an expensive education. “You actually want to do this? To someone who looks like me?” She glanced down at herself and then around at the refuse that filled the alley. “Here?” They didn’t answer her, but apparently for these men, a blond woman was a blond woman, even if she smelled like carrion left out in the sun. The first man, the hitter, put his hands to his belt. “Such a mistake you’re making,” she said.

Then she reached out and grasped the man’s ankle. The smirk didn’t have time to leave his face before she’d yanked on his shin and kicked him, in dizzyingly quick succession, in the testicles, the stomach, the chest. He toppled backward into his colleague’s startled arms, and she drew herself up. Moments before, her posture had been hunched and defensive, but now she held herself in the classic boxer’s stance. “Bitch, you’ve got to be kid —” began Petey, but his assertion was cut off as the woman stepped forward and briskly broke Petey’s companion’s nose with a smart right jab. The companion’s wail of pain broke off as she punched him in the stomach and drove the air out of him. He sounded like a set of bagpipes that had just been stabbed. His knees buckled, and Petey staggered to keep him upright. The woman took a few steps back, sized them up, and was lunging forward when the toe of one of her shoes landed in something vile and squishy. Denied any purchase, her leg shot out from under her, and she lurched violently to the side.

“Bugger!” She bounced off a wall, fell against a pair of rubbish bins that were, ironically, completely empty, and ended up sprawled on her back on the ground. Then the breath rushed out of her as Petey, who had apparently jettisoned his friend in favor of subduing her, dived onto her and pressed her into the pavement. The man who had hit her seemed to have righted himself. “Stupid bitch,” said the hitter in a sort of wheezy falsetto as he came down the alley to them. “It’ll be bloody now. So much worse now.” “Yeah,” said Petey. He was lying across her, his weight holding her down, and he pressed his face into her vile hair. “You know,” he said, “under all that hair and muck, you’re not bad-looking. But you will be when me and Joe are done with you.

” She struggled, but he had her well and truly pinned. She sighed and looked up. Joe was staring down at her, and the expression on his face was terrible to behold. “I really didn’t want to do this,” she remarked. “Pawn Cheng?” The men exchanged confused looks. “Uh… I got your porn right here, slut,” said Joe, grabbing his crotch. “I’m not talking to you,” she said coldly. Then Joe clapped his hands to his head and seemed to fling himself backward. As Petey and the woman watched in fascination, he fell onto the ground, revealing a petite Asian woman. She was wearing a black yoga outfit and a grim expression.

On her feet, somewhat incongruously, was a pair of heavy boots that looked suitable for undertaking construction work or possibly some sort of hate crime. It appeared that to pull Joe down, she had simply buried both her hands in his thick red hair and yanked with all her strength. There had been no sign of her a minute before. “Joe!” exclaimed Petey. Then Joe was up again, and he was roaring with rage. He flung himself at his diminutive assailant. There was so little room in the alley that there was simply no way she could dodge a man that big. He charged toward her, his shoulder dropped to slam into her. It was almost as if the Asian woman burst under his bulk. Streamers and strands of black material erupted from the point of impact, spreading out and then fading away completely.

Joe kept barreling forward until he collided with the wall, hitting it so hard that he bounced off it a little. Petey, at this point, actually held tighter to the woman splayed out underneath him. “What the fuck?” he whispered. “What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck is going on? What is that?” “That’s my colleague,” the woman he was lying across said pleasantly, and then she initiated a wrestling maneuver referred to by some as “the dump truck.” From beneath him, she crooked one arm around his neck and the other around his torso, then she arched her whole body high, rolled him up and over her head, and dumped his arse firmly on the ground before snapping to her feet. Joe, meanwhile, had been so absorbed by the Curious Incident of the Sporadically Vaporous Asian Woman in the Alleyway that he’d missed his friend’s discommoding behind him. Before his eyes, the air in the center of the alley roiled, and the aforementioned Asian woman suddenly reappeared. However, she didn’t seem in the least bit interested in him. “Felicity, did you need me for anything else?” she asked in a thick Birmingham accent. “Nah, I’m fine, thanks,” said the other woman.

His heart thundering with anger and bewilderment, Joe reached into his pocket and drew out a knife, which he flicked open. His hands low, he lunged forward again, but the short woman was already evaporating away with an unimpressed look on her face. He turned around and saw Petey getting painfully to his feet. The blond bitch was tying her hair back from her face. She gave him a look that said he had gotten himself into this situation and really had only himself to blame. “You — you…” Words failed him. This was not how it was supposed to go. “Hey, I’m right here,” she said, and the complete lack of concern in her voice ignited something in him. He barreled toward her, his knife clutched in his fist, shoving past Petey. She swayed to the side, then turned, stepped back against his chest, and caught his knife arm.

Before he could think, she had flipped him over her shoulder. He went down on the ground, the knife clattering from his hand, and seemed disinclined to get back up. Petey came a little more cautiously, but as he moved toward her, she snapped into swift, dizzying motion. She swung her leg with mechanical precision and kicked out at the side of his knee. Under the combined force of her strength and her complete lack of hesitation or mercy, his leg simply crumpled. He fell into the mud and the rubbish, shouting and clutching at his leg. She stepped carefully over the trash and delivered a meticulous kick to the jaw that left him facedown and unconscious in the remnants of a pizza that someone hadn’t wanted anymore. The alley was quiet except for the sound of Pawn Cheng condensing out of the air. “Well, that was nicely done,” said Pawn Cheng. “You all right?” “Yeah, I’m okay,” said Felicity sourly.

She dusted off her clothing, which did not make an appreciable difference to its appearance. “Honestly, I can’t believe you needed me to step in to help you with two chavs.” “Give me a break, Andrea,” said Felicity. “I just spent three and a bit hours squatting against a wall. Plus, I’m wearing these ridiculous leper shoes.” She looked down at the men on the ground. At any other time it would have given her profound satisfaction to break every bone in their bodies, or at least to put the boot in a couple of times. But there was the danger here that she might attract unwanted attention, not least from the house she’d been observing. However… she mused. “What the hell are you doing?” asked Andrea.

“Are you robbing them?” “I’m not going to keep it,” said Felicity reasonably. “But I think that losing their mobile phones and their wallets will teach them a valuable lesson about… um… you know… respecting the homeless.” “You don’t think they learned that by having the crap beaten out of them by a homeless woman?” asked Andrea. “To say nothing of a chick who can turn into oxygen?” “You know what would make this lesson extra-special?” said Felicity after a moment. “We should take their shoes as well.” The Asian Pawn shook her head disapprovingly, then shrugged. “Yeah, all right.” Two minutes later, Felicity was humming cheerfully as she sauntered out of the alley. God, I love this job.

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