During the Previous
Streets of Kansas City
Her fingers fumbled through the litany of pseudonyms scattered across her phone directory—none of which listed actual names or even key descriptors. What had she listed Alex’s new phone under?
Chloe looked over her shoulder, the familiar three gentlemen in various states of beard making no ruse of their pursuit. There was a phoned in attempt to hide that they were identical human beings, dying and trimming their makeshift facial hair and assembling beach hats into a trio of hipster assassins.
She joked quietly to herself, changing voices with each aspect of the conversation. “Oh, what do you do for a living?”
Chloe replied to herself in a deeper tone, “oh, I’m a clone of myself and I kill people for a living,” she paused. “You probably haven’t heard of it.”
“Archimedes!” she screamed out having remembered what she was searching for.
She had listed Alex Heton under the name Archimedes at a time she believed him to be of great intellect. Lately: not so much. She put the phone call in motion and checked once more over her shoulder at the three men who appeared to have stolen their look from late-80’s era Steve Guttenberg.
One of the men ducked into a nearby alley, his eyes fixed firmly on her location.
It rang again.
The one with the five-o-clock shadow adjusted his sunglasses and whispered something into a cufflink before reaching into his jacket pocket. “People actually whisper into cufflinks?” she said softly to herself.
It rang again.
The third sharply dressed assassin was nursing a smoothie and taking a casual stroll straight toward her. Was he whistling?
It rang once more and a click was heard on the other end of the line.
“Alex—Jesus! Alex, it’s me and I got a small army of guys on my tra—”
She stopped in silence as she was greeted with: “you have reached Alex Heton and I either can’t get to my phone at the moment or I probably just sent you straight to voicemail when I saw who was calling.” The familiar voicemail played in her ear as she ran in fear for her life. “But for real, drop some knowledge on me.”
Chloe always hated that message when they were dating—or fake dating—it was fuzzy what state of dating they went through. There was some amount of non-fictional dating but certain information was concealed for personal gain. Given that neither had revealed their true identity to the other, Chloe pretended to be a different personality-type entirely while Alex treated her like a piece of property, it was a rocky foundation to build a relationship on.
She waited for the beep as she ducked into a Vietnamese Laundromat. The tone played in her sweaty ear through matted hair. “Alex, it’s Chloe. I’m in trouble.” Her eyes darted to the entrance where two had just entered and divided up to different sides of the room. “I screwed up bad. Dude, I need your help and I need it right now. Call me back as fast as you can.” Chloe ducked behind a row of washers and pulled out her Glock-17—the slide was cobalt blue and made a strange long indigo reflection across the floor.
There was no way to get a good look at where the men were without sticking her head up. She hung up the phone and continued moving down the row to the corner of the shop. Her eyes were fixed toward the storefront but her index finger felt down the side of her cell phone to find the switch from vibrate to ringtone. It snapped over and Chloe slid it across the ground two rows over.
She wiped the sweat from her brow and leaned against a washing machine. “Alex, dude, you gotta call, man,” she whispered to herself in quiet prayer. “Come on, Heton, come on.”
Chloe could hear the sockless-feet tapping across the tile in boat shoes. She chambered a bullet and closed her eyes in an attempt to control the volume of her breathing.
Across the room, a Nina Simone song burst forth from a phone vibrating on the tile. Alex had gotten the message. She began to count the number of cautious steps it would take to reach the phone.
Chloe popped up and fired two rounds in the direction of the phone, striking the first man in the cheek and sending him spiraling to the ground, blood splaying out onto confused laundry patrons.
Everyone else in the shop began to scream and run for the door.
The second man in the shop was audibly charging across the Laundromat to her location.
Chloe pushed down into the prone position along the ground, getting a solid vantage on the row of washers that lined the ceiling on the path the man was taking to her location.
The entire row of washers was in use, spinning untold gallons of water, soap, and socks around and around.
The gun steadied in her grip, lining up the first shot. A sound chimed in the background, signaling that she had just received a text message.
She held her breath and fired seven times in rapid succession, each bullet striking the round glass that contained the chaos of spinning laundry. Water and soap exploded out into the aisle and the man took a load in the face while his feet struggled to keep their grip amongst the soapy confusion.
Chloe extended her arm, holding the pistol out, and took a moment. The second gunman slid across the soapy floor and into view. She fired twice into his skull.
Struggling to stand up on the floor, she scanned for the third assailant.
The phone alerted her once more to the awaiting text message, which she ignored as she tried to get a bead on the last man following her.
A knife slid across Chloe’s throat, cutting a millimeter deep so there would be no confusion as to who controlled the situation.
“There’s a service entrance—for future reference,” a deep voice mumbled from behind her, his beard itching the skin behind her ear.
“Good to know,” she replied. Chloe slammed her feet onto the side of the closest washing machine and kicked back as hard as she could.
The two slid backward across the soap and tumbled apart upon hitting the ground. The cut across her neck was dripping blood down the front of her shirt and down into the soap and water. Her eyes rose to see the third man lunging at her, knife in hand.
Chloe swung open the nearest washer-door, putting it squarely into the man’s face, and shattering on impact. She smiled and grabbed for his cobalt-plated Glock.
The last man felt across his face at the numerous deep cuts sustained from the glass. His eyes rose to find Chloe pointing a gun at his chest with one hand and holding her throat with the other.
“I won’t tell you a damn thing,” he scolded with menace.
“Well, we both know I’m going to shoot you either way.” She smiled in a way that would make a thousand men seek refuge.
His tune changed. “But I have information you need.”
“But you just told me you wouldn’t give it to me. Torture is slow and the police are already on their way. Plus, you cut my throat so I’m just going to shoot you in the head, okay?”
The man’s eyebrows shot for the sky. “No! No, not okay!”
“Answer two questions, to my liking, and I’ll let you live.”
He nodded, “deal.”
“That was the first thing.”
“There’s a second thing?” the third gunman asked with exasperation.
“There’s a second thing.”
“What is it?”
The gun kept perfectly trained on his center mass as she knelt down to her would-be attacker. “You have to get these bodies out of here and disposed of where no police will ever find them.”
“They don’t have fingerprints and neither one of them has a single dental record.” He blurted, as if some kind of peace offering.
“Good to know, but you still have to do it.”
He nodded as she waited patiently for confirmation.
“Why are you trying to kill the returners?”
The man shook his head and faked a laugh. “We aren’t trying to kill the returners.”
Chloe scoffed, “I think lying at this point—”
He cut her off. “We are trying to kill you, Joan of Arc. There were, of course, two of you mucking about, but you saw to eliminating half of the problem.”
She could feel herself losing restraint and housing remarkable anger toward the man bleeding into the soapy water. “Bullshit! Why did you attack Eliot and Alex in the prison?” she yelled back, keeping an eye out for any sign of the police.
“Is that your second question?”
The man rubbed his cuts and tried to dab some of the blood away with his soaked shirt. “I would hurry then.”
A lumbered pause filled the air.
“Are you a returner?”
“Then what are you?”
The third gunman rolled onto his side, grabbed the first body, and began to drag it to the back room. “Something entirely different, ma’am. And that was three questions”
Chloe ran over to her phone and scooped it from the strange mixture of fluids swirling together on the faded tile of the Laundromat. She ran for the back door and out into the fresh Kansas air.
The phone had one missed called from Alex Heton and two text messages: also from Alex Heton.
She read them as she sped down the street.
If I am going to trust you, you will have to answer one question.
Chloe read the second text message and froze in place. Without thinking, she ran back into the Laundromat and to the second yet unmoved body.
She looked over and saw the third gunman freeze in place when he re-entered the room and saw Chloe taking a photograph of the first dead gunman. Once she had a solid and clear photo, she ran back out of the shop and into a maze of alleys.
Once there was a safe distance between Chloe and the crime scene, she pulled the phone back out and again read the second text message.
Why did you shoot the manager at the taco place?
Chloe attached the photo to a new message and typed out:
Look familiar? <3