Azure hated dying, but there were benefits to getting a new body. She counted ten toes, spread evenly between two feet, and ten fingers she could wiggle. Good. Her new body was off to a promising start. Her eyes were still closed so she didn’t know if she could see yet, but she liked to save that for last. Seeing her next job before she did her thing never got old. She took a deep breath, and nearly choked on the scent of fabric softener mixed with fried oil. The smell brought back buried memories, but she didn’t have time to dwell on those. She had a job to get done. Her hearing worked okay, except for a buzzing in both ears or was someone talking to her?
“I tried to save you, Mary Beth, but you wouldn’t listen.”
A calloused hand roughly stroked her cheek. Her eyes flew open and she pushed the hand away.
“Please refrain from touching me until I’m finished.” Her reflexes were slower than she liked. She’d have to work on that. A surprised man stood in front of her then smiled at her. He’d have a good smile if his teeth were just a little bit straighter. His black eyes searched hers, but she didn’t know what he was looking for.
“I always liked your strength even when it became a problem.” He reached for her again then stopped. “Why’d you do it? I’d have given you the world and more if you’d just asked.” A few stray locks of his jet black hair fell over his tanned forehead. “We could have made the Helio Cartel indestructible.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. So can you be quiet for a moment until I’m ready to process all of this.” He smiled at her like she was a small child. She didn’t care about some cartel or anything else. She was trying to get her body to stop shaking involuntarily, almost like it was . . . afraid. But that was ridiculous. There was no way this body had feelings, it was in her contract. Plus, they were in a deserted lot. What could possibly happen to her there?
His hand cupped her cheek as he whispered, “I loved you, despite your loco ways.”
He just called her crazy. Oh, when she had complete control of her body he would be the first to die. He brushed his lips against her cheek. “I’m sorry it had to end this way.”
She wanted to scrub her cheek, but at the use of the past tense, fear gripped her and her knees wanted to give out. This was not good. They’d given her a broken body. It had feelings and weak ones at that.
The guy stepped away to reveal two other men. One looked bruised, but as he stepped closer she saw that his whole head was covered in blue and black tattoos. He wore an Hecho en Mexico t-shirt. The other, clad in a white wife beater and khaki pants, stayed back. “Juan” was tattooed in large letters across his bicep.
“Be gentle with her amigos.” Azure watched as the man who said he loved her stepped into a white Mercedes that idled next to a black Escalade. There was a closed restaurant off to the side that looked familiar. It didn’t matter though she had more important things to think about. She turned back to Juan and his smurf-like friend. Did they think they could rape her? Just because she’d been given damaged goods didn’t mean she couldn’t still do her job.
Tattoo boy pushed her. She stumbled forward as he gripped her arm and escorted her behind the restaurant. The cars and road disappeared from view. He threw her up against a mangled chain link fence that had several large holes in the chain. Cattails and tall grass brushed against her ankles and thighs as she stared at a swift moving canal. She turned in time to see Juan put his hand behind his back and pull out a gun. He pointed it at her like he was getting ready for target practice.
Her hands shook even though she tried to stop them. A tear had the nerve to escape her eye and she bit down hard on her tongue so it wouldn’t plead for help. Why wasn’t her body working? She snapped her fingers, but nothing happened. Where was her all super powers? Juan pulled the trigger. His hand flipped back from the recoil. Azure watched as sparks flew from the barrel. Fire exploded in her brain as the bullet broke through her skull and lodged in her soft tissue.
Her body went limp. Tattoo boy, or at least she assumed it was him, pushed her in the direction he wanted her body to go. She felt the wires from the fence scrape against her arms. A small splash sounded as water seep in around her head and chest. She really hated dying. Sure it was a way to pay her bills, but coming back always took so much out of her.
Strength returned her body and she opened her eyes. Her lungs burned for air. Dirty water poured from her nose and mouth as she lifted her head inches from the water. Oxygen filled her lungs. She forced her body to stay rigid and hoped they hadn’t seen her. The grass blocked her view of the lot and she hoped that they were blind too. Juan and the other guy spoke in rapid Spanish, something about getting a shovel as they walked away. Car doors creaked opened then slammed. The crunching of gravel faded as a car pulled out, followed by an eerie silence.
They were gone. She coughed and rolled over. Sunlight flooded through the blades of grass, and she raised her hand to shade her eyes. The setting sun beat down on her. Azure wiped her face with her hands and dried them on the scraps of material that used to be a sundress. They owed her a new outfit. It was the least they could do.
She stood and wove her way through the grass and cattails. Anger, an emotion she knew and could use, filled her. Her head felt like it had been used as a battering ram. So on top of giving her a body that had feelings, it could also feel pain. Her boss really sucked. This wasn’t right. She touched her forehead where it throbbed in time with her pulse. As her finger rubbed her brow, one finger slid into a hole in her skull. Azure pulled her finger free and saw crimson.
Somehow she was going to heal her head. There was so no way she was going to work with a bloody hole in her forehead. She turned and headed for the back of the restaurant. The sound of car made her stop. A border patrol truck passed by on a small access road near the canal. Beyond that situated on the side of a dead hill, Azure saw stucco and cinder block shacks. Some were bigger houses painted bright pastel colors.
No way! Azure looked around. Behind her was the restaurant and road. And she would bet her next pay check that if she looked over the raised highway she’d see UTEP. This was some kind of sick joke. Why on earth would she end up back in El Paso? She hated Texas.
She moved up to a dirty window to see her reflection. She could tell this body had seen better days. Mascara created a raccoon mask around blue eyes that stared back at her. She couldn’t tell if her hair was supposed to be brown with blonde streaks or blonde with brown because of all the mud caked in it. The oval face had full lips and a bloody slash down one cheek. A dark bruise formed under the chin. What a horrible body to give her.
She tried to control the pain. This had to end now. The hole burned as she focused on the bullet in her head. Power buried deep in her rose up. Azure glanced back at her reflection in the window and watched as small pieces of metal emerged from the gap in her head and fell to the ground. She crouched to pick them up and then turned back to her reflection. The hole filled in first with something white, then red and blue. It was pretty cool to watch, but her stomach disagreed and then her body felt heavy and tired.
The hole was gone, replaced by perfect skin. She rubbed her cheek and an overwhelming fatigue washed over it. Azure hated this body. It was doing everything wrong. She had to get this job done with or without her body’s cooperation.
Juan came around the side of the restaurant carrying a shovel. Azure flattened herself against the wall and watched. How could she be so stupid? He whistled as he made his way to the fence. Tattoo boy joined him. Azure laughed quietly while she watched them search the thicket for her. She stepped out of the shadows. Why not let them redeem themselves by helping her. Juan saw her first. He dropped the shovel and said, “Aye Dios!” His hand made a cross over his chest. Tattoo boy turned, his mouth falling open.
They looked at each other pure terror reflected in their dark eyes and then looked back at her.
“Tú la matase,” said Tattoo boy. He pointed at Juan. “Le disearaste a la cabeza.”
Azure smiled. “Oh don’t worry. He really did shoot me.” She tried to look strong even though her body was weak, and now it even had the nerve to feel terrified. “I think it healed quite nicely. Don’t you.” She touched her forehead. They looked at her and backed up.
“We have to take her,” Juan said, “Julian and Ramón won’t believe us.”
“What are you loco? Just shoot her again.” Tattoo boy reached for something behind him. Juan stopped him. “No. Get her and let’s go.” He glanced at the border patrol truck that was making its way towards them.
Tattoo boy shrugged and came towards her. “No me toques!” Azure said, remembering the Spanish she’d learned as a survival tactic when she lived here. He backed up. Juan picked up the shovel and swung it at her.
She moved, but not fast enough. The shovel blade caught her arm, and she felt the rusted metal cut into her skin. Pain registered in her brain, and she mentally kicked herself. She should be able to block that. This teenage body was too slow.
“You’re going to pay for that,” she said.
Juan swung the shovel again, but this time she caught it. They played tug of war for a moment then she shoved the handle into his stomach. He let go and fell to the ground, groaning.
“Getting hit with a shovel hurts,” she said as she stood over him and smacked him with the handle. She turned her icy glare to the other guy. He stepped back with his hands up.
“Look just in the car Weda.” Tattoo boy gestured towards the vacant lot.
She stared into the black pits of his eyes. Her body wanted to look away, but she wouldn’t let it.
“I think I’ll pass. My mother taught me to never get in a car with a stranger.” Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard a voice asking if she was insane. Azure ignored it and turned. If they weren’t going to help her then she’d find someone else who would.
Something made a swooshing sound by her ear. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the shovel, but it was too late. Everything went black as the shovel connected with her head. Her body fell to the ground. Fear seized her, and it sucked. She was completely aware of everything going on around her, but had no control over any of it. And to top it all off, her head hurt. Again.
Someone with rough hands picked her up and threw her into the car like she was a bag of manure. Her shoulder and hip hit hard on the floor, and the worst part was she couldn’t groan or rub them to make them feel better.
“Looks like you don’t have a choice, Guerra.” She was pretty sure Juan said this as he closed the door.