Meet Jane. She's good at EVERYTHING.
Dandelion by Kristen Lamb
Jane’s hands shake as she nurses the bitter box merlot, served in a chipped plastic glass. She’s a good girl. This isn’t really her. Girls like her don’t come to places like these, places with low red lights ideal for hiding blood.
Stale cigarette smoke congeals the air, the stench bumming a ride on her silver-blonde hair and fine leather coat. She strokes the coat so she has something to do with her hands. The jacket is cool, the color of fresh cream. Supple. Smooth. Much like the lithe beauty at the end of the bar, next to a man who looks old enough to be her father. They’re the only other people in the place, except a bartender who’s obviously struggling through college because no one stares below the bar that much unless there’s a textbook resting on the lid of the ice machine. Jane knows the move all too well. She did the same thing while waiting tables through law school.
She checks her watch and wonders how much longer she’ll need to stay here. She’s nervous, exposed, obvious. Another sip of wine. The warmth relaxes her a bit.
Jane wonders about the couple at the bar. He’s gentle with her. Brushes the raven hair from her eyes, then speaks in low tones close to her ear. Jane has good hearing but can’t make out the conversation.
Jane is a good eavesdropper.
She strains harder to hear and finally picks up words just well enough to recognize they’re speaking Russian. Jane took just enough Russian in college to get her in trouble, but not out of it. She recognizes a handful of words.
Russia. Ruthless, pitiless part of the world. Mother Russia rears only iron children.
The woman is a mystery to Jane. Girlfriend? Mistress? Escort? There’s something familiar about her, but Jane can’t place her. The woman’s clearly had a lot of cosmetic surgery.
The woman’s face is symmetrical. Too symmetrical. Too perfect. Odd perfect. It doesn’t move right, and though the woman is stunning, she looks as if she were fashioned by an artist, not nature. The man handles her like she might easily shatter. Jane dismisses the escort idea. She sees love not lust.
Jane nurses her wine to kill the time that refuses to pass and the memories that refuse to die. She nurses her wine and nurses her pain. She wants the pain erased, but it’s all she has left. She needs it to propel her forward.
Eli was only six, now gone away to a place Jane can’t reach, and is too afraid to follow. Jane is a good girl and though she’s Presbyterian, the Catholics instilled a proper fear of hell in her by the time she was eight.
Suicide isn’t an option.
A song kicks up on the jukebox. "Broken Hallelujah." It’s already played three times in the hour she’s been here. The song makes her start thinking and thinking only causes pain and her mind drifts from its moorings to that moment the world went wrong.
Who the fuck shoots kindergarteners? she thinks.
She chastises herself for using words like fuck even though she isn’t saying it aloud, but FUCK. Who shoots a six-year-old? Who the fuck walks into a room papered with tiny handprints fashioned into Christmas trees and reindeers and empties five magazines into babies that smell of Play-Doh and cookie sprinkles?
Jane is a good girl. She always has been.
She did everything right, followed all the rules. Didn’t smoke. Never drank. Always made straight As and excelled at everything. She attended a fine Christian college, then an even better law school and married a dentist, a gentle man who loved bonsai trees and rescued spiders. Jane knew how to make curtains and change the upholstery on the couches and chairs to keep their home vibrant. She dotted the house with simmering pots that made the world smell cinnamon. She ironed her husband’s shirts for work, and laid out clean pajamas next to the shower for when he got home and wanted to wash away the smell of blood and vaporized bone.
Jane is a good wife.
She’d been so sidetracked doing everything right, in the right order that time hadn’t passed as much as it had leaked away through some unseen hole. One day she decided babies were in the plan, but her body rebelled.
Time after time, her back on the freezing, tile floor; the red glow of the nightlight hiding the blood from babies who gave up too early. She recalled lying on the floor, begging for a baby. Begging the doctors to fix this.
And they did and she had Eli, and Eli had her soft eyes and his father’s strong chin. A perfect beautiful bundle of giggles, curls, and Ninja Turtles.
Jane wasn’t satisfied being a good mom, she wanted to be the best mom and give Eli the best. She was there to kiss the boo-boos, and hold him late at night when he had bad dreams. Hold him and assure him monsters weren’t real, when all along she knew they were.
Don’t worry, Baby. Momma’s here.
She sent Eli to kindergarten, the best kindergarten with his favorite peanut butter and honey sandwich, no crust. That day she’d even used a cookie cutter to cut his sandwich into the shape of a star, because it was Christmas.
Jane was a good mom.
But, that day, in the middle of the ABCs, Darryl Gleason waltzed through the door and it began to rain.
And Jane hadn’t been there to protect him, to save her boy. She’d failed him.
That horrible day Gleason added twenty-six tiny angels to the Christmas season, only these weren’t angels fashioned with pipe cleaners and construction paper and hung on the tree. They were the kind of angels that just ripped out your guts. Eli was gone, her husband no longer spoke. All his tiny trees died. He no longer noticed the smell of blood and vaporized bone. She no longer set out clean pajamas.
Jane is a good girl, but she’s also a fixer. She fixed the leaky sink and rewired the lamp the cat repeatedly knocks over no matter how many times she moves it. This thing she will fix as well, because Jane is a good girl and she has never been above begging.
She’d begged the doctors to give her Eli, and they did, and this time, she begged God to let her have her vengeance and He listened.
And lo, an angel appeared.
On Christmas morning in the blue glow of an e-mail.
She’d been working at her laptop, shopping for headstones instead of opening Christmas presents. “Fear not. The Doctor will bring you a Dandelion.” The message included a meet time, the address of this bar and a video clip that gave her nightmares.
Nothing else. Not even how much she would pay.
Jane checks her watch. She’s never had so much as a speeding ticket, let alone done anything like this. Sure, she’d spent plenty of time around bad seeds, but always in an office that smelled of furniture polish and bullshit. Every night for ten years, evil men had crowded her dreams mocking her. There was no justice. As hard as she fought to chain the monsters, loopholes, lapses, and plea bargains always offered them the key. A way out. Another chance to unleash even greater ruin.
Just like Darryl Gleason.
Jane tears her thoughts away and wills herself to focus on the front window of the bar. Snow flurries swirl past, illuminated by the streetlights. They seem to take a playful form and dance, skipping along the top of parked cars. It makes her think of the twenty-five other children in Eli’s class. Were they still playing in the snow?
Eli always loved the snow.
She can’t think of him. Not now. She shoves her thoughts into the now, the matter at hand. How does this work? she wonders. Securing a weapon and wanting no one to know about it until it’s too late to stop you?
Gleason stole the Tokarev pistols he used that day. Stole them from his eighty-year-old grandfather who’d kept the Russian weapons after fighting Communists in Korea. Gleason used one of the war souvenirs to cave in the old man’s head then he took his vengeance on the world to Little Elm Elementary.
And erased her boy.
Sometimes Jane can still smell Eli’s curls, that sweet almond scent of baby shampoo. Jane gulps the rest of her wine to stem the thoughts that rush unbidden. A hand touches her shoulder. Jane jumps, so caught in the black undertow of her grief that she’s momentarily forgotten where she is.
It’s the Russian woman. She’s holding a bottle of fine cabernet. "Diamond Creek". Doesn’t fit in a place like this, but then again, neither does Jane.
“May I help you?” Jane asks, her voice sounding high and thin, even in her own ears.
The woman fills Jane’s empty glass and sits down across the table. “You do not remember me, do you?” Her question is simple, her accent thick like her perfume. The spicy scent is strangely familiar.
Jane struggles. Defeated she shakes her head.
“Understandable.” She shrugs. “I look - ” she lets out a long, heavy sigh, “ - different. When you last saw me, I could not speak.” A wry laugh escapes. “I could not speak for a long time.”
“I had just come from surgery. The swelling had not gone down enough for you to depose me.” She smiles revealing beautiful, perfect teeth. She taps them with a long crimson nail. “Implants.”
“Svetlana?” Jane asks unable to believe it’s true. Svetlana Daudov. Former ballerina. Rape victim. Dragged into an alley and torn to bleeding bits. The rapist plundered her body then obliterated her face.
Jane prosecuted Svetlana’s attacker. Buried the son-of-a-bitch in the shittiest hell in the state where she hoped that, with any luck, he’d be gang-raped hourly. It still hadn’t been enough. Nothing ever was. It’s why she’d resigned as DA and left the justice business for good.
Or so she’d thought.
“Thank you for helping me,” Svetlana says and now pours herself a glass of wine and lights a cigarette.
“It wasn’t enough,” Jane mumbles miserably and drains her glass. The cabernet is warm velvet with notes of chocolate. Definitely an upgrade. She gestures for one of Svetlana’s smokes.
Svetlana shrugs. “You did what you could to make him pay, but sadly, your country’s retribution is far too - ” she searches for the word, smoke leaking from full red lips that match her nails, “ - domesticated.” Her eyes are sad pools of glass. She lights Jane’s cigarette. “Which is why I am going to help you.”
Jane coughs until she chokes.
Svetlana digs in her purse and retrieves a narrow velvet box. Her voice lowers, “I am happy you came.”
“What are you talking about?” Jane asks, and her heartbeat kicks up to a canter.
Svetlana gives her a cut the bullshit stare.
Jane swallows. She says nothing. Volunteers nothing. She draws deeply on the cigarette, and tries to look casual, like she does this all the time, but Svetlana’s black eyes draw her in, and Jane’s helpless to escape their gravity.
“I saw the news. I saw what he did.” Svetlana’s words sizzle with acid. A long pregnant moment expands and just as Jane thinks she might crack from the pressure, Svetlana’s manner softens. “I kept up with you, you know.”
“I owe you. My people pay our debts.” Svetlana runs the tip of her fingers lovingly across the velvet box and her words take on an odd, distant quality. “I cannot have my revenge, but I can help you have yours.” She looks around as if to make sure they’re still alone.
“My husband is The Doctor.” She flicks her eyes to the man at the bar. “Yuri flew here from his weapons lab in Belgrade when I called. I asked him to bring me The Dandelion.” She nudges the box toward Jane.
“H-How much do I owe you?” Jane fumbles for her purse, but Svetlana stops her, and clasps Jane’s hand.
“Keep your money. A gift. From Mother Russia.” Her eyes harden. “The only proper vengeance is Mother’s vengeance.”
“Blagodaryu,” Jane thanks Svetlana, then cringes at her cold formality. It’s been too many years since she’s spoken the alien tongue. Maybe the colloquial pasib would have been better. Svetlana doesn’t seem to notice and lights another cigarette.
Jane turns to the older man at the bar. Yuri raises his glass in a toast then returns to watching a basketball game playing above the bar on a muted TV. Jane now understands why he looks so old. How could one not age a thousand years after what happened to his wife? Jane thinks of her own face this evening. A face staring back at her from the bathroom mirror, a face she doesn’t know, the hollowed shell of something once living but now gone. Sky blue eyes now perpetually overcast.
“Udaci,” Svetlana says with a wink. She uncoils from the booth, returning to her mate with little more than a small wave back at Jane.
Udaci. Good luck.
Jane stares at the velvet box as if it’s a living thing that might bite, afraid to open it.
Funny how destruction always hides behind innocence, she thinks. Daisy-cutters, Bouncing Betties, wet work. Now Dandelions. Before coming here, she’d done some research and uncovered some fringe science experimenting with weaponized Buckyballs - “Hot” Buckyballs. Give them a simple delivery system, and voila. The way the Hot Buckyball dispersed death gave it its name.
Jane slips the box inside her coat pocket, crushes out the smoke and leaves a hundred dollar tip for the struggling bartender. As she steps into the night wind, brittle with winter, she thinks of being six and picking dandelions from the neighbor’s yard, blowing the seeds, watching them light on the wind believing they brought wishes.
The poetry was not lost.
Buckyball. Strange name for such a lethal weapon. Buckyball. Sounded like something played at recess, a child’s game involving chalk, not carbon bonds with ionized gaps tooled to rip someone apart at a molecular level.
Liquefying them. No possible way to determine death.
Jane is a good girl, a good wife, and fortunately, remains close friends with one of the best prosecutors in the state. Jane was a bit legendary in her heyday, and so the current DA has reluctantly agreed to let her into the meeting to observe. Tomorrow, she will be in the same room with Darryl Gleason as the attorneys talk about his trial, but his sentence has already been handed down.
Gleason’s lawyers will use the standard Douchebag Defense Playbook, stuffed with predictable phrases like plea bargain, mentally unfit for trial and psych evaluation, but Jane knows opportunity always presents itself to those willing to wait. Jane is good at waiting. And, when the window opens…
Jane will erase him.
Darryl Gleason. Obliterated. Expunged. Annihilated. Ripped apart in the most painful way possible so he can have the tiniest taste of what he did to her when he slaughtered her boy.
She strokes the box nestled in her silken pocket and finally smiles. Don’t worry, Baby. Momma’s here.
As she drives away, plunging into darkness, she realizes, Svetlana is right. The only proper vengeance is Mother’s, and above all else, Jane is a good mother.
Jane is a good girl. A good wife. A good lawyer. Jane is good at everything.