If the computer hadn’t been in the living room, Mercedes would probably spend most week nights in her bedroom alone. At the age of 14, she didn’t much mix well with her older brother Johnny anymore, and she regarded her mom as weak and stupid. She used to get along fine with her dad, but after he ran away, she decided it was as good a reason as any to hate him with a seething passion.
She saddled up to the computer, and turned it on. Immediately her mom started in with the interrogation.
“Did you do your homework?”
“Because I don’t want you falling behind in that math class anymore than you already have. “ As usual, she was reading her Reader’s Digest and her eyes scarcely moved from it as she reprimanded. “That Mrs. White seemed nice at the parent-teacher conference, and she’s really trying to help you, so don’t be disrespectful.”
“She’s not too bad for a Nazi.” Mercedes mumbled.
Her mom looked up from the Reader’s Digest, “What did you say?”
“Nothing; I was just trying to remember my password for my email.”
“Oh.” And back to reading.
Mercedes had two new messages.
Subject: Yeah and stuff…
I would like to give Mrs. Gringo the Worst Teacher Ever Award. I actually stayed awake in class today, and STILL her homework makes no sense. And textbooks are gay, you can’t learn anything from them. That is all. -Dirk
She smiled and clicked on the second message.
Subject: RE: Yeah and stuff…
I really wish M had ICQ, so we could all go online right now and trash talk about how fat Mrs. Dumb-Ho-Kracker is, maybe take bets on her weight, and then steal her license one day to know for sure.
Though her mom couldn’t see it, she was smiling deeply inside. Laughing even. She figured if she asked her mom to download ICQ, she’d be lectured about how lame white dudes in their thirties use instant messenger programs like that to lure in their unsuspecting prey. She also figured she’d get the same lecture, if she just downloaded and installed it without her consent, so she decided on that instead. At least for now, she could put off the lecture, and enjoy the comforts of communication. She typed in the name of the site, found it and started downloading it. It was going to take forever on their modem, maybe two hours. She hid the download window on the screen, and figured she’d bring up Corel Wordperfect and fumble through an essay that was due in two weeks as a cover for her little rebellion.
Someone knocked on the hollow door of their trailer.
“Get that Mercedes.”
“Mom, I’m working on an essay for school, it’s due in three days.”
Her mom sighed, folded the corner of the page and placed the Reader’s Digest on the broken coffee table. She got up, and went to the door.
Without another word, her mom came stepping back into the room. Four large men–two fat, two fit–pushed their way into their home. They were all wearing leather jackets of varying colors and styles. The largest of them was a skinhead with a burly beard, he looked like a biker for sure. He seemed to be in charge, and took quick stock of his surroundings, and then spoke first.
“Where’s your husband?”
“I don’t know, he left.”
One of the fit thugs, who sported a ponytail, slapped her across the face when he heard this response. She nearly fell to the floor from the force of the blow, but managed to catch herself on the edge of their tattered couch.
Mercedes jumped out of her chair, startled, but mostly mad.
“Stay out of it, brat.”
Johnny came running from his bedroom, but froze at the edge of the room when he saw the four men. They all looked to him, one reached into his jacket, Mercedes assumed he was gripping a pistol.
“Hey, boy!” The man in charge shouted to Johnny. “Where’s your dad?”
Johnny was rendered useless, and spoke softly. “He left.”
“What’s that, kid?”
“He ran off, about 6 months ago.”
The man in charge sat on the arm of the couch, and sighed. “This isn’t going to end well for you, if you don’t cooperate.”
Mercedes jumped in again. “Look, if its my dad you want, you can have the retard. And if I knew where he was, I’d tell you in a heartbeat. You could kill him for all I care.”
“Mercedes!” Her mom tried to defend the honor of her missing husband.
The man in charge turned to Mercedes, and glared at her. “That’s the second time you’ve spoke out of turn. You better mind your manners, or we’ll teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget.”
Johnny wanted desperately to take control of the situation somehow, but knew he was too small and greatly outnumbered, weighing in at a whopping one-hundred and fifty-six pounds. He was fit, but small, much too small for this fight. So instead he stood there, frozen, unable to help in any way and just hoped things would end well.
“Your husband owes a lot of money to some people who really know how to make people hurt. We’re just the first guys, there will be more after us, if he doesn’t pay up. So just tell us where your husband is, and we can get this over with sooner than later. And no harm done.”
Mercedes looked at her mom, she looked helpless and weak. All she had was the truth, and that got her nowhere with these thugs. But she didn’t know how to defend herself either, she was such a flake when it came to hard things. She’d stay up to all hours of the night, crying, praying for dad to come back. What she needed to do was get over it, and if he ever showed up, she needed to kick his butt out the door. You don’t walk out on a wife and two kids, and leave them with a debt that would the government blush.
She slowly cowered a response with tears building in her eyes. “I don’t know where my husband is.”
“Good night, this is stupid.” Mercedes knocked the keyboard and mouse off the desk, and launched a verbal assault and ultimatum. “Look, pal, we don’t know where the jerk is, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Go back to your daddy, with her tail wagging, and look somewhere else. He’s skipped town, and we don’t have your money, so get lost.”
The man frowned. “That was your third strike.” He rose from the couch, turned to his men and gave them orders by pointing fingers, no names were ever dropped. “You two, take the wife. You and me will take the girl.” He turned to Johnny and raised an eyebrow. “You aren’t going to give us any trouble, right?”
Johnny shook his head.
“I can’t hear you.”
“That’s better. Go back to your room.”
Johnny quickly obliged, and disappeared.
Mercedes was not going to give in without a fight, and launched her assault on the man in charge. There were no obvious weapons nearby, so she jumped him with her petite body and bit his earlobe, latching her teeth onto his earring. She jerked her head back as hard as she could, and there was little resistance from the ear as the lobe ripped away. She spit it out of her mouth; the lobe, ring, et al. He retaliated by spinning, and throwing her onto the couch. He landed on top of her, pinning her down. He wiped his ear, growling.
“This is what happens to bad girls.”
Two hours and a half hours later, she lay face down on the couch. They had finally finished. Her mom was somewhere in the room, but she didn’t know where. It was too hard enough to keep up with what was happening to her, much less with what was happening to her mom. The pain was so bad, she could barely move without inflicting sharp pains through her nerves. Her lip was busted in the lower-right corner, and she was bleeding in other places too. It was violent, and unrelenting. It was a double team, and although she fought it hard, she could prevail little. And then at halftime, they swapped players. She could hear her mom sobbing. She had sobbed most of the time. But she couldn’t cry, she was too angry. With each action, her hatred kindled more.
One of the fit ones came from the kitchen, drinking orange juice from the jug. He also had their electric hair clippers in his hand. Her mom used to cut Johnny’s hair, but after he reached about twelve or so, she couldn’t manage the time anymore and let him go to the barber. It had been sitting under the kitchen sink for the past four years, unused.
“Hey, guys, pin the girl down.” He said.
Two of them pinned her down on the couch, and the man in charge watched. The man with the clippers grabbed her long, thick, wavy head of hair. It was dark brown, and one of the few things about herself for which she had pride. God had blessed her with a nice head of hair, and she kept it well, despite the rags that she wore on her body. He made her look into his face, and he was so close that when he spoke he spit on her with certain words.
“Here’s a little something to remind you to be a good girl next time.”
She memorized his face.
He shoved her face into the cushion of the couch, plugged the clippers in and started to buzz her head. She fought it as best she could, but with the other two pinning her down, she could only manage to move her head around a bit, but he had a tight grip on her head with one hand as he took the clippers over her head.
It took about thirty seconds.
They left after this final act, and left them with a warning. They wanted Jim, and they needed to quit covering for him.
Johnny came out of his bedroom, and helped their mom up from the floor. He sat in her in the computer chair.
“I need to go to the hospital.” She told him.
Mercedes got up, and started to head to her bedroom.
“Mercedes, we need to go to the hospital. Your brother’s gonna drive us.”
With the last of her energy, she spun on her heels to face them. “I don’t need some stupid doctor poking around on me, just so he can tell me I was raped. I know I was raped!” And then she slammed her door, and fell on her bed, and passed out.
Standing in front of the mirror, she examined her new hairdo. The majority of her head was trimmed down to about one-quarter inch of hair, but then there were patches of hair that were in various lengths. It looked like her hair had fallen out. She could barely recognize herself. She hadn’t cried during the duration of the violence, but standing in front of the mirror and seeing herself, she cried.
She was surprised to see that Johnny and her mom hadn’t returned from the hospital yet. She was so weak, and stupid. She picked up the clippers, unplugged them from the wall, and called Vega to invite herself over. She rummaged through her mom’s closet, and found one of her dad’s fedoras he’d left behind when he left in a hurry. She put it on, and tucked the longer strands of hair up into it. It was gray, and looked out of place against her army jacket.
She contemplated riding her bike to Vega’s house, but opted against it as it sounded to painful. So she walked the six miles instead. The six miles took her from the rundown trailer park where they lived, through the middle-class neighbor hoods, and eventually into Forrest Valley.
Forrest Valley was a rich neighborhood, where only doctors, lawyers, business tycoons, and other wealthy types could afford to live. Vega’s mom was a surgeon, and her dad was a prosecuting attorney. A far cry different from Vega herself, who refused to conform to her parents’ lifestyle. She shopped at the Salvation Army, Goodwill, second-hand shops, and yard sales. She would buy the most absurd clothes, mostly outdated, and then mix-match the varying styles. And then there was her hair, which she kept shoulder-length and the color of it changed on a bi-weekly basis.
Mercedes also made it a habit of buying second-hand, but not by choice. Her mom couldn’t afford anything more on her nurse paychecks she got from the Emergency Room at Babylon Regal Hospital, and Mercedes was left trying to stay within the meager budget. She mostly wore dark outfits; black jeans and skirts, few browns, grays, plain white Tees and the occasional army camouflage. Her normal attire looked mostly masculine, an outward indication to the chip on her shoulder. She wanted the boys to know that she could stand her ground.
And she had stood her ground, though it had backfired miserably.
She was frustrated how things had turned from bad to worse in a split-second. She knew she had it within herself to take the four thugs, she just needed to reshuffle the deck. The situation was stacked against her, but if there would ever be a next time, she’d be ready. And they had promised a next time, if the debts her father owed weren’t paid. And that wasn’t going to happen, so it was a given that a next time would come.
“What did you do to your hair?” These were the first words out of Vega’s mouth, as she stood in the doorway to their home.
“Shove it.” Mercedes pushed her way through the door, and entered the home. “Come to the garage, I need you to finish the job.”
She weaved herself in and out of the maze of hallways, making a path to the four-car garage. Vega followed her at a distance. She stepped down into the garage, grabbed the wooden work stool, and sat on it in a vacant space for a car. Vega was looking down at her from the door. She took the fedora off, and tossed it at the work bench, it landed on the floor.
“Come on, Vega, let’s get this over with.” She held the clippers out to her.
Vega stepped into the garage, joined her friend, and took the clippers. “You’re weird, you know that?”
“I’ll explain later, just get it over with.”
Vega plugged the clippers into an outlet on a nearby pillar, and then turned to Mercedes and began to buzz off the rest of her hair. No words were exchanged, but Vega knew something was really wrong. When she moved to the front, and met her face-to-face, she noticed the busted lips and bruised cheeks. She could also see it wasn’t the cuts and bruises that hurt. What really hurt was what she was finishing. She figured this one act was the closest she would ever come to hearing the words trust, love and respect from her friend’s lips. And for that she took what she was doing very seriously.
All these thoughts, and the silence, were interrupted by the sound of jingling keys.
“Vega, what have you done?” Her mom was standing in the doorway, looking in on the sight.
“Can it, mom.”
She turned her attention from her daughter to Mercedes. “Hun, your hair was so beautiful; why did you let her do that?”
“Bite me.” Mercedes growled.
Vega’s mom sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to work, tell your dad I’ll be running late tonight.”
And then she went to her hunter green BMW, pulled out of the garage, closing the garage door remotely as she drove up the street.
After a quick shower, Mercedes told the story over a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
In Vega’s room, Mercedes sprawled out across her queen-size water-bed. It felt good against the bruises and cuts, the sore muscles. The pain. Vega sat in an old, wooden chair she’d spray pained black, and she looked worryingly upon her friend, but she didn’t prod, she waited. Mercedes finally sighed, and opened up. She told her the whole event, in as little detail as she could, there are some things that should always private, she thought. Reliving the previous night just irritated her more, and strengthened her growing resentment for Johnny who had done nothing. She didn’t imagine she would be satisfied until the four thugs were out of her life altogether. And they would be back, or some of their friends at least. During the whole story, Vega sat with a shocked and disgusted look on her face, saying nothing, remaining silent. After it was over, they both sat quietly.
“You need Bronson.” Vega broke the silence, and jumped from her Gothic throne.
“Charles Bronson.” She rummaged through her clothes in her dresser, and pulled out five DVDs. She quickly deposited four of them on the top of the dresser, then opened one and put the disc into the DVD player. She had a large box of a TV on her dresser, with a small DVD player next to it. She grabbed the two remotes, one for the TV and the other for the player, and sat back in her black chair. “Death Wish is the mother of all movie franchises. And you, M, need Charles Bronson’s Death Wish.”
“There’s no whatever about it, you uncultured swine. This is therapy. You sit there and just focus on feeling better, and take in Charles ‘The Architect of Revenge’ Bronson.”
“Do you have them on tape? I could just borrow them.”
“You don’t loan out Charles Bronson, you give Charles Bronson.”
Mercedes rolled her eyes, not sure of what nonsense she was getting into.
When a scene of gang rape began to play out in the beginning of the movie, Mercedes turned away. “What is this? I don’t wanna see this! Been there, done that! Turn it off!”
“Shut up. Just get through it.”
“Idiot.” Mercedes mumbled.
“You’ll thank me later, M.”
As the movie progressed, she watched as The Architect’s housekeeper was brutally raped, and then his daughter was taken, while he was left to bleed on the floor. With no surprise, the daughter also got raped, but then surprisingly she tried to make a getaway, only ending up hanging over a fence dead. It was all very ridiculous and irritating, but then The Architect, Mr. Charles Bronson, began to design his plans for revenge. Slowly over the course of the film, he tracked down all the gang members responsible, and dealt them a hand. He even helped a few strangers along the way, strangers who were in similar circumstances to his own. By the end, Mercedes and Vega were screaming at the TV, rooting, cheering, pushing The Architect further and further. Charles Bronson would get his.
And he did.
They went through all five of the Death Wish movies, and at one point Mercedes remarked that The Architect had the worst luck of all time. But no matter, he always served justice piping hot.
After they had finished, it was around midnight, and Vega’s parents still had not returned home. Vega turned the TV off, and looked at Mercedes who was feeling much better now, “Best movies ever,” Vega said.
“Hands down. Do you need more painkillers, M?”
“No. Not after that.” Mercedes eyes darkened to black, she was somewhere else, someone else. “I’m gonna get those queers.”
She hadn’t planned to stay the night at Vega’s house, but by the time the Charles Bronson marathon was over, her mind was made up for her. She called home, and left a message on the answering machine.
“I’m staying at Vega’s house. Later.”
“Touching.” Vega remarked, grabbing a beer from the refrigerator. “Want one?”
“No.” Mercedes was elsewhere again.
“What do you mean what?”
“I mean, that’s like the fiftieth time your eyes have glazed over. What’s that perverse mind of yours thinking?”
Mercedes smiled, snatched the beer from Vega and took a quick gulp. “How hard do you think it would be to make a gun?”
“Piece of cake. Come on.”
At the computer in her dad’s office, she booted up the computer and the Windows 98 logo flashed at them.
“I wish we had 98, we’re still on Windows 95, and a 56k modem.”
“Yep. Sucks to be you, M… all around.”
Mercedes gave her a quick jab to the shoulder. They both laughed.
“What are we doing on the computer?”
“Google, M, it has everything… like how to make a gun.”
It had taken them two weeks to make a pistol from scratch. They needed parts, and some of these parts they had to buy with borrowed money from Vega’s mom. And then the assembly was almost as irritating as finding all the necessary parts. But their efforts had paid off, and despite that they had kept Dirk out of these activities, they had called him over for the test fire.
“So why did we make a gun?” Was the first question out of his mouth.
“M can explain later.”
They had walked three blocks from Vega’s house, crossed through some woods and into an open field that had not been developed yet. Though there were fierce battles at City Council meetings over this small patch of dirt, but our heroes knew nothing about this nonsense. Mercedes was loading a bullet into the makeshift chamber, and held the pistol out in front of her. It was crude looking, and some of the metal parts were rusted. It was ready to fire. She grasped it with both hands.
Dirk was standing on her left shoulder, and spoke out loud something he intended to think to himself. “Couldn’t this backfire, and like take off an arm?”
“DIRK.” Vega reprimanded him from Mercedes right shoulder.
Mercedes took aim at nothing, and was breathing heavy. This was the moment. She heard movement to her left, and looked to see that Dirk had taken a few precautionary steps back. He half smirked. She rolled her eyes, and started to refocus her eyes to the end of the barrel, and then heard movement on her right. She turned and saw Vega was standing farther away than Dirk. She tilted her head, and smirked.
Mercedes put those eyes at the end of the barrel again, her palms sweating. If this works, the first step on the road to justice was taken. If not, they go back to their instructions and wonder what happened. And worse case scenario, she bleeds out as Dirk and Vega rush her back to the house.
Her finger gripped the little trigger, pulling it back slowly.
Lowered her hands.
“I hadn’t thought of that.” She said.
It was back to the drawing board. She wasn’t ready to lose a limb, or part of one either.