Originally published in InterText.

She glanced down at the clock on the dash: 18.52. Still about three minutes from work, and she didn't have to be on shift until nineteen hundred. It was a big car, a rough-looking Rover about fifteen years old. The appearance was intentional though; the car was actually very carefully maintained. She refused to wash it, so the once tasteful gunmetal paint job was now closer to matte-black. The windows, all but the windscreen, were dark enough to seem opaque from the outside, and years' worth of city filth only strengthened the impression. Her friends has accused her of paranoia when she'd had the side windows on the rear replaced with steel and sprung for the armored glass elsewhere.
The headlamps added illumination to a group of kids, late teens to early twenties, shooting hoops under a street light in the middle of the block. Some trick of the lighting made for a stage-like setting, rendering the shadows on the side of the street impenetrable lakes of pure black. Reflexively, she slowed down.

Her subconscious muttered quiet nothings to her as the car started to lose speed. The group seemed to thicken before her as kids flowed in ones and twos from various shadows, quickly adding themselves to the game. In only a few seconds the group had become a mob. With a deep breath its periphery expanded, and she was among them. A tiny splash of reflected light on the roofliner caught her eye as a figure ahead of her turned, bringing a sawed off pump to bear even as she was downshifting and reaching for the accelerator. The car dipped once as someone reached for the mirror mount and landed on the passenger running board, but he rolled along the side and fell away as the beast abruptly accelerated.

The animal mind of the group took time to react: it only gradually realized that something was wrong. They tried to scramble out of the way when they heard the engine note change, but one didn't quite make it. She felt a transmitted shock as something bounced off the right fender, noting that neither the front nor rear end lifted as it would have had a tire climbed over flesh. The pump went off to her side, dimpling the finish a bit, but not crazing the window. Things like this made her figure that the custom glass had been worth it...



Three minutes later and eight blocks away, she locked her own 12-gauge pump into the rack and stowed the flak-jacket in her locker. The jacket was certainly better protection than the kevlar vest for which she exchanged it, but she needed the additional mobility afforded by the arm cuttouts. Even with metal detectors and professional security, it was a dangerous place to work. She grabbed a cup of burnt coffee, paused over the first too-hot sip as she collected her wits, and then walked out into the melee.

"Hey Josie! Enjoy the scenic commute through our fair city?" She leaned over the counter the voice had come from, taking in the sprawled-out form reclining there, feet up on the desk top, eyebrows raised cynically over a coffee mug of his own.

"Fuck off Carter, you're not funny. Just give me report and get the hell out of here."

"Okay, okay. Jeeze." He tried to look hurt, but failed. He grinned archly. "Premenstrual again? Wasn't that last week? You're gonna be beacon of pure joy tomorrow morning."

She sat down with him to take report, thinking about the last time, only a couple of weeks back. The terror and fear was still giving fuel for vicious nightmares. She could still picture the kid's face vividly as she replayed the scene, the malicious joy on his features turning to wordless astonishment as the gaping mouth of the Remington laid his chest open.

Carter was in full swing, editorializing his way through the status report when she heard the alarm tone sound over the PA. She didn't even need to listen to the words that followed. Still, they sang themselves to her, an oft-repeated mantra. She could tell which operator was working the board by the voice; this was the one who always sounded happy, carefully inflecting her words in rich, well-modulated tones. "Christ," she thought to herself, "the bitch could at least try to sound a bit bummed about it."

"Well fuck me with a chainsaw!" That was Carter. "It's been like this all day. C'mon, I'll help you get this one started. You'll be totally swamped in a couple of hours."

She smiled thanks at him, leaned back to stretch as she stole another swallow of coffee, and then got up to see what had come in. It was thirteen minutes after the shift change, so this was officially her baby.

It was all noise and confusion.

"Just shootin' hoops, man, and this big fuckin' black car-

"Respirations 32, pulse 140, pressure's 70; I'm calling him a nine the Glasgow scale-

"Bitch drivin' didn't even slow, izzee gonna make it aw man aw man -

"Aw christ, he's flailed on the right, gimme four of positive pressure on the vent and get him the hell out of here!

"Gonna kill that bitch aw man aw-

"Sir you'll have to leave, no sir, I mean now I'm sorry-

"Mastoid hematoma and orbital bruising, ten centimeter avulsed occipital lac with a depressed fracture. Someone call neuro, call CT-scan-

In the midst of it all Carter, worrying with the vent settings, glanced at her and cocked an eyebrow. "Big black car? That you, girl?"

She examined the tape on the endotracheal tube; decided it would do, and looked up at him, grimacing. She took a slow deep breath and started to speak, but stopped herself. Instead, she rolled her eyes toward some mythical deity in the ceiling. "A girl's gotta work..."