Writer's note: I've been swamped with work and normal day-to-day chores, obligations, and an occasional social function, so here's what I've been writing since Thursday through today. I'm on target provided I write another 2,000 words on Sunday morning. I wrote 2,700 words tonight to make up for leaner word counts yesterday and Thursday. Go, NaNoWriMo team!
If ever two sisters were different, Sadie and Mona Swicegood were. While the two young women looked like sisters – young, slimmer Sadie and three-year-older, plumper Mona shared the same blue-green saucer-shaped eyes, thick auburn hair, olive skin, heart-shaped faces, and height – their personalities were far, far removed from the other’s. Mona deliberated over every decision, from where she went to culinary school after leaving the law firm to whether she should cover the creeping gray hairs in her bangs with a semi-permanent or permanent hair dye at her favorite salon. Sadie jumped in with both feet and arms out-stretched in either victory or unadulterated joy – travel to Costa Rica to learn Spanish? – sure! Hike the Inca Trail? When’s the next flight to Peru?
In many ways Sadie was the right brain of the duo and Mona was the logical left hemisphere. Their corpus collosum - to stretch the metaphor a bit farther – was their friendship, but even that was strained from time to time when Mona’s loyalty, methodicalness were tested by Sadie’s impromptu, sometimes reckless adventures.
Despite all of this, Mona knew that Sadie was the one person she needed to see after almost being strangled to death by a rancid-smelling lunatic. Sadie was Mona’s only family in Austin. Their parents live back in the Midwest on the family farm raising veggies for personal use and grass-fed cattle for extra money to supplement their 9-to-5s. The elder Swicegoods were far removed from Texas bakeries and wanderlust trips to South and Central America. How Mona and Sadie ended up in the same place was actually a miracle.
This much Mona did know: Whatever that guy was, he wasn’t human. What bothered her, though, was if she had killed him, why he was still moving despite having his cheek pinned the bakery floor and sporting a stab wound from a pretty big knife in his back, if the police would get to the bakery in time to prevent the part-time bakers from being the next victims, or if the law enforcement’s bullets would even stop the man’s terrifying strength.
Just that thought made Mona look at her cell phone’s time. Five-thirty a.m. Still enough time to call the bakers, which Mona did. She let them know a sugar-coated yet serious version of the morning’s events: The bakery has been broken into while Mona was there, she had fought the intruder, and the person hasn’t been caught; don’t come in.
Mona pulled into Sadie’s driveway in the French Place neighborhood and put her truck in park and turned off the engine. She put her head down on the steering wheel for a minute and breathed deeply. “What a crazy morning,” Mona said to herself, not that saying it out loud made the strangeness any less vivid or present.
The sun was beginning to rise in the east – the peachy-pink light was intent on banishing the inky blue, purple-black darkness. Mona thought she’d never be so happy to see such a sight again. She took a deep breath and stretched – careful to look behind her and to the sides just to make sure that no one (or thing) was following her. The coast was clear.
The door to Sadie Swicegood’s bungalow was gorgeous – a true tile mosaic that rivaled Marc Chagall’s works of art. Shimmery, iridescent tiles paired with broken thrift-store plates, pieces of mirror, old clay pots, and colored glass were arranged in a swirl of color and texture. The old-fashioned lion’s head knocker was spray painted a metallic jade green and made a clinking, musical noise on the colorful door.
No one answered. Mona figured as much. She knocked again. No response. She picked up her cell phone and called Sadie: “You know the drill,” Sadie’s recorded voice intoned. “Leave me a message, bitches.” Mona didn’t leave anything. She had the spare key to Sadie’s house, so she let herself in. She just couldn’t stand going to an empty house right now. Plus, her throat hurt something fierce. She wanted to know what her badass, nothing-grosses-me-out nurse sister would say: to be or not to be in an ER waiting room?
As soon as Mona crossed the threshold she heard a gasping, groaning sound coming from her sister’s bedroom. The lights were off in the house spare the brown-and-yellow owl night light that shone warmly in the bathroom, a little caricature of cartoon wisdom.
“Sadie!” Mona shouted. “Are you okay?”
“No, no, no,” was Sadie’s breathless response. “Oh, yes, yes, yes!”
“Well, which is it?”
“Oh my god, YES!”
“Sadie? Are you alone?”
No answer, but the rocking of a bed and the sound of well-worn springs became louder. The answer was no, Mona gathered. So, instead of barging in with her post-traumatic news, Mona sat down on the couch and flipped on the television. Chances were that Sadie’s cowboy boyfriend Frank was simply saying good morning in a friendly cowboy way that Sadie adored.
Of course, the Food NetworkGarten. Home cook and restaurateur of the popped collar and the glossy black-brown bangs. Ina was plump, well-spoken, a former D.C. bureaucrat who chucked it all for a foodie-fantasty-come-true – to open the Barefoot Contessa, be best buds with the rich and famous, and make the best pecan shortbread and lobster pot pie this side of the Atlantic. Ina was unflappable and when life got her down she didn’t just make lemonade, she spiked the pitcher with St. Germaine and champagne and made something delectable and most likely calling for several pounds of world’s best butter.
Beyond the fact that Ina was Mona’s culinary muse, Ina seemed like someone who inherently understood that life was short; therefore entertaining should come first in one’s home and that excellent ingredients prepared with simple, straightforward culinary procedure would garner the greatest good for both the hostess and her guests. She was the Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill of the kitchen – she understood that one couldn’t slave behind a stove forever and not be expected to mingle and enjoy one’s company with a lively, stiff drink in hand. To Mona, Ina represented all that was right with the Food Network – grace, charm, humor, hospitality, and pragmatism. No spiked platinum blond hair and drive-ins and dives, no “almost homemade” schlepping, or cook-off competitions with that philandering host who had somehow managed to get banned from Las Vegas casinos for getting too handsy with the cocktail waitresses.
Ina was the real deal: unflappable, regal, and yet down-to-earth and approachable. Like the older, more responsible sister of Martha Stewart.
Mona had never been to the Hamptons, but she felt that if she ever did, she would feel at home because of Ina and her cooking show.
This morning’s cooking show covered two topics Mona thought Ina would never have covered: sweet breads, the misleadingly innocent and saccharine name for the thymus and pancreas of calf, lamb, and pig, and headcheese, a meat jelly made from the head of a calf or a pig. Mona had tried sweetbreads and headcheese only once at the Publican in Chicago. While salty, meaty, and generally tasty, the after-effects of this fried fatty offal and jellied tongue, feet, and heart were the culinary equivalent of an internal digestive bomb. Mona swore after several trips to the bathroom and an aching, fussy stomach that she would never be too cool to just say no to the foodie rage that had swept up all peasant food and re-claimed it as its own. Of course, Mona knew she was a pampered American eater – what other country typically, predominantly focuses its butcher’s knife on center-cuts of bacon or free-range, organic bison rib eye. Mona knew Americans were very spoiled and wasteful – she was as well – but she drew the line at sweetbreads and headcheese. Missouri frog gigged and fried by her father, sure. Blood sausage with potatoes and spices in sheep-intestine casings on the Navajo reservation of her friend Naomi, definitely. Poor man’s caviar – crappie eggs – prepared by her octogenarian granddad Bob Dee, wouldn’t miss it for the world. Those things were familiar, familial and comforting – but Mona couldn’t get behind the offal-face meat brigade. She found it pretentious and unappetizing.
“Why, Ina?” Mona moaned at the television. “Why you, too?”
Just as Ina was about to flash fry the thymus of some poor little lamb, Sadie’s door burst open with Sadie eyeing her older, stick-in-the-mud sister with a cock-eyed, black-lined eye. Sadie had the mussed-up, sexy look down – her auburn hair’s pixie flitted in every direction and her blue-green saucer eyes looked vibrant and verdant – they matched the jade green short silk robe she wore with fluffy feathery purple slippers. While Mona was an hourglass figure and then some, Sadie was still coltish and leggy in her early 30s. This was as girly as Sadie would look all day. Her de rigueur outfit was black like Johnny Cash and Sadie’s theme song may have well been Johnny’s “Cocaine Blues” or “Folsom Prison Blues.” Not that Sadie partook in nose-candy and prison time, but she liked others to think so.
“Hey, good lookin’! Whatcha got cookin’? Frank and I weren’t expecting you.”
“That’s his name?” Mona asked. “Where’d you meet him?”
“Seriously, sis. Lighten up,” Sadie said. “We met a few weeks ago at The Highball. He’s sweet, smart, and, well, you heard the rest this morning…”
Mona rolled her eyes and then grinned. What she loved most about her sister was her devil-may-care attitude: Sadie did what she wanted and to hell with the rest of the naysayers or judges. There were several times a week where Mona would ask herself, “What would Sadie do?” While Sadie had no idea how much Mona respected her younger sister’s resolve and grit, Mona also had no clue how much Sadie looked up to her or how much Sadie thought Mona knew more than Mona would ever – EVER – take credit for.
“Listen. Can I stay with you for a little while? I just had a really weird experience at the bakery and I think I’m going to close shop for a little while until I can improve the security at The Buttery Biscuit. I’m thinking of hiring a rent-a-cop too. That’s how freaked out I am.”
“Of course, you can stay here, babe,” Sadie said, stroking Mona’s head and using her other hand to fish out a cigarette from the pocket of her robe. “What the hell happened for you to be this spooked?”
“I don’t know, sis. Well, I guess I do. There was a man who broke into the bakery this morning and he started to choke me…” Mona’s eyes welled up and her voice shook, but she waved Sadie away from hugging her. That would be the pits, Mona knew. As soon as someone hugged her when she was on edge, she totally lost it and wept. Mona wanted to be tougher this morning than she had in the past. Sadie expected Mona to be a bit of a crybaby; in fact, Sadie would later say Mona’s humanity was one thing that would eventually get them through the impending mess.
Mona continued, “So, as he was choking me he lifted me off the ground.”
Sadie swallowed. Mona was not a featherweight. Whoever had broken into the bakery had to have been incredibly strong to lift Mona completely off the ground. Sadie, who was rarely scared by anyone or anything, felt a cold hollow place radiate in the pit of her stomach.
“How did you get away? Please tell me you did some damage? See? I told you those capoiera classes would be helpful!”
“They were,” Mona said softly. “I’m not sure I’d be telling you this story right now had I not remembered that the chef’s knife was a couple inches away from my left hand.”
“So you stabbed the bastard? Good for you, sis! What a creep.”
Sadie pause for a moment, a thought had just materialized – “Did you kill him, kill him?”
“I don’t think so,” Mona said. “Though when I left the bakery his cheek was pinned to the hard wood floor. He was still squirming towards me though, Sadie. I have never – I mean never – seen anyone take a chef’s knife to the back and then a chair leg to the face and still have the resolve to keep coming. Granted, this is the first fight I’ve ever been in minus the time you pushed me over the dishwasher when we were 11 and 8 respectively.”
“Um, you totally sprayed me with the kitchen-sink attachment, lest you forget,” Sadie said smiling. She wanted to get Mona away from what had just transpired at the bakery, if only for a moment. It was a relief to see her overly worried, already cautious sister in this much of a panic.
“Honey,” Frank called from the bedroom. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, baby,” Sadie called back. “Just talking with my sister.”
“Are you two hungry?” Frank asked, standing in the doorway of Sadie’s bedroom. Billy was the proverbial cool, tall glass of water that Sadie (and Mona, for that matter… really any hot-blooded straight woman, to be honest) would fall for. His tousled black hair, light-caramel-colored skin, and piercing black-brown eyes were definitely intoxicating. Couple those looks with a cowboy swagger, Mona thought, and she could see why Sadie didn’t think twice about hooking up.
“I am!” Sadie answered. Mona shrugged her soldiers, and then said yes. She had worked up an appetite fighting off the French man, she realized.
“I’m buying if you two can get ready in the next 5 minutes,” Frank said with a sheepish smile.
“I like him,” Mona said to Sadie in front of Frank. She winked at her sister; Frank blushed. And in five minutes flat they were headed to a hole-in-the-wall diner that made the best rolled omelets and crepes Suzette in town.
After breakfast, Mona, Sadie, and Frank dropped by the bakery to see what the police had found.
“Holy crap!” Mona screamed. “The doors are wide open. Where are the cop cars? What the….”
“Whoa,” Sadie said, holding her sister back. “Have you called the cops to find out what happened?”
“No.” Mona yanked her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911 and asked for the non-emergency Austin Police Department.
“No.” Mona yanked her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911 and asked for the non-emergency Austin Police Department.
“Yes, m’am. I was calling about what happened after the respondents arrived at 217 South First Street.”
“Uh huh,” Mona said, her eyebrows knitted together and she looked down at her left arm where the knife tip had grazed her.
“Are you sure that’s right?”
“More officers are on the way?”
At that, Mona’s Chevy started to rock and heave. All three passengers turned around to see Mona’s attacker lifting the truck bed up and down.
“Uh, sis,” Sadie said quietly and with reserve. “I think Pierre, or whatever the hell his name is, is still pissed. What did the police say?”
“They dispatched someone here two and a half hours ago and neither officer would answer their radios. She’s dispatched two more patrol cars and said they should be here in 5-10 minutes.”
“Let’s hope it’s closer to 5,” Frank said as he reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a .44 Magnum.
Wordlessly, Frank opened the truck’s passenger side door, pivoted, and yelled toward the man: “What’s your problem?” Sadie quickly locked the door after Frank; she cared for him, but she didn’t want someone with super-human strength coming in after her, even if the man could tear the door off the truck. “Pierre” rushed at Frank with the initial speed the man had shown when he had charged Mona in the morning – rabbit quick and stealthy.
“Stop!” Frank yelled.
“I don’t think he speaks English,” Mona mumbled.
“Pierre” jumped on Billy seconds after Frank pulled the trigger and shot the “man’s” abdomen.
“I’ll give him this,” Sadie said, “Frank’s also a good shot.”
True to .44 Magnum form, the bullet’s entrance wound had obliterated the man’s mid-section, but the creature was still moving and in slow-motion the sisters watched as “Pierre” bit Frank’s neck.
“What the fuck, man?” Frank screamed.
Pierre was mute. His mouth was full of Frank’s neck.
Frank’s next movement was a blur, but what Sadie would later say was that Frank cold-cocked Pierre with the butt of his gun and then kicked Pierre to the ground. Pierre still moved toward Frank though, belly-crawling toward Frank’s Black Jack Rattlesnake cowboy boots.
“Don’t mess with the boots, man,” Frank yelled as one hand staunched the bite, which was streaming blood somewhat steadily. He kicked Pierre’s hands off of his boots, but Pierre’s grip was fierce. Frank took his other foot and smashed it down on the man’s hands.
Police sirens wailed in the near distance.
“Thank god,” Mona mumbled.
Sadie rolled down the window and yelled, “Get out of the way, Frank.”
With that, Mona threw the truck in reverse and rolled over the Pierre’s head. The sound of tire going over skull gave way to a sickening popping sound.
“That should do it,” Mona said quietly.
“Dude,” Sadie said, “you totally just killed that guy.”
“What alternative did we have?” Mona asked, looking directly into her sister’s eyes. “He almost killed me, he probably killed those poor responding police officers – I don’t know how many other customers he may have taken a bite of – and he just bit your boyfriend on the neck despite Pierre’s midsection being obliterated by the gun that Dirty Harry made famous.”
The truck door swung open. Frank stood there for a second and then fainted. Sadie jumped out to get him as Mona swung open her door and approached the police cruisers.
“Put your hands up!” the four police officers screamed in unison as they jumped out of two police cars. Mona did as she was told as they forced her to the ground and cuffed her. They didn’t know what they were dealing with, she thought. Neither did she. But she sure hoped they’d put her in the back of the squad care all the same while they investigated the scene and where their brothers in blue might be. While Mona was pretty sure Pierre was a goner, she didn’t want to take her chances, now especially since she was in cuffs.
“Antonio,” one officer said to another shorter, sparkplug of a man. “Radio an ambulance to get here ASAP. One person’s down over there.”
Mona pressed her head to the window of the sedan and turned her neck so she could survey the scene. In all of her dreams of opening the Buttery Biscuit, seeing her bakery criss-crossed with police tape, a dead body underneath her truck tire, and her sister attending the gnarly bite-wound on her newest lover’s neck did not figure into Mona’s imagination or reality. And yet here the scene was, live and in Technicolor.
After the police officers took Mona and Sadie down to the station and Frank was whisked away via ambulance to Saint David South Austin Hospital, they asked their questions and determined that the carnage they had seen at the bakery was in line with the Swicegood sisters’ story.
“Please remain in town for additional questioning,” Antonio told Mona. “We’re going to do an autopsy of the officers’ bodies and the French man’s. We may have more questions once the autopsy reports come in.”
“Sure thing,” Mona said. “I’m so sorry about your friends.”
“Me too,” Antonio said. “M’am, if you don’t mind me saying so. You don’t look so hot. Have you been to a hospital yet?”
Mona touched her neck. It hurt to talk and to swallow. She hadn’t thought of how badly Pierre had hurt her since the adrenaline, Ina Garten, and crepes Suzette had sustained her.
“No, I haven’t had time to seek medical attention.”
“If I were you, m’am, I’d see someone tonight.”
“Will do. Do you know where they’re questioning my sister Sadie?”
“She’s outside waiting for you, but I will only release you if you promise me to see a doctor.”
“I swear,” Mona said. She felt warmth and gratitude to this man and his responding officers. While they had been too late to see her throw-it-in-reverse, hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-choked truck-driving skills, they helped Mona feel like maybe, just maybe, this strange incidence was just an isolated case of a meth addict who was looking for his next burglary target and fix. A solid, reasonable explanation. That’s what Mona needed right now. Some logic to explain away the fissures in reason that she knew for a fact were not fiction. How could the police officers explain away the man’s superhuman strength? The fact that his skin was blistered by what looked to have been third-degree burns? That he could life Mona and her pick-up truck up in the air with minimal fuss or strain? Plus, that bite on Frank’s neck was gruesome – much like the physiological reaction the human body has when bitten by a brown recluse. Frank’s neck started with volcano-like lesions, at least from what Mona saw before the medics hauled him into the ambulance, and was quickly turning blue, red, and lime green.