Keep what you need and burn the rest
Liza left on foot the next morning. Since everyone was still asleep, she borrowed one of Leena’s winter coats. She’d be back before she even missed it.
Stepping into the backyard the cool air met her full on as she made her way through the neighborhood and into the woods. Liza could see the morning traffic through the trees. It hadn’t picked up yet but where she was going she didn’t need a car. She wasn’t worried about being followed either because on foot there wasn’t anyone who could catch her.
That was one good thing about living in a small town. There was very little congestion which bred a lot of familiarity. It made surveillance easy because she could spot an outsider a mile away in the city. Once she got to the outskirts of town it was even easier. As long as she could see them coming, she felt safe.
Liza took a different route than before but saw no signs anyone else had come this way. She didn’t believe for one second whoever it was had given up, but as long as she was on foot, she felt like she had a chance of remaining unnoticed. The car had a tracking device- she didn’t.
She found it quickly. It was for that reason she hadn’t bothered removing it. If she had it would only be a short time before they added another. Besides she’d lost them once, she could do it again.
Once Liza made it to the edge of town, she disappeared into the trail of woods that bordered the west end of the city. It was then I broke into a brisk run for the rest of the way.
None of the Davenport’s said anything about her new haircut. People in town looked at her different which felt surprisingly good. Instead of seeing Trina, Liza could pretend it was her they were really seeing. It was her they were accepting. She didn’t have to hide anymore.
It felt good. Although it was Trina’s life, it was the closest thing Liza had felt to having a home with family and a sense of belonging.
There were moments Liza remembered her life before, and she realized there was nothing she really missed about it. She didn’t want to go back to it-none of it. She’d done bad things, horrible things, but here she was different, if only for the moment. At least she was trying to be.
Being a mother freaked her out initially, but Zuri was a smart girl. She reminded Liza a little of herself at her age.
Leena still kept her distance, but Liza was okay with that. Whether her and Trina were ever close or not was a moot point. It didn’t seem as if the Davenport girls had much in common anyways. Nonetheless, she learned the Davenport’s put family above all else. Regardless of the circumstance that brought her there, she was family now. For however long she was there, she wanted to take advantage of it.
Liza entered the camper. Taking the lamps of kerosene, she unscrewed the lids. She turned the generator on along with every appliance she could. She emptied the kerosene on the floor, theh walls, everywhere she could, and set several bottles of reserve gas near the generator.
The fumes burned her nose, as she carried the only two items she saved up the ladder to the roof of the trailer.
One was a small address book she’d found and tucked in her back pocket. The second thing was the last lamp full of kerosene.
Once standing on the roof, she dipped a rag in the liquid and lit it before dropping it through the hole into the trailer. Immediately the inside of the trailer lit up as the lit rag touched the ground.
Climbing to the side of the trailer, Liza jumped from the roof as the fire raged inside. The sound of glass popping rang out as she ran for the line of trees to safety. A second later she heard the first explosion as the jugs of gasoline exploded one after another.
Sitting in the shade of a large oak she watched the moss surrounding the trailer catch on fire as a smaller explosion popped the roof of the trailer. The flames burned bright as it spread in all directions.
Squeezing the address book in her hands, Liza was thankful she’d taken the time to go through everything. A lot of what she saw was useless, which made sense.
Keep what you need and burn the rest. Central had trained her well.
When she found the address book in a secured drawer with a combination lock, she knew its value instantly. The book had nothing but symbols and drawings throughout. Indecipherable to most, but the jumbled letters and symbols made sense immediately to Liza.
It was funny. One moment she was clueless about the past six months and what she was doing in this little Podunk town and the next moment she was completely clear of everything. As she read the pages complete clarity returned with the force of an eighteen-wheeler. Liza understood everything now.
Why she was there, and how she gotten there. The calm she felt in the bookstore a week ago was back, but this time it wasn’t for self preservation. It was for comfort that all was well and her mission was back on track.
Holding the book tightly in her hand she turned away from what was left of the trailer she’d been living in. The heat of the flames lessened as she stepped further into the forest of trees. This wasn’t her only safe house.
She had another home, but that one was in the next town over. It was bigger, a lot less rustic.
She needed to go there, but she wasn’t ready just yet. There were a few more things Lizaneeded to do before she could make that trip, but make it she would.
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Right now you think this isn’t real. You think I’m just here to scare you then let you go, but let me tell you that’s not what this is
They had a pattern now.
Weekday mornings started with breakfast and then getting Zuri off to school. From there Leena and Liza took turns going to the diner and checking in with the staff there making sure they had what they needed for the day’s service.
Ever since Blackfoot’s visit last week Mrs. Davenport, or Mama, hadn’t been back to the diner. Her health was getting worse; but she refused to let the staff know. She hadn’t left the house much at all, but her girls had filled in for her at the diner. Between the two there wasn’t any slack noticed in service, but Mrs. Davenport’s presence was very much missed.
Yet Mrs. Davenport wouldn’t talk about retiring. With all she’d been through with her cancer treatment no one would blame her for considering it. Still she refused to even talk about it. Even in her weakened state she wasn’t ready to give up the control of her business or her family.
Thanksgiving was coming, so she took all the decorations out herself determined to carry on the Davenport’s tradition of decorating the house. It would be her first holiday with family. By the time she was through with putting everything up, the house looked like something out of Liza’s childhood dreams. Even Mrs. Davenport was impressed.
“I do believe you made this place look the best it’s looked in years,” she’d said. Her words made Liza smile and almost forget how she came to be there. In that moment she was her real daughter, and Trina had never existed.
However, she couldn’t forget that Trina was a mother. Although Liza didn’t mind being Zuri’s mother. In fact she was getting used to it. When Zuri yelled Mama now, Liza no longer flinched. The maternal gene she’d thought she was born without had kicked in.
Zuri loved her Grandmother, but having her mother back had put a new life in the little girl which Liza enjoyed seeing. So when Zuri came home one afternoon from school with tears on her face and a quiver in her voice, Liza didn’t hesitate in finding out what was bothering the little girl. Nor did she block the return of the calm.
Leena had picked Zuri up from school. At first, Liza thought that was the reason for Leena’s bad attitude, but one look at the girl’s face she knew it was something else.
“Her teacher said to just let it go, kids will be kids. But something has to be done,” Leena said dropping her purse on the table. “Letting some girl get away with bullying Zuri isn’t right. It’s not fair. I know folks like that; hell, I was folks like that. You give them an inch and they will run all over you. You have to stand up to them. Make them back down,” Leena said her voice rising as she pointed one of her pointy fingernails at Zuri.
Zuri dissolved in tears at her aunt’s words. “That’s enough,” Liza said quietly. “Enough,” she yelled again when Leena continued berating the girl.
“Fine, let the girl get beat up every day for the rest of her life. She’s in the sixth grade now but it’s only going to get worse. Right now, it’s one bad ass little girl, but if you let this go, she’ll have the entire school thinking they could use her as a punching bag.”
Leena left the kitchen after speaking her piece, leaving a thoroughly devastated Zuri in her wake.
Liza stood with her hip against the kitchen table watching. When Zuri stood, she followed her. Just as she suspected she headed for her grandmother’s room.
Before the little girl could knock on the woman’s door, Liza grabbed the girl’s hand squeezing tightly. Zuri tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go until she dropped her hand.
“Go,” she said in a quiet voice pointing towards the front door. Although Zuri looked shocked she obeyed.
The fact that she obeyed so readily didn’t sit well with Liza either. The little girl had no backbone. Had the tables been turned, Liza never would have given in so quickly. Her opinion of the girl dropped a few pegs, but she was determined to make this right.
Judgment wasn’t what Zuri needed right now. What she needed was to be taught an important lesson.
The first lesson she needed to learn was to stick up for herself. Number two was that when she couldn’t stick up for herself, she had someone who was going to do it for her until she learned to do it for herself.
Liza grabbed their coats tossing one to Zuri as they went outside to the car. Once they were both inside, she turned to Zuri as the car warmed up.
“Who is she?”
“Don’t make me ask again little girl,” Liza said irritation coloring her voice. She lit a cigarette ignoring the girl’s big eyes at seeing her smoke.
“When did you start smoking?” Zuri asked.
“Want one?” Liza held the pack out to the girl. The girl pulled back with horror on her face. Liza smiled in approval. “Exactly don’t ever let me catch you smoking, you hear?” Zuri’s eyes grew big but she nodded.
“Little girl you’ve got yourself in a pickle, but it’s OK.” Liza said as she backed the car out of the driveway.
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, you tell me,” she said putting the car in drive. “Where does she live? C’mon I know you know,” Liza said when the girl stared back at her with both eyebrows raised her mouth in a perfect O. Suddenly, Liza jerked the steering wheel to the right and put the car in park.
“Do you want to be able to walk down the hallway with your head held high or do you want to have to hide until you graduate?” Liza said. Zuri dropped her eyes to the hands she held clasped tightly in her lap, but after a few seconds she gave an address.
“367 Warrior Drive,” she said softly. Liza put the car in gear but before she could pull out onto the street Zuri spoke again. “But she’s not there now. She’s still at practice, at the stadium.”
“That’s my girl,” Liza said making a U-turn in the middle of the street. She turned the radio on then winked at Zuri. “We’re going to go have some fun. Want to?” Zuri hesitated, but then nodded slowly. “Good, now tell me all about your little friend.”
When they rolled up to the high school’s stadium, Liza had the 411 on Kim, the girl bullying Zuri. Her track team was still running drills, but it didn’t take long for Zuri to spot the sturdy built young woman with the long shiny black ponytail she was looking for. The girl was tall for her age, almost Liza’s height. She smiled in anticipation.
Liza hadn’t spotted anyone following them, but she didn’t care either. This wasn’t business this was personal.
They watched from beneath the bleachers waiting for her chance. She got it when the girl broke away from her group to go to the bathroom.
“Keep watch,” Liza whispered to Zuri as she walked up behind the young woman after she left the bathroom. Liza grabbed the young woman by the neck dragging her backwards one hand over her mouth. She spun her around and pushed her back against the stadium wall.
“You know what’s going down, right?” The girl stared back with shrewd eyes assessing the situation before smirking. Liza smiled then grabbed the girl by the chin.
“I know what you’re thinking. Thinking I’m going to let you go cause you’re a kid. Let me tell you now- you’re wrong. You see that girl over there?” Liza released her neck so she could turn in the direction she was pointing. The girl tried to pull away but Liza yanked her head back.
“Nope, not going anywhere.” When the girl tried to scream, Liza put her hand back around the girl’s neck and squeezed until the girl’s voice box closed stopping air from entering. “Cool it,“ she said. “You’re not leaving until we understand one another.” The girl stopped struggling.
“I’m not your mama, I’m not your daddy, I’m not your teacher, or the little girls that follow you around and hang on your every word, you understand? I am your worst nightmare. You understand?”
Liza removed her hand watching to see what the girl would do. Instead of screaming or running this time she nodded. “Very good. Now maybe we can reach a compromise.”
“You, my dear, are about to have an opportunity to change,” Liza said, “one chance. My girl over there will not put up with your bullying any more or that of anyone else in this shitty little school. You listening?” Liza asked frowning at the girl whose eyes had wandered to Zuri as if the little girl could help her. Liza slapped her hard across her face.
“You think I’m joking with you, I’m playing with you?” Liza said, placing her arms on either side of her. Their faces were an inch apart so close she could smell the girl’s peppermint gum. “You know who I am, don’t you?” The girl nodded her head. Liza smacked her hard against her ear knocking the girls gum out her mouth.
“Wrong,” she said. “Do you know who I am?”
“No, ma’am,” the girl croaked her voice dry and cracking with tears.
“Very good,” Liza said into the girl’s face. “You think when I let you go, you’re going to go home or to the coach and tell them what just happened, but I’m telling you you’re not.”
Pulling my pocket knife from my pocket Liza unfolded it pointing the tip at the young girl.
“Right now, you think this isn’t real. You think I’m just here to scare you then let you go, but nope, you’re wrong,” Liza moved closer and with one swipe she cut the girl’s forearm. The cut was shallow but it bled running down her arm to drip in the sand. The girl opened her pink lips to scream, but Liza’s hand to her throat cut it off.
Holding the blade against the soft sensitive column of her jugular Liza waited until the girl’s eyes were back on hers. “You’re scared, I know, and you should be,” she whispered. “This has kind of gotten out of hand, I can admit that. Sometimes I do that,” she said, “when I’m pissed.” Pressing the blade against the girl’s jaw. “You don’t want me pissed off do you?”
The girl shook her head the strands of hair sticking to her sweaty cheek. Swiping the girl’s hair away, Liza cradled the girl’s sweaty face in her hand. “This is real honey, and I want you to remember it. Think of it as a little taste of the hell you put my daughter through for the past year. Oh yes, I know and it stops today. Now, you have a choice. You can leave my girl alone and forget she even exists. You stay away from her and you keep your little nasty friends away from her too, or I come back, yeah? You understand?” The girl nodded quickly. Liza stepped back. Watching the girl slide to the ground Liza crouched in front of the crying girl.
“Shh, shh I’m not going to hurt you,” Liza said. “I actually get you,” she said standing. “But if I ever hear your name in my daughter’s mouth again I’m coming for you, got it?” Again the girl nodded. Liza turned to walk away, but stopped to look at the girl again.
Bending again to the girl’s level her eyes slits. “Say anything about what just happened to anyone and that cut will be deeper and connected to the other one I make on the other side of your face. Pretty’s all you got going for you, both you and I know it. Cross me and you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing that you were dead. Understand?” Liza didn’t wait for a response, but left the girl on the ground as she went to put an arm around Zuri.
“Now go clean yourself up and get back to practice dear,” Liza said. Then to Zuri, “How about some hot chocolate?” Zuri watched Kim as she stood then went into the bathroom. Then she looked up, eyes big and filled with awe.
“With whip cream?”
“That’s my girl.” Liza said smiling.