“Focus, Molly!” sniped Chelsea. “How far along are you?”
Molly’s head was thicker than the two inches of protective glass between them. In the eighteen months and six days since a judge remanded Chelsea to Nirvana Detention Center, Molly already squandered half of their father’s inheritance.
“One month,” Molly’s thoughts scattered like marbles along an uneven floor. “Maybe two. I don’t remember exact dates.”
She pinched the sore fold of skin between her eyes, popping a large cyst into her palm. She sniffed her hand before smearing the blood, puss and sebum plug into her white jeans. A three-week amphetamine cleanse inflamed her face with acne and oscillated the ring of tuning fork between her ears—almost rendering her thoughts and her sister’s static laden intercom voice inaudible. Two generations of her over-educated, over-achieving family abused the drug. Ending her dependence proved more difficult than the rich, amphetamine-free celebs on Instagram made it look.
“That’s no reason to scrounge in the 008.” Chelsea knew her sister’s ill-conceived decision was already in motion. “Molly, listen to me! Let them come to you! You don’t go to them. You lose all leverage. They will do what they want and there won’t be a damn thing you can do about it. Do you want to end up here or missing?”
“Stop yelling!” Molly’s hands muffled her ears. “You won’t approve more money for me so I don’t have a choice!”
“Sister, there is always a choice.”
Molly’s eyes searched the walls for a meditation patch. Twenty-seconds of riding an elephant hologram through a Chiang Mai River slightly muffled the tinnitus, but when her eyes returned to Chelsea, her mother’s exasperated expression stared back; the same expression indelibly etched in her mother’s face the moment she found out Molly was joining her father in the Class B.
Chelsea shook her head. This bitch didn’t know how— “You good?” she asked. “Or are you so spoiled by the pearls of Class B life, you can’t handle a half hour in a Class C visitation room?”
The reminder of her Class B status sent Molly rifling through her pouch. This was the fifth time she checked for her district passport since she crossed the checkpoint. If caught without it, she could end up stuck in District 002 and have her status lowered to Class C.
If Molly wasn’t so ignorant, she would welcome death before demotion to the 002. Only inmates awaiting trial lived in that district. A lottery selected each inmates’ trial dates, creating a detention time that was as unpredictable as it was excruciating. The district drugged inmates into sleeping six days a week in hibernation pods stacked like fireplace logs. Once a week, Nirvana revived the inmates for solid food and exercise in the yard. It was there Chelsea overheard other inmates swap the stories about the lives relatives and loved after their trials. While there were an infinite amount of reason inmates were waiting for trials, the trial only had two outcomes—an inmate could return home or sentenced to spend the rest of their life in the 001.
Only farmhands and hosts lived in the 001. Hosts lived on farms and dined on federally funded five-star high protein, dopamine-enriched meals as Farmhands pillaged their bodies for Class A consumption.
Farmhands sheared the hosts like biped sheep. They wove body hair into fleece and head hair in expensive lace front or cheap costume wigs. More experienced, longtime farmhands harvested the hosts’ organs and bones and sent them to Class A hospitals for transplants and regenerations. They inseminated hosts to gestate embryonic stem cells or full term surrogacy.
Manufacturing centers processed collected facial oil and saliva into anti-aging serums and powdered sun-dried nipples, moles and birth marks into makeup pigments. They crushed the bones of deceased hosts into powder for gelatin and artesian broth. They quarried teeth for jewelry beads. They tanned skin and sewed it into leather purses and jackets sold in the same high-end Class A boutiques using the taxidermied bodies of residents as mannequins. They processed liposuctioned body into cooking and beauty oils. They ground the muscles of the athletic hosts into beef for Class A gastropubs.
Chelsea had enough of her sister’s obfuscating. Why did Molly come all the way here to unload half of a story she had no intention of finishing? She gripped the manufactured white quartz crystal dangling from her neck. The ID chip inside, corroded green from exposure to sweat and a diluted sanitation agent guards hosed on comatose inmates once a month.
“I hope the three of you find the happiness you were looking for in Momma’s bank account,” said Chelsea.
Before Molly could respond, the muscles in Chelsea’s neck erected under her scream of “Guards!”
Molly jumped out of her seat and pounded on the glass. In her peripheral, the red-headed guard smirked and fingered his trigger. Her sudden movement just gave him permission to unload his entire clip into her back.
“Don’t do this!” Molly pleaded as tears crested over Chelsea’s glazed eyes. “I’m sorry,”
“Guards!” Chelsea’s eyes remained locked on Molly as the prison anesthesiologist lowered a clear plastic mask and cupped her mouth and nose. A deep inhale ballooned her chest. The blink of her lids ramped into the violent of flap hummingbird wings. Their mother’s brown eyes transformed into hard boiled hummingbird eggs. Her gurgles echoed in the plastic cup. Her shoulders slumped. The anesthesiologist released her limp body and stepped away from her chair. She tipped to the side, slamming her head against the steel partition. A bulbous guard locked his ashy forearms under her armpits, kicked the chair out from her behind, dragged her limp body across the floor and dropped her like a laundry bag into the hibernation pod.
“What’s the big deal?” Shakir rationalized. He hated Chelsea as much as Chelsea hated him because she warned Molly against marrying his bum ass. He lit a damp cigarette butt he found jammed between his loafer heel and a piece of chewed Nicorette.
“Lying to my sister is the biggest deal,” said Molly.
“But was it a lie lie?”
“Gargantuan. The Godzilla of Lies.”
“And your usual lies?
“Register at about a King Kong. “
“There’s nothing to worry about. It’s not like she can watch our channel. Last I heard, the prison banned television.”
“You heard a rumor. Inmates have television but she doesn’t have the commissary money to buy a subscription.”
Molly’s numb finger brushed a sleet pebble from her eyelash. What started as the winter’s first wondrous fall, now and pelted relentlessly against the thin rayon of her windbreaker. The cold wrapped its icy talons around the ID quartz dangling from her neck—an ice crystal on against her sternum to match the ice behind its pulsating black chambers.
She squat next to Shakir on the slushy concrete and braced against the front window MacGregor’s Restaurant; close enough to indicate she was with him, but far enough to indicate she didn’t want to be there. She forfeited the warmth from his body heat insulated by an old feather down for the warmth of her hands jammed deep into her jacket pockets.
Inside the restaurant, an elderly couple with a view of Molly and Shakir’s squashed backs dined on a candlelit steak dinner. Elderly couples made a long wait worthwhile. They ordered more than they and anyone following them could eat. Molly could have enough leftover leftovers to season the taint from their spoiled rations back home.
The elderly couple shared silence more than the touch of fingertips or glances. The old man picked through a fan of scalloped potatoes. The old woman shook the table, sawing into her head of broccoli with a steak knife. They shared the deliberate stillness of a free life rather than the disquiet of the desperate in everlasting survival mode. If Molly could sit in the plush seat of a heated restaurant eating untampered food, maybe she would daydream of District 010 skiing vacations instead of abandoning Shakir like an uneaten broccoli floret on a restaurant plate. Next to Shakir in the frigid cold, she questioned if her bone deep animosity towards him was visceral or was he collateral damage between her and an outside world that hoarded basic provisions and lusted to exploit their bodies down to the debris of their uncut toe nails.
Only seven other people hovered along the sidewalk, waiting for guests to leave. Molly wondered if they were Class Cs from District 003 or 004 hovering between shift work and home. Here in the District 007, Class Cs could only enter with a Class A sponsorship through employment or a family passport. Molly no longer possessed her family passport but still possessed an unexpired work visa.
After three hours, a few of the stragglers complained under their breath. Too exhausted to continue idling, they talked about ducking into the shadows of the adjacent alley to check the dumpster for restaurant trash. If they left, their absence decreased the chances of someone cutting into the unmonitored line, but Molly preferred they abandoned the area altogether. Lingering silhouettes in the alleyway attracted cops.
Since Scavenger Prohibition criminalized hunger, an accumulation unpaid fines for dumpster diving behind grocery stores and restaurant dumpsters aged into warrants for her and Shakir’s arrest. Getting caught meant they could end up in prison so they paid five monies to the restaurant manager for him not to call sic the cops on them for loitering. Only the hours long wait came with no guarantee of a picked-over, half eaten meal.
One guy stood and declared he couldn’t wait any longer. An olive green hat capped his a lanky physique and obscured his eyes. Kinky platinum blond hair with black roots peeked from underneath. Molly stared at him, but he avoided eye contact with anyone. He looked like one of the missing on kids from a bus poster Molly started at the entire two-hour bus ride. The missing young man worked a bus boy in the 007 until the day he never came home. That was weeks ago. His one distinguishing feature, a smile shaped scar from his earlobe to the corner of his mouth. Much like the one on the face of the young man in the olive green cap passing her in an armor of body funk headed in the alley's direction.
“Rakeem?” Molly called out.
He paused his stride and turned to face her.
“Palmer, party of two!” yelled the restaurant host from the door he held open for the elderly couple to pass through.
Molly’s eyes bounced from the boy to the empty table back to the boy. Her eyes apologized. She scrambled from the ground, pulled up Shakir and ducked inside the restaurant. The maître d’ almost refused Shakir a seat because he wasn’t wearing a blazer. Sitting a few tables away, Billie overheard the exchange. Their Class A’s sweatshirt was as valuable a Class B blazer, so they sent it to Shakir.
The host showed Molly and Shakir to their seats. An unfamiliar couple raised a glass to acknowledge themselves as the source of their good fortune. Molly and Shakir finished the rest of the elderly couple’s meal and drank a couple glasses of tap water before bussing their dishes and the dishes of several other tables. They left the restaurant to find Stacey and Billie outside in their parked car. Molly assumed they wanted their sweatshirt back.
“We. Love. Your. Channel.” Stacey said to Molly.
With no mention of the shirt nor any attempt to reclaim it, Molly extended a thank you and continued walking.
Shakir, however, never resisted attention. “We do our best,” he responded. “Glad to meet a fan.” He shuffled to catch up Molly’s trot as she out-walked him.
“Where are you guys going?” Stacey yelled out the window. The truck pulled up beside Molly and braked.
Molly paused. Fuck. Even after seven months, she still hated this exchange.
“Your home has a vacancy,” said Stacey. She held a device displaying with Molly and Shakir’s Rental profile. The white of her smile dyed blue by the cornflower moon and topaz tinted windshield. “Get in. We’ll give you a ride home.”
Shakir hopped in the truck bed before Molly could protest. She looked around for witnesses; anyone who looked like they would testify to their last known sighting. Even though 003s filled the streets, no one would acknowledge her. No one was dumb enough to get involved.
“Most tours stay upstairs.” Molly flicked the broken light switch and illuminated the dank, mildew stained studio for Stacey’s inspection. “There’s not much down here you’d find inter—”
“Poverty’s never not interesting, my dear,” said Stacey. “This is quaint. Even smaller than it is on television. Reminds me of my bathroom.”
Molly avoided Stacey’s gaze but nodded in agreement. Class A people from the 008 rarely ventured into the 003, and she damn sure never led one downstairs into their only private space.
Billie drove the pickup truck the two-hour ride home while Stacey chatted up Shakir through the cab window. Molly’s guard lowered once Stacey offered a pound of artificial grapes still vacuum sealed in the original farmer’s market aluminum wrapping.
As Stacey described how their 12-week marathon vacation reddened their faces and shoulders, Molly accepted they were ideal clients. If they rented the upstairs for at least two weeks, it would finance a month’s rent for the basement. Molly also hoped they were the guests who bought their own food instead of helping themselves to the refrigerator and pantry rations.
“How many square feet?” Stacey asked.
“And the upstairs, that has to be what — about fifteen hundred?”
“One thousand seven-hundred and fifty-two.”
“And you lost it all,” Stacey tisked thrice.
The knot in Molly’s stomach tightened with each kiss of Stacey’s tongue against the roof of her mouth.
“It was such a pitiful episode,” Stacey continued. “There’s a lesson in that for all, I suppose. But it wasn’t clear how you ended up in the 003.”
Stacey picked up Molly’s framed college degree and dragged her cream silk sleeved elbow through the dust of the glass. Molly’s upper lip curled at the ashen stain. Stacey stared at Molly’s reflection in the clean glass oasis.
“I’m adventuresome,” said Molly. “And I also have Class B status.”
“Well, it’s not every day you hear someone brag about being a Class B.” Leslie touched the back of Molly’s hand. Her studded diamond band stabbed the top of Molly’s ring finger above a ring gifted by her father; a copper shank holding an amber gem with a prehistoric ant fossilized in its belly. As a teen, Molly pretended it was a diamond until her step mother called Molly and her aunt demons.
Molly jerked her hand from Stacey’s grip. Stacey’s ring left a deep gash in her skin.
“This must be your first brush with a precious gemstone.” Stacey smiled without apology but pulled a white plastic tube from her purse. “Here.” Her curled fingers curled beckoned Molly’s injury. She covered the gaping cut with a clear gel. Ten seconds later, it dried into a second skin. Ten seconds after that, the second skin dissolved and revealed unbroken skin.
“Green eyes,” said Stacey. She clutched Molly’s face with icy fingertips. The hair raised on Molly’s arms. “Alabaster Negro skin. Easy to see how you could pass for someone from District 006 or 007—”
“I spent part of my childhood in the 007.”
“Ah, was that where you received the Class B privilege?”
Molly nodded her head, jerking her face from Stacey’s grip.
“Then why come back?” Stacey asked.
Molly kept a vice grip on her her privacy but anxiety introduced her over-sharing side.
“When my dad died, my step mother destroyed my District 007 passport. So here I am.”
“And you married someone from the 003?” Stacey inquired. “Bad luck begets bad luck, I suppose. You know what they say ‘they can pull you down but you’ll never pull them up’.”
“So what do you think?” Shakir’s metal footsteps clanked against metal stairs as he led Billie down their small spiral staircase. Both sipped from cans of a carbonated artificial dairy beverage.
“Billie, what the fuck are you drinking?” Stacey’s face cinched in disgust.
“When in the 003,” Billie’s smile died under the weight of Stacey’s disapproval. They poured the remaining drink into the pebbles of a plastic ficus.
“Is your narrative flexible?” Billie opened Molly’s nightstand drawer and shoved the empty can inside. They pulled out a pair of her panties, sniffed the crotch, then shoved it in their breast pocket.
“We’ll do whatever you pay for,” Shakir laughed. Molly cringed into a smile. The prickly stare from Stacey’s toilet cleaner cobalt blue eyes bowled into her skin like a five and a half foot pinecone.
“He’s joking,” Molly corrected Shakir. “This is a rental. We have autonomy over our narrative, but I can refer you to some folks who’d indulge you.”
“We’ll take the upstairs,” starts Stacey.
“Great. You need to confirm with the bank—”
“Six months, but we’ll pay for nine.”
Shakir smiled as wide as the doorframe Billie inspected.
“We only require unlimited narrative control and physical availability,” Stacey crossed her arms. Billie joined her side.
“The fuuuck?” exclaimed Molly. Shakir shot her a look of don’t fuuuuck this up for us.
“You want unlimited, you get unlimited,” Shakir croaked.
Molly’s eyes bulged into Shakir’s agreeing nod. Stacey and Billie watched their channel. They knew of their desperation. District 003 tourism was on the decline. Any last-minute cancellations or bad tour reviews, and it would be months before someone else inquires about the rental. She and Shakir had no leverage. This was not a negotiation, but she would still try.
Molly sighed in acquiescence. “The price tag is on the rental. Not on us. You pay for six months. You stay for six months. Dassit.”
Stacey and Billie huddled in a corner.
A giddy Shakir bounced in place. “What’s your problem? They’re about to set us up with almost a year of income.”
“Have some fucking dignity,” said Molly. But she knew if he had dignity, they wouldn’t be in this position.
Stacey and Billie reset. “This is what we’re offering. We rent the house for six months, we pay for nine with an additional fifty monies a week for cleaning the rental, but we get unlimited narrative control. Take it or — ”
“Forty five and no bathroom.”
Shakir counted five grey pubic hairs and held his pee as Molly piped the toilet brush with the gelatinous cobalt sanitization agent. Only six ounces of this month’s federal allocation of cleaner remained. If she managed not to waste any, it should last three more days. The brush swished a cobalt waterfall around the toilet’s edge. It was the same color swimming in the irises of Stacey and Billie VanKaser.
Signing the six-month lease also granted the couple complementary access to Shakir and Molly’s Federal Auxiliary Monitor, a mandated view of their lives accessible by the government and any Class A with a paid subscription. Acute FAM microphones picked up any sound from a heartbeat to a bomb detonation. FAM camera lenses hung in every corner and were strong enough to zoom from a wide angle, peep hole view of an entire room to view so magnified it could capture footage of skin mites. Molly only cleaned on the rare days the FAM Viewer Count showed subscribers watched since a dirty house meant a fine and low ratings. She didn’t want anyone seeing their house looking nasty. Skeptical Shakir assumed the view count was fraudulent and only meant to intimidate since the numbers fluctuated and he and Molly did nothing worth watching.
When Molly wasn’t bitching about monitors, she got off her ass to drag the broom across the floor. Today she cleaned the toilet out of pettiness after Shakir told her he needed to urinate. She claimed it was because the bathroom was the one room with no camera and they needed a final moment of privacy. As soon as the door closed behind him, Shakir pulled out his dick only to see Molly pull out the toilet brush.
Shakir peed over Molly’s shoulder until the cobalt water turned chlorophyll green. Exhausted and dizzy, he almost lost his footing as he shook off his last dribble. He was two hours late taking the Type 9 diabetes insulin he needed. Even his pee stream lacked vigor.
Molly pressed into his foot to stand. He only felt the phantom pressure from her hand because he watched. He told her he hated when she touched his legs, both prosthetic from the knee hinge down. The first time she knocked on his titanium calf was the first and only time he lost his temper with her. That was the start of her fucking with him.
“Make yourself useful and take care of the laundry,” Molly sniped. “So when they find our dismembered bodies, at least we’ll have on clean clothes.”
“Damn it Molly, we had no choice but to take them on. My gut is okay with my decision, but why is everything a trust exercise with you?”
“Because the only thing you exercise is poor judgement.”
“Not this again. We are fifty-thousand monies away from getting the house back. Then we can buy our own groceries. No more charity plates.”
“It will take us fifty years to do that.”
“But we’ll do it together. All that negative talk is why you’re so miserable among our blessings, Molly.”
Shakir pulled dirty laundry from the shower rod and stray shirts from the floor before placing them in a hamper.
“You need to get the devil’s sweatshirt off your chest before they claim you stole it.” Molly said.
“They’re good people. They wouldn’t do that.”
Shakir forgot he was still wearing Billie’s sweatshirt. He crossed his arms, gripped the bottom hem, and pulled it over his head, but the small collar got stuck on his neck. As he struggled to pull it off, a small object brushed his arm, then click clacked against the tile floor.
When Shakir’s head emerged from the collar, he bent down to pick up the fallen object.
“What the hell are you doing?” Molly asked.
“I was going to wash this before I returned it.”
“You don’t even wash the skid marks out from your draws.” Molly said. “But that’s not what I was talking about. What the hell is that?”
Shakir held a neon orange flash drive up to the window, as if the moonlight would reveal its contents. “Imperial Federal Reserve — ”
A door slam startled him. He fumbled the drive, almost dropping it in the toilet.
“What the actual fuck?” Molly whisper screamed, her palm still on the door.
In her typical overdramatic fashion, she paced the tiny bathroom floor space between the toilet and the tub, clutching the hair on the top of her head.
“Can’t be too important if they lost it,” Shakir suggested.
Molly folded the top of her left ear. A signal to Shakir to shut the fuck up. FAM was listening.
“You can’t find something in someone else’s pocket, fool!” Molly.
She tried to keep her voice low even as she almost wished the cops would kick the door in and drag Shakir out. She pressed her ear against the door and the two of them stood in silence.
“For the love of clean water, put it back,” she said. “Have you learned nothing?”
Last month, FAM tracked a guest’s lost toothbrush back to their residence. Shakir bragged about finding it until the cops arrived, fined him 5000 monies for theft, and sentenced him to three weeks’ house arrest.
“I thought it was mine!” Shakir responded. “Let it go, woman!”
“Nothing is yours anymore!”
Nothing. Not the house’s viscous air nor the brown, rusty well water snaking through its pipes. Not the rented basement studio crammed with a palatial three bedroom bungalow’s worth of furniture below a palatial mid-century three bedroom bungalow owned by the bank.
“Stop overacting, Molly.” Shakir said. “No one’s coming for us. I’mma plug it in when they go to sleep.”
Shakir was impervious to common sense. A lethal combination dense and over-trusting that depleted Molly’s money and alienated her family since the start of their relationship.
She didn’t feel guilt when she used his stupidity to her advantage. Shakir’s had yet to notice the missing chip she removed from his wedding band six weeks ago. It contained his medical records, employment history, immigration status, and social security fingerprints she used to access his currency accounts holding leftovers of an accident settlement and the dowries from his first two marriages. Except for the settlement, she drained all of his monies to retain a divorce attorney and purchase a multi-state travel visa.
Molly didn’t believe it was possible to steal from someone indebted to her. She kept the house from falling into disrepair. She performed all the domestic work. She unpacked and packed their guests’ vacation luggage. When their guests ordered sex workers. She donned purple rubber gloves to inspect their genitals for Debtor’s Lesions from an outbreak that started weeks after the government decriminalized prostitution and student loan defaults became felonious.
Before their marriage, Shakir bragged about living off an exorbitant settlement from a work injury—his legs injury required amputation at the knee—and a new lucrative profession as an anonymous restaurant critic. After their union, his facade of wealth crumbled with the decline of several credit cards during a night out. His promise to have the problem fixed by Monday, turned into fixed by next week and then next month. Molly found an unlocked document containing all of his passcodes. The so-called restaurant critic turned out to be a sandwich blogger with two readers—his mother and cousin Ralph. He exhausted his settlement buying the house and took out a loan to finance the renovations.
“Whatever’s on there is none of our business.” Molly scrolled to the VonKaser’s contact avatar on her watch. “I’m telling them we found it so they can retrieve it.”
“Whoa,” Shakir’s tiny, sweaty hand wrapped around her wrist. “Babe, do you know how much money those people have in the 008?
“All the money, dumbass. Generations and generations of it. Shit! You should have left it on the floor. They could arrest us for touching it.”
“What if a copy of their passports are on here? This could be our ticket out.”
“Or our ticket to District 001, Shakir. Consider yourself lucky you’ve never even been there.”
“Neither have you.”
“Seeing Chelsea in the oo2 was enough. Let’s just give it back and hope the don’t give us any trouble.
“Over-re-acting,” Shakir sang. He turned the door knob and pushed his way out.
“Showtime,” Stacey’s voice emerged before the hologram finished materializing in the communications portal. “Hold on.” Her hand beckoned someone off camera. “Billie’s freshening their lipstick.”
“I knew it was a trick!” Molly's forehead butt Shakir out of her way, yanked the drive from the screen and shoved it in her pocket. “Be prepared to give these Class As whatever the hell they want,” she said.
“Should we call the cops?” Billie yelled from the void.
“Why don’t you take some initiative for once,” Stacey responded with agitation. As soon as she turned to face Molly and Shakir, her annoyance dissipated.
“I’d hate to see them sleep away the rest of their life.” Stacey said through the crunch of popcorn kernels. Now accompanied by Billie’s hologram, they sat in the conjoined antique stadium seats facing Molly and Shakir.
“He took it!” Molly pleaded. “I was calling you to give it back.”
“Snitch much?” said Shakir, his face covered with the audacity of regret.
“Enough arguing,” said Billie. “Take your positions.”
Shakir moved to one side of the room. Molly to the other.
“You know you can’t kill me,” Molly said to Shakir. “I’m the only person within three districts with your blood type. And if you lay one finger on me, I’ll cut you straight to the white meat—”
Lower class drama and trauma entertained the Class As. From living rooms to outdoor amphitheaters, they’d watch Class Bs drugged, intimidated or bribed into fights. They brutalized their fellow class and others for the promise of money or passports.
“You can’t get past the Mississippi without a husband,” Shakir taunted Molly by wigging his three wedding banded fingers. The one Molly emptied and the other two with just enough monies for two weeks of food, insulin and his Level 3 psychotropics. Molly almost felt sorry for him. Almost. He still had an advantage—one marriage left while this was Molly’s only go.
“Both of you, shut up!” demanded Stacey.
“What do you think we should make them do?” Billie asked.
“Do you want me to do everything?” responded Stacey, annoyed.
She twisted a greasy lock of her hair as her eyes rolled off of Billie and onto Molly. Much like the icy touch that erected hair on her arm, her stare sent seismic shivers through Molly.
Billie’s hand jerked up from their lap and frantically scrolled their watch.
“Okay,” said Billie, looking to Stacey for unreturned approval. “This is what I found.”
In front of the two of them, a diaphanous sheet of light unraveled. Green text danced on the fell into still lines. “I was going to do a little late night reading, but you took the bait so soon, I didn’t have time to go through it.”
Billie read with their finger and scrolled the light screen downward. Discerning the backwards text proved impossible to Molly. “Earnings. Not much there. Medical records. My goodness—” Billie laughed. “How are you still alive?”
“Right there. Stop,” said Stacey. “Marriage compatibility assessment. Perfect.” She read from a moment. Each word on the screen filled her with delight. “Information doesn’t overlap.”
“If only they ran this test in the 007.” Billie’s joke didn’t humor Stacey.
The lack of overlap did not surprise Molly. Of course, she didn’t know everything about Shakir after three short years of marriage. And though she’s had access to his background accounts for months, she never read further than his financial analysis.
The numbers on Molly and Shakir’s FAM Viewer Count increased. A trickle of dozens grew into a flood of thousands.
“Looks like you guys are famous.”
“I want to play a little game,” Stacey’s finger mined the back of her mouth. “Tooth or Stare?”
“Tooth or Stare?” repeated Shakir, confused.
Stacey removed the finger, chewed for a moment, then hocked a finger length yellow glob into the wall. Billie’s eyes cut and their lip curled in disgust as the glob slid and collapsed on the floor.
“I said Truth or Dare you mongrel,” Stacey snapped.
Hesitation filled Shakir’s mouth like a dry sock.
“Shakir, what happened to your legs?”
“My ex crushed them with a bat because I didn’t want to get married.”
Molly only had violent reactions to the thought of him staying.
“What happened to your legs?”
“That’s the truth.”
“Maybe that’s the truth you told your wife, but what’s yours?”
“Shakir, what is she talking about?” asked Molly.
“I want to change my answer to Dare,” Shakir stammered.
“We’ll wait,” said Billie. “For now. When we loose patience, we call the police.”
“Just say it, Shakir,” Molly begged.
“I sold my knees,” Shakir mumbled.
The revelation javelined through Molly.
“I went to the 002 and sold my knees. They gave me enough for a down payment on this house with a large chunk to dump into savings. But when my wife left—I mean, my ex, she took all of it. I never told you because, the shit’s humiliating.”
Molly and Shakir’s FAM Viewer Count numbers racked into the hundreds of thousands.
“How do people know to watch our channel?” Molly asked Stacey.
“We bought a bunch of ads for your channel.” Stacey sawed a long string of floss through her teeth. “It’s your turn, Molly. Truth or—”
“Dare,” said Molly.
“The reward for your dare is a District 7 passport and all the monies on the drive.”
“Hold on,” Billie sat upright. “That’s ours.”
Stacey shushed them.
Molly remained silent and twisted the gem on her necklace.
“Take the dare, Molly,” whispered Shakir, eyes darting back and forth between her and Stacey.
“I’d be nothing more than a maid or a jester in the 007,” countered Molly.
“At least we’ll have our life back.”
“There’s no our,” corrected Stacey. “Just your. You will have your life back. So we dare you to bludgeon him to death.”
“Done,” said Molly.
“With his titanium legs. If you’re successful, it’s all yours. The money. The passport. The life free of him.”
“What about immunity?”
“Full legal immunity.”
“You can’t be serious,” A quivering hand covered Shakir’s mouth.
“Grant it now!” Molly demanded.
Stacey’s eyes slithered into Billie. Billie activated the sheet of white light and pressed several green glowing buttons. The white glow on their face faded into green.
“Executional immunity granted for the next ten minutes.”
Tears streamed down Shakir’s face. “I thought you loved me.”
“I love me,” said Molly.
A kernel of Stacey’s popcorn jammed in her incisor. Her finger picked at it as she watched Molly chase the crying slob around the room for almost three minutes before she tackled him, tussled with him, punched him in the head and dragged him into the bathroom. The door slammed. Shakir screamed. Molly screamed at him. All screaming cut out.
“Seven minutes!” Stacey yelled. “We can’t even see anything.”
“You never said she had to do it in plain sight,” said Billie. “I told you about making these hasty deals. You always leave out the details.”
“Then you should have said something,” Stacey leaned forward.
“You wouldn’t have listened.”
“Bring him out, Molly,” Stacey yelled to the closed door. “We need to see or we cancel the immunity.”
“You can’t amend the conditions of immunity ex post facto, my dear. Otherwise, it’s Rakeem Thompson all over again.”
“Damn it. I’m going down there. Are you coming with?”
“To that dank, smelly cube of oppression? No, thank you.”
Stacey pulled the floss through her teeth as she made her way to the basement door.
“Truth or dare,” said Billie.
“I dare you to tell her the deal is a sham.”
As the basement door closed behind Stacey, the bathroom door opened.
Stacey tried to wedge her tips of her fingernail between floss burning into her trachea. Her chin pressed against the cold cement floor. Her teeth clamped her tongue. Her palms swiped the floor, feeling for a crack to wedge her fingernails so she could pull herself from underneath Molly’s knee. Her mouth filled with the taste of pennies. The liquid pennies leaked from the corners of her lips, pooled on the floor and ebbed into her view. As Molly lost her balance, then found her bearings, the shift of her knee felt like the lift and fall of a bowling ball on Stacey’s neck. Molly released the string. Stacey's lungs tried to inhale the floor. A force struck the back of her head. It struck again and again. There was too much pain to feel additional pain until the sting returned to her neck. Waves crashed in Stacey’s ears. Fireworks exploded in front of her face. With each explosion, the sparkles fell closer to her face and collected in her eyes until its light consumed her.