We Got the Beat!

Doing things a little differently this month. Holly West, editor of Murder-a-Go-Gos, the Go-Gos themed anthology to benefit Planned Parenthood, asked us to share our stories so they, and the anthology, can be considered by voters for the Anthony Award that would have been at this year's Bouchercon, before well, you know. 

This story hasn't been available outside of the anthology (which you can get via the link up there) so I want to offer it up to patrons first, as your exclusive story of the month for June. Foxy patrons and above can read it now, and the rest of the world will have access on June 1st. The PDF is attached, or you can scroll a little bit and read it here...




  

Thomas Pluck

For Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Gos

We Got the Beat

She was taking an Uber home from the party she wasn’t supposed to be at when it happened. My girl Allegra lived in a subdivision that was a maze. Google would send you into the lake, and people would drive into it, if the gates weren’t locked with a passcode for residents to walk their dogs.

Go left, she told the driver, but he pulled up to the lake gates and killed the lights and told her this fare is fucked up and she could get her ass out and walk. It was cold as balls, she was drunk, and had twisted her ankle and left her coat at the party, so no way was she stumbling home like a baby giraffe through streets with no sidewalks, where someone saw a bear last winter.

You could die.

Come on, you don’t have to walk unless you really want to.

Creeps know when to get you.

When they think you’re scared and weak and guilty and are more afraid of your parents yelling at you than giving some guy’s dirty D a handy.

Allegra had chugged off a handle of vodka with the Varsity boys and they had ideas in their hungry eyes, so she locked the bathroom door, called the Uber and shimmied out the window. She lost a heel on the trellis and  landed on her buzzed ass in the garden. 

She texted the Beat Girls with quick little thumbs and started stalling, talking to him in that baby voice asshole guys like.

I’ve never done that before.

That’s probably a lie, because she always got mad when we made fun of her for kissing Kenny Orevole in sixth grade because he was such a dorkus, but do it to some creepy old dude with a mustache in a black Acura plate XTL-5309?

No way!

How am I supposed to get up front when you have the doors locked?

He sees something in her little doe eyes, knows if he pops the locks she’ll run. So he says he’ll get in the back. Isn’t that where it happens? In the back of a black Acura that smells like a wet dog when you’re holding back drunk-burps? Who says romance is dead? YOLO!

He kills the engine and gets out and he can’t open the back door. Dumbass horndog can’t figure out the child locks. The lights bleep on as he hits the buttons and Allegra’s out the other side, hopping barefoot on her twisted ankle.

Hey!

See the Beat Girls walking down the street: 

Senga

Rox

Zorra

and me.

We got the beat!

We got the beat down.

I smash the back window of his car with my shorty Louisville slugger. It explodes into a million shards. Little Rox twirls her majorette baton and clubs horny boy behind the knee. He goes down and drops his keys. Zorra works him over with her drumsticks like Phil Collins on chronic, shouting and swinging. 

Senga wraps a hoodie around Allegra and gives her a chunk of bread to eat to soak up that booze. She’s a pacifist, but she plays her part.

I’m not a pacifist. 

I dent his car and starfish his windshield and pretend my bat’s wrapped in barbed wire like Tank Girl’s but that would be evidence and our pact includes many things, but the big ones are: secrecy, new names, and loyalty or death.

When horny-boy is crying curled up in a ball I thrust the handle of my slugger to Allegra. The creepo’s hand is splayed on the street. He begs for mercy. 

She winces, shows teeth.

Allegra plays piano. I run track. I’ve seen skinned elbows and broken ankles and hyper-extended knees. Boys jam their fingers playing football all time. It looks nasty. 

Do it! Beat Girls!

Her wince becomes a snarl and she slams down my slugger

once

twice

three times.

We pull her away, get her shoes out of the scummo’s car. Throw his keys over the gate where the big nasty-ass gray geese live that snap at you with their orange beaks. He can climb the iron fence with broken fingers and think about what he’s done.

~ * ~

Beat Girls started in middle school, when Mr. Tobias kept touching my knee.

There’s no baseball for girls in our school past sixth grade, not even softball. I’m too short for basketball and too heavy for cheer, so I joined track. Shotput. Discus. Hammer throw. Javelin.

In our school you have to take a language and music, too. Mom wanted me to play violin, but it looks so small next to me. 

So, Mr. Tobias squeezed my knee while I practiced cello. 

To correct me.

He has a big head of curly gray hair and everyone says he hides boogers in it. Which would be better than what he really did. Hands on the girl singers’ chests to make sure we breathed correctly. Boys managed fine without that somehow.

I don’t know why I let it go the first time. I didn’t even want to be there. 

Second time I gritted my teeth.

I was nervous about everyone staring at my big girl arms, thinking how I’d rather be working my spin and throw on the field. About how boys laugh and make like I should feel grateful when they whistle at me ‘cause I got the bass, like I should be glad they’re paying me attention, ‘cause I’m big. How no one will believe Mr. Tobias would squeeze my thick leg when Willow Joyce is right there with her supermodel thigh gap.

Zorra was playing timpani. She’s got her hair buzzed in the back. I heard she had her own band. I wanted to play bass or sing, but Mr. Tobias said double bass is for boys. Even when I showed him my strong arms. And only the tall pretty girls get to sing.

You’re too short, dearie.

Third time he squeezed, I met Zorra’s eyes. They were full of fire. She saw him grab me with his skeezy hand. Her fire set off mine.

I slapped my hand down on top of his hand on my knee. He shouted my real name and slapped his other hand on top of mine, like we’re stacking hands before a track meet. The cello hit the floor and I bopped his nose with my fist.

Zorra dropped her sticks and dragged me to the friendly guidance counselor before it got worse. My parents were called in, to whom the incident was explained with solemn nods about tenure and how he’s from a different time and if he was a problem this would have happened before.

When my parents stood up for me, I heard words like very good school and disruptive and involuntary transfer. It wasn’t the first time I bopped someone in the nose. Call me a thick ho and that’s what you get. 

Sign this and she can take a sub class instead.

Mr. Tobias is still squeezing knees.

And I’m getting Cs in Music History.

~ * ~

That day, Zorra inducted me into the Beat Girls.

She’s on drums, Allegra on keyboard, Rox sings, and Senga plays her mom’s old acoustic nun guitar. That’s right. Mom was a nun, dad was a priest. They tease her and say she’s a virgin birth.

Here’s how we got our names:

Senga, after her great-aunt Agnes, a real bad-ass. It’s Agnes backwards, get it? It’s a Scottish thing.

Rox because she ROCKS. Majorette in band. Twirls that thing like a warrior, and sings throaty like St. Joan of Jett.

Allegra, because she’s fast. We love our sis even if she goes to parties that we don’t get invited to. Not her fault she was born bourgie.

Zorra because she painted a mask on her face with Sharpie in second grade and chased pushy boys around the playground with a stick, and her gym sweatshirt tied around her neck like a cape. Zorro was the fox but she is foxier.

I’m Artie. Short for Artemis. Hunter goddess. Because on track we throw hammers and javelins, like Amazon princesses.

Zorra has the whole garage to herself. We practice along to her mom’s raw old riot grrl records on vinyl. We don’t play as rough as them, but we rock.

And we talk.

Z: About time someone hit Old Boogerhead. I’ve heard stories.

R: Dad wants me to take Krav maga, but there’s no time with band.

A: My mom says we shouldn’t have to. We need to teach boys not to rape.

Me: I taught that knee-grabbing sleaze, didn’t I?

That’s not what she means, and I know. We all got taught consent in Health class. But not everybody listened.

We teach them how to learn.

~ * ~

The Varsity boys.

When they aren’t hazing each other and sticking fingers up freshman player’s butts and then their mouths—they did that last year and got busted, gross—they think a letter jacket makes them God’s gift.

Not to slag on athletes. I’m one. But we get worshiped in this town, and that’s a problem. The skeezos know who to target so they can get away with whatever they want.

Rox says the brain trust boys do the same thing. Polo Ralph Lauren shirt and a 4.0 GPA, and they’ll interrupt you in class and correct your answers even when they’re wrong. Senga’s in drama—on stage and off—and says Christian Sebello, the teacher’s favorite, thinks he’s the director, gives girls notes no one asked for, and makes faces at everyone he thinks isn’t up to his level from offstage. Zorra warned me about Mr Tobias, and the group of band boys who snicker about that cello between my legs. 

Boys will be boys—If you teach them that’s what a boy is. 

Some want to join us. After the Beat Girls took home the music trophy at the talent contest, who wouldn’t? But we got a full band already. Malcolm Annett wanted to play rhythm guitar with us—he’s good, too—but the band is our thing. Sometimes we jam with him, because he gives us our space.

And he knows Rox is better, and will always play lead.

~ * ~

Mal’s a runner and with fine legs—even if they’re damn hairy—and at track, he tells me the Varsity boys are calling Allegra a drunk slut for leaving their party. Saying things happened that didn’t.

They’re pissed ‘cause we beat down their center for pushing Alyx Freman into a gym closet for looking at him with those eyes. He missed three games. Cost them some standing.

I text the girls. Senga, Rox, and Zorra. Allegra’s practicing piano for her recital and doesn’t need this shit.

We got to nip this in the bud

Rox: GET THEIR NAMES. She’s a mad all-caps Valkyrie.

Mal looks away. He doesn’t want to snitch. They won’t poke him up the butt and make him taste it, but they’ll shun him, shoulder-check him in the hallways, beat his ass if they can catch him.

Brock Calvin. Marco Ruiz. Caesar Samuels.

Brock said Marco pulled it out on her and he’s scared she’ll say how small he is. He’s low man on the scrotum pole.

I laugh and hug him Thanks, and he blushes a little.

Stay safe he says, and I laugh. 

When have we ever been safe?

~*~

Our prey travels in packs. We can’t hit them all, so we pick Marco. To send a message: Don’t whip out the D unless she asks to see.

Marco is a junior and has his driver’s license, which makes him a hard target. We can’t ambush him on his way home. We have rules: we don’t hit them at home. We don’t want parents in on this. No face shots. We want the bruises to be our little secrets, between you and us.

Marks of shame, when you pull off your shirt in the locker room. 

Damn, what happened to you, bro?

Some dudes jumped me for my phone! I went wild on them and got it back. But they cracked my screen, see?

Yeah, my bat did that to your iPhone, liar. Wait till the word gets around that you faced BEAT GIRL JUSTICE.

Marco drives his mom’s old BMW that looks brand new. Juniors don’t get to park in the school lot, so he has to feed the meter out by the football field, every two hours, pumping it full of quarters from the 7-11. 

Rox is the math wiz. She times it all in her head against the bell schedule. Fourth period, one before lunch, he’ll have five minutes to run to the meter before Scoot the traffic cop—who always tells us to scoot when we linger too long after school—slaps a ticket on the windshield of his mamacita’s ride. He’ll have to cut through Church Hill and dodge the nuns to make it in time.

Senga has a double class. She’ll have to skip. I’ve got Phys-Ed and can skip early because I set the freshman shot put relay record. Royalty got privileges. Zorra says she can sneak out from under Ms. Stolfi’s nose while she’s discussing Madame Bovary.

Plan: meet at Church Hill, behind the statue of the Virgin Mary. Strike hard and fast, and get back to class in five.

We see him with his bros sitting all over Brock Calvin’s Camaro. I can’t help but give them the stink-eye. We warn Allegra there’s dirt going around.

That’s such bullshit! I was sitting on the couch watching videos. I think I’m gonna go home sick.

She runs to the nurse’s office. Senga tries to follow but she comes back alone. She needs to be alone.

We’re gonna tune that boy up.

In class I watch the clock and I know my sisters are doing the same. In gym class, Coach Farkas has the girls playing badminton in the basement courts. We all laugh when he calls the birdie a shuttlecock and I swat that bird so hard it fires like a missile and goes out of bounds every time. 

As soon as I’m defeated, I slink out to my locker for my ski mask and my slugger. I’m at least ten minutes early, but I can scope Church Hill for the nuns. The penguin squad always watches for kids smoking behind the chestnut trees.

Officer Scoot is on his motorcycle talking to a woman outside Green Jade Kitchen, distracted. I jog across the avenue with my gym bag and duck behind the hedges. The nuns are easy to spot. Habits are like reverse camouflage. No black and white in the trees behind the church, so I stroll toward the concrete statue of Mary, stained green like a Virgin She-Hulk.

My fam goes to the Baptist church across town by the Burger King, but I think about praying to Our Lady of the Blessed Beatdown to make me swing my slugger true.

But you can’t ask Jesus’s mama for that. You have to ask a war goddess, like Artemis or Athena.

I’m thinking of what to pray when they grab me.

Brock rips my bag away, and Caesar bear hugs me from behind. He’s the tallest, so when I throw my head back it thuds into his swole chest. I thrash and kick as Marco and Brock laugh. More boys come out of the trees.

Girls, too. Ree Dagney, the yearbook coordinator. Kelli Turnblad, from the mean girls’ cafeteria table, who calls me Rhino Girl.

How you all skipping class?

We called in a bomb threat, everyone’s supposed to be on the field. Brock sneers. You think you’re the only ones who’re smart?

They pull a heavy gym bag over my head so I can’t warn the others. I hear them get grabbed one by one. We’re outnumbered. 

When they take the bags off, Allegra is laughing with Kelli and Ree, squeezing Marco’s arm.

Rox shrieks, Allegra, what the actual fuck? We just saved you from these creeps!

Uh, no you didn’t? The cabbie yeah, but all that happened at the party was we talked about how Alyx Freman is like a total slut, and how you tricked me into defending her skanky ass.

So that was it. Allegra had a crush on Marco. He’s the one who pushed Alyx into the closet. She didn’t beat him with us for being rapey, she did it because she was jealous.

Some girls do all their thinking with the Vee.

The boys take off their belts and fold them in half, and make two lines.

You run the gauntlet, and you can go.

What, you ain’t gonna stick your fingers up our butts and sniff it, you sick freaks? That’s Zorra, she can’t help it. She hate hate hates bullies.

You’d like it, slut. Now run the gauntlet. You better cover that horse face! Allegra is such a bitch. She knows what hurts us most.

I volunteer as tribute! I jerk away from Caesar. I’m the biggest. I want them to know how strong we are. Plow through a couple of their skinny asses on the way out. Die with glory.

They start cracking their belts. Allegra and her basic bitch friends laugh and record us on their phones while they chant RHINO GIRL! RHINO GIRL! at me.

I hunker down like I do before I swing and throw the shot. Marco prods me with his foot.

Do that again and I’ll break your foot off!

That’s when Senga, our pacifist princess, howls like some mad warrior queen from Outlander, swinging one of her knee high fox socks with a combo lock in it, and flails Marco in the junk.

She’s almost as big as me with her highland genes, but the boys are bigger. I don’t have my slugger, just my fists and feet, so I go for the biggest boy there. The freckled Frankenstein, Brock Calvin.

I skip back and spin like I’m throwing the sixteen pound shot, and slam my palm up into his chin. He can take a tackle, but he can’t take me. He falls like timber.

Then it’s on.

Zorra and Rox are small but fast. They zip and dodge like little foxes and go for their gear. The quarterback takes a majorette baton to the shin that rings off the bone.

Bone tones!

Our battle cry.

Locks bounce off backs. Belts whip butts. Drumsticks jab ribs. Batons crack elbows.

Rox shrieks in Hebrew. She must’ve taken those Krav Maga classes. Boys flee from the blur of her baton. Caesar tackles me and we hit the grass. I have older brothers bigger than him. I get two fingers into his eye, and he yelps and pushes my face away.

I swear his pointer finger smells like freshman butthole.

Allegra and her girls try to slink away. I give them a taste of Rhino Girl and flatten them with a stampede. Find my slugger and smash their phones while they cry catch their breath.

We surround Allegra, faces red and snotty with rage.

Put those hands on the ground. Zorra is a fury.

I’m pissed, but she isn’t worth it. She can have her new friends. Until they decide she’s the slut.

Then the nuns flutter down like a flock of angels dressed in black, and everyone scatters.

Boys run with their pants dragging, shouting threats. Allegra and her pretty friends scamper, heaving, faces wrenched up all ugly. We salute the nuns with our weapons and stagger to the street, hugging and leaning on each other, clutching our bruises, wiping away tears. 

I drag my slugger on the concrete behind me, grinding out a warning.

We are Amazon princesses. Artemis. Senga. Rox. Zorra.

See the Beat Girls, walking down the street.

We 

Got

The

Beat.

You bet your ass we got it.

--

  


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