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Kilean Kennedy

True Up


Here’s Kori running her mouth, head bopping above this chipped shot glass leaking pure grain and over steps Dorsey Coomer, degenerate hooligan unseen since back home in high school days. Dorsey comes creeping from behind, locks his fists and throws down on a block of spine betwixt Kori’s shoulders. She yanks hard to the floor like the room’s just blasted off and a whole lot of people shut the fuck up. Chairs skid, tumblers tumble, old satchel-ass at the bar spits a bummed menthol halfway to the head and sees it land on a cap of foamy draft. Goddamn somebody mutters and is answered with oh hell man this ain’t nothing for her, just you watch.

Watch Kori thrash on the floor as the platinum ring in her left eyebrow snags a warped plank, plucks free with a spurt of blood. She coughs, stands and dabs a forearm to her face. Too much blinking and she tugs the bandanna at her neck up low on her brow, stoppering the weepy scarlet dots above her eye.

On with it girl, says Dorsey, growling from the patchy shadow around the cocktail tables. Kori recognizes his slur, knows the stubby puke once showcased a volcanic bout of acne all over his head and he’s a smidge beefier now and as she squints, she sees those eruptions finally left Dorsey alone, and puckered his facesack.

Gonna stand there bleeding, or keep on acting like you’ve a set of balls? says Dorsey.

Kori moves one foot then two, running the floor as if cleated and she leaps with this ramshackle kick/punch combo move: tread of her jackboot to Dorsey’s chest and swift knuckles into the bulb of his nose. Dorsey gushes air from his truffled face and gurgles. The pair of them falls awkward in a clanking pile of elbows and kneecaps and skullbone. Kori rolls, crouches, launches a dart of spit from the fine little gap between her front teeth.

If Dorsey has backup they’ve backed down. Kori snaps a Zippo, scoops up her platinum ring.

Jewelry shoved deep in her pocket she nudges old satchel-ass from his stool and slugs three congratulatory shots, hoots at Dorsey carried all limp-limbed out the front door, his squibby head drubbed twice on the jamb for giggles.

You know that dude, one you just creamed? asks a young woman with thick

saffron locks gripped sloppy under a trucker cap.

Know his whole sorry family, says Kori. From my hometown, none of them worth a hot squirt. Kori grabs a phone off the bar-top and dials her apartment. She nods, mumbles, listens for a minute and drops the tarnished handset to its base. There’s another round of brimming shots lined up and waiting. Take those, she tells the young woman. I’ve gotta be away from here.

Applause as Kori exits. The young woman drains the shots and sneers at old satchel ass, re-stooled and eyeballing her from the far end of the bar.

A handful in the place know Kori. After the pure grain activates and her sneer melts to a grin, the young woman asks around. What she hears is Kori keeps mostly to herself but sometimes talks almost too much, then hides away for a few days. A fairweathered crying drunk. Claims she’s seen the ugliest of deaths. One boy, friend of the bartender’s (samesuch rube she just called nonetheless), been staying nights with Kori. Told everybody about a bunch of trophies in her closet, fuzzed in dust, most of them in karate poses and whatnot, one or two just itty-bitty things from bush league tournaments and others from championship competitions. Serious booty of gold medals and cups and her name on all of them. Originally, most regulars didn’t know what to think of Kori, with her greasy denim jacket, close-cropped hair and tattoos, and that snarl frosted to her face. But she’s whipped all sizes and shapes in the bar. Never starts it. Always brooks a few nasty blows but always pounds the hell straight from whoever’s crossed her on any particular occasion. Most agree she does appear to know biblically the mechanics of combat. But she’s a lush, and sloppy with the knowledge. Young too. Popular opinion gauges her age at twenty-five, teetering above the descent to lazy metabolism and blood not so quick to regenerate once spilled.

Sounds genuine enough until the young woman senses a tapering off of the warm sizzle she’s so inexpensively cultivated up to now. Weekend cash still intact, she craves a couple bumps of something faster, powdery. Learns with surprising ease that the man to know is the one just had his shit slung by Kori and that’s a thing in itself right there because that old boy, Dorsey, he answers to his thuggish big brother and a rabble of stone-knuckled hogheads—

A block from the bar, Kori blinks blood-caked eyelids at her GTO parked none too straight and curbside. She scoots behind the wheel, fires the motor and roars the empty streets up to the expressway. The car was a gift from her dad after her mom’s funeral ten years ago. It’s mean and loud, reminds her of Dorsey Coomer’s nose on her fist, that sweet pitiful crunch and splat. And it’s all pitiful – starting with Dorsey’s brother Delbert, driver of the truck that killed Kori’s mother (on the books as accidental though the sheriff claimed Delbert was likely speeding when he lost the inside lane on a hairpin). Whole thing set in motion the sourest years of Kori’s life. Year after the crash and there’s Kori’s best friend dangling from a braided leather belt in a basement full of broken toys; next up her grandmoms tumbles a case of stairs, catches an infection in the hospital that slops her lungs, sinks her face until it falls no farther; then comes a stint in college when Kori’s roommate of two years leans out a dorm window eleven flights up and she’s been drinking, sees bodies humping in the parking lot, stretches out a bit more for a peek and she’s gone. And the training and fighting and competitions: all from a different time and person – someone willing to nurture talent, a young woman with a close family and friends.

What passes for company these days is the wimp Kori’s been sleeping with, the one she called to tell about Dorsey Coomer. During their short conversation he advised Kori to haul ass he was just out the door himself. This all kick-started a week ago with him and his parchments of dusty little rocks (worthless catch although he does appreciate Kori’s wide shoulders and her hard torso, his puffy lips good to kiss yet incapable of giving her even a minute’s decent head). He’d bragged one night to Kori about these new dudes in town by the name of Coomer, hicks from down near her part of the state. Had anything you wanted. Kori kept calm, let a few days pass and acted only interested enough to keep the wimp jabbering until she heard where the Coomers did business. She’d thought hard about how they’ve kept on living. Especially Delbert, the fuck. Kori called the cops, described some thugs peddling junk to school kids and where to find them. And tonight, the wimp said the Coomers were sniffing a rat, somebody’d told them about this crazy bitch that haunts a dive close to their neighborhood, wild girl always scrapping, claiming to be from the sticks. Kori wanted to fuck with the wimp, brag about how she’d thrashed Dorsey but the wimp didn’t care, kept barking over the phone for her to get on down the road because they’d be around to see her it’s why Dorsey was in the bar, looking for her.

And all those times she’s mapped everything back to that head-on crash, when the bottom collapsed from life, poured raw grief over the top of her – a girl with a resinous temper, Kori was always a handful as a kid so her folks aimed that energy at arts predominately martial, watched a kind of delicate brutality take rule of their one child and change her to something fierce, respected. But with mom gone her daddy eroded to a slither of his former self and soon enough Kori split for college. That crash, it broke open a torrent of hurt only recently suppressed in Kori’s fevered brain, only in these last years as a punchy barfly and now the Goat’s running hot and her exit’s close…

Windows down, night air streams the interior and soothes her chapped knuckles on the wheel. Traffic’s slack as she drops a gear, bangs across three lanes and drifts down to her street. At a stoplight she takes the ring from her pocket and drops it into the ashtray, its partner buried with her best friend: memories more pleasing as objects, or scars, things to touch, store away and cover. Like the tattoo on her shoulder bearing the name of her grandmoms and how the bandanna full of blood was the favored doorag of her roommate and back to those earrings, the full pair, passed down from her mother. Sappy and weak to hang on for so long, to nibble and feed on grief. Same as Kori knows the Lincoln in front of her apartment carries two maybe three men behind those watery black windows. Kori remembers that Delbert never showed any remorse. Never sought her ought. Never spoke to her. It’s not much, but enough.

Anger properly colonized, she noses the Goat into a slot behind the Lincoln, kills the lights and rumbles the engine. After taking a knife from the glovebox and a solid steel baton from beneath the seat, she slides out of the car, wedges the knife into the leg of her boot.

Footsteps pad a lawn to her right and Kori pivots low, baton extending in a sharp snap. A man drops, ankle exploded.

Kori passes over him stomping hard on his crotch and face, lips twisting like tossed gristle under her bootsole. She moves to the middle of the street and waits.

Two men out, one big as soda machine with a jeweled mouth. Kori twirls the baton.

Fuck you gotta against me? This from the smaller one, Delbert. You get the law on me, stick my brother in the hospital and for what?

They spread out. Big boy wears a sleek tracksuit, fabric hissing as he nears. Delbert pulls a semi-auto from his belt.

Talk bitch, Delbert says. I wanna know what’d I ever do to you? YOU?

It’s enough to make Kori falter. She’s late to see big boy’s paw seize the back of her neck, throw her down into an upsprung fist. She stumbles and twirls, drops the baton and falls against a parked car. Two, possibly three ribs broken.

Watch her, she’s fast, says Delbert.

Fast, sure, says big boy. He lowers, exhales, plants one knee to the pavement like he’s about to go to work on her open body. What follows is a scream – his. Big boy can’t stop the flurry of a double-edged blade as Kori slices, whittling calve from the bone.

A greasy hank jiggles from his leg and dumps blood.

One of his giant hands swipes at the blade and two meaty fingers with yellowed nails plop on the ground, roll semi-circle under a car.

This is new, and it takes. Never before has Kori used a blade in a fight but it’s as balanced and true in her mind as it is in her hand.

The giant lunges and Kori wiggles free, grunting to her feet.

A bullet fires.

Delbert is aiming at the sky.

Kori laughs and he lowers the barrel on her. She flips the knife, blade to palm, wheezes, and coils her arm back. For the first time in years Kori means exactly what she says. One word: shoot.

Kilean Kennedy lives in Lexington, Kentucky. His stories have appeared/are forthcoming in Hobart online and LEO.

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