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Streetcorner Girl by Loulou Harris

Streetcorner Girl

by
Loulou Harris


You’ve got a nerve about you, coming in here and asking me straight out if I knew Soolin Demarest!

Around these parts everyone knew Soolin, but time was when a mention of her name to the wrong fellow could buy you a slice of your own cheek. Those were the mean, menacing days of GP, back then when we were an Open Planet, before any rule by law. Any self-respecting tough carried a knife about with them back then, neat as you please, prominently displayed for the admiration of men and women alike.

I was just a kid back then, a spotty-faced, greasy eleven year-old squirt but hey, even I had my eye on a knife. (And what a beauty it was too! Said to have belonged to the outlaw Tom Castro but that’s another story; remind me to tell you sometime.)

A gun? That was for businessmen, soldiers; an artist used a knife. And it was kind of an art ‘round by us, too, something we all learned in the streets, in the playgrounds, at our Daddy’s knee.

You see why Soolin caused such a commotion then? Or perhaps you never met her? I myself only laid eyes on her three times and all on the same night too, but what a night that was, what an unforgettable memory.

She was pretty unforgettable too. I remember hearing the boys at the bar talking about her when Morrow first took up with her. Strange, isn’t it, that I still think of those drunks and killers as ‘the boys’? But that’s how my mom used to call them: “Come and help me clean glasses”, she’d say, “The boys will be wanting their beer soon!” Or, more often, “Get in here right now! I’ve had it with you always hanging around those boys!”

Morrow was kind of a local hero, a bit of a colourful fellow. My folks’ bar here on the corner formed the heart of his stamping grounds. There was always talk about him: talk about how he made money to drink all day long and never do a day’s work, how he’d read books by himself at his table over in the corner there and shut the whole bar up to listen as he read his favourite bits aloud to us, talk about where he got that hole in his ear and that long, deep line in his cheek.

The word was that he’d killed more men on GP than any other; that his price as a bounty hunter was as high as any dared ask. Morrow was thought to be something of a flash with the blade but never used it on a ‘job’, as he liked to call his assignations. No; in his professional capacity he turned to the hand blaster which he would strap onto his hip with almost ceremonious reverence before each outing.

We reckoned that there wasn’t a man alive on the planet who could outgun Morrow; this was naturally something that had never been put to the test since blasters were never used for the settlement of arguments but, as I say, for business. All the same, Morrow rarely went after anyone who didn’t have the means to defend themselves and time after time, it was he who returned without so much as a scratch for his troubles.

But for such a scary sounding guy, he treated me well enough and usually tipped me when I went over for his glass.

Soolin didn’t seem his type, to be honest. Well, no, I’ve got that reversed; from what I heard, no man in his five senses would turn her down, but for Soolin; Morrow? It had us all puzzled at first.

I guess you might describe Soolin as a rich bitch, spoilt-brat type. At least, you could if you wanted her to put you six feet under right there and then. Who knows why she even walked into the bar? It’s not that her folks were rich, but they were... well, you know what I mean if I say she was a girl from a good family. So what was she doing in this stinking neighbourhood?

We all asked ourselves that: she clearly didn’t belong. For one thing; that face, that body, that golden hair. The only women with those characteristics to show themselves in this bar were the local businesswomen, if you get my meaning. And for another; Soolin carried a gun, openly, almost as though it were a knife. That was like a slap in the face to some of the boys who drank in here.

We all figured that she was with Morrow to get back at the parents. He was as dangerous a customer as you could wish to have your seventeen-year old daughter mixed up with; a girl who could handle a fellow like him had to have your respect. Under Morrow’s expert tuition, she learned to handle a good deal more and he would boast to us that ‘his woman’ could outshoot any rancher or bounty hunter on GP... except, of course, his good self.

So, she would spend her days in school with all the other little ranchers and her nights out on the town with the bad boys down at Mama Drake’s. We had a name for her, too. Well, lots of names. ‘Ice Maiden’ was the first, on account of her chilly, aloof manner, finely chiselled features and icy blue eyes. And then we thought, well, it kind of implied a sweet old innocence about Soolin that we were sure was now inappropriate, if Morrow was any kind of man. So, we switched to calling her ‘Ice Princess’, or just plain old ‘Ice’.

It was only the night I finally met her that I realised that I’d never actually seen her before. We talked so much about her that I almost felt as though I had, but in fact the reality of her presence was far more impressive than her reputation. At least, that night it was. She had the habit of rolling up with Morrow pretty late and my mom always saw to it that I was shooed off to bed by then. But that night, mom was in bed with the worst case of amoebas we’d seen in years and so she’d wrapped a dish towel around my waist and pushed me out to face the boys at the bar. Even though they all knew me they whistled and cheered and sang a little song in honour of their new baby barkeep.

Morrow was over in his usual place, surrounded by the cronies but strangely, he wasn’t slugging back his shots, but instead, sipping a black coffee and handling a smoke, which was most unusual for him, being as how he was something of a firm-body freak. Well, time wore on and no Soolin. Some of the boys started commenting on how unsual this was, you can imagine the kind of thing: “Hey Morrow! Where’s your piece of Ice?” or “Morrow, brother! No dancing princess tonight? No baby-girl out after hours?”

But he surprised us all because, instead of freezing us out like usual when these name games began, he stood up and put his hand on his knife.

“The next bleeder to mention that woman’s name gets the honour of doing the two-handed blade dance with yours truly!” he shouted, loud enough to silence the entire bar.

And this being pretty out of character and all, I wasn’t a bit surprised to see Lady Rouge (as she was known hereabouts) go over to him and laying a hand on his knife arm, murmur something real sweet, right into his eardrum.

Well, old Morrow didn’t take too well to whatever it was she said because he drew his knife on her. Resting the point of his blade against her throat, he said “Whoever wants this whore to live had better hurry up and escort her out of here! Or if he prefers to stay, then he’s welcome to take up the quarrel with me!”

Just as people were beginning to complain a bit about this, because, much as we all enjoy a good fair fight there didn’t seem to us to be any real issue at stake here, she appeared in the doorway.

Yes, Soolin; Ice.

She just stood there, blocking the door with her body; no-one could get in, no-one could get out. It seemed like an hour passed before she said anything but of course it was only minutes; the room had filled with the scent of blood and expectations rose. Even within my own belly something began to stir; I realised that as terrified as I was, I wanted to witness a kill.

When she finally did speak, her voice was cool and smooth, like a silk scarf against your cheek, her eyes were chill and looked directly into Morrow’s, her lip curled slightly in an almost whimsical sneer.

“Morrow. Is that what you’ve come to now; challenging your friends over some hired goods?”

This was sly, even by Soolin’s reputation. I heard Rouge round a bit on this but then, as Morrow suddenly released her, she forgot all her complaints with Soolin and kicked him hard on the shin.

It seemed to have taken him totally unawares because he sank to the ground, moaning and clutching at his leg. He called that woman all the names under the sun, but he didn’t once look over towards Soolin, who was still standing there in that imperious manner, her arms folded lightly across her chest, one boot up on a stool. When he eventually quietened down, she called over to him, “Are you finished? I wouldn’t want you to forget to add any of the more prosaic insults you might have read in a book.”

To which Morrow made no reply except to shake his head, looking straight down at his boots. “I didn’t know, Princess. I swear it on my life. I did the job and didn’t find out till later. You’ve got to believe that, because it’s the truth. I promise you.”

Soolin stood there for a minute, her body rigid with tension as she stared at him in obvious disbelief. “I see. You got this job, you took the money, you didn’t ask about the address, you didn’t wonder about the name.”

She spoke in an even, matter-of-fact way, as though confirming the details of a flyer overhaul. Morrow stood up and faced her then, his face a mask of contrition. He replaced the knife and began, very slowly, to walk over to her.

“Princess: listen. You don’t give me many details about yourself, do you? I think you’ve spoken about them once, if that. I don’t remember names being any special point of discussion. Alright, so I didn’t care too much to know, but then, you didn’t particularly care to bring me in on all that, did you? Now whose fault is that?”

Some of the other boys began to mutter in agreement here, all coming forward to Soolin, saying, “Yeah, listen to Morrow. He didn’t know, none of us did. We just get our orders and then, blam! We do the job.”

Then it happened. Soolin raised her knife and shouted “That’s enough! Now, I want the man who killed my father, mother and brother to own up right now, because I’m going to cut his scrawny throat!”

There was a long silence. All the boys kind of looked down at all the dust on the ground, shifting their weight around uncomfortably. Until finally, Morrow stretched out his open hand towards Soolin. He looked at her very sincerely, flashing his lovely indigo eyes, pushing back the locks of damp, black hair from his brow. I guess this was the Morrow she’d fallen for; smooth, sexy, slick. Well, she got the full treatment then. I hadn’t ever seen Morrow operate that way with a woman: he appeared sober, respectful, candid,

“Come on, Princess. We understand your reaction. I’d feel the same way. But this is no way to settle this. We’re innocent; we’re just the poor workaday boys. You need to look for the head man, the man who hands out the deals. If you still want to take it up with someone, take it up with him. But if you’ll take my advice, you’ll leave it. There’s nothing to be done now; they can’t be brought back from where they’ve gone. If it hadn’t been us, they’d have sent someone else. Your old man knew the risks he was taking by holding out. I’ll see to it that no-one comes for you, even that you get your fair share of what was theirs, after the head guy gets his dues of course. I can’t say fairer than that now, can I? Princess; come here.”

He was up close now, close enough to grab the knife if he’d wanted to. But instead, he just put out his hand and waited for her to drop the blade into his outstretched palm. With the other hand on her slim waist, he drew her to him, as cool as you please. She didn’t resist and her eyes locked with his for a long minute.

Then, he put his face real close to hers and kissed her neck once before saying, loudly enough for the rest of us to hear, “It was quick, I swear. They didn’t see me coming. As soon as I knew, I decided not to let them be scared.” Soolin pushed him away slightly and I saw that look of suppressed horror in her eyes.

“You said you didn’t know.”

“Aw, dammit Soolin, I didn’t mean...”

She snatched back the knife, peeled off its leather sheath and repeated, this time barely louder than a whisper, “You said you didn’t know.”

“Not that. Don’t make me do it; I’ll kill you.”

“I’d like to see a worm like you try that, Morrow. One on one, without all your cringing pals.”

But Morrow just shook his head. “No way, Ice. Put the steel away, you’ll only regret it later.”

“I’m going to count to ten, Morrow and then I’m going to bury this so deep in your heart they’ll have to send a surgeon in after it.”

By now some of the other boys were urging Morrow to arm himself because Ice clearly meant business. Others were laughing scornfully, saying that a girly like that wouldn’t dare to try out against Morrow in a knife fight. The division of opinions was just about even.

But when Soolin got to ten, I tell you, that woman moved faster than anyone could believe. In that one movement she managed to take off the best part of one of his fingers. He didn’t scream, but swore loudly. Then he roared into action.

Morrow drew his own weapon, held it it in his left hand whilst clutching his injured right hand under his arm. He made a lunge for Soolin, which she easily dodged. Having successfully negotiated that initial melee, she seemed to grow in confidence. She circled him, saying nothing, conserving her air, shifting the knife between her hands, just the way we had all learned on the streets.

They both struck at one another and missed, both bodies whirling away at the last instant.

Then, for one split second, Morrow broke his concentration. He glanced down at his hand to see the blood still flowing there. That was all the opportunity Soolin needed. She took it, pouncing at him with all the poise and elasticity of a mountain cat. She knocked him right over and they fell, wrestling to the floor. Morrow lost his knife in the fall; he ended up doing what he could to keep her blade from falling on his neck. The battle looked to be over when suddenly, one of the boys in the crowd hurled his blade directly at Soolin. Luckily for the Ice Princess, he got the angle all wrong. It dipped before reaching her chest, instead flying into her thigh. She gasped in pain and fell back. She dropped her own knife and clutched at the dagger in her leg.

Morrow hesitated for just an instant. Then, grabbing Soolin’s blade, he prepared to launch himself at her again.

What happened next, I’ve never really understood. I guess it was the last thing we expected. I mean, we were poor and pretty desperate, but we had a kind of honour and part of this code was that if you couldn’t win a knife fight honestly then you’d die trying.

Well, Soolin didn’t respect that.

It must have been almost instantaneous; I remember it only as one swift, fluid movement. Her hand flew to the gun holster, lifted the weapon cleanly. She’d fired off two rounds before Morrow even had a chance to strike.

He didn’t die straight away. Blood bubbled out of his mouth as he tried to say something to her before he fell to the floor.

Then (and I still can’t believe this happened) Soolin looked around at the other boys who’d stood up for Morrow when he’d been talking about the incident up at her folks’ house.

One by one, cool as a cucumber, she pumped them full of phaser blasts. They were completely defenceless. I recall how they fell, like ninepins, a stupefied grimace on the face of every last one of them.

It’s a strange thing, violence. You hear about it, talk about it, maybe even see a little fist action or knife-play yourself. But I tell you this, it’s a different matter altogether to see someone you know getting gunned down no further than an arm’s length away. And those hand blasters were no neat surgical laser affairs either. No, Soolin’s piece tore a hole right through each one of those boys, so big that their guts and innards came flying out from behind.

I don’t think anyone moved a muscle for a whole minute. We all simply stared at the scene before us, aghast and revolted.

Soolin was unbelievably together; she just dropped her gun back into its holster and said quietly, “If there’s any of you that’s planning on coming after me, I’m warning you, what’s happened here can happen again. After what I’ve seen today, another death means nothing.”

Then, she turned on her heel and strolled out, as casually as she had arrived.

At that moment, one of the boys she’d wasted began to make a noise and it dawned on us that he wasn’t yet dead. He was making a sort of gurgling sound as though his throat and mouth were full of blood; he coughed and a great clot of bloody tissue spewed out.

Well, that about finished anyone who wasn’t already queasy and a few people left the room right then. My old man bent down to listen to the boy’s heart. He must have caught his last words because he sat up pretty sharply and said “‘Deeds’. He said, ‘Deeds’.”

So, any doubts we had about whether Ice had been right were kind of laid to rest there and then, if you follow me?

Looking down at the bodies of those boys, I could feel myself just about ready to tremble. I muttered some apology and left quickly before my pa could figure what I was doing and begin to wonder who was going to clean up the mess.

I went straight out of the back door and into the alleyway, flipped up the secret latch on the basement window and lowered myself into the cellar.

After giving my eyes a couple of minutes to get used to the dark, I lit up a smoke and took a deep drag. As I let it out, nice and slow, I realised that I was shaking like a leaf. It got worse, just thinking about the look on Morrow’s face as he picked up Ice’s dagger, or the wretched image of three of his boys being cut down one after another, three shots, blam, blam blam.

I began to feel physically sick, something which the smoke didn’t help none. I must have begun to blub, because when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse, I got the fright of my life.

To my right, from somewhere in the recesses of the cellar, a voice hissed, abruptly, “Shut up!” Then, more ominously, “Be quiet, kid; you heard what I said up there.”

I was paralysed with fear. Eventually I managed to get out something like, “Ice? I won’t breathe a word I swear to God!”

There was no reply for a minute and then I felt a gun in my ribs. I inhaled so hard I almost forgot how to exhale. I don’t know what I said next. Maybe I begged; maybe I kept my trap shut.

All I remember is finally hearing Soolin say something like “Can you get me a cloth?”

In dumb silence, I untied the towel from around my waist and handed it to her. By the faint light from the street, I could just make out the form of Soolin, crouched over her leg and tying the towel around her thigh. I heard a sharp gasp of pain from her as she tightened it and I whispered, “Good and tight mind. Want me to do it?” I shuffled over to her and with my hand felt the trouser leg, wet wherever I touched, obviously drenched with blood. “You’ve got a deep one, Ice,” I said. “Sliced through an artery, I shouldn’t wonder. You’ll not get far on that leg.”

Cursing me to hell, she gave me a hard shove. Soolin set about the task of tying the bandage again. I could hear the agony in her voice as she tried desperately to stop herself from crying out. I don’t know why I had any sympathy, because I had liked those boys. But something about the courage she showed in that cellar and the cool way she’d seen that justice was done, made me want to help her - even if I knew she was dead either way.

And there could be no doubt about that. Even a pipsqueak like me was beginning to see the lay of the land in GP those days. Title deeds had become everything.

Soolin’s folks must have refused to sell up, perhaps waiting for an better offer, perhaps they felt they had something to prove. If Soolin was still alive then their land was now hers, unless the old man had signed the deeds over to Morrow’s employer.

Only, something told me that he hadn’t and that could only mean two things; firstly that Soolin knew where the deeds were and secondly that she was as good as in the grave. So, for whatever reason, I went over to her and took her hands off the bandage.

“This is getting you nowhere. You aren’t pulling hard enough. Bite down on your sleeve; ready?” Then I snapped that tourniquet down hard on her wound and tied it in a neat bow.

I thought she might pass out; her body went limp for a second and I heard the faintest of whimpers, then what sounded like a sob. But it quickly passed.

We stood there in complete silence for some time and all the time, my eyes grew more accustomed to the light. I turned to Ice, studying her. I could just make out the shiny patches on her cheek which confirmed my suspicions. Astonished, I blurted out, “You been crying, Ice?”

“I’ve seen the bodies of my parents and ten year-old brother strewn around our farmhouse. I’ve just executed my lover and three of his friends. Levity seems somehow inappropriate,” she replied in a weary voice.

“I’m sorry.” I said miserably. I couldn’t think of anything to else to say, so I put my arm around her shoulder. Soolin stiffened for a second but then relaxed and suddenly, put both her arms around me and embraced me tightly. I began to cry again and I heard her saying, “I’m sorry you had to see all that, really I am. But I had no choice. They would have killed me, whatever Morrow said.”

I just nodded, tears rolling down my cheeks.

Then she said, “What’s your name, kid?”

“Jem.”

“Okay, Jem. You’re a good girl, I can see that. Can you do something for me? It might help to save my life. I’ll pay you, too.”

I nodded again.

“Go to the flyer docks. There’s a spacer there, working salvage on that old Mark Six. Ask for Dorian. He might be asleep in his flyer; wake him if necessary and bring him back here immediately.”

“I know Dorian!” I said, delighted to be of some real help. “Yeah, he’s been in here for drinks a few times. How do you know him?”

Soolin sounded irritated by this. “Just fetch him, or they’ll get to me before he does.”

So up and out I went, passing by the door of the bar as I made my way to the flyer docks. All the commotion had summoned my mother out of her sickbed. I could hear her railing even from where I was. The music had quietened down and so had the conversation. The only sounds I remember hearing were those of my mum shouting at people to clear out the bodies and to mop up the blood.

In the midst of that confusion, no-one noticed that little Jem had disappeared and with any luck, they thought I’d gone off to bed. I trotted off to the flyer port which was about five miles out on a lonely road.

I remember wishing I had the nerve to grab a lift, but I was so shaken by the events of the evening that I was sure something would show. I couldn’t trust myself to keep quiet if a bounty hunter happened along. I reached the flyer at around 20.00 hours.

When I eventually found Dorian, you can just imagine how thrilled he was to have the likes of me waking him up. But at the mention of Soolin’s name he just stood up and said, “Let’s go.”

No-one had thought to look for Soolin so close to the scene of the crime. The posse had already left for her ranch – as though she’d be dumb enough to go back there!

Dorian let me off his landbike, out of sight of the bar. He sauntered into the bar himself, making a great show of disappointment at the lack of live music and the absence of the local businesswomen. That earned him the sharp tongue of my old mom, naturally. The woman was beginning to have a relapse with her gut; just as well, because as long as she was out of bed no-one was going to be allowed to get any sleep.

But Dorian just laughed and left the way he came. As I’d instructed him, he sidled into the alleyway, where he’d parked his machine. He found Soolin waiting for him, pressed back into the shadows. He stared at her for a while and then pulled her roughly into his arms. Neither said anything for a while, then I heard him murmur softly, “I was right?”

There was the faintest, resigned sigh. “You were right.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to be.”

“No, you were right. I tried to persuade Dad to sell to you, but he wouldn’t listen to me, as usual. Even what they offered wasn’t enough.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“I could have tried harder.” Then a choked, stifled sob. “They even did Heikki. Poor baby Heikki.” She glanced at me for a second, eyes filled with regret. “No older than this girl here.”

I stepped forward anxiously. “Ice. You have to leave.” They released each other and looked doubtfully at me. I answered their silent question.

“I’ll be okay. No-one’s seen me with you. Just leave now before they get back from Ice’s ranch, or we’re all for it. I’ll sneak up into bed and make out that I kept out of the way so that I didn’t have to clear up the blood.”

Dorian placed a hand on my shoulder, saying, “You’re a real tough, Jem. Like Soolin here.” And he pressed a five hundred credit note into my fist.

I didn’t want to take it, but Soolin held my face between her hands and stared intently at me.

“Take my advice and get off this planet at soon as you can, Jem. Or get your folks to move away, if you can. It’s only going to get worse. But while you are here, don’t learn how to fight with a knife; learn how to shoot a gun. Knives are for those stupid games of honour and respect between thugs. Guns are for survival. Promise me?”

People tell you things and it’s often years before their words have an impact.

Something about Soolin’s advice was compelling. I promised her, there and then that I’d never carry a knife. After that night, the whole ritualism of knives, which had before seemed to me so mysterious, adult and romantic, full of chivalry and respect, appeared at once sleazy, nauseating and futile.

A gun didn’t seem like much of a better solution, either. Without hers, or according to the strict code of the knife duels, Soolin would have been dead. But if she’d never had one in the first place then maybe her folks would have listened to her when she warned them about the mining syndicates, instead of thinking it was just another scam of their wayward daughter’s to get them off the planet.

Who can tell? You know what they say about those who live by the sword.

We’re hoping to really clean things up around here, you know, now that we’ve had the penal code restored.

But Soolin? Rule of law came too late for that one; four men on her first attempt was just too simple. They say it gets easier after the first. My guess is that by now Soolin has become quite an expert.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Ice Princess herself comes to a violent end, one of these days.

***

Streetcorner Girl was previously published in the zine Deadlier Than the Male and is reproduced here by permission of the author.

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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