Facing herself in the sparkling condo hallway mirror, posing in a cocky sideways stance with her arms folded across her chest, Kim spit scripted words like she was rehearsing for a remake of the famous Robert De Niro Taxi Driver movie.
“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Talkin’ to me?”
Screaming her lines with an Irish brogue, feeling faint and weak, Kim braced herself against the door jamb between the condo’s plush living room and bright all blue kitchen. Continuing to talk to herself, this time sounding more like herself, she said, “Jesus, I sound like that stupid parrot Dillon at RayRay’s.”
Now the bastard brogue returned, blurting from her mouth, babbling coarser, cruder blather than before.
“Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here. Who the fook do you think you’re talkin’ to?”
On the other side of the closed door Ruby heard the frenzied jabber before she knocked.
“I’m standing here,” the shrill voice said. “You make the move. You make the move. It’s your move.”
Ruby knocked again, harder, louder.
“Kim! You in there?”
Slowly opening the door just a crack to peek out, Kim looked flushed and pale, wearing an expression as cold as a red, white and frozen raspberry vanilla parfait.
“Sorry I was watching TV,” she said.
Alert and leery, Ruby stepped inside the condo. The shining glass screen on the huge flat TV mounted on the wall loomed black, silent and off. Trying to smile with her eyes highlighted above her N95 mask to help remind Kim why she was there, Ruby got ready for anything.
“You ready to go clean out Sam’s room at the Spyglass? RayRay’s gonna store the stuff Sam asked him to keep until our poor fugitive can come out of hiding.”
Stooping to pick up an empty Paddy’s whiskey bottle, Kim stumbled. Moving with the fluid grace of a mermaid negotiating a rocky shoreline, Ruby caught Kim under the arms as Kim steadied herself and stood, wobbly and leaning on Ruby for support. Ruby looked Kim straight in the eye.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Kim’s face contorted, twisting like a hangman’s rope in a hot desert wind. When she spoke, her voice took on the inflection and accent of a gruesome Gaelic banshee snatching souls in a bloody horror movie.
“You talkin’ to me? You fookin’ talkin’ to me?”
Backing off, Ruby centered herself and called on Santa Muerte for balance and wisdom. When she spoke again she did so with confidence, drawing on ancient acumen in her quest for salvation.
“Who are you?”
“Not that it’s any of your fookin’ business, but you can call me Shannon.”
A second higher pitched tone with a thick Dublin brogue now joined in, wailing from Kim’s drooling whiskey-breathing mouth.
“And I’m Tara,” the voice howled. “You must be Little Miss Muffet.”
Ruby fired back.
“Which of you two sick goblins told Sam to jump off the ledge?”
“We both did,” the voices roared in devilish harmony.
The two-faced colleens’ blood-curdling shrieks assaulted Ruby’s brain as her mind filled with visions of a hit as final as a mob contract killing, an end these two dastardly djinns would one day provoke in Kim as long as they controlled her mind and pushed her toward the ragged edge of her frail emotional ledge.
Ruby watched movies, too, and all she could think of was poor Father Karras, the priest in The Exorcist who only possessed the power of Christ to try to compel the devil to relinquish his stranglehold on the child in the famous film. Even off-screen, tormented actor Jason Miller suffered the same bane that propelled him into the bottomless purgatory of drug and alcohol abuse that eventually killed him. Ruby had a more compelling ally in Santa Muerte who gave her a potent edge to overcome evil.
Ruby wasn’t about to send her friend Kim crashing through any condo window or high-priced psychiatric rehab program. She would help her overcome this hellish obstruction, overpowering her tortured mental pestilence through strong-willed goodness as instructed by Santa Muerte. Ruby had experience. As a girl she had seen a similar curse when on a trip to visit her grandmother in Mazatlán, Mexico, Ruby’s mother helped a young brewery worker drive screaming poltergeists from her mind and back into the fiery shadows of the netherworld from which they emerged.
Although Ruby also benefitted from spiritual instruction from her grandmother on her father’s side, a wizened woman who burned black candles in a Havana garden shed among statues of African-Cuban fire god Changó, Santa Barbara and other Santeria protectors, Ruby grew partial to Santa Muerte, the ultimate protector. Even Ruby’s grandma agreed, paying homage, as did her father, to Mexico’s La Santísima Muerte who reigned supreme.
Plucking a Beach Sunflower from two florets she wore with stems tucked into a black leather headband she decorated with a silver peace sign, Ruby brushed against Kim’s chin the soft petals of the radiant plant that grows among the dunes.
“Sunshine,” she said.
“Sunshine grows us too, Kim,” she said.
“People dismiss the awesome power of the sun,” Ruby said. “Light always escorts darkness. You can’t grow a mango without the sun.”
“I love mango daiquiris,” Kim said, coming back to her senses.
Working fast, Santa Muerte’s power embraced her newest daughter and took hold. Darkness would surely revisit unless Ruby could marginalize these two treacherous Irish waifs who would return to trash and pillage Kim’s mind.
Ruby took Kim’s face into her hands.
“You are the Muerte,” she said. “You already have her in you.”
Puzzlement and concern crossed Kim’s face.
“Is Sam OK?”
Ruby tucked the sunflower snugly behind Kim’s ear, securing the sacred blossom with a deft crossover braid.
“Free as a bird,” she said. “Free as a bird.”