Moses watches the entire process until she looks up at him, holding the big jar in front of her like an infant baby.
Will you open it for me? she asks. Please?
Come on, Moses says. Let’s go get that bullet out of my brother.
Abraham drinks until he can no longer keep his head from lolling around on the loose hinge of his neck. Then they lay him out on a bed in one of the guest rooms on the first floor, and Moses removes his pants.
Do you wish me to avert my gaze? says the Vestal Amata, but Moses can tell it is said in jest. She has rested the big jar of olives, still unopened, on the night stand.
Moses puts towels under his brother’s legs and uses a steak knife from the kitchen and a claw-like instrument from an ice bucket to dig the bullet out. At the first thrust of the knife into the bloody hole, Abraham screams loudly then passes out. The rest of the operation takes place in silence, the Vestal compressing the wound firmly so he won’t bleed out. Then they wrap the thigh tight in ripped towels and let Abraham sleep it off.
He’ll be hurting when he wakes up, the girl says. Do you have anything for the pain?
Aspirin, Moses says, but not much.
It’ll be bad.
We’ve been through worse.
Then Moses goes to the olive jar on the night stand and uses the pressure of his thick paws to wrench the lid free.
There, he says. Thanks for the help with him.
My pleasure, says the Vestal, her eyes going wide at the green oblongs floating in oil. She plucks one up between her thumb and forefinger and pops it in her mouth. Scrumptious, she says.
You take the other bed, Moses says. I’ll sit here in this chair tonight. I ain’t used to sleepin much anyway.
Are you kidding? she says. We’re in a hotel. There are beds everywhere.
Safer to stick together, says Moses. Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna touch you or make any untoward advances. That’s more Abe’s thing, and he’s down for the count tonight.
So she settles onto the bed and leans back against the headboard and eats olives from the jar.
You did good with him, she says to Moses after a silent while. What were you before? You know, before all this happened.
Me? Moses replies. I was a no-good. I didn’t do much of anything. I think maybe I was just waitin on the apocalypse so I would have something to occupy me.
So are you occupied now?
More or less. What about you? What were you?
I was just a little girl. I don’t remember much. Just a lot of people everywhere.
What about after? What were you before you were part of Fletcher’s sideshow?
Lots of things, she answers in a sleepy voice. Lots of things. Many lives. I wasn’t even always a redhead.
But she doesn’t want to talk any more and falls asleep on top of the blankets. Moses goes over to the bed and takes the jar of olives out from between her embracing arms, sets it on the night stand and puts the lid back on. Then he returns to his chair and lets his mind wander wide – though his thoughts don’t get very far before he, too, is lost to sleep.
When Moses wakes again, it is because his brother is calling to him from where he is sitting up in the bed.
Mose – up and at em, big brother!
Bright light floods the room, and Moses pinches his eyes closed. He turns in the chair he has slept in all night, and his bones creak, his muscles complain. He realizes it frequently these days: after four decades on the earth, he is getting to be one of the aged things.
The nun’s gone, Abraham says.
The red nun. She’s gone.
His brother points to the other bed in the room, which is empty save for a pad of paper with something written on it
She’s not a nun, Moses says and rises to take the note from the bed. The paper has the hotel’s logo on the top of it, and her note is scratched onto it with pencil in the curlicue handwriting of a young girl.
Thanks for the lift.
You are two souls lit by heaven.
Peace and love,
The True Vestal, Canoness Amata
What’s it say? Abraham asks.
She left, Moses says.
Left where? Out there? Slugland? Without any protection?
I reckon she don’t need protection from the dead.
You really believe it’s real?
Moses looks away from his brother to the window where the sun feels hot and good on his face.
It ain’t an issue of belief, he says. She’s took off. Whether she’s gonna be et or not, she ain’t here any more.
So what now?
Now we try to find her.
Goddamnit, Abraham says. Seems like we’re settin up to spend an inordinate lot of time pursuing a girl we ain’t allowed to bang when we find her.
Moses looks at his brother’s leg, stretched out straight on the bed with a towel wrapped around it.
Can you walk?
It hurts like straight damnation, Abraham says. What’d you do, gnaw the bullet out of there with your teeth?
Are you able to walk on it?
If you ain’t in the mood to carry me, I could hobble.
Fine. Let’s go.
Outside, in the car, they drive slowly, looking for traces of the Vestal Amata. The dead are dense and easily riled, but there are no signs of a wake – a tide of dead all moving in one direction, at the head of which you usually find some poor fool running for his life. It seems that they are so uninterested in her they don’t even pay much attention to her passing. She’s an invisible – a ghost even among the dead.
They do not know which way to drive even, and Moses makes widening concentric squares in the car – a series of right turns, each one a block further than the previous. But the dead accumulate, drawn by the sound of the car – and their density makes it increasingly difficult to push through.
We’re collecting quite a crowd here, Mose, says Abraham.
Moses drives on in silence, the dead becoming so thick that their clawing hands on the car sound like driving rain, their nails ripping away on the painted metal, their skin, sometimes, sloughing off in sheets that stick and will harden in the sun if they are left untended, fleshy tattoos of the dead past plastered on the decaying machines of a promised future that will now never arrive.
Moses leans forward to gaze out the windshield with grim seriousness.
It seems impossible that they will ever find her. The world is wide, and she, blessed or cursed as it may be with freedom beyond the common share, has the impunity to go anywhere in it.
Hours pass and the sun starts a descent on the far side of its meridian. She is an invisible, and she could be anywhere, and the world is wide, and Moses is near to giving up when he sees something in the road.