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Life, Love and Lord Gangrok

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Doris sits at the train station, wiping the tears away with her coat sleeve. There's positively no one to talk to here, not to a girl on her own, or to a girl who's obviously just gotten out of the clink. Why it must show to everyone! After all, she's got a whole bench to herself, and mothers whisper quietly to their children and move past her when they get too near. She'll be glad to get back home to Naperville where her mom will probably bake her a dozen sugar cookies and take her to get her hair done. Yes! That's just what she needs.

"Excuse me, ma'am," a man says to her right, and she looks up. He's dressed in a long overcoat with the collar up and a brown fedora. The face looks familiar, but she can't recall when she'd ever met such a broad-shouldered black man, especially with such a lovely voice. "Doris?"

Doris blinks, looks at the face again, and then throws herself into the stranger's arms. But it isn't a stranger at all. "Why, it's you, isn't it! Mar—"

Mary-Anne slaps a palm over Doris' mouth. Oh, how silly of her! Of course they can't use her real name if she's on the lam. She nods vigorously under the hand to show she understands.

Mary-Anne removes her hand. "Oh, Martin, I almost didn't recognize you! How have you been?"

"Doing well." Mary-Anne cuts her eyes toward the exit.

Of course! An escaped convict can't just ride a train like regular old ex-convicts! They're going to have to travel the old-fashioned way. By foot. She realizes she's decided to go with Mary-Anne with no argument. And why not? The last three months they've become the best of bosom friends.

Doris shoves the train ticket into her coat pocket and picks up her ratty suitcase. "Let's go, Martin!" She marches off the platform, and Mary-Anne follows.

When they're far enough away, Doris asks, "How ever did you escape?" A thought comes to her, and she puffs up with pride. "My lock-pick?"

"Partly," Mary-Anne says. "That got me out of the cell. As for the prison…" She pulls out a book from below her overcoat and shows Doris the cover.

Doris's pride swells up so much she might as well be a balloon. "Lord Gangrok! How lovely!" Her voice goes gravelly, and she adds, eyes glowing red, "Well met, Sister of the Apocalypse.".

"Lucky seven! Again!" Doris cries out, hopping up and down and clapping. Why, craps is just so easy when you've got religion on your side! Just say a little prayer, chant a little chant, grovel on your knees, smear a little pig's blood in the right places and voilà! Lucky as the day is long.

Mary-Anne watches from a distance. She can tell Mary-Anne is worried about her, which is down right silly when you come to think about it. These fellas wouldn't dare to touch a woman, even if she kept winning every toss she threw. Which she doesn't. She thinks of a wrong number every few throws just so's they won't think she's doublecrossed them.

"One of these towns," Mary-Anne warns her, "You're gonna wind up with a lump on the back of the head and no money in your purse. And maybe worse."

"Not if I use my feminine wiles and the power of Lord Gangrok!"

So when the mood of the gathered group turns ugly, she can see Mary-Anne's told-you-so face from yards away.

Her luck holds though. There's a lot of blood—none of it theirs—and a lot of cash in hand when they walk away that night. "You're right, Mary-Anne," Doris tells her when they're hopping on a box car heading north, "We've got to find a safer way of making a buck."

The baseball cracks on the bat, and it flies up and over the back fence. The crowd jumps to their feet, screaming and waving their programs wildly. Doris does the same. "Hooraaaaaaay, Martin!"

She hears the men behind her, "That Martin could take on Babe Ruth, I tell ya!"

Doris agrees. Mary-Anne can swing with the best of them. And thanks to Gangrok, it doesn't matter what she looks like, or her door-slamming past. All her team sees is the best player they've ever had. She's been playing with them for half a season, and her salary is keeping them in a pretty nice apartment. They're living the life!

But gosh, some days, Mary-Anne doesn't look like she's living the life. After the game, Doris bumps up against her batting arm. "Are you happy, Mary-Anne?" They're far enough from the boys to speak freely. "I mean, really happy?"

"Happy enough. I love to play."


"I thought I'd like it better. All the fame, all the ladies throwing themselves at me—"

"We have collected a startling number of hats and garters—"

"But at the end of it all, I don't feel part of a team. I'm just lonely."

Doris nods. She felt that way in the stands, cheering Mary-Anne on. Would have been nice to have a friend by her side. "I got an idea. You like music?"

Doris improvises a riff on the trombone, guiding the slide through the melody with flair. She could have played the saxophone, or the piano, but she likes the way her mouth feels all tingly afterward. She ends her riff and calls out an encouragement. "Attagirl, Mary-Anne! Sing your heart out!"

Mary-Anne's been swaying back and forth during the interlude, but now she pulls the silver microphone toward her and sings, "Every night, upon my knees I pray the Lord above, hear my plea, send back to me the only one I love. Lord, my prayer now don't refuse, that sweet love don't let me lose, I'm just a lonesome mama, singing lonesome mama blues!"

The crowd loves her, just like at the stadium, but this time, they're doing this together. Red hot jazz fills the club and they play until Mary-Anne's voice gets hoarse and Doris's lips grow numb. Gangrok could prevent all manner of these kind of ailments, but this time Mary-Anne wanted to do it all on her own. And boy howdy, she did.

It's three a.m. when they stumble back into their little apartment and fall into bed. "Mary-Anne?" she asks, looking up at the cracked ceiling. "How you feeling now? Like the bee's knees? The elephant's eyebrows? The gnat's whistle?"

"My dogs are barkin'," she answers, stretching her toes out, "but yeah, like the cat's pajamas. Good night, Doris." She places a light kiss on Doris' cheek, and it lingers a little while. It lingers a little longer every night.

"'Night, Mary-Anne." Doris kisses her back, letting it linger even longer. One day Mary-Anne won't be afraid to tell her how she feels.

But for now, Mary-Anne curls onto her side, and Doris does the same, cuddling into Mary-Anne's warmth. Neither one of them is a lonesome mama anymore.

"Thank you, Lord Gangrok," Doris whispers to the book beside the bed.

It glows a couple of times and fades away.