In Los Angeles, real estate was so valuable even the dead had a hard time finding a decent spot without shelling out the cost of a Mercedes-Benz Maybach Exelero. A sizable trust fund was now a prerequisite to being buried in even the most decrepit cemeteries.
“How could a place be so full and empty at the same time?” Joanna thought as she walked through Rose Hills Memorial Park.
She wore a simple black pants suit and a long sleeve white blouse. She regretted wearing flats instead of her ankle boots. The ground was still muddy from the rare rainstorm that showered the city two nights ago. She wore no makeup; her dark sunglasses being the only facial accessory. She carried two carnations and two lilies in one hand and a small brown bag in the other.
The cemetery was not her favorite place to visit, especially on this day. As she wonder amongst the tombstones, her insides felt mangled. The sweet siren of the hummingbirds— a sound that on any other day brought her serenity — today sounded worse than cats clawing on a chalkboard. The grass beneath her feet felt like hot coals; the fallen golden-red tree leaves reminded her of a trail of blood leading her down a path to hell.
As she walked amongst the bones of those long departed, she found some delight in reading the various epitaphs.
“Here lies so-and-so; beloved mother and friend to all,” Joanna read.
“Here lies Martha Blachard and her 1967 Mustang, Pumpkin.”
She read a few more.
“Here lies Frank Headman, beloved son and brother. Oh, here’s my favorite — here’s lies Betty Banks, beloved wife and mother.”
Joanna chuckled at this one. “Amazing how everyone is ‘beloved’ after they’re dead? Guess it wouldn’t be nice to say ‘she was a lying, cheating bitch who murder her husband,’ huh?”
She reached her destination — Laura and Andrew’s gravestones. Gravestone wasn’t the right word; grave-marker was more appropriate. She swiped away a few fallen leaves and noticed the engraving was a bit worn and almost unreadable. She made a mental note to arrange to have the markers re-etched.
“Hey guys, how you doing?” she said. “See, I didn’t forget your birthday. Andrew, I got you a Porsche.”
She crouched down and pulled a 1970 Porsche 917 magenta-colored Hot Wheel from the brown bag. She placed the toy on Andrew’s grave.
“I have someone searching for that limited edition 1973 Ferrari 312P you wanted.”
She kissed Andrew’s grave-marker.
“For you Laura, I got you that Revlon Super Lustrous Pink in the Afternoon lipstick. You really loved the color, but girl, I should’ve told you — that color never looked good on you.”
Joanna laughed. She laughed and laughed until her tears of laughter turned to sobs.
These was more than tears; this was the kind of excruciating bawling that only came when she felt drained of all hope and joy. Joanna sank to her knees, not caring about the damp mud that dirtied her suit.
The pain that flowed through her was as intense as the Santa Ana winds and sharper than a katana. She told herself she’d move on from the loss of her best friends. But she knew it was a lie. Her pain was only numbed, and the same anguish overwhelmed her every time she visited the cemetery.
And every time, the same damn questions plagued her mind:
Why had she let it happened?
Why couldn’t she stop it?
Why did they have to die?
Why? Why? Why?
Knowing the answers would never come was the real torture.
She cried until there was nothing left but the same raw emptiness eating her insides. The sunglasses hid her scarlet eyeballs. Her body hung limp, as if each limb weighed three-times as much as before. The ocean breeze that that kept the city cool now burned her skin.
Joy and happiness no longer existed, only pain. A pain that fueled her rage and anger; a pain powering her life’s only mission — quenching her thirst for revenge.
She gathered herself, stood up and dabbed away her tears.
“Guess what? The agency, in its infinite wisdom, has taken us off the undercover assignment and given us some silly protection detail. And you wouldn’t believe who they assigned us to protect? That’s right, that piece of shit Angelo. Seems he’s now some government stool pigeon. A muthafuckin’ rat! I nearly threw up when Kelvin told me. I swear I wanted to quit right then and there. After what that muthafucker did to us! They got some nerve asking me to protect him.”
She took four deep breaths before she spoke again.
“I should quit. I really should.”
She crouched down and laid a carnation and lily on their graves. She smiled and whispered to her friends —
“But we always believed in giving the devil his due.”
* * *