Cadillac Payback Crew: Maria

**Cadillac Payback Second Edition available March 18, 2021**

**Cadillac Payback: Rising Tide coming April 15, 2021**

Charlie, if your spirit lingers, guide my hand, and bless the bullet. If it flies, it does to honor you. 

I make a slow sigh as I cross myself, a dramatic play, I admit, as my guests and my boys are frozen to their roots, as I make them all wait. I’ve never been much for my family’s Catholic heritage, but if any prayer has ever mattered, it’s this one. 

Expectancy shuttles between me and my untimely interruption. My guests are to my left as I face the door, all of them seated in a line behind eclectic, retro tables. Joshua, Isaiah, and Jack are to my right, also seated. I had just taken the floor to speak, when Noah crept inside. Now Noah has resumed his guard post, with his barrel trained on the driver outside, and Frederick stands rigid with his beautiful piece of a gun held steadily on his only mortal enemy. Oh, how quickly momentum can change. 

Charlie, if you have moved on, from your place in heaven, please look away. My actions are only mine. 

I drop my eyes to the door, to Derrik, the Jester as he’s known in dirtier circles. There is sweat on my skin, but my gaze is cold. I hook my fingers on Charlie’s gun without looking at it, and it drags on the table as I pick it up. The sound creates turbulence in the suspense. Its weight becomes more familiar every time I hold it, and I wonder if I’d feel anything if I put a slug in the Jester’s gut right now. I point the chrome .40 at him, just to see if my nerves stir. All eyes on me. Still nothing. 

So I say, “You are not welcome here. You know that.”

My brother used to say that the secret to owning the moment was to find the right vibes and surf them. I don’t know if “right” is a good adjective, but it feels like some higher power guides my movements just now. I take slow steps closer, and Derrik’s hands inch a little farther in the air. The automatic toothy smile on his lips falters as he finds himself staring down my barrel. I wonder if he recognizes Charlie’s gun.

He says, “I heard there was some sort of bus’ness meetin’.” 

I’m certain the confidence he means to portray doesn’t come as strongly as he’d like.

His expression plays like a morbid comedy as he tries to maintain a cool and collected front, but I can see the wariness swimming in his eyes as I lift the steel just a little, so that it’s trained on the middle of his face. Perhaps he thought he knew us, knew me, from past encounters. Perhaps he thought he had adequately gauged this situation from afar. And maybe, now, he’s realizing that he was sorely wrong. He doesn’t know this girl at all. 

I can almost feel his desire to back away from me. He has to know that if I pull the trigger, even if this big ol’ gun kicks, the space behind his eyes will be gone. All the muscles along my arm pull against one another, beg for me to do it without ever hearing another word from his vile lips, but it’d be wrong of me not to give Freddy first dibs. 

I cock my head to the right the slightest bit and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is obviously just a gathering of friends.”

His eyes flick almost imperceptibly at Freddy, who hasn’t moved since he came in, who also has his sleek silencer aimed at his former mentor. My beautiful and deadly Frederick. I know, just as the Jester must know, that true rage manifests in Frederick like the slow tip of an icicle as water drips down, freezes. When he’s aggravated, he’ll fight anyone. But once he is past violence he is extremely dangerous. I wonder if he’s even breathing, and I can only imagine what filth has already spewed from Derrik’s mouth. 

I wait for the Jester’s eyes to reconnect with mine, just so he knows I am absolutely serious, and say, “So it seems you’re being a party crasher, and nobody likes a party crasher.”

So, Maria. What do I say about her? First of all, she’s not a likable character, not in Cadillac Payback, though I think she redeems herself some in the sequel. If I’m completely honest, I don’t even like her. I spent a good deal of time when writing the first book despising my own character. She’s just…well…such a selfish bitch.

She is, however, the central focus and the driving force of the first book, and her growth from Caddy to Tide is probably the most remarkable of the four main characters. By the time she accepts the ways in which she was wrong, it’s almost too late for her to salvage any pieces left from her life before her brother died.

There’s actually a review from the initial release of Cadillac Payback that just tore Maria apart. I remember at the time my author feelings stung a little, but now, thinking back, it’s all true. Not all characters are meant to be loved, and in Maria’s case, she gets more love than she really deserves in the first book. Does she prove herself worthy of it in Rising Tide? You’ll have to be the judge.

An excerpt from Rising Tide:

My voice is quiet, hoarse from disuse when I say, “Offer still stands.”

He glances at me, shoulders tense, and he says, “What?”

I’m so goddamned tired of fighting. I wake up with my fists in the air, I walk with a perpetual shield on my arm. I’ve lost everyone who ever mattered because of it.

“Smoke?” I say.

He hesitates, and that stings almost as much as Frederick’s silent retreat. Maybe he thinks I’ll bring up the trap incident. I won’t. Frederick said he’d handle it, and I trust him to it. 

Finally he says, “Sure. That dinner was stuffy as hell.”

“No shit,” I say, and it’s so almost a sigh of relief.

The tension shifts, eases its pressure as the night weighs down on us. We don’t speak as we enter the building. The hallway smells like garlic from a nearby neighbor, and the aroma is oddly comforting. 

This is what I call home these days, something that is only mine. I don’t have visitors, don’t have time for that shit. My stuff is here, I sleep here, and have a few plants that I forget to water. It’s strange to invite him in, but it’s something I should do.

He follows me quietly, as he’s used to doing, but it feels less guarded. Less like work. I point him to a table for four where I eat my meals alone, and he sits obediently. I kick off the heels under the table, and amble into the kitchen.

I keep my personal stash in a cigar box in the cabinet, next to a bunch of spices and no food. I snag it, and when I close the cabinet door, I realize Josh is watching me. It’s a different sort of hunger in his eyes than those pigs at the party. I need to change. Now.

I pretend not to notice anything at all as I set the box down in front of him and say, “I think a blunt is in order.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he says.

I see the corner of his lips hook upward as I pull away, as my hair brushes across his arm. I didn’t mean to, I swear I didn’t. And the smile disappears. I’m already padding down the hallway by the time he starts moving to break up a blunt.

In the relative safety of my room, I shimmy out of the dress without a second thought. I catch my reflection out of the corner of my eye, and stop to look. No bra and a black thong, and no one will ever know but me. It’s better that way.

I lost weight after Izzy left and I no longer had revenge as a motivation and distraction. I haven’t been able to gain it back. My gaze lingers over the ridges of my ribs and my shoulders, too pronounced. Even my tits are smaller. I give myself a disgusted look and turn my back. 

I move to my dresser and dig through three drawers before I find what I want. It’s a big faded black t-shirt bearing a cracked Rancid logo. Charlie gave this to me years ago, after my very first punk show, attended under his supervision, of course. At some point, I cut the neck out of it, and it hangs over one shoulder. I slip into the shirt and pull on a pair of gray shorts. Already I feel better.

By the time I return to the dining room, Josh is about halfway through his rolling process. He doesn’t look up when he says, “It’s been a while since I rolled anything. This could suck.”

He doesn’t look up, so he doesn’t see me stop and stare. His tie has been discarded on the table, the first few buttons on his shirt are undone, and his sleeves are rolled up. The suspenders are in place. He’s like a goddamned biological weapon. He’s a man of style where once there was a boy who wanted to be . . . something. Anything.

My brother created a monster. No, not quite. My brother molded a damn fine protegé. I made him the monster.

Maria’s songs on the Rising Tide Playlist:

4 & 20 Blues by Redbird

The Truth by Handsome Boy Modeling School

Graveyard by The Devil Makes Three

The Lonesome Road by The Heavy

View the whole playlist here:

Published by ajthewordwitch

Writing is in my bones, my blood, and my heart.

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