* * *
Mathilda walked through the gently falling snow. Grocery bag in her right hand, left hand in her coat pocket. Wrapped around her little revolver, just in case. It was faster than reaching for a bigger gun under an overcoat. She eyed a bell-ringer down the sidewalk.
The Santa-dressed woman smiled at Matty. “Merry Christmas, miss.”
“Yeah, whatever,” the Cleaner replied. The holidays always got her down, but this year seemed worse than most.
* * *
Tony wiped his mouth with a napkin, and pushed the emptied plate of fettuccine away. He gazed at the Cleaner across the table. “Look, why don’t you come here for Christmas?”
“Fine, all right. Here, look.” Tony fished in his pocket. “Take this.” Tony held out a roll of twenties.
Mathilda looked at it, raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t done any cleaning this week, Tony.”
“I know, but think of it as a Christmas bonus. Take it, go out, meet a nice young Italian guy...”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
* * *
Mathilda looked at the .45 lying on the table next to her. Picked it up, ejected the full magazine into a waiting hand. When she briskly racked the slide her hand shot out to catch the round before it could hit the floor.
The television droned on. She paid it no heed, until an awful rendition of “Deck the Halls” came on. She looked at the set. A family sat in a Chinese restaurant, being caroled at by a group of employees whose English was atrociously accented. The side of Matty’s mouth quirked up, almost a smile.
* * *
Mathilda walked down the street, enjoying the different atmosphere. She rarely left Little Italy, and she hadn’t been here in quite awhile. She was deeply aware of the irony of being out on Christmas Day alone, here, but she didn’t feel like going through the hassle of trying to find someone on short notice. Especially in her line of work.
A neon sign ahead shone “Chinese Restaurant.” As if there’d be any other kind, here in Chinatown. All the places in Little Italy--and most of the city, for that matter--would be closed. Except Tony’s, and she would not go there. He’d probably try and fix her up with one of his nephews.
Mathilda was half a block from the restaurant when they called to her from a dilapidated building. “Hey, girlie, looking for a good time?” Her pace didn’t change.
*You’ve gotta be shitting me. Don’t assholes take Christmas off?*
“Sorry, not interested.”
The five gang members filed out of the covered walkway. *Fuck. Five? Alright, it’s Christmas, maybe I won’t-*
The lead gangbanger caught at her right arm. She let him grasp it just firmly enough to commit. “Hey bitch, now we’re gonna fuck y-“
Her left hand came out from inside her coat with her knife. “I SAID-“ she buried more than half of the seven-inch blade in the first guy’s neck. He let go of her arm, and went down, making noises like a chicken.
Mathilda jerked the blade free, the motion spinning her in an arc that brought her face to face with her next attacker. Her right boot caught him in the crotch and he doubled over. “-I’m NOT-” She hit him in the back of the head with the butt of the knife, and the second man dropped to the ground with a mushy spot in the back of his skull. “-interested, asshole!”
“Shit, she’s got a fucking knife!”
The momentary hesitation caused by two of their friends being incapacitated was all Mathilda needed. Her big silenced .45 came out from under the coat in her right hand at the same time the shortest Asian cut at her with a knife.
She blocked the cut with the long silencer. Rebounding from the blocked attack, the hole in the end of the silencer lined up with her opponent’s face. Matty pulled the trigger.
The Cleaner was turning back towards the fourth attacker when she glimpsed the end of the nunchaku arcing towards her head. Matty tried to deflect the end of the flail with her knife, but it caught her across the knuckles instead.
There was a wet, cracking sound and Matty’s knife flew from her broken hand. She knew sometime, somewhere she must have been in more pain, but she couldn’t imagine how. The man wielding the nunchaku stepped in swinging his weapon again. He gave Mathilda an ugly grin.
She brought her pistol around just as the man struck again with his flail, batting the gun to the side. Matty barely maintained her grip on the pistol. When the end of the nunchaku came looping back towards her head, she let her legs collapse under her. Instead of striking her in the temple, the blow glanced off the side of her skull.
Mathilda jerked two rushed shots at her attacker through the waves of pain that threatened to overwhelm her. His weapon flew to the side as he staggered back and collapsed. The fifth man, who had been keeping back to avoid his friend’s circling weapon, turned and ran down the street.
Matty rolled over and vomited. Her breath came in shallow gasps as she wiped her mouth. She extended her right arm, took a deep breath. The running man was now half a block away. She exhaled halfway and slowly pressed the trigger. The man went down, face-first, and slid to a stop on the icy sidewalk.
Slowly, shakily, Mathilda struggled to her feet. She turned and faced her sole living assailant, who was trying unsuccessfully to keep pressure on both of the bullet holes in his stomach.
“I SWEAR, I swear, we didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?”
“That you were that fucking wop hit-man-chick. Oh fuck, we didn’t know.”
“Yeah, too bad, isn’t it? You should of learned; no women, no kids.”
“Fu-“ His words were cut off by the muffled bang of the large pistol.
Mathilda staggered off towards home, no longer interested in Christmas dinner. The bodies of five dead and dying men lay cooling on the pavement behind her.
* * *