Chapter three: Julie
Julie was only three years old when she first experienced the weight of having a gun in one’s hands.
Just like most young girls of her age, Julie was raised to love the color pink, to see beauty in lace and ribbons, to dream of being a Princess, to always look pretty and to kiss boys on the cheek. She was cheerful, playful and occasionally mischievous, and her father would often find her peering from corners or hiding behind doors whenever his friends would come to visit.
Julie understood that her father was a good man. She understood that her father was working for the President. She knew that her father’s job was to help people and to protect people, although at her age, she wasn’t certain what people needed protection from. The idea of there being bad people was still something Julie was having trouble understanding. After all, why would anyone want to be bad? Why would anyone want to hurt others?
So when Julie saw her father’s friends come visit one day, she hid behind the corner of the hallway leading to the bedrooms and tried to listen to what they were talking about. The words barely made sense to her then: Coup de’etat, martial law, rebels, assassination… they were puzzling strange words that Julie decided were part of the older person vocabulary. Like the words sex. Or babies. Or fuck.
Her father lived in a strange world. It was a world of loud, angry men. It was a world of telling her mother to shut up and stop asking questions. Her father had a uniform. It was a dark blue thing that her mother would wash carefully. Though Julie back then did not know it, the uniform would be starched each time it was laundered in order to maintain its formal and authoritarian image. All Julie knew was that when her mother returned it to her father’s cabinet, it would be firm like the cardboard folders she used in school.
It was during another one of those meetings with her father’s friends when Julie decided she wanted to show her father that she was proud of him. Her chubby legs were far from stealthy, but the laughter of four grown men concealed any sounds Julie inadvertently made. Her mother was busy in the kitchen, knife in hand and pot set to boil. Cold beer clinked between jokes. Laugher burst between insults.
Julie stole quietly into her parents’ room and pulled herself up the bed. She clambered over to the huge pillows, gathered them together, and knelt atop the pile to reach for the head rest. From there, it was a short crawl to the shelf left of the bed where her father kept the boxes of his golf balls, perfume bottles and other daddy things. Julie remembered how her father would come home each day, walk up to this shelf, then empty his pockets there. He would unclasp the black thing strapped around his chest, bring it over his shoulder, and then slide it up here where it would be safely out of reach. At least safely out of reach had Julie been standing on the floor. On the headrest, however, she was tall enough to be able to grab hold of it.
The black thing was heavy. Julie learned she needed both hands to pick it up from the shelf. Her nose itched when she brought it closer to her face. It smelled like the metal monkey bars in the playground. Like the see-saw handle. Like the slide.
“How did you know about the guy in charge here?” Ricardo whispered to Julie as the two waited for the man called KaQoH to arrive. The men with guns keeping watch allowed them past the gates, only to have them stop at the tracks of the station. The derailed trains had been carefully reinforced to act as both walls and dividers to separate the gate area from the main station platform. Makeshift fences and walls were welded into place. Julie noted at least fifteen people were keeping watch of them. All but three of them were armed with guns. The last three were carrying plastic buckets, each one having an itak in them.
“Now is not the time,” She whispered back to Ricardo and kept her firearm visibly pointed upwards. Ricardo left a line of cold sweat run down his back, parallel to his spine. He was definitely uneasy with how all the other people were looking at him like he was one of those zombies outside. While he felt this new complication was one which Julie had caused, he felt much safer having her with him right that moment. She, unlike him, seemed to know what to do.
She did not know what she was doing, however, at such a young age. She sat down on the bed and placed the heavy thing on the sheet in front of her. The straps were holding the metal thing in place, and with a tug, she was able to separate the small short flap which kept the metal thing from sliding out. The metal thing was shaped like one of the letters of the alphabet. Julie recognized the thing from television and knew it was called a gun. She wasn’t certain how it was used, however. Or who used it. Sometimes, the television showed the bad guys using it. At other times, the good guys seemed to be using it. She remembered how they held it in their hands, however, and tried doing it the way they did.
But it was too heavy, however. Far too heavy for Julie’s short fingers.
She tried lifting it with both hands but still found it too heavy to hold up for long. So inquisitive little Julie decided to try and see if she could find a way to hold it where it would not be too heavy. She slipped her finger into the hole and realized it was too small for her finger to fit in. She turned it around, then slid her finger into the loop.
The loop had a small part jutting out from it.
She tried lifting it up.
A gunshot resounded through the station. Everyone froze, waiting to hear if the zombie alarm was being played. Ever since the day when Shaw station first fell into KaQoH’s hands, a system was devised in order to warn everyone in the station if the zombies were ever able to break through the gates. The public address system had been rigged to function with the help of a car battery. The system would be activated and an old pre-recorded commercial would then be played. But thankfully, there was no sign of the alarm being played.
No screams of people who panicked as the zombie horde broke through.
There was only KaQoH emerging from his quarters with a gun in his hand. The man looked intimidating, with his heavy girth and his greasy unkept hair. His eyes were covered by a thick pair of glasses. His skin seemed dry and tired. A gray ill-fitting sando covered most of his bulk, save for his arms and part of his chest. The letters K, A, Q, O and H were tattooed on his chest and peered from underneath the sweat stained gray. Black slacks had been trimmed into knee-length shorts. A pair of dirty white flip flops supported his feet.
But while Ricardo found himself far more worried, Julie seemed barely impressed. She maintained her gun trained at the ceiling and waited for the man to talk.
KaQoH stared at the two newcomers and quietly swallowed his fear away. He had to maintain a semblance of courage. To break now would be to lose his influence over the people here. It would mean to lose the station as well.
“What can I do for you lovebirds,” KaQoH teased as he approached the two. Scattered laughter punctuated the platform. The man brought his pistol down and used it to scratch his belly.
“We wish to-“ Ricardo began only to feel a painful squeeze on his arm. Julie’s nails bit into his skin as she physically reminded him to remain quiet. He bit his lower lip, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of hearing him yelp in pain.
“What my companion wanted to say was,” Julie gave KaQoH a smile, “We wanted to get a chance to speak with you.”
“With you,” Julie repeated and rested her pistol against her waist.
KaQoH shook his head in confusion. This woman was brave. Tremendously brave. KaQoH’s henchmen trained their guns at her, ignoring the male newcomer. KaQoH turned to motion at all of his people gathered in the area. He signaled them all to stay calm. To hold their fire.
“You wanted to find me?” KaQoH asked again, impressed that a newcomer would be asking for him.
“Yes,” she replied with a smile before turning to the man with her. Ricardo saw her staring at him and slowly realized what she wanted him to do. He nodded and turned to KaQoH, throwing at the man his best attempt at looking dead serious. “Yes, we went here to look for you KaQoH.”
KaQoH felt his hands grow sweaty. He maintained his confident smile, but knew anyone standing close would see his nose and lower lip quivering. His mind raced that moment with all the people whom he had either locked out of the station or had thrown back out into the zombies. Was there someone far too well connected that he had slighted? Was there someone whose much more influential relative now wanted to avenge? The woman did not look familiar. The man, on the other hand, had a face which seemed to remind KaQoH of someone whom he had earlier seen.
He could feel their eyes on him. Everyone watched KaQoH and waited to see how he would deal with these two newcomers. The fact that they sought him out by name suggested he had a growing fame (or was it infamy) beyond the confines of the station. KaQoH understood safe passage was the easiest to offer. Compared to actually offering sanctuary, safe passage meant the newcomer problem left as soon as possible. It was a loss of possibly gained resources, yes, but an easier preferable choice compared to possibly having to worry about two new faces that might someday throw him out into the hungry dead while he slept.
“Here I am then,” KaQoH boasted, trying to sound amused, “I see my name and reputation now extends further than before. What do you two need from the great KaQoH?”
“Hold me,” Julie muttered.
“What?” KaQoH stared at her and saw her smile widen even more.
“When the music starts,” she continued.
“What is this?” KaQoH barked at Ricardo who shook his head in response. Ricardo did not know what was going on either. Everyone else in the vicinity began to lean closer, trying to catch if Julie had said anything else. Their mumbles gathered like a rising wave. “Everyone shut up!” KaQoH yelled out again and pointed the gun directly at Julie’s face. He was breathing heavily now, as panic nipped at his composure. “Shut up! SHUT UP!”
“All my dreams come true…” Julie ignored his threat. She blew KaQoH a kiss, not once dropping her smile. The gun in his hand was still held menacingly at her face. But his grip wavered. KaQoH’s eyes widened in recognition. His face quickly turned pale.
“When I dance with you?” Ricardo mumbled, realizing what she was saying. He turned towards her and found her smile infectious. He did not know the significance of the words, but the effect seemed instantaneous. Before either of them could say another word, the infamous KaQoH was suddenly walking past them and motioning everyone else to stand aside. “Let them pass! Damn it, everyone back and let them pass.”
Ricardo saw Julie let out a sigh and almost coyly motion him to follow her. She began to walk after KaQoH, her steps almost reminiscent to a dance step done in some Broadway musical. Ricardo could see the still confused expressions upon the faces of the many gathered onlookers. Like him, they were confused over what had just transpired. Was it some kind of coded exchange? Was there a secret history between Julie and that man? What was it that made those words have so much weight?
Especially considering they were just lyrics of a popular song.
“Everyone go back to minding your own business. No cause of alarm here. Nothing to worry about. Everyone back to your duties,” KaQoH declared loud enough that anyone within earshot would understand the situation. While it did not provide answers to what just happened, it did explain what was about to happen next. “I am personally escorting these two through!”
“And our weapons?” Julie gave him another toothy smile. This time, she even raised her eyebrows enough to look comical.
“Keep them! Keep your damned weapons!”
“We would like some water too,” she added.
He simply grunted in response, then upon chancing upon someone along the route who had bottles of water on him, grabbed hold of them without a word. Ricardo saw Julie motion him to get them and he hesitated, worrying that KaQoH would take offense. Julie rolled her eyes, brought back her cheerful demeanor and gave KaQoH an approving smile.
“Ricky,” Julie called out.
“Ricardo,” he corrected her.
“Ricky,” she still didn’t, “Get the bottles of water from him and thank the man.”
“I said, please call me-“
“Just do it. Get the water and thank the man or I’ll tell him I’m leaving you in exchange for that and additional ammo.”
“Thank you very much sir,” Ricardo hissed between frustrated sighs. Seeing her this amused was very quickly annoying him. KaQoH handed to him the bottles, nodded and simply continued to walk ahead of them, motioning people to move aside and give them space. The man, Ricardo decided, was definitely spooked. Julie knew more than she was letting on. Her skill in using guns bothered him. But now, seeing this, Ricardo realized she wasn’t just passing through. She was prepared to pass through.
Julie, however, was not prepared for how they would react.
In the few years of her life, Julie had always looked up to her mother and father as two of the most perfect people she knew. They were bigger, smarter, faster and stronger than anyone else in the whole world. While other people would come up to her and try to ask her silly things – asking her to say her name, or how old she was – her mother and father would ask her questions they already knew the answers too, and it was always at the time she wanted to answer them. Her mother seemed able to sense when she was hungry. Or scared. Or tired. Her father seemed to be able to perfectly guess what would make her laugh. Or smile. Or cry.
She was not prepared, however, to see them the way she did on this particular day.
Her father was scared.
His eyes were wide-open like the way eyes would in the cartoons she would watch. They weren’t leaping out of his head, but they probably could have if he wanted them to. He was sitting with his friends around the table when he saw her. And unlike before when he would quickly stand up, walk up to her, and call out her name, today he simply remained on his seat. His hands were held up, like he used to hold them when he was teaching her to walk. But rather than calling out for her to come to her, today her father simply stared and struggled to form any words.
Her mother was scared, too.
She was in the kitchen, bringing a steaming pyrex of porkchops to the table when she noticed the silence that suddenly filled the house. She turned to ask the men what was going on when she saw Julie standing at the mouth of the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Her face turned pale, much paler than the men were, and her hands failed to retain their strength. The pyrex fell. Glass shattered against the linoleum floor. Toasted garlic and oily pork chops flew in different directions. The sound, however, was enough to break the stunned silence that had captured the men.
“Julie,” her father finally spoke, “Julie… put that down very slowly, honey.”
Julie was confused. Why were they all so scared. She was holding the heavy metal thing up using both hands. Why were they all so scared?
“Oh my God,” Julie heard her mother gasp.
The other men did not make a sound.
“Julie sweetie,” her father again spoke. He tried to stand up but his legs were a bit too much under the table to do so. He tried but failed to shove his chair backwards. He tried again. The wood scraped against the linoleum. To Julie’s surprise, her mother did not get angry at him like she normally would. She simply held both hands over her open mouth.
“Julie,” her father carefully rose from his seat. The silence was strange. Very different to Julie. Occasionally, one of the men would suddenly take a deep breath. The sound would catch her attention and she’d turn a bit to look towards who made it. The men would then almost say her name but fall silent. It was like some weird game. Breath – Turn – Gasp – Silence. Then repeat. Julie heard a tapping sound. Her eyes followed where her ears found them and she saw the slowly growing puddle at her mommy’s feet. Was she making a boo boo?
“Julie, that isn’t a toy,” her father gently reminded her as he inched his way towards her. The other men were tired of the game now. They were just quiet. Julie saw her mommy crying. Was she crying because her daddy would be mad that she wet the floor? Julie saw her father move closer. Closer.
Close enough now that he blocked her view of everyone else.
“Bang!” Julie shouted aloud then began giggling.
Her father threw his hand at his, swatting the gun from her tiny hand. The gun flew towards the wall, but not before discharging a single round. Julie heard her mother scream, but concern for her mother was quickly forgotten as she realized how painful her father had hit her. Julie dropped to the ground, crying.
She did not know what she did wrong.
“Thank you very much,” Julie raised a hand to her lips and blew KaQoH another kiss as the man pushed them both outside the gate at the other end of the Shaw station. Ricardo regained his balance the same moment he heard the metal door slam shut behind them. Just as it was earlier, he saw the men who stood at the other side of the gate watch them with their guns held ready. Ricardo realized it was only now that his knees had stopped shaking. He turned around and saw Julie already walking down the line, following the tracks. He clutched one hand on the Armalite to keep it from swaying and quickly moved to catch up with her. By the time he had caught up with her, he could hear her humming the very melody the earlier lyrics were associated to. She was still smiling.
“What was that about?” Ricardo asked, and upon seeing her shaking her head from side to side, he pressed on, “Surely you will tell me.”
“Ever had trouble getting it up?”
Her question caught him off-guard. Again.
“You heard me,” she slipped the pistol back into its holster. She tore at the sampaguitas still wrapped around her wrist and allowed the ones she had destroyed to fall to the ground. “When was the last time you ever had trouble getting Mr. Ricky Jr. up?”
“Never,” he snapped back, annoyed.
“Liar,” she flung the last of the sampaguitas at him. He blocked with his hand but clumsily caught a few in his mouth. He stopped to spit out the flowers he had accidentally snagged. She walked up to him, and patted him on the back. “Ever girl knows guys have their off days. So either you’re lying your ass off and claiming you never had a bad day-“
“Or I just don’t have them,” he tried to retort but the flowers tasted vile and he decided to continue keeping his focus on spitting them out.
“-Or you never actually got to use it yet to know it does happen.”
Ricardo straightened up, wiped his mouth clean, then pulled out one of the new bottles of water that they had gained. He took a deep swag then offered it to her. She stared at him, clearly waiting for an answer. He faltered. “All right, all right already. I’ve had… my share of the problems. But when it last happened is none of your business.”
Julie took the water, took a light sip, then screwed the cover back on. She tossed it back to him and drew out the pistol again. Back to the danger zone, Ricardo found himself thinking, even if deep down being in the station and being out here barely felt any different. Both were danger zones as far as he could tell.
“So what’s the story behind the David Pomeranz song?” Ricardo asked aloud. Julie simply smiled and told him, “Like you said, none of your business.”
It was almost fifteen minutes before KaQoH’s hands stopped trembling.
The whole encounter with the man and the woman upset him. They knew about it. They knew about his secret shame. KaQoH tried and failed to match their faces to the people who he knew was aware of his secret. Somehow, the two were aware of the embarrassing moment in his life which had haunted him for most of his life. In the privacy of his own room, KaQoH stood before the mirror and pulled the gray sando upwards, then over his head. He stared at the tattoos on his chest and eyed each and every permanent letter.
King and Queen of Hearts.
The thing he had tattooed on himself during a drunken moment of utter stupidity.
He had hidden this secret shame for so long, when the zombies came, he thought it over as the first letters of each word peering over his sando became the letters that spelled out his new identity. The name sounded ferocious. Brave. Exotic. Dangerous.
But if the people were to know the truth.
“Sir, everything okay there?” a voice called out from outside the door. KaQoH tried to respond but the words got lost somewhere along the way. He only realized then he was actually crying. KaQoH wiped the tears away, cleared his throat and told the man, “Lapad. Get me one.”
He pulled the sando back in place, stared at his own eyes which were still swollen from the tears, and realized the last time he felt this powerless was when the three year old daughter of his dead friend, Captain Rodolfo Santos, appeared one night at the dining table with a gun in her hands.
That was the last night he ever visited that family again.
He punched the mirror.
The glass spider-webbed and KaQoH stared at the small breaks in his skin where the blood began to flow. He felt the pain and found focus. Found clarity.
No one should ever know. No one will.
KaQoH shoved the door open and nearly walked into one of his bodyguards who was bringing him over a bottle of brandy. He took the bottle, opened it, and took a long deep shot. He felt the burning warmth spread in his stomach and drew from that the courage to declare, “Get me my four best men. Tell them to pack light, have enough food for a day, and enough ammunition to get all the way to Buendia station if need be.”
“Sir?” the bodyguard stared at KaQoH’s bleeding hand.
“Tell them,” KaQoH grinned an excited grin, “We’re going hunting.”