Today is bin day it’s usually Tuesday and today is Thursday but that’s because it was Christmas Day on Tuesday and they didn’t come then as nothing happens on Christmas Daynormal service is cancelled I wish I’d known they were coming today I would have put out the rest of my recycling all those cardboard boxes I had so many for all the parcels they use far too much packaging these days and I cut myself onone of them I wonder what the binmen would think finding cardboard covered in blood it’s always binmen isn’t it never bin ladies at least I’ve never seen a bin lady before they probably wouldn’t be so bothered by the blood we deal with blood every month on fingers sheets and dripping down legs it’s easy to happen you can’t always catch the flow in time so I will have to find somewhere else to take all the recycling I could take it to the dump but it’s too far to walk and I don’t have a car anymore I could just stuff it in with the other rubbish but you’re not meant to do that and they fine you if you get caught although I’ve never known anyone to get a fine from doing that and I don’t see how they can check once it’s on the truck how do they know which sack is yours but they took both sets of bins this morning anyway I could hear them from my bedroom so I’ll just have to wait another week unless they come next Tuesday as usual then it’s only fivedays and that’s not so long perhaps the smell won’t be too bad by then it was to have been his first Christmas it was in a way first and last I don’t regret it I couldn’t have kept him wasn’t supposed to have it in the first place but these things happen I made him a manger like in the shop windows and laid him in it he looked so peaceful there I wanted to package him up and send him away to someone else who could look after him better but I didn’t know who and then I cut myself on the cardboard making his little box which made me cross so I packaged him up just for a little bit so I wouldn’t have to think about him for a while then I had to go and find a plaster and make a cup of tea and then I turned on the TV for the Queen’s speech.
The joint was called Morty’s; it claimed to be a restaurant. I was from out of town and it sounded as likely a name as any. I needed food and I needed a drink so I stepped to the far end of the bar and grabbed a stool. It wasn’t a crowded bar but I wanted to be away from the other customers. Unfolded napkins sat on the bar. I sat beside them.
A waitress appeared. “Getcha somethin to eat, hon?”
“Gimme a menu, and one with the drinks on it too.”
She brought it but I swear she had to have been in hiding, waiting for me to approach. I’d walked right past the bartender and he hadn’t been eager to serve me. I was good with slow service and now I had this across from me. She was pretty, with a fat round face. Probably ate too much cattle.
I glanced at the menu and ordered a plate of fried chicken, a beer and a scotch. They had single malt, thank God.
She took my order. “You don’t mind if I stay down here, do ya?”
“That’s fine,” I said. Really I did mind but I didn’t want to get on the bad side of a woman who was at least talking to the kitchen staff and the bartender. I could always shut her down if she talked too much.
Which she started to do, but she still held my order ticket in her hand. She set it on the bar to her right, like it would magically run to the bartender and the kitchen. She started to fold the napkins.
“You know,” she said, like I gave a fuck, at least until my order was processed, “I love doing this. Working in a restaurant, I mean.”
Thank God, I’d thought she meant folding napkins.
“I had an office job. It only lasted a few months. Every day, by the end of my shift I was dozing off, staring at a computer and answering phones. But this? I could do this all day.”
Jesus, she thought this was a rush. If I told her about what I did…
She folded several napkins, started to talk about how her cable had gone out and she’d wound up watching some terrible movie with an Oscar winning actress whose name meant nothing to me, and she went into details on how abysmal it was. Suddenly she said, “Oh!” and grabbed my ticket, showed it to the bartender and dashed into the kitchen with it. Thank fucking God. I wondered how this place stayed in business (maybe just out-of-towners drawn to the name?) and damn near devoured my scotch when it came, ordered a second from the bartender and drank my beer while I waited for the chicken.
Still, there was something about the ditzy waitress, and I was glad I’d said nothing to upset her. She was nice, and I didn’t mind fat. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“So,” I said, as she started up folding again, “normally you have cable and watch better movies?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Usually they got somethin good on, like Fifty First Dates, Dreamgirls, and Miss Congeniality, the first one and the second.” Just mentioning the movies had her on the verge of coming.
“Chick flicks, huh?”
“Do I look like an adventure flick type of gal to you?”
“I could show you some adventure you’d like.”
She laughed like I was joking. Like I was too good-looking for her.
“I’m serious. When are you out of here?”
“Bar closes at twelve. Night like this, probably done by ten after.”
“So if I leave here after dinner and get back before closing, we can go somewhere.”
“Now Mister, I don’t know where you’re from but this is a small town. This is about the last place open.”
“Number one, the name’s Dale. And number two, there’s a bar around here open til two, I promise.”
“Well, Dale,” she smiled, self-conscious at calling a new customer by his first name, “I am not the kind of lady to go to a bar with a stranger. Tell me the place and where to find it, though, and maybe I’ll meetcha there.”
“Sure,” I said, “didn’t mean to imply nothing. But you gotta tell me your name.”
My turn to smile now. Big name for a big gal. I got out my phone, looked up the place, handed my phone to her.
“We meet there,” I said. “It’s nearby. Maybe 12:30.”
She tore off a meal ticket, scrawled down the name and address, handed me my phone. “Funny, though, a place that close. Weird I never heard of it.”
Weirder if you had, I thought.
At 11:30 I left my room and drove to the bar. I bought a beer as soon as I got seated but had no concern about getting too drunk to drive back. For one, I could walk it if I had to. The other reason was the bar. Judgment Day, it was called. Like in the Robert Johnson song. Like the Hell I lived in now would not condemn me to anything worse. It would allow me to go on, doing as I did. Any woman involved was of little consequence, same as any man. Same as me, only I served a different role in these proceedings.
The beer I’d ordered bored me. I downed it fast, ordered another with a double scotch back. Doubling back was what I’d do when I left this town. The place too tiny to hold me, but certain as I was that Magdalene wasn’t large for a Texas woman, she was certainly large for a young one. And a damn sight more attractive than anyone else her size I was likely to find, certainly in this town.
She walked in, pulled up a stool beside me and sat down.
“Hey,” I said.
First date jitters? Not on my part. “What’re ya drinkin?”
I expected her to say something served with an umbrella.
“A margarita,” she said. “With salt.”
Better yet. I’d order one with extra tequila, impress her and get her drunk faster. The sooner we got out of here the better. Which meant I had to turn on the charm. I waved to the bartender, placed the order.
He stepped away.
“Extra tequila?” she said.
“Gotta catch you up. I got here a little while ago.”
“You knew when I was getting here.”
I shrugged. “Nervous, I guess. I didn’t expect you to say yes. Not without being coerced.”
It was an aw shucks moment, totally out of character.
“But you…” She grinned. Her mouth, already pretty, got prettier. She refrained from the compliment I knew was in her head. Probably scared I wouldn’t reciprocate.
“Look,” I said, “we barely met but there’s something about you. I had to get to know you better.”
“Funny. I felt the same way.”
Exactly what I wanted to hear. She was surprised a guy like me hit on a gal like her. “Hell,” I said, “ain’t nothin wrong with bein big. I like a big gal myself. One in particular right now.”
I took her hand. She let me until her drink arrived. She only needed one hand to drink. Maybe she needed both hands for balance. She placed the hand I’d held palm down on the bar. I didn’t cover it, didn’t want to overstep.
“If you weren’t here,” I said, “what would you be up to?”
“What would I be up to? Well, I ate at work and it’s too early to sleep when ya work late like me, ya know. Probably find a movie on cable. Or watch some Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Seen em all before, of course.”
“Yeah? Never seen it. What’s it about?”
“You know, it’s a mother-daughter thing. And it’s sweet and funny.”
“I’d like to see it. With you, of course.”
“Yeah, well, I’m in the middle of rewatching it.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “You can catch me up, I’m sure. You’re a natural born storyteller.”
I said it straight-faced.
“Thank you,” she said. She drank but I kept my mouth shut, let her continue. “Not everyone seems to appreciate it.”
God, she bought it. Never decline a compliment, I suppose.
“Ain’t you drinkin?” she said.
It was true, I’d been talking and not drinking since she got here. I drank. “Better?”
“Depends how good the beer is, I suppose.”
“It’s good. Not as fascinating as you, but it’s good.” I chugged the rest of my shot.
She smiled thanks and finished her margarita. “Okay if I get another?”
“You see how slow I’m drinkin this beer? Of course it’s fine.”
I got out my wallet, waved to the bartender again, ordered one more for her and a fresh shot for me. I continued to nurse my beer and encouraged her to prattle on about her interests, all of which I responded to with curiosity and fascination. She drank between her words, and while she drank I sprinkled in basic questions that elicited new responses, each as vacuous as the one before. I moved a hand to her knee outside her dress. She didn’t move it away. After a couple of minutes I moved it to her thigh. Still no resistance, just a smile. I started rubbing up and down, not even a complaint about rumpling her dress. We kissed.
“We should finish our drinks,” she said.
I smiled and drank my beer faster. As she finished her margarita I reached for my shot and downed it.
We walked away from the bar, where I had known everyone all too well but spoke to only the bartender, who acted like we’d never met. We walked to my car, and as I drove I knew everything we’d just left would soon disappear.
I opened my door and followed her into the apartment, nearly walked into her when she stopped two steps in.
“Wow. This is so much nicer than my place. What do you do for a living?”
“Sales.” I brushed against her ass, lingered a moment before stepping beside her.
Her eyebrows came together. “Marijuana.”
“I guess the weed and I have a slang relationship.”
“You can’t do that here.” She shook her head slow. “It’s against the law.”
“Makes for a more lucrative market.”
“Are you serious? You’re joshin me, ain’tcha.”
“You asked, I answered. You wanna continue the q and a, or should we get to why you came here.” I held out a hand, gently took her shoulder.
She didn’t move away, didn’t move toward me either.
I moved directly in front of her. Leaned in for a kiss.
Her face met mine.
I held the kiss until her mouth opened, then my tongue went inside. I pushed her back. “I also sell guns.”
More socially acceptable, I guessed, as she stepped into my arms and wrapped hers around me. She held the back of my head and we kissed again.
I groped her ass, let go and started to unbutton her blouse.
“Stop,” she said.
I kept going.
“No, stop. You’re too slow.” She finished the unbuttoning, threw her blouse behind her.
I didn’t know they made bras that big. I liked the educational experience, took her in my arms and unsnapped her bra, let it fall. I dropped to my knees and pulled her down sufficiently that it was convenient to suck her massive tits.
She groaned and we both lay on the carpet. We removed our shoes, our pants, our underwear.
I did love a big woman. And I loved what I was doing to her, licking her inner thighs, nipping at them, then her pussy. I got something right because her groans turned ecstatic. I grew hard, got onto my knees. She waited as I dipped in slowly, teasing her but I could tell it felt good. Then she was moving, me inside her, and I moved too. Until it was my turn to groan, and to spill inside her.
“You didn’t,” she started.
“Use a condom? No.” I pulled out then reentered her. I moved differently, and she got excited, made a lot of noises. She was really coming now. I wasn’t, had more to do first, changed my movement again.
She made a gurgling sound.
“Sorry, Magdalene. This is what I really do.”
Her head jerked, her hands raised up but without any effect on what I did. Dying did not need to be difficult. It could be easy. It could even be pleasant.
I kept going, long after she was dead, and when I came again something indefinable happened to her. I stood, left her lying there, walked naked into the shower and left the bathroom door open. No one would have heard anything more than sex noises. I cleansed myself and sat on the floor, naked, my back against the tub.
I sat there, cold but not feeling guilty. Sure, she had been nice, but it was necessary that my life continue, whereas she added nothing positive to the potential human genetic pool. That wasn’t justification, it was a fucking fact.
I sat naked in the bathroom while she lay naked in the living room. I could save her, but then I would die. I sat there, getting colder by the second.
At last something moved.
I looked up, straight at her corpse, which had risen on my bidding though I hadn’t said a word.
“You killed me,” she said. “Why am I standing here?”
“I was made into this. I have no answers. The sex was excellent, am I right?”
“Yes,” she said, although at this point I thought I was generous thinking of her as a she instead of an it.
“Would you like it to happen again?”
It thought a moment. “I don’t want to die again.”
“The only way to fuck like that.”
“Maybe once more.”
I rose from the floor, but did not stand. She floated toward me. We remained naked.
My tongue was in her mouth again, my hands on her breasts. She grabbed my dick. It hardened immediately. Then it was inside her, and we gyrated above where we should have stood.
Our bodies remained where we had left them. They would collapse from the absence of our spirits soon enough. And we would fuck forever, in this eternal embrace. At last, someone had said yes to dying twice. She didn’t know it was all she would do for eternity. She didn’t know how many lives she had saved.
I was told later it had been three weeks, but to me it was like no time at all. I remember riding my bike and then the feeling of disconnecting, of lifting and dropping, and then I am waking up in the hospital and my mom gets the nurse and the nurse gets the doctor and when they take all the tubes out and I’m able to talk, I sit up and say, “Bitch what happened?” and everyone laughs.
That’s the story I tell, anyway. What I don’t include is what I remember in between what happened and waking up in the hospital. After falling off my bike and landing head first on a rock, I opened my eyes to find myself sitting on a couch, a loveseat, a loveseat in a living room, a living room in the daytime.
Instinctively I knew it to be San Francisco, a city where I’ve never been, but I knew this room, this house and what tipped me off was sitting across from me with his hands folded primly in his lap and that person was Robin Williams dressed as his character from Mrs. Doubtfire. I was in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, sitting across from Mrs. Doubtfire, who is Robin Williams, who was smiling and looking at me with sad eyes that said, I’m sorry we have to meet like this.
Before I could ask what was going on, the door punched in and a team of uniformed men spread out into the room and one stood between us and looked down at a clipboard. He looked up at me, then back down, then at me again, then at Robin Williams, and then at the clipboard one last time. He nodded at me, which was a signal to the rest of them and the uniformed men converged on the loveseat, not in a mean way, in a brusque—a routine way, like they have done so many of these already today and they have so many more to do.
They grabbed me and I felt the sensation of disconnecting again, of lifting and falling, and they were taking me out into the alien white sun of the East Bay morning, or were before Mrs. Doubtfire rose and placed a hairy knuckled hand on the shoulder of the uniformed man with the clipboard.
“It’s me you want,” he said in the Scottish sing-song voice he used for the movie.
The uniformed man consulted the clipboard. He shook his head.
“It’s a mistake,” Robin Williams said in his regular voice. “Everyone makes mistakes. Take it from me. Ever see Patch Adams?” The uniformed man shook his head again. “Exactly my point,” Robin Williams said.
The uniformed man with the clipboard held up one finger and then another. He wanted both of us.
Robin Williams shook his head. “Only me, sport.” You could see his resolve from beneath the prosthetics and an unfriendly moment passed in the living room.
The uniformed man with the clipboard blinked first. With a nod, they placed me back on the loveseat. The uniformed men swarmed Robin Williams and carried him out the door. It slammed shut behind them and that’s when my eyes opened in the hospital room. A week later I would learn that the day I woke up from the coma was the day Robin Williams killed himself.
Never told anyone, because how could I? What would I say? They’d expect me to make sense of it and that’s something I’ve never been able to do.
The closest I got was on a blind date a few months after I woke up, a date with someone I would go on to sleep with and then never see again. I got to the bar early because I was nervous as hell and had three cocktails before she arrived, upon which I proceeded to have two more before splitting a bottle of wine. I just had this sense that it was going to come out of me, so when she asked about the scar on my head, I grabbed her hand and blurted out, “Robin Williams saved my life!”
I thought she would wait for me to explain, but what I didn’t know then and what she would whisper to me later in the dark of the motel room was that she watched Good Will Hunting every night during her first friendless year at college so before I could say anything else, she smiled at me so, so sweetly, squeezed my hand and said, “Me too.”
Bemused but never incredulous, he guides you gently onward, coaxing out the sickest specifics of your exquisite, corrupt chronicle. The catalogue of miseries, despairs and dreadful delights that twisted together form the pure substance of you: your essence, the eye of your hurricane, the cruel, majestic force of nature that is you.
In the stall of the diner bathroom you curl the charger cable round your sleeve, flex and slap the forearm’s skin ‘till POP! – the vein extrudes its sweet blood, your precious liquid prolapse erupting up the needle’s point, the bloody chamber brimming over with your rich incarnadine brew. The DNA of your father’s father, your eternal ancestral admixture mingling with the needle’s perfect poison. Even before you depress the plunger you gasp, concentric circles radiating outwards from your heart, your flesh, every single part becoming rich, infinite, vast. You feel the hum of the God-vibration skull-fuck your eardrum, crunching down each vertebra, from the thymus along the scapula, down the bones of your body’s arms and up its legs, twisting down and up the spine to the sacrum and back, from the chunks of gloss-encrusted skin flaking and falling from your lips like late October leaves down to the curled and quivering tarsals, the thin strip of rare, bloody meat in the tips of your toes. Your pupils bulge and expand to the size of the universe, great sucking whirlpools that attract and absorb all things in your orbit, whole dimensions curling inwards at their edges and collapsing, universes dissolving and colliding in your mind. Everything is everything, and you are one with this unity. You feel life expand and contract like the soft, spongy lining of Satan’s lung, pussy pink like the inside surface of some long-sleeping tentaculoid, a scarlet, serrated hagfish, a cannibal crow with crystalline plumage. You are flayed by its teeth, boa constricted by its infinite suction cup arms, your flesh turned outside-in ‘till the bones wither and crack in the scorched desert of a long-dead Earth.
Something else is in here with me. I feel it every time I slam. It shares my body. It looks out through my eyes. It laps up my soul with its many-toothed tongue. It melts down my brain stem and steeps my spirit in the juices.
Something soft and forever and wicked, like me.
It fills me, becomes me.
It takes me in its loving arms and sucks the life through all my holes. Mouth, anus, eye socket, urethra: I die, and am reborn. I die again. It eats me. I am destroyed. Torn apart, tossed away, and finally, fatefully, emergent.
I’ve never been so in love in all my life.
“You girls sure love your bathroom time,” Kareem says. If he knows I’m high he doesn’t show it. “How about we get out of here? I’ve got something I want to show you. A special place. I think you’re going to love it. No, it’s not my bedroom. Not yet, anyway. I want to get to know you first. You’re a real special girl, Miss Sybil Rain. I like you. Just might like you a lot. So what do you say? Come with me? Blow this dive? I’ll grab the check…”
He sees it in your eyes. How could he not? He’s a cop, an officer of the law. They’re trained for this, aren’t they? To be able to tell what’s what and who’s who? But think – all the cops you’ve fooled, all the times you’ve spoken to them and lied. Did they really believe you, or did they just not care? One more spoiled little rich girl, about to get sprung from the pen with a phone call from Daddy’s lawyers. Why book her when she’ll be out again in an hour? But this is different. This is personal. Exciting. Dangerous. Can he tell? If he can, he’s good at hiding it. A gifted actor, perhaps. But what part is he playing? What’s his angle? He pays for the food and you bounce, you in the passenger seat of the cruiser, classic rock on the radio turned up full blast: Don Henley’s ode to his brown-skinned summer muse. He turns on the cop car’s flashing lights and you cruise down the BQE doing a hundred, windows rolled down, your blonde hair flapping across your face. Have you ever felt so free? He steers with one hand, places the other on your thigh, his skin rough, his grip steady. You picture him squeezing you in his muscled arms, lifting you up, smashing you hard against a wall. Devouring you with kisses. His hand slides up your thigh beneath your dress and stops. You look down, lay your hand over his. Your two skins look perfect together, the contrast in color. You fly over the Brooklyn Bridge and up the FDR. The construction lights from half-built high rises across the water glistening like constellations. You breathe in the moon and exhale madness.
“You’re going to love this place,” he says. “I just know it.”
His smell – pink pepper, bergamot, lemon. Musk, sweat and shaving soap. He smells like a real man, not like these fuckboys you’ve been dealing with, the boys at school, the hotel room junkies, the wannabe pimps. They smell like babies, like talcum powder, shit stains and B.O. Not like real men. Not like him. He leads you by the hand through the lights of Times Square. You spin in circles past the hundred thousand tourists, the bright flashing billboard lights. You pass down a dark alley, a place you’ve never seen. One of New York City’s last remaining mysteries. You’re going back in time. To when Times Square was a different place, electric with danger, madness, sex and death. You pass through a heavy door and up a dingy flight of stairs, then another and another. He pushes the shop door open and you enter.
“Not many people know about this place anymore,” he says. “I’m excited to show it to you.”
You pass down the aisles of the shop, past all the tools and technologies of perfect perversion – leather and lace, rubber, latex, rose red and obsidian black. Stiletto heels and fleshlights, animal face masks, poppers, thousands of bottles of slick, sweet lubricant. Anal beads and dildos, filthy books, magazines, VHS tapes and DVDs. Kareem parts the perverts in the shop like Moses did the Red Sea. They all want to stare, and some can’t resist, but whether because of his badge or simply in deference to the radiant, powerful aura the two of you exude, the shop’s customers cast furtive glances then sneak, shuffling, away.
“I only want to help you,” he says. “That’s all I’m here for. I know a lot of things have happened in your life, Sybil. Bad things, horrible things. And all those bad things have gotten inside you. Changed you. Made you think that somehow you’re bad, too. But I’ve seen bad, and babygirl, you ain’t it. You’re a good girl, Sybil Rain. I just know it. All that pain and violence. You have to transform it. To find the right place to put it. I can help you, if you let me. What do you say? Let’s figure it out together. Take control of your destiny. You deserve the world, Sybil. And not just the world, either. You deserve the moon and the stars. Will you let me get them for you? Will you give yourself that chance?”
Heeeere, pig pig pig. If your girlfriends could see you now. Sybil Rain, copfucker. But isn’t that what makes it special? What gives it that edge? When we exhaust all available transgressions we must create our own new taboos. Sure, we’re all supposed to hate the cops. That’s what’s in fashion. That’s whats en vogue. Is that what makes this feel so good? Maybe it’s part of it. But there’s something more to him as well, a sinister layer deeper down. He has a deep end, an edge, one he’s careful to conceal. He’s disturbed. He’s bad. People say Times Square has lost its grit, all the character stripped away. All the criminals locked up, the perverts beating off to Internet porn alone now in their apartments. But the energy of a place doesn’t change so easy. Times Square will always haunted by the ghosts of its former self. You’re unsure how, or in what way, but you know Kareem is at home in that element. He’s of a piece with the grit, the puke, the porno house and the street corner hustler. You know there’s something sinister there, though you can’t pin it down. All you know is you need to find out more.
“Here,” he says. “Try this on. It may turn out to be just the thing.”
The latex feels cold against your skin as he pulls the mask over your head, gently pulling back and tucking your hair up beneath. From inside, you see the world anew. Colors become brighter. The air within your aura grows crisp, defined. The sounds of the shop and the city outside sharpen at first, then fade and finally give way to a low, throbbing hum. Your energy crackles with intuitive clarity. A transformation is occurring, at once subtle and all-pervasive. You know now what you have to do. You know who you are. What you were meant for.
“What do you think, Miss Sybil? Does it speak to you? Is this your mask?”
You look at your reflection in the shop’s full-length mirror and barely recognize the girl looking back. The eyes peering out from inside the latex mask are perfect, their pupils enormous. You see through them to distant galaxies, a space whisper away, a billion light years distant, whole generations of alien terror, wickedness, war, unfathomable love and despair, tender tentacular embraces and exotic new ways to torture, dismember and decapitate. You were born to separate spirits from flesh suits. You think: What am I? You think: Am I fucking alien? In your little black dress you might be anything: a harpy, an angel, the devil herself. There’s no way to tell when you’re wearing the mask.
“Will you let me in, Miss Sybil?” he says. “Into those big black eyes? Will you let me see the girl behind the mask?”
He wants to devour you. This much is clear. But you’re hungry, too. There’s a long-dormant part of you that’s positively famished. Lately you feel like you could eat the whole world. But who eats who first? That’s the question. That’s the game.
And there’s nothing you hate more than losing.
We stop at a cocktail lounge on 48th Street before heading to the hotel where we’ll spend our first night together. I sit at a high table on a stool while Kareem orders drinks at the bar. I check my phone. There’s a new message on SnapChat from ItGuy2020. I don’t remember following any ItGuy, but I open the message anyway.
I can barely make out the outline of a face through the raw static and eerie glow the screen emits, the picture blurry, out of focus. The voice is garbled like it’s coming through a scrambler, deep and feral and raw. It wheezes like a dying oxygen machine pumping one last breath into a corpse. An ecstatic shiver runs up my spine.
Hey baby, the voice says, it’s me. Can you hear me? I love you. I loved watching you tonight with the cop. You two look great together. So sexy. Can’t wait to see more. I love to watch you make it with other guys. Just don’t forget your number one. Remember how I’ve always taken such good care of you. See you soon, baby. I love you.
For a second the image on the screen sharpens, just long enough for me to see a gray, wet slug face with slits where the eyes, nostrils and mouth should be. The mouth slops open and closed a few times, the clicking soft tongue puffed and greasy within. An oily saliva drizzle collects at the corner of the mouth-slit as the face splits open and shut like a sock puppet burn victim. Smack, smack, slop, goes the mouth.
Kiss kiss, says the voice.
Then the screen goes blank.
Sybil Rain is a writer from New York. She currently lives in Hell.
“I swear someday I’ll throw that piece of shit through the window,” Tom Keegan says. “And I won’t bother opening the damn window either.”
Al “Matt” Matteotti looks up from his stack of notes.“Threatening violence against an inanimate object again? Not to mention that this piece of shit is government property.”
“See if I care.” Tom’s hunched over the bulky Underwood, with his fingers in the basket, untangling the typebars, swearing a blue streak. It’s a familiar sight. So far, the Underwood’s winning.
“You know what’s wrong with you?” Matt says.
Tom slides the carriage, making the boxy thing go ding.“No, enlighten me.” He works the lever return aggressively to get back to the right spot in the document. “Fucking nuisance.”
“It jams because you type too fast. You’re too impatient. You confuse the stupid contraption. Me, on the contrary…” Matt raises his index finger, holds it up in the air until Tom turns to look at him “One finger. See.” He switches to the middle finger, flipping the bird. He talks as he types. “R – clack – O – clack – B – clack – E – clack – R – clack – Y – clack. No jam, no tangle. Slow and steady does it.”
“There’s 2 Bs in Robbery, you clod,” Tom says. “It’s written on the fucking door. Right there.” He points at the office door. “You go through it a hundred times a day.”
“So?” The phone on Matt’s desk rings and he stares at it. “What’s it gonna be today? Jumper, floater, skeleton in closet? These people we’re sworn to serve and protect are damn tiresome.” He picks up the phone. “Detective Matteotti.”
Tom is about to give the typewriter another try when Helen walks in, prim and put together, as always, in her no-nonsense brown suit. She’s on her way to the captain’s office with a stack of reports.
“Helen, honey,” he says. “A little help here.”
She turns on her sensible heels. “Like what?”
He points at the typewriter. “This clunker is driving me nuts.”
“Put in a requisition,” she says.
They both know that’s not going to go anywhere beyond the rim of a waste basket. “Sure. Listen, if I could…”
“Tom! Gotta go,” Matt yells, slamming the phone down. He’s out of his chair, at the coat rack, grabbing his jacket, stuffing a notepad in the pocket, giving his hat a good push down. “Andiamo, buster, we have a hot one.”
Tom gives Helen another pleading look. “My report’s here, babe. It’s clear, readable, pretty as sin. It would take you ten minutes tops, I promise.”
“You must be kidding,” she says, one fist on her hip, indignant.
Tom reaches up to catch his hat that Matt sent sailing through the room. “Dinner and a movie. On my dime. You pick the place. Please.” He shoots her his brightest smile and rushes after Matt who’s already in the corridor, halfway to the elevator.
“You have no shame,” Matt says. “Putting the moves on your own sister.”
Matt’s driving. The radio is squawking and they both ignore it. Matt always drives. He’s by far the better driver. He says all Italians are born with a steering wheel between their little mitts and a gear stick for a pacifier. Most cops hate riding shotgun with Matt. Tom finds it liberating. The ride is so hair rising, he has no time to think about anything else. It clears his head.
“Where are we going?”
“The Mission,” Matt says. “Something crispy.”
“From what the trooper said, I doubt it. A roasted body, nothing else damaged.”
“Fuck, Matt! I hate those. You know that. It’s…” Tomcloses his eyes. A tight curve sends him slamming into the door. He ought to keep his eyes on the road. “You should have taken Orlov.”
“Dee-fective Orlov is a brick,” Matt says, tapping the side of his head with a knuckle. “And you’re my preferito, partner.” He flashes a big white-toothed grin. “It is a mistero. You like those, no?”
Not when it involves cremated bodies. Tom saw enough of those in the camps. It’s not been enough years for him to forget. As if that kind of thing could ever be forgotten. “If I barf all over your mistero, pal, it’s on your head.”
Matt reaches for the glove box, driving with one hand, and retrieves a little jar of Vicks. He drops it in Tom’s lap. “Never leave home without it.”
Spoken from experience. Tom has seen his partner lose his lunch a couple of times. Matt hates small, dark, enclosed spaces. Everybody has their own flavor of things that go bump in the night.
“The doc’s on the way. We’ll beat him to it,” Matt says.
That explains why he’s driving even more like Fangio than usual. Nothing pleases Matt more than being first on site. Considering how sloppily some cops treat crime scenes, he’s not wrong.
“Okay, what you got?” Tom says.
“Private residence. The housekeeper came in at ten. Her employer wasn’t home. She smelled something bad and found the body in the greenhouse.”
“A greenhouse? In town? That’s unusual. Who’s the employer, some kind of garden freak?” Tom says.
“Painter. Carlos Camacho. He lives alone.” Matt shrugged. “Lived. It’s likely he’s the corpse.”
Depending on the condition of the body, identification might take a while.
Matt slams on the brakes in front of a two-story white-painted house in the pleasant Spanish style that goes so well with clinging bougainvillea and lush shrubbery. The house is pretty, the landscaping is neat. Carlos Camacho isn’t a starving artist. There’s a police cruiser in the driveway. It’s clean and glossy and doesn’t look garishly out of place.
“How do you want to play it?” Matt says.
“Let’s look around while we have the place to ourselves,” Tom says. “Interviewing the housekeeper can wait.”
The trooper is in the hallway. He looks a little green, mouth clenched, forehead coated with sweat.
“I’m Detective Keegan,” Tom says. “This is Detective Matteotti. You spoke to him on the phone.”
“Yes, sir. Officer Brockwoods, sir. I was in the neighborhood when the call came in. I put Mrs. Dantonio in the sitting room. Uh, she’s the housekeeper, she’s shook up.”
“We’ll be with her soon,” Matt says. “You went through the house?”
“To make sure there wasn’t anybody. I didn’t touch anything, and I watched where I put my feet, sir.”
Commendable. Tom nods in approval. There’s a strong smell of paint and turpentine that overrides whatever else might be wafting through. “The housekeeper told you she smelled something bad and went to look. Where was she?”
“The kitchen, sir.” The trooper points to the back of the house. “The kitchen connects with the greenhouse.”
“Stay here,” Tom says. “You can let the medical examiner in, but nobody else unless I say so.”
The trooper looks uncomfortable. “Uh, I’ll try, sir.”
“Won’t be for long,” Matt says. “Tell them it’s that asshole Keegan having the vapors.”
As soon as they reach the kitchen, the stench is unmistakable. Tom claps a hand over his nose, knowing full well that it won’t do any good. His last two cups of coffee are roiling. The camphor goop from the jar helps a little.
The door between the kitchen and the greenhouse is open, a gate to what should be, what’s intended to be, a leafy and colorful Eden.
Matt goes down on one knee next to a double set of footprints. The big ones are to the side, the small ones are in the middle of the kitchen. All prints come from the greenhouse and point toward the hallway. “Dirt from the garden. Trooper Brockwoods and the housekeeper. They were too preoccupied to wipe their feet. We’ll have to take off our shoes or we’ll track in some more.”
Tom peeks outside the door. “The path is all torn up and there’s an empty bottle smack in the middle of it. ”
Three steps lead down from the kitchen to the floor of the greenhouse. A modest difference in level in rollercoaster San Francisco. Tom is careful to avoid treading over the footprints. The soil is damp from the run off from the beds. Vegetables, flowers, decorative stuff, all mixed up in a display of joy and abundance. Cornucopia. The word pops into his head.
“You think Camacho paints still lives?” Matt says. “Or is he one of these impressionist guys, all green and fuzzy?”
“Maybe he just likes fresh salads,” Tom says.
The greenhouse is packed with vegetation but it isn’t large. The greasy black thing in the middle of the path is hard to miss. They both step into the beds to approach the scene. They stand on both sides of what’s left of the body. A charred husk.
“He sure is fried,” Matt says.
It appears to be a man, from the remains of the sturdy, thick-soled boots. And the size of the corpse, even if it has shrunk in the blaze. There’s a tool next to the body, a tube with a cracked cylindric container attached to it, brass or copper, blackened with soot.
“My pop has one of these,” Tom says. “It’s an insect sprayer.” He points at the limp plants nearby. “For the tomatoes, I guess.”
“Gasoline, possibly, various chemicals, all highly flammable. We should ask the housekeeper if Camacho is a smoker.”
“He sure liked his booze. Should check that empty bottle for prints,” Matt says. “Vodka.”
Tom retraces his steps to the kitchen door, to the discarded bottle. He stares at the steps, at the grooves in the path. “Wanna hear what I think, Matt?”
It’s rhetorical. Of course Matt wants to hear – the mistero, right?
Tom badly wants a cigarette but this is definitely not the place. “Okay. Here’s the theory. Camacho is stone drunk. He decides to take a stroll in his private paradise. He opens the kitchen door and tumbles down the greenhouse steps. See the nick on the edge here? He drops the bottle and lands hard on the path. You can see where his knees went, hands, feet. He scrambles to get up and makes a mess in the dirt.” It’s like a movie in Tom’s head, frame by frame. “He lights a cigarette. Then, for some unfathomable reason, he decides to spray his tomatoes.”
“And goes whoof,” Matt says. “He’s a painter and his clothes have all that crud on them. Red-hot-whoof.” He looks at Tom and smiles. “You’re good, you’re so goddam good.”
“Yeah,” Tom says. There are noises coming from the house. Voices raised. “Lots of assumptions in there. Can the heat of a cigarette cause a fire so massive the guy has no time to run?”
“Ask all the idiots who manage to burn to death, in bed, with a smoldering cigarette falling on the mattress,” Matt says.
“If he used a lighter, that’s an open flame,” Matt says. “And if that insect sprayer leaked…”
Tom’s cogitations are interrupted by the medical examiner and a bunch of cops jamming the kitchen door.
“What’s that, Keegan?” a beefy officer in uniform barks. “You tell one of my men I can’t come in? You’re shitting above your commode, boy. The Mission is my turf.”
“Wouldn’t dream of using your bathroom, sir,” Tom says. He’s seen that comedian before. In news photos, with microphones in front of his wobbly triple chin. “Securing the scene for you, doc.” He glances at the medical examiner, who looks harried, as usual.
“Yes, thank you, Detective,” the doc says. “I’ll take it from here. Come see me later. We’ll compare notes. I’d like a moment alone with the victim, now.”
Matt pushes through the kitchen door, parting the throng, Tom on his heels. They’re all big shoulders, sharp elbows and shoes stepping on toes.
The housekeeper is still in the sitting room. OfficerBrockwoods is with her, not saying anything, just watching her cry, quietly.
“I tried to stop them,” he says.
“You did good.” Matt pats him on the shoulder. “We’ll put it in the report.”
Tom sits next to the housekeeper. “Mrs. Dantonio, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I have only a few questions. Is it okay to talk now?”
She nods, a hankie stuck to her face.
“Was Mr. Camacho a drinking man?”
She shakes her head.
“We found an empty bottle of vodka in the greenhouse,” Tom says.
She looks up. “That’s because he finished the big painting.” She points at the hallway door. “It’s in the studio. It’s wonderful. I went to look at it this morning before I started working.” A spasm overcomes her and she buries her face in her hands.
Tom waits for the crisis to pass.
“Mr. Camacho had a lot to drink because he completed his work?” Tom says.
“He does that,” she mutters. “Each time. A celebration.”She wipes her eyes. “This is terrible.” She sighs. “When he works, he only drinks water, maybe a glass of wine with dinner.”
“A disciplined man,” Tom says. “A smoker?”
“Cigarettes, like everybody.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Dantonio. Officer Brockwoods will take your information. We’ll contact you if we need to talk to you.”
She sits there, eyes on the carpet, hands folded in her lap,holding the wet and bunched hankie.
“Find somebody to take her home, will you, Brockwoods?” Tom says. He motions at Matt. “Let’s have a look at the studiobefore the horde invades.”
The studio is a large room, with a wide floor-to-ceiling window. It takes up the entire left side of the house. The painting Mrs. Dantonio mentioned is right there, a symphony of emerald greens with slashing bursts of sun. It’s the most beautiful thing Tom has ever seen.
Matt, not so much. “I know where he got his inspiration. From the cabbages out there.” He uses his handkerchief to pull two empty bottles of vodka from the dustbin. They’re nestled instained turpentine-reeking rags. “The man must have been so pickled he was swimming in it.”
Tom holds a crumpled pack of cigarettes. There are two left. He pops one out, looks around for a lighter. “You think the place would go up in flames if I lit up in here, Matt? See how fast that blowhard in blue and his minions can move?”
“That’s not funny.” Matt picks up a box of matches from a shelf and tosses it to Tom. “I need some clean air. Paint fumes are getting to me.”
They walk back to the front door and out toward their car. The place is swarming with cops now, most of them with no good reason to be there. The street is a parking lot. Neighbors are out on the sidewalk, in small groups, yakking.
“You write it up or I do?” Matt says. “Accidental incineration. Is that a category?”
“You do it, pal,” Tom says. “One finger at a time tapping on that fucking keyboard. Call it accidental death. It’s easier to spell.” He sticks the cigarette in his mouth and slides the match box open.
“I’ll be damned,” he says. “Look at that.”
There are five burnt matches in the box, side by side with a bunch of live ones.
“I’ve heard of guys doing that,” Matt says. “That’s one bad habit that’ll burn a hole in your pocket.” He takes a deep breath. “You think that did it?”
Tom shrugs, strikes a match, lights his cigarette, and blows out the flame. He lets the burnt match drop to the pavement, looks at it for a moment, pensive.
I’ve been on twitter nearly two years. For me, it’s a double edge sword. Scrolling through the tweets can be time consuming, stealing the little free time I should be writing. Often laughing or groaning at some of the inane bullshit people tweet (yes, my own past tweets included). However, twitter has been incredibly helpful in aiding my growth as a writer and enabling me to make great connections with great people I now call real friends. One of those folks is Tisa. She’s got a big heart, an acid tongue and a helluva lot of talent. I’m not talking about your run of the mill talent. I’m talking about the kind of talent that you feel is too big and too bright to be tied down in the indie scene. A very special voice. I feel that way about a special few people (got a list of ten). Tisa is one of those. Everything she writes hits a nerve, serves a point and sends a message.
We need more honest, no bullshit kind of writers like her on the indie writing scene for sure.
Tisa answered some of my questions for punk noir. If you don’t follow her yet, haven’t read her stuff, I hope you will by the end of the interview.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?
I’ve been writing since I was eight, so I can say I’ve been in several scenes since before the internet became the thing that defined your work. My first serious literary works were poetry in high school, and that’s how I got into writing epic verse – it was my mission to outdo everybody I had to read in Middle English Literature. That’s what put me into slam poetry and spoken word poetry, because back then fans wanted to see your passion reading your stuff. My best memories are performing some of my work at Snaps N Taps in Columbus, OH.
I got started into Literature literally being an avid reader. As a kid/teenager I was reading about 25 books a month. And I read everything from Jackie Collins & Sidney Sheldon to Mumia Abu Jamal & George Jackson. Then when I ran out of things to read I started writing. Everything evolved from there.
Tell us about your most recent work?
Over at Uncle B. Publications I edited Now There’s A Story with Stephen J. Golds, Sister FM Diva: Poetry Inna Mi Yahd by Verna Hampton; I’m one of the featured writers in Pulp Modern 10th Anniversary and my debut novel Ghosts On The Block Never Sleep comes out October 16th, 2021.
Describe your writing style in 5 words?
A live unadulterated uncensored experience.
What and/or who are your inspirations?
In no particular order: Sidney Sheldon, Donald Goines, Jackie Collins, Tina McElroy Ansa, Danielle Steel, Bebe Moore Campbell, Dorothy Allison, April Sinclair, Rita Mae Brown, Dr. Bertice Berry, Shirley Conran, Sam Greenless and others, but this group for fiction were my go staples.
What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?
Write what you feel. Don’t give into peer pressure about self-censorship. As long as you are true to your character and their story, everything else will fall into place. Don’t worry about an agent. Don’t worry about the fickleness of certain imprints. When your work is in the right hands you will feel it in the gut.
What are your plans for the future?
Releasing more novels. I have a collection of stuff itching to get out. Just all depends on the publishers.
What is an issue you care about deeply?
I care about all this forced totalitarian dictatorship going on about the virus which will not be named, and this cancel culture mentality that as seeped into every modern democracy known in the modern world. People need to get off the internet and chill in real time with real people.
What novel are you reading now?
Ghosts On The Block Never Sleep by me.
What music are you listening to now?
Deep Purple, The David Coverdale years.
Finish this sentence: Fuck __!
Fuck is that atomic waste particle smell of nauseous toxic gasses on the planet’s colon?
If you could go on a drinking binge with 5 writers alive or dead who would you choose?
Well, if we could drink tea it would be Jackie Collins, Sam Greenlee, George Jackson, Dr. Bertice Berry, and Mutabaruka. I know, what a collective.
If you could travel to a time and place in history what would it be?
Houston, 1976. I’m going to the Parliament Funkadelic Earth Tour and watch Glen Goins bring down the mothership.
What would you like written on your gravestone?
Nothing. Headstones are massively expensive in America and I probably won’t have one.
There are 10,768 bus stops in the entire Chicago metro area. 79th and Stony Island is one of them. For some, it is merely a weak shelter from the elements. For others, it’s just a way to get where they’re going. On the east side of chicago a bus stop has a deeper meaning. It’s a place of business, a political forum, a portable toilet, a church pulpit, a bed for weary bones, and occasionally a graveyard for the unforgiven. Rapid transit is always late on that side of town. In the dead of winter it’s cold as hell, giving no rest for the weary waiting for their bus to come.
One thing is for certain…
Loose Squares are just the glue that holds it all together.
Submitted this story to a cryptids anthology. It didn’t make the cut. What the hell do you do with a story about a dinosaur still existing in the Congo? I don’t know. So here it is.
I swatted at a mosquito the size of a dime and stared off into the foliage. Had never seen so much green in all my life. Green on green on green. Sure I was going snow-blind. Jungle-blind, it had to be a thing. But I was a wedding photographer from New York, what the hell did I know about the jungle? I’d been relegated to the scientific group’s factotum, so evidently not a lot.
The tribe elders started going crazy, yammering on in their native tongue, sounding like the clicks and tuts of a pissed off ex-girlfriend. Clara and Karen were both big tutters. Bitches. The tribes people reminded me a lot of my exes. They seemed to get overexcited about almost anything. Pygmies. Taller than I’d been led to believe. Most of them were at least five foot. Vicious looking oompa loompa bastards. I glanced at the group huddled around a fire, bored out of my skull. Blake was holding up an A4 card with a sketch of a long-necked dinosaur on it. Bront-a-diplod-a-dick or some shit. The tribespeople were gestering to the card and then pointing back through the jungle towards the river.
Guttering, our kraut guide and translator, interpreted what they were yammering to Blake and Blake flashed a grin back across at Guttering, then at me. He frowned at the cigarette in my mouth, waving his hand in a quick gesture, I supposed was his way of saying ‘snub it out’. At this point in the expedition I didn’t know what was more annoying, the bugs, the constant screeching of animals and birds in the trees, or my cousin Blake. I flicked the smoke into the bush and lit up another.
The scrawny, little streak of piss, Guttering said was the chief of the tribe, shuffled over, reaching out for my Sterling Silver Zippo. I pushed his hand away gentle but firm. Smiling with all my pearly whites. You had to let these kinds of people know who was boss. Sure, you’re a chief of a tribe in the Congo but try getting loan credit writing that on an application form in a bank. Guttering had already bribed these people with half of our supplies. Gave them most of our toilet roll too. Hadn’t wiped my ass properly in days. Like they even needed toilet roll. I’d be damned if I was giving up my Zippo too. A birthday present from a woman I had actually loved who hated my guts the last time I’d checked. Before she’d blocked my cell number. Guttering said it was best not to offend any of the tribes folk, give them whatever they wanted. Sounded to me like we were being taken for a ride. I didn’t intend to give up all my shit. After the Zippo, they’d probably want the Rolex off my wrist. The boots off my feet. I didn’t intend to end up in a cauldron like on those old cartoons we all watched as kids, either. My mother didn’t raise no fool. Had a .44 Magnum I bought from a black market in Zaire a couple of days before we arrived in the Congo, tucked into the front pocket of my backpack. I’d give the little village in the middle of the jungle a little of the Dirty Harry treatment before I gave them all my stuff.
The chief shuffled back to the campfire, giving me the evil eyes as though I’d just deliberately took a shit in his mud hut and banged one of his wives. Blake flashed more cards of dinosaurs. T. Rex and the Velociraptors got nothing but stupefied silence. Evidently these people had never sat down and watched Jurassic Park. Primitives. They didn’t have basic cable. Or even televisions. So lame. My cousin, the Poindexter, returned to the old long neck dino card and started asking animated questions which Guttering clicked and tutted into translation. I wasn’t even listening. Itchy as Hell from paper cut insect bites all over my body. The bug repellent didn’t do shit. Was going to take it back to the store and get a goddamned refund as soon as I was back stateside. Back in the real world. The chief mumbled machine-gun tribal talk fingering the card. Mokele-mbembe, they called the creature. I couldn’t even pronounce the damn thing without a chicken bone stuck in my throat. Let alone believe in it. Blake believed. He’d sunk his entire trust-fund and inheritance into proving the existence of the dinosaur surviving and thriving in the Congo Basin. Judging on the equally frightened and excited spiel of the tribespeople it was probably safe to say they believed to. It was either that or they knew an idiot cash cow when they saw one and were intent on leading Blake on. Milking him dry. Would keep encouraging his fantasies until all our supplies were depleted and then they would eat us and wear our bones as jewelry. Similar to my ex-wife. I imagined my beautiful, shapely skull as a helmet worn on the head of some grinning fool and shivered. Took out my flask for a nip of vodka. Shook it. Empty. Dammit. A little girl or boy, I couldn’t tell which, came over and offered me some green fruits from a bowl made of leaves. I waved her or him away like one of the mosquitos. To think, I’d been foolish enough to let Blake talk me into this expedition. He’d sold it to me as a once in a lifetime trip, all expenses paid for by his trust fund and The National Geographic Society. It could be a big opportunity for me, he said. Just take some photographs, he said. Document. Record. National Geographic might bring me on as a staff photographer. I’d dropped my Nikon in the river as we crossed the boarder undercover of darkness, so that avenue of potential was currently closed. As for recording, I couldn’t even get Twitter and my cellphone was as useless as a brick once it had run out of battery anyway. #shitvacation. There were no hot babes either. I’d had images of Mutiny on the Bounty that movie with Mel Gibson, before he went crazy. Young girls strolling around butt naked. Most of these women were old and hadn’t worn a bra in their lives so their boobs looked like Snoopy’s nose, if Snoopy were depressed and suicidal. Luckily, the more ancient chicks were wearing clothes that were donated by bible-bashing missionaries probably so I didn’t have to bare witness to what eighty years of no bra looked like. Some old broad stumbled past me wearing a Bush/Cheney ’04 t-shirt with brown stains all over it. #WTF? I’d left Manhattan for this?
Guttering started packing up our supplies and Blake whistled me over like I was a Golden Retriever or something. Dick!
“They’re going to take us to the location on the riverbank they say the Mokele-mbembe basks and bathes,” he said excitedly. Breathlessly.
“Yeah, they say,” I said.
“I beg your pardon,” he pushed his spectacles up his nose and gave me another one of his condescending frowns.
“My backpack is chafing my shoulders. You got anymore of that skin scream?”
“Cousin, we are on the very cusp of making scientific history. The first western people to witness and document an actual living, breathing dinosaur. A man-eater, they say! It will be groundbreaking. Richter-scale groundbreaking. Now, lets get all our equipment packed up, go and bag ourselves a gosh-darned dinosaur and not just one. They say there’s an entire family of the Mokele-mbembe,” he put his hand on my chafed shoulder and smiled. He had tears of joy in his eyes. It was gross. I shook the weight of his spindly claw off like a case of the crabs.
“Cool. Whatevers. I need to go pinch a loaf,” I said. The suckers. Blake and Guttering hadn’t caught onto the fact I needed to take a long-ass toilet break every time there was actual work to be done. The trusty old call of nature. Had been helping me avoid serious manual labor for years. I did actually need a piss, so it wasn’t lying entirely.
I cut around a small hut that had piles of fruits and flowers piled up onto miniature tables and cut loose on a mossy tree trunk. I noticed a bunch of statues carved out of a dark wood, crudely painted in red and white with large gaping holes for mouths. Probably that weird kid’s toys or something. It was too tempting. I directed my stream of dark, yellow piss at the statues faces. Getting the mouths was one hundred points. I was at around two thousand points and coming to the end of my stream when Bush/Cheney ’04 came around the hut and started screaming and wailing like someone was trying to fuck her. Maybe she hadn’t seen a white dick before. I didn’t know. I was zipping myself up quickly when Blake, Guttering and the Elders swarmed around me worse than the mosquitos pulling at my shirt and cramping my style completely. Someone knocked my Gucci shades on the dirty forest floor.
“What have you done?!” You idiot!” my cousin shouted. All up in my grill. He was lucky I didn’t knock him out, right then and there. I could’ve but I didn’t want to. I was above all that. #toxicmasculinity.
The chief started bellowing like he was constipated. Still salty he didn’t get my Zippo. Guttering wiped sweat from his face with a crusty bandana and swallowed.
“You have desecrated their Gods,” he said.
“Desecrated is taking it a little far. Jesus, it was only a little piss. Rain’ll wash it right off,” I said.
“I think we are in very deep trouble here, gents,” Blake said, his eyes popping out over the massing crowds of pygmies surrounding us. Most had spears, some had machetes. Reminded me of a movie but I couldn’t remember the title and it bugged me.
“Listen to me very carefully…” Guttering hissed under his breath. He opened his mouth to say something else as a four-foot spear impaled him dead center in the chest and all that came out of his lips were puffed and panted death murmurs.
The chief was going apeshit — jumping up and down and pointing his finger at me and Blake as I yanked the Magnum from my backpack and let the old-timer have it right in the face. His head disappeared in a soupy spray of red, white and blue. USA! USA! USA! I thanked my lucky stars I’d bought the gun. Those Republicans finally got something right. The tribe scattered like cockroaches, and I was running, falling, sliding, sprinting back through the forest, down a hunting trail towards the river and the raft we’d arrived in days before.
Blake’s screamed my name and it echoed through the treetops. War drums and chanting following after. He was my cousin but I’m not ashamed to say as I sprinted through the foliage, jumped over dead trees, I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in that the tribe would catch him first. That way it would slow them down. Give me a better chance of making it. I ignored Blake’s shrieks for help and told myself he was heroically sacrificing himself for me. Decided that was the story I’d tell as soon as I got back stateside. Hell, maybe I’d even write a book about it.
Blakes screaming and screeching finally gurgled to a slightly sickening stop, the war drums faded out, and the rush of the river overwhelmed my senses. I’d made it. Against all the odds. My determined self-belief to prove the existence of the Congo dinosaur, Mbebeb-whatever-the-fuck. Guttering’s drunken attack on the cannibalistic tribe I had befriended and endeared to me with kindness and compassion. An escape through treacherous terrain. Dodging poison darts and spears. My cousins brave self-sacrifice so I may live. And the river escape on a dinghy. I’d survived it all. But… The goddamned raft was gone. Those no-good savages had stolen it probably. I slipped on my ass down the muddy bank and splashed into the river. My Armani cargo pants completely ruined. The drums started again. Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum. Made me remember that movie with Robin Williams about a board-game, something about the jungle in a suburb. Tried to recollect how that film had finished. All I could think about was Robin Williams killing himself.
Shouts. Calls. Hooting. Close. The tribe. So damn close. Thanks a lot for slowing them down, Blake. Not!
I slung off my backpack and tossed it into the green, murky water. Feeling lighter, I waded out into the soft current. The water was warm. I pushed myself out, walking along the bottom like an astronaut on the moon.
Halfway. Up to my neck, feet barely touching the riverbed. Trying to paddle, the Magnum still grasped in my fist. I felt something in the water change. The current suddenly seemed to get slower. Stiller. I felt something brush against my calf and let out an embarrassing high-pitched shriek. Just a fish. Weeds. Nothing, it was nothing, I told myself, looking down into the rancid smelling water. When I twisted my neck back towards the riverbank I spotted members of the tribe watching my progress with interest from the trees. The child that had offered me fruit just stood there with his small spear stabbed into the mud, watching with his beady little eyes.
“Ha ha ha, you little shits. Didn’t count on Dirty Harry, did ya? Huh? See you in Hell!” I lifted the magnum up out of the water, aiming at the kid’s leg. I wouldn’t kill him. Just maim the little bastard. After all, they murdered my cousin.
The Magnum clicked, clicked, clicked damply. Dammit. I tossed it hard towards to the jungle, it splashed harmlessly in the water about a meter before the kid. I cursed.
“Well, so long suckers!” I called out as I turned to swim to the other side.
Freezing. Dead still. Eyes wide. An arm’s length in front of me, blocking my way was what looked like the top of a boulder protruding from the water. The boulder had dark shark-like eyes. I glimpsed a nostril twitch. Then it was rising up, growing. A crocodile-like mouth with crocodile-like teeth. A long neck grew longer. Another larger boulder appeared. Its back. And then it was towering over me. Craning its neck down to peer into my eyes. A real-life dinosaur. Its mouth became longer. The teeth sharper. I thought about the fisherman Quint from the movie Jaws. The drums started up again and I screamed.
Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.
He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.
He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.
At a loss for what to do, I toggle the windshield wipers on. They make a sickly grinding noise as they struggle to start. Breaking free, they make five passes back and forth before I switch them off with a sigh. The windshield remains covered in blood. The blades only helped to push the blood deeper into corners it had not initially reached. I press the button on the end of the controls. I’m rewarded with a light spritzing of wiper fluid on top of the broken glass. The now bubbly blood interacts with the wipers once more. The frothy mix navigates its way through the cracks in the windshield, seeping in and dripping onto the tan interior dash.
I look across to my passenger, Retarded Joey. His eyes are wide in befuddlement, mouth open and gaping like some sorta damn fish drowning on the docks. I can’t tell if he’s in shock from what just happened. He doesn’t appear much different from his usual simpleminded, mouth-breathing look.
I look in the rear-view mirror, praying to myself I did not see what I know I had. Please be a deer. Please be some upright walking two-legged animal that’s not a human girl. Bigfoot. We’re in the northern woods of Washington. There’s always reports of Bigfoot on these wooded back roads, right?
The mirror reflects the reality that my mind does not wish to accept. There, framed in that small rectangle, is a limp body. A tangled swirl of blonde hair wrapped around limbs that jut out in directions they were not originally designed for, illuminated in the red glow of the brake lights that came on way too late.
Turning my attention back to my partner, I ask, “R.J., you all good, man?”
He shifts to look at me. Well, the eye that’s capable of looking in the right direction does, at least. Goddamn cousin fucking. Will these backwoods yokels never learn?
“Joey’s good. Was that a people?”
“Yeah, R.J., I’m afraid that was a people,” I reply. Damn, I hope the past year working with Retarded Joey doesn’t leave me speaking like him. “Look, you stay here, OK? I’m gonna go check on the girl.”
I pull the metal car door handle and pop open the driver’s side door with a gentle shove from my shoulder. I get out, feeling the stretch in my legs as I release the tension from a couple of hours of driving. I take a moment to breathe in the night air and then belch it out, tainting the area with the aroma of drive-through onions and grease.
I glance past the rear of the car and see the body still lying there, unmoved, except for the blonde hair flapping in the wind like a tattered flag. Confident that there’s not much to be done there, I cast my gaze upon the more important body—that of my ’88 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
As I walk to the front of the car, glass crunches underfoot and grinds into a powder upon the black asphalt. The right headlight is gone, and there is an indentation in the grille. We must have been going close to 70 mph at the time. In the battle of steel versus flesh, steel always wins out.
I sense movement behind me and whirl around.
Lit by the solitary headlight, my shadow casts a long, lonely figure down the empty highway. As the light falls off, the road curves into the darkness and it’s impossible to tell where shadow ends and night begins. There is no noise, save for the rustling of leaves across the fall ground and the slow churning pistons of the idling Oldsmobile.
Content that there is no oncoming vehicle, an unlikely scenario on this back highway, I return to assessing the damage. The dirt-brown hood of the car is remarkably clean. The girl must have been lifted straight over it. The windshield, well, that was a lost cause. A large impact point released circular waves outward before splintering into thinner lines that appear to have been created by a spider on a liberal dose of LSD. Through the bloody mess of glass, I see Retarded Joey has turned the car’s dome light on and is bobbing his head up and down to the sound of Depeche Mode in the tape deck. The brainless grin on his face is a disturbing picture as it refracts through the shattered glass. People are people, my ass. Apparently, Depeche Mode didn’t spend much time with the mentals.
Shaking the image of R.J. out of my head, I continue my inspection of the car. The roof has become a shallow bowl. At the bottom of the bowl is the leftovers of someone’s tomato soup. Descending the rear of the car is an almost perfectly straight red stripe, about six inches across. It begins halfway down the back window and continues across and over the trunk as if a paint roller had smoothly rolled across. I stare at the trunk of the car. I place my hand upon it and feel the chill of the metal in my fingertips. I glance to R.J. inside the car, still happily dancing away to his music. I give a soft rap on the trunk and place my ear to it. What I hear satisfies me for now.
Taking a deep breath, I decide it’s time to take a look at the non-metallic damage. I walk the 30-foot distance behind the car, following the trail of black scorch marks the tires left behind when the brakes slammed on.
The woman’s body is a modern Picasso sculpture, one of those pieces where he stopped giving a fuck if the anatomy was in the correct position or shape. Genius, whatever. “Hey lady, you alive?” I ask rhetorically.
I give her body a gentle kick with my brown cowboy boot. The flesh gives way with a shplorg sucking noise, and the toe of the boot submerges inside her abdomen. “God fuckin’ damn!” I scream out, jumping back from the body. The blonde strands of hair whip after me in mockery.
There’s a creaking sound of a car door, and the night briefly fills with the twinkling of synthesizers before becoming muffled once more as the door crunches back shut. R.J.’s heavy feet shuffle their way over to me. His 6-foot-tall, lean farmer’s body is wrapped in a tan workman’s coat and dark jeans. He’s also wearing the green trucker hat I got him last year. Across it reads the band name The Specials. He never got that joke, unsurprisingly.
“No, Joey, she’s not OK. You grab her head, and I’ll grab her legs. We can chuck her off into the woods over there and be on our way. Who knows what the hell she was doing out here, and we don’t need to stick around any longer. ’Kay?”
R.J. kneels by her head and wipes the hair away from her face. Her left eye hangs halfway out. The flesh of her cheek is scraped away to reveal shattered bone. Nothing left but tenderized road rash meat.
“She was pretty,” he says.
“Jesus! You look at that and think sexy, huh? I guess it’s better than the chicken fuckin’ back home, but come on!”
Joey moves on me with unexpected speed. His nose is touching the tip of mine. His eyes are pure black, like the night, and for a change, both focus in the same direction. “Don’t talk about Jesus. I ain’t never done nothing with no chicken.” And like that, it’s over. His eyes glass over to their usual dullard state. The lazy eye slowly drifts off to the corner. “She was pretty.” There’s a bittersweet empathy that wavers in his quiet voice.
“Yeah, all right, R.J., but she’s not now, so let’s get her moving.”
We lift the body up, and I try not to notice how much of her sticks behind to the road. We have her moved not a foot off the road when I hear the sound I’ve been dreading the whole time. It’s faint. It’s distant still, but there is no denying that a car is fast approaching.
“Fuck me,” I mutter and weigh the options. We can’t risk being seen carrying a body off into the woods. I look toward the trunk of the car and then at R.J. Yeah, fuck me hard, I think to myself. “The trunk, Joey. Quick!”
He nods in affirmation and we shuffle step to the back of the car. The body folds between us into a U shape. I cast a furtive glance and see the white glow beginning to cut through the forest. The purr of the approaching vehicle grows louder.
Setting my side of the body down, I race to the driver’s side door and throw it open. Melodic voices sing at me and then die as I remove the key from the ignition. I run back to the trunk and insert the key. Before turning it, I peek back once more. The headlights begin to crest the last curve.
“Joey, be cool, OK?” I say, and before I have a chance to get an answer or second-guess myself, I pop the trunk and throw it open. Inside, gagged with a bandana and bound in duct tape, is the boss’s 23-year-old daughter, Myra Torres.
R.J. releases his grip on the body in surprise. The already destroyed face bounces off the lip of the trunk, the chrome bumper, and finally the ground in a series of grotesque splats. R.J.’s one good eye wavers back and forth between the woman in the trunk and myself. His mind tries its feeble best to comprehend.
I throw the legs of the body into the trunk. The feet land on the head of the bound woman. Myra screams through her gag, a white foam of saliva coating the edge of her brown lips. Her eyes speak in tones of murder.
“Look, R.J., I’ll explain later! Right now we gotta get this closed up!”
He takes another look at Myra and then back at myself before bending down, picking up the body, and gently setting it inside the vehicle. I wipe my bloody hands clean on Myra’s green evening dress and R.J. follows suit. With that, I slam the trunk closed.
The headlights of the approaching car slow. They come to a complete stop 40 feet behind us. The lights are bright, blinding me. I put my forearm up to shield my eyes and attempt to make out the vehicle. It sits there, idly watching R.J. and myself. We wait, frozen in a moment of time.
The forest erupts in hues of blue and red as the rotating emergency lights of the highway patrol vehicle turn on. My luck today is truly astounding. I hear the driver’s side door open and then close. Still blinded by the lights, I can just make out the state trooper approaching in silhouette. Damn Yogi Bear hat and all.
“You boys having car trouble?” a gruff, yet sincere voice calls out.
“A deer jumped out at us, Officer. We’re just about to get back on the road,” I reply.
The trooper crosses the distance between us. He’s an older black man. He looks me over and then studies R.J. who’s leaning uncomfortably on the trunk of the car, swaying back and forth in a slow grind.
“No, no, we’re all good.”
“Yeah? And how about you?” he asks Retarded Joey.
“Joey’s good,” he answers. I sigh a breath of relief.
The officer gives R.J. a brief stare before beginning a walk around the Cutlass. “Well boys, I’m afraid that windshield is done for. I can’t let you drive with it damaged like that, especially at night. Where’s the deer at?”
“It must have wandered off into the woods. I hear they do that. But, I’m sure the windshield isn’t that much trouble. I’ll just get it fixed when we’re in town tomorrow. No need to concern yourself.”
“Sorry, sir, but I have to call out the tow truck. If you could please hand me your license and registration, I will call in the truck for you. I’ll need to see your ID as well. Joey, was it?”
“Joey,” I ask, “would you mind getting the officer the papers out of the glove box?”
Joey gives a slight nod. He moves to the passenger door, opening it once more, and rummages in the glove box.
The trooper wanders to the spot where the deer’s body had landed in the road. He looks from the bloody spot to the woods and back. He squats down, his black-gloved hand reaching to the asphalt, and picks up a long strand of blonde hair, dyed with spots of red. He springs up and turns back to us with surprising speed for a man his age. His right hand has unclipped his sidearm and brought it bearing on me at the same time.
“Fuckin’ niggers!” R.J. screams out from beside the car. In his hand is the pistol he retrieved from the glove box. He sprints at the state trooper in his lurching manner, firing wildly as each heavy footstep takes him closer. The officer takes a hit in his right shoulder before squeezing off two shots in return. The first shot shatters the rear window of the Oldsmobile. It’s unclear where the second lands, but a loud metallic ring hints at the car taking the damage from that shot as well. Joey, on his fifth shot, plants a bullet in the trooper’s gut, sending him to the ground. The Yogi Bear hat blows off his head and rolls to the tire of the patrol car. I walk up to the downed officer and remove the gun from his fingertips.
“Please…,” he groans out. The writhing pain of the gut shot reverberates through his voice.
R.J. lays the tip of his pistol to the back of the trooper’s head. He pulls the trigger. “Niggers,” he says with a smile.
I sigh. I’ll never understand how they can’t get basic math to stick in these Southern bastards’ heads, but niggers, now that they have no problem learning.
“Well, what else can go wrong tonight?” I ask aloud to no one. God gives me a reply anyway. I notice where the trooper’s second shot went. In the trunk of the car is a newly formed round hole.
“No,” I shout while running over to the car. With shaking hands, I scrape the keys into the lock and twist.
The trunk lifts partially. I throw it open wide. Inside, there are now two bodies. The first, the mangled corpse of a blonde woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. The second, Myra Torres, who has a gaping hole in her forehead where the misfired shot found home.
I hang my head in disbelief. That shot would have been impossible if the trooper had been trying to make it. But here I am, with the dead daughter of one of the biggest crime bosses in western America. Kidnapping her and seeking a ransom from the man may not have been the smartest of my plans, but I had Retarded Joey set to take the fall and I’d have been able to disappear with millions in cash. Now everything is fucked. Think, Eugene, think. Keep it simple.
“Hey, R.J., come here for a moment, will you?”
I hear the lame legs dragging their way over to me. My grip on the trooper’s gun tightens.
“I got some bad news, R.J.,” I say. “It’s a shame that trooper shot you.”
I turn to face R.J. To my surprise, he’s inches away from me, his gun at the ready. The focused black eyes of a killer have returned. He smiles.
“Joey may be slow,” he says, “but I’m not retarded.”
I’ll never know who pulled their trigger first. In the end, it would not matter for either of us.
S.M. Fedor has previously appeared in Punk Noir Magazine, Burning Love & Bleeding Hearts, and will be in the forthcoming Mickey Finn vol. 2 from Down & Out Books. Scott splits his time between writing neo-noir & new-weird influenced crime/horror thrillers and creating award-winning VFX for film/TV. He resides in Montreal and is currently at work on his debut novel. @s_m_fedor & smfedor.com
The flight to Luxembourg took thirteen hours. From the airport, Jed Lomax rode a cab; the driver a flaxen-haired man who chain-smoked as soon as they hit the road. The highway snaked north from the city past Walterdye, Steinsel, Lorentzweiler, Lintgen, Mersch Berschbuch, Colmar-Berg Ettelbruck, and Ingeldorf before reaching Diekirch. Jed paid the cabbie, who lit another cigarette and sped off.
The Hotel Felix was a drab two-story building at the bottom of a hill. The beer garden was empty. In the hotel cafe, a couple of Italian tourists sat by the windows. Jed ordered a double espresso. If he ate less during the day, he would get drunk earlier in the evening; the drunker he got, the easier to leap the bank of the River Sauer.
A homeless man sat next to the donkey statue in the square, ranting to himself in German. Jed flipped through his phrasebook.
“Are you hungry?”
The man stared at his knees.
“Haben Sie Hunger?”
“Why?” said the man.
“Why are you here? You fly to Diekirch and ask if I’m hungry? Back to England. Before you flop in the Maison Soeur.”
Jed stepped away and the bystanders went down the Grand Rue. A police officer escorted the man to his car.
At the Hotel Felix, he asked for a Kronenbourg and water.
“What’s the Maison Soeur?” Jed said.
The bartender leaned forward. “A brothel.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Only if you don’t pay,” he said. “For an American—no problem.”
Jed rang the bell and a young woman in overalls answered the door. The woman looked at his collar, muttered in Russian, and led him to a well-furnished parlor that served as a waiting room. A man with a short black beard sat on one of the couches.
“First time at the Maison?” he said.
The woman walked over. “She is ready.”
“Who?” Jed said.
The bearded man nodded: “Your girl.”
“No one told me who she was.”
“We have two girls,” the woman said. “Right now, one is busy.”
She brought Jed down the hall to a small bedroom facing an alley. On the bed sat a woman the same age as the madam. She wore black leggings and a black leather jacket over a pink blouse.
“Thirty minutes,” said the madam.
Jed stood nervously by a dresser near the door.
“You’re English?” the woman said.
“She told me English,” she said.
“Look,” Jed said, “if you don’t feel well, or you don’t—”
“I mean—if you’re uncomfortable.”
“It is cold here.”
“It is cold,” Jed said.
Feeling his stomach tighten, Jed sat down on the bed. “Is this—is this really what you want from life? I wasted my life. You see, that’s why I came to Luxembourg . . .”
“Do English men talk so much?”
A knock on the door. The madam came in and looked at the woman, then at Jed: “Something wrong?” she said. “Tell me if she is not satisfying.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said. He shuffled down the hallway, out to the Rue Gravitaine.
The first bar on the Grand Rue was the Bar Hospitaller. Most of them had red awnings, and looking down the street Jed saw five others.
The Hospitaller was dark and had no radio or television. Jed ordered a Diekirch lager and thought that if a stray dog could drown itself, it would. Since he was a man, endowed with reason, suicide was the right course.
He drank two pints of Diekirch until the silence of the Hospitaller unnerved him. The next bar was the Cafe Ardennes. Unlike the Hospitaller, the Ardennes was bright and had two large windows open to the street. Jed took a seat at the bar, bought a pilsner, and watched the pedestrians.
He drank another two pints and saw it was six o’clock. Jed called to the bartender and, instead of beer, ordered a neat scotch.
On the far side of the Grand Rue, Jed spotted the man from the brothel.
He turned his head so that he faced the bar. The bearded man ordered a drink in German and sat next to Jed on the corner.
“The Maison,” the man said.
Jed finished his whisky.
“My name is Nicholas,” the bearded man said. “I’m from Belgium.”
“Jed is not an English name.”
“Ah,” Nicholas said. “I would never have guessed. You are too quiet. And drinking too fast.”
“Places to go.”
“The next three bars.”
“I doubt you make it across the road.”
“Well,” Jed said, “It’s part of my plan, to get drunk.”
“Why? The Maison?”
“Since it doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you—to kill myself.”
Nicholas burst out laughing, then dabbed his lips with his wrist. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t—”
“I wasn’t expecting it. Fuck, man. Why kill yourself?”
“It is unnatural,” Nicholas said. “It’s against God.”
“I don’t believe in God,” Jed said. “And if you do, why were you at the Maison?”
Nicholas smiled. “God is everywhere. He never leaves me when I visit the Maison: He walks me up those steps, glides me through the door. When I saw you walk in, He was with me.”
Jed sat dumbfounded on his stool. “Two more scotches,” he told the bartender. Confidentially he said to Nicholas: “I don’t believe in God. You have something, you lose it, and then you lose everything.”
“That’s what happened?”
“Things went wrong too many times.”
“Wife left you?”
“She was going to have my kid. At least, she said it was mine.”
“A blink in the cosmos.”
“Easy to say.”
“You think I’ve always sat in brothels? Talked to strangers in bars? This is Luxembourg. There’s not a thing out of place on the Grand Rue. But sometimes you find a crack. It spreads and shoots you down to freezing water . . .
“I’ll tell you a story, since Americans are so fond of them. Once, in a former life, I had a beautiful wife and a young daughter. When I got a promotion, we all started preparing our move to Luxembourg City. That day my daughter and I drove a truckload of furniture to the apartment. Usually I would have left her with her mother, but she was eager to see our new home. I couldn’t refuse.
“The traffic was slow, and as we got closer to downtown her cold grew worse. It would’ve been no trouble to book a hotel. Back then, though, I always had to rush, to be efficient, to get somewhere. It began snowing near Strasbourg. She was asleep when the car slipped off the road. I never had time to react, I just sat there and watched it crash.
“All of the windows were shattered, the horn blaring. I had no more than a scratched cheek. Then I looked over and Anya was gone. The windscreen, you see, was broken. I won’t describe what I saw when I found her body.
“A year later my wife and I divorced: too many memories. I went from a man with everything—wife, daughter, new career, new home—to a man with nothing.”
“I’m sorry,” Jed said. “I’m so sorry it happened.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Nicholas said. “If something terrible happens, don’t ask, Why me? Instead, Why me at all? Why do I exist? The value is not in things but in loss. How do you know yourself until you lose something?”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course,” Nicholas said, “I’m right.” He rose from his stool and patted Jed on the back. “Get me a scotch, will you?”
Nicholas walked to the end of the bar, stepped on an uneven board and hobbled to the restroom.
There goes a man, Jed thought. He was overcome by a desire to bring Nicholas back to the States. They could start their lives over, help each other. Jed’s friends in Liberty were drunk or dead or had skipped town years ago.
He ordered two glasses of Oban. On television was a soccer match; the bartender said Marseilles and Bordeaux. Both teams wore blue uniforms. For a moment Jed was mesmerized, then felt dizzy and a little sick. He asked for a glass of water.
“Do you care who wins?”
“Twenty euros on Bordeaux.”
“Oh . . . Do you have a favorite team?”
“No, I am from Luxembourg.”
Jed nodded and looked at his watch: seven-thirty. “When did my friend leave?”
“Half-time. Maybe twenty minutes ago?”
Jed sat back on his stool and hoped Nicholas would return soon. By the time he finished the two scotches, it was eight o’clock and the bar got crowded.
“Is your friend coming?” the bartender said. “If not, several would like his seat.”
“Pair of scotches,” Jed said. All evening he’d spent only a hundred and fifty euros. He laughed as he thought of his suicide plan and the fat wallet in his shorts.
When Jed reached in his front pocket, it was gone.
“Fifteen euros,” the bartender said.
“Can I start a tab?”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jed said. “My friend is just around the corner.”
The noise and chatter of the bar belied the quiet of the Grand Rue. After three lagers, eleven whiskies, and a Tom Collins, he was loose and unsteady and he stumbled over the cobblestones to the town square.
Now Jed was penniless. He deserved to be penniless, he knew, because he was so naive. And things went wrong too many times.
By the donkey statue, he stopped a woman with a red canvas bag and asked how to find the river.
Soaked from head to foot, Jed sat in the police station with a blanket over his shoulders. The captain was a curt man wearing a peaked cap and epaulettes. “You jumped into the Sauer?” he said. “Because your wallet fell out?”
“No—I mean, not the only reason…”
“You don’t look American,” the captain said. “Whether you speak like an American, I am no expert. You flew from Kansas—”
“—from Kansas to Luxembourg. You took a cab north passing X, Y, Z . . . and checked in at the Hotel Felix. You visited the Family of Man exhibit. Then a pickpocket stole your money, and you decided to end your life. That’s your story?”
“That’s what happened.”
“Another tourist on the Rue Superior reported her wallet stolen this evening. You will contact the embassy in Luxembourg City, but first you must go to the Cafe Ardennes and pay your tab.”
An officer came through the door. He spoke excitedly to the captain in Luxembourgish and rushed back to the booking room.
The captain turned to Jed. “We found a pickpocket in the Rue de Jardins. He stole a purse in the Bar Hospitaller. Chased down by an old sailor . . . Tonight you’ve been saved twice. If there’s a third, I hope you save yourself, Mr. Lomax.”
In the booking room, the man who called himself Nicholas sat in handcuffs next to the excited officer. “That’s him?” the captain asked Jed.
“Yes,” Jed said. “What’s his name?”
“He told me,” Jed said, “his name was Nicholas.” He walked across the room and stood in front of Martin. He stared at his face, at the greasy black hair and pocked cheeks which were remarkably ugly in the station light.
As hard as he could, Jed swung at Martin’s jaw and knocked him off the bench. He screamed and spit on him until the officer pulled the men apart.
“Not much of a fight,” the captain said. He and the officer chuckled.
“No,” said Jed. He knelt down, tried to catch his breath. The floor was freezing. “Not much of one at all.”
Max Thrax lives in Boston. His novella God Is A Killer (Close To The Bone) will be published in May 2022.