Authors: Jordan Krall
SQUID PULP BLUES
SQUID PULP BLUES
205 NE Bryant
Copyright © 2008 by JordanKrall
Cover art copyright © 2008 by Jeff Powers
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
orby any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
BOOKS BY JORDAN KRALL
Fistful of Feet
Squid Pulp Blues
Blow Up the Outside World(with AshLomen)
Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys
Tentacle Death Trip
YourCities, Your Tombs
The Apocalypse Donkey
Billy Roanoke(bonus short story only available in the Kindle version)
When she walked into Room 11 of the Solar Lodge Motel, the first thing Marie did was take the bible out of the dresser drawer.
She opened to a random verse in the Book of Revelation and rummaged through her purse. She finally found the small plastic baggie she had treasured throughout the whole car ride to the motel. Her eyes read the bible while her right index finger scooped up a substantial pile of cocaine and brought it to her left nostril.
An unfamiliar rush started from the skin in her face and cascaded down to her toes. She wiggled them and then kicked her shoes off. The stench of her foot odor made her nose crinkle; she picked up the shoes and threw them across the room. They landed in front of the bathroom door like two stinky rocks. Her finger dove back down into the bag and came up covered in shimmering snow that was immediately sucked up through Marie’s nose.God, I love this shit.
Then she heard a noise coming from the bathroom.
It didn’t scare her at first. The sound itself seemed to belong, as if Marie was the intruder instead of the noise. It resembled the sound a housemate would make while they went through kitchen cabinets looking for food. Marie thought it was a lazy sound, a slow-moving din. Then it began to frighten her. This washermotel room. For someone to feel that comfortable in it made goose bumps pepper her skin like freckles.
Instead of rushing out the front door and running for help, Marie decided to confront the noise. She knew it was stupid, something you should never do in that sort of situation. The drugs made her brazen, made her ready to battle to the death with whatever raccoon or hobo had intruded on her room. She waited on the edge of the bed, heart thumping and arms trembling from fear and chemicals. From where she sat she could barely see the bathroom doorway let alone the actual bathroom. This made her both petrified and excited, though the latter had to do more with the shit running through her system.
A slender, tanned arm darted out from the bathroom doorway and clutched at the rug. The fingers were rough, dirt trapped in every wrinkle and crevice. It grabbed at the floor until it reached Marie’s shoes. It grabbed them by the laces and pulled them back into the bathroom.
Marie couldn’t see whom the arm belonged to. Her eyes widened as she tried to mentally digest the scene of a stranger stealing her shoes. A small sliver of courage pushed her up off of the bed and two steps closer to the bathroom.
Standing there waiting to either make a move or have a move made on her, Marie remembered playing hide-and-seek with her brothers. From what she could recall, they were always hiding from her and she’d be left to creep around the house, listening for a giggle or a creak of a floorboard. Now in the motel room, she wished it were one of her brothers in the bathroom playing a joke on her. Maybe they’d jump out and yell, “Happy Birthday!” despite having missed it the last three years.
Another noise from the bathroom sent a jolt into Marie’s brain. It was a sniffing sound.Someone’s smellingmy shoes.She was at once both disgusted and intrigued. Who would sneak into a motel room just to get a pair of shoes when she was sitting on the bed, a defenseless woman who would make a perfectly fine sex-crime victim? What was wrong with her? Wasn’t she good enough to be attacked, raped, or murdered? Were her shoes that much more desirable?
Story of my life.
Marie crept toward the bathroom slowly but her drug-fueled mind felt as if she wasn’t moving at all. She wondered if perhaps she had snorted something other than coke. She feltdifferent. Marie took a few more steps and noticed the rug underneath her feet felt filthy. Though it wasn’t a surprise considering where she was, it made her wonder just how filthy her feet would be after walking to the bathroom. Marie could imagine the wrinkles of her soles turning black, the balls of her feet darkening.
She reached the bathroom door and peeked in.
Through the filthy windshield, Red Henry Hooper watched the two men bring their duffle bags into the motel room and close the door behind them. He waited sixty seconds and when the door didn’t open back up, Henry got out of the car.
The Solar Lodge Motel was located just off theGarden State Parkwayoutside ofThompson,New Jersey. Despite having grown up in the area, Red Henry had never actually taken notice of the place and was now struck by the feeling he had traveled back in time to the late 1960s, which was the last time the motel’s architecture was in style. It was a shit-hole yet it obviously had enough customers to stay afloat in the world of Holiday Inns. Henry suspected the management supplemented their income by allowing illicit business to be conducted in the rooms.
He stood next to his car, staring at the yellow and brown L-shaped motel and wondered how many crimes had been committed in those rooms, how many infidelities, how many drug deals, how many scumbag porn shoots. He started walking toward Room 12 where the two men had gone in just a few minutes ago.
He stood in front of the door and listened. The television was on. They were watchingThe Golden Girls.I’ve seen that one. The one with the flashbacks and shit. Yeah, that’s a good one.Henry looked around and saw a man looking at him from the other side of the parking lot.Fuck’s his problem?If the guy stared any longer, Henry decided he’d go over there and put a knife to his throat. He’d say, “You staring at something, pal?” and watch as the guy would most surely start pleading for his life, saying he had a family and that he wasn’t meaning to stare. That’d be funny as hell, Henry decided but wished it didn’t come to that because he didn’t feel like wasting his time. Besides, the last few years taught him to think about the consequences before he acted, something the he had usually never done before.
He tensed up when he saw the guy reach for something in his jacket. Henry relaxed when he saw him pull out a cigarette lighter and walk away. Red Henry turned back toward the room door.
Ready or not,motherfuckers.
Red Henry slammed his fist on the door. “Open up, assholes! It’s the police!”
He heard frantic whispering and then a laugh. The door opened. Dix Hayden stood there smiling in only his boxer shorts. “You dumb shit,” he said. “You think I’mgonnafall for that a third time?” Dix grabbed Henry in a hug.
Standing behind Dix was GrantMinissiholding a beer in one hand and the remote control in the other. “Hey, what’s up, man?” He slapped Henry on the back once and then went back to sit on the bed. Dix sat down next to him and Henry took a seat on the other bed. He grabbed a can of beer from the nightstand.
Dix said, “So, what’s the story? You out for good or what?”
“Parole,” Henry said, opening the beer. He took a sip and made a face. “God, this shit’s terrible. This all you can afford?”
Dix smiled and shrugged.
Lazily, Grant said, “Money’s tight right now, know what I’msayin?”
Red Henry said, “Yeah, well I guess I shouldn’t bitch about that. I’m in the same boat. My fucking P.O. is hounding me.Gottahurry up and find a job. Like I want a job at amotherfuckingfast food restaurant or something. Notgonnado construction either, break my back everyday so I can go home and be too tired to do anything. Fucking bullshit, guy thinks I’mgonnago back to living a straight life.”
“Who’s your P.O.?” Dix asked.
“Eddie Ford. Know him?”
“Heard of him,” Dix said. “I don’t think he’s a real fucking asshole, just your usualhardass, doesn’t want trouble, wants to show his supervisor he’s a tough guy. I think he’s buddies with that Detective what’s his name.McMadigan. Fucking guy’s crazy. But Ford, I don’t know. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve had worse.”
“Still, it’s a pain in the ass.” Henry took another sip of his beer and made a face. Dix laughed.
“It grows on you, trust me. Hey, uh, how’s Susie? You two back together?”
Red Henry said, “Yeah, I called her this morning, talked about shit, notgonnaget separated just yet. Good thing, too, since she’s been making good money lately which will help if I can get some before she spends it all.”
“Only thing better than a good piece of ass is a good piece of ass with money,” Dix said. “Oh, hey, I heard she lost a little weight, looking real good, bet you’re happy about that.”
Henry said, “Ah, you know I don’t give a shit about her weight.”
Grant took his eyes off ofThe Golden Girlsand said, “I heard Susie was up to her ears in cock while you were gone.”
“Fuck you just say?” Red Henry said, squinting and leaning his head to one side.
“I said I heard Susie was up to her ears in cock while you were locked up.” Grant’s mouth opened in a toothy but silent laugh, his head shaking and showing Red Henry that he was quite amused with himself.
Dix said, “Jesus, Grant, what the fuck’s wrong with you?”
Grant smiled and turned his attention back to the television. “God, I love BlancheDevereaux. She’s pretty fucking hot for an old broad.”
Red Henry threw his beer at Grant, hitting him in the cheek and splattering beer all over the bed. Dix jumped up and stood between the two of them, hoping to squash any physical altercation. On one side of him Henry was now standing and staring at Grant who was looking down at his beer-soaked shirt with that same stupid grin on his face.
“What’d you do that for?” Grant said. “You know I was just fucking with you, right?”
Dix put his hand on Henry’s shoulder. “Man, the guy’s just fucked up right now, took some pills, don’t know what he’s saying.”
Henry said, “He should know enough not to talk shit when he knows I’ll fuck him up.”
“Easy, man, easy.Let’s go outside,” Dix said, leading Henry towards the door.
The two of them walked out of the motel room and stood out in front of the room. Dix was relieved. He hated having to get in the middle of any conflict especially when it involves good friends of his. On top of that, he knew he was partly responsible for what had just happened.Ishouldanever hooked Grant up with those fucking pills.
Now Red Henry was in front of him smoking a cigarette and looking like he was about to go berserk.Igottacalm him down. Take him to a strip joint or something.
Henry said, “Since when is Grant a fucking pill-popper?”
“It’s a recent thing. It’ll blow over,” Dix said.
“Hope so. If not, I’mgonnafuck him up, mark my words, friend or not.”
“There’s no need to get so angry, okay. We get together, we always talk shit like that. You know, ‘Hey, your wife was good last night’ and all that shit. Maybe he crossed the line, I don’t know but he’s high as a fucking kite so cut him a little slack.”
Henry said, “I don’t know, it’s just…” He started walking towards his car and Dix followed. “I’m out on parole, I come here wanting to meet up with you two, bullshit, play cards, and maybe make some plans and Igottadeal with that dickhead? No way, I don’t have to take that fucking shit. You make sure you get him off the fucking pills or we don’t pull a job together.”
Red Henry knew he was probably being unreasonable. His wife Susie was a hooker and so he knew what Grant said was true. Even so, Henry still loved his wife, despite her profession and he didn’t feel like hearing that asshole talk about it.
Dix sighed and said, “Wannago to Scooter’s?”
Red Henry sighed. Then he smiled as he always did when someone mentioned Scooter’s Go-Go-Rama.
The go-go bar was one of many such places in the area where a man could go to get cheap beer while being able to eyeball Russian immigrant strippers and local college drop-outs. Henry and Dix walked into the place and were happy there were only three other customers inside.
The bar itself was a rectangle with a stage in the middle where the less-than-enthusiastic dancers would do their thing. The two of them sat down at the far end in front of the pool tables.
There was only one dancer on stage. She was a tall, lanky brunette with several generic tattoos. Henry hated that. If you’re going to get a tattoo, get something original. He saw that a lot nowadays. Young guys with faux tribal art as if they were ever even in a fucking tribe anyway. Girls with butterflies as if those creatures held any sort of deep meaning for them. The girl on stage had both: a barbed-wire-looking thing on her right arm and a real ugly butterfly above her ass crack.
Dix got the bartender’s attention and she hobbled over. He said, “Hey Peggy, how’s it going?”
“Eh, alright I guess. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Henry. Henry, this is Peggy.”
Peggy said, “Hiya.”
Henry wasn’t quite sure if he was supposed to shake the woman’s hand so he just smiled and nodded. Despite her being a cripple, Henry thought she was pretty cute: five-ten and almost two-hundred pounds. Blond hair, huge tits, her shirt low enough to show off her ample cleavage. He figured she was in her late thirties.
“What can I get for you guys?”
“Bottle of Bud,” Dix said.
“Same here,” said Henry.
Peggy leaned over for the beer, her breasts even more exposed. Red Henry saw himself burying his face in there, licking the sweat from underneath those mounds. He snapped out of it when she put the beer in front of him.
“Wannasee a trick?” Peggy still held Henry’s bottle.
Peggy held the bottle at an angle so that it was pointing towards her. She held it out as far as she could and leaned her head back. Henry looked at Dix who just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Peggy cleared her throat and spat up into the air. The ball of phlegm rose in the air and dropped into Henry’s beer bottle with a fizzy splash.
“Jesus Christ,” Henry said.
Peggy laughed and said, “Well, sweetie, that’s sort of a Scooter tradition. Yougottadrink it all up. You do that and you’ll have good luck the rest of the night.”
Good luck, yeah right.Henry looked over at Dix.
“You heard the woman, Henry. Drink that shit up,” Dix said.
Henry picked up the bottle.Hell, I’ve done worse. He took a big gulp and felt Peggy’sgooslide down his throat. He saw that she was watching him to see what his reaction would be so he just put the bottle down and wiped his mouth.
“Pretty good,” he said. Peggy gave a faux bow and walked away.
Dix said, “So, what do you think of her?”
“No, the stripper.”
Henry looked over and cringed when he saw the dancer bendingover,the butterfly perched on top of her ass like a stinky and crudely drawn pest.
“The tattoos are ugly and she’s too boney.”
“Yeah but she’s Russian. I love Russian chicks.”
Henry said, “I don’t know. There’re too many Russian strippers in Jersey. Just give me some good old American white trash or a nice Puerto Rican chick.”
Dix laughed. The dancer was making her way over to him, moving her hands up and down her body and shaking her small bikini-covered tits.
With a heavy accent she said, “Hi, honey, what’s your name?”
Dix leaned his head close to her and said, “What was that?”
“I saidwhat’s your name.”
The stripper covered her mouth and laughed. “Dicks?”
“No, D-i-x. Dix.”
She said, “Strange American name, huh?”
“No, not that strange,” he said, getting tired of her talking and just wanting her to do something that warranted his sticking a dollar bill between her tits.
Henry was daydreaming, wondering when the next dancer would come on stage. He had some singles in his pocket but didn’t want to waste them on that skinny bitch. While Dix was busy talking to her, another girl was making her way to the stage. She was carrying a purse in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.Fucking shit, Henry thought,what a dose of reality. He didn’t want to see a stripper drinking a coffee or carrying her shit to the stage. Might as well show him pictures of her kids or take out her past-due electric bill.
Next to him, he heard the Russian say something to Dix that sounded like “Dunce” but then realized that she was saying “dance” as in “lap dance”. Dix elbowed Henry.
“Man, I’ll be back in a few minutes, watch my beer for me.”
Dix followed the Russian to a back room and the new dancer got on stage after taking one last hit of caffeine and making sure her purse and car keys were set right in front of Henry on the edge of the stage. It was a cheap purse made of fake red leather. The car keys were connected to far too many key chains, Henry thought. He was beginning to get depressed.
Then he actually took a look at the girl.
* * *
The back room was exactly that: a drab room in the back of the bar that could’ve very well been used for storing surplus cases of beer. There were a couple of chairs against each wall and a few vintage movie posters (walking in, Dix noticedThe Asphalt Jungleand to his right, the face of BarbaraStanwyckinLady of Burlesque).
Dix sat down in the chair facing the BarbaraStanwyckposter and the Russian straddled him. She started moving, not exactly dancing, to the music that was playing at the bar. Her tits brushed against Dix’s nose and he smelt her sweat. She turned over and stuck her ass out against his chest, the butterfly staring at him.
The stripper looked over her shoulder. “You, what you do?”
Dix said, “What do you mean?” He wanted so much to put his face to her ass.
“For job, what do you do for job?” She bounced her ass up and down though it didn’t do much considering it was mostly all bone.
What the hell was he supposed to say to her?Yeah, sweetie, I rob places for a living. Banks, jewelry stores, you name it. Want me to take you to work sometime? Yeah, I think “Take your stripper to work day” is coming up soon.
Dix said, “Uh, different things, here and there.”
She seemed to take that as an answer and slid her ass of him and lounged on the floor in front of him. She was on her back, her legs up in the air, and her crotch mostly exposed but for the thin strip of her bikini bottom. “You like? You like lick?” She rubbed herself.
The Russian turned over and sat on all fours. “You like lick like this?” she said and started furiously licking the cement floor. “Like this you lick juicycunt, juicy pussy.” Her tongue was widened and was dragged across the floor until Dix could actually see where it picked up all of the dirt from the cement.
Dix whispered, “Jesus Christ,” but continued to watch in stunned fascination at the puddle of spit that was growing on the floor. While he stared, a man came into the room. He was short and fat with a beer belly like a beach ball beneath his Journey t-shirt.
The man said, “Hey,Alina, you get the money upfront for this?”
Alinatook her tongue off of the floor and said, “No, did not.”
Dix dug in his pocket for the money and the man walked up to him quickly.
“Next time you accept a dance from one of the girls, the money comes first, got that? Or your ass is out.” He took the twenty-dollar bill from Dix and then said, “You looking for anything special?” His voice got lower. “Weed? Pills? I got some coke that’ll knock your fucking socks off. Not really coke, to tell you the truth, but better. Guy told me it’s made from squid, fucking squid. It’ll fucking make time stop.”
Dix felt uncomfortable. He was in the middle of a freaky lap dance and here was this guy, probably the owner, trying to sell him weed, pills, and fucking squid powder.
“Nah, I’ll pass.”
The man made a sour face. “Shit, man, your fucking loss.” He looked atAlina. “Got two minutes left,” he said and started walking out of the room.
She said, “Yes, Rick.”
The girl stood up and lifted her top, airing out her tiny breasts.This is more like it. Some good oldtitties.
Alinastarted slapping her breasts. First with her right hand and then her left. Right. Left. Right. Left.
Then harder and faster until her hands were a blur and her breasts were covered in red, fleshy blotches. Dix got up from the chair and grabbed her arms. “Knock it off, what the fuck you doing?” He held her wrists but she didn’t fight him off.
Alinasaid, “You don’t like?”
“Shit no,” Dix said. He let go of her and started towards the door. She called out behind him and he turned around.
She was up against the wall, licking BarbaraStanwyck’sface.
“Christ,” Dix said and went back to the bar.
* * *
The stripper that replaced the Russian was beautiful, Henry decided. She wasn’t beautifulfor a stripperbut just plain beautiful no matter what profession she was in. Cute Betty Page haircut, no tattoos (which was always better than ugly tattoos), and the prettiest, most hypnotic eyes that Red Henry had ever seen.
He watched her do her routine with more enthusiasm than you usually see at any go-go bar or strip club inNew Jersey. Henry looked at her shoes and was happy to see she wasn’t wearing the clunky high heels strippers usually wore but rather a black pair of heels that would’ve been more appropriate on a female executive. Henry liked that.
The girl came over to him and he got a couple singles ready. She smiled and said, “Hi.”
Henry said, “Hi there.”
“What’s your name?”
“Sweetie Martini.”She laughed like she was embarrassed by it.
“Sweetie Martini, huh?Guess your parents hated you, huh?”
Her smile lessened. “It’s a stage name.”
Henry said, “I know. I was joking.”
“They made me pick one when I started dancing at the club.”
Club?Henry didn’t consider this place a strip club per se. It was a bar. A go-go bar. Strip clubs allowed the girls to actually show some nipple on stage.
Henry said, “I figured. Sorry I said anything.”
Sweetie nodded and then pushed her plump breasts together. Henry slipped his hand in between them and left two dollars there. She held them in place with her tits. “Thanks,” she said.
She took a step backwards and put her leg up on the bar in front of him. The bottom of her shoe was in his face and he thought he caught a whiff of her foot, sweaty like the inside of a sneaker. She must have changed from her sneakers into those heels. There was no way she drove to work in those. He wanted to get closer but didn’t.
Sweetie grabbed the shoe and slipped it off, her bare foot now revealed, the stench not a mystery anymore as it mingled with the smell of beer. She scrunched up her toes and then wiggled them. They begged for more singles so Henry slowly put one dollar between each toe while savoring the aroma of her foot.
“Thanks,hon,” she said after he had put a total of four dollars in there. Then Sweetie took her foot down, grabbed the dollars from her feet, and walked over to the side and took a sip of her coffee. Then she scratched her ass.
Red Henry shook his head.Another dose of reality. Fucking shit.
Grant sat on the bed while the episode ofThe Golden Girlsended only to be replaced with the pilot episode ofGoldenPalace, a spin-off of the previous show.
He popped open another beer and thought about Red Henry. Though he could admit to himself he had been a prick, Grant didn’t think he deserved having beer thrown at him.It wasn’t like I was saying anything that wasn’t true. Susie was a whore, plain and simple. Henry always thinking he’s better than me, he’s the one married to a whore.
Grant dug in his pants pocket and brought two large green pills that he swallowed with a mouthful of beer. He leaned his head back and the ceiling became a movie screen whereupon Grant saw himself forcing Susie to have sex with him. That was three months ago.
Grant had said, “Loosen up, Susie. Henry’s my friend and he’s locked up so I’m here to take care of you.” His hand grabbed her breast hard and squeezed until her eyes filled with tears.
“Let me go,” she said.
“Not until you show me some of your special moves, that thing you do with the squid.”
Susie said, “Okay, just let go.” The next hour was spent with her doing whatever she could to satisfy Grant and get him the hell out of her apartment. She had decided she wasn’t going to tell Henry.
So Grant stared up at the motel room ceiling and saw the events of the past transpire while the walls transformed into giant pink crab shells with swirls of blue.
Christ, this is crazy shit.Grant always hated seafood and the sight of the crab shell walls made him a little queasy. Growing up in Thompson, his parents always took him to The Chowder Shack every Saturday afternoon where they made him order either squid or crab. It was a tough choice considering he liked neither but his parents would never hear it. The only redeeming part of the meals was the hush puppies. It was the only thing that quelled the nausea.
Still, he was intrigued by the wall. He sat up and stumbled over to it, feeling that it was indeed rough like the shell of a crab. Grant’s eyes caught glimmers of red and blue images so he looked up. Memories of his grandfather played on the ceiling.
Wait a minute. I never even met grandpa.
New memories oozed into his head: his parents showing him the footage from a projector, his father saying, “There’s grandpa fighting for our country. Son, look at that and be proud.”
The uniformed man resembled a thinner version of Grant standing on some large rocks next to the beach. He was alone but shouting out to the water, waving his gun in the air. To the right of him, a Japanese spider crab scurried to him. Grant was frightened. The crab was monstrous; its legs six feet long and razor sharp. It then used those legs to eviscerate Grant’s grandfather. Sprays of blood sprinkled the rocks. The crab seemed to tremble with excitement and Grant had to look away.
Inside of Grant’s stomach, the two green pills dissolved completely, sending a new rush through his system. His senses became more sensitive and he smelt the entire history of the room: cigarette smoke, semen, beer, piss, taco meat, mayonnaise, shit, and old paint. All of the stenches coalesced into a thick olfactory paste that bombarded Grant’s nerves.
The crab shell wall dissolved into streaks of white light and Grant stumbled back to the bed and put his head on the pillow.Here it comes, here it comes.But nothing really came, just noises: canned laughter from the television, the buzz of the electric currents, and a sniffing sound. There was something else under those noises, a sound that pierced Grant’s brain and tickled the hairs inside his ears. It was a combination of whimpering and the splash of a liquid.
Grant looked at the television which was now showing footage of an army of spider crabs overrunning a battalion of troops. He turned away from it and faced the wall behind him. The wall shuddered and Grant’s eyes widened. He put his ear against it and listened. Something was going on in the next room; he could feel it. There were sounds, yes, but he could also smell something.
Fuckit,Igottasee what’s happening.
Grant turned off the television. He grabbed the Gideon’s Bible, stuck it in the door way so he wouldn’t need to bring his key, and walked out of the room. Looking into the window of Room 11, Grant felt his head turn into a balloon, floating up, up, up and away while he watched a woman drag herself across the motel room floor. For a few seconds he wondered why she was dragging herself. Did she break her legs? Is her wheelchair broken? No, he told himself. She had no feet.
Dix and Henry left the bar after having a few more beers and playing a game of pool. Henry sunk the eight-ball and lost, cursing his luck though he was used to it when playing any sort of game. He told Dix, “I just got a lot on my mind.” His friend responded with a friendly nod.
While driving back to the motel, Dix said, “I ever tell you about my brothers?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Henry said.
“My brother Louis was in the army, Sam was in the Marines. Both younger than me, serious guys, you know the type who won’t loosen up unless they’re really, really drunk. Guess it’s from growing up in my house with my father never opening his mouth unless it was to criticize something, but anyway. Not many people outside of my family know this but Louis…..”
Dix gripped the wheel tightly, knuckles turning white. Henry saw this and said, “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t feel comfortable with, you know.”
“Nah, it’s okay. Maybe it’s the beer, I don’t know. Makes me just want to talk about this shit, get it off my chest. My mother would kill me for sure if she knew I was talking about it but anyway whatever, when Louis came back he was, you know, different. I think he saw some shit there, something to do with those fucking freaks.” Dix pointed out the window toward a group of men with elongated heads who were stumbling about in front of a bicycle shop.
Henry said, “I wouldn’t fucking blame him, seeing that shit, guys coming back from the war all fucked up and disfigured like that and no one knows what happened to them. That’s got to fuck up anyone who sees that shit.”
“Yeah but he’s more than just stressed out or anything like that. I mean, he’s a fucking wreck, lives in our mother’s basement reading comics. Refuses to let anyone come in except Sam. Every week Sam brings him food, comics, and the newspaper.”
Henry said, “You should get him some help.”
“Yeah, I know but I don’t want to push the issue, have him go nuts and shot our mother and himself like those guys you hear about on the news.”
Henry was looking out the window, thinking about the situation from the perspective of someone who’s never had any desire to enlist in the army or become involved in any politics whatsoever. If suckers wanted to wave the flag and get killed, let them; Henry was concerned only with his day-to-day life which consisted mostly of surviving and looking out for the ever elusive “big score”. But now that he thought about it, he felt bad for those bastards who came back looking likethat. No one should have to live out their days looking like those longheads out there.
Henry wasn’t really sure what the appropriate response would be, what words would soothe his friend’s anxiety.
He said, “Yeah, that’s fucked up, Dix, but what isn’t?”
* * *
Grant knew that what he was seeing wasn’t a product of the pills. Though he felt like his brain was frying, he was convinced the woman in the room was real. She had no feet which wasn’t so strange. Grant heard about amputees and had even seen some amputee porn; though, after viewing it he decided that it wasn’t his thing. The woman crawling on the floor didn’t have stumps. Her feet were cut cleanly at the ankles. And there was no blood.
Whenever Grant was put into this sort of position he usually went back to his own business and said, “Fuck it.” Whether it was the drugs or a blossoming conscience (he didn’t know which and didn’t feel like thinking about it), Grant decided to go over to the manager’s office of the motel and report what he saw. Then he got worried. What if the cops came? He was high as a kite. Still, he didn’t feel comfortable just ignoring it.
He ran to the other side of the parking lot to the office. Grant thought it was a depressing room. Pale yellow walls with decades old magazine clippings thumb tacked to them. A calendar that was months behind. Crumpled cans littered the floor. Grant looked at the guy reading a book behind the desk. He figured him to be no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. No, he’s twenty-three, yeah, I think he looks about twenty-three. That sounds right.
Grant said, “Excuse me?”
The guy didn’t look up from his book. “Yeah?”
“Um, I think there’s a problem.”
“GrantMinissi, room twelve,” he said and then added, “You the manager?”
The guy looked up from his book. Grant saw it was a thick comic book. He looked at the cover: a shadowy figure in a fedora hat; behind him stood a guy who looked like a punch drunk boxer.
Grant was never one for comics. He always said it was a waste of time but secretly knew the reason why he had an aversion to it. His parents never let him buy any comics or read the funny pages when he was growing up. When he became an adult, instead of reclaiming his youth and indulging in those childish pleasures, he went in the other direction and looked down on anything to do with them.
The guy behind the desk said, “Yeah, I’m Clark, the night manager. What’s the problem?” He still held the book open and though he was looking at it upside down, Grant could make out drawings of something that looked like a donkey. There was a girl, too, and some snow, blood, and black gloves.What kind of comic was this? Where were the guys in tights flying around and shit?
Clarksaid, “Hey. I said, what’s the problem?”
“Oh, uh, I think there’s something wrong with the woman in the room next to mine.”
Clark’s eyes were back on his comic. With his fingers he traced the donkey. “Ah, Little Bing Bong.”
Clarklooked up from the book. “Listen, I don’t ask a lot of questions when people check in here and I don’t really give a shit about what you saw because I can tell you’re fucked up right now. So unless you want trouble I suggest you just go back to your room and turn up the volume on the television and pretend the woman next door is just peachy. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He went back to reading his comic.
Grant said, “What the fuck is this? I’m telling you someone’s hurt.”
“You know how many junkies run to me telling me someone’s hurt or dying or screwing an alien or some shit? I’ll tell you. Too fucking many. Get the hell out of here, okay? I don’t know what kind of shit you’re on, but go sleep it off.”
Giving up, Grant walked out of the office. He heardClarksay, “Oh, Little Bing Bong, you sweet son of a bitch,” and laugh maniacally, slapping the pages of the book. He shook his head.Fucking comic books.
Then he saw a guy standing in front of the door to his room.
“Shit,” Grant said, wishing he had made friends withClark.
Three miles away from the Solar Lodge Motel, RobertHapertaswas drinking a Red Bull and smoking a cigarillo. It wasn’t anything fancy, he knew that, but he enjoyed it. To him there was nothing better than a case of Red Bull and a box ofLauraChavinLa Vision hellcigarillos.
Robert sat on his white leather couch, the 52-inch television in front of him showing BarbaraStanwyckopposite Humphrey Bogart inTheTwo Mrs.Carrolls.This particular film always made Robert laugh. He thought Bogie playing a deranged son of a bitch was a real trip.Damn, I wish that guy was still alive. And thatStanwyck, shit, she’s a real actress. Hot as hell, too. What’s that one she did with Errol Flynn? That was pretty good.
From the kitchen, Robert’s cat lazily walked over to the couch and jumped up on his owner’s lap. Robert said, “Hey Burt,whatchaup to, huh?” He rubbed the cat’s back and let it come up to his lap to lie down.
The phone rang. “Shit, Burt, hold on,” he said, holding the cat gently while he reached over to the coffee table to answer the phone. Burt stayed where he was, oblivious to Robert’s movement.
“Rob, hey, it’s Billy.”
“Yeah, Billy, what’s the matter now? You run out of pills?”
Billy said, “No, nothing like that. Just wanted to ask if I could maybe take the night off. Got some shit to take care of.”
“I can only imagine it’s got something to do with that waitress, what’s her name, Stella something. Am I right? You want to get laid tonight, that it?”
Billy laughed. “Well, yeah, sort of. Her husband’sgonnabe out all night and she has to stay home in case he calls so I wanted to go to her house.”
“And you want to take a night off selling so you could get some pussy?”
Billy was silent and Robert had a difficult time holding in his laughter. Honestly he didn’t mind if the guy took a night off. This week’s take was above average; he could afford to let Billy get some ass. But it was fun to let Billy squirm a bit.
Robert said, “You want me to lose money so you can get your dick wet?”
“Rob, come on, it’s not like that. Forget it, I’ll do my rounds, just forget I called.”
It was impossible to hold it in any longer. Robert laughed. “You dumb ass, I’m fucking with you. Go ahead and see your girlfriend.”
Billy said, “Thanks, I’ll do some extra shit this weekend.”
“No, don’t worry about it. Just call Ben or Dallas, have one of them make your stops for tonight.” Robert stopped in mid-thought. “Oh, but Billy, I’m going to have to make the Sun Lodge stop myself. Don’t want them going over there.”
“Oh, why’s that?”
Robert said, “They fucked up the place last time they went there. Don’t need that shit right now. Just don’t tell them I said anything.”
“Okay, sure, thanks.”
Robert said, “And Billy?”
“You keep fucking thatwaitress,you’regonnato get yourself shot in the head by her husband. Can’t keep doing shit like that and not expect to get caught.”
Billy said, “Thanks for the advice but I’m cool. Guy’s got no idea about it. Too busy running the diner and all that shit.”
Robert told Billy to watch out nonetheless and then got off the phone. Burt was still curled up on his lap, purring. The television showed “The End” and so Robert gently moved the cat to the couch and stood up.
Getting dressed was always a huge production for him but it was something else he enjoyed. His family had been in the clothing business and so he was used to dressing well. He especially loved hats. Robert felt like he was born out of his time. He longed for the days where most men wore hats, when the city sidewalks were oceans of fedoras of all colors and materials. His collection of hats was one of his prized possessions and he often pretended he was giving a tour.
This here is a genuine dark grey pork pie fedora hat byAdamscirca 1952, skinny brim,noblemishes whatsoever. And here, oh, I have another one, a high crowned fedora, light grey felt, satin lining,flexiblethree inch brim. Wonderful workmanship you just can’t find nowadays, ladies and gentlemen.
Robert stood in the mirror, modeling one of his hats. His walk-in closet was filled with vintage suits and hats as well as a collection of rare cufflinks. At the far corner of the closet was his collection of women’s shoes. Robert walked over to them and bent down to pick up a pair of alligator heels.Dark green. Buckles on front. Made by the Lewis Company in the early 1950s.Robert had made one of his girlfriends wear the shoes for two weeks straight. He had told her, “No showers, don’t wash your feet at all, understand?”
The girl, Deborah, had nodded her head and said, “Yeah, yeah, I got it but what’s that mean? Igottasmell like shit for two weeks?”
“Wash up in the sink or something, your armpits, your pussy, whatever but just not your feet. Keep the shoes on.”
Much to Robert’s pleasure, she had complied and at the end of the two weeks, he spent a whole day worshiping the shoes as well as her feet while he played a record on his vintage 1966 suitcase turntable. He spent hours sniffing to the sounds of RobertMitchum’sLPCalypso is Like So.
Deborah sat there reading a magazine while the whole thing was going on. Occasionally she’d say, “Yeah, smell those stinky shoes,” but mostly she read the latestHollywoodgossip. When he was done, Robert kissed her on the knee and left the room saying he had to see to some business. Deborah knew what that meant.
Now as he stood in his closet reminiscing about Deborah and the shoes, Robert felt good, felt alive. Though he didn’t live extravagantly, he was close to being a millionaire. People who drove past his home would never know it because Robert lived in a two-story house on a side-street of Thompson which was not a town known for its wealth. The house itself was close to eighty years old and was in dire need of new aluminum siding. Robert didn’t care much about how his house looked from the outside. He wanted only to live comfortably, taking care of his business and indulging himself in his quiet, innocent obsessions.
The phone rang again. Robert left the closet and answered it saying, “Yeah, Billy, what is it?”
“Billy? No, Robert, it’s Rick, Rick Scanlon, down at Scooter’s.”
“Oh, what can I do for you?”
Rick said, “Need more of that new shit, man.”
“What? Squid? I thought my boys hooked you up with that like three days ago. What the hell happened, you snorting it yourself?”
Rick laughed nervously. “Nah, Robert, you know how it is. I got five different girls a night dancing for me and I want them all on the shit when they’re up there. Then I try to sell as much of it as I can to the jerk-offs who come in here to get a lap dance. The shit runs out fast, man.”
“You better make sure your girls chill out on that stuff or you’ll be having corpses dancing up there and I don’t imagine many guys want a lap dance from a fucking zombie.”
“I got it under control but thanks for the concern,” Rick said, sweating profusely and appreciating the fact Robert couldn’t see that.
“Well, I’ll send one of my boys around but the earliest is tomorrow morning.”
Rick wanted the stuff tonight but knew enough not to push the issue with Robert or he’d find himself making a home at the bottom of theRaritanRiveralong with the squid. Robert came off as a nice guy but Rick had heard stories about what happens when you piss him off.
Rick said, “Fine, that’s fine, I’ll be here by eight.”
“Okay then,” Robert said. “Bye.”
He hung up the phone and sighed.Son of a bitch handing out the shit to his strippers like it was candy.Motherfucker’sprobably snorting it himself. Keeps doing that, he’sgonnabe more fucked up than that barmaid of his, the one that fucking spits all the time.
Not wanting to hear the phone ring again, Robert quickly finished getting ready. He put on one of his best evening suits and left the house. Parked in his driveway was one of his guilty pleasures, a green 1969 Dodge Super Bee in near impeccable shape. Nowadays people didn’t appreciate style when it came to cars; they wanted bulky gas guzzlers that did nothing but supplement the driver’s lack of self-confidence or dick-size. This fact made Robert appreciate his automobile even more.
Once he started the car, he dug around for a cassette he had made. Robert found it underneath the passenger seat. He popped it in the tape player (that he had installed himself) and drove away listening to FrankGorshinsing “Never Let Her Go”.
Marie crawled on the floor, refusing to accept what had just happened.
She could barely remember walking up to the bathroom door. Time had seemed to slow; her body a glacier inching its way toward the noises. She remembered snorting the coke but now she was sure it wasn’t plain coke. As she used her arms to drag herself across the filthy rug, Marie looked to the window and saw a man looking in.
Her recent memory of what happened in the bathroom seeped like oil into the present moment, soaking the motel room in a sepia-toned aura. The man at the window now resembled the thing in the bathroom. What was it? She could barely remember. Everything was going slowly. Her thoughts wouldn’t come quickly.
What’s happening to me?
Marie made another move across the rug and saw the man leave the window. She wanted to remember his face, wanted to memorize it in case she needed it later though Marie couldn’t really come up with a reason why. Her mind just couldn’t process anything.
Shutting her eyes, she tried to focus.It was a white guy with black hair. No wait, brown hair, looked black though. But it could’ve been red, dark red if there wasn’t enough light. Whatever, he’s a white guy, tall. No. I’m on the ground so of course he looked tall. Fuck.
Marie remembered the man’s eyes being bright, shining into the room like two tiny flashlights. That couldn’t have been right. Were they headlights? Was a car pulling in behind him? Was someone after her? She could feel her heart beating faster and faster as she pushed her mind through to the next thought.
What was he wearing? Couldn’t see the pants but he was wearing a white undershirt. People call them wife-beaters, real charming name. There were stains on it, yeah, stains all across the front in patterns of some kind, like that stupidKabbalahshit that Terry had tattooed on his back.
The thoughts were coming quicker now but with them came the remembrance of what transpired in the bathroom. She turned her head and saw that she had no feet.
“Oh god,” Marie said. It surprised her mostly because she felt no pain, no phantom limb tingling or itching. All the time she was dragging herself across the floor, it hadn’t occurred to her as to the reason why she was not walking. Now it was clear.
She looked at the window, wanting the man to come back and help her. Why did he look in the room if not to see if something was wrong? Now she went through the shards of memory of what had happened in the bathroom.
There had been a naked woman there; she remembered that. Naked and covered in dirt. She was sniffing Marie’s shoe, holding it to her face like an oxygen mask. On the floor was some sort of machine, something that looked to Marie like a combination of a manual meat grinder and a cappuccino maker. Then what? She couldn’t remember.
The woman looked at me and then she put my shoe down, yeah. She put it down and held out her hand. Her fingers were filthy, gross and then…
Something to do with the machine, Marie thought. Her feet were gone with no trace of blood, pain, or scars. It was as if she never had any feet at all. Marie’s mind refused to delve into the past any further. There had been a filthy woman in her bathroom who was nude and smelling her shoes. Then something happened to her feet and she was left to crawl out of the bathroom and across the room.
So now what?
She listened for the man at the window. He had gone but maybe he’d come back with some help. At this point she wasn’t worried about the police, wasn’t worried about being caught with the drugs in her purse. The rug below her was stained like the man’s shirt: 11 circles and a myriad ofcriss-crossing lines. The stains kept Marie’s attention focused for a few seconds and then she dropped her head on the design below her. She sniffed each circle.
Mustard.Pickles. Beer. Ketchup. Semen. Menstrual Blood.
Her nose hairs tickled.
Bleach. Wine. Mayonnaise. Urine. Jelly.
Marie’s head shot up when she heard the voices outside the door. This was it, she thought; they were coming in for her. The man with black/brown/red hair had gotten help. She had never been so happy in her life.
Her head went down to the rug in relief and her nose pressed up against the stains again. She looked at it closely and saw the design was disappearing, morphing into tiny dots that swirled like drunken insects.
There was the sound of a door opening and Marie breathed a sigh of relief. She looked up but the door was closed and the room was empty. There were voices, loud ones but they were coming from the room next to hers.
“Goddamnit,” Marie said right before sinking into sleep.
Eddie Ford stood in front of the motel room door and watched as that scumbag GrantMinissislowly made his way over. The guy looked exactly like the type of element that Henry Hooper should not be bumming around with being that he’s out on parole and all.
He waited for Grant to get to the door and then smiled. “So, you must be Mr. GrantMinissi, did three years inRahwayfor armed robbery,paroleda year and a half ago. Guess you haven’t been keeping on the straight and narrow, now have you?”
Grant stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at the man standing there, knowing who he was, but not wanting to believe it was real. Of all the times that Ford could’ve shown up, this was one of the worst possible. Grant was high, there was something fucked up going on in the other room which he probably would get blamed for and there was a gun in his motel room.
“I’m talking to you, son. Can’t you hear me? Or are you so high you can’t even hear yourself think?” Eddie scratched his beard and shook his head. “I can’t believeHooper’dbe so stupid as to hang out at this shit-hole with a known jerk-off like you. Can’t wait till he gets back so I can have a little chat with him. When’s he due back, huh?”
Grant looked at Eddie dressed in his shirt and tie, both probably bought on sale at J.C. Penney’s or Sears. The shirt was stained with ketchup, the tie too thin for Eddie’s chest. He felt sorry for the man, busting his ass for less money in one month than Grant, Dix, and Henry would make after one job. The guy was a sucker.
“I don’t know,” Grant said, “He didn’t tell me.”
Eddie put his hand on Grant’s shoulder. “No worries. I’ll just hang around till he gets back. You got something to drink in there,doncha? Soda maybe? I imagine you guys aren’t drinking any beer, am I right? Wouldn’t want to get drunk and do something stupid, nowwouldya?”
Grant pushed the door open, kicking the bible into the room. Eddie was right behind him but then pushed his way in front and picked the book up. Then he walked into the bathroom.
“Gottadrop the kids off at the pool if you know what I mean,” Eddie said, leaving the door open. Grant heard a whispery fart and then a few heavy plops. He stared uncomfortably at the wall where he saw only shadows of his grandfather’s evisceration. Those shadows pushed him forward to bed where he searched underneath the mattress for his gun. It wasn’t there.
Fucking guy went in the room when I was in the office. He’s got the gun.
Eddie called from the bathroom, “Hey, you’rekindaquiet out there.Whatchadoing? Don’t start jacking off till your friends get back.”
Another fart came out of the bathroom. Grant dug into his pocket and got another pill. He crushed it with the bottom of a beer can and scooped up the dust with his index finger. The green pill dust looked like candy and reminded him of spending Easter with his cousins.
Grant stuck the finger under his nose and inhaled. Tiny rockets of drug matter burned through his nose up to his brain. It hit him faster than he had expected, a brutal cold shiver that sent his eyelids fluttering and his teeth shining with iridescent light. He giggled and said, “Grandpa.”
Meanwhile Eddie sat on the toilet, reading one of his favorite passages from the Good Book. He leaned forward and held the book with one hand.
Hosea chapter 13, verse 16. “Samariashall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.” Ah, some good old fashioned vengeance. That’s what the world’s missing now with all those feminists and homos running around, all those kids disrespecting adults. God’sgonnacome in and take care of that, mark my words.
He listened and again didn’t hear a thing from the room. That idiot Grant couldn’t be so stupid as to run off. “Hey, what’s going on in there? I’ll be done in a second.” He farted one last time and put the bible down on the sink. There was a creak like a weak floorboard and then he looked up in the doorway.
Grant was standing, smiling widely. His hands were behind his back.
“Let me see your hands, asshole,” Eddie said, standing to pull his pants up despite not having a chance to wipe.
With a high-pitched squeal, Grant lunged forward and brought his hands out. Each held one half of a torn beer can. Eddie reached his hand back to the side of the toilet where he had put down the gun he found but was stopped by the sharp edges that started to rip at his torso, chest, and throat.
The parole officer tried to defend against the addict; his arms coming up to block but were cut to shreds by the beer metal. His pants fell to his ankles and Grant made a slash at Eddie’s crotch splitting open the penis at the root. Eddie screamed and fell backwards but Grant kept coming, slashing and stabbing his way into the man’s body.
All Grant could see was a Japanese spider crab flailing its arms while it screeched and struggled in between the toilet and the bathtub.Poor little thing looks helpless.He wanted to put it out of its misery so he slashed even harder in order to break its shell completely and dig into the soft meat and whatever organs crabs have. He wasn’t too familiar with crab anatomy.
Then he saw the gun on the other side of the toilet.What’s a crab doing with a gun?He stopped attacking for a second and picked it up. It was his gun; he vaguely recognized it as drug-sparks bombarded his brain cells. Wanting to end the suffering of the creature, he thought about using the gun but decided he didn’t want to take the chance of anyone hearing the shots. So he found what he thought was the crab’s throat and slit it open, lifting the head up so it bled into the bathtub.
Grant left it there twitching while he went back to the bed and sat down. He grabbed a beer and put his head back. On the ceiling there were snowy scenes of violence; someone was getting murdered in an alley. There was a donkey.Like in that comic book the guy had back there in the office. Shit, at least give the donkey a cape or something.
The warm beer put him at ease and reminded him of those nights he spent alone in his trailer with nothing to do but drink, smoke, and watch porno movies he ripped off from the guy down the street. He didn’t have a fridge so he drank warm beer like they do down inMexicoandEngland. At first he hated it but soon got used to the taste and was content to watchChubby Cheerleaders3while sipping a Budweiser at room temperature.
Grant grabbed the remote control and turned the television on. Another episode ofThe Golden Girlswas starting.What was it, a marathon?He realized that he was actually glad it was on again. He felt like jerking off and BlancheDevereauxwas sounding good to him right about now.
RobertHapertasdrove down the streets of Thompson, savoring the position he was in. He didn’t mind doing a little bit of his own dirty work every so often. Most of the time he was behind the scenes, planning this shit, making sure it was done. It was refreshing to get out there again.
Most guys with his money would move to the city but Robert enjoyed the working class town ofThompson, enjoyed the gritty dreariness and slow-moving progress of it all. He especially loved the hookers.The bald ones.The dwarves.The amputees.The squid-freaks.Beautiful all in their own way.
When he reached the Solar Lodge Motel, Robert realized he hadn’t been there in close to ten years yet it didn’t look any different than he remembered. It still had the look and feel of a motel that should only exist on Route 66 circa 1965. Still, it had its charm and Robert felt good to be there.
But he couldn’t remember what room he was supposed to go to.
Robert was usually very prepared, very meticulous when it came to work but sometimes simple things just slipped his mind.Ah fuck it, I’ll just ask the asshole at the front desk. Simple problem, simple solution.
He parked the car and walked over to the office. The motel was a sad looking place, Robert thought.Needs a paint job, too.He walked through the door and saw a guy sitting at a desk reading a book. Robert didn’t expect a guy so young to be working here. Maybe he was old-fashioned, stuck in one of the old movies he watched but he expected an older guy: late fifties, balding, chain-smoking, and grouchy as hell.
But this kid looked harmless and not the type of guy Robert would want running the office if he owned the motel especially considering the type of element that frequented the place. Robert would admit his business dealings were responsible for much of that element but he still couldn’t understand putting a skinny college boy on the night shift.
Robert said, “Hey buddy.”
The guy didn’t look up from his book. Robert could see from where he was standing that it as a comic book.Fucking kids.
“Hey buddy, I’m up here,” Robert said but still no response. He took a step closer and then the guy looked up.
“Oh hey, sorry.Didn’t see you there. Too busy reading. Man, this book is amazing, ever read it?” He held the cover up.
It read:THE ADVENTURES OF FAUNTLEROY LEROUX
Robert said, “Can’t say that I have. But listen, I have a question.”
The guy pointed to the window behind Robert. There was a sign that read
“NO, we don’t give directions. SORRY.”
“No, I don’t need directions. I’m looking for someone, a woman, probably checked in this afternoon.”
The guy said, “Can’t really give you that information.”
“Can you get me the manager?”
“I am the manager.”
Robert smirked. “You? You’re what, nineteen? Twenty?”
“Twenty-three and yeah, I’m the night manager. Name’sClarkand if you have any problems take it up with Smitty in the morning. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, okay man?”
Robert stepped around the counter towards the desk. “Clark, Clark, Clark. That’s not going to be good enough.”
Clarkstood up and put his hands out. “Hey, what the hell is this?”
“You got the wrong idea, buddy. Here let me explain,” Robert said, digging his hand into his coat pocket.Clark’s eyes widened and then closed tightly. Robert’s hand came out of his coat holding a billfold.
Robert slipped out a twenty and said, “Is this going to help soothe your conscience?”
Clarkopened his eyes and smiled. “That’s it? I get more than that just by keeping my mouth shut.”
Robert sighed. He’d much rather solve this sort of problem with cash than violence but this guyClarkwas getting on his nerves. He slipped out two more twenties. “What I want to know isn’t worth any more than this so make your decision, kid.”
Clarkshrugged. “Okay, fine. What is it youwannaknow?”
“A woman checked in today. Probably this afternoon, maybe this morning.”
“Should be,” Robert said and then waited. “Well?”
Clarksaid, “Yeah, a woman checked in alone this afternoon. Let me see.” He looked over the rack of keys. “Room 11 but I can’t give you a key or anything.”
“That’s fine, I don’t need a key. She’s expecting me.”
Clarkgave a smart ass smile. “So how come you don’t know her room number?”
Robert felt like shovingClark’s head into the desk a few times but restrained himself and left the office. He walked across the parking lot, kicking up sand, and wondered if the owner ever heard of asphalt.
When he got to the door of Room 11, he stood and listened to see if he could hear if anyone else was in the room. There was only silence.She better be there.
Robert knocked and said, “Marie,it’sRobertHapertas. Billy Roanoke couldn’t make it.”
The hell if he was going to go back and give that assholeClarkmore money in exchange for a key.Fuck it. Robert channeled the old days where he’d bust into apartments and motel rooms for the thrill of it. He’d rummage through rooms for spare cash, women’s shoes, and electronics.Those were the days.
Robert took a step back and then sent his foot flying into the doorknob, breaking it.The thing probably hadn’t been changed for ten years. He kicked again, this time sending the whole doorknob apparatus to the ground. The door opened.
He walked in and shut the door behind him. Then he noticed Marie on the ground and saw she had no feet.
* * *
Henry and Dix debated whether or not they should go to a diner and get some food. They decided against it when Henry brought up the fact that the last time they went to a diner together, Dix got food poisoning and was shitting out liquid squid shit for three days. Dix suggested they go back to the motel and see if Grant wanted anything and then maybe hit a fast-food restaurant. Henry reluctantly agreed.
They drove back to the motel and parked the car in front of their room. Once they were out of the car, Dix laughed.
“Hey Henry, that shit I was telling you about my brothers, don’t mention it to Grant, okay?”
Henry said, “You think I’d tell that asshole anything?”
“No guess not. Oh shit, I just remembered.”
Dix said, “I was talking to John the other day and he said he was looking for someone to take care of his place for a while.”
“Kreese.You know the guy, we used to hang out at his bar all the time, drink squid shots and whiskey chasers while those stupid college kids drank that imported shit. We get drunk and pick a fight, smash theirfratboyheads against the wall.”
“Yeah, I remember. But what kind of job he got in mind?”
“I think just sort of like a manager position. Take care of things behind the scenes.”
Henry said, “That might be good but you think he’d mind if I did my business out of there, too?”
“Nah, he’s cool long as you float some his way,” Dix said.
“I’ll give him a call.”
Dix opened the door with his key and was the first to see Grant lying in bed, covered in blood while he drank a beer.
“Jesus Christ,” Dix said.
Henry walked in behind him and looked at Grant. “What the fuck.”
On the bed, Grant slowly looked over at the two of them and nodded his head. “You guys have fun? God knows I did.” He sighed. “Ah, Little Bing Bong.”
Henry felt the world closing in on him. After getting paroled, he was sure he didn’t want to live a straight life. The hell with a sucker’s job. He was too good at selling guns not to mention setting up and executing robberies. Still, he didn’t want to get tagged his first week out. He should’ve gone with his first instinct and not agreed to get together with Grant. Dix was okay but Grant was an unpredictable asshole.
“Dix, I don’t know what the fuck your friend’s been doing but you better find out before I fucking lose control.” Henry started to shake; the adrenalin pumping through his body preparing him for his next move.
Stepping closer to Grant, Dix said, “Hey, what happened? Are you hurt? Fuck’s been going on? How many pills you take?”
Grant laughed. “Man, I’m fine but you better go check the bathroom. Oh, and next door. Next door there’s something going on that’s real fucked up.”
Henry said, “Dix, go next door and see what he’s talking about.”
Dix nodded and left the room. Henry walked over to the bathroom. Then he screamed.
At first he couldn’t make out what the hell he was looking at. It sort of looked human. On the other hand, it also resembled a giant crab with pinkish white skin. He stepped closer to it, his adrenalin levels peaking, and looked at the head that was drooped over the bathtub.
It was Eddie Ford, his parole officer.
Or at least it had his face.
The whole body was a mangled pile of bloody crab shell, skin, and viscera. Henry felt faint. He held the bathroom wall and slowly walked out of the room, not sure what to expect when he looked back at Grant. Was he hallucinating? Would Grant, too, look like a giant crab? Henry was ready for anything at this point.
When Henry looked over, Grant’s eyes were closed and next to his right hand was a handgun. Slowly and as quiet as he could manage considering he was still shaking, Henry made his way to the bed and grabbed the gun. Then he left the room in a daze and wondering if Dix was witnessing something equally grotesque.
* * *
When Dix went next door to Room 11, he almost knocked before he saw the doorknob was missing.Goddamnit, Grant. What the fuck did you do now?He slowly pushed the door open and peeked inside. There was a well-dressed guy standing with his back to Dix. He moved towards the bathroom while Dix just stood there and watched.
The man turned around and Dix recognized him.
RobertHapertas. The Haberdasher.Motherfucker used to work for Terry Silver. Even for an ex-con, he was a real fucking scumbag coming off like he’s all proper and shit when he’s just a fucking shoe-sniffing pervert.Dix’s ex-girlfriend Deborah had told him about the guy, about all the weird shit he asked her to do. She had told Dix he made her were pantyhose for weeks on end as well as high heels and old sneakers. What the fuck was wrong with the guy, Dix had always wondered. The guy was rich but lived in a shitty house off ofMain Street. Crazy guys like that are unpredictable.
The Haberdasher squinted to get a good look at Dix and then held up a gun. “So you did this, huh?” He pointed to the woman on the floor. The woman had no feet.
Dix said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” He prepared his body for a quick retreat. Then someone jumped out of the bathroom and jumped onto Robert. From what Dix could see it was a dirty, naked woman using her fingernails and teeth to tear at the Haberdasher’s custom made suit.
Robert shouted and put his gun to the woman but his fingers were pried open by the woman and the gun dropped to the ground.
“Help me!” Robert screamed but Dix was petrified with morbid amusement. He felt an arm on his shoulder and jumped with shock. Henry was standing behind him.
“What the fuck is going on? I just saw…” Henry couldn’t finish. Explaining it just wouldn’t make any sense.
Dix said, “We’re getting the fuck out of here now.” He pulled Henry away and went towards the car. Henry resisted and took a look inside the room, watching the struggle between the dirty, naked woman and the Haberdasher. At that moment, the woman was pushed into the bathroom and the man picked up the gun.
“Christ,” Henry said and then got in the car beside Dix.
Dix drove away before Henry even got both his feet in the car. They sped off and Henry said, “You know who that was, right?”
“Yeah.It was the fucking Haberdasher,” he said, “and he’s right behind us.”
Robert was more pissed at the damage being done to his suit than at the physical damage he was receiving at the hands of the crazy woman who jumped out of the bathroom. Once his gun dropped to the floor, he knew he’d either have to make a grab for it himself or get out of there before the woman grabbed it.
She now had a hold of his neck and was digging her nails in it. Over her shoulder, Robert could see something in the bathroom, some sort of weird contraption. Next to it was a pair of feet. Marie’s feet. He still didn’t know what the fuck happened and surrendered to the fact that he may never find that out.
The woman was so close to him now that kneeing her wouldn’t do any real damage. She had him in a clinch, her filthy, droopy tits against the front of his suit and her mouth open wide in a spittle-filled frenzy.
Finally Robert felt her muscles relax for a second and he pushed her back, sending her into the bathroom where she landed on her ass. He grabbed the gun and ran out of the room but not before almost tripping over Marie who was still unconscious on the floor. The naked woman ran out of the bathroom and ran after him.
Robert said, “Fucking bitch.” He turned quickly and fired twice at the woman. The first bullet missed and the second hit her in the gut. She screamed and fell to the ground, writhing in agony.
Getting into his car, Robert thought about going back in to get Marie but decided that the bitch must have gotten herself in trouble with the wrong people and it wasn’t his responsibility to help her out with that. Their business together was over as far as he was concerned and if she survived, he’d send her some flowers but that’s all.
What he needed to do, Robert decided, was go after that guy Dix. He recognized the guy from the pictures his girl Deborah had in her purse.He sees me in there with Marie on the ground,gonnaget the wrong idea about things, tell the wrong people.Robert thought he saw another guy, a taller one who also looked familiar. He’d find out soon enough.
Robert also wondered whether Dix and the other guy had something to do with Marie’s predicament. What if that crazy woman in the bathroom was Dix’s new sweetheart? The fucker just stood there and watched Robert get mauled. That alone required retribution.
He was grateful at that moment that he had a fast car. Robert couldn’t imagine trying to chase someone in one of those new pieces of shit that pass for automobiles nowadays. Down the road, Robert could see their headlights or at least he thought it was them. They left the parking lot in a shitty foreign car. He’d drive up close and make sure it was them.
Then: Bang, Bang.
* * *
Clarkwas still reading his comic book when he heard the gunshots.
“What now?” he said. Since getting the job three years ago, he was used to all the shit that went on here. The fights. The drug deals. The occasional longhead coming around and banging on doors at three in the morning. Still,Clarkwas never told by his Uncle Smitty, what to do in the event of a gunfight. Calling the cops could bring some unnecessary heat down on the motel. Both Clark and his uncle had a stake in some of the illegal dealings that went on and they both had no desire to get locked up.
This putClarkin a little bind.
He looked out the office window but couldn’t see a damn thing because it was caked in dirt and dirty handprints.Clarkhad to get closer to the door in order to see what was going on but by doing so he knew he’d be putting himself in harm’s way. He put his face to the glass door and looked out.
Lying in the parking lot was a naked woman, trembling and screaming. She was holding her stomach andClarkcan see that it was a gut-shot, painful as hell. He couldn’t see a shooter but saw a car leaving the parking lot so he was safe.But what now?Call the cops? No, there had to be another solution.
A thought occurred toClark. The thought wasn’t an original one. It was something that he had read in the comic book. The motel wasn’t a tourist destination and so the other guests wouldn’t be doing shit about the gunshots. They knew enough to keep to themselves. SoClarkdecided to take the comic as inspiration.
I justgottafind a car, break into the trunk, drop the body, and let the poor fucker drive away with the body. Simple as shit.
First he’d drag the body in the back, wait until the middle of the night to break into the trunk. But the woman was still alive.I don’t give a shit, the bitch is crazy, probably ameth-head who attacked her junky boyfriend or something and got what was coming to her. She’s sure as shit not a girl scout. I’ll be doing the world a favor by getting rid of her.
Clarkopened the door and stepped outside. He looked around but saw no one looking out their windows.They were probably all drunk or high.Clarkjogged over to the woman who was only sobbing now, her stomach bleeding profusely.
“It’s okay. I’mgonnahelp you,” he said, grabbing her under the armpits. The woman squealed in pain butClarkheld her tight and dragged her towards the office. At first she resisted him but then surrendered to the movement. A trail of blood led from the middle of the parking lot to the office.Clarkmade a mental note to cover that up later.
Once he got her in, he brought her into the back room. There was only a table, two chairs, and a cardboard box full of comic books.Clarkput the woman in a chair and said, “I’ll be right back.”
The woman said nothing in response but instead started to sob.
Clarkleft the room and shut the door behind him. He looked around the office, looking for something that he could use to finish off the woman. Using his hands would be too personal for him. Not only that but he’s heard of guys who’ve strangled their girlfriends to death in a fit of anger only to find out that they weren’t really dead.That’s all I need, the bitch coming back from the dead to tell the cops that I did her. Fuck that shit.
Clarkwished his uncle let him keep a gun at the motel. You’d think with all thedirtbagsthat stayed at the motel, the guy would’ve let him keep some sort of weapon but no. He was cursing his uncle until he saw it.
The five-pound squid ashtray.
Clarktossed it up in the air a few inches, appreciating its weight and imagining the sort of damage it was going to do to the woman’s head. He can imagine telling his buddies about it later on.You ever see what a squid ashtray can do to a woman’s head? That you should see.You should see what a squid ashtray can do to a woman’s head.He held it in his right hand and walked over to the backroom door.
As he turned the doorknob he said, “Don’t worry, I called for help.”
When the door opened, allClarksaw was a blur of teeth, throat, and tongue. He felt hot breath and spit as his jaw and throat were ripped open. The woman still used one hand to hold her bleeding gut but managed to killClarkin less than fifteen seconds.
Clark’s last thoughts were weak visions of being a captain of a ferry that was sinking while simultaneously being a pilot of an airplane that was crashing. He cursed his uncle for not keeping a gun onboard and then surrendered to death.
Seconds later, the woman collapsed and grabbed the ashtray, holding it close to her like a teddy bear. She wished she was drowning in theRaritanRiverwhere the last thing she gazed upon would be the squid. Looking at the ash tray lovingly, she died.
Henry said, “I wish we’d taken my car, I got guns in there.”
“Yeah well, we didn’t,” Dix said, trying to keep the car under the speed limit. What they didn’t need now was one of the jerk-off Thompson cops pulling them over.I probably shouldn’t tell Henry what I got in the trunk.
There were not a lot of cars on the road but they managed to get stuck behind a slow-moving Ford Taurus. Dix stayed close behind, fighting the urge to pass. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw headlights coming up fast.
Henry turned around and saw the car, too. “That him you think?” Dix said, “Either him or a cop.” He sped up and passed the Taurus while Henry held up a hand to the other driver as if to say “Don’t take it personally, we’re in a hurry.” He got a middle-finger in response.
The car behind them got so close that they could hear the roar of its engine. It pulled up behind them, inches between the bumpers. Henry told Dix to speed up but they were coming to a red light in a busy intersection. Dix eased the car to the right and then slammed on the brakes. The car behind them slowed but was too late and hit the corner of their bumper. It slid across the road and into the intersection. A pick-up truck slammed into it and Dix could see now that they had indeed been followed by the Haberdasher.
While Dix was looking, he didn’t see the car in front of them brake also and they slammed into it.
* * *
Robert enjoyed the chase, enjoyed keeping his eyes on their taillights and getting up close to their shitty car. He was about to speed up some more and bump them into oncoming traffic when they moved to the right and stepped on the brake. Robert’s Dodge Super Bee hit the corner of their back bumper and spun around into the intersection.
If it wasn’t for the damage to his car and the potential danger, Robert would have enjoyed spinning around like that. In the few seconds in between spinning and getting hit by the pick-up truck, he said, “Whew, that was fucking awesome.”
The pick-up couldn’t have been going more than twenty or thirty miles an hour but it hit the Super Bee on the driver’s side, sending Robert into the passenger side window. He wished he had worn his seatbelt.
From the force of the crash, the glove compartment opened and a pair of high heels fell on the floor next to Robert’s 1966 Colt Anaconda Revolver that he had shot that crazy bitch with. His right arm felt broken so he tried using his left to make a grab for the weapon. He couldn’t reach it. Instinctively he made a move for one of the shoes. A week ago he had picked them up from Peggy and he knew they were well worn. He wanted to put his face to them, inhale the smell that he knew would make him feel at ease.
The driver of the pick-up was coming out now. Robert could see him, a young guy dressed in flannel and jeans.No style at all. Doesn’t the guy own a mirror?
The guy said, “Hey, you okay?”
The fuck he’s talking about? Am I okay? Do I fucking look okay?
“No,goddamnit, open the fucking door.”
Flannel and jeans guy came around to the passenger side. “I don’t think you’re supposed to move until the ambulance comes.”
Robert said, “Get me the fuck out now.”
The guy walked away and started talking with another driver who was drinking a coffee while staring at the crashed cars. Robert wanted to get out of the car and beat the shit out of them both. Or better yet use the Anaconda to blow some big holes in their heads. He screamed and tried to reach the gun again. This time, he touched it but still wasn’t able to grab it. He tried again and got his hand around it but not without excruciating pain.
He stretched his left hand towards the door handle and opened it. The door didn’t move at first. Robert pushed against it with his shoulder and pulled the handle again. It opened with a loud creak.
Robert fell to the asphalt, landing on his right arm which he now knew must be broken. He heard the driver of the pick-up who was telling the other guy that it wasn’t his fault and that Robert had come out of nowhere.
He looked around, trying to see if Dix’s car was still there. It was painful but he turned his body around and saw their car about a hundred feet to the right, the front bumper smashed into another car. Dix was standing outside of his car now with another guy.That guy looks familiar. Where do I know him from? Yeah, I know him. Henry something. Susie’s husband.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
Robert said, “Son of a bitch,” and then raised his gun.
* * *
Both Henry and Dix cursed as they got out of the car. Henry was about to tell Dix about what he saw in the motel bathroom when they crashed.He wouldn’t believe me anyway. I just imagined it, that’s it. I’m just going fucking crazy.
They looked over at the Haberdasher’s car which was smashed up pretty good. Then the passenger door opened and RobertHapertasfell out with a gun in his hand.
Dix said, “You believe that shit?”
Then they heard the sirens. They were fucked.
“Wegottaget the fuck out,” Henry said.
“I leave my car here, they’ll get me eventually. What’s the fucking point?”
A cop car pulled up followed by an ambulance. Two officers got out and walked over to the Haberdasher’s car.
Someone said, “He’s got a gun!” The police officer closest to the Haberdasher went for his weapon but was struck by a bullet to the kneecap which sent him down immediately. A bullet ripped through the second officer’s shoulder while another went through his eye.
On the ground next to his car, Robert aimed again and shot an EMT in the stomach. The driver of the ambulance came out and a bullet hit her in the neck, sending a fountain of blood backwards towards a petrified bystander.
Henry and Dix were both on the ground and quickly crawling away from the scene, hoping to make it down the side street and over the hill towards the woods. Henry felt like he was in one of those old war movies, crawling in the jungles of the Pacific islands, dodging the bullets of the Japanese. He listened for another gunshot and then turned around when he heard Dix.
“Henry, let’s get up and run.”
“You crazy?You see the aim that guy had?”
“No way could he hit us from that far away. Let’s go.”
The Haberdasher was aiming again. He had already hit two cops, twoEMTs, and the driver of the pick-up. Now he was aiming at Dix’s foot. He could see him crawling along with his friend and thought he’d be able to hit his ankle at least making it hard for him to run away.
He aimed and then smiled because Dix stood up and started running.
The Haberdasher fired and Dix went down with a bullet in his back. Henry turned around and then dropped to the ground.
Then the sound of more sirens tore at Robert’s ears.
* * *
Officer Freddy Fernandez jumped out of his squad car.
“Drop your weapon!” He had his gun aimed on RobertHapertas. Freddy watched as the guy did as he was told and then walked over and kicked the thing away. What a beauty of a weapon the guy had.Had to be, what, at least thirty years old. Shit, they don’t make guns like that anymore.
Freddy cuffed him making sure to pull on the guy’s arms hard because he knew one of them was broken.
The guy said, “Son of a bitch.”
Once seated in the back of Freddy’s patrol car, the guy started babbling. Something about a woman with no feet and a naked woman. Freddy heard this kind of shit before.Sick of these crazy fucking assholes with guns.
Another ambulance arrived a minute later and an EMT took her time getting to Robert who was trembling in the backseat. He looked over at the EMT: a woman, probably in her mid-thirties, cute and wearing well-worn sneakers.
Wonder what those smell like.
Henry looked over at Dix who was lying on his stomach convulsing.
“Dix, can you hear me? There’s help coming.”
He could see an EMT coming over quickly and wanted to tell his friend what he had seen before it was too late. Though he wasn’t sure if any of his words were being heard, he told Dix what he saw in the bathroom.
Dix didn’t seem to hear. Slowly he stopped shaking and just as the EMT got over to him, he died.
Henry put his forehead down on the asphalt. He felt like crying but knew that the tears wouldn’t come, not after all the shit he’d been through in his life. After this, he’d try to go back to a normal life or as normal as he was accustomed to having. He knew he’d be arrested and probably would go back toRahwayfor a few years but hopefully the evidence would show that he wasn’t the one who killed Eddie Ford.
Eddie Ford, his parole officer.
Eddie Ford, the crab-thing in the bathroom with its throat slit.
From behind him an authoritative voice said, “You Henry Hooper?” and then he felt the cuffs tighten around his wrists. He thought of Peggy the bartender spitting in his beer, telling him it was good luck.
Henry looked over at Dix.Good luck. Yeah right.
* * *
Marie woke up to an empty room. She felt a draft and saw that the door to the motel room was open, the doorknob broken off.What the fuck happened?
It wasn’t a dream; she really didn’t have any feet. It wasn’t a drug-induced a hallucination though she couldn’t be sure about the naked woman and her machine.
Marie picked herself up, wondering if she could perhaps walk on the bottoms of her calves. As she put pressure on them, she fell face first into the corner of television stand, the wood piercing her eyeball and sending it straight into her brain.
Her last living thoughts were of Japanese spider crabs, of a man being eviscerated by them. She instinctively knew that the man had a grandson somewhere who was witnessing the same thing she was and for that, she felt sad.
In the next room, Grant finished another beer and continued to watch television.I wonder when the guys are coming back. I’mgettin’ hungry. Horny, too.
He got up from the bed and with slow, deliberate steps walked to the bathroom.Shit, what a mess.Grant looked at the butchered mass of flesh and shell in the bathroom. He saw the image of BlancheDevereauxon the back of the body and walked over to it.
He loosened his belt.
What the hell. I’m not picky.
The donkey on the hill laughed loudly through its Halloween mask.
It stomped its feet, shaking the snow off its fur, and let out a small, deep-throated giggle as well as a squeaky fart. The donkey turned toward the sunset, its eyes filling with pure light, and then dropped dead in the same way it had lived: joyful and filled with gas.
At the bottom of the hill, the city ofThompson,New Jerseybustled, despite the heavy snow and bitter cold. It acted out its routine like an oversized ant colony. Each man, woman, and child went through the motions of good citizens, despite the underlying hum of several factories that pumped noxious smoke into the air, adding cancerous spice to the falling snow.
TommyPingpongsat in his car with the engine running. Jake should’ve been out ten minutes ago. What the hell’s taking him so long?Tommy knew he was taking a risk idling in front of the building like that. Sure, the cops didn’t patrol often but when they did, they were a bitch to get rid of. Despite that worry, he stayed, looking at his watch every thirty seconds and glancing up to see if Jake was on his way.
Fifteen minutes.Shit, where the hell is he?
Finally, through the snow flurries, he saw Jake run out of the building, almost tripping over his own feet. Opening the passenger door with a frantic pull, Jake plopped down in the seat, out of breath. “Just drive,” he coughed.
Tommy put the car into gear and stepped on the gas. The car’s tires lost traction for two seconds but then regained control and moved quickly down the block. Jake turned his head and kept his eyes on the back windshield. A thin blanket of snow covered most of the window. “I can’t see a thing.”
“What happened? Who’s following us?” Tommy’s voice was calm though inside he was as frantic as his friend. He knew that he had to balance out Jake’s emotional outbursts with a good amount of composure.
Jake kept looking though he could barely see through the snow. “I don’t know. Everything got fucked up. It wasn’t my fault, no fucking way.”
“Yeah, okay, calm down. What happened?”
Turning to the front, Jake moved the rearview so he could keep an eye out. “Everything was going great. I was telling Aaron the whole plan and he seemed into it or at least that’s what I thought just by the way he was acting. But then Peachy walked in and everything got fucked up.”
“Christ almighty,” Tommy whispered.Okay, I’m not going to freak out. I know damn well Jake’s a paranoid motherfucker. Stay calm…stay calm.
“How the fuck was I supposed to know Peachy would be out already? He was supposed to do at least half of his time.”
Tommy nodded his head. “Yeah, well, apparently he got out early. So go on, what else?”
“I was nervous to begin with, then he walks in and just stares at me, fucking smiling at me. I lost it. I don’t even remember what the fuck I said. I just ran out.” He ran his hands through his hair.
“What’d Aaron do?”
“He looked at Peachy and then he said something like ‘I’ll have to think about it’. That was it. They smiled at each other and I just fucking ran out.”
Tommy threw his hands up. The car jerked to the right. He put his hands back on the wheel. “And you RAN out? Jesus Christ…”
“I’ve been in those situations before, I know what that fucking means. I’m not a complete idiot, you know. Trust me on this, willya?” Jake looked at Tommy, waiting for an acknowledgement. Tommy kept his eyes on the road, careful not to get into an accident on the snowy, congested streets.
“Jake, I trust you.” As it came out of his mouth, he realized that his tone betrayed the message even though he believed that statement whole-heartedly. “All I’m saying is that you might have, MIGHT HAVE, over-reacted. Look, is Peachy a back-stabbing prick? Yes, but that still doesn’t mean that he’ll cause problems at every step of the way. You could’ve stayed cool, kept talking to Aaron. Now they both know you’re fucking freaked out. There’s no doubt now that someone’s coming after us. Even if it’s just to ask why the fuck you ran out.”
Jake sighed. “I don’t know, man. You know that creepysonovabitchbetter than I do. Doesn’t he still blame one of us for that shit?”
A year and a half ago Tommy and Jake worked a job for Peachy. The job went south and the two of them got pinched. By sheer luck, they were let go because the witness couldn’t, with one-hundred percent confidence, identify Tommy and Jake as the culprits. They were released soon after.
However, someone had left a dirty diaper behind at one of the job sites and a dirty diaper at a crime scene meant only one thing to the Thompson Police Department: Peachy was behind the whole thing. With as much diligence as they could muster on a weekend, the cops cornered Peachy at the local pool hall where he was showing his fellow patrons how far he could stick the pool cue in his ear without damaging a single brain cell. He was arrested without incident but had squealed on Tommy and Jake as soon as he was taken into the station. Since they had already released those two and didn’t want to make it appear that they had made a mistake, the cops ignoredPeachy’saccusations and charged him for the whole thing.
In Tommy’s opinion, the two of them had every right to be pissed at Peachy and not the other way around. They could have ratted him out but choose not to do so simply because snitching could ruin your reputation fast. Peachy, on the other hand, betrayed whatever trust they had between the three of them. To Tommy, however, all was forgiven. He never liked holding a grudge; it got in the way of executing a successful job.
Jake got more frantic. “When I was running out, I totally got the feeling that they’d be coming after me. I really thinkPeachy’sgonnacome after us.”
“Yeah, probably, after you ran out of the room like a goddamn rat off a sinking ship.”
“Whatever. You always blame this shit on me. I’m sick of it.”
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ. I just don’t want any fucking trouble, that’s all. Sometimes you overreact, okay? That’s it. Doesn’t make you a bad person or anything and it doesn’t mean I don’t take you seriously. Now, is there anything else I need to know? Before Peachy came into the room, did Aaron say anything else?”
“No, he just nodded. He looked like he was into it. Until Peachy walked in. Then there was some weird vibe, I’m telling you.”
Though Tommy was doing his best to restrain himself and act like the calm half of the partnership, he felt himself falling deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of aggravation. “Fuck!” He slammed his fists on the steering wheel. If Peachy was again in Aaron’s good graces, even more so than Tommy and Jake were, then the two of them were fucked pretty good.
Jake got defensive. “Why’d you make me go in there by myself, anyway? If you were so afraid I’d fuck things up, why didn’t you do it your goddamn self, huh?”
“I did the last meeting. If Aaron was normal and let us both in, we wouldn’t have this problem but when we deal with him we have to alternate.” Tommy wasn’t too crazy about Aaron’s eccentricities. He never allowed a meeting with more than one person who didn’t belong to his organization. The fact that Peachy was there in the room with Aaron and Jake also gave Tommy some worry.
Their relationship with Aaron Jeffords was strictly business related. Because of that, there was always the chance that there would be a falling out. No personal attachments meant no assurance that Aaron would think twice before putting a bullet into both of their skulls. Now with Peachy involved, Tommy was worried that everything might turn to shit.
“What’re wegonnado, man? What?” Jake trembled, partly from the cold (the car’s heater hadn’t worked since Tommy got the car ten years ago) and partly from the stress.
“Okay, listen. We’ll stop at a payphone and I’ll call Aaron, try to test the waters, see what his reaction is. I’ll explain that you overreacted and hopefully I’ll be able to smooth things over.”
Jake’s eyes widened. “What good will that do? I told you, it wasn’t an outright threat. It was sneaky the way they looked at each other. He’ll just lie to you, tell you everything’s okay and that he was shocked when I ran out, whatever, but really he’ll just be bullshitting you. Next thing we know, both of us are in the river swimming with the Thompson squid.”
“I’m going to have to take that chance. I’ll make it clear how we feel about Peachy, don’t worry. There’ll be no confusion about that. This way, if he is bullshitting me, he’ll know that we’re fully aware of things and that we’ll be on our toes since we knowPeachy’ssomewhat involved.”
Tommy slowed the car down easy, not wanting to skid into a telephone pole or one of the many pedestrians on the sidewalk. As he parked the car in front of an alley, he looked to his right to see if he was close enough to the curb. His eyes caught something in the alley.
“Christ almighty, what the hell is that?”
Jake looked over. “What? Where?” He followed Tommy’s finger.
“Looks like a longhead but what the hell is he doing?” Tommy asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer. Ever since the war ended, he was made uneasy by the fact that a small fraction of the troops came back looking likethat. Their skulls were vertically elongated, the skin stretched close to its breaking point to where it was translucent and one can see straight to their skull. One of the odd things about the whole situation was that all the longheads ended up moving to Thompson, forming a small ghetto at the south side of town. They took up with desperate prostitutes and had children who came out looking like even more sinister versions of their fathers.
The longhead in the alley was dressed in a cowboy costume and standing on a soapbox. In his arms was a strange contraption that looked like a combination of a manual meat grinder and cappuccino maker. His right hand furiously twisted a lever while his left held it tightly to his chest. Out of the top of the machine came spurting long, curly strips of what looked to Tommy like pasta.
“Is that longhead making…pasta?”
“Yeah, Jake, I think so.”
They stared at him for five minutes totally forgetting about Aaron and Peachy. Watching the pasta drop to the snowy ground made Tommy think of footage he once saw from the war of a troop getting disemboweled by a guerrilla fighter who used only a set of sewing needles. The troop’s entrails fell to the ground with the same wet clunk as the pasta.
“Can we go to another payphone?”
“Yeah, Jake, I think we can.”
They drove off, Tommy keeping his eyes on the road and Jake keeping his eyes on the alleyway, hoping to God that he would not see that longhead again.
Aaron grinned at Peachy. “What the fuck was that about?”
“What’re looking at me for? I didn’t do anything. The bastard got scared, what’s thatgottado with me? You’re the one who said I could sit in on this one.”
“Yeah, I wanted you to sit in so you can patch things up with those two assholes.”
“So why didn’t you invitebothassholes?”
“I didn’t want things to get crowded in here. You know how I feel about that. Things get too crowded, I start to get jumpy.” Aaron took a cigar out of his front pocket and lit it. “Why do you look so bulky?” He pointed atPeachy’spants.
Aaron stifled a laugh. “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
Peachy blushed and had a seat in the chair across from the desk.Motherfucker didn’t forget. He knows I shit my pants. At least I don’t have a squid fetish..He leaned forward, cupping his hands as if to tell his boss that he was ready to get down to brass tacks. “So, what are we going to do about this?”
He could tell Aaron wasn’t listening. His boss was too busy looking at the cigar smoke, his eyes a heavily sedated green haze of preoccupation. He ignoredPeachy’squestion and instead asked his own.
“Peachy, do you know why I really invited you to the meeting?”
“I had a dream last night.” Aaron got up from his chair and came around to the front of the desk. He leaned on it like he felt a real boss was supposed to do while he looked down at Peachy, his long-time employee. “I had a dream that changed my life. For better or for worse, I don’t know. It was about my stint in the war. I told you about that, right?”
“Yes, you’ve talked about it a little.”
“Well, I probably didn’t tell you the bulk of it for fear of having you think of me as a coward or an asshole or something. Anyway, I had a dream about it again last night. I actually have these dreams quite often, but most of the time half of my body is a squid while the other half is completely covered in sunburn. So yeah, I have these war dreams a lot, you know, in between the ones where I’m screwing Chesty Morgan and that one about taking a nap in a fruit stand but anyway, let me go on.” He puffed at his cigar. “I was in battle, the rest of my fellow troops having gone deep into the shit, fighting their little patriotic asses off while I stood there, watching the sun in the sky as it turned into the face of BarbaraStanwyck. You know BarbaraStanwyck, right? I’m not that old, am I?”
“I don’t think I know her, no.”
“She was an actress from when I was a kid. Beautiful, beautiful woman. I was looking straight at the sun, being blinded by her face but also by the rays of sunlight. I swear I even felt the heat in this dream, like my skin was going to burn off. Then my troops came back, half of them were blown to bits, being brought in on wheelbarrows, donkeys, and I think even an elephant. Their eyes were falling out of their faces and their cheekbones were all busted up. But the ones that weren’t wounded were even more disfigured. They were the longheads. That’s one thing I never told you about my tour of duty. I was there when that shit happened. I’ve felt guilty about that every day since. I should’ve been one of those longheads. I choose not to go in there and all those boys came out looking like….that.” He made a face of disgust.
Peachy’seyes bugged out of his head in shock. He never gave much attention to what he considered just mutated freaks of war. In fact, he never gave much thought to politics in general and for all he cared, the country could blow itself up along with the rest of the world. But to think his boss was intimately involved; that was incredible.I guess there’s more to Aaron than just money and squid-smelling.Peachy nodded his head and listened as his boss went on.
“And so I realized this morning as I shook myself out of the dream that not a single thing I do can make a difference. Whether I was a longhead or just a short head, nothing really matters, not a goddamn thing. I might as well be a longhead. Get it? Do you get what I’m saying? I was looking at the sun, at Barbara and the men came back. So even in the sunlight, where everything is lit up, illuminated or whatever, I still was blind to the fact that I was pretty much the same thing as them. What I was doing and what they were doing were the same. But still, I still feel that gnawing guilt, you know? The feeling that my life deviated from its predestined path. But now, I don’t know.”
Aaron sucked on his cigar and exhaled. A few puffs of cigar smoke envelopedPeachy’sface and he coughed.
Peachy felt uncomfortable. He knew he had to act sensitively but it was something he wasn’t used to. “I’m…sorry…about everything. But what’s this got to do with anything? I mean, business-wise.”
“What I’m trying to tell you is that whatever you choose to do, it’ll be done. What’s done is finished. That path I’ve always thought was there in front of me, it doesn’t exist. Everything is done, over with. So with those two assholes,” he rubbed his cigar in the squid-shaped ashtray, “you can do what you like.”
Peachy contemplated this. Not many people can say that they have received philosophical lectures from their boss. Still, though, he didn’t feel like it was something he would like to hear on a daily basis. After all, the more time one spends with Aaron Jeffords, the more one becomes used to all of his habits and routines. He couldn’t count the number of times he had to sniff Aaron’s squid collection or ride the albino pony that was kept locked up in a large closet in the office. If it wasn’t for the large sums of cash, Peachy would have left years ago.
He still wasn’t sure though. “Are you serious? I can take those fuckers out?”
“Yes.” Aaron opened his drawer and took out his pony harness. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
With a smile, Peachy got up, adjusted his diaper, and left the room.
A few blocks from where Tommy and Jake were scouting for a new payphone, a man clad in a trench coat, black leather gloves, and a fedora hat stood outside of a go-go bar. He had been standing in the snow for an hour, waiting for Ms. Isabella Martino who was known mostly by her stage name, Sweetie Martini.
Despite the warnings from her coworkers, Isabella left the bar without an escort and started to trot her way to the bus stop. Her car was in the shop and it was only a ten minute bus ride home even with one stop before hers. She couldn’t wait to get home and curl up next to the window with a good book, with complete view of the snow-covered streets. Having worked a five hour shift most of which was spent on her feet, dancing and gyrating, she was more than simply exhausted. Isabella wanted to spend as much time lying down as possible.
Isabella never planned on becoming a stripper but she knew perfectly well that no one does. Little girls don’t dance around in their rooms to bad rock music, pretending to be on stage in front of sweaty old men or obnoxious frat boys. When she was a child, Isabella was like many girls her age; she dreamt of getting married, having a huge wedding, and perhaps pursuing a career in a myriad of fields.
She learned quickly, however, that life doesn’t always work out as planned and sometimes people have to do things that they aren’t proud of simply so they can eat and pay the rent. Her father’s brutal murder at the hands of Terry Silver (war veteran, millionaire, and organized crime boss) left her with little faith and even smaller hopes for herself.
As she was walking past the alleyway next to the club, the man who had patiently waited for her all of that time grabbed her hand. He whispered something into her ear and led her to the alley.
“So you knew my father, then?” She smiled, recognizing the handsome face of the man who wore black gloves.
He answered in a frantic whisper as if it pained him to get the sound out. From inside his jacket he pulled out a straight razor, opening it like he had practiced so many times before, although in those instances he had been nude and standing in front of a full-length mirror.
There was a quick horizontal whoosh of his arm and Isabella’s throat exploded in a fountain of deep red squirting that stained the snow both on the ground and in the air. Crimson snowflakes sparkled like tiny rubies in front of the man who was now breathing heavily and whispering bittersweet verbal abuse.
Isabelle’s body fell to the ground, landing in the soft snow like a stuffed animal on a shag carpet. The man looked down the alleyway and saw that everyone who walked by was distracted with their own lives, be it business or pleasure, and didn’t as much as glance down the alley. Grunting with joy, he turned Isabella on her stomach and ripped her jacket and dress off, revealing her pale, bare back.
He dropped the razor and took out a black permanent magic marker. With delight similar to that of a child in art class, he meticulously sketched a comic strip across the back and upper buttocks of Sweetie Martini. The comic wasn’t an original idea; the man had memorized it from a book he had found, a book he had stolen after he killed its original owner, Terry Silver.
Two strips of five panels in black marker, colored in only by the hues of stripper skin. In this grim adventure, Fauntleroy Le Roux was on the bloody trail of Little Bing Bong, the Apocalypse donkey. Even with assistance from his stalwart side-kick (ex-boxer MushyNebuchadnezzer), Le Roux ultimately fails and in the tenth panel, the world is brought to its knees by Little Bing Bong.
The man looked down at his work and was satisfied that it was an exact copy of the original. He capped the marker and put it back in his jacket pocket. Through the whole ordeal, the man’s fedora hat had stayed on and he could now feel a puddle of sweat forming on the top of his head. He felt like an infant with a warm, soft spot in its skull.
He dragged Isabella against the wall and positioned her so that anyone walking down the alley would have full view of the comic strip. They would therefore be able to admire his artwork not only for its esthetic value but also for its soon-to-be historical significance. He looked at his work once more, memorizing the image, and then ran off with his mouth open, catching snowflakes on his tongue.
“I think we’ll stop here, see if Red Henry is around,” Tommy said, pulling the car over to the right, nabbing a spot right in front ofKreese’sBar and Packaged Goods. It was a place well-frequented by people just like Tommy and Jake, citizens of Thompson who wanted to keep a low profile but still be able to get what they needed when they needed it.
Red Henry Hooper was their firearm supplier. If there was a clean gun somewhere, Red Henry could get it, though often it was attached to a ridiculous price. Still, Tommy knew he could rely on him to keep quiet even under the most pressing of circumstances. Not to mention the fact that Red Henry had helped save Tommy from an unfortunate fate at the hands of some very angry haberdashers.
“Do you even know if he’s there?” Jake asked, “Why don’t we just stop at the barn, pick up a couple of shotguns.”
Tommy shook his head. “That’s in the complete opposite direction and Peachy knows about that place anyway. If you’re so worried about him, the barn should be the last place youwannago. I want to get a drink and use the phone. I’d rather sort this shit out with Aaron before running ourselves out of town for no good goddamn reason.”
“Okay, let’s go then.” Jake opened the car door even before the car stopped moving. He jumped out onto the sidewalk, put his hands in his coat pockets, and waited at the doorway ofKreese’s, trying to stay out of the way of the barrage of snow flurries that twirled over the sidewalk. Once Tommy was out, Jake walked into bar.
As soon as he entered, they smelt the squid.
There weren’t many places in Thompson where you could get a one-dollar shot of whiskey with a squid chaser. Bits of the marine animal were blended together with egg yolk and extra virgin olive oil and then stuck in the freezer to make it ice cold. Among the regular patrons of the bar, it made a delicious first drink and an even more delicious last drink of the evening.
Those who have had the drink had often likened the experience to being beaten about the abdomen with a sac of warmjello. One patron even went so far as to call it “the most sexually arousing liquid seafood in the world” immediately before choking on an unblended piece of squid. That quote was now carved into a piece of wood and hung over the bar.
Tommy made eye contact with Kevin, the bartender, and mouthed the words “Is Henry around?” Kevin pointed to the back room. As Tommy and Jake made their way, they saw an amorous couple in one of the booths, sharing a huge pile of bacon cheese-fries. The man looked up at Jake and coughed. “Youlookin’ atsomethin’, son?” He took his hand off of his date’s ample breast, picked up a handful of bacon cheese-fries, and slowly covered the woman’s face with it, as if the grease was soap and the fries were a washcloth. The woman had no reaction.
Jake looked at his partner but Tommy just shook his head and pushed him into the backroom. “Just ignore that shit,” Tommy said as they made their way into Red Henry’s back office.
“Well, goddamn, if it isn’t TomPingpongand Jake Waite. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Red Henry talked stern and fast. His mouth seemed to move two steps ahead of his words.
“What’s happening, Red?How’s things?” Tommy extended his hand and Henry took it, providing a short but vigorous handshake. He gave the same to Jake.
“Can’t complain.Just came back from visiting my P.O. who is, I might add, a complete asshole. Tells me Igottastop hanging outKreese’s. Part of my parole, he says. Well, fuck him, that’s why I say. A man’sgottaeat, you know? A man’sgottapay rent. What’s he think I should do? Flip burgers? Man’s a fucking idiot, thinks I’mgonnalive a straight life so I could rot in some halfway house.”
Tommy nodded his head in agreement. “I hear you, man. There’s no disagreement there. Speaking of which, I was looking to buy a piece, nothing big, just something to get the job done.”
“Nah, I’m not expecting it to get that intense. I don’t have much cash on me right now.”
“Well, how much do you have?”
“Only two hundred and change.”
Red Henry scratched his face. “Sorry to break this to you, buddy, but I’m almost completely sold out. Slim pickings, know what I mean? I only got a 9mm, about fifteen years old. Nothing fancy or anything but it’ll do the job at close range.”
“Last time we talked you had a pretty big inventory. You were practically begging me to help you unload it. What happened?”
“Ah, you know I keep my mouth shut about that sort of thing. That’s why I can stay in business, people know I’m notgonnaname names.”
Tommy gave an open mouth smile. “You seriously going to pull that shit on us?”
The three of them laughed and Red Henry sat down at his well-worn, second-hand mahogany desk. “Okay, to tell you the truth, I don’t even know any names. I was honest to god cleaned out by a bunch of longheads. In a little over two weeks I must have sold thirty or forty pieces, all to those longhead bastards. The one I’msellin’ you is just an old spare I keep around for myself.”
“That’s fucked up. You think anything’s going down?”
“Not that I heard. And usually I’m first or second on the grapevine so I wouldn’t worry about it. You know those guys are just paranoid war vets, anyway. Probably scared as all hell and hiding in their bunkers, waiting for the end of the world.”
Jake tapped in fingers impatiently. “So, let’s talk price.”
“Well, you said you have two-hundred. That’s a fair price.”
Jake shook his head. “Oh, no, that’s before we knew we’d be getting a piece of shit.” He turned to Tommy. “What do you think?”
“Jake’s right, Henry.I’ll give you one-twenty-five.”
The three sat in silence for a minute while Hooper chewed on his fingernail. Behind him was a window frosted with snowflakes. Still, Tommy could see clear enough to notice someone looking in from the building next door. It was a longhead, naked and standing on a velvet couch. He was holding a candle which he moved slowly from right to left, tipping it over just enough to let a few globs of wax falls to the floor with each movement.
“Jesus Christ.” Tommy got closer to the window and Jake then followed. Red Henry turned around in his chair.
“Well, would you look at that? Now he’s got a candle.” Red Henry chuckled.
Jake looked wide-eyed at him. “What do you mean? What did he have before?”
“A snapping turtle.Thing must have been a foot long. That guy was just holding it by its feet, dangling it over the floor. Felt bad for the turtle but I wasn’t just about to go knock on the door of some longhead. Especially not right after I sold him a gun.”
Tommy squinted. “What the hell is he looking at? Us? What the hell is wrong with him?”
“Who the fuck knows?”Red Henry leaned forward in his chair and opened up the desk drawer and pulled out a gun that looked as if it was dragged under a truck for at least three blocks.
“That’s an ugly piece of shit, you got there, Henry,” Tommy said.
“Take it or leave,Pingpong.” He put the gun on the desk and waited as Tommy took out the cash from his pocket.
After the quick transaction, Red Henry got up from the chair and ushered the two out of the room. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, Igottago pick Susie up. She’s been out there all night and Christ knows she probably spent most of the money already. Boys, if you follow one piece of advice, let it be this: never marry a whore.”
Tommy gave a wry smile but Jake didn’t have a reaction. His mind was on Peachy.
As the door was shut behind them, they walked toward the bar to get a drink. Before they could reach it, however, a fat man in a raincoat blocked their path.
Tommy let loose the fakest smile he could muster. “DetectiveMcMadigan, how nice to see you.”
“I’ll be a son of a bitch. You drink here, too? I hadnoidea.” The cop laughed and the sound that escaped his throat was filled with cigar-phlegm. He was a round man with a face full of dull, gray stubble. His shirt was stained with red wine and yellow spittle, combining to formtentacledshapes over his overwhelming gut.
“What can I do for you, Detective? You see, my friend and I here are in a rush to catch a movie.” Tommy, without realizing it until it was too late, felt his jacket pocket where he had put the gun. He was relieved to see that the detective didn’t notice. He was too busy eyeing up Jake.
“Who’s this goofy looking bastard?”
Jake started to sweat. He had heard about DetectiveMcMadiganbut never had the displeasure of running into him. From the stories that Tommy and others have told him, the cop was partial to a whole slew of odd behaviors. On any given day he may show up an ex-con’s apartment and force him to dig out his stash of girly magazines or ask the guy’s wife to strip while he played his harmonica. She’d then be subject to a wide range of mental abuse mostly involving being nude and forced to recite old Honeymooners routines. It’s well known even in the police department that Detective ShawnMcMadiganis behind the prostitution ring that moved in downtown. It catered to those who liked to live on the wild side of Thompson.McMadiganmade sure to provide customers with anything they desired be it born-again housewives addicted to prescription pain medication or bald hookers with dwarfism.
“This is Jake Waite.” Tommy turned to his partner. “Jake, this is DetectiveMcMadigan. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him a time or two.”
McMadiganput his hand out and smiled, yellowish saliva sliding off his dull teeth. Jake reluctantly shook the cop’s hand and was pulled forward. The detective put his mouth close to Jake’s ear. “If you stick with this guy, then I know you’re looking for trouble, my kind of trouble. If Igottateach you, that’s fine by me. Ever get gang-raped by a group of angry cops?”
The twinkle in the cop’s eye was disturbingly pornographic in nature. Jake looked into the speckled orbs and saw himself being torn apart by sheer force ofMcMadigan’scannibalistic penis. He saw its teeth, its gaping mouth, and its mucus-filled nose. It was joined by three others, all belonging to members of the Thompson Police Department, their nightsticks being no match for their throbbing rods of power-drunk retribution.
Jake pulled away and headed for the door. The detective’s face turned angry and shouted. “Hey, I’m not done with you.”
Digging into his pocket, Tommy took out a twenty-dollar bill and discretely handed it toMcMadigan. “We really have to catch that movie, detective.” He rushed out the door before the cop could do anything, though he knew that with a greased palm, DetectiveMcMadiganwould probably save his abuse for another day.
Once outside, Tommy ran to catch up to Jake who was walking down the sidewalk, away from their car.
“Christ, Tommy, that guy is a psycho.”
“Yes, I know. I told you about him. What the hell did he say to you?”
“What did he say to me? He fucking threatened me with a gang-rape! Thanks a lot for giving him my name, too, by the way. Real fucking smooth.”
“Shit, he’s a cop, man. Getting your name would be easy as fucking pie for him, anyway,” Tommy stopped walking. “Shit!”
Jake stopped two footsteps ahead and turned. “What?”
“Forgot to use the phone.”
As they both stood there cursing, Tommy felt a tug at his coat. He looked down to see a bald dwarf in a blue velvet coat. “Hey, baby,wannadate?” Even without a hair on her head, the woman was quite attractive with Russian facial features and a pierced nose that added a touch of feminine brutality to her allure.
“Uh, no thanks,” Tommy said, not finding the sight of the woman even the least bit surprising. Where there was DetectiveMcMadigan, there was a dwarf hooker. From Tommy’s experience, that’s just the way it was.
“How about you, honey, thirty bucks, half and half.”She moved over to Jake and sucked on her finger. Her crude gesturing made Tommy so queasy that he knew that he’d vomit if she touched him.
“Maybe some other time,” Jake said. He made eye contact with his partner and shook his head slightly to the left. The woman saw this and stuck up her middle finger.
“Fuck you both, then.” She walked away and moved on down the sidewalk where she was accosted by a longhead dressed in an old moth-bitten business suit. The longhead looked at the dwarf, looked up at the sky, and then slapped the woman in the face before running off past Tommy and Jake, almost knocking them down.
“Jesus Christ, man. Tonight’s just getting worse and worse.” Jake took out a pack of cigarettes. “Hey, you know whoMcMadiganreminds me of?”
“OrsonWellesin that movieTouch of Evil.Ever see it?”
“No, I don’t think I have. Any good?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty fucking good.” He took a drag and blew the smoke upwards, looking at the stars in the process. “Okay, well I’m still worried about Peachy. Do we go to a phone and call Aaron like you wanted? I think we should just get the hell out of town for a few days. Let things simmer down.”
“Despite the fact that I think you’re overreacting just a little bit, I guess I agree with you. Let’s go back to the car and get going.”
They walked back the other way, toward their car, passing another alleyway. If they had looked down that alley, they would have seen the longhead who had slapped the dwarf. They would have witnessed him sitting on a large snapping turtle and using one hand to shave his head with an electric razor, his hair falling off of his elongated skull like burnt wheat. If Tommy and Jake had looked down that alley, they also would have noticed that the longhead’s body was slowly shrinking to about the size of a dwarf.
Peachy drove downMain Streetblasting the radio. His head bopped to “She’s Lost Control” as he nearly skidded into a group of teens who ran across the street throwing snowballs at each other. He muttered a curse and then looked past the kids and saw Tommy and Jake getting into their car.
“Oh yes, youcocksuckers, I got you now.” He gripped the steering wheel and then felt his stomach bubble. His bowels exploded, letting loose a storm of diarrhea into his diaper. The deluge was far more than the diaper could hold, so much of it leaked out down his legs. “Oh, Christ, not now!”
He looked down at his lap to make sure he wasn’t leaking shit onto his car seats and didn’t see the ice patch that was clearly evident on the road. The car slid horizontally into a parked car that had been parked behind Tommy and Jake’s.
A fat man came running out of the bar. “Son of a bitch! Get the fuck out of the car!”
Peachy opened his glove compartment and pulled out his handgun that had been carved from an elephant’s tusk. It had been a gift from his great uncle who was a world traveler and was known within the underworld as Bootlicker Benny in reference to his tendency to steal the shoes of his rivals’ wives. His uncle had never endorsed the nickname but he had never rejected it either.
Peachy gripped the gun in his hand but hid it in his sleeve as he stepped out of the car.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Peachy said, smiling and trying to sound like a remorseful driver. Then he saw who the fat man was and the smile quickly dropped into a frown.
DetectiveMcMadigansmiled sinisterly. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Keen. You’re in a world of shit, now, aren’t you?” He put his hands on his hips and nodded his head.Oh, I’mgonnahave a whole lot of fun with this motherfucker,he thought,and after I’m done with him, he’sgonnaneed more than a diaper.
With one slick motion, Peachy swung his arm up and unloaded three shots, hittingMcMadigantwice in the torso and once in the neck. The detective fell backward, barely able to register what was happening. His last living thoughts were of an elephant with diarrhea spearing him repeatedly with its tusks.
Screams echoed through the streets as the terrified pedestrians ran to take cover. Peachy ignored them and went back into his car. His mood quickly darkened as he realized that more shit had leaked out of his diaper and had formed a trail along the street.
After getting back into the car and pulling away, he ejected theJoy Divisioncassette from the car stereo and continued the ride in silence. In honor of his great uncle, he kissed his warm, ivory gun and pretended it was a boot.
“Hey, Tommy, how about we stop home?” After being threatened with a law enforcement gang-bang, he was less worried about Peachy.
“First you want to get out of town,thenyou want to go home? If Aaron’s got someone after us, first place they’ll look is our place. Then the barn. We’ll stick with the original plan.”
Jake leaned back. “Okay.”
The car swerved to the right and Jake grabbed the dashboard. Tommy groaned and slammed on the brakes. “Would you look at that shit?” Walking across the street, through the slush and ice was a longhead.
“It’s another longhead. Yeah, he’s walking his dog. So what?”
Tommy pointed. “That’s not a dog.”
The longhead was walking a snapping turtle on a leash. The animal was wearing snow boots that were obviously made for an infant. While Tommy and Jake watched, the longhead stopped at the sidewalk, unzipped his pants, and proceeded to urinate on a parking meter. The passersby ignored him as they do whenever they see a longhead. To acknowledge them was to bring thoughts of war, guilt, and consequences.
“Just drive, man, just drive,” Jake said, making himself look away from the scene. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the snapping turtle take a step into the stream of piss. It splashed off of its shell in large droplets that mixed with the downpour of snowflakes.
Tommy pulled away and went one more block. He slowed down in front of the movie theatre. “I have an idea.” He pulled into a side street and parked the car. “Let’s see a movie.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Nah, listen, we’ll hold up here, keep our eyes on the door, and see if anyone’s following us. What’s a better hide-out than a big, dark room?”
“I don’t know. A big, dark room out of town, maybe?”
“I’m just saying, if we go out of town and Aaron gets wind of it, it’ll look like we got something to hide which isn’t the case, am I right? So, this way we’re not doing anything but watching a movie.”
Jake nodded his head reluctantly. “Okay, fine.”
They walked around the corner and up to the ticket booth. Tommy looked up at the marquee. “Hey, which movie do you want to see?”
“What’s the difference? We’re not actually here to see a movie.”
“Oh,whatever,just pick one.”
Glancing up at the titles, Jake was surprised to see that they were all old movies. “Let’s see…Ball of Fire,um, Remember the Night… Flesh and Fantasy….Never heard of these.” He directed his statement toward the ticket seller.
“We’re running a marathon. All BarbaraStanwyckpictures. We’re also showingClash by Night.” The ticket seller was a lanky bearded teenager who, Jake thought, looked happier than he should’ve been to be working on such a cold night in an unheated ticket booth.
Tommy took out the remaining money from his pocket. “Two tickets, then.”
“For an extra five dollars, would you each like a BarbaraStanwyckHalloween mask?”
Jake made a face. “Are you serious?”
The teenager smiled, revealing a bright overbite. “Yes, very.”
“No thanks, no masks.” Tommy handed over the cash and took the tickets.
As they walked away, he heard the ticket seller mocking them, speaking in a faux-Spanish accent, “Masks? We don’t need nostinkin’ masks!”
Tommy and Jake stepped into the theatre but not without taking one last look out onto the street to see if anything looked amiss. From what they saw, the Thompson night was close to a normal one.
The theatre lobby was large; it reminded Tommy of a church foyer, albeit one with movie posters and a floor sprinkled with popcorn. He stepped up to the snack bar and turned to Jake. “Want something? I got a few dollars left.”
“Just popcorn, I guess.”
The girl behind the counter had both her hands in the popcorn machine. She was making hand-washing motions, sticking her arms deep into the popcorn. Tommy caught her eyes. “Can I have large popcorn, please?”
She looked at him, eyes grey and blank. “We have no popcorn.”