One Trick Pony

For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction and scenes from the life inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Come To This: Romeo Has A Gun To My Head

November is a heavy month. Día de los Muertos and All Souls Day are traditionally the time to reflect on those we've lost. Autumn is the time to look back, to assess. The harvest is in, the earth has been turned over, the scarecrow has gone into the flames and all our grand plans have come back to haunt us. The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, and the ghosts will speak if you tune your ears and listen.

Well, my ghosts are screaming. Specifically, the ghosts of my unpublished novels.

Last year I participated in NANOWRIMO and had a great time spinning out a Bella Vista Motel story that I thought would be a fine introduction to the series. Throughout the year I've chipped away at the second draft with a nagging sense of unease. I know it's a great story. In fact, it's a beautiful story about a new character that I love and that I'm sure you will all love, too.

But it's not the first book.

The first book is the story of a young guy named Romeo, whose career track in the New York City underworld goes off the rails when he gets stuck managing a motel in west Texas––a motel with an underworld of its own.

That book has already been written, it's just buried in a much too long for a first novel edition. So rather than start something new this November, I'm going to dig that first novel out.

Much as I love participating in Friday Flash, I've decided it's best to go on hiatus. I'll check in here and there, cheer on the NANOWRIMO-ers and the other Friday Flashers when I can. I'm grateful for all the comments and encouragement I've received from visitors to this blog, and the Twitterstream. I may post updates and excerpts.

As of today, consider me in the cave. Thanks for reading, and please, wish me luck. Romeo's run out of patience with me...


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween, 1944

The charred, waxy smell of burning pumpkin was everywhere. It seemed to crawl down Chuckie’s throat only so far and then stop. He tried to swallow, but simply couldn’t. He wondered if he had made it back to his room, or if he was still in the lounge where last night’s party had ended in a brawl.

His eyes were closed and he feared opening them would bring in the punishing morning sun, though he wasn’t sensing light against his eyelids. His head was throbbing with pain.

He’d been dishing it out pretty good, but the last thing he remembered was a cracking blow to the jaw that left him swimming in blackout lake.

He tried a tentative stretch to assess the damage, but found he couldn’t move at all. Christ, he thought, I must still be dead drunk. He tried to go back to sleep, but it was no good. He was too uncomfortable. It was hard to breath, the air was muggy and smothering, and that disgusting pumpkin smell…

The pumpkins had been what started the whole mess. Romeo had squashed their plans to pick pumpkins out of the motel garden to make jack-o’-lanterns. “Madge’s garden is off limits to you mooks. Those pumpkins are good eating, Madge makes a hell of a pumpkin pie. I’m not going to sacrifice them so you guys can act like a bunch of kids,” he’d said in that irritating, condescending way he had.

Chuckie and the other guys had resentfully settled for drinking in the motel lounge, passing the time playing pool, pissed off and complaining about the lack of Halloween fun.

Michael, usually the quiet one of the bunch, complained the loudest and got the other guys riled up. “Why is it we gotta be treated like prisoners here? It’s like being locked up in a lunatic asylum, except even there they get to celebrate holidays.”

Jason agreed. “How hard would it have been to put up some decorations or get some candy? If Romeo and that little slut could pull themselves apart for a minute, she could have made us some treats or something.” He glanced out wistfully at the pool. “As warm as it is, we coulda had a swimming party.”

Freddie was the one who dreamed up the pumpkin raid and spurred them all to action, though. “Who says we can’t make our own fun? The spirit of Halloween is trick or treat, right? They didn’t make treats for us, so they earned tricks…”

Chuckie groaned and tried to open his eyes.  It was as if his eyelids were pasted shut somehow, they felt gooey and thick.  Jeez, he thought I must have taken some beating...

The men had waited until they were fairly certain the couple and that half-wit kid helper had gone to bed, then they snuck out around the front of the motel into the garden. The moon was up, and though not full, had given them enough light to judge their prey. Freddie had produced a couple of razor sharp knives and they'd set about picking the biggest, best looking pumpkins and quietly cutting them free of their vines.

They couldn’t just leave it at that. Freddie’d brought a roll of toilet paper from the john in the lounge and before they had a chance to consider the wisdom of their actions, they were tromping down vegetable plants, ripping down vines and streaming paper all over the mess as quietly as four grown men could, wrecking the garden.

Chuckie’d been resting off to the side stifling giggles when he’d heard a faint creak and a rustle of dry leaves right behind him. He’d glanced over his shoulder and nearly jumped out of his skin when he looked up into the face of the garden scarecrow looming over him. It was perversely real looking in the moonlight, its ragbag wardrobe complete––ancient, rotting cowboy boots, leather gloves, sun-streaked overcoat and a battered fedora. Its flour sack face leered at him, black button eyes gleaming.

It’d given him such a fright that he got mad and pulled it down off its pole. He’d ripped it apart with the relish of a murderer, not stopping until he'd pulled its head off and left it on the kitchen doorstep.

He’d picked up his pumpkin, twice the size of his own head, tucked it under his arm and spit on the scarecrow’s severed head as he turned and left.

He remembered they’d been having a hell of a good time back in the lounge carving up the pumpkins, but somehow they’d ended up fighting. His thinking was so muzzy, had it been Romeo who’d showed up, somebody had… or had they just got too drunk and started brawling amongst themselves?

Chuckie's eyelids slowly tore open at the sound of angry voices outside the lounge and muffled footsteps. He couldn’t hear clearly, and when he finally got his eyes open, he couldn’t see straight either. His field of vision was limited like he had a mask on and there was a beer bottle sitting right in front of his face. Was he laying on a table? It seemed like his chin was resting in cold mush, he hoped it wasn’t vomit.

Madge screamed. There was a commotion and that kid yelled at her to stay out, don’t look, and the patter of high heels running away. He heard the kid whistle, and his footsteps as he walked around the room.

Damn it, why couldn’t he move his head so he could see around that bottle? He heard more footsteps and Romeo’s voice coming closer.

“What the hell happened in here?” Romeo said.

“Looks like the pumpkins fought back,” cracked the kid. Little wiseass.

“Yeah, and the pumpkins won,” Romeo said, “where do you suppose this guy’s head is?”

More footsteps, shuffling nearer… the kid’s voice right in front of him, “There’s an awful lot of blood under this pumpkin,” he said.

He saw the kid’s hand move the bottle aside and then his face peering at him. The last thing Chuckie heard before the blackness overwhelmed him again was the kid shouting, “Found it!” as he pulled the lid off the top of the jack-o’-lantern to expose Chuckie’s head inside.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We'll Just Talk About The Murder

Agent Ramiel walked around the corner to his nondescript black Ford, got in and drove two blocks away from the crime scene.  The details were burned into his eyes like afterimages.  The detective's words kept coming up in his mind like an irritating song, "She was a nice girl, a waitress.  She wasn't a whore."

He parked in front of Clark’s drugstore, killed the engine and sat there watching the red-and-blue neon mortar and pestle sign blink and spin while he waited.  He wondered if his would-be informant would actually show up, she was new, someone referred by a friend to his under the table network of eyes on the street.

He needn't have worried.  Ten minutes later a striking young woman with improbable red hair paused next to his car.  She wore an equally vibrant shade of red lipstick and an attractive turquoise colored summer dress.  He glanced at her neutrally and watched while she rummaged through her red handbag and pulled out a compact.

He rolled down his window as she powdered her nose.  “Excuse me, Miss, did you make a phone call earlier this morning?”

She met his eyes over the edge of her compact.  “Maybe, who’s asking?” she answered cautiously, scanning the sidewalk and windows around them.  Her hands were shaking and her vivid blue eyes were glassy.

“I’m Agent Ramiel.  Have you had your breakfast?  There’s a diner a few blocks away from here, isn’t there?”

She pulled out a tube of lipstick and tried to reapply it with slow, forced nonchalance, but her lips quivered and she messed up the line.  “Goddamn it,” she cursed under her breath.  “I don’t think I’m ever gonna eat breakfast again.”  She capped the lipstick hastily, dropped it back in her purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab away the errant color.

“I understand,” he said kindly.  “How about a cup of coffee then?  It will get us off the street and we can talk a bit.”

She glanced up suspiciously, the handkerchief half way to her mouth.  “Nobody said anything about talking.”  She glanced around nervously, “I made the call, I get a reward.  Right?”  She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again.  Her red patent leather pumps, while fetching to the eye, appeared to be cruel on the arches.  “Anyhow, it’s way past my bedtime, if you catch my meaning.”

He smiled.  Her coloring made her look like a painted carousel pony in the early morning sunlight.  “Having a cup of coffee would be more discreet then standing next to my car and taking money through the window.”

She frowned and snapped her compact closed.  He had her there.  

“Please talk to me, I won’t take very much of your time and I’ll pay extra, Miss…?”

She hesitated.  “Ruby.  Just Ruby.”  

He tipped his hat.  “Pleasure to meet you Ruby, my name is Ramiel, Agent Ramiel.”  

“Yeah, you told me already,” she commented, as she narrowed her eyes and looked over the interior of his car in an appraising manner.  Her gaze seemed to note each item and weigh it in some personal scheme of judgement--his camera case beside him on the seat, a fine, well-used brown leather satchel, open and brimming with files, the day's newspaper hastily refolded, his light weight grey suit coat laid over the back of the passenger seat.  The car was clean, but he became aware of how very lived in it must appear to her.  He thought it was a good thing she couldn't see inside the trunk.

She abruptly met his eyes again and seemed to continue her assessment.  “I didn’t believe you were for real when Belinda told me about you.”  She dropped her compact back in her purse.  “How do you know her?  You a trick?”

He glanced at her upper lip, at the place where the lipstick had gone astray over the edge. She’d forgotten to fix it.  He had an urge to reach out and smooth the line with his finger.  He met her eyes with a calm, steady gaze.  “No.  I’m just a friend.”

She nodded and looked away, perhaps unconvinced, scanning the street again for observers.  “The nearest diner’s called Jack Flap’s.  It’s three blocks down, one to the left.”

He leaned over to unlock the passenger door.  “Don’t bother,” she said quickly.  He looked up at her, puzzled.   

“You’re getting ahead of yourself, mister, if you think I’m getting in a car with you.”  She turned briskly and started walking.  She didn’t look like her feet hurt once she started moving. “I’ll meet you there,” she said over her shoulder.  

He watched her go and thought about Belinda as he started up his car.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep The Devil Close

When the old Ford finally gave out, the elderly preacher slowly eased it over onto the roadside. He'd been driving tight-lipped, his eyes locked onto the far horizon ahead, his hands gripping the steering wheel with the same force of will he used when laying on hands to drive out illness from one of his congregation back home. A few miles from San Angelo, Texas where they'd stopped in for lunch, the car had suddenly begun to grumble and groan. It stuttered and threatened to quit with unsettling loss of speed, then picked up where it left off and drove normally for a while before it made good on the threat.

His wife stared straight ahead with her hands folded tightly in her lap and her lower lip tucked up nearly under her nose. She tsked, gave a long sigh, resettled her lips into a mere grimace and turned to give him one of those silent looks that was part acknowledging glare and part demand for action.

The small child in the back stood up on the seat and looked curiously at her grandma and grandpa in the rear view mirror. She had half a bottle of orange Ne Hi in her hand and it sloshed and fizzed softly against the glass. The still, hot air settled down on them like a blanket. He glanced at the child in the mirror and smiled briefly before he grabbed his hat off of the seat beside him and stepped out of the car into the blazing sunlight.

He propped open the hood, relieved that his wife and grand daughter could no longer see his face and peered down at the engine. He knew almost nothing of engines and their ways. He sighed and wiped the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand.

He closed his eyes and prayed aloud, "Lord, if it be your will, send us assistance so that we may be on our way." Before he had a chance to mutter, "Amen," he heard the familiar chuckle from behind his left shoulder.

"How long has it been since he answered you?" asked the sardonic voice he knew so well. He finished the prayer with a firm, "Amen," and ignored the figure that stood behind him, mimicking his pose and also peering into the engine.

Sweat ran down the preacher's face from beneath his hat, dripping off the edge of his set jaw. The engine looked like a black painting of hell to him, the arms and legs of demons and suffering souls entwined on torture racks, bound, impaled, charred and writhing in the suffocating heat.

"What have you done to it?" he asked the figure without looking back.

"Why is it always my fault when something goes wrong?" came the rhetorical reply.

"Will?" his wife called out impatiently from the front seat.

He walked around her side of the car and looked in at her through the open window. Her light cotton dress was dark with sweat under her arms and spreading out from beneath her bosom. Her white hair was lying in limp, wet waves against her scalp. The coral red lipstick she wouldn't be caught dead without was feathering up into the wrinkles above her lip like bleeding cracks. He smiled at her reassuringly. She did not smile back.

He looked up the road in the direction they had been driving. The sun was high, it was just past one. He knew the next town on the map was Ozona, but he didn't know how far away it was. He felt like San Angelo was closer.

"I'm going to walk back and get help. Just stay in the car. Everything will be fine," he said. His wife nodded her head, but said nothing.

The child leaned out of the backseat window, looking up at him sideways, her light blue eyes screwed up against the blinding sun. He stepped over to her and put his hand on top of her small head, pale cornsilk hair doing nothing to protect the glowing pink scalp. Her head felt like a sun warmed peach from a roadside fruit stand.

"Stay out of the sun, baby girl. Mind Grammy and stay still," he told her, pushing her head back inside gently.

She flopped down against the seat, scowled up at him as only a four year old could and said, "I'm not a baby."

"I'll be back soon," he said and began to walk down the road.

He didn't look back at the car, where he knew the child would be watching through the rear window. He didn't look over his shoulder where he could hear the footsteps behind him. The land ran as far as he could see in irregular patches of scrub brush, low disorienting hills and loose rock. The road ahead disappeared into shimmering waves of light. He walked at a steady pace. It seemed like he was going nowhere.

After a while, he began to recite the lord's prayer under his breath, as much to block out the sound of the footsteps as anything else. The figure behind him began to whistle, maddeningly. Within a moment, he recognized the hymn, There's An Old, Old Road... He laughed despite himself and shook his head.

"That's right, Brother. Keep your sense of humor," the voice behind him said. "Nothing to worry about. I've got it all under control."

He stopped walking. "I didn't ask for your help. The lord will provide," he said, his eyes fixing on the farthest point he could see at the road's end.

"The lord will look the other way while carrion birds pick your bones. I take care of business," the voice said.

A tiny car hovered above the road in the heat waves like a magic trick, still far away but driving toward him. He began walking again, a smile coming to his lips. He hummed along with his whistling companion until the car got close enough for him to flag it down.

A big gaudy black Packard pulled over and a fancy young redhead wearing sunglasses looked out at him. "Sir, are you in some kind of trouble?" she asked, pushing her sunglasses down on her nose and assessing him with concerned grey eyes. He took hold of the side of her car to steady himself, his vision beginning to swim and sparkle.

"Car broke down, my wife and grand daughter are waiting up the road there," he pointed off weakly as everything started to spin and his knees gave way.

He heard the young woman exclaim, "Oh, my!" as she opened the door, got out and took a firm hold of his arm. She opened the back door and guided him to the seat. "You just sit right down there, I've got some water in a canteen, just a minute."

He sat back against the seat fighting nausea while she retrieved the canteen and handed it over to him.

"Just take a little sip," she cautioned. "Oh, my, it's a good thing I came along. You look fit to have a sun stroke."

He squinted at her, rolling the metallic tasting warm water around on his tongue and smiling faintly at her youthful candor.

She made sure he was all tucked in, shut the door and started the car up again. "Just take it easy," she said, pulling back onto the road. "We'll get your wife and grand daughter, and you can all come back with me. My husband and I run a little motel just a few miles up the road. We'll get you all cooled off and then see about your car."

He closed his eyes and ignored his companion's satisfied chuckle in the seat beside him. Despite what he had told his wife, he knew that things were not going to be fine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

All Those Windows, All Those Doors

Slappy watched Romeo drive off down the road in the piece of shit farmer pick-up truck that belonged to the motel. The dust from the road floated up into the air in the truck's wake and hung there like dirty cigarette smoke. Standing at the edge of the road by himself with a peeved expression, he looked every bit the bored teenage boy he was. He sighed heavily, jammed his hands in his pockets and turned back to the driveway where the three big mutts that also belonged to the motel stood watching him.

Slappy regarded them. "So, away he goes and it's up to us to hold down the fort, eh guys?"

The dogs abruptly sat down and began to pant, tongues lolling.

"Some gang I got here," Slappy said, shaking his head and walking back up the driveway.

The motel courtyard was half shadowed from the late afternoon sun, the pool, still and glassy but for small clusters of dead leaves floating on the surface. He walked over to the edge at the deep end and stood looking down through the cool aqua water at the pale empty bottom.

"Think I'll have a swim," he said. His voice sounded loud and shrill, echoing around the empty courtyard weirdly.

Those leaves needed to be skimmed off. He didn't like the idea of a bunch of dead leaves sticking to him.

He headed back toward the rear of the courtyard where a utility room held cleaning supplies and tools to get the leaf skimmer.

Glancing around at the doors and windows of the motel, he had a brief sensation of unease. He'd never been alone at the motel before. Romeo had taken him along whenever he went to San Angelo for supplies, but he'd had to go into Ozona for some reason and said Slappy shouldn't be in any hurry to meet Sheriff Cobb.

He'd expected to be treated like a juvenile delinquent, but so far Romeo seemed to think he was only good for menial chores. Whenever Slappy asked when they were going to do something interesting like pull a gas station heist, Romeo would just stare at him in that, "You've got to be kidding," way he had. But he knew that Romeo just didn't trust him to behave yet.

"Ah, so what?" he said to himself in a much quieter voice, "what do I care if I never see Ozona?"

He looked back at the dogs, sacked out in the shade of the driveway next to the lobby door. They seemed far away, and the utility room seemed farther as he walked past all those windows, all those doors. Except for his room, number 7, right next to the lobby, the rooms were unocupied. The windows were closed, blinds drawn to keep the sun out.

The air was heavy and static like it had been on his first morning there when he'd woken to find that he'd brought along more than his suitcases and radio.

He'd come out of his room at dawn to find that the courtyard was still, but not quiet. The sound of wind moving through trees was everywhere, though the lone tree back in the corner was as peaceful as a photograph.

Confusion and a sense that he was dreaming with his eyes open had given way to heart pounding recognition as small familiar sounds he'd heard every day for most of his life came through clearly – the soft creaking squeak of leather straps rubbing against each other and the high, almost imperceptible oily whine of metal wheels rolling.

He'd turned around slowly and looked up the walkway. A low, boxy shape was moving toward him, the light glinting off of steel spokes as the wheels turned, wild black hair softly swaying around her face as she sat forward, leaning into the straps...there, and then gone.

That had been almost a week ago, and the memory of it felt more like a dream with each passing day.

The utility room was cool and dark, and despite their best efforts to clean it out, still smelled like mildewed laundry. He grabbed the skimmer and stepped back out into the walkway just in time to see a guy's foot disappear into one of the rooms down the row and hear a door slam.

He dropped the skimmer and hurried down to the room, never taking his eyes off the doorway. It was room number 9. He stared at the door, listening for movement inside. He could hear birds, those weird insects that made the humming sounds, but not anything to give away that a guy was inside room number 9.

He glanced over at the dogs and saw that they were still asleep in the driveway. There was no way the dogs would have let anybody get by them. He knew that. But he still felt obligated to make sure that room was empty.

He put his hand on the doorknob, remembering that Romeo kept them all locked. The doorknob turned easily and the door pushed open. He leaned in, his hand still holding onto the knob.

He saw the gun barrel pointed right at his forehead before he saw the grinning face of the man behind it. “That’s a good way to get your face blown off, kid,” the man said, and laughing, he pulled the trigger.

The explosion started in the gun. It always starts in the gun, but with the gun right in his face, he got to see it, the small flash of fire that sent the bullet hurtling out. The impact was immediate, but he experienced it in a series of stuttered images, like photos taken in rapid succession.

The bullet thunked against the wall of his skull. The sound was like being inside of a base drum just as it is struck, sound waves radiated outward, blowing out his eardrums.

His skull shattered inwards like busted glass as the bullet pushed through.

His thoughts and feelings and everything he knew or thought he knew, his memories, his desires, all awareness as the person, Salvatorre Allamonte, AKA Slappy, were dragged back through the meat of his brain, caught on the point of the bullet like fish on a hook.

The bullet exited the back of his skull, taking a good sized portion of pureed brain with it, and for a moment, he was flying, back and up and out over the walkway, light as a bird, wet as a fish, still here, I’m still here, I’m...

He hit the concrete walkway and found himself sitting on his ass outside room number 9. His heart was pounding so hard, his face was throbbing and his fingers were hot. His ears were filled with a high pitched ringing. He was breathing like a steam engine.

The door to room number 9 was halfway open, the slice of dim interior showing nothing.

He looked up and down the row of rooms, all those windows, all those doors, all closed and blank except for this open doorway, this broken mindway.

He stood up and turned his back on room number 9, though it set his teeth on edge with fear to do it, and walked back over to the deep end of the pool. He stripped off his clothes and dove into the water all the way down to the pale empty bottom. He touched the rough white bottom with both hands before he shot back up to the surface.

He swam laps back and forth, never minding the dead leaves until he couldn’t do it anymore, got out and laid on his stomach against the warm concrete. He was still panting, his heart still pounding, every muscle burning.

He wished he was back home with Oma, pushing her around in her wheelchair, hearing her beautiful laughter.

He could see the dogs lying in the driveway, just as they had been. Even though they weren’t right by him, it was comforting to know they were all laying on the same solid ground.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

For Lack Of A Good Time

Sonora was all played out as far as Sardo was concerned. It was late Sunday morning and his head was grinding away at a hangover that'd seemed to begin before he'd even had a chance to enjoy his drinks. He and the other guys––Don, Mike, and Tony M.––had pretty much exhausted their options for a good time. It was always the way in those little shit towns, not like back home in New York where you couldn't get enough time off to wear out the fun, even if you never worked another day in your life.

They'd ended up at some dame's place that had turned out to be an amateur whorehouse, with a bunch of average-looking gals they wouldn't have bothered with had they not been in limiting circumstances.

He'd gotten the head dame, he could almost remember her name... Dorothy? Donna? She was a bottle blond and though older than the others, young enough. Her breasts stood up fine and her ass was nice and round. But she had mean eyes that were full of mocking disrespect and a mouth that had the shadow of a toothless hag in the begrudging way she smiled. He looked at her in the harsh morning sunlight coming in through the kitchen window and saw a bitter old women lurking just beneath her young skin. It spooked and repelled him.

He slumped over his coffee cup and waited for her to finish scrambling eggs. He wasn't sure he'd be able to eat them, but she'd offered, and the other guys didn't seem to be up yet, so, what the hell. Two of the other gals wearing wrinkled, slept-in slips, last night's smeared make-up, hair-dos askew, had groped their way past him to get glasses of bromo-seltzer and cups of black coffee, with the beleaguered attitudes of those who must get up and go to work with a hangover. He wondered briefly what the hell kind of jobs they had to go to on Sunday morning, waitressing? Maybe whoring was a part-time gig.

Probably, if he and the guys had gone to the whorehouse in San Angelo that Romeo had insisted was their best, safest bet for nearby entertainment, they'd have had access to a better class of whore. The Shy Violet had a fine reputation and was extra friendly to guys from New York.

Or so Romeo had said. But Sardo had had enough of taking orders from Romeo at the Bella Vista motel, him and his petty dictator routine. You'd think Romeo was running a military school for wayward boys instead of a safe house for gangsters. Enough was fucking enough. So they'd gone to Sonora instead and whooped it up through the little town, starting in a spic bar they'd seen fit to ransack, beating up every sucker they could get their hands on. They'd all of them gotten rip-roaring drunk. He had a faint memory of struggling to get the Packard out of a parking space and scraping against another car. He hoped the Packard was okay. Next thing he knew, they were sacked out at the house of Dorothy, or Doris, or whatever her name was.

She loaded his plate with eggs and deposited it in front of him with all the warmth of someone plunking a dog's bowl on the floor, then turned back to the counter and her own cup of coffee to stare out the window.

"Thanks, Da... uh..." he tried.

"Dolores," she finished for him, without looking back.

"Right," he said, filling his mouth with eggs. They weren't half bad. He had more of an appetite than he thought he did.

He heard the women in a nearby bathroom getting cleaned up, the water running, medicine cabinet door opening and closing, murmuring voices. Jeez, the other guys must be dead to the world, he thought. He wasn't relishing the idea of going back to the motel for another week of Romeo's task-master routines, but they ought to be moving along.

Then the fourth gal appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and stopped short when she saw Sardo sitting at the table. He noticed she had had the decency to wash her make-up off and put on a bathrobe. She looked to be the youngest of the bunch and was not happy to see him. He put another forkful of eggs in his mouth and chewed, staring at her.

She sidled past him to pour herself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter next to Dolores, pouting. The pouting was clearly not for his benefit, as she kept sighing and shooting glances at the older woman. Dolores finally looked at her after a moment and said firmly, "Peggy, stop it."

The girl sighed again and made a Shirley Temple unhappy face. With the puffed out lower lip and everything. Sardo found her pretty cute, and suppressed the urge to giggle as he shoveled more eggs into his mouth. Dolores paid her no mind, glanced over at Sardo as if to gage how much longer before he'd be finished and then began taking cleaning supplies from beneath the kitchen sink, a bucket, rags, a huge scrub brush, and setting them aside on the floor next to the sink.

Keep your sunny side up, up... Sardo sang in his head, humming the tune to himself as he chewed.

Dolores stepped up to Peggy, cleared her throat meaningfully, and waited as she moved aside resentfully. The young gal took a big gulp of her coffee and glared at Sardo as Dolores opened a drawer and pulled out a really big butcher knife and a huge, wicked-looking meat cleaver, laying them out on a large cutting board.

The other two gals, now cleaned up and dressed, purses in hand, paused in the doorway, peering into Sardo’s eyes strangely, the way you'd look at someone if you were trying to tell if they were awake or not. This time he couldn't suppress the giggle and had to take two stabs at getting the eggs into his mouth. The more he chewed the happier he felt. His hangover was completely gone.

"See you later, Dolores," the gals said, eyeing Peggy smugly.

Dolores crossed her arms and asked them, "Did you do your work?"

"Yes, Ma'am," said one.

"Ready and waiting," said the other.

Dolores gave a curt nod and the gals were out the door.

Peggy stamped her foot on the floor and exclaimed, "It's not fair! I did mine, too, and you haven't even finished yours."

Dolores, imperturbable as ever, raised her eyebrows and gave Peggy a schoolmarm stare that Sardo found absolutely hilarious. The laughter burbled up his throat and he laughed and laughed.

The young gal put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. "Oh, all right," she whined, "can we get on with it then?"

She suddenly pulled the table away from Sardo, and he was briefly aware of Dolores stepping up behind him, one hand gripping the hair on the back of his head and pulling back sharply, while the other hand sliced across his throat with the big butcher knife. The last thing he saw was that cute little gal in her bathrobe, a resentful scowl on her face and the big meat cleaver clutched in her hand.

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Songs Left

It was half past three in the afternoon and the rain was still coming down like buckets of gravel. The noise was so loud, Romeo hadn't heard the lobby door open. The Bella Vista Motel didn't have a bell on the door, usually the dogs acted as alarm or welcome committee, but they'd been out running around when the rain started in and were probably huddled under a car or something.

The woman must have stood at the empty front desk for a few moments, looking around and sensing the emptiness of the place before she hit the bell on the countertop. Back in his room behind the lobby, Romeo had stood up from his arm chair and set aside his book hesitantly when he heard the bell, not sure if he'd imagined it.

She was standing in a small puddle of water when he stepped out of the hallway and stopped to stare at her in surprise. He hadn't been expecting anyone, least of all an elegant young woman. Elegant, even though she was soaked straight through her clothes, rainwater running all over her. She was a very light skinned negro with regal features, luminous amber colored eyes. The sharp edges of her bones stretched the fabric of her dress and the taut skin of her cheek. Her body shivered in waves.

"Can I get a room?" She asked. "My car broke down up the road..."

Romeo blew out a breath and hesitated before he said, "I'm sorry, I can't let you stay here."

Her eyes bored into his and he knew exactly what she was thinking. He thought back to the times he'd been turned away from motels in the south on his way out from New York for being too dark a shade of brown, the signs in the windows that read "No coloreds, no Mexicans."

Some old guy in Ardmore who didn't even have any functional front teeth had stepped up and motioned for Romeo to keep going before he could finish turning into a gas station's driveway. Romeo had sat staring at the old guy through his open window trying to figure out what the problem was.

The old guy had glared at him and shouted, "Get on with you, there's a colored station up the road."

"Colored station? What are you talking about? I'm not colored," Romeo had said, laughing.

"We don't serve your kind neither." The old guy had spat on the ground in the general direction of Romeo's car and continued to glare.

Romeo had been stunned. His dark olive complexion had never garnered him anything but tall, dark and handsome compliments from the ladies. "What kind do you think I am?" He'd asked, half serious.

"The god damned kind we don't serve, now get on!" The old guy had stomped his foot in the dust and Romeo saw that he was barefoot. He also saw that a large, scowling young man probably of a similar mind was making his way up off the porch of the gas station's office and coming toward them. He stepped on the gas and peeled out on the dirt road, enjoying the thought of leaving them coughing up his dust, but disturbed and angry nonetheless.

“Listen," he said. "Here’s the thing, this isn’t a general public establishment. I’m not turning you away especially, it’s just our usual policy.” He spread his hands in a helpless gesture that betrayed ambivalence.

He tried to look away from her and stand firm, but her unwavering eyes held him, and he suddenly realized he’d seen her somewhere.

“You been out this way before? Where’re you from?” He asked, peering at her face and trying to place her. She almost smiled.

“You’re from New York, aren’t you?” She said, nodding slowly.

Romeo’s face lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Café Society? You’re a singer?”

She looked down at the puddle of water spreading around her feet and softly tapped her toe in it.

“I remember you now,” he continued enthusiastically, “I saw you a couple of years ago with… ah, I don’t remember… you just sing with a piano and a horn, right? Man, you’re good.”

She continued patting the surface of her puddle, unmoved by his admiration, still shivering. He looked down at the puddle and lost patience with his resolve to enforce the rules.

“This is stupid. What you need is a good, hot bath.”

Her body reacted involuntarily to the suggestion and she leaned in toward him slightly, but only looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He walked behind the desk and pulled a set of keys off their hook. He gestured at the door. She didn’t hesitate.

“I think it’s gonna be pretty quiet around here till tomorrow. It'll be fine for you to stay the night.”

As he held the door open for her, he couldn’t help asking, “You think maybe later, after you’ve had a chance to dry out, I could get a song or two? We got a nice lounge with a piano and a top of the line record player back there…”

She gave him a cold stare. “Wouldn’t be the first time I had to sing for my bed.”

“Aww, come on, I didn’t mean it like that… look at me out here. You think I get any good music like you can do? I’m wearing out my records as fast as I can buy them,” he said, as he led her down the walkway to room number eleven.

“Baby,” she said wearily while he unlocked the door, “I don’t know how much sympathy I got left in me right now.”

She looked into his hopeful face as he held the motel room door open for her. She still couldn’t come up with much of a smile. But she touched his shoulder briefly with a feather light hand on her way into the room. “Maybe later,” she said, as she softly closed the door.

The only music Honey James could think about right then was the siren call of the glass vials of heroin in her purse. She was going to play it loud.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interlude: Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Pamila Payne

Richard Godwin writes raw, extreme crime fiction.  He is also an oddly inquisitive interviewer.  Recently, he invited me over to his hidden lair for a "chat."  I liken the experience to being under the microscope of a very polite, very erudite alien abductor.

The result can be read here: Richard Godwin Interviews Pamila Payne

I highly recommend that you check out the other interviews posted as well.  The man has a knack for coaxing writers off on interesting tangents. You will probably recognize his other subjects, (Paul D. Brazill, Matt Funk, Charles Gramlich, Eric Beetner just to name a few) and I'm sure you'll find them as illuminating as I did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forget It, Ramiel

Agent Ramiel parked near 56th street and paused to look over the notes he had written so far that morning.  His notebook, though small enough to fit in his breast pocket, was meticulously organized by subject and date.  His handwriting was small and precise.  He liked to write his notes in the car after an interview, not during.  It was too easy to miss contradictory expressions in the eyes or subtle clues in gesture while trying to transcribe.  He listened, he watched.  His memory was infallible.  And sometimes, as with writing down his dreams upon waking, he found that answers and understanding flowed from solitary contemplation after the fact.

Carol’s murder was different from the others he had worked on or researched in ways that were especially puzzling.  There was something deliberately wrong about it.  He had no doubt that it was the same killer.  But it was almost as if he had been forced to hurry, or not allowed to do things as he preferred and so had thrown caution out the window.  Ramiel was sensing an almost belligerent attitude in the choice of victim.  She was a nice, respectable girl.  Her death might not be forgotten by the end of the day.  Leaving her out in plain sight like that in an alley where it was well known that street walkers would pass by was a cruel act in and of itself.  He wondered if any other women besides Ruby might have seen her and been too frightened to do anything but run away.

He got out of his car and walked the couple of blocks to the precinct.  It was a crowded, chaotic neighborhood filled with people who were happy to keep the cops busy night and day.  Inside the precinct, he followed the sound of Detective Finn’s voice carrying above the general hubbub and stood in his doorway for a moment before Finn looked up and saw him.

“So, there you are, come in,”  Finn said.  Ramiel sat down in the chair that faced Finn’s desk.  The detective's gaze was sharp and interested. "Our young lady is in the capable hands of the coroner."

Ramiel nodded.  "Good.  The sooner you get the autopsy reports the better.  It will be useful to see records from the other cases.  I can help with that."

Finn leaned back in his chair and fixed Ramiel with a calculating stare.  "You're a narcotics officer."

"Yes.  I'm currently assigned to narcotics."  Ramiel met his stare with an absence of expression that may as well have been a shrug and a "so what?"  "The FBI is a law enforcement agency, Detective.  We cooperate when we can with other departments.  Especially where murders are concerned."

"Oh, we're always grateful for cooperation,"  Finn said dryly.  "So, how many murders you think this guy's good for?"

"I think a great many, but it's hard to say for sure.  We haven't recovered as many bodies as I suspect are out there.  He usually goes to some trouble to conceal them.  There were eight on record, this would be the ninth," Ramiel said.

"If this is the same guy,"  Finn reminded him.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?  Does this look like just any garden variety killing to you?"

Before Finn could answer, he was distracted by a man standing in his doorway.  Ramiel glanced over his shoulder at a hard-featured man, dark, sunburned skin stretched tightly over the bones of his face.  He wore his hat down low over deep black eyes that were difficult to see behind thin, shiny spectacles that reflected the light in glittering flashes as he moved his head.  The man smoked a cigarette that glowed red hot like a coal at the bottom of a fire.

Ramiel had a chance to think, So rude to come into the detective's office like this... 

It seemed to Ramiel that the man introduced himself... his name was... and came into the room speaking as if he were in the middle of telling a story.  Part of the story was about Ramiel, and how he was going to go back to Virginia because his prisoner had a good lawyer and he wouldn't be traveling back there to be tried after all, he would just stay right here in New York where he belonged.  And another part of the story was about how Finn had done a fine job of cleaning up that neighborhood...

A roaring sound, blood pounding in his ears, the inside out version of breathing and he was up and walking.  Hallways and sidewalks were confused beneath his feet, he stumbled and reached out to steady himself on the edge of a desk, but his hand came down on the edge of a parked car instead.

It was his parked car.  He was sitting inside his own car gripping the inside edge of the driver's side window.  It was rolled down, all the way open, the man's face was leaning in and Ramiel could smell fire and cigarette smoke on his breath.  He was still telling stories, packing them into Ramiel's ears like cotton wads, and the inside of his car spun around like he was driving on ice, and then he crashed.

Blood gushed out of Ramiel's mouth as his head flew back from the steering wheel and his car came to a halt.  His horn and many other horns were blaring discordantly.  He turned his head to look back at the man in his window but there was a different man staring in at him.

The new man asked, with a mixture of anger and worry, "Hey, hey mister, are you all right?  What the hell was the matter with you, are you drunk or something?  Didn't you see that truck was stopped?"

But Ramiel couldn't see him anymore, his vision was swimming, he was passing out.

He heard someone shout, "Get an ambulance!" from a great distance away.  He was trying very hard to remember the girl in the alley, he didn't want to forget her.  "Her name was Carol, he muttered through his bloodied lips, "her name was Carol..."

Friday, August 20, 2010

All He Knows Is That She Left Him

Gabrielle parked the big blue Oldsmobile in the train station parking lot and cut the engine. She'd allowed the tears to run freely down her cheeks while she drove, but now she pulled a handkerchief out of her purse and began hastily wiping and dabbing, trying to salvage her makeup. Robert would be waiting for her inside, watching for her anxiously, watching for her husband even more anxiously. She glanced at her watch and sucked air through her teeth, she would have to hurry now.

She gathered up her purse and sweater and got out, walking around the car to the trunk.  She hadn't packed much, just one small suitcase with the essentials.  Her mind went blank as she opened the trunk and looked down at the suitcase.  It didn't look like anything important to her.  The thought of carrying it just made her feel tired and she had the urge to just walk away from it.  Leave it, run away from it, get on the train now, before you lose your nerve...

But she didn't have any nerve left to lose.  She realized that she felt nothing all of a sudden, that her whole body was numb and empty.  She had already done the worst possible thing.  The only one that mattered to her, the only good thing she had ever done was gone.

She could still picture him sitting beside her in the car, so proud of the suit she'd bought for him just that morning.  Navy blue short pants, a crisp white shirt under a matching jacket with a fine white linen handkerchief in the breast pocket, folded just so.  She'd clapped her hands and laughed and said how smart he looked when he came out of the dressing room, beaming. The salesman had agreed and said it was just the thing for a boy of five to wear to an important party.

She’d made him practice his manners and he kept repeating, “Good afternoon.  My name is Salvatorre Allamonte, I am pleased to meet you,” in a plummy little imitation of radio englishmen as they drove.

The vision of him standing at that huge wrought iron gate, her tiny little man, her funny little boy, all ears and nose and bright hazel eyes, staring at her with that pale, stricken expression as she waited in the car across the street for someone to answer the bell, made her heart turn over in her chest and her stomach heave.  He'd known.  He was so smart.  He'd known she wasn't coming back.

“You should have taken a taxi,” Vincent said flatly from behind her.  "The flashy ride was pretty easy to keep track of.”

She closed her eyes and almost smiled. This was right, she thought, this was how she knew it would go.  At least my boy won’t have to watch me die slowly.

“You did manage to give me the slip for a little while.  What’d you do with the kid?  Leave him in a basket at the orphanage?”

She dropped her purse in the trunk and let the sweater slither off her arm like a small, quick animal.  Her hands fell to her sides.  “I took him to the Boss’ house for Oma’s birthday party,” she said softly.  She heard Vincent’s sharp intake of breath behind her and she did smile then.  Surprise, you didn’t know everything after all, she thought.

“He’ll be fine, he’ll make new friends and have a good time.  I watched him go in, they wouldn’t turn him away, it wouldn’t be polite.”

“Yeah?  And then what?  He gonna mix with a better class of kid and step up in the world?”

“Be good to him, Vince, if you’ve got any kindness in you at all, use it on him.  He’s better than either one of us deserves.  Please don’t take out your anger at me on him.”

He was standing very close behind her, she could feel his whole body shaking against her back.

“I told you I’d have to kill you if you ever cheated on me, I told you... why’d you have to do it?”  His voice was a strangled whisper next to her ear.

"Turn the radio on for him at bedtime, he can’t get to sleep without soft music on.  The apartment is so loud.  And make sure he practices his penmanship, it’s difficult for him, he needs to practice.”

She turned around and looked up into his hard, angry face, “Oh, Vince, please don’t hurt him...”

He gritted his teeth, pressed the gun up under her breast and shot twice.  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Johnny Black, Dirty Little Double Crosser

Franco and George rolled up on the Bella Vista a quarter after two in the morning.  They were tired as hell, stir crazy, and equally disgruntled that Johnny Black had made them come all the way out to Texas to get their share of the take.

"Sorry guys," he'd said, over a bad, static-ridden connection on the phone, "blame Mr. G, he's the one who sent me out here."

It had taken them three days of frantically shaking down anybody and everybody who might have seen or heard from the little prick, and then he leaves a message at the cigar store.  Old Mr. Alfieri, sitting outside the store on the stoop, scowling at the sidewalk the way he always did, called out to them as they passed by, "Hey, you two. What do you think? I'm running a message service here?"

Franco had made the call, but George was looming over him like a guy bending down to kiss his date on the porch, listening in on the receiver cheek to cheek and mad as hell.  They didn't care what it looked like, two tough guys at the back of the cigar store getting intimate on the pay phone.  Twenty large was enough to get a couple of guys slow dancing the mambo.  Especially when the biggest chunk of that twenty should have already been in their hands.

Franco looked up into George's glaring eyes and pressed his lips together tight, squinting and shaking his head.  The whole thing had been sour milk right from the start.  Johnny Black hadn't told them the job had come from Mr. G.  If he had, they'd have pretended not to know Johnny Black and walked away with their hands in their pockets, whistling.

That was only the most important thing he kept to himself.  They knew it wasn't going to be a smash and grab, but hell, a little more preparation couldn't have hurt.  The guys in the morgue would probably agree.

When Franco and George got to the meeting place, no Johnny Black.  No twenty large.

"Mr. G wants us all to lay low," Johnny Black said, his voice was thin and sounded about as far away as a long distance call could get.  "Come on out here, you'll get yours and have a nice little rest."

The motel was quiet and dark when they pulled into the driveway, except for the light over the lobby door and three snarling mutts trying to chew their way into the car.  George ducked his head down to peer out at the lobby, then out the windshield at the empty courtyard of the motel.

"What the hell?" Franco grumbled, involuntarily flinching from the barking rows of teeth on the other side of the glass. They looked at each other and shrugged. They sure as shit weren't getting out.

A light came on in the lobby and they saw a guy walk up to the door and peer out through the glass.  He was a young guy, but strong looking and damned alert despite the late hour.  He had a hand at his waistband where the butt of a gun was in easy reach.  He came out of the lobby, said something to the dogs and they shut up and got behind him.

Franco cracked the window.

"You fellows lost?" the guy said.

George and Franco looked at each other.  George leaned over and asked, "Is this the Bella Vista?"

"Yeah, who are you?"

"I'm George and this is Franco.  Who are you?"

"I'm Romeo.  Nice to meet you.  What are you doing here?"

Some skinny, half asleep kid came shuffling up the walkway, yawning so wide he could have swallowed one of the dogs.  He stood off to the side, leaned against the wall, waiting.

"We're here to see Johnny Black.  Didn't he tell you?"  Franco said, irritated. That made Romeo and the kid perk up.  They gave each other a look that amounted to a quick conversation.

"Usually Mr. G tells us who to expect. That's the way it works," Romeo said.

"Yeah," Franco said, getting snippy, "Johnny Black said Mr. G wanted us to meet him out here and lay low with him.  We just did a job for Mr. G."

"When did you talk to Johnny?" Romeo asked.

George shrugged. "I don't know, four, five days ago, however long it took us to get out here.  Listen, enough of the third degree, how 'bout you get Johnny Black?"

"Better yet," Franco said, shoving George away, "I gotta piss, you got a rest room in the lobby?  How 'bout we get out of the car and you start treating us like regular guys?"

Romeo nodded.  Him and the kid had another eyeball party and he said, "Tell you what, you guys go relax in a room, and I'll go give Mr. G a call, make sure everything's copacetic."

"Why the hell wouldn't it be?" George shouted.  The dogs stepped out from behind Romeo, growling, and the kid walked over to Franco's door. "Keep your pants on," he said, "he's just following the rules." He opened Franco's door and stood aside, "No need to get excited.  I got a nice room for ya right here "

Franco really did have to pee, so he got out, scowling at Romeo's back as the arrogant son of a bitch walked away from them into the lobby and picked up the phone on the front desk.  The kid walked them a couple of doors down to room #9 and unlocked the door.  They went inside and he said, "I'll get your bags for you soon as everything's straight." He shut the door and they heard him walk away to the lobby.

They stood there a moment staring at each other in shocked indignation. "Can you believe this shit?" Franco seethed as he snapped the lock on the door.

"When I see Johnny Black, I'm gonna punch his clock," George said.

"Nothing good has ever come from knowing that guy," Franco said. "I say we get our dough, and just hop over the border for a quick vacation."  He looked around at the sparse, small room.  "Why stay at this dump when we could be on the beach in Mexico?"

George smiled for the first time in a week.  "Yeah, Mexico... I like Mexican dames.  They know how to treat a guy."

"My bladder's gonna fuckin' burst," Franco said, heading for the bathroom.  "Jeez, middle of the night and it's hot as hell in here," he glanced up at the ceiling fan, "turn that fan on."  He stepped into the bathroom and shut the door.

George reached up and pulled the chain hanging down from the fan and sat down on the end of the bed. He sighed as the air started to circulate.  He had a chance to glance at his reflection in the mirror above the dresser and mutter, "Sexy senoritas..." before the mirror rippled, flexed and shattered.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

They Left Her In An Alley

Ruby sat up straight, leaning forward slightly in her seat on the bus, trying not to sweat. The heat of the coming day had let itself be known right away and she did not want to ruin her dress with perspiration stains. Nice dresses didn’t come from nowhere, she had to save up long and treat them like royalty. She’d paid dearly for the turquoise-colored sundress that until then had never seen the sun.

She would take it off and put it in Lux to soak as soon as she got home. Then she would take a bath. Her nerves were shot, but a long cool bath would set her straight. What had that poor, dead girl in the alley been planning on doing when she got home? Maybe soak her feet? Waitressing was hard on the feet…

She felt shaky and stripped of the top layer of her skin as the bus lumbered along. You know you’re a ghoul when an hour or so of morning sunlight makes you feel like you’ve had a day at the beach, she thought. She tried to remember the last time she’d been out at this time of the morning and came up blank. The bus was so goddamn slow with all the cars on the road. Daytime had far too many people in it. She sighed. It was going to take her twice as long to get home.

The bus pulled up to a stop and the exchange of bodies took place. She couldn’t help noticing that a different sort of crowd rode uptown later in the morning. Not the domestics and laborers she was accustomed to seeing. So many young, or recently young people, scrubbed and stiff. All of them were white, the back of the bus was empty. Where were they all headed? Office desks uptown, surely. But what did they do all day?

She glanced over at a very young man with smooth shiny cheeks and oiled brown hair so neatly combed you could see the tracks left by the comb’s teeth. He felt her eyes, looked up at her and stared briefly, then turned away quickly and she watched his ears go red.

She tried to picture him working; the desk, the papers… the what? She couldn’t finish the image. Instead her mind automatically started to assess his sexual tastes. What was his button? Panties, she guessed. He was so young; she bet he still peeked at his sisters… He was straining his peripheral vision to see her while he pretended to stare just off center.

She could see his pulse beating in the side of his neck. She stared at the spot. The girl in the alley, her throat was cut there, right there…

His skin bulged with each beat until a lump the size of a marble strained, then split open. Blood gushed out over his shoulder. He lost his battle with himself and glanced back at her, smiling shyly while his immaculate white collar turned scarlet and his shiny cheeks drained of color.

She grabbed hold of the seat ahead of her and put her head down, squeezed her eyes shut, and breathed slow and deep. Her heart was racing and her fingers quickly went numb. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, she breathed in and out, I’m fine…

After a moment she opened her eyes and forced herself to look at the boy. He had turned away and was looking out of the window, his smooth young neck unmarred. She stared down at her lap for a few minutes, smoothing and re-smoothing the fabric of her dress, letting the color soak into her eyes. Color always helped… turquoise and all the shades of sky and water. She could live without so much, but not color, that was a life or death need.

When she finally felt calm again, she glanced around at the women, like a flock of sparrows scattered throughout the bus, and was struck by their dull tones, plain unadorned features, not a one of them making the most of her looks. A woman a couple of rows back had nice bone structure and the kind of eyes that probably would have opened up and sparkled with the tiniest touch of make up, or even a bit of color in a scarf. What was she wearing? Mushroom beige? Could you even consider that a color?

She, too, caught Ruby looking at her, but instead of embarrassment, the woman gave her a glare of disapproval and a deliberate turn of the head.

She was used to that look – that "how dare you call so much attention to yourself" look. It had nothing to do with morality. Ruby didn’t look like a straight-up whore on or off the streets. Or at least she didn’t think she did. She tried not to; that’s why she bought nice dresses and good quality accessories. She wore make up, but didn’t showgirl it. She showed off her figure, but didn’t flash too much bare skin. No, it was something else.

It seemed to her that it was her color that other women resented, the red hair, the bright white skin, the blue eyes. People couldn’t help but look at her. They could look away, but she left afterimages in their eyes. Ruby drew attention. She always had. She was so used to being looked at that she had to try to imagine what it would be like not to be noticed. Like not really being out in the world? Like being a ghost, she thought. Like being untouchable. Safely out of reach.

Was that it? Were they trying to be like those little brown sparrows that hop around under bushes, darting out now and then to peck up a crumb? Don’t see me, nothing here for you. Don’t hurt me, I’m small and quiet, I’m not trying to draw any attention. Protect me; I’m good and pure. She saw a cat in her mind spring out of nowhere and swipe at a sparrow before it could fly away. With one quick motion the bird was in the cat’s mouth, little bird bones crunching, feathered wings lost of flight in pitiless jaw, shiny eyes, cheep, cheep…

She burst into tears. People stared; uncomfortable glances passed between a few, but all quickly ignored her as she struggled to stop crying. She pawed desperately through her purse for a hankie, her head bent down and to the side, the tears dropping straight out of her eyes onto the floor. If you’d have shed a tear… the detective had said. She found the hankie and covered her face, trying to hide behind twelve square inches of linen. I’d have offered comfort to you, if you had shed a tear…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday Flash: Maybe He'll Stay

Romeo set Geo up in a room with a cold beer and plenty of clean towels then went out to check on the kid. Geo had told him a couple of stories about Slappy's behavior on the drive out that had him wondering if he wasn't in bad with the Boss after all. Why would he send out such a little bastard?

He thought back to what the Boss had said – "He'll need a lot of training, but he's one of ours, absolutely devoted. I think you'd be a great role model for him, Romeo."

And more worrying still: "Really, he's a wonderful boy, he's just been through a lot and he's, well... I guess you could say sort of special."

He glanced around the courtyard, saw that it was empty, then noticed the dogs standing by Geo's car in the driveway looking in the open driver's side door. He walked over to the car and looked in, too. Slappy was half upside-down under the steering wheel, fiddling with the wires in the fusebox.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.

The kid jumped slightly, but kept at it and didn't look up at him. "I'm getting the hell out of here," he said.

"Oh, I get it," Romeo said peering in at his fingers, "you think you're hot-wiring the car..."

"You're gonna be laughing outta the other side of your face when the engine starts to roar," he mumbled, grunting slightly as he tugged on a wire.

"Well, if you continue fiddling with those wires like that, the only thing you're going to accomplish is making sure Geo can't use his blinkers to signal politely."

Slappy scowled at his hands and shrugged. "I'll figure it out, I figure everything out eventually, so scram and leave me alone."

Romeo stood there, wondering what to do. He could drag the kid out and beat him, but he had a feeling that wasn't what the Boss had in mind when he said training. He sighed a little inward sigh. Fuck, it was another test. Losing his temper with this one would just feed his fire. He thought about his brother Angelo's slow, patient smile and silently prayed for his help. He had to figure this weird kid out and turn him into a useful worker. But first he had to get him stop messing with Geo's car and decide to stay. He knew one thing for certain, he wouldn't be able to make him stay against his will. The dogs wandered off to lay down in the shade.

"Hey, kid," Romeo said.

Slappy paused and glared up at him. "Quit calling me 'kid!' It's ridiculous for a guy who's only a couple of years older'n me to call me 'kid!'"

"Hey, Slappy," Romeo said, "you want me to show you how to hot-wire this car?"

Slappy rolled his eyes, "Don't yank my chain, you're not gonna show me shit..."

Romeo shrugged. "Sure I'll show you. Its my job to show you, that's why the Boss sent you out here, to learn how to do useful things. Move over."

As Romeo moved in, Slappy begrudgingly squirmed out of the way. He sat up on the seat and crossed his arms.

"Ah, Jesus, you undid the brake lights," Romeo muttered, putting the wires back in order. "The Boss told me that he thought you could be trusted more than any ki... guy... he knows. He wants us to work together on something important to him." He glanced up, Slappy was staring off stubbornly through the windshield.

"He didn't tell me he was sending you out here against your will."

Slappy tried to pull his legs up, but his hurt knee made him suck air, "Ow, fuckin' hell! You didn't have to crush my kneecap, you know. What the hell am I gonna do now with a bum leg?"

"Should have thought of that before you pulled a knife on me. Come over here and look." Romeo took out Slappy's knife and beckoned for him to move closer. "You can't just mess up the wires, you also need a screwdriver, or in a pinch, a knife. It goes like this, watch," he said and made the engine turn over.

He sat up in the seat, closed the knife and held it out. "Here. You ever pull that thing on someone again, you better go ahead and use it or you're going find out how easy it is to die."

Slappy just looked at him with his brows furrowed and a look in his eyes that Romeo couldn't quite figure. "Take it back; it's yours isn't it? I bet the Boss gave it to you, didn't he?" He turned it over, admiring it. "He's got good taste. You want to see something he gave me?"

He tossed the knife in Slappy's lap and dug into his pocket. Slappy closed his hand around the knife and held it tight, watching Romeo with that same odd expression, a mixture of distrust and hopefulness. Romeo held up his watch and smiled. "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever owned." He held up the watch and opened its face. "This side is a pocket watch, gorgeous and very useful. But then you turn it over and the other side is a compass." He opened the compass and turned it back and forth so the kid could see it.

Slappy was impressed and reached out for it.

"Sorry, I don't let anybody touch it," Romeo said, pulling it back gently.

"I let you touch my knife," Slappy said.

Romeo raised an eyebrow and stared down his nose at him. Slappy shrugged and looked away, but couldn't keep from looking back to the gleaming bauble.

"I promise I'll never try to kill you with my watch," Romeo said drily as he closed it up and put it back in his pocket. He put the car in gear, closed the door, drove around and parked in front of Geo's room.

"The Boss just sent me out here to get rid of me," Slappy said suddenly, the hurt in his voice plain to hear.

Romeo nodded. "I could see why you'd think that, but I don't believe it's true. Just for the record, I wasn't too pleased to get here myself."

He shut off the car and opened the door, then paused to pull a key out of his pocket, setting it on the front seat between them. "Here, you got room number one, right over there." He pointed. "It's too goddamned hot in the middle of the day to do anything. Usually I go for a dip in the pool, then take a nap. There's cold drinks and food in the kitchen." He pointed to the lobby. "You do what you want."

He got out of the car and walked away.

Slappy sat there in the hot car holding his knife for a long time before he finally slipped it into his pocket, picked up his room key and got out. He looked around at the motel as he limped over to his room; the place looked small and boring. His knee hurt, but it wasn't so bad.

"I'd have to be out of my mind to stay in a dump like this," he mumbled to himself as he opened the door and went in.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spoken Sunday: To Be Together Again

This is my first Spoken Sunday post. I wrote this story up fresh for the occasion. Sensitive listeners be warned, this is a horror piece.
A mysterious young woman hitch hikes across the country, carrying an ominous suitcase...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Flash: Every Hero Needs A Sidekick

Romeo had just laid down for an afternoon nap when the dogs went nuts out front.  Geo Caletti had called that morning.  It had to be him and the kid.  Romeo was almost giddy with anticipation for company.  He got up, smoothed down the back of his hair and headed out front.

The dogs had the car surrounded, barking and growling like mad.  Romeo recognized Geo at the wheel and they both smiled and waved.  Geo cracked the window and shouted out, "Hey, you didn't have to sic the dogs on me, I'm a friend a yours, remember?"

Romeo grinned.  He gave an earsplitting two-fingered whistle.  The dogs ran behind him and sat down, thumping their tails.  He glanced in through the dusty, bug-spattered windows at the kid sitting in the passenger seat, smiled at him too and waved, "Come on out, kid, I won't let 'em bite you."  The kid scowled at him.

Romeo tried to get a better look, but before he saw more than a dark mess of hair and resentful eyes, Geo got out of the car and squeezed him in a violent bear hug.  Geo was a big fella.  "Here's the pretty boy livin' it up out at the luxury resort!" he boomed in Romeo's face.

As soon as Geo released him, Romeo burst into laughter. "Oh yeah, you got that right,"  he waved a hand expansively at the modest motel behind him.  He clapped Geo on the back. "Good to see you Geo, how's the city?"

"I never knew how good until now, brother, I'll tell you that much.  The people we've seen and the places we've been on the way out here."  He shook his head and made a throwing gesture. "Affanculo," he said with disgust.

The car door slammed.  The kid walked around the front of the car, glanced at the motel with a dismissive expression and glared at Romeo.  He was 16, but looked younger, skinny, with gangly limbs.  His face was a combination of Italian features that added up to all of the drama and none of the beauty.  He crossed his arms and stuck his hip out.  The stance was pure teenage petulance.

Geo grinned. "Romeo, let me introduce you to your new apprentice, this is –"

The kid cut him off, "I can introduce myself, my name is Salvatore Allamonte, I go by Slappy."

"Slappy, huh?  That's not the greatest AKA, kid," Romeo said with a small chuckle.

"Oh?  That's your opinion," he said coldly. "Could be I oughta go by somethin' real dignified, like... Romeo," he sneered.

Romeo glanced at Geo, who stood with his arms crossed, nodding with an odd little smirk on his face.
"Lemme just learn you somethin' straight here," Slappy said, pointing a finger at Romeo.  "I'm not impressed by a guy with some pansy name who got sent out west to change bedsheets.  If you think you intimidate me, you got another thought comin' and I'm just the guy to give it to you."

Romeo's mouth hung open as he turned to Geo, who was laughing and shaking his head, muttering, "Pansy name, oh, that's good."

Slappy was apparently just getting warmed up, however, as he began pacing back and forth in front of Romeo. "I'm not here to be your Sambo, see, I'm strictly a button man." He thumped his scrawny chest. "You got some palooka you need rubbed out, I'm the eraser.  Otherwise, I don't shine shoes.  See?"

Romeo blinked several times and turned to Geo.  “Is he always like this?  He talk like this all the time, or is this just for me?”

Geo shook his head.  “From the moment we closed the car doors and started to roll.”  He put a hand on Romeo’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “If I hadn’t a picked him up from the Boss’ own home, I’d a had to pop his sack before we crossed the fuckin’ Catskills.  You have my sympathy, brother.”  Then he burst into laughter again.

The boy still paced a few feet away eyeing them both with a slit-eyed glare.  “You got something to say about me, pug?  Why don’t you say it to my face?  Huh?  You think I can’t hear?”  He cupped his large, prominent ears, “I got ears right here, see?  G'head, let’s hear you say it to my face.”

Romeo and Geo stared at him, looked at each other and laughed again.

“Pug?”  Romeo pointed at Geo, who shrugged.  “I don’t know, he just pulls it out of his ass.”

Romeo shook his head and twirled his finger next to his ear.  "The Boss said he was a special kid, I didn't realize he meant crazy..."

Slappy pulled a knife out of his pocket with surprising speed and waved it with practiced menace.  “I’ll cut you for that…” he seethed.
“Whoa.”  Romeo looked at Geo, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, here we go with the fuckin’ knife…” Geo said, shaking his head.

Romeo stepped over quick as Slappy made a show of slashing at the air with his knife and dropped the kid’s knee.  The knife clattered to the ground as Slappy crumpled, clamping his knee with both hands and howling.

“Did you take it away from him?” Romeo asked as he picked up the knife.

“Yeah, of course I did.  Little shit.”  Geo spat on the ground beside Slappy.

Romeo examined the knife, it was a beautiful weapon in good condition.  “How’d he get it back?”

“Ah, it’s the fuckin’ whining I can’t take.  You know?”

Romeo sighed, closed the knife up and put it in his pocket.  “Come on, lets get you a beer and a room.  A nice cool shower'll make you feel like a new man.”

Slappy rocked back and forth on the ground, groaning and holding his throbbing knee as they walked away, "You fuckin' crippled me you bastard, you're gonna pay, you're dead, you hear me?"

His eyes were squeezed shut from the pain, but flew open when he felt hot air blowing in his face from three different directions.  The dogs all stood over him looking down into his face curiously.  He let out a small yelp as they began to lick his face enthusiastically.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Flash: The Boss Needs A Fix

Carol had an awful feeling that someone was following her.  She heard footsteps.  Whispering voices flitted by her ears like moths.  Fearing the shadows and unnerved by the cave-like alleys, she glanced back repeatedly, but could see no one.  Nothing was behind her but a long, dark, deserted city street.

She had never chanced coming home from the diner that way because Babs had drummed it into her to choose safety over convenience.  “You won’t get home any quicker if you have to take a detour through the morgue,” she had said while drawing out a safe route.  But Carol didn’t have money to spare for the subway, and taking a shortcut down La Fayette Street was so much faster.  Just this once, she promised herself.  Babs will never find out.

The lights had gone out just as she passed the point where turning back and going another way would still have meant walking in the dark for blocks.  It looked like the electricity was off for the whole neighborhood.

She walked faster for a little ways.  The footsteps started up again.  She glanced back and stopped short, turning around to stare up the street behind her.  About two blocks back, the streetlights were back on and shabby apartment windows threw out patchworks of amber.  As she watched, another streetlamp came on.  She paused expectantly, hoping the lights would come back on down where she was, too.

Before she could turn around again, there was movement right behind her.  She felt the hair over the back of her neck move aside as if blown by a wind, but the warm summer air was dead still.  She smelled cigarette smoke curling around her face.

She ran.  She didn’t even look; she just took off back toward the light.  When she got about twenty yards from the first lit streetlamp, it clicked off and the lighted windows nearby blew out like candles.  Darkness rolled down the street ahead of her.

She winced and threw her hands up as she glanced over her shoulder expecting to see someone closing in on her.  But there was no one.  She stopped and tried to listen above her panting breath and pounding heart.  She realized her purse had dropped as she took off.  Maybe that was all he’d wanted, she thought.  She stood there trying to calm herself and get her breath back.

Suddenly it was dead quiet.  There were no cars, no voices, no dogs barking or radios playing, no doors slamming or any of a thousand different noises that filled the background in the city at night.  It was as if she’d gone deaf and was feeling the sound of her own breath and her pounding heart from the inside.  Without warning, cold, rolling cramps grabbed hold of her deep down, like the worst menstrual cramps she’d ever had.  It was as if a cold hand had ahold of her uterus, her ovaries, squeezing and examining.  She uttered a quiet, bewildered moan and grabbed at her belly, expecting a rush of blood to course down her thighs.

Instead, all the sounds rushed back onto the street and a single streetlamp, the one directly above her, came on with the intensity of a surgeon’s spotlight.  The cramping stopped as quickly as it had begun.  Footsteps began coming toward her slow and steady – a man’s walk.  She spun around inside the circle of bright light, but she couldn’t tell which direction the sound came from.  She strained her eyes trying to penetrate the darkness beyond the border of the streetlamp.

A skeletal face with glittering eyes emerged out of the blackness and a bony hand brought a cigarette to its grinning mouth.  She slammed her back up against the lamppost in fright.  She gasped so hard it made her choke and cough.  But as she stared at the gruesome skull, it became clear that it was a thin, hard-looking man that stood before her drawing on a cigarette, his face highlighted and shadowed by the harsh lamplight.  He blew out a long stream of smoke that rushed at her like a thick white snake and stared as she struggled to catch her breath.

“Did I startle you, Miss?  My apologies.”  His voice was cold with an edge of sneer in it.  She said nothing, still coughing and gasping for breath.

“A pretty young girl like you shouldn’t be out on such a long dark street alone.”  He tsked and took another drag off his cigarette, “Unless of course… you’re working?”  Taking in her cheap, simple dress and sensible shoes, he shook his head.  “But no, you don’t look like the type.”  He studied her while she trembled, trying to get her composure back.

She forced out a small, shaky voice, “Let me pass.”

His eyebrows shot up in amusement and he gave an exaggerated shrug, “Of course.”  He stepped aside with a sweep of his hand, but as she lurched by him, he reached out and ran his cold, claw like fingers along her arm.  She shrieked at his touch.  “This is a dangerous neighborhood,” he hissed at her as she stepped out of the light and ran back down the street.

“I’d be happy to escort you, young lady,” he called after her.  He listened to her heels clattering away in answer.  He chuckled and moved off in the opposite direction.

As Mr. G walked away beneath the darkened streetlamps, he pondered the miracle of ovaries.  All those perfect tiny eggs, each one unique and filled with raw potential.  It was marvelous, really.  You could make anything you wanted from their substance; it was the ultimate medium.  The energy of life itself in concentrated form.  Smaller than insect eyes, protected, internal, beautifully contained.  So efficiently packaged.  Not like testicles.  Now that was just bad planning.  Horrible design.

But then, what were the blundering tadpoles of men compared to the perfection of ova?  It was the only thing women were good for, but it was something.  He pictured ovaries in his mind, carefully opened to reveal tightly packed individual lives, red and luscious, like pomegranate seeds ready to be harvested.
He heard the woman scream once, sharply.  Good boy, Chester, he thought as he continued down the street and wondered if the Boss’ sleep would be restless with pain and anticipation that night.  He hoped so.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Flash: Not A Virgin

Romeo turned off the truck's engine in the driveway of the big white house on 9th Street in San Angelo.  He stole a glance at Slappy and tried not to grimace.  Ah, Christ, he thought, he's got a hell of a shiner coming up.  He felt guilty for losing his temper and hitting the boy, then felt resentful that he'd been driven to it by his stupid mouth.  They had fought three times that day, if he didn't count the endless bickering.  The kid would just start to behave himself and show the faint beginnings of a likable personality, then without warning he would bust out with some totally irritating behavior that would incite Romeo's anger.  The more he tried to be easygoing and not take the bait, the more the kid needled him.  

He hoped the truce they'd finally struck would last.  The thought of living out in the middle of nowhere with a teenager whose daily goal was to create conflict just made him feel tired.  Then he noticed something that brought him a small measure of satisfaction–– the kid was scared.  He was all big eyes and restless hands as he peered out the window at the small, neat sign over the porch that read: Shy Violet Ladies' Boarding House.

He pulled the truck around the back and shut off the engine, grinning at Slappy, his guilt evaporated.  "Here we are, lambchop.  Your first honest to God whorehouse."

Slappy scowled at him, "I told you, it's not my first time.  I been to plenty of cathouses back home."

"So you've said,"  Romeo nodded, grinning wider.

Slappy waited in the truck while Romeo went up and made enquiries.  He spoke to a willowy black-haired woman in a pair of pink sun shorts and a white halter top for a moment, then motioned over his shoulder for Slappy to come on up.  The woman pinched Slappy's cheek when he walked past her and said, "We don't mind the young ones here, we like 'em tender..." and she laughed at Slappy's furious expression.  She led them to an over-fluffed sitting room done up in too many shades of purple and left them to wait.

Madame Violet swept into the room a short time later, resplendent in a pale blue summer gown that left far less to the imagination than Romeo would have preferred.  She wore high white shoes and her platinum blonde hair was piled up on top of her head, bringing her height to somewhere around seven feet, Romeo guessed.  When she walked toward them beneath the ceiling fan, he winced, imagining the possibilities.  He'd never taken such a deep and instant disliking to anyone.  After he'd left that first time, he thought he'd get over it, but he hadn't.  He wondered if she'd ever worked the carnival circuit...

"Evenin', gentlemen, y'all here for the early bird special?  It's barely past supper time," she drawled.

She smiled through blazing pink lipstick and fluttered frightening creature-like artificial eyelashes.  One of them would have been big enough to serve as a mustache for Slappy.

"Good evening, Madame Violet.  As a matter of fact, we are here for the early bird special, this early bird right here," Romeo said, as he squeezed Slappy's shoulder and gave him a playful shake.

He turned to give Slappy a smile and saw that he had gone from scared to terror-struck.  He stared up at Madame Violet with huge eyes in a pale face and was breathing shallowly through his mouth.

Oh, little brother, time to pay you back for the last couple of days, Romeo thought wickedly.

"I'd like to throw a little coming-out party for my young friend here, and I just know that you are the best choice to introduce him to manhood.  Would you be kind enough to take on his education yourself?"  He winked at her and was gratified to see a gleam of fun in her eyes instead of offense.

"This adorable little morsel?" Before either one of them knew what she was about, she swooped Slappy up in her arms and rolled him into her lap like a toddler as she sat down on the lavender damask settee next to Romeo.

"Why, I'd be delighted to be the first to open his box of bonbons," she gushed lasciviously as she planted a big wet smooch on his cheek, leaving a lipstick print bigger than his ear.  Slappy was panting through a grimace of pure panic.

Oh, sweet Christ, I hope he doesn't piss himself in her lap, Romeo thought, barely able to keep a straight face.  "You are so kind, Madame Violet."

"Aww, it's not kindness." She ran a huge bejeweled hand up Slappy's leg, fondled his crotch, and whispered loudly into his ear, "It's lust for virgins... they're my favorite dish."

Slappy leaped straight up into the air, vaulting out of her lap. "It's not my first time!" he squealed, backing away until he ran up against the wall next to a potted palm.  "I, I wouldn't want to disappoint you under false pretexts, I'm practically a whore myself," he blabbered.

Madame Violet turned to Romeo in mock shock, "Not a virgin?" She stood up and in two giant strides was looming over him again.  She petted his newly shorn head.  The cavern in the middle of her large, thrusting bosom threatened to swallow his face.

"Well, I am truly disappointed, young man."

She reached down and swiftly grabbed hold of his package, lifting him up against the wall until he was eye level with her.  He let out a strangled groan as his balls compressed against her hand.

"I could have shown you what these toys were made for..." she growled, "but I just don't have any interest in used goods."  She slapped his cheek playfully and let go, allowing him to slide down the wall.  He looked like he was going to faint.

"I am so sorry, Madame Violet, my mistake.  I must have misunderstood.  Could you take him to the viewing room and show him someone appropriate for his level of experience?"  Romeo said, trying to hold back a laugh and failing.

"Indeed I can, there are any number of sweet, willing ladies awaiting your pleasure, young man, follow me." She smiled an evil smile at Romeo and stepped out into the hallway.  At that moment, he almost liked her for playing along.

Slappy glanced back at Romeo, still shellshocked and uncertain as he stepped away from the wall.  When he met Romeo's eye, Romeo burst into laughter.  Slappy hesitated as understanding dawned.  He narrowed his eyes and nodded, "That's two I owe you," he hissed as he turned to follow Madame Violet.  Romeo rolled over onto the settee and howled with laughter.    

Friday Flash: (Bonus) Where's Dolly?

"I'll pay extra for that," Romeo said, grinning as Violet came back into the room. "Thanks for playing along."

"Oh, not at all.  I do enjoy virgins, just not that kind," she said inscrutably.  Romeo did not want to know what kind she meant.

She chuckled, "I had you figured wrong, I thought you were a stick in the mud last time you came here."

He shook his head adamantly, "Oh you had me figured just right.  I am a stick in the mud, I just owed that kid some grief.  You know, of course, that he is most definitely a virgin?"

"Never fear, he'll be in capable cherry pickin' hands with Laurabelle – that is, if he doesn't lose his load gawkin' at her through the mirror.  She puts on a nice little show."
She draped herself delicately over a mauve velvet chair, pulled a lacy fan out of her pocket and began to fan her face lightly, smiling at him.  "And what can I do for you this evening?"

Romeo shrugged.  "I'd be happy to see Dolly again."
She tsked, and shook her head.  "I'm sorry to disappoint you, she's no longer under my employ."  She went on fanning herself, her face completely neutral.

Romeo was disappointed.  "Huh.  That's too bad, she was okay.  She quit?"

Madame Violet shrugged, "These girls are all flighty, it's just their nature.  If they were solid and steady, they'd have husbands and tidy little houses on the other side of town."

Romeo watched her eyes with a growing feeling of unease, he wasn't sure why, but he felt like she was lying.

"Do you know where she went?"

She closed her fan slowly and rose to her feet without concern.  "One day she was here, the next day she was gone, and everything she owned along with her.  As well as a few things she didn't own, I might add."

She sauntered toward the hallway. "I'll just go set your little friend up with Laurabelle, and then you can take a peek at the other girls.  I'm sure you can find one to make do with, seeing as your tastes are so straightforward."
Her words had their intended effect, and Romeo was left feeling embarrassment at the idea that he'd been... what?  Tattled on?  Exposed?  He found himself suddenly angry with Dolly, he'd assumed he could trust that he wouldn't be talked about.  The whole thing left a bad taste in his mouth, and he decided to tell Violet to forget it when she came back.  He'd just wait for Slappy and drive them back to the motel.  He was no longer in the mood.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Friday Flash: Dolly's Day Off

Charles could tell she was a whore right away.  Nice girls didn’t respond that quick, even if they were wild.  He’d never actually been to a real whore himself, but he’d read about them and considered himself quite the sophisticate.  It wasn’t the first time he'd managed to lure a girl into the manikin storage room at Sweeger’s department store, however.  Charles had happily discovered that sometimes the sight of a good-looking young man arranging the limbs and adjusting the clothing of the female manikins turned a gal on.  It was a sweet little extra benefit of the job.  But to get hold of a pro, for free?  This was his lucky day.

While adjusting the garters on a blonde, So Moderne II manikin in the Young Miss department, he felt someone watching him and glanced over at a sweet little brunette browsing through blouses.  She was staring at him boldly over the top of the blouse rack, and she looked like a very fun girl.  He pulled the manikin’s skirt up higher and ran his hand up the leg to smooth the stocking.  The brunette smiled like a bad child and moved over past the end of the blouse rack where he could see her and hiked up her own skirt mimicking his gesture.  He smoothed the manikin's sweater over its hard-molded breasts with a sly grin.  She gave her own breasts a cute little squeeze and winked at him.  He gave her "the eye," a look he'd perfected in the mirror at the onset of puberty and ran his fingers across the manikin’s crotch in an unmistakable gesture.  It was a risky move, but it paid off.

“You sure know your way around women’s undergarments, young man…” she said sweetly.

“Well, I get lots of practice… in my line of work, miss,” he answered, flashing his most irresistible smile.

In the back of the storage room, she was kissing him with an enthusiasm that he found very encouraging.  She undid his pants with one hand and deftly navigated.  He grinned.  “You sure know your way around men’s undergarments, young lady…” he said.  They giggled.

She glanced around at the manikins in pieces on shelves and standing in rows, naked.  They seemed to watch the couple with dull interest.  “I’ve never had such an audience.  It makes me feel like showin’ off,” she purred in his ear.

Sudden voices outside the storeroom door sent them both into an unwilling imitation of the manikins around them.  Their eyes met and laughter threatened, but the moment passed and he held her tight, whispering in her ear, “Should I go on calling you miss, or you gonna tell me your name?”

“It’s Dolly,” she whispered back.

He laughed.  “You’re joking, right?”

She laughed too, shaking her head.  “It is, I swear!”

“Well, darlin’ that is just too much… I finally got my living doll.”

"Well, what's your name?" She asked.

"It's Charles."  He grinned, "Well, I go by Charles, but my first name is John."

She collapsed against him in stifled laughter, then looked up at him shaking her head. "I do believe we were made for each other," she whispered softly.

He tried to move the lipstick smeared around her mouth back onto her lips with a playful finger.  “My shift was almost over.  I don’t think anybody would notice if I disappeared,” he whispered beneath raised eyebrows.

“You got someplace we can go, sugar?” she asked hopefully.

He frowned.  “I live in a young men’s Christian boarding house.  We got a old lady in a rocker with a Bible and a fist full o' knittin' needles on the front porch, and a old man with a Bible and a shotgun on the back porch.”  He shook his head firmly.

She bit her lip and considered a minute.  “Well, I live in a similar situation.  But today is everybody’s day off.  We might get away with it if you promise to be quiet…”

His awe at being smuggled into an honest-to-God whorehouse was considerable.  But as they'd managed to procure and consume two bottles of beer in between Sweeger’s department store and Dolly’s room at the Shy Violet, he had an immediate need.  “Where’s your little boy’s room, darlin’?  I gotta pee me a river…” he whispered.

She pointed to a door hung with a rainbow of feather boas from the dressing table, where she stood removing her dangly earrings.  He stared in mock amazement, “We do not have private baths in our rooms at the Young Men’s Christian boardinghouse.”

She smirked.  “Don’t keep me waitin’ too long, sugar.”

He stumbled over a tiny satin footstool on his way across the room and they both laughed like children.

He opened the door, still giggling, turning his face away from the cloying boas, then jumped back screaming, “Holy Jesus Christ Almighty!”

Dolly whirled around from her dressing table and crossed the room, crashing into him as he flew away from the bathroom doorway.  She whispered urgently, “Don’t scream like that, you’ll get us…” and then stopped short staring into the bathroom.

The girl was hanging; knees hooked over the shower curtain rod, trussed up like a pig in a slaughterhouse.  Her throat had been gashed to drain her blood.  Her lower belly had been sliced open and the slack bloody folds of flesh looked disarranged.  Her face was purple.  The bathroom was awash in red.

Dolly’s voice could only come out on exhale, gasping gibberish until she managed to say the girl’s name.  “Hillary… that’s my… that’s Hillary!”

Charles sat down on the floor involuntarily and began scrambling backwards like a crab toward the door.  Dolly ran over him and grabbed for the air in front of the doorknob.  “I gotta get Violet, she’ll know what to do, Vie!  Mama Vie!  Help!” she wailed and grabbed hold of the knob.

The door flew open forcefully, throwing her back on the floor next to Charles.  Six foot, six inches, 280 pounds of coiffed, bejeweled, and silk-clad madam filled the doorway.

Mama Violet took one look through the bathroom doorway, one look at Dolly, one look at Charles.  Without a word she pulled a small pearl-handled revolver out of the folds of her gown and expertly shot first Charles, then Dolly clean in the middle of their foreheads.

“Son of a fucking bitch!” she hissed, as she crossed the room and stepped out into the hall to a phone.  She dialed a number, seething while it rang.

The number answered.  She did not say hello.  She growled into the receiver, “Never, never, are they to be done in my house!  He is out of control and I will not have it!”

She paced, listening to half a sentence.  “There are seven girls due back in the next three hours from their day off.  You get someone here to help me clean up this mess right now!  I’ve got three... problems to dispose of and that carny cock waste cost me one of my top earners, in addition to the green girl!”  Sweat ran down the sides of her cheeks, leaving white streaks through her rouge as she listened to a response that didn’t placate her nearly enough.

“You’re damn right you’ll pay for her too, and much more besides!”  She slammed down the phone and stepped back into the room, blowing out her breath in bursts like a steam engine while she stomped around furiously.

Dolly and Charles lay tangled on the floor together, staring up with the same dull interest as the manikins had, and just as dead.