Opening of a Novel)
William T. Hathaway
O'Keefe walked surrounded by leaves as Miguel Escalante parted the branches for
her. Their motion tattered patches of sunlight filtering through the trees. Scratched
by twigs and bit by mosquitos, they made their way through the rife vegetation,
sweating in the humid heat.
wasn't sure if Miguel was following a path or just making one up as he went, inventing
it step by step. But either way she trusted him.
and Spanish moss clung to the branches, nourishing themselves from the damp breath
of the forest, musky with fumes of fertile decay. Foliage thrived in a hundred
shades of green, all with a sheen of moisture.
leaves slavered over them, soaking them with dew. Miguel's tan arms gleamed; his
damp T-shirt stretched over broad shoulders; black hair glistened. Aeron's T-shirt
was wet to transparency; she noticed Miguel trying not to stare but still enjoying
the sights. With anyone else it would have been embarrassing, but with him it
was daringly fun.
search of nectar, a swallowtail butterfly glided the currents. A spider web hung
with prisming dew lay in wait for it, and at its center sat a golden orb spider
big as Miguel's eye.
trees they rustled through stretched high above them, canopying towards the sun.
Tallest were mahogany, live oak, and strangler fig; then came poisonwood, tamarind,
pigeon plum, and buttonwood; the shrubby understory swarmed with indigoberry,
boxwood, and wild coffee, all laced together with vines.
his shorts, the muscles of Miguel's calves flexed and stretched as he walked.
were exploring the hardwood hammock on her parents' property, but she imagined
they were in Peru searching for Machu Picchu, in Mexico for the Seven Cities of
Cíbola, or right here in Florida for the Fountain of Youth. She knew Miguel
would be the ideal guide — his Spanish ancestors started exploring America
500 years ago. His first memories were of the boat trip as he came here from Cuba
when he was four. Now he was a sailor himself, and she'd like to explore the ocean
with him someday. She liked to do just about everything with him, except say good-bye.
tonight they had to say good-bye early ... she had to do a nasty job for her father.
She helped him in his landlord business, and tonight he was making her do something
she hated — kick someone out. And the tenant was going to hate it even more
than Aeron did — the angriest person she'd ever met.
that would be later. Right now they were together.
vegetation lessened, and Miguel reached back, took her hand, and drew her up so
they could walk side by side. One of his arms went around her waist and the other
thrust ahead. She liked the feel of his body moving against hers. Straight raven
hair, high cheekbones, and deep-set dark eyes gave his face an angular intensity.
It was softened, though, by curving lips, a slightly crooked nose, and large earlobes
she liked to tweak. His skin was tawny as a lion's. It was a face she liked to
look at and didn't want to lose. Very different from her pale-skinned, blue-eyed,
blonde-haired blandness. It struck a note in her, made her ring deep down inside
where they were the same.
trees gave way to bamboo, its graceful wands and elongated leaves forming an impenetrable
screen. They skirted its edges and came out into a clearing, a meadow full of
ferns whose profusion of fronds spread out before them in cushiony invitation.
must have had the same thought because he stopped and pulled her closer, then
turned so they were facing. Now both his arms were around her, and she could feel
his warm breath tickling her neck. That started some juice flowing.
night ... he was all over her, a great wave taking her.
were both straight edge. They didn't smoke, drink, dope, or poke holes in their
skin, but they fucked like crazy.
nobody around at all," he whispered and dropped one hand to her bottom.
like to, but" — she gave him a consoling kiss on the cheek —
"there's no time. I still have to do this terrible job tonight. Plus remember
the last time we did it on the ground ... over by the Silver Trail ... the fire
ants? They don't like big monsters invading their turf."
weren't so bad."
weren't lying on them! They weren't biting your butt!"
right, I forgot," he admitted. "You had to jump in the water just to
get rid of them."
was pretty much of an anti-climax."
the clearing, motion caught her eye. Out of the brush stepped a Key deer. The
doe paused, one foot raised, sniffing, listening, looking. Aeron squeezed Miguel's
hand, and they stared enthralled. As the deer gazed at them, their eyes joined
across the space, across the species. Communication flowed between them: cautious
curiosity about a fellow creature. The doe broke contact, began nibbling the tips
of ferns, then looked back at them as if saying, As long as you stay on your side,
feet tall at the shoulder, she was small even for a Key deer, and was probably
born late last season. Aeron imagined bringing her home, feeding her and petting
her. Somehow that made her think about having to move away from Miguel soon, and
she sank into gloom.
something was wrong, he held her closer and asked, "How you doing?"
leaned against him. "I don't want to go ... leave you ... hundreds of miles
away. August ... in just a few months. I hate it."
how you feel," he said. "I think about it every day. Like a countdown
on death row."
she groaned, the doe perked up her ears and trotted away.
stroked her shoulder and nuzzled his head into hers. "Hey there."
I should just forget about university," she said. "Maybe junior college
is enough. I can stay here ... we can be together ... scrabble along somehow."
was a conversation they'd had before, and they both knew all the arguments pro
and con. They were graduating from the community college in June, and she was
supposed to move up to the university at Gainesville. Her dad could afford it.
Miguel's mom couldn't, so he had to stay. They kept telling each other they'd
be able to get together every several months — Christmas, spring break,
summer. But they wouldn't really be together, and who knows what could happen
being apart so long. For one thing, they were both pretty horny types.
was brooding, and Aeron wished she hadn't brought it up. It made both of them
feel helpless, powerless. He shrugged mutely.
to bring you down." She stood on tiptoes to kiss him on the forehead, her
lame way of apologizing for raising the Big Glum. "It's only April. Let's
enjoy being together."
he said, but the corners of his eyes were pinched.
turtle plodded across their path, and they stopped and watched him. With his yellow-striped
head extended he was as long as her foot. "They're good luck," Miguel
wanted to pick him up and pet him, but that would scare him, so she let him lumber
on, admiring his determination to get where he wanted to go at his own pace.
sun stretched into an orange egg as it dropped through the mist on the horizon.
Its golden light shot rays through the haze, then shined the clouds pink and violet,
flaring across the turquoise sky. After a last long gleam, it disappeared.
air cooled down to about 85, and that brought out more bugs — mosquitos,
no-see-ums, deer flies. Swatting and swearing, they stepped up their pace and
headed for home.
was only few hundred yards away through mangroves and bamboo, a cedar house on
eight-foot flood-protection pillars on Big Torch Key at the edge of the Gulf of
Mexico. At the end of a long dock floated a cabin cruiser.
it was just her home, not both of theirs. Actually it was her parents', but they
wouldn't be back till late tonight. Dad would definitely not like Miguel being
walked under a wooden arch hung with bougainvillea vines, around a swimming pool,
then past a pond with gold and black koi cruising under purple and white lotus
blossoms. The large leaves floated on the surface like green platters, and Aeron
remembered a picture she'd seen once of a baby lying on lotus leaf, happily unaware
of the fragility of its world. She shivered and took Miguel's hand.
now it was dark. Transitions between day and night were swift down here. This
was not a twilight sort of place. Birds had stopped chirping, frogs had started
croaking. For Aeron they were the little musicians in God's orchestra, day shift
going to bed, night shift waking up.
the sea breeze blew away most of the bugs that had clustered around them, but
as they climbed the stairs they still waved their arms to ward off the stragglers
so they didn't follow them into the screened-in porch.
got a headache," Miguel said. "Too much talk about August. Think you
could fix it?"
was sorry again that she'd brought up the split. "I'll try. I'll need to
meditate first, though, to charge up."
sat in the living room on a wicker couch under the cedar cathedral ceiling. She
closed her eyes and thought her mantra. After a few minutes her other thoughts
faded away, and she was left with a clear mind, empty except for the mantra's
quiet hum. She could feel energy building up within her, and when it seemed like
enough, she cupped her hands on Miguel's head, fingertips to his temples, and
let the energy flow into him. At first his body tensed even more, and a spasm
jerked through him. He exhaled with a long groan. She kept thinking the mantra
and directing its force into him. Gradually his neck and shoulders relaxed, his
breath became quieter, and he sighed. His pinched frown turned into a relieved
smile. "Gone," he said. "Your healing hands did it again. You're
I could help. Call me anytime. I even make house calls."
The smile left his face. "Then I'm out of luck. How about a trailer?"
could tell their financial gap was still on his mind, tormenting him. It bothered
him far more than her. "Anywhere you are is OK with me," she told him
You got a cure for hunger too?" His light Spanish accent sharpened the edges
of his consonants and made his vowels clear and consistent.
she said, "it's called, You Help Cook."
grilled a grouper he'd caught this morning, made lemon rice, and heated a can
of black bean soup. For dessert it was mangoes from the tree.
here just the two of them was like playing house together, and it seemed they'd
been doing it for years. In a way they had. They'd been together a year and a
half, and in her math book that was a plural. They'd met at the beginning of their
freshman year at Florida Keys Community College and hit it off right from the
start. Even though they were so different, they almost always understood each
other. It was like they were tuned in together.
they were cleaning up after dinner, she was thinking how great it would be to
cuddle up on the couch, watch a little TV, then head for bed. Like a real married
couple. But no, the game was over. They had to sleep alone in their separate parents'
she still had to do this job for her dad she'd been putting off.
hate to say it," she whined, "but it's time to say good-bye."
glanced at his watch. "So soon? I thought they weren't getting back till
but before that I've got to tell one of the tenants her lease is canceled."
know her," Miguel said.
runs Buff Bods."
yeah, the fitness studio."
that where you get your muscles?" She squeezed his arm.
I get those humping boxes at Winn-Dixie. They get heavy after a couple of hours
this is going to be no fun at all," Aeron said. "She's open late tonight
... I can't put it off any longer. This woman has a temper like you've never seen.
I had to give her a rent raise awhile ago, and she threw a chair at me."
you have to tell her she's out?"
and she's not going to like it one bit."
wouldn't either," Miguel said.
you wouldn't throw a chair at me. I'm just the messenger."
swept across the wall. She heard the hum of dad's Mercedes and the crunch of pea
rock in the driveway.
no! At least we've got our clothes on. "They're home early," she said
through clenched teeth.
I better get home too. Hope this ... my being here ... doesn't make trouble for
want you here."
voice from outside: "What's this bicycle doing in my parking space?"
tightened her lips and breathed into her cheeks. She didn't know why she was breathing
that way ... maybe to become a balloon that could float away. "It's trouble."
stood up with a reluctant shrug. "Then let's meet it ... and finally meet
crimped, she pick up her purse, and they walked out onto the porch. Dad looked
shrunken as he glared up from the driveway eight foot below. He stood hands on
hips between the idling car and Miguel's bike, which was leaning against a house
about that, Mr. O'Keefe," Miguel called down. "I just stopped by for
a minute, but I should've put it somewhere else. I'll get it out of your way right
saw dad checking Miguel out as the two of them hurried down the stairs.
got out of the car with a strained smile. "You must be Miguel."
me," Miguel said with a dip of his head that was very unlike him.
nice to meet you." Mom's closed-mouthed smile showed her dimples, but she
didn't offer her hand. She was trying to be friendly, Aeron could tell, but not
too friendly or else she'd get into trouble with dad.
tried to smile too. He stuck his hands in his pockets, then took them out.
cleared his throat.
yeah, the bike," Miguel said. "Well, I'll be going. I just needed to
drop off a book ... that, uh, Aeron needs for class."
nice of you," said mom.
got on his bike and rode away without saying good-bye to any of them.
to catch up with him and straighten this out, Aeron said, "I'm going to Elizabeth
Marshall's, tell her about the cancellation."
haven't done that yet?" Dad's sharp blue eyes drilled into her. "Boy,
you must've been busy."
was just on my way there when Miguel stopped by. That was like three minutes ago,
no big deal ... but you're trying to make it into ... I don't know what. I needed
need to keep your word," he said. "I know where you're going now. You're
going to chase after your Latin lover. But you can just stay here. Marshall is
open till nine. You've waited this long, you can wait another half hour."
face was flushed, and she could feel herself sliding into a swamp of frustrated
rage. A year and a half ago she told her parents she'd met a guy she really liked,
expecting them to be happy about it too. Right away they started asking questions.
As soon as they found out he was Hispanic, dad started cutting him down. Her father,
Aemon, was into being Celtic. It was a big deal with him — genealogy, family
coats of arms, music, myths. He'd named Aeron after a Celtic goddess, and she
was supposed to carry on the heritage. Grandkids named Escalante didn't fit the
couldn't get her to break up with him, but he jammed her into promising she wouldn't
have Miguel at the house when they weren't here. Agreeing to that was humiliating,
but Aemon had a way of keeping after you with different kinds of pressure until
you gave in and did what he wanted. That was why he had so much money ... and
that was why mom took Xanax.
knew her parents were going to have to meet Miguel someday, but she'd hoped it
wouldn't be like this. So much for hopes.
wanted to jump in her car and roar away, but she was too scared. Then the tears
came. She hated herself for letting him still squash her at twenty, but she didn't
know what to do about it. She hated herself for crying like a little girl, but
she couldn't stop. She even hated Miguel for leaving, but she knew he had to.
terms of brains, the tests said she was in the top one percent, but emotionally
she felt like a retard.
dad parked, mom hugged her. "You know how he is sometimes. Let's go in and
I'll make you some hot chocolate."
follow her up the stairs feeling eight years old ... and hating it.
Marshall was adjusting weights on the abs machine when the landlord's daughter
walked into her studio. Elizabeth grimaced. "Don't tell me you're raising
my rent again!"
good." Girl would be pretty if she didn't look so scared. "Then you
must be here for fitness. We've got Nautilus, Nordic Trak, aerobics, Pilates,
Jazzercise, body sculpting, massage and tae-kwon-do. Plus weight loss, but you
don't need that. We've got classes and personal trainer sessions. First session's
sounds like a great deal, and I could use it. But ... tonight is a business call."
paid my rent!"
afraid ... it's not about rent."
then?" Girl's getting more nervous and I'm getting mad.
dad ... well ... he needs the place back. He's ... canceling your lease."
Avoiding Elizabeth's eyes, Aeron pulled some papers from her purse.
words pierced Elizabeth like a hot spike. "What? I've got nine months left
on this lease. He can't just cancel it. That's what leases are for."
says in the contract that either party can cancel it with sixty days written notice."
been here six years."
hate to be the one to give you the bad news. I agree with you, it doesn't seem
a cigarette bad. "In two months I'm out? Where am I supposed to go?
at all this equipment ... weight stations bolted down. Cost a fortune to move
this stuff. You're not making me move, you're putting me out of business! I'm
just scraping by as it is. You might as well shoot me." Elizabeth yanked
the pin on the Nautilus machine, letting the iron bang down.
not doing it, it's him."
what everybody says. Everybody's got an out."
sorry." Aeron's voice pleaded for forgiveness.
What do you care?"
nothing I can do about it."
he doing it?"
found a company that'll pay a lot more rent."
I couldn't pay anywhere near that. I'm busting my butt just to make a buck. You
think I like working here till nine o'clock?" Elizabeth threw a Nordic pole
against the wall. "You're driving me out. Only rich people are going to be
able to afford to live here. You move in here and think it's your playground.
But I was born here."
rage went red and she started getting the tunnels again. Everywhere she looked
became dark around the edges, narrowing down to a long tube, staring at the world
through to barrel of a gun.
There it goes! Little man flicks the pain switch in my brain, sends a hot twitch
down to my toes, spins me crazy. Not again! Hate it! Don't want to be that.
the bastard! No. Yes! Crush his head in a vice like he's doing to me.
"Bastard owns the building but he doesn't own me. I'll smash his place. Smash
his face. Make him regret this!"
leaped at the light fixture, but it was too high, so she grabbed a chair, flipped
it upside down and swung the legs into the globe. Crash! "There! Good, glass
all over the place. Ha!"
the girl is backing away, eyes big, hands out like I might throw the chair at
She falls backwards over the bench press, ass over elbows, gets up and limps out
fumbled her pack of Newports open and dropped two before getting one between her
lips. She flicked the flame, butane blue, and drew menthol green daggers deep
call Jannie. Maybe she'll know some vacancies. It's late, but realtors work all
the time anyway.
cell phone's so little can't find the buttons.
Elizabeth. My bastard landlord just booted me, broke my lease, I'm out. Is there
anything I could rent that would hold the studio? Say between Sugarloaf and Big
high, thin voice: "There's a storefront in the Summerland strip mall for
five K a month."
I'm not even grossing that much."
sorry, but there's nothing. I'm on multiple listing, so if it was out there, I'd
know about it. Damned building moratorium. Landlords are doing everything they
can to break leases and jack up the rents. Just the big chains are going to be
able to afford it down here."
like to wrap a big chain around their necks. Let them see what it's like to get
getting the same with residential rents. If you don't own, you're out."
have to move to the mainland. I hate it up there ... it's a madhouse. I can't
afford to move all the machines and open a new place there. I'll have to just
get a shit job as a trainer ... be back on the bottom of the heap. All because
this guy sees a chance to get richer by pushing me out. He's ruined my life!"
hear you," Jannie said. "This business has gone savage. Sorry you may
have to leave."
be something we can do. Can't just take this lying down ... like a good little
girl. Have to stop it."
find out how, let me know."
do that. Bastards! Bye, Jannie." Elizabeth stuffed the cell phone back into
her pocket and burst into tears.
at this place. I put six years of my life into it, working sixty hours a week.
Talk about sweat. Now it's gone! Nothing. Say good-bye. My home too — apartment
in the back, cozy. Now I'm homeless, end up a bag lady. All 'cause this guy wants
to be a millionaire.
some snow ... a whole noseful. Sock it to my septum. Where's the bag? In my dresser.
Go get it.
oughta burn the place down. I got a right to. I remodeled it and everything. This
apartment was a dump when I moved in. Now it's my lair. Or was. Old waterbed has
some mileage on it. Think of the dorks that have rolled through here ... two or
three a week, six years. I don't know ... maybe a thousand. I'm no good at math
... or else I'd be a landlord. They think in numbers. To us it's a home, to them
those dorks ... a long chain around my neck. Was there any of them you wanted
to stay? No. Don't think about it.
the bag? Next to the panties and the vibrator. All my addictions together.
the world into white powder, like a snowy paperweight, me sealed safe inside.
This was a good batch. Hail, Colombia! I'm not going to be able to afford this
anymore. Not much of it left ... enjoy it while I got it.
a line. Deep breathing. Dazzle me. Yes! That's it, feel the power of the powder.
Be the power!
kill him, but they'd know it was me.
another guy, they're all the same. I know men ... too well. Deep six some dork.
They deserve it. Make 'em pay. Now they went too far. Time to stop 'em, stop 'em
dead. This time vengeance is mine.
no, now I'm getting the whirlies. Hate that. Tornado brain, tornado groin. Going
deeper off the deep end. Please no, not another "episode." How long
will this one last? I don't want to be this way, do horrible things.
the cheeks hollow getting more smoke in. Pack it in. Helps but not enough, never
enough, helps the top mouth but not the down mouth. Have to diddle the middle
again. Need to pop gotta pop, get it in get it on. Thrip thrap thrub. Dildo or
Want a dork, off him, pop him. Any dork'll do ... as long as he can do it ...
lot of 'em can't, shrivel stubs ... useless dorks.
do I want 'em when I hate 'em? And I always hate 'em. But never so much as today.
girl, get into gear and go get him. Which gear? That new frock. Makes the tits
look bigger and the ass smaller.
down. More deodorant. Slip the dress on. Presto change-o. A whole new me. But
the same old hole.
tighter, Apache beads on suede, too wide but it hides the scar. A shame scars
don't tan ... but razors rust. Slash and burn.
here. To hell with locking it. Let 'em steal everything.
the red Mustang. Slam bam thank you ma'am, I'm the man. I'll kick you out on your
big pink butt.
do I need one so soon? Had a dork Saturday and a dildo Sunday ... now the achies
again. Should've vibed again this morning — day goes better ... don't have
the dreams. But I hate it, hate needing it, why aren't weekends enough? Losing
Looe Reef Resort — I haven't been there in a month.
the traffic, floor it, No! Brake! SUV ... screech. Watch your rear end, ass-hole!
Creeping tourists. Mustang Sally, you're too fast for 'em. Girl, we're not of
blinked as lights flashed by from restaurants and stores on US Highway One.
all just a strip mall now ... from Key West to Canada. Millions of dorks lined
up along it.
clogged with tourists ... we should blow the bridges, keep them out.
pulled in and parked at the Looe Reef Resort on Ramrod Key, then sauntered past
the guest rooms, swimming pool and boat dock into the tiki bar, just a wall-less
thatched roof overlooking the Atlantic.
sat at the bar and ordered a coral kiss. The barkeep was bald, paunchy and probably
had to stay until 2:30. He splashed rum, grenadine, sugar, cream and key lime
juice into a blender, whirled it into froth and gushed it into a champagne glass.
sipped. Sweet-sour sparkled her tastebuds, vapor tingled her nose.
but I can tell right now this isn't going to do it. Need something stronger than
booze and coke. Need to blast the bad news out of my brain. Blast the landlord's
brains out. This is a job for Methedrine. Grope in the purse for the little white
footballs. Slurp one down. Look around.
the prospects, she saw they were meager. A tourist couple, suitcase folds still
showing on their polycottons, sipped piña coladas at a side table. In a
corner an obnoxious foursome getting loudly drunk. A few single guys: Two local
lushes, one in a tropical print shirt unbuttoned to his furry midsection, the
other in a Miami Marlins T-shirt stretched tight by his belly, both hunched over
a game of liar's dice. A tattooed guy with a droopy mustache wearing a mesh tank
top, cut-off jeans and rubber flip-flops was shooting her looks as he nursed his
another guy farther down the bar was watching her. What kind of a guy? Didn't
look too bad. Short dark hair, bland polo shirt like something out of a Lands'
End catalogue, boring pretending to be classic. That's OK, sometimes a boring
man is just what a girl needs.
was definitely interested. Eyes appraising, gliding like radar over her dress,
x-raying her. Made her shiver, want to run, want to slap his face with them, made
was trying to hide his stare by turning his head, giving her the lateral gams,
the angle ogle. Lured, but not yet ready to eye lock.
another Meth ... drink the bitterest pill there is. Crank up the machine, sparkle
gave him her better left side, not that it was all that great, but it was what
she had and he seemed interested. They could have a little talk.
he was staring, eyes on high beam right on her, and she lifted hers and looked
into his. Contact! Penetration! He was pushing right into her, through the green
irises deep inside.
gave him a brief nod, then looked away. Smiled in profile, pretended she was charmed
by the lights twinkling on the water. That was all it took. He ambled towards
her carrying his drink ... and his napkin like a good little boy. He wasn't so
little around the waist, though, but not a real porker, just a middle-aged chub.
Moved steady, wasn't drunk. Wearing pressed chinos ... definitely not a local.
Probably a wife with a hot iron on the other end of those sharp creases. Shiny
tasseled loafers ... with socks yet. Did she shine his shoes too? Where was this
guy from? Only bankers and cops wore shoes and socks down here. Everybody else
pranced in sandals.
if I join you?" His voice was deep but pinched by nervousness. He didn't
do this every day.
had one side of his mouth lifted away from his teeth in what was supposed to be
a smile, trying to look friendly and sincere, dashing, powerful, not too eager.
Trying to look like everybody else wanted him so she should too. Then his whole
mouth lifted up, and his teeth slipped back out of sight behind rather thick lips.
smile back. Give him a nod of assent but not of surrender. Move your knees to
the side to make room for him while showing off your legs under the short little
dress, kind that lets the breeze blow up.
missed whisker peeking from the dimple in his chin, how dear. Bit of cologne along
with the smell of ... oh, no, Scotch. Hate the damned smell of Scotch.
my name, Jack Ogilvie." He slid onto the next barstool and set his drink
down. Little button nose almost lost in his round face. Mid forties. Hair clipped
and combed to hide the thinning; no weird tufts sprouting from his nose or ears.
Stainless steel watch a bit scuffed but at least not a digital; expansion band,
trying to look sporty. Hands clean and soft, no dirt under nails. No wedding ring
or mark on that finger. Maybe he sends his ironing out. Maybe he just doesn't
wear a ring ... so he can play around. Signet ring on his right hand, Uni something
or other. Good — college man. Better than an army ring. Buy me a drink,
Mr. Middle Management. Your middle looks like it could use a bit of management,
Terri, Terri Carter."
you like another drink, Terri?"
but not too gratefully. "Thank you."
held up two confident fingers to the bartender, then settled in to check her out,
now-eager spaniel brown eyes skimming over her. At least he kept his mouth closed,
no tongue lolling out. "You from around here?" he asked.
Speak demure ... act brazen. "I'm local as they come."
bartender poured Glenfiddich rather than bar Scotch for Jack. Good sign. But all
Scotch stinks the same.
Florida Keys girl, huh?"
got it. Wouldn't be anywhere else. How about yourself?"
Louis. Had to go to Miami on business, thought I'd come down and see the sights."
been fishing yet, have you?"
— surprised and a bit suspicious — "how could you tell?"
sunburn. You're not all red and crinkled."
smiled, relieved she couldn't read his mind. Oh, but she could. "Hey,"
he said, "that's pretty observant. I'm going out tomorrow for bonefish. Got
a guide and everything."
a little to show he wasn't a party-boat type. He'd already caught on to the fishing
a fisherman ... uh, fisherwoman?" he asked with a confused shrug that said
all this vocabulary was a bit strange but he was no male sexist pig. Some of his
best friends were women.
nodded and peered at him over the top of her glass. "Underwater ... with
a spear gun. I like to look 'em in the eye first."
a pause he chuckled. "All-right! The lady's a hunter."
a hunter's bar. Look at the swordfish." Stuffed, it floated over the bar
like they were all under water.
I'll put my bonefish up there tomorrow," Jack said.
— she shook her head to show off the auburn curls — "it's all
catch and release now. Those days are over." Consoled him with a lift of
well. Then no dinner, either."
aren't good eating anyway ... too many you-know-what. Maybe you'll catch a grouper.
Ugly but delicious."
bartender brought their drinks. Jack pushed a twenty toward him and said, "Here
you go. Keep a couple of bills for yourself and feed the rest to the juke box.
looked back at her, his face almost swelling with interest, bodily fluids on the
rise. It made her chest tighten, breath narrow to a wisp. Hold on, girl. You can
ride this tiger.
Buffet's rough gentle voice crooned of sailing ships and sunsets, liquid embraces,
languid passion and wistful good-byes. Jack didn't ask her to dance. No one danced
leaned closer, though, eyeing the décolletage. Thank you, Wonder Bra. "So
what brings you to this little bar on this little island tonight?" he asked.
burn of his gaze prickled her skin, shriveled her insides, flipped her crazy motor-mouth
switch. "The stars. They made me do it. Actually I think my star died a long
time ago, but its light hasn't gone out yet, so I don't know it's dead.
it's really not stars at all, you know, it's the planets make us do things. You
can tell the difference because planets don't twinkle, just bore into you with
that laser light, a lot closer than the stars. And they're hollow inside. That's
how people can live there."
Jack kept his smile but pulled back a bit. "What planet are you from?"
A defiant cackle, let him think what he wants. "That's the worst. It's the
prison of souls. Earth's where they send the heavy-duty desperados, the hard cores.
Everybody there's a lifer. The lucky ones are on death row.
people on the other planets, the worst thing they can have astrologically is the
Earth rising in their chart. Makes them crazy."
into astrology?" he asked, hoping to salvage the convo.
why I'm here, like I told you. I'm still answering your question, I didn't forget,
I never forget. I came here tonight because it's a very auspicious time. There's
a grand cross in the heavens. Uranus, Mars and the nodes of the moon, all in opposition
and squares. Very difficult but very powerful if you can handle the energy. Uranus
is the planet of new beginnings. That's tonight — a new beginning."
Jack looked more wary than aroused.
flapping in the breeze — reel it in, girl. You'll spook him off.
gave him an embarrassed laugh and a look of sincerity. "Forgive me, Jack.
I've been ranting. Nervous tension. Something about you ... your presence ...
really makes an impact on me" — an apologetic smile — "and
I start chattering nonsense."
leaned back with a trace of amusement, pleased by the praise, which was of course
well deserved. "That's all right. I get carried away sometimes myself."
he thought she was just kooky and eccentric. That he could probably handle.
throat and lungs, her every capillary, craved a cigarette, the sharp draw of smoke
like a sword that soothes as it slices. But that might put him off even more.
If he was a smoker, he'd have probably lit up by now. Dork wouldn't think of waiting
or asking. She took a deep drink, trying to focus on the sting of the alcohol
and the sourness of the key lime, drawing them down to burn like nicotine. "Dance
He stood, took her elbow and gallantly helped her from the barstool, looking confident
he had her now.
music had gone reggae, a ganga-slurred chant to a slow, pumping beat. Perfect
for shaking your booty and letting it do the thinking.
curved into Jack, brushed against his arm, then his shoulder, and backed away
with what she hoped was a soft, teasing gleam in her eyes. He picked up the motion
and swayed toward her, took her hand, led her sideways, then glided his other
arm around her back and rested his hand on her hip. He used little nudges of both
hands to steer her this way and that to the rhythm with more skill than she would've
thought. He wasn't all middle management; the man could move and groove. She picked
up on his signals with twists of her hips, head and hands. They merged to the
music, eyes devouring each other. She let her mouth drop open in a sultry pout,
raised her arms over her head and swiveled at him, all the while flashing a challenge,
daring him to take her. He raised each shoulder alternately while his belly and
rump jiggled, looking proud and happy, like a boy who's just had a stroke of well-earned
look what you've wrought! Dork has turned into Dionysus, a stud!
could feel his energy beaming at her, saturating her. She stalked toward him on
tiptoes, body a fluid invitation, lips a lascivious sneer, then backed off in
he wouldn't let her get away, instead encircled her waist with his arms. She writhed
in captivity, trying to break his grip with her hips, grazed his chest with her
breasts, making his eyes widen and mouth sag.
noisome foursome had gone silent, watching them. Even the dice players had stopped
shaking their cups and were staring.
the song ended, Jack took her in a ballroom pose and dipped her toward the floor,
his leg between hers. She clung to his back, feeling his heat, smelling his deodorized
sweat. The audience applauded. He tipped her upright again and whispered in her
ear, "Let's quit while we're ahead and get out of here." She squeezed
him in agreement.
soon as they stepped out onto the deck, she lit up, sucked the smoke deep and
relaxed into a tarry haze. She was hooked, an addict, and he seemed hooked enough
on her to put up with it. He backed away a half step and said invitingly, "I've
got a room right here. We can have a quiet drink."
to my place, Jack." She gave him a come-hither look, trying to seem mysterious
and alluring shrouded in smoke. "I want to show you how the locals live."
hesitated. "Then we'd have to take two cars. Be simpler just to stay here."
the cigarette away, she stepped closer to him. "Leave your car here. I'll
bring you back." Brushed her hip against his. "Tonight or tomorrow morning
... whenever you want."
teetered in indecision. She held his gaze and said, "We'll be more comfortable
at my place." Stroked his hand. "You don't want to live like a tourist,
do you?" Still mulling, he stared off across the Atlantic.
needed to be led. Good, she took his hand and started off. "My car's right
down here." He came along, swallowing a burp.
moon was ducking in and out of clouds, shining brief silver shimmers on the ocean.
Jack slid onto the black leather seat of her convertible.
to ride the hide, she thought.
wheels," he said.
you like it. It's little but it moves."
snapped his shoulder belt in — cautious. "Not as little as my rental."
revved the engine to rumble his buns and wondered if she should play a CD. No,
better to talk. There'd be time for music later. "Thanks for coming back
to my place. I'm kind of a homebody."
great. I'm tired of hotels anyway."
travel a lot?"
The whole world starts looking the same after a while. Everything's franchised
... including the breakfasts."
till you have my breakfast."
to order for you."
great. Even at home it's Eggs McMuffin in the traffic, cup of coffee by the gear
don't have anybody to cook for you at home?"
mean, am I married?"
tough. They blame me. So does she ... but it was her idea."
I don't blame you."
turned onto a commercial side street along the canals and drove past a down-market
jumble of service businesses: laundromat, hair stylist, massage therapist, internet
café. Older ground-level buildings waiting to get flooded again, new ones
built on pillars with parking underneath. The wending canals gave her nabe a river
feeling. They parked in front of a ground-level stucco under the sign, "Buff
Bods Fitness Studio."
expect anything fancy. I live in back and run the business. It's funky but fun."
up for that."
led him on a path of pea rock around to the back where the canal held the moon's
reflection like a poaching egg. Frogs thrummed in the mangroves along the shore.
The buildings were dark and quiet.
walked around her boat slip with the jet ski floating in it — her mermaid
motorcycle. They crossed the patio, and she slid open the glass door. She took
his hand as they stepped inside. His eyes gleamed with Mesopotamias of lust.
He's not dumb ... he knows when he's wanted. But will he know when he's not wanted?
arms went around her waist. Bump bellies, lock lips, touch tongues; she pulled
away. "I don't usually do this, you know ... let a man move this fast. But
there's something about you."
... grab ... grope. Up top to the tits. Like my little fatties? His breath louder.
Oh, down there too, my not-so-little fanny. Bottom boy, eager for my beaver.
get more comfortable." She led him to the bedroom.
waterbed ... they're lots of fun."
can sail away."
a ceiling mirror! You must be a connoisseur."
doubles the fun."
were coming off. He glommed on with the mouth ... seemed to like them ... and
she got to pat baby's bald spot while he nursed. Slurp. Pump me up ... I'll float
higher and higher ... till I pop.
press there, rub it, yes, legs too.
Jack ... not fair. You can't make me naked and leave all your clothes on. I want
to feel your body too. Here, off the shirt."
you're quite a hunk ... big strong arms." Big fat gut. "I like a well-built
kind of man."
pretty well built yourself."
don't think my tits are too little?"
more than a handful is wasted."
I make up for it down below. There's lots more than a handful down there."
me check it out."
the fingers ... slip and slide. "Oouu ... you. How wet I am! That's all your
fault, you know. You did that to me. Just being around you turned me on. Now I
want to see what you've got down there." Zip and yank. "Oh, my goodness!
There he is ... what a nice looking fellow. And large. Let me give him a kiss."
to be able ... and ardent. A hard man is good to find. Don't want him to get too
excited too soon, though. "Now I want this ... in me," she told him.
me, Trilby. Sock it to me in the tummy.
no, his finger in his mouth ... then in my pussy. I've had it with guys sticking
their fingers in their mouths. They assume you're all dried up. but I'm not. Hey,
bozo, I don't want your spit on my clit. Don't need it. Finger licking is definitely
not good. You do that again, I'll kill you ... swear to God. Scotch breath is
he goes ... in his mouth again. Now he wipes it on his guided missile, right?
Yep, you've had it, buddy. Warned you.
it in. Mission control ... we have entrance ... we have penetration ... we have
lift off ... all the way in. Ride it!
to kill him. Saturday's guy put his finger in his mouth too.
it, girl. He's just a dork. You can't kill him. Hate him, yes, kill him, no. Just
gouge his back with your acrylics.
him! Dorks die.
it ... get your ya-yas. Get down and grind, grapple it, wrestle his slider. He's
got you full.
there he goes! Squirting too soon already too late. Slip shod, squishy slop. Lunge,
you grunge, you're finished ... your meat is dead. Your gun doesn't work but mine
does. Grab it.
shoot him! You're flipping out!
gotta! That's the last straw ... broke this little camel's hump. He didn't pop
me, so he gets popped. Pop goes the weasel. The dorks are kicking me out of my
home, ruining my life.
guy isn't doing it!
just like the guy who is. Dorks are dorks. Now it's payback. Someone's gotta die!
He thinks he's a lord, the lord of my land. But he's just a squirt, a stick it
in and squirt guy. He thinks he owns me, can make me homeless. They're all the
same. Greed and war. Burning up little Arab girls with their napalm, selling guns
to African dorks so they can shoot little black girls, making little Latin girls
sew all day in their factories for a dollar.
like to kill 'em all. But I can't — they're already dead. All I can do is
show them that. Jack, here's your wakeup call. I'm purifying the planet.
in the bedtable ... for the intruder in the dark. Grope in the drawer ... not
his drawers. Hard steel harder than him. Take that, Jack. Here's one to remember
me by. See it in the mirror. Touch to the temple. He opens his eyes at the feel
of cold metal. OK, gang ...
one side and out the other. Wings of blood out both holes ... fly away to a better
thrashing, lashing ... going wild. Jerk is jerking me off. Get it ... grab it.
Almost ... there ... more.
... fading ... falling ... winding down. Useless. Leave me hanging.
he's still. The blood ... no more spurts ... pump stopped ... but both sides seeping
... all over me. You sopped me but didn't pop me. Now get off me. Flop. Ugh.
I can't believe it can't believe it can't believe it. Did I finally do it? Oh
God, what's going to happen? No, maybe it's just another dream. I couldn't have
killed him ... in cold blood ... now hot blood. And you're shivering ... shaking
all over. What's wrong with you ... what got into you, do such a thing?
OK, I'm crazy. You don't have to tell me again. Dad's right, I got it from mom.
She just killed herself though. I murdered this poor dud. Now he's dead, eyes
half open, mouth drooling. And I'm crying.
what happens when you kill people, girl — they die. What'd he ever do to
that to kill somebody for?
just the start. Then it gets worse. I just went proactive, protective first strike.
OK, I'm a murderer ... murderess in a red dress. So be it. Watch out.
down. Stop shaking. You need to think ... need help.
know I'm crazy. But if I know it, part of me must not be crazy.
me! I'm the part that's not crazy. But you don't listen to me.
get help. Tune in to my guardian angel. She'll help me. Elizabeth! Elizabeth Bathory,
I invoke you. Be with me now in the hour of my need. Come to me.
I can feel your ethereal presence. Greetings and welcome. You know the blood is
the life. You bathed in blood. Transylvanian maidens you slashed and drained and
in their juice you splashed and played. Drenched in virgin gore, you washed all
your wrinkles away.
it. Now I can lick the finger. Prosit ... toast to Elizabeth, copper tang ...
penny for your thoughts, Jack. You're so quiet, all asprawl. Another one of those
guys who fall asleep right afterwards.
in the hot juice, soak up the throb of it, smear it icky messy baby fun.
me, Elizabeth, baptize me, initiate me as your blood sister. Now I'm worthy of
drip drips. Press my lips to his red bubbling fountain, elixir fresh from the
brains, yick! Jack, you're a mess. I blew your brains out. Well, not all of them
... but enough.
you really lost it. I can't believe you shot him.
believe how easy it was. Sorry, guy, you caught me on a bad day.
What if someone heard? Prison ... death sentence!
everything's closed. Good thick cinderblock walls ... no one here to hear ...
little .22 bang.
less useless dork. What to do with him? Jack, you can go home now.
Meth to get through this. Get him out of here, clean up, have to wash everything.
Thank God for waterbeds — no bloody mattress.
bullet ... went out the other side. Must've hit the wall. Where? Should be about
here. Yeah, a hole. Get a nail file ... poke in and find it.
stuck in the plaster against the cinderblock. Pry it out. Little ball of metal
his cash? No, I hate a thief. Just get him out of here.
lawn and leaf bags. Three of them. He's compostable but non-recyclable. That's
it, just reach down and grab his handle. One hand there, the other in his hair
... hoist him up. Stretches it but it doesn't come off. Grunt. Have to bend him
over, double him up, stuff him in. Good thing he's not a basketball player. Yuck,
have to wash my hands again. Damn, broke a nail. Thirty dollars shot.
all his clothes in another bag. Shoes should sink it.
I'll bet you're happier now than I am. I'm actually quite upset. So please don't
hold my little temper tantrum against me. Ready to go skinny dipping?
and shivers again. I don't want to be a killer, that sort of person. Why did I?
He wasn't so bad. Snuffle ... blow my nose on the bloody sheet, bawling like a
little kid now. Terrible. I made him pay — now I have to pay. What'll happen?
Have to plan. Tight control, lock down zombie mode. Elizabeth will guide me ...
one step at a time. Thank you, angel.
to do this exactly right, or they'll kill me. How do they do it here? Needle.
Well, that wouldn't be so bad ... an O.D. But it takes years before they give
it to you ... and until then I'd hate to wear those clothes.
finally did it. Now maybe that'll change me. I could be ... what? Not happy, but
at least not the way I am. Ritual sacrifice free the soul. I've gone the limit,
dredged the bottom. Release me.
to work. See the job, do the job. This is a job for jet ski. Pull on my wetsuit.
this big lunk. He could stand to lose a few. 'Bout to give me a hernia.
the hand truck. That's better. Flopping all over the place, but he moves.
him out across the patio. Load him on the ski, hang over the seat. Bungi cord
him on ... sit on him. All aboard ... move it out.
slow, out to the channel. Moon on black water — spilled milk on a glass-top
stove. Don't cry, Jack ... you're better off. Now you can flirt with my sister
in heaven. Elizabeth Bathory will give you a warm welcome ... she knows more tricks
than I do. Kiss her croissant for me.
should I drop him? Someplace with no night divers. Pye Key ... the other side.
Snag him up in a cove. He won't stay there long, though. Tide's too strong ...
he'll float out ... surprise! Let 'em find him ... be a good lesson to 'em.
the gun on the way, plop, bullet later, plip. Night heron prowling by on green
wings, yellow striped face, round eye couldn't care less. Mangrove shoots jutting
their skinny spindle dicks up out of the water. Sulfur and iodine stink of rotting
Jack, iodine won't help.
we go. Let this cat out of the bag. Blug, splog. Bob up and down ... so heavy
but still lighter than water. Marshmallow in hot chocolate ... sour cream in borscht.
You're awfully pale, Jack ... try to get some sun while you're here.
sorry, you know, I really am. It wasn't your fault. I don't know what got into
me. I hope you're OK ... over there ... if there's a there.
I go crying again. That won't help you either, though ... you've got enough salt
water. I don't blame you if you're pissed.
even kill myself if it would help ... but it wouldn't. I threw the gun away anyway.
And I promised Elizabeth I'd never slash the wrist again. That hurts! Harder than
you'd think, get a razor in there.
run. Bye, love. You wanted to catch a fish, but now the fish will catch you. You're
part of the Gulf Stream.
it the gas ... outa here. Waverunner, run me home.
this could get
you into major
trouble ... especially
if it becomes
a habit. Once
is enough. Don't
do it again!
2008 by William