Short Fiction Showcase 2
She Got Hers
By Pamila Payne
Sidney knew it was a mistake to let her drive, but after what happened in the city, he just didn’t have it in him to fight anymore. He slumped in the front seat like a man without a spine. She was bolt upright all the way. Their conversations were nothing more than long fuming silences, sharp glances, disconnected accusations and hopeless sighs.
When she pulled into a country gas station twenty miles outside of Jackson, Tennessee, had the attendant fill up the tank and wash the windows of the Ford, then shot the man’s brains onto the corrugated tin siding of his garage without warning, Sidney could only concentrate on holding back the bile that kept creeping up the back of his throat. Thirty-six dollars. He hadn’t even needed the money. He needed food. He chewed on the insides of his cheeks saying nothing, hungry and angry for miles before he finally snatched her hat off and threw it out the window. He watched it roll and bounce in the middle of the road until it disappeared from sight in the rear view mirror. She laughed. She had an ugly laugh.
The grinding in his stomach passed unbearable. He spotted the Getalong Diner in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and made her stop in. She refused to take off her coat, stylish in New York, absurd in the warm southern afternoon. People gave him wary glances.
Waiting for the food to come was agony. He wished she’d stayed in the car. He wished she’d stayed in New York. She wouldn’t get out of his ear, hissing and whispering hateful, awful things. Trying to make him slip. “Use the gun again,” she said, “I want to see you give it to them. I want to watch the blood fly.” He kept his hands fisted tight around his knife and fork. He clenched his teeth. The gun hung heavy in her coat pocket.
The waitress was a plump little thing, with a long brown pony tail hanging all the way down to the hem of her skirt. It swished back and forth, brushing her round rump like an actual horsetail when she walked away to the other end of the counter. In spite of everything, the sight made him smile.
She hated for him to look at other women. A sharp, cold slice of pain cut across his eyes as she whispered, “I could wrap that pony tail around her neck. I could pull it tight and squeeze…”
“Go to hell,” he snarled, splashing coffee over the side of his cup onto the counter. His head jerked several times, throwing a fringe of oily dark hair down over his forehead. He scared the waitress. She stayed down at the end of the counter and pretended not to watch him. He shoveled the food into his mouth and glared down at the speckled counter top until the food was gone.
Back in the car, it was straight on through, no more stops. Back in the car, he screamed every time she tried to talk and gripped the steering wheel like an electric current ran through it.
* * *
Romeo hung up the phone and yawned. He wondered briefly if it was worth trying to go back to sleep, but the barking dogs outside in the driveway gave him his answer. As usual, Mr. G had pegged the new guest’s arrival time within minutes. Romeo stood there in the predawn gloom, leaning on the front desk in the lobby, staring out the window until a big black Ford pulled in and cut its lights. He opened the door and whistled to call off the dogs. They lined up obediently off to the side, panting and thumping their tails on the concrete, but ready to rip out a guy’s throat if he made a wrong move.
Typically, when a guy first arrived at the Bella Vista Motel, he’d be pretty well stewed in his own juices from days on the road, driving through heat and carrying whatever burden had gotten him kicked out of New York. Nobody ever came to the motel to enjoy a vacation in sunny west Texas. Sometimes they sat in the car, dazed and staring, too sapped from the drive to grab onto the handle and get out.
Sometimes they crawled out like a guy emerging from solitary confinement. Sometimes they sprang from the car ready to fight, and not afraid of nothing –– you just get that straight, pal… Once they had two feet on the ground and Romeo could get a look into their eyes, his gut could usually gauge how much trouble they would be.
This guy stared out through the windshield with a wild-eyed glare, his hands, glittering with rings, gripping the wheel for dear life. Romeo sighed quietly to himself, smiled and said, “Sidney? Come on out, we’ve been expecting you.”
He opened the car door and held it while the man peeled his hands off the steering wheel and distrustfully stepped out. He was a thin, almost delicate man wearing the usual car wrinkled clothing, except, the top coat, which was not usual. It looked strange on him for some reason Romeo couldn’t put his finger on. The guy skittered around to the back of the car and took a medium sized leather suitcase out. Hugging the case close to his body, he slammed the trunk shut. He looked around at the empty motel courtyard, his eyes scanning the doors and windows of the rooms, the dark, oily looking pool.
“Come on over this way, room number 6,” Romeo said, gesturing up the walkway. The guy just stood there clutching his suitcase for a long moment until Romeo prompted, “After you.” Then he started walking in the direction of room number 6, and Romeo followed.
* * *
The first thing she did when Sidney shut the door to his room, was slough off the coat and flop down naked on the bed. His relief at having even that much distance between his body and her was like taking a breath after being held under water. She rolled over on her back and propped a pillow behind her head, looking around the room with her usual scowl of disdain. “This place is a dump,” she said, “just like I told you it would be.”
He set the suitcase down, picked the coat up off the floor, walked over to the closet and hung it up.
“Light me a cigarette,” she said. He didn’t move. He stared at the coat hanging in the closet by itself, like a headless person just standing there. Like a woman without a head…
“I need a shower,” he muttered, moving toward the bathroom.
“Light me a goddamn cigarette first,” she snapped.
He hesitated, not wanting to obey her, then turned back to the suitcase. He tipped it flat, unlatched the top and opened it. Her silver cigarette case was tucked alongside the stacks of neatly folded skirts and blouses, lingerie and toiletries. He’d lost her lighter, a fancy platinum number from Tiffany. She loved to complain about that. He lit one of her foul smelling foreign cigarettes from a book of matches fished out of his trouser pocket, the black and white Magpie logo reminding him of things he didn’t want to think about. The Magpie club in New York city, where he’d met her, had been a source of nothing but trouble for him.
He set the lit cigarette in an ashtray on the bedside table. He didn’t want to look at her, but he did. He looked at the black gleaming hair, the curvy body, olive skin burnished tan from lounging on her father’s penthouse sun deck, the green eyes that filled with contempt, but never tears, the soft, plump red lips that were always so hard on him. She looked as clean and fresh as the last day he’d loved her.
He felt like he’d been dragged through the dirt, and he smelled worse.
He glanced at the cigarette in the ashtray, the smoke rising in the still air like a beam of light. When he looked at her again, her eyes were closed and she looked so peaceful and harmless.
He went into the bathroom and stood under the hot water, scrubbing himself and rinsing over and over until his flesh was red and his fingertips wrinkled. He brushed his teeth, staring down at her big, flashy rings lined up on the back of the sink, the jewels glaring up at him like colorful eyes. He turned them away to face the wall one by one. He shaved, carefully rinsing his straight razor and drying it with the corner of his towel. It was the sort of razor that folded up like a jack knife and he’d owned it a long time. He’d bought it for himself when he was only barely old enough to begin shaving. It had made him feel manly to have the proper tool for the job. He kept the razor sharp as fire and handled it expertly.
Her silk robe was hanging from a hook on the back of the bathroom door, the pretty one with all the butterflies all over it. He loved that robe, the way it floated and swayed. Putting it on was like stepping into a cloud of steam. He slipped the straight razor into its pocket.
When he came out of the bathroom, he saw that she hadn’t moved. The cigarette had burned away to nothing, leaving a haze of smoke hanging in the air. Looking at her, he started feeling sexy. She opened her eyes slowly, gazing at him from beneath heavy lids for a moment before she said quietly, “If you were half a man, you’d have kept right on going into Mexico.”
He frowned at her, saying nothing.
Her lips began to move, the complaints, the insults, the abuse would soon be flying off of her serpent’s tongue, so quick, so effortless, flick, flick, flick.
The only reliable way to shut her up was to fuck her. She was hard and mouthy and mean every goddamn minute they were together until he gave it to her, but then as long as he could last, she was soft and silent and his. If he had it to do over again, he’d have just fucked her to death.
He was startled by a knock on the door. He wrapped the robe around himself tightly and stood staring at the door with dread. She laughed, softly, but the sound was still ugly in his ears.
Another knock and then the motel man, Romeo, said, “Hey Sidney, I need a word with you.”
He moved a little closer to the door.
“You know who he is?” she asked. “You know who he works for?”
“Shut up!” he snapped.
“Sidney? Just a word, open up…” Romeo said.
He could hear keys jingling on the other side of the door. “Shit,” he said to himself. Grabbing the doorknob, he glared at her over his shoulder. “Cover up or something,” he hissed at her.
He opened the door a crack and peered out at Romeo, who stood tossing a wad of keys from one hand to the other.
“What do you want?” he said.
Romeo’s mouth twitched a brief smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He said, “Just to let you know, breakfast is in the dining room. No room service, if you want to eat, you gotta come out.”
Sidney nodded, opened his mouth to say “Okay…” but hearing a strange gurgling sound behind him, glanced back over his shoulder at the bed. A shock went through him that made him jerk the door open and nearly fall out through the doorway. She was still lying on the bed, on her back, just like she had been, but there was blood everywhere, all down the front of her, streaming in between her breasts, pooled in the hollow of her belly, throbbing in big lazy spurts out of a deep slash in her throat that went from side to side…
“Hey, watch it, what’s the matter with you?” Romeo said, putting his hand up, and seeing the butterfly robe, stepping back with an expression of puzzled disgust on his face.
Sidney let go of the door and grabbed onto the doorframe for support, gasping for breath.
“Are you sick or something?” Romeo asked, then looking around him into the room suspiciously, “You got a dame in there?”
Taking hold of the door again, Sidney shouted, “No!” He looked back into the room. Her head fell over sideways and rolled down onto the other pillow.
Sidney screamed, “Leave me alone!” He slammed the door in Romeo’s face.
He leaned against the back of the door and covered his eyes with his hands, a low, moaning wail working its way up his throat. It was New York all over again, the Excelsior hotel room, all that blood…
She laughed again, meaner than ever, and suddenly her voice was joined by a second voice, another woman’s laughter, clear and beautiful, but somehow more terrible than hers ever was. Two women were laughing together at him, all around him, and the sound made his balls pull up tight.
He looked through his fingers and saw that it was just her, she was whole, and clean, hatred glittering in her eyes and a sneer curling her lips. There was no one else in the room. He moved over to the bed and put his hands out to touch her. All of her rings sparkled on his fingers. She’d always known just how to unnerve him, just what to say to provoke him, until it got so bad…
She sat up and moved toward him, her teeth shining white against the red of her lips, her voice somehow sweet. “You think my father let you get away with it?” She reached up and grabbed the front of her robe, crushing butterflies. “You think the cops never came after you because they didn’t know you did it?” She pulled him down close to her face. “You think you were sent out here to rest in peace?”
She put her hand inside the pocket and took hold of his razor, he pulled it out and flicked it open, screaming as he pushed her back down on the bed, screaming as she gave it to him for as long as he could last.
* * *
“What kind of lunatic puts on some dame’s nighty and slices his own throat open?” Slappy wondered, walking around the bed and staring at the corpse in disbelief. Romeo had no answer for his young helper. He stood in the doorway of room number 6 with his hands on his hips, shaking his head. When Mr. G had said, “Don’t worry about taking care of this guy, he’ll take care of himself,” Romeo hadn’t been sure what that meant. Sometimes guys just got sent to stay out of sight for a while. It was often the case that he couldn’t decipher Mr. G’s meaning until after the fact.
“Well?” Slappy said, giving his unruly mop of hair a swipe out of his eyes as he contemplated the tasks ahead.
Romeo sighed. “Another perfectly good mattress, ruined,” he said, and started the unpleasant task of cleaning up.
The Violent & Unusual Death Of A Secret Agent
By Jason Michel
He finally did it. The crafty old bugger has finally killed me. Well, bloody good for him! I would laugh if only I could open my mouth. But I can’t. The water would cascade in; past my teeth & swelling tongue, up my nose & down my windpipe. Straight into my lungs & that would be that. As if the shot wound is not making this difficult enough.
I am floating. My arms outstretched in Holy Posture & I can hardly feel the hole in my shoulder now. My black tie wraps itself with gentle intent around my neck. Ebb & flow. Pushed & pulled by micro-currents of my own making. Here it is peaceful. Cold. Wet cotton wool all around me. Smothering. Here. Here in this unlit metal tank filled to the brim with water. A single round porthole sized window that lets the natural dim light from the sea wash palely in. Creating our shadows from darkness. Us. Just me & the dead shark.
I could try to force my way out of the ceiling doors. It would just be the last act of a desperate man. I know that they are electrically controlled from above. Not even he would be stupid enough to leave a push button in here. No elaborate plans this time. He finally just went ahead and shot me & threw me in this tank. Him & that bloody spoilt white cat. He was always stroking that cat. I shall miss him & all the women with their names, Pussy & Bambi, & dry martinis & her. I think I shall miss her most of all. The one that was not to be. Poor girl. The saddest smile of longing in the whole wide world.
Not long now. A minute. A minute & a half. My body is so numb in the freezing liquid. This, at least, is a relief. Even men who have been trained to survive, to withstand torture, must die. I feel something stroke the side of my cheek. It is blubbery & coarse in its honesty. I realise that this must be one of the dead Great White’s entrails. In this palest of twilights, I see the guts & tripe of the shark flower out from it’s stomach. A grotesque stringy orchid. A deep seawater cauliflower beast. Despite its weight, it bobs effortlessly along with my dying.
I decide to move towards the great oily lump of dead meat as my last effort of will for this world. Moving my one good arm & kicking my legs. I touch its scales to find them as rough as sandpaper one way & as smooth as a glass table the other. I feel water pressure pushing against my hand. It gives the illusion that he creature is slowly moving. It will be the last thing I ever feel. This beast. The Great Whites were the reason I was here. We had information that he was forcing scientists to do experiments on them. Creating mutants. Then he was selling these corrupted beasts to the highest bidder. To whichever rogue states would pay for them. I guess this one was one of the failures.
This is it. My mouth has opened & the liquid flows in & up violently. But it is not the water that is killing me. It is the dead beast. It suddenly has me in its jaws & my shoulder wound now becomes meaningless as my arm is taken from me. The eddying water blackens as my head is now falling through the layers of teeth & I am being torn from side to side & that is it. The end. I am now gone as the undead thing stops its frenzy & chunks of me float & chase each other as it waits in primal sleep.