I had read the headlines the day after I killed Sabrina Pollard. Laughing at the reports of my deed. The reporter acted like she actually knew and cared for the dead woman. What a bunch of crap. But there was something about the article I read that I didn't like. I couldn't quite place it, but it was there.
Restraining a hysterical laugh was almost impossible when Loree told about Sheb findin' the body. She said stuff like, "Don't you think this is terrible?", I said, "Oh yes, terrible." while doing my best to turn my grin into a tight lipped frown. I guess it worked 'cause she patted me on the back as if to say, "It's ok there, you'll be all right." That was the trick, act like you really care. Pretend to be one of those other people who are, themselves, pretending to care. It's like they want to cash in on the death and get some attention for themselves 'cause someone else died. People that had never met my cousin were crying like babies at his funeral. Fakes. Well, that's the trick, act like another bleeding heart idiot and nobody ever doubts innocence. I was still flying pretty high on my last fix and I'm not a bad actor when I feel good.
Two days after my fix, I was once again back at work. Filling the needles for all of the regulars. Good old boy Sheriff Bull was paying a not too rare visit. This made me a little nervous at first, but he sat down just like the rest.
"What can get for you tonight Bull?" I asked with my casual, yes they pay me to be happy, smile.
He wanted his usual Old Grand Daddy and a beer. Which I kindly served up. He slowly sipped the shot and then swigged the beer, sipped the shot and swigged the beer. I needed to go to the bathroom, so I asked Loree to take over for a minute.
There was a line at the rest room, so I stood there, leaned against the wall and crossed my arms. I could see half of the bar from the edge of the bathroom hallway. Tonight there wasn't quite as much of a turn-out as usual, but Trudy's was still full enough. From this perspective I could see a gorgeous out-of-town biddie. Never laid eyes on her before, and I didn't see her come in.
She had pretty auburn hair. She tapped her watch and slid her hair behind her ear. When she tilted her head up to take a drink, she caught me staring. I was quick to smile. Her irritated brow left her face, her green eyes glimmered, and she gave me a quick smile in return. It was then that I heard the whisper in my head again. I'd never heard it when I was not about to, well, fix, but I heard it then just the same.
"She's mine Brad."
I stood there stunned for a few moments until someone asked me if I was in line. I said yes and moved up. I thought that I must have been losing my mind. What the hell was going on? I went to the bathroom and puzzled over my mental state. I mean sure, my needle takes a strange shape but as far as I know, there's only one person inside my head.
I returned to the bar and found that Loree had gotten Bull talking about my deed. He was startin' to get his load on and I couldn't wait to hear. The papers, the news and people talking always seemed to be a little after shock fix, not a needle, more like a heroin TB test, but it sure felt good. The only exception to this rule was families crying. After I did one the old geezers, I think the name was Godfrey, I saw his daughter bawling her eye's out. That, for some reason, made me feel guilty.
Bull was going on about how he had been pushed aside by the feds. He said he was actually glad he didn't have to deal with this one. They hadn't even figured out her name yet, all they had found was a box of business cards that said "Ruby". Loree, wanted to know all the details. That's when I started to get confused. He was telling her how the body was found beside the car, not hooked to the trunk like I had left her. He also mentioned abrasions and punctures that made absolutely no sense to me. Yeah, that's when I started to worry. That's when things stopped making sense.
From my left I heard a voice that was both deep and feminine. "Another Royal Kir."
I lead a pretty charmed life, you could say. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm achin' for a beer, I get one. It's called being single, and I damn well play that role well. Some of my old Army buddies can come over and we can get 'faced, smoke a little dope if that's your thing, and not worry 'bout the other half comin' in and breaking up your good time. So we get together about once a month and do exactly that.
Last December, we did it on a Tuesday night, right before all the hoildays hit. We're usually real busy up at Trudy's around then, with the mall right around the corner and all the college kids coming in town. But I'll be damned if I can't get a day off to go out tomcattin'. Only problem with doing it on a weeknight is that everyone wants to go home early 'cause of work and the wife and whatnot. So we broke it off around eleven and only Johnny Kotara, the BudCo guy, stuck around. We watched SportsCenter, talked about who was getting any, who was in trouble with their boss, and Johnny got a great idea. Down at Briana's Caberet there was some out-of-town headliner. Maggie-somethin'-or-other, he said. Up and comer, was in Hustler last month with a boa constrictor. Hell, i didn't have to be in until four the next afternoon, and he was off, why not? We hopped in my Blazer and drove down there.
The facade out front said, "12-6 to 12-10, Featuring Maggie Mounds!!! No cover past 11:00!!!" We got out and ran inside, since neither of us remember to bring our coats, and we sure as hell didn't think we were gonna wind up in the back of the parking lot. I mean, this sucker was filled! We almost had to park at the Texaco next door. For some reason as soon as i walked inside the little hall up front my back started to throb. "That's what you get for running like some high-schhol kid, Brad.", I thought, trying to catch my breath. Then Johnny said, "Maybe you should cut down to a pack a day, buddy." We both started laughing and I thought nothing of it.We showed our cards, tipped the door-girl and went inside.
Brie's, as we call it, has a real nice layout. The main bar's right down the middle, and the main stage is on one side. The bathrooms and "second stages" are along the other, right by the entrance. The place itself is all jocked out. Lonnie, the owner, is a sports nut and a diehard Detroit Pistons fan. There's more pictures of that fat f**k with Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas than with half-naked teenage girls with coke sniffles. He flies up to michigan to watch at least twenty games a year, and never misses them in Denver or Dallas. I don't particularly like the guy, but I know him. And he has a table right up front, like usual. When he waves me and Johnny over, I didn't hesitate. I had to sit down, 'cause my back was killin' me.
The little blonde girl with the pierced belly-button's picking up her dollars and waving to the crowd when we sit down. And I mean, this was a crowd. Lonnie had to be a fire-capacity. In a tittie-bar, that's no small feat, too. "Give it up for Starla, boys!" , the DJ yelled. The place shook. Guess she was pretty good. Lonnie was clappin' like a lunatic, dreaming of all the money this bar was taking in. The end of Motley Crue's "Dr. Feelgood' came up and the familiar first bars of the Guess Who's "American Woman" piped in. "And now...", the DJ said, his voice dropping three octaves, "from Boston....Adult Superstar....MAGGIE MOUNDS!!!" OK. Why does every out-of-town stripper have to be labelled a superstar? I'd never heard of her. Thank God Lonnie ordered our drinks, because I woulda fallen over if I was standing.
My jaw dropped when I saw this woman. Beautiful green eyes, like the same color as a major-league ballpark outfield. And about as clear and distant. She must be doped up outta her mind, I thought. Incredible legs, and a bustline that would bring you to tears. The leather skirt-outfit thingie she was wearing coulda folded up in my hand. And then a random thought hit me. If she's all up in a leather goddess outfit, why is she wearing those old-lady earrings? For as incredible as this woman looked, those earrings just kept ahold of my attention. I'm glad Johnny didn't see this, 'cause he woulda never shut up about it. Then again, maybe I wish he woulda.
Maggie Mounds started to pull her leather crop-top over her head and it caught one of those earrings that kept pullin' my vision. The earring fell to the stage and she stopped swayin and lookin' sexy for just a moment. The gorgeous doped-up stripper had a head with snakes growing out of it and rotting teeth. It looked kinda like a cartoon I saw when I was a kid, with all the ancient heroes. I think it was called a Medusa. Before Jesus, all the saints, Joe DiMaggio, and Abe Lincoln, I just met a beast. I saw it, fifteen feet away Better yet, my needle saw it. It stopped making my back throb and started screaming in my head. F**k, great trade-off. I'm glad I was so shocked and disorientated, because that thing was looking to see if it got caught. The thing grabbed the earring and put it on in about three seconds, like it happened all the time. All of a sudden it was the pretty brunette again. She smiled directly at our table and winked at me (well, maybe at Lonnie or Johnny), and dropped her top. She looked like an above-average woman there too, not a monster.
The song ended and all the guys that were lined up across the stage sat down, as if their old TI showed up. It was almost like a formation. The DJ said Madam Mounds was taking a break and would be back in ten minutes. Some skinny Mexican girl came up with a tattoo on her ankle in the interim, and I told Johnny we needed to leave. We'd been drinking since seven o'clock, and we'd both spend the night in orange jumpsuits if we got pulled over. He agreed, and we got up to walk out. Once we got to the door, a cocktail waitress said she had something for me. Monique, according to her nametag, gave me a folded over note on Ramada stationery.
It said, "You know something. Room 818, if you want to live."
Of course, the signature of the bottom simply said Maggie.
Beula "Bull" Mansfield had been the sheriff in Purgatory for about 15 years. In those 15 years, she had managed to convince the town that there was no need to question whether or not she was up to the task of sheriffing. She had gotten the name "Bull" in 1985, she had broken Hal Mullin's nose when he'd refused to leave his girlfriend's house. Beula had been out there on more than one occasion, when Hal had seen fit to tie one on and use Susan as a punching bag. Hal was an ex-Merchant Marine who stood about 6' 5" and weighed a good 300 pounds. She had gotten the call in October of 1985, and knew that if Hal wasn't taken out of the house, he'd kill Susan for sure. Hal and Susan lived across the street from the Wild Boar Tavern, and half the town had seen her 5' 5" frame drag him out through the front door. Hal, drunk as usual, had swing wildly at her, and Beula responded with a solid crack to Hal's face. She felt the cartilage break as she did it, and Hal sunk crying into the street. "She broke the Bull!" someone had yelled from the crowd, and another responded "she's the new Bull!" giving her the name that she now wore with pride.
"Bull," her deputy, Spivy Lancaster was waving her over to the reserved parking spot where the body had been found. Bull looked up at the Wild Boar Tavern sign, longing for the days of Hal Mullin, when murder was only a possibility in Purgatory. "I've found something, Bull."
Bull walked over to the scene. The tape was still coiled around the parking space, tacked to spikes that Spivy had pounded into the asphalt as they hauled away the body. The parking lot was somewhat neglected, with bits of wild grass growing through the asphalt. Spivy was pointing at a mean burr of grass that had taken root between the asphalt and the concrete parking divider. A piece of white enamel was catching the afternoon sun. Bull bent down to pick it up.
It was a lapel pin. A goddamn lapel pin. Bull rolled it over in her hand. "SLAMMERS! Tulsa's #1 Sports Bar!" it screamed in large red letters over white enamel. The back was cheap tin, with a bent tip and no back clasp. But there was some blood. A few specks of blood that would most likely belong to their headless victim. Not that there would be any testing. The FBI boys had long since gone, laughing at Bull when she suggested that it had not been a local that had done in this woman and cut her head off.
"Spivy," Bull showed him the pin, "I told you that a local hadn't done this." I bet the bastard is from Oklahoma, trucked her all the way up to Purgatory and killed her here as some sort of sick joke. He's probably at home in bed, laughing his head off about the idiots in Purgatory thinking that one of them did in this woman."
"Still doesn't explain the marks." Spivy had a way for stating the obvious. "Those FBI boys promised to send us pictures, didn't they, Bull?"
"Yeah," Bull turned the pin over in her hand. "They promised, but a government promise don't mean a thing out here. We've gotta think carefully about our next move, Spivy."
"Yeah." Spivy continued to concentrate on the murder scene, hoping to find another piece that the FBI had missed.
I heard the FBI report. The decapitation was a little out of style for me, but this one had been special.
She'd ordered Grasshoppers. Grasshoppers - my girl behind the counter had to find the Mr. Boston's to figure out how to make it. The woman was 70, but could have easily passed for 50 if you didn't look too closely at her hands. They had been shaking ever since she'd walked into the bar, and were covered with liver spots. Her name was Ruby, not that I usually got to know these women, but it had been a while since I'd done one of the older gal's.
I'd watched her come into the bar, ordering grasshoppers and pretending to watch the Kansas game. The waitresses had commented on her age a bit, wondering if she had come in to play Mrs. Robinson with an unsuspecting patron. She had ordered three cocktails, and I could tell that she was going to be perfect. When she ordered her fourth, I made my move and took the drink over personally.
"A gem of a drink for a jewel of a lady," I said as I set the drink down and smiled at her. I waited for her to make eye contact, and then I winked.
I caught Loree scowling at me from behind the woman, but paid no attention. Loree assumed that I was simply trying to screw these women, looking for one-night stands that I knew I'd never have to call again. If only Loree knew the truth, I thought to myself, she'd be a little less judgmental about whether or not I was playing the horizontal bop with these women.
I had just about given up on this woman responding to my charming bartender routine when she finally spoke up, "how'd you know?" she asked.
"Know what, darlin'?" I gave her my best southern drawl as I sat down at her table.
"That I'm a jewel!" she was slurring her words and gulping down the last bit of her fourth drink. "My name's Ruby," she held out her liver-spotted hand.
I took it. "My name's Cal," as I held her hand I began to feel that rush I had felt the first time with 'Crazy Mary.' This one was just as special. This one was no fix. This one was going to be one of the big highs. I knew I had to reel this one in carefully so that I could enjoy the fix all the way up until the end. "What brings you to my humble establishment?"
"You own all of this!" Ruby was impressed. "You make a delicious grasshopper at this place, Cal." She held the empty glass towards me.
"Are you sure you want a drink?" I leaned closer to her, "I was thinking about sneaking out of here and playing hooky tonight."
She smiled. I knew I had her. "You mind having an old jewel keep you company, then?"
I got up and helped her put on her coat. As I eased into my jacket, she fingered one of the promotional lapel pins that I had gotten when Tulsa Monthly Magazine had voted the bar the number one sports bar in the city.
"Are you bragging, or is there a contest for this?" Ruby was still fingering the lapel of my coat.
"I believe in truth in advertising, Ruby. You can look it up in Tulsa Monthly." I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and led her outside. "Do you feel like an adventure tonight?"
"Yes, Cal. I believe I do." With that, I led Ruby out to my truck. When I got in, I began to drive west, not really knowing just what I'd be saving Ruby for.
The high was fine while it lasted, leather and lace and the sweet burn of really great brandy. But just like every needle that ever was, the crash was as extreme as the flight. The higher you go, the harder you fall, doesn't matter if its sex or drugs or death.
I sailed through the rest of the night at the bar, after I took sweet Sabrina's head off, but the morning after came too hard and way too soon. The needle loved me when it wanted to be fed, but it wouldn't even let me sleep it off on the down side of the ride.
I got off work at three, and fell into bed around four. I was up with the sun at six thirty, waking from a dream of Sabrina's head rolling off the seat and onto the floor of her car. Then it was pause, rewind, start again. And there was no rush in the dream. Only horror and revulsion.
Swamped with guilt and feverish with horror, I staggered into the kitchen and pulled the Jack Daniels out of the cupboard. I hated myself the morning after, and the only solution I new was total, drunken unconsciousness. I took the first pull right from the mouth of the bottle, long and hard, barely noticing the burn. I longed for oblivion, the sooner the better.
My death thing was an addiction in every way. A needle through and through. The longer it went on, the more it demanded. Snuffing 'Crazy Mary' had been a total high that first time. Quick and pretty, no muss, no fuss. But the stakes seemed to rise with every hit.
It had been three years since that far away summer day and at first, the kill was enough. The high would last a couple of days, and the need never got strong again for at least a month. But it started catching up with me the around the anniversary of that first kill. The crash didn't come any faster at first, but it was harder when it did. I started to feel the guilt bad the first time I saw a picture in the paper of the family that had been left behind. What the hell was I doing? When I was in this way, I'd swear off forever. And forever always lasted until the next time.
The need would build and I'd do it again. I'd find a hapless drunk, or a street hooker or some other outcast who wouldn't have too many grieving relatives, and I'd go flying. Then the need started building faster between fixes, forever getting shorter with each hit, and I'd be hunting again. I got less and less choosy when the needle was really screaming at me, and I started to get the guilts worse and worse in the aftermath.
About six months ago, I could tell it was changing again, the high wasn't as sweet, and the need was coming back so much quicker. Death just wasn't enough anymore. The needle wanted violence too. I'd been able to hold off on too much contact with my victims to this point, and that was good, 'cause I really didn't want to know anything about them. When I offed someone like Sabrina, someone I'd actually talked to, the crash was much worse. So bad I could barely stand it. But deep inside I knew that was going to end soon.
The needle wanted blood, and it was going to get it, no two ways about it. Even so, I had no idea it would change so fast, with such a vengeance, and that's another thing that gets me thinking about jumping and being pushed. There were times when it felt like the needle was alive, driving the train I was riding straight toward a solid rock wall.
The bottle had been almost full when I started, and it took me about fifteen minutes to finish it off. My stomach was empty and it didn't take long for the effects to set in. I was staggering as I headed back to the cupboard for whatever else might be there to fuel the train ride to darkness. I found a half full bottle of Cuervas Gold, and managed to get the lid off. I spilled more than I swallowed getting it up to my mouth, and then I was falling into the blanketing, empty silence.
It was always like that going down. Falling into a darkness that just got blacker and blacker, as all the sounds of the world around faded out like the end of record. Coming up was different. Coming up was sudden and confusing.
My hands were wet, and my jaw hurt. That's what I noticed first. My face was wet too, and sticky, and my eyes were messed up. There was a pale red haze over everything, and nothing was clear, nothing recognizable. Then the smell slipped to the front of my brain and I thought I was going to puke. It was thick and coppery, hot and foul, and I knew even before I heard myself whisper the word, that it was blood.
I tried to wipe my eyes with the back of my hand and only made it worse. I staggered to my feet, realizing two things without even thinking. I was in my own kitchen, and the red wasn't just in my eyes. It was everywhere, on everything in sight. I stumbled over to the sink, turned on the tap, and splashed water in my face clearing my eyes. Then I turned back to the room, the water still running behind me, and wished I'd left bad enough alone.
The blood was everywhere. The room was coated in it. The floor, the walls, the table and chairs, the fridge and stove all drenched in blood. There were even splashes on the ceiling. And crumpled in the middle of the floor was the dead fountain which had painted the room so thoroughly. The body was so torn up I couldn't tell at first whether it was a man or a woman. The long hair had made me think woman first, but I was far from sure. I had to look twice and then closely to be certain. It was a woman, and kneeling beside her, blood soaking through the knees of my jeans, I knew who she was.
I whispered her name, as I started to stand. I took a step back, slipped on the slick floor, went down hard, and just lay there. I whispered her name again. Mona. And then I started to scream.
© Stephen Milligan, 1997