Copyright 2001, held by author
They left her on the bedroom floor. Sobs convulsed her body so severely she vomited. Outside, absolutely no breeze came off the nearby ocean. The night was so muggy the air hung like mucus. In this wealthy suburban neighborhood, the houses were huge, surrounded by vast green lawns and white rock gardens and palm trees rising up like disjointed pillars. They got into the car and drove down the long drive way.
Al was in his forties and Dominic was in his twenties. Al began patting the pockets of his suit jacket, searching for his small glass vial of heroin.
He had to repeat Dom a few times before getting his partner’s attention.
“Snap out of it. Steady the wheel for a minute while I take a whiff.”
The younger man reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, but his unsteady grasp made the car veer off onto the grass along the side of the road. Al slapped his hand away, grabbed the steering wheel and guided the car back into the lane. ”You’re shaking like you got palsy. Hey, your face.”
“She got you Dom, look in the rearview.” The woman’s salon-styled nails had gouged three deep lacerations into his cheek. Spots of blood oozed from the cut skin.
“Dammit. I didn’t feel anything.”
“Wipe your face at least.” Al handed him a clean, folded white handkerchief. Made of cloth. He was an old fashioned guy. He always wore a tie, used cloth handkerchiefs, carried his cigarettes in a gold cigarette case and used a solid gold zippo lighter. Al laughed, but it was a good natured laugh, only a little sarcastic. Unusual for him. He had a temper, and even during the two days of driving down to Florida, was on Dominic’s case a lot. Now the surliness was gone. “It’ll fade away in a couple of days.“
“I don’t like it that she marked me.”
“It ain’t going to scar. Hey, forget about it, will you? It’s done. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”
“I’m not nervous. I don’t know why I’m shaking.” Dominic found his cigarettes in the side pocket of his leather bomber jacket and put one in his mouth. As he searched for his lighter, Al got his gold zippo out of his breast pocket and handed it to his partner. He set fire to the end of the cigarette, clicked his tongue against the edge of this teeth. “I don’t know, Al. I didn’t expect to feel this way when the boss gave us this job. You ever do anything like this?”
“I don’t think about things I do. After I do them, I mean. What’s done can’t be undone, remember that.”
They were driving a Jaguar with Florida plates. They were an hour away from her husband’s mansion when they came to the small, deserted rest area where they had parked the large, black Lexus with New Jersey plates, in which they had driven down south. It was near a pay phone.
They got out of the car, Dominic walked behind a small tree and took a leak. Al took out his cellphone, made a long distance call, and just said, “yeah.” About a minute later, the pay phone rang. Al picked up the receiver. “Just like we were told. Yeah. Okay. No problems at all. He did fine. Real good in fact. Okay. Okay. I’m going to stop in Atlanta, get a decent meal and some sleep. We’ll be back, two, three days, something like that. Thanks.”
The rest area only had some parking spaces, a picnic table, a rest room that was closed down, and the pay phone. There were some bushes and young trees and a fence, a smelly, long pond near the fence and a shoreline beyond the fence. Dominic had his hands in his jacket pockets, staring towards the general vicinity of the water.
Domnic knew how to be violent, he could handle himself, but this time he felt different. He had never been viscous. Even when he killed Tito, a Colombian scum bag who had stolen their money, it wasn’t viscous. Tito was the only person he had ever killed by himself, alone. His job. He shot him in the back of the head. One bullet. Dominic had nightmares about it for months. He had given beatings to more guys than he could remember and never thought about them much. Nightmares about this, though—he expected them to be worse than hair and blood and skull and brains exploding. They could even become more than nightmares.
Dominic thought about the way Al, after they both had raped her, slammed his fist into her stomach, then bit her ear lobe until it bled and said, “tell your husband to drop the case, or else we’ll come back and do the same to your daughter.”
Al was leaning against the Lexus sniffing heroin. He called out to Dominic, “Watch out for the Alligators.”
“It’s Florida, man. They crawl around all over the place down here. They’re always attacking people. Eat you whole. Like sharks. Big ass jaws. Hey, relax, will you.” Al opened the trunk of the New Jersey car. “I got everything we could use for the trip. Booze, speed, coke, smack, pot. Cigarettes. Candy bars. Just forget about it, have a drink.”
Al handed him a bottle of Jack Daniels. Dominic cracked the seal and twisted open the cap and took a long swallow.
“Salud,” said Al, who took a drink and handed him the bottle back.
“What are you talking about alligators.”
“You never heard about alligators in Florida? All over. They hide in pools and attack little children. At least in New York, they keep them in the sewers.” Al laughed at his own joke but Dominic didn’t even smile. “God, if you’re going to be like this all the way back home it’s going to be one hell of a long drive.”
“Sorry.” He gulped more booze. “I’ll be fine.”
“Right.” Al opened the gas cap of the Jaguar. He got out the white sheet from the new jersey car, unfolded it then rolled it into a long rope and stuck one end of the sheet into the gas tank, opened the passenger side door of the Jaguar, and put the other end of the sheet on the front seat. Then he got a canister of lighter fluid, sprayed the seats and the sheet.
“Get in the car,” said Al. “Let’s go.”
“Want me to drive.”
Al picked a cigarette out of the gold case. “I’ll drive.”
“Al, I’m fine, and you’re sniffing smack.”
“I said I’ll drive.” He lit the cigarette, became a nice guy again. “I’m okay, I’ll start and you can pitch in if I get tired. It’s about eight hours to Atlanta. We can rest there. I got a reservation at a good hotel. I’m just sniffing, to keep the edge off.”
Al took a few puffs, flicked the cigarette on to the front seat. As flames appeared on the upholstery and the sheet caught fire, they were in the car driving away.
Dominic kept sipping from the bottle. After an hour or so, Dominic said, “I just didn’t like doing this. I’m not like that.”
“It was a job, just forget about it.”
“We were brutal to her.”
“Look, she deserved it. She’s a lawyer’s wife and this lawyer is causing a big mess for some friends of ours. Her husband is a scum bag and that’s what we had to do. We scared her pretty good, don’t you think.”
“I don’t care about using my fists on anybody. But, shit. I never had to use my cock.”
“You weren’t making love to her, or even having sex. It was just sending a message.”
“I feel weird.”
“I’m going to take that bottle away if you keep talking. The best way to forget about things, is to not talk about them. So shut the fuck up.”
They ate breakfast at some place Al knew outside of Atlanta. Al had biscuits and gravy and grits, which he covered with molasses. Dominic ordered eggs, which he didn’t finish.
They got to the hotel a couple of hours later, a luxury hotel filled with business people, white collar types.
The room was large, clean, with two beds. Al sat on one of them and got out his works, which he kept in a small leather case. He took off his jacket and shirt, tied a piece of rubber hosing around his large bicep, lit the small white candle that he kept in the case and began slapping his forearm searching for a vein.
“How can you do that stuff and still stay in shape Al?”
“None of your business what I do!” he snapped, but then got friendly again. “Look, everyone’s got a jones. You just got to be smart about the jones, regulate it, so you control it and it don’t control you. We deserve to party and relax a little down here, don’t you think?”
“I’m going to take a shower.”
Memories grow dim, it happens to all and any type of memory. Just a matter of waiting. Dominic knew he could, he would, forget this one. Never completely. Things always come back, often without request. Images echo until you die but at least, it’s just an echo, inspired by an incident or just random; but that takes time, takes waiting, for it to fade, for it to hide. The ability to stop thinking about it, that would come. He just had to wait it out.
Dominic rubbed the steam off the mirror. Her fingernail tracks had started to scab.
He came out of the bathroom wearing the thick white complimentary bathrobe the hotel provided.
“Hey Dominic, can you believe this?” Al, stoned, was watching CNN. The story was about the Mideast. The footage showed Israeli tanks, and then Palestinians chanting in a demonstration, burning American, Israeli and UN flags. “It’s unbelievable. The Jews and Arabs, they ain’t never going to get along. Everybody hates the Jews.”
“I don’t hate the Jews,” said Dominic, lighting a cigarette and sitting in a cushioned chair near Al’s bed, uninterested in anything on the television screen.
“I know you don’t and I don’t. I don’t love them either. You got to watch them when you do business with them, but you can do business with them. Moshi, he knows how to cook the books for the club and he’s a tough dude. He looks like a nerd and has that nasal thing when he speaks. He’s no fag though, not at all.”
When Dominic didn’t respond, Al said, “You got to get out of this sullen mood, you’re boring the shit out of me.”
“Look at this thing on my face.You say I should stop thinking about what we did, but see, I got this reminder. Even when I don’t look at it I know it’s there. I hear the woman. I see the woman.”
“Don’t think of her as a woman. It was just a job. She’s like any man who got in the way. In fact, worse. A bitch, okay. It’s not a tattoo. It will go away before you know it.”
“What about Maria. She’s going to see this, ask me about it, get all jealous or something.”
“Just make up some story when we get home, like you scratched yourself shaving.”
“I use an electric razor.”
“You know you can lie to her. She doesn’t know about your other snatches, does she? I can’t believe you’re not man enough to control your girl.”
“That’s just it, Al, it’s about being a man. A man, strong and shit, that’s what being a man is, right?”
“You’re either a man or you ain’t. I don’t see the mental controversy here.”
“We were animals.”
“It was just a job.”
“I didn’t mind terrorizing her, threatening her and stuff. I didn’t mind pushing her around .But the other, I can’t get used to.”
“We did what we were told. We don’t think, we do. It’s easy money too and no risk. That bitch, she’ll get over it and she won’t do nothing, because of her kid. That husband will stop doing what he is doing. End of story.”
“But I liked it. I didn’t like doing it, that’s not what I’m saying. But doing it, when I was inside her and banging her, I don’t know if I was having sex with her or just beating her in a different way. I just know that it felt good, that I had to pound one out, I had to finish. I was an animal.”
“It’s over. That was just one moment, there’s lots more to come. Enjoy the rest of them.”
“It was wrong.”
“What isn’t wrong? I don’t think about it, I don’t feel anything about it and I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
“So, we’re here in this beautiful hotel, we can get some kip.”
“Sleep. Kip’s an old word for it. My old man used to say it. Sleep. We get some sleep. I know this real good restaurant where we can get some of them ribs and southern shit. Collard Greens. It’s good, you should try it. Then we can trade off driving and be home in day or so. How does that sound?”
“I’m too wired to get some kip.”
“Funny guy. Want to order to some room service. Do you want anything?”
“I could use a beer.”
Al picked up the room service menu he had been looking at while Dominic was in the shower then reached for the phone. “Four Heinekens. Ice cold. And put the glasses in ice. And two pieces of the Mississippi Mud Cake, and some water. Yeah, a pitcher of water. Sounds good.”
“Al, I’m not hungry.”
“The desert is for me. I have a craving for something sweet..”
“You still sullen,” asked Al. They were eating in a place called Plantation Kitchen. Al ordered several dishes—ribs, fried chicken, collard greens, sweet potato french fries, hush puppies, corn bread.
“I’m fine. A little tired, maybe,” said Dominic, who had ordered a steak. He wasn’t hungry. Each bite made him queasy. “I couldn’t really get any kip.”
“Wise guy. What, you ain’t hungry either?”
“Dom, you got to get over yourself about this job.” Al signaled the waiter. “Two more Mint Juleps.”
“I don’t really want another, they taste funny.”
“Indulge me. Get used to the taste. Let me give you some advice.” He lit a cigarette. The attentive waiter reappeared with two silver glasses on a tray.
“Do you want me to take that away sir,” said the waiter, as he placed the glasses on the table.
“Does it look like I’m done? I’ll be done when I tell you, okay. I’m just taking a break.”
When the waiter left, Al said. “They’re hicks down here. Now listen, okay. We’ve done a lot of stuff together and I know that you’ve made your bones. This was no different than the other crap. You can’t worry about people who get in the way of our business. The world, the world is bitter, painful crap. We got skin and muscle and we shit and fuck so we are part of it. But it’s just bullshit. Nothing. Just crap. Fancy wrapping but everybody gets the same gift, death.”
“I can’t get it out of my mind. Viscous. Like an animal, like I have no soul.”
“You’re good to your family, your friends. That’s what matters. That’s the only world that matters.. The rest of it, the real world, the crap we do and deal with, you got to be in it, you got to do what you got to do, but you can’t let it be part of you. What you do and who you are, you got to separate it, be in it, but not part of it or it part of you.”
He leaned forward, “why did we get asked to do this?”
Al shrugged, “We’ve been working a lot together and we’re part of the crew. Everybody else was busy.”
“Was there something about me though. That they thought I could do this, that I could be good at it.”
Al ripped off a piece of cornbread, dabbed it in the barbecue sauce residue that dripped from the ribs to his plate. He shoved it into his mouth and stared at his partner. Dominic blinked, shifted in his seat, looked away “We got picked for one reason, they couldn’t trust anybody in Florida. They needed dependable people and didn’t want to cause any flags going up by contracting out for it. There were no evaluations of tendencies, either yours or mine.”
“I just feel weird.”
“You know and I know you’ll get over it. Only you, me and the boss knows about it. You ever hear that old song, accentuate the positive.”
“What’s that the Beatles or something?”
Al laughed, “I ought to smack you, the Beatles! Ha! It’s just an old song, I forget who sang it, probably Frank. My point is the meaning. Why dwell on the negative when you can dwell on the positive. This was an easy job. We were never in danger of getting hurt or killed or even arrested. All we had to do was rough up some bitch and shoot a load.”
Dominic cut a piece of steak but then put down his fork. “I just don’t want to be changed.”
“I accept our work. That we have to do things. But when, you do things, the more you do them, the easier it gets when you have to do them the next time. I don’t want this to become easier. I don’t want that kind of change.”
“This wasn’t typical of the jobs we’re asked to do and you know that.” Al’s thick fingers whitened as he clenched his fork. He ate a few bites of greens, picked off a shred of pork from the rib and chewed. A few minutes passed, then he just sighed. “I think I know what you are worried about, Dom. Associating what you had to do with like sex and screwing and stuff. I got an idea though.”
“Of how you shake it off, these things you’re feeling. A little entertainment before we go. Finish up.”
“Then watch me eat. You can’t get ribs like this above the mason dixon line. And the pecan pie here is incredible.”
Dominic was alone in one of The Gold Key Club’s private VIP rooms. The music was piped in from the dance area of the club, but unlike where the strippers entertained the male customers, it was not ear blasting. He sat in a thick leather chair, alongside it was a small metal stand on which sat his drink, a glass of beer, a small ice bucket with another bottle of beer and an ashtray. The room was dim, low lights, although there was a small spot light above him illuminating the chair and the area directly in front of it. If the light was brighter, it would look like an interrogation room from the movies.
Dominic didn’t want to be here. Al said to get him out of the sullen mood, he had to erase the associations. He wouldn’t listen to Dominic’s objections. Al knew one of the owners. A private room with a pretty girl. A little fun for his partner. Al also insisted that he snort some cocaine. Pick up his spirits he said. Maybe he was right. Instead of thinking about what they did to that woman last night, he was just thinking about how he hated doing drugs, how instead of euphoria, a headache was gnawing at him. He lit a cigarette as the door opened, and a tall woman walked in, smiling.
She was blonde. Her hair was stiffened by hair spray and curled down to her shoulders. She wore a long, neon green dress that glowed in the shadows. She introduced herself as Katrina. Her accent was Slavic—Russian or Ukrainian or Polish. He didn’t ask. Just another immigrant girl in America using her youth to make money.
“Dom, like Dominic. Short for Dominic. You can call me Dominic if it’s easier.”
“No, Dom’s easy for me. I guess I didn’t hear right. I think the music here is hurting my hearing. It’s so much loud.”
He put the cigarette between his lips, clenching it with his teeth. Her flimsy, glowing gown was slit up the front to right below her crotch, revealing the skin of her thigh and calf.
“Is everything okay?”
“I can see if there’s another girl, available. If you don’t like me.”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care?”
“I mean, you’re fine.”
“They told me you’re a special guest.”
“I do whatever you want. Unsupervised and no holes barred. Do you want me to start dancing.”
“Katrina, I don’t know what I want you to do. This was my friend’s idea.”
She nodded. “Do you mind if I have a cigarette before what ever happens happens?”
“I don’t have no cigarettes with me.”
He handed her his pack, and his lighter. She lit up, still standing there, holding her elbow with one hand as the other hand put the cigarette to her mouth.
“Can I sit on your lap? I feel like sitting down to smoke and I don’t feel like sitting down on the floor.”
He straightened his back against the chair and she sat down. “Most guy’s are a little more enthusiastic, I hope you’re not angry.”
“Not with you. I didn’t want to be here and I feel a little weird, sorry.”
She had a nice face. She was pretty.
“What happened,” she said, pointing at the three red lines etched on his cheek
“It looks like finger nail scratches. Unless you have a cat.”
“Give me a break, will you?”
“I don’t want to get you mad.”
“No, you don’t. Let’s get this show on the road. What do you usually do.”
“Dance, strip. Get you excited, then get you off. I can touch you, but you can’t touch me.”
His hand clamped on her breast. “Like that you mean?”
He gave it a slight twist.
“You’re hurting me, not so rough.”
He let go. “But you said no holes barred.”
“You connected, I know. I’m sorry I said that stuff, about not being touched, letting you touch. That was forced habit. What we have to tell the regular people, it’s not for you. If you want, I’ll get a rubber.”
“Forget about that, and forget sexy talk. I’m sorry I grabbed you like I did. Get off my lap, all right?”
She stood up. “I’ll go if you want. I’ll dance if you want. I don’t want to get you angry.”
“Stop with the getting me angry noise.”
She put the cigarette out in the ashtray and stood in front of him, then started to move her shoulders. She shifted her shoulder blades back and forth, rotating her waist and raising her arms about her head. Then she lowered her hands behind her to unhook the back of her dress and shimmied out of it by moving her shoulders up and down, alternating them like a see-saw. The expression on her face was completely blank, like a somnambulist. Did she feel sexy, did she feel turned on or did she feel like she was turning him on, did she feel in control of her sexual power or did she feel humiliated? Both the silliness of her movements and the lack of any thought or feeling readable on her face started to make Dominic furious.
“Stop,” he hissed between clenched teeth. She didn’t hear him at first as the polyester dress slipped down to her waist. He grabbed her wrists, pulling her closer. “I said stop. I don’t want to see you gyrate or do the fake fuck-me moves you do for the saps that spend their expense accounts in this dump. Just take off your clothes. Don’t dance. Naked. I just want to look at you naked. Okay? Understand?”
He was still holding on to her wrists, it would take little effort to break her arms, to injure her. There was an expression on her face now—fear. “Maybe it’s best if I go.”
“I’m not like this, you know. I am, I have been, a nice guy.”
“You’re not a nice guy.”
“I was, with women I was.” He was breathing heavily, sweat dripped down the sides of his face. He looked at her and stammered something but his grasp eased and her fear turned into a kind of puzzlement. Then he pulled her closer to him and she didn’t resist, realizing, that he only wanted to kiss her. He let go of her wrists, she fell onto him and he embraced her and after the second kiss she saw that he was trembling all over and fragments of tears were in his eyes.
“It’s okay, calm down, just calm down, Don.”
“Dom!” he said, but he wasn’t mad anymore.
“Dom,” she laughed. Then she stood up again and in less than a minute was out of her bra, kicked off her heels and unsnapped the stockings from the garter belt and down to just a thong, which she quickly stepped out of and tossed to his lap. “Do you like?”
“Me, Dom. My body.” She was still, her hands by her sides, her legs slightly apart. “Want me to do anything. Do you want to watch me do anything? Or I could watch you.”
“Do you want to do anything to me.”
His hands twisted the thong as he stared at her. “Forget about it, this, this is fine.”
She squeezed her breasts, shook and danced a little. “Hey, they won’t like it if you don’t come out of here happy. I’m clean you know. We get tested a lot. Why are you looking at me like that?”
His teeth were grinding. The skin on his cheeks was stretched so tight the scabs separated and fresh blood emerged. He wanted to rip her body apart with his hands, crush the saline out of her breasts, pound her until the pounding in his head stopped.
“Look,” his voice was whispering. “Just get out of here. Just get out of here.”
She turned around and went away.
He put the thong in his mouth and bit it in two, then picked up her dress and tore it to shreds until he heard someone outside the door.
Al was dipping a praline into the whipped cream topped Irish Coffee as a topless girl rubbed the back of his neck and laughed at his jokes.
“Can we go now?” said Dominic as he walked up to him.
“You get a private party and now you—“
“Al, we should go. Now.”
Al grimaced, squinted at his young partner and just nodded.
* * *
Al was snoring, sleeping in an opiated haze. Dawn splintered across the sky. Trees and mountains surrounded the road. He didn’t know how long he had been driving.
He remembered something that happened a couple of years ago. He and Al and a couple of the other guys shot up these two Russians in the basement of a restaurant. The place was closed, it was late at night. The Russians had it coming, deserved it. Dominic and the guys hacked up the corpses, put the limbs and pieces in plastic bags, dumped the plastic bags in rivers and land fills all across New Jersey. They scrubbed down the basement where the killing took place so it smelled liked Lysol and ammonia and not death. No traces of the men, of their death.
When Dominic came back to his apartment, he showered for a long time. Then he called Maria and told her to come right over, even though she had to leave work early and he had sex with her. Again and Again. He couldn’t get enough of her body. He needed that feeling of life and warm flesh and something that felt completely unlike death.
He didn’t want to think of what he now wanted to do to Maria. He hoped he had the strength not to call her, at least, not for a few days. He didn’t want to think this new jones would not disappear. He didn’t want to think about the brand new sunlight pouring all over the trees and distant mountains. As long as the car kept moving forward north he didn’t have to think at all.