Authors: Baer Will Christopher
Whoa, I say. Don’t freak.
How did you find me? she says.
Doesn’t matter, does it?
I’ve been tracking you, feels like forever. Finally landed in Flagstaff, where I talked to a couple guys named Rabbit and Steve.
Her eyes flicker dark. How were they?
She nods. I felt bad about that.
I’m not the same, she says. Not the same as you knew me.
She scowls. Everything, my heart. My head.
Come on, I say. From the look of that guy in the alley, his eyes gouged out and missing his hair, I’d say you’ve reverted perfectly to form.
It’s impossible, isn’t it? For a man to imagine what it’s like.
I’ve tried, Jude. I’ve spent five years trying.
And you’ll never get it.
There is a soft knock at the door and Jude has a gun in her hand before I can blink.
Expecting someone? she says.
I ordered a milkshake, I say.
Rustle and sigh and dead leaves falling.
How boyish, she says.
Jude bends close to me and slips the gun under the mattress, the
back of her hand just touching my leg. Our eyes crash together.
What have you become? I say.
Very careful, she says.
Jude goes to the door and I am alone for a moment. Breathe and release. Two minutes in this room and she is well under my skin. That’s the trouble with the human body. My ex-girlfriend is armed and dangerous, and I have an erection. This is how people wind up on afternoon talk shows. Blood rush and I stand up, cross the room on stiff legs. I pick up one of the blue sneakers and turn it over in my hands. Size 9, a man’s shoe. Jude wears a woman’s 7. I lift the sneaker to my face and it smells new. I turn around as Jude returns with a silver room service tray. Thick milkshake in tall glass and stainless steel beaker. She places the tray on the coffee table and crouches there, not smiling. I watch as she lifts the milkshake to her mouth, then swabs the white cream from her dark lips.
How is it? I say.
I sink into one of the Beowulf chairs and let the sneaker fall from my hand.
Who is the runner?
Jude stares. Friend of mine, she says.
Does he have a name?
Jude sips the whiskey.
I tell myself not to push. I watch her throat move. She sits on the bed beside me, our hands not quite touching. The yellow mattress is a dirty lemon sky between us. Jude sinks back into that sky, her hair dark as seaweed. She balances the drink on her tummy and a lazy smile drifts across her face and disappears as if chased away by memory. I hesitate, then lie down beside her. Together we stare at the ceiling like two kids looking for reptiles in the clouds. We are surrounded
by the sky.
I’m glad to see you, I say.
I’m not ready to have sex with you, she says.
Who said anything about sex?
I just want to be clear, she says.
Okay, she says.
This is a nice room, I say.
Jude looks around. It’s obscene, she says.
How are you paying for it?
Don’t be rude, she says.
What are we doing here, then?
There is a long silence.
Jude swallows the last of the whiskey and allows her arm to fall lifeless on the bed. She closes her eyes and stops breathing for a moment and I remember a fetish of hers that I never much cared for. Once in a while, Jude liked to pretend she was dead while I fucked her, a beautiful dead girl. The glass rolls out of her hand and across the mattress. She sits up and slowly turns her doll’s head around to stare at me. Her eyes are glowing and suddenly I don’t recognize her at all. I feel my body go tense.
I found them, she says. The three of them.
Yes. I saw the photos in the bathroom.
She sits up and lights a smoke. Handsome, aren’t they?
Now there are two, I say.
Yes, she says.
What will we do with them?
Kill them, she says. Slow and careful.
The silence in the room is like copper in my mouth.
I followed the brother, I say. Today, after that scene in the alley.
Sugar Finch? she says.
Yeah, I say.
Don’t you love that name? she says, bitterly.
I love it.
Where to? she says.
A hotel called the Alamo.
I had him. Then lost him. He’s dangerous.
That’s okay, she says. It will be nicer to kill him together.
I hope so, I say.
Jude glances at her watch and sucks in her breath.
We’re gonna be late, she says.
The fuck. Late for what?
Jude doesn’t look at me.
Where are we going?
She touches her mouth with two fingers barely trembling and I remember how she used to sink into these funky silences just before she was about to lie to me.
Shopping, she says. I need a new pair of shoes.
I stare at her, wondering if she knows how psychotic she sounds.
Jude smiles. Come on. Your baby needs a new pair of shoes.
There follows a strange hazy almost domestic moment as Jude and I gather ourselves and prepare to go out. She touches up her makeup. I give my shoes a fast polish with spit and a washcloth. I brush my teeth, washing away the taste of booze and smoke. Jude examines my face the way she used to, checking my skin for blemishes. Our faces close together, sharing the same air. I can almost taste her smoky lips. I can feel the burn of her eyes as she takes care of a blackhead for me, and all the while the words your baby ring in the air.
I have to ask, Jude.
Did you have the baby?
She kisses my left eye. What do you think?
OWN TO THE SURFACE IN A HUMMING BOX
and the elevator game resumes between us as if we have not been apart more than a day. Jude stands on the far side of the box, rocking slightly back and forth and cleaning her fingernails with the edge of a key. She is the only woman I know who can clean her nails and give the impression that she is stripping down an assault rifle. I slouch on the far wall and stare rudely at her. The elevator game has two rules: Jude and I are strangers and we must stand on opposite sides of the box, no matter how crowded. Otherwise we are free to stare and flirt openly, to speak or not speak.
The elevator shivers and stops on the ninth floor.
A man and woman get on, a married couple in their sixties. The man has gray hair almost blue. Black wool overcoat. The woman wears a string of pearls and her face is stretched and glossy with Botox and plastic surgery. I imagine she has a poodle at home, and a hired dogwalker. The two of them smile and nod and move to the back wall but I can’t acknowledge them because I am staring at Jude, who stands with her eyes closed and her arms crossed over her
breasts. She is trembling slightly. Her eyes seem brighter, perhaps because her face has gone pale. I don’t know if this is arousal or anger or what and I think it might be terrifying if there were a blackout right now and the elevator stopped between floors.
I would not be afraid for myself, but for them. Because I have a feeling that Jude might do something well north of freaky.
What the fuck are you staring at? Jude says softly, to me.
The old woman with altered face is so visibly uncomfortable I’m afraid she might pee on herself.
Nothing, I say. I’m sorry.
The game is over when one of us apologizes. Jude comes close to me and I can smell her. Oranges and musk. I am intensely aware of her every bone and muscle, her small round breasts. Her long, volatile throat and dark eyes. The old guy to my left is making damp, fleshy noises in his throat and shifting on his feet. Jude looks at him, smiles sweetly.
This world, she says. Then the fireworks.
Pardon? the old man says.
Jude turns to me.
Empty your pockets, she says.
Ah, says the old man. Excuse me.
Jude’s left hand snakes out and touches the emergency stop button. The elevator heaves mightily and stops between floors.
What’s going on?
Impromptu theater, she says.
Let these people go. They don’t need to be here.
No one is going anywhere, she says.
Please, says the old woman. Please. I have asthma.
Jude pokes her index finger into her mouth and slowly withdraws
it, staring at me with lazy eyes.
Asthma, says the woman.
Her husband makes a clucking sound and she slumps against him. He puts his arm around her and pats her shoulder.
Well? says Jude.
I thought you weren’t ready for sex, I say.
Jude grunts. A blowjob is not sex. It’s a favor, a service.
That’s great. Let them go.
No, she says. Empty your fucking pockets.
The old guy sniffs. Think you better empty your pockets, son.
I crouch and empty my pockets onto the floor. There isn’t much. A clump of money, two hundred dollars or so. A half pack of cigarettes, a book of matches. Pocket knife. The key to Jude’s hotel room. Sugar Finch’s wallet, thin and useless. Jude takes it all, putting everything in her bag. She counts the money, then puts it away too.
Having fun? I say.
Not yet, she says.
The growl of a zipper and now Jude gives me something in return. The gun she was waving about before, the little black automatic, a Walther P22.
What is this? I say.
It’s a gun, sweetie. Do you like it?
I turn it over and over in my hands. Black steel under fluorescent light. The gun fits nicely in my palm. To my left, the old woman is breathing like a wounded horse and I think she’s going to have a heart attack. I run a hand through my hair and it comes away wet.
Do you like it? says Jude.
Yes, I say. It’s very nice. Why are you giving it to me?
Jude shrugs. Would you rather lie around that hotel room and wait for the world to end?
I stare at her. Would I rather lie around the hotel room waiting for the world to end than what?
This is about the old man, she whispers.
What about him?
He’s a molester.
Please, I say.
Look at him, she says. Look at him.
I glance to my left and imagine the old guy down on his knees. Eyes pink and streaming. The old man has manicured hands, immaculate clothes. He doesn’t look like a molester but then they never do. I see a hole in his forehead the size of a quarter.
What are you looking at, sir? says the old man in a quavering voice.
Do you have an erection? Jude says, to me.
Jesus. This isn’t funny, Jude.
Do you? she says.
I touch myself. This level of public intimacy is like waking up covered in sweat.
Well? she says.
Like a dead bird, I say.
Jude sighs. Maybe you should consider therapy.
Are you going to shoot the old man? she says.
He’s not a molester, I say.
There’s no way of knowing that, she says. Maybe the wife knows.
The old woman begins to weep. Jude folds her arms across her chest and stares at me.
And if I say no?
Then I might just kiss you goodbye, she says. You could find yourself walking out of here with the clothes you are wearing, a pack
of cigarettes and a gun. I imagine you are resourceful enough to find your way home.
I don’t have a home.
Jude sighs. It’s a figure of speech.
The old woman continues to weep. The sound is like that of a radio stuck between two stations. I look at the gun in my hand. I wouldn’t care to hitchhike back to Flagstaff. There is a lot of desert between here and there and the sun would be unfriendly. I could possibly carjack a tourist and rob a few convenience stores for cash and food. But I would most likely get shot by a kid with pimples and a plastic name-tag and besides, I just got here. I lift the gun. I touch it to Jude’s head, gently. The old man groans.
I want my money back, I say.
Jude yawns. What?
The money. I’m going to need it for incidentals.
Incidentals? she says.
Taxicabs, I say. Food and drink. More than one drink.
No, she says. I want this to be difficult for you.
Believe me. It hasn’t been easy so far.
Jude shrugs. She hits the emergency button and the elevator resumes its slow fall, stopping again on the fifth floor. The old man and his wife get off without a word. No one gets on. I slump against the wall with the gun in my hand. I am soaked with sweat.
Jude nods at the gun. You might want to put that away.
What was that shit about fireworks?
It’s a short story by Jim Thompson, she says. It’s about incest.
Outside and everything is pale and strange. I stand on the sidewalk, blinking. The gun is heavy in my pocket. It seems like forever ago, but Jude gave me two fat lines of coke before we left the room and my
skull feels stretched thin. I breathe air that doesn’t stink of fear. Jude walks away and I’m not ready to follow just yet. Jeremy the doorman watches me, a withered smile on his face. He comes over and offers me a cigarette.
Thanks, I say.
Familiarity breeds contempt, he says. Am I right?
Your wife there, he says. She’s pure hell on wheels, no shit. But sometimes a man needs a change of scenery.
I sigh, weary. She’s not my wife. And get the fuck away from me.
He shrugs and slips me a card. The Paradise, he says. You won’t recognize your own dick when you come out of there.
Jude is disappearing in the distance. I look at Jeremy. He smiles at me, as if he’s my buddy. My new pal. I can see the traffic and bobbing faces around us but there is an internal vacuum, an absence of noise. The sunlight is rosy. The sunlight is meaty, bloody. This is the moment before the gunfight in a movie. I tend to get squeamish in crowds but everyone is fluid, perfect. Everyone cruises along in his or her own bubble and I wonder if today is a holiday. I take the gun out of my pocket and Jeremy takes a step back. I try to imagine how his face would change if a bullet ripped through his abdomen.
I can’t see it, yet.