Authors: Randy Ryan C.; Chandler Gregory L.; Thomas David T.; Norris Wilbanks
He pointed his pistol at her and said, “Zelda, if you don’t get your ass downstairs, I’m gonna put a bullet in your thick head.”
“That’s better,” she huffed as she got off the bed and went out the door. “Just ‘cause I’m a whore don’t mean you can talk to me like I’m trash.”
“Sorry, your Majesty.” He was beginning to like this plucky woman’s cheek. And her ass wasn’t bad either. He liked the way her blond hair fell in ringlets about her shoulders. And her breasts weren’t so big that a man had to worry about suffocating between them. The first time he’d had a whore, back in Coffeyville, Kansas, she’d almost smothered him to death between her big throw-pillow tits while he tried to ride her without getting bucked off.
Mama Rose was on her back in front of the fireplace, a bullet hole in her forehead. Her head was canted a little to her right and the blue ice-pick handle was visible behind her left ear. Her fairy-godmother gown had ridden up above her chubby knees, revealing worm-like veins in her pale lower legs. Melvin pointed his pistol at the bosom of her low-cut gown and told Zelda to “Go fish.”
“You’ll hang for this,” she said as she squatted beside the corpse and slipped her hand in the cleft between the bluish mounds of cold flesh.
“They’ll have to catch me first,” he said.
“Oh, they’ll catch you. You and your murdering pals.”
“I’ve a good mind to take you with me, just for laughs. Then if they did catch us, you’d swing right along with us. How’d you like that?”
“The law ain’t as stupid as you are. They’d never believe it.”
“You’re awful damn sassy for a whore with a gun pointed at her ass.”
“Mister, I’ve had things worse than your six-shooter pointing up my ass.”
Melvin guffawed. “You’re a pistol, Miss Zelda. Damned if you ain’t. I believe I will take you along. We’d have ourselves a time on the road.”
“I’d rather hang than be your whore.” She pulled a key-ring from the grim depths of the madam’s bodice and stood up. “There. The long one’s the one to Wolf Girl’s room.”
“You wouldn’t be my whore,” he said, taking the keys. “I’d treat you right, buy you fine clothes and nice jewelry, buy us a new Studebaker with white leather seats and white sidewalls, put you up in fine hotels . . . ”
“Take a lot more than what’s in that cashbox you stole. This place don’t make that much money.”
“Oh, we ain’t here for the money. We’re here ’cause Queenie hates whorehouses. We’re professional bank robbers. Wanted in three states. Wanna see my reward poster?”
Jesse called out from the top of the stairs: “Stop diddling that whore and get up here.”
A tremendous boom shook the house. Melvin thought somebody had set off a bundle of dynamite until he realized the teeth-rattling boom was thunder. A sudden downpour drummed on the roof. The lights flickered. Lightning flashed in the windows, giving Melvin a fearful chill. He hated storms. A one-eyed fortuneteller had once told him he would die in a thunderstorm. He liked to tell himself he did-n’t believe it, but whenever he was under the thumb of a booming storm, his thundery doom didn’t seem at all outlandish. He thought he was already pushing his luck just by being here in this whorehouse on the outskirts of Little Rock, in the middle of the night, for no other reason than Queenie Cotton despised the idea of women selling their bodies to lecherous men.
“Hell of a storm,” he mumbled, mostly to himself. He took Zelda by the arm and they went upstairs, where the rain pounding the roof was even louder. He handed the keys to Jesse. “We better get on the road before this damn gully-washer strands us here.”
This drew a scowl from Queenie but she didn’t bother to try to talk above the girl’s eerie howling and the steady roar of the storm.
Jesse stuck the long key in the lock and opened the door to Wolf Girl’s room. The house lights flickered again and lightning winked in the bedroom window, making the room look like an antechamber to Hell. The room was red; red wallpaper, red window curtains, red bedspread, red lampshade—the only thing not red in the room was the hairy girl crouched in the middle of the bed, head thrown back, howling at the ceiling. She wasn’t naked, but the red silk slip she wore didn’t leave much to the imagination. Every visible inch of her flesh was covered with dark fur—even her face. She was bound to the bedpost by short chain affixed to a leather collar. She stopped howling when she saw them, bared her teeth and growled.
“Good God,” Melvin gasped like a man drowning.
Jesse tentatively pointed his pistol at the feral girl. Queenie walked right up to the foot of the bed and started talking soothingly to its shaggy occupant. “Take it easy, honey, we ain’t here to hurt you.”
“Don’t get too close,” Jesse warned.
Zelda hung back in the doorway, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.
“She’s so cute,” Queenie cooed.
“Cute, my ass,” said Melvin. “I say we shoot her and be done with it. She never shoulda been born. She’s a mistake of nature.”
a mistake of nature,” Queenie said out of the side of her mouth as she reached a hand out and gently stroked Wolf Girl’s head. Wolf Girl stopped growling. “I’m taking her,” Queenie said.
“Hell you say.” Jesse stuck his gun in his belt and went a few steps closer to the bed.
“Look at her. She’s just a kid. She can’t be more than sixteen. Isn’t that right, precious?”
“You can tell by the way she acts she’s been mistreated,” she added. “She deserves a decent home.”
“We ain’t got a decent home ourselves,” Melvin said. “We can’t afford to feed her, neither. You’d have to shave her twice a damn day. Go broke on shaving soap alone.”
“I’m keeping her,” Queenie insisted.
“No you ain’t,” said Jesse. “I don’t allow no pets in my car.”
“I wonder what she eats,” Queenie said. “Melvin, go down to the kitchen and get some sugar.”
“I ain’t your errand boy,” he said, turning sullenly to the whore in the doorway. “Zelda? Get some sugar for this damn critter.”
Zelda headed for the stairs without hesitation.
Queenie said, “See if there’s a key to her collar on that ring.”
“You can’t turn her loose,” Melvin said. “There’s a reason they keep her chained up.”
“She ain’t coming with us,” Jesse said. “I’m putting my foot down.”
“What if she was to get car sick? Or piss on the upholstery?” Melvin said, bolstering the case against adopting the wild girl.
“The flivver’s just as much mine as it is yours,” Queenie told Jesse. “And I say she can ride in it, by God.”
Another big boom of thunder shook the house. Wolf Girl’s eyes darted about the room as she cringed a little.
“Aw,” Queenie crooned, “the poor thing’s afraid of thunder. It’s all right, sweetie. It’s just a lot of big noise. Like what comes out of these two apes I’m burdened with.”
Jesse put the key-ring in Melvin’s hand. “Try the little key,” said Jesse, grudgingly acquiescing to Queenie’s wishes.
“I wish we’d never set foot in this damn house,” said Melvin. He went to the edge of the bed and gave the keys to Queenie. “You do it,” he said. “I ain’t getting my hand bit off.”
“She can’t be that dangerous if men pay to lie with her,” Queenie said. She tried the key. It unlocked the collar. “There now. You’re free, sweetheart. Would you like to come with Aunt Queenie? I’ll buy you lots of nice play-pretties. Would you like that? Hmm?”
Queenie tried to put her arm around the girl, but the girl had other ideas. She jerked away, hopped off the bed, and hit the floor with a thump. She balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to run in any direction. A strap slid off her shoulder and the silk slip slipped, revealing a furry nipple-tipped nubbin.
“Grab her!” shouted Queenie.
“Fuck that,” said Melvin. But Wolf Girl made her move and darted toward him, obviously intending to make a break past him, for the doorway. He yelled: “Heeyah!” and stretched both arms out to box her in.
Wolf Girl bounced on her feet, then suddenly turned, reached down and picked up the slop bucket from the floor by the side of the bed and flung the bucket’s stinking stew of urine and shit in Melvin’s face. Melvin sputtered and gasped, wiping at his eyes and nose.
Queenie broke into boisterous laughter. Not so easily amused, Jesse fired a shot into the ceiling in an attempt to get control of the situation. Whenever things were slipping out of his control, he found that shooting off his gun was the quickest way to get a handle on things and turn them back his way, but this time all he got for his effort was a shower of ceiling plaster on his head and a swift slap on the shoulder from Queenie.
The wild girl darted through the doorway and out of the room.
“You goddamn idjit!” she yelled in Jesse’s ear. And ran after the girl.
Melvin grabbed a pillow off the bed and wiped his face with it. Then he bent over and puked up the pork chops, collards and corn-bread he’d wolfed downed at a Little Rock roadhouse a few hours ago. Jesse clog-danced down the stairs, trailing after Queenie and Wolf Girl.
Melvin got out of the shit-and-vomit-stinking room as quick as he could, but his befouled shirt carried the stench with him. He bumped into Zelda on the staircase. She had a forgotten cup of sugar in her hand and a worried look on her face. “If Wolf Girl sees what you did to Mama Rose, she’ll go wild sure enough,” she told him, pinching her nose against his stench and sounding like a snooty telephone operator. “She loved Rose.”
Melvin brushed by her and stormed down the steps. Black rage settled in his heart. He was set like hardened cement on shooting the wild child. In a way, he was glad she’d dumped the slop bucket on him. It gave him a good excuse for killing the half-human wolf cub. Nobody could fault him for it after having human waste thrown in his face. Jesse and Queenie both had killed people for lesser offenses.
Above the sound of the storm came an awful throaty lamentation. It was more of a wail than a howl, and he knew by its mournful tone that Wolf Girl had found her beloved madam dead on the parlor floor. He turned left at the bottom of the stairs and went straight to the parlor to kill the hairy little hellion.
She was crouched over the fat madam, the ice pick in her hand, tears streaking down her furry cheeks. Jesse and Queenie were arguing in front of the cold fireplace, Jesse’s hatchet-face chopping the air with his angry jawing and Queenie just standing there with her hands on her slim hips, a mask of impatience on her face.
Wolf Girl stopped howling and sniffed the ice pick’s handle. Then she looked up at Melvin.
“That’s right,” he said with his wickedest grin, “I killed the old bitch.” He raised his pistol and drew a bead on her head.
Guilt bubbled up into his boiling rage to cloud his thinking. He hadn’t wanted to kill the madam in the first place, but Queenie had told him with such ferocity to do it that he’d been afraid not to. Had he balked, Queenie surely would’ve turned her rage on him, and Jesse wouldn’t have lifted a hand to stop her. For all his tough-guy bluster, Jesse James Pike was a pushover for his long-legged moll. And now Melvin’s remorse for killing Mama Rose caused him to hesitate when he should’ve been about the business of shooting the mad little cubby instead of feeling sorry for her. And to make matters worse, Queenie looked up and saw him aiming at the girl and shouted: “No! Don’t you dare!” She pulled her pistol from the small of her back and pointed it at Melvin.
Jesse saw what was happening, threw up his hands and said, “Jesus-barking-Christ, what next?”
As if in answer to his question, the front door of the brothel banged open and a man’s voice boomed: “What in hell’s going on here, Zelda?”
Zelda answered with nervous urgency: “Robbers! They killed Rose! They’re in there, Sheriff Dan. They got guns!”
“Shit,” Melvin said, turning toward the parlor’s archway and wishing his Tommy gun was in his hands instead of in the boot of the car. After their Main Street shootout with the law in Bumfuck, Oklahoma, Melvin had resolved never to engage John Law without the benefit of his Thompson submachine gun. But here he was again, armed with nothing bigger than a Colt revolver notorious for missing targets more than ten paces away.
” Sheriff Dan blurted. “Son-of-a-bitch!”
“Didn’t you cut the phone line?” Jesse whispered behind him.
Melvin nodded, suddenly understanding why the sheriff was at the whorehouse door in the middle of a stormy night. The man had come for some after-hours pussy, and judging by his reaction to the news that Rose was killed, the late madam had been the sheriff ’s squeeze. “Well, let’s go shoot the sumbitch,” Melvin said with irritated resignation.
“Honey, no!” shouted Queenie.
Before he had time to wonder why she might be so vociferously against shooting the sheriff, Melvin felt a sharp stab of pain in the middle of his spine and realized in an excruciating flash that Wolf Girl had just planted the ice pick in his back. He thought to turn around and put a .45 slug in her head, but his body seemed to be ignoring that most fervent wish. His legs refused to move. Worse than that, they felt like they were made out of Jell-O that hadn’t quite jelled.
Behind him, Melvin heard the familiar
of gun barrel meeting skull and he knew Jesse had put down the little whore. He teetered on his feet. His backbone felt like it was encased in ice. All it took to knock him down was the next crashing thunderclap that shook the house and rattled the windows. He fell facedown, breaking his fall with his arms. The gun was still in his hand, so he braced his elbow on the floor, pointed the pistol at the archway and waited for the sheriff to show himself. He might be paralyzed from the waist down, but he could shoot just fine from his prone position. At least he would be below the line of fire, whenever firing commenced.