Read Midnight Solitaire Online

Authors: Greg F. Gifune

Midnight Solitaire (5 page)

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
11.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You love it.”

“No, actually, I don’t.”

“Hey, you come waltzing in here the other night blasting those things through your shirt, what do you expect?”

“It was cold, I—OK, you know what, I am not having this conversation with you again.”

“Hey, you call me Asshole.”

“But you are an asshole, Carlin.”

“And you got great nipples, everybody wins.” He points a stubby finger at her. “I’m telling you, girl, we should party naked. I’ll rock your world.”

“Awesome, I totally just threw up in my mouth.” Kit pushes away from the door and looks back out at the night. “Unbelievable out there.”

“Only gonna get worse,” Carlin says, returning his attention to the laptop. “Got a bad snowstorm coming. That’s what the honey on channel four said anyway. You might get a straggler or two tonight but I doubt it. It’s been dead.”

She motions to the units with her chin. “Couple sleepers?”

“A single in fourteen, businessman-type, and a double in ten, a couple a few years younger than you. Total fuck bunnies.”

Doing her best to ignore the porn DVD playing on Carlin’s laptop, Kit slips into the office behind the counter. A cramped and mussed area, it smells like perspiration and old milk. On the desk, amidst stacks of paperwork, is a partially eaten carton of Chinese food and the annihilated remains of a box of Twinkies.

Kit throws her coat over the back of the desk chair, sets her knapsack down then rejoins Carlin out front.

A plump little man with a penchant for ratty sweatpants and sweaters two sizes too small for him, Carlin Pelham is fifty-three, and but for an unkempt horseshoe around the lower portion of his head, completely bald. He always looks like he needs a shave and smells like he could use a good head-to-toe scrubbing. His skin is pasty and unhealthy looking, and when he breathes he tends to wheeze and sniffle incessantly. Luckily for Carlin, his uncle owns the motel, or he’d have been fired long ago. Carlin lives in a small house a few miles from the motel with Marty, his wife of twenty-five years. She’s on disability for severe depression and agoraphobia, is nearly five hundred pounds and has not left their home in more than eight years. Kit has only seen her in photographs.

Had she not spoken to her on the phone a few times when Carlin hadn’t gone straight home after his shift and she’d called looking for him, Kit probably wouldn’t believe she existed.

Although Kit has worked with Carlin for several months now, they only see each other for short intervals as they change shifts. Still, due to Carlin’s shocking lack of hygiene, his pornography addiction, breathtaking lack of social skills and his general disregard for anything even remotely resembling sexual harassment laws, her interactions with him are almost always memorable.

“So you want me to stay?” Carlin asks, bouncing his eyebrows. “If it gets bad maybe we’ll get snowed in together. Power could go out. No power, no heat. You see where I’m going with this?”

“One, gross.” Kit piles her jet-black hair atop her head and holds it in place with a plastic clip. “And two, you need to get home to Marty. Remember Marty, your wife?”

“She’s sleeping by now,” he says softly. “Don’t even know I’m gone.”

Despite the fact that Carlin is, well, Carlin, she can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. This is his life. It isn’t going to change or improve. Ever. At least for Kit this is a temporary setback. She still has her whole life ahead of her.

But then, like any character in this novel that is life, can she be sure?

“I bet she’s already worrying about you getting home safely,” Kit tells him.

He shrugs. “Maybe.”

The woman in the video does a cartoon orgasm scream in time with the man slamming into her from behind. “Could you shut that off?”

“Don’t act like you don’t like it.” He grins, points to the screen. “If I had a crank that big I’d rule the world.”

“Yeah. Not so much.”

He shuts the laptop, silences the silicone blonde screamer. “Anyway, drawer’s balanced. Joe Business paid with a Visa but the other dude paid cash. Ice machine’s full and I put the number for the plow guys on the bulletin board in case you need them come morning. If plows can even get through, that is.”

“Thanks, Carlin. That was actually nice of you.”

“No problem.” He slides down out of his chair, grabs his plaid flannel coat from the office then scoops up his laptop and tucks it under his arm. “But if you had any class at all you’d show me how grateful you are.”

“Not to diminish your status as the grandmaster connoisseur of class, but you did something kind without any ulterior motives. Don’t ruin it.”

Carlin pulls a fur hat with earflaps from his coat pocket and slaps it on his head. “Tell you what. Flash your tits and we’ll call it even.”

“OK, drive safely now.” Kit takes up position on the chair he just vacated and slides her knapsack onto the counter. “Or not.”

“Fine, you win, a hand-job it is.”

“Yeah, just not feeling the whole Elmer Fudd fetish tonight, dude, sorry.”

Chuckling, he stops at the front door and gazes out at the rain. “Dark one out there tonight.”

“That’s what happens at night, Carlin. It’s called darkness.”

Normally he’d have a quick comeback, but this time says nothing and continues staring out at the parking lot. Kit removes her manuscript pages from the knapsack, drops them on the counter then notices he’s still standing there quietly. “Carlin? You OK?”

With his back to her, he nods.

“What is it?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” he answers a moment later, his voice unusually serious. “Just got a weird feeling there for a second.”

“Great, I have to work here the rest of the night by myself, thanks for freaking me out. A weird feeling about what?”

He turns, looks back at her. There is something in Carlin Pelham’s face Kit has never seen before. Not quite fear, but something similar.

“Carlin?” Kit presses.

“It’s nothing, I’m just tired. Whole lot of nothing out there, like always. That’s why I like days. Kind of creepy here at night sometimes.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Catch you tomorrow.” He grabs the door and pushes it open, letting in the cold air and a spray of rain. “Have a good night, Nipples.”

“You too, Asshole.”

Kit watches him go, the door slowly closing behind him on its delayed spring. When he reaches his van at the edge of the paved portion of the lot, Kit returns her attention to her novel.

* * * *

As Carlin rounds the rear of his van he notices someone standing in the shadows to his left. He stops, one hand on the van door. “Who’s that over there?” he calls above the pouring rain.

A man. A large man in a cowboy hat and a duster.

Without taking his eyes from him, Carlin pulls open the van door, places his computer on the seat then casually searches next to it for the ax handle he keeps there. “Can I help you, buddy?”

The man steps closer but he still can’t make out his eyes, shielded beneath the flat brim of his hat.

“What the hell you doing out here?” Carlin asks. “You need some help?”

Rain runs off the roof of the motel, through the gutters and along the lot, gushing and trickling as the man shrugs off his duster. It falls to the ground with a thud, and for the first time Carlin realizes the size of this man, because he is shirtless. His body is chiseled and slick in the rain. It is also crisscrossed and littered with scars indicating this man has been stabbed, slashed and even shot numerous times. On the inside of each forearm are tattoos representing playing cards. On the left, the Ace of Spades. On the right, the Ace of Hearts. The man holds his arms out on either side of him and slowly curls his hands into fists, accentuating the network of thick veins that run along his flesh.

Carlin finds the ax handle, grips it tight and holds it down by his side; hopeful the man hasn’t seen it. He can’t decide if he should hop in the van and lock the door or run for the office. Probably won’t make either one, he thinks. “What are you doing?” Carlin asks, doing his best to disguise the fear in his voice. “This is private property, OK? Get out of here or I’ll call the cops.”

The man turns, shows him his back. In three fanned out rows, the remainder of the deck of cards are tattooed across the man’s broad back, bright and colorful amidst another battlefield of scars. He raises his head, looks to the sky, the rain, arms held out wider still as if summoning some greater force from the heavens above.

Carlin decides that since the man has turned his back he has a chance. He could get in the van and get away, but what about Kit? He can’t just leave her here. Even if he called for help he—help, you stupid bastard, call for help!

Hand shaking, he reaches into his coat pocket for his cellphone.

Before he can press a key the man spins back around, and this time Carlin can see his eyes. He wishes now he couldn’t. He wishes he never sees anything like them again, unaware that he will see nothing but those demonic eyes peering down at him for all eternity.

“Please,” Carlin whispers. It’s all he can muster. Even as his bladder lets go and he pees himself, he cannot move or summon another word. He simply stands there trembling. The phone drops to the pavement.

The man pulls a knife from the back of his pants, turning the blade slowly, seductively. It is the largest knife Carlin has ever seen.

Carlin feebly raises the ax handle, but he’s so scared and shaking so badly he can’t hold it still. He thinks about Marty. Who’ll take care of her?

As the blade is thrust up and under his ribcage, Carlin screams. But it quickly becomes a gurgling gasp as blood and bile explode up out of his throat and into his mouth. The man wraps his free arm around him and gently lowers him to the pavement on his back, ripping the knife up then pushing it deeper still.

Carlin vomits and cries out. Not for mercy, but for death.

In the storm, no one hears.




Lights from a state police cruiser cut the night and spin through the rain. Parked alongside it are a couple state vehicles, a pickup and a SUV. Greer rolls to a stop and tries to get a better look at the situation. The road ahead is flooded out, and the state workers are hurrying about, rushing through the rain in an attempt to construct a temporary blockade outfitted with yellow emergency lights. A lone state policeman in a rain slicker, his hat wrapped in plastic, stands in the middle of the road motioning for her to stop.

Greer pulls up beside him and drops her window a bit. Rain sprays in. “What’s happening, officer?”

“Evening, ma’am. We’re closing the road due to flooding.”

She cranes her neck; sees water gushing across the road beyond the blockade, and what appears to be a small section of cracked pavement that has lifted up and away from the rest of the road. “Great, now what?”

“I’m going to have to ask you to turn your vehicle around and head back in the direction you came.”

“Is there another route I can take? I’m headed out of state obviously.”

A heavy burst of wind slams a sheet of rain down on them. The cop turns away to absorb the impact. “Yes,” he says, facing her again, “but odds are the snow will be here by the time you’ve finished hooking all the way around. Got a mess out here tonight—flash floods everywhere, several washed out roads—and it’s getting worse. Within the hour even most police and emergency vehicles are going to be called in. Terrible storm coming up right behind this one, blizzard conditions expected. My advice is to hunker down for the night, ride this out until morning then see what kind of shape things are in at that point.” He leans closer, points to the darkness behind her. “The Moonlight Road Motor Inn’s about five miles back. I’m sure they’ve got vacancies, always do.”

Greer nods, she noticed it on her way by. “All right,” she says through a heavy sigh. “Thank you, officer.”

“Drive safely, ma’am.”

She forces a smile, raises the window and makes a slow U-turn, watching the scene grow smaller in her rearview as she starts back. Poor guy, she thinks, he’s earning his money out there tonight.

Headlights pass her in the other direction, heading right for the roadblock. They are the first signs of life Greer has seen on the highway in a long while. You’ll be turning around sooner than you think. As the taillights vanish in the night she considers the policeman’s suggestion. The idea of stopping at some roadside motel is far from appealing, but maybe the cop’s right, it’s probably better, not to mention safer, to just ride out the storm. Besides, she thinks, I’ve been driving for hours and I’m exhausted. Be nice to get out of these shoes.

At the very edge of her headlight beams something separates from the darkness and moves into her line of vision. As if stepping directly out of the night itself, it turns to face her, arms outstretched in welcome.

“Jesus!” Greer slams the brakes and her eyes lock on those of a man in the middle of the road. The same man she saw walking earlier, in the duster.

As the Audi fishtails she cuts the wheel to prevent a sideways skid. Tires screeching and the world spinning past at dizzying speeds, it isn’t until she’s lurched to a complete stop that she sees another set of headlights bearing down on her, followed by a second screech of tires as the driver slams his brakes and skids toward her through the rain.

BOOK: Midnight Solitaire
11.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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