Authors: Dani Amore
Copyright ©2014 by Dani Amore
All rights reserved.
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the author.
Interior book design by Bob Houston eBook Formatting
“Every man contains all the horrors of mankind.
And each man adds a new wing to the museum.”
The mountain is manmade.
Ten feet of blown snow and plowed ice. Once pure and white, it’s a tower of misshapen gray that is gradually being pulverized into the consistency of sand by the action of hundreds of small hands and feet.
It sits at the back of the playground, away from the rusted basketball hoops, the swing set, and jungle gym. The painted lines of the kickball court are buried beneath the thin layer of snow and salt that escaped the sharp edge of the janitor’s chain-driven snowplow.
At high noon, the bell rings and the school doors burst open. The older boys are scrambling, pushing, shoving, falling, and slipping their way toward the pinnacle. There are no rules. No alliances. No teamwork. This is every boy for himself. Chunks of ice are thrown. Hands are placed on the nearest back and pushed. Boots are pulled off. Feet are tripped. Wool scarves knitted by doting grandmothers are turned into deadly garrotes.
It is the battle of the fittest with the prize going to the swiftest.
The younger kids are watching the free show, careful to stand far enough away from the battle zone so as not to be injured by shrapnel.
A young girl with light brown hair and gray eyes watches the boys. She has on a pink coat with a yellow hat and thick yellow mittens. Her snow pants are light blue. Her boots are purple.
She is looking at the boys trying to guess which one will get to the top. The biggest boy is hurling the smaller ones with ease, but he looks slow to the young girl. She can see that he is clumsy, the way his feet slip and slide while smaller boys scramble past him.
The girl watches one of the smaller boys who seems to be the fastest. He darts in and out, getting closer and closer. Just when she thinks he’s going to be the one, one of the bigger boys grabs him by the scruff of his jacket, like a mother cat gathering up a kitten, and hurls him to the bottom.
he won’t be the one.
She watches the melee, a group of ants trying to organize itself. The boys are interchangeable, flitting in and out of the stream, until one boy begins to stand out. He has on a thin blue jacket with no hat or mittens. The girl wonders how he can manage in the bitter cold. He has dark hair and a pale face. His white basketball shoes are mottled and worn. He has made it near the top and is close.
The girl studies him. He looks different, but why? There are other boys who are underdressed and wearing tennis shoes instead of winter boots.
And then she realizes why.
He’s the only one not smiling.
The boy ducks his head and bulls past the rest of the boys. They try to stop him, but he knocks them with his shoulders, lashes out at them with his feet, and swings wildly with his bare fists. His mouth is set. His face a slash of white. His lips a cruel line of red.
He breaks free and scrambles to the top, his hands and feet shoveling snow behind him, like a badger digging a hole. He makes it to the top. And stands. The boys below momentarily pause to watch him.
The biggest boy’s arms are pin-wheeling, and he falls backward, slides down the hill, and comes to a rest at the bottom, his red-flushed face split by a huge grin.
The girl moves. She walks toward the mountain of snow. Her eyes meet the eyes of the boy at the top. Their gazes hold for what feels to the girl to be a long time.
And then she runs.
The path cleared by the big boy is still clear, and she scrambles, her small legs pumping, her purple boots sharp and firm in the snow.
The boy holds out his hand as she nears, and then her yellow mitten is inside it, and he hoists her onto his shoulders. She is not scared. The breath comes from her lungs. She can look out and see the whole playground.
I should not be here
, she thinks. This is for the big kids. For the big boys. But then, a funny thing happens.
Slowly, her arms go over her head in a sudden inspiration of pure triumph. She reaches for the sky, her heart singing, her head thrown back. She is screaming. Whooping.
In her peripheral vision, she sees the boy’s bare hands, glistening with wetness, the fingertips looking almost blue. His hands curl into fists and the two stand atop the mountain, arms raised over their heads.
The killer pulls his white Ford Taurus rental car along the curb next to a Chinese restaurant, a few blocks past San Diego’s gay district and just before the first house of a quiet residential neighborhood. The kind of area where retirees sit in darkened living rooms, alternately watching television and any activity outside, ready to change channels or call the police, depending upon what action unfolds in either arena.
He shuts the car off and places the keys in his pocket. He steps out, shuts and locks the door, then walks up to the corner and turns right, toward the neon signs, loud music, and sidewalks crowded with men.
The air is warm but dry with a soft breeze that stirs the palm trees. A full moon hangs overhead, bathing the gaudy strip ahead in an eerie glow.
He tells himself that he can stop. That he can go right back to his car, climb in, and drive away. That doing this…thing…will put him on a road with no way to turn back. Although his walking pace is steady, his stomach is roiling, a yo-yo full of acid. His head feels gauzy, as if his eyes and ears are filtering things, distorting them.
He walks by a clothing store and catches his reflection in the window. He’s tall and lean, with dark hair and a face that looks carved, with sharp edges and angles. In his blue jeans and denim jacket, he looks rugged. Capable. Even handsome.
His name is Samuel, and he keeps walking.
He has thought about this moment. From the very second the great injustice transpired, he has gone over it and over it in his mind. It’s all about goals. Deciding what’s important. What you want to achieve, and then putting together a plan and systematic steps to achieve those goals. There are many options. But this is the most direct, the most permanent, the best approach of them all.
It’s also the most dangerous, with the greatest chance of backfiring. Can he stomach it and survive?
He doesn’t know. At one point in his life, he was committed to a goal and never thought he’d fold…but he shakes that thought away. He is
committed to that goal. Now more than fucking ever. What he does know is that he will not be stopped. The part of his life that was ripped away needs to be put back. He isn’t whole. Until things are made right, he simply cannot exist in this state.
Samuel knows what he’s looking for. He peers into the first place, The Cock and Bull, and sees that it isn’t right. It’s not crowded, there’s no loud music, nothing going on. Just a few middle-aged men sitting around an oval bar in a faint haze of cigarette smoke. He walks on, staring straight ahead. Several men pass him, staring intently, but he doesn’t look at them. He’s fixed on his target. He passes several more bars, but one glance into each tells him to keep moving.
Up ahead, he can see a small group of men milling around an entrance that’s lit by a strobe light; swirling dots of color shower the men and the sidewalk. A pounding bass thumps the air around them. Samuel walks closer and can see a sign that reads: M&M. Beneath the sign is a vintage advertising banner that says “M&M’s candies melt in your mouth, not in your hands!”
A low whistle sounds from the group, and the men turn as one to face Samuel. He ignores them and walks through the door. A muscular bouncer in a wife-beater T-shirt tells him there’s a five-dollar cover. Samuel pays the man and walks inside.
It smells like a normal bar to Samuel, except maybe the scent of cologne is stronger. An empty stage sits at one end of the bar. The rest of the place is dominated by a circular bar with clusters of tables flanking it.
For a moment, Samuel freezes. His head is pounding, his stomach is surging toward his throat. He feels like a little boy who’s about to do something very bad. Even though this is the least criminal portion of what he plans to do tonight, he nonetheless wants to turn around and run. He wants to race back to his car and curl up in the back seat, and cry. An image of his father floats before him, and he nearly screams.
Is it worth this? He asks himself the question, but knows that the answer is yes. Years of striving, of dreaming, of imagining, of
, come down to this.
Samuel walks past the bar toward the jukebox. It’s belting out a Doors song, something about a soul kitchen. He sees the sign for restrooms, an M&M with nuts, and follows it down a short hallway to a cheap pine door. He pushes in and walks briskly past the two urinals for the stalls. There are three smaller stalls, with a bigger handicapped one at the end.
He pushes open the first stall and looks. It’s empty. He scans the floor, but it’s clean. The door swings shut, and Samuel pushes open the second door. It’s empty as well. He checks the third and finds the same result.
He puts his hand on the fourth door when he hears the sound of flesh smacking flesh. A soft groan comes from the stall. Samuel bends down and looks under the door. Two pairs of feet are facing the same way, partially obscured by pants and belts. One pair are topsiders, the other wingtips.
Samuel goes back into the third stall and sits down on the toilet. He waits. The lovemaking sounds continue. He looks at the graffiti on the metal stall wall. “Jeremy’s the best!” Phone numbers. Crude drawings of male genitalia. A note: “My mother made me gay!” Followed by a witty rejoinder: “Will she make me a sweater?”
The sounds in the stall next to him intensify, filling the small room. A deep moan fills the space, and the sound stops. After several moments, Samuel hears the snap of plastic, and then pants and zippers being pulled up.
The men shuffle to the door and suddenly the sound of the jukebox fills the bathroom. The door shuts, and the room is quiet again. Samuel moves quickly. He leaves the third stall, enters the fourth, and pulls the door shut behind him. From the front pocket of his denim jacket, he pulls a pair of surgical gloves and slips them on. From the other pocket, he pulls a plastic baggie.
Samuel looks around the toilet for the used condom and spies it on the right side, beneath the toilet dispenser.
Samuel picks it up, careful to grasp it at the top ring, and slides it into the plastic baggie.
Samuel places the baggie into a pocket, strips off the plastic gloves, and drops them in the wastebasket on the way out. He’ll need another pair for the next phase of the operation, but that’s okay.
He has several more in the car.