Beginnings

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  “C’mon, c’mon, you fucker.” Ding. Brrpt. Clang. Ding. Ding. Ding. “Great. A miserable three cherries.  What’s that gonna get me. Not even the ticket back to Red Bank. Fucker.” Ding. Brrpt. Clang. Ding. Brrpt. Clang.

Karl had been sitting at the same slot machine since the 6:35 pm NJ Transit bus had dropped him off by the valet station of the casino.  It had taken him five minutes flat to walk in, order a gin and tonic and get to work on slot machine number 35.  His lucky number.   It was 1:35 a.m. and bitch hadn’t really rewarded him yet.  His weekly $350 had been cashed in as quickly as he had ordered the g and t and it was gone hours ago.  He had dipped in the savings, the little he had, and had been a pretend high-roller somewhere between 10 pm and 10:30 pm.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

“There’s gotta be some give in you,” he spoke softly to the slot machine, “Remember that time, that one time, you gave me $1200?”  He licked his lips at the memory.  He had blown the cash on booze, Shirley Temple, no, not Temple, Semple. Not that wasn’t it. Whatever.  Whatshername.  Her sweet ass.  He had gotten a suite at the Bellagio, pretended he was a high roller.  Walked in all cocky and full of spunk.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

Nothing.  That had been a sweet night. Shirley-whats-her-name had given up one of her regulars, just for him.  

Oh yes.  That had been a grand time and now this bitch of a machine wasn’t yielding to his powers.

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.   

“Fuckin’ bitch!” He said this a little too loudly.  He cleared his throat, pretending that something had gotten stuck in his throat.  He didn’t want to be kick out again, like had happened at Caesar’s that one time.  

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  

But the security guard, the look-out man, the big cheese at Caesar’s was a fucker.  Peter.  Pete, they called him.  He ran a regular game in the basement of the garage. Fuckin’ Pete, had screwed him out of a chunk of money.  Money well deserved, Karl recalled.  He had had two aces in his hand and the river had been another ace.  Fuckin’ Pete just happened to have a King instead of a Queen.  

Ding. Brrpt. Clang.  Ding. Brrpt. Clang.   “C’mon, what are the odds this time you make me a winner.”

###

We’ve been sleeping for days,” she said while yawning.  “I don’t know if we’ll ever get out of this shit hole.”  He turned his head towards her, sized her up with puffy eyes.  He was trying to remember who she was and if she was important to him.  The fact that they had probably fucked hours earlier didn’t necessarily mean she was important.

He turned his head away from her, fighting the urge to vomit, wondering if the bottle of whisky was by the bed where he usually stashed it.  That thought made his mouth water and, like clockwork, his hands began to tremble gently.  He thought about getting up and what that would entail.  “Too much,” he warned to no one in particular.

“Yea you did have too much,” she responded.

But he wasn’t listening; couldn’t hear her.  His thoughts were slowly coming together like pieces of a puzzle.  Karl wondered if he had the strength to roll on his side, pick himself up just enough to reach down between the bed and the nightstand.  The bottle was there.  T had to be there.  He tried lifting his arm.  Nothing.  His muscles felt like liquid lead.  

Shit.

He took stock of the room, the damp sheets, and the faint smell of cheap perfume that this thing, this woman was exuding.  He slowly turned his head again, to better examine her.  She was standing in front of the mirror, preening like a schoolgirl.

She must be fifty, if she’s a day old, he thought.

Her hair must have been blonde once, but age and hard drinking had given it a shade of musty gray.  Or maybe she wants it like that he thought as he let out a low grunt.
“You are an animal,” she said, while fidgeting with her hair.  “But sweetheart, it’s almost noon and we’ve been cooped up in here for three days.”

She turned to him and in her best Monroesque, breathy coo added, “But baby, don’t you wanna take me somewhere?” she peered through the single window, layer of dirt so thick, it was hard to figure out whether it was cloudy, or clear; dusk or dawn.

“It’s something gorgeous outside,” she purred.

“She’s still drunk,” he thought. “Yea, alright, we’ll give it a shot,” and with that, he reached for the bottle, slowly uncapped it and took a swig.

“Honey? You alright?” a voice all sugar, molasses and alcohol came from somewhere far away.  “Honey, you must’a passed out.”  Something cool on his forehead which quickly brought about the nausea and made his head spin more than usual. Or was it the ultra-saccharine voice calling him to?

“Get the fuck out of my way,” he growled, “I’m gonna throw-up.” Sure enough not one second after he had uttered the words that bitter, burning liquid came out of his mouth, on to his hand and pretty much over anything around him.

“Now look at what you done!” screamed, more like screeched, the person in front of him, “You’ve gone and ruined my dress! We were gonna go out! You promised!”  And with that he heard a door slam, and whimpering coming from the bathroom.  He did his best to clean up with the rag that was still on his forehead and looked around for anything liquid that would calm the storm that was raging in him.  He spotted the bottle of Four Roses on the night table, took a swig, the last swig, as it turns out.  Everything slowly came back into focus.  

He looked at his wristwatch, 5:35 pm, he had just enough time to get the bus depot for the 6:35 pm to AC.  This time, he told himself as he quickly put on his pants, this time is gonna be different.  It’s time for a win.  He could still hear her whimpering in the bathroom, he took what he could find in her wallet and bolted.

Agent to the Stars

You know you’re in trouble when you can’t keep track of the lies anymore. But I can keep track of lies. You could call it a talent. You could call it my job. Lying is serious business. Who you lie to and why are secondary thoughts. It takes time, creativity and balls to lie. I’m not talking about little lies; lies like “Oh that color is flattering on you!” or “Sure, honey, the fruit tart was good.” No, those are nothing. Those are crumbs of a cake on the floor.

I’m talking about big lies. Lies like keeping a straight face when your assistant walks in to your office and you wonder if the blood is visible. You imagine the blood, that deep red liquid seeping into the off-white, Shetland wool-looking carpeting that was just installed. The blood from the gash you’ve just made in the boss’s neck and you wonder how fast it will take to pass under the door of the closet. How long will Nicole stay, rambling on about the memo before the blood hits her shoes. Before those $725 Louboutins you bought her get a new pattern of red.

Or how do you explain the little bead of sweat that just formed on your temple as you drive up to the house. Will it be too visible to Lisa, your wife, when you walk through the front door, two hours late for dinner because you realize that maybe disposing a body in the wood chipper was too reminiscent of “Fargo.”

What do I say then? What do I tell her to allay her fears of yet another indiscretion? That, my friends, is the stuff lies were made for!

I pride myself in being an extraordinary liar. I am the top notch, cool-hand Luke of lies. I’m so good at it, I kind of get excited when I get a really good one. If only poor Lisa would know. My wife, you see, she worries and frets about whether or not I’ve had sex with my assistant.

And that would be so far from the truth. The truth is, when she’s home alone, wringing her hands from worry and picturing me going down on that bitch, I’m really on the freeway, speeding just enough so the cops don’t get me; ‘cause if they do, they will inevitably find the body of yet another useless, Botox-filled Hollywood asshole in my trunk.

#       #       #

The room is bare, save for a chair and a small table. Officer Dimples asks me to sit down. “We have to wait for the M.E. to come,” he says with an air of nonchalance. As if he didn’t know what I was called in to do. “Nor’easter’s a-comin’, you can bet on that,” the officer blurts, then opens the door and is about to walk out when he turns to me, gives me the once over and says “Ayuh,” and leaves.

All of my senses are heightened the further away Dimples’s footsteps get. I feel very aware; oddly awake for three a.m. I can hear the buzz of the air filtration system, the buzz of the lights above. “I don’t want to smell anything, please, dear God, let me not smell anything.

I can hear heavy footfalls get closer. It’s time. The warm sweat around my temples and at the nape of my neck begins its slow, cool journey towards the small of my back where it gathers and makes me shiver. Did he see me? Can he see that? Is the sweat showing on my dark blue shirt? I wear it because it camouflages everything. Roll of fat, sliver of sweat.

“The ME’s here, Mr. Quinn.” My heart is beating so fast I might be having a heart attack, an impossibility, as Doc had said. Told me I was fit as a fiddle.

The lights in the tiny room dim a little, must be the high winds. This is the moment that keeps me apart from the rest.  Anyone else would be plagued by fear, by the impossibility to keep a cool demeanor; but you see, the sweat that gathers is what triggers my ability to shut everything off.  The adrenaline has finally kicked in and I am ready to rumble.

The screen lifts and there he is. Waxy, gray, almost ethereal; almost perfect. They had covered his whole body with a white sheet save for the face and the neck. The neck with the bloody gash that I had made with his gold Cross pen. And then? Nothing. My cool, quiet self is back again.

“So, err, Mr. Quinn,” Dimples is back again and he says my name with that Boston arrogance, mixed with blue collar Northampton, Massachusetts, Mistah Quinn, “that your boss?” I nod, feigning grief. “So, you happen to know how that pen got into his neck?” Is he taunting me? No. He’s just doing his job, hoping that if he shows some balls, he might get that promotion. A nice cushy desk job. A job that would shut the wife up and make her cream her pants.

I count to ten before I answer, just to keep his hopes up, just to make him believe for one moment that that job might come his way; that his wife might actually have something new to tell her bridge group and she might actually let him fuck her.

There is a certain sense of peace and calm that comes over you when you are looking at the body of someone you killed hours earlier and know that you have another body stashed in the trunk of your 2014 BMW 760Li, as you stand there, looking at the dead body, listening to Charlie Pratt, Officer Pratt, Officer Dimples breathe heavily as he waits while you identify the body.

“Yes. That is.”

“And the pen?”

I want time to slow down, I want to savor the irony; but reality quickly sets in and the impending arrival of a Nor’easter would certainly put a cramp in my style. Not to mention, delay the exit of the other body from the trunk. If a Nor’easter was coming indeed, there was no way that I would be able to get rid of Lisa any sooner than when the weather permitted. I needed to get out of there as quickly as possible.

“Mr. Quinn, we, eh, need to go over some formalities. If you could please follow me.” As Dimples shows me the door, I ask, “Charlie, may I call you Charlie?” I turn on the charm, “will this take very long? I wouldn’t want to get caught in whatever is coming.” I say this because I don’t really want to get stuck in the weather, not especially since I have that special package in the trunk.

“Ayuh.” That’s all that Charlie, Chahley, says. I follow him, staying two steps back in deference to the red white and blue, through the long corridor of the basement lined by doors that lead to unknown rooms, all with the logo of Northampton memorial.

“Mr. Quinn, given the time, why don’t you meet me at the station in the morning?” A reprieve.

“Yes. Would ten be too late?”

“Ayuh.”

#       #       #

I’m an agent. A film agent, which makes me a professional liar. I lie to my clients and I lie to the people that will hire them for a job. Lying is a very useful talent and I use my talent for good and bad. And I’m a successful agent, which means I’m really good at lying which also means I make a decent living. More than a decent living. Enough, as a matter of fact, that I don’t even need to be anywhere near Hollywood to do what I do. And I’ve been doing it for thirty years. MADS (Movies, Actors, Directors & Stars) is the name of my agency and it thrives in this tiny, cold, sleepy town. Killing also involves lying. Really good lying and it is an art and though Los Angeles may be a place where you can hide, it’s much easier to kill in small, sleepy towns in the Northeast.

I created MADS as a joke, as a dare to myself. I was trying to be an actor, which meant I was a really good waiter. I managed to make my way up the ladder at Spago’s, partly by being the most attentive waiter and partly by being the guy who had the coke. I had the staff going on a good buzz and pretty soon, mid level agents and talent scouts were inviting me to their parties; invitations causally handed in the bathroom.

“Quinn,” one of the agents likes to call me that, “I’m having a thing tomorrow night.” First line, snort, cough, repeat. “You should come and,” sniff “bring the candy.” I never needed to answer. I would just wait for them to snort a line, wait for the kickback, nod and off I would go to serve another over-priced designer pizza. I didn’t have time to stay and make small talk, I had a reputation to uphold.

Parties on the weekdays would turn into smaller affairs, than weekend ones, only the in crowd was invited. Sometimes it’s just a handful of guys with a couple of chicks and me just to keep the blood pumping. I would set up the goods, hand the first line to the host. I was smart enough not to touch the blow; I wasn’t ever in the business of killing my own brain cells. I wasn’t in the killing business. Yet.

So there I was, the virtual employee of the week at Spago’s, when this guy comes in with the swagger of a well know someone, does the fame walk—that’s when people in the industry schmooze one another—walks from table to table with anyone vaguely important and shaking hands, air kissing his way to one of the corner tables, sitting down to find a bottle of bubbly already placed by yours truly and invites me to join.

#       #       #

Turns out Dimples was right, the weather is turning worse a menacing series of thunder claps follow lightning, as I walk out of the station. I get to the car and don’t think for one minute to check the trunk right there. Dimples had made it a point to walk with me to the entrance of the station and with the lightning illuminating most of the area, he would get a full view of what I was stowing.

I turn off the lights as soon as I get to the clearing. The lightning is intermittent enough to illuminate the path to the drop off. They had kept me so long, waiting for the ME, I hoped that there would be enough time and I hadn’t missed the train. The 4:15 a.m. Burlington Northern to Santa Fe was the only freight train that still carried open cargo, mainly low sulfur coal. Dropping Lisa’s body on the train was the only way I could get rid of her. By the time the train would arrive in Santa Fe, enough time would have passed to keep me out of suspicion. Typically, the coal would stay in the station several days before being transported; it was a four-day journey, with a stay in New Mexico of at least another week. All in all, ten days was a whole lot of time. Time enough to clear me from the first body and not arouse any suspicion for body number two.

The drop off is a place in Northampton where as a kid, I would come and watch the trains go by. They were big, burly cabooses, long freight cars that carried liquids, or wide ones that carried coal from Vermont to the Southwest. Trains fascinated me and because I couldn’t get my own model, I would pretend the trains passing through were mine.

I look at my watch, 4:10 a.m., just enough time. I open the trunk, glad that I thought of putting Lisa’s body in a burlap sack which makes carrying her to the edge of the drop that much easier. I stand there, listening for the train, my ears full of the sound of the menacing wind.

It hasn’t started raining yet.

Desert Son

Dust hovered over the ground as Peter Lim pulled in to the driveway at a snail’s pace.  “Damnit,” he cursed under his breath.  There were specks of clay hugging the tires, gathering in every crook and cranny, even in the folds of his Stetson.  A coating of red settled everywhere.  It had even increased the sun’s hue, now low in the sky.

Everything was terra cotta.

“Blue Spanish Eyes, prettiest eyes in all of Mexicoooo
Trueee Spanish Eyeeees, please smile at me once more before I gooooo.”

No matter how slow he drove, the red dust would inevitably stick everywhere. It was his own damned fault; had never bothered to pour concrete like everyone had told him to.  Didn’t matter anyway, the whole town was covered in it.

Sooon I’ll returnnnn bringing you all the love your heart can hooold
Pleaseee sayyy si, si…say you and your Spanish eyes will wait for meeee.

He turned Engelbert Humperdink off as he stepped out of the truck.

Peter Lim was a no good son of a bitch.  Everyone knew that, even he would tell you.  He had dabbled in this and that until some fat man from Tennessee had cornered him one night at the bar.  It was so long ago, Peter didn’t even remember his name.  He had lured Peter with the promise of money and a shot of rye with a beer back.  And “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Couldn’t refuse because the shot of rye had turned into four and then everything had become blurry.  The fat man had rearranged his face.  First punch, he looked like Gary Cooper.  Last punch his nose was Walter Matthau’s.  Or Karl Malden.

He shook his head at the memory as he walked into the living room.  He didn’t take his hat off and moved directly to the ice box for a beer.  The first two gulps almost burned his throat with their icy fire.  He held on to the counter for balance and polished off the beer.  He pulled a second bottle out and brought it with him to the backyard where he sat in a rickety beach chair left by the previous owners of the adobe house he had lived in the past two years.

To be continued.

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