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John C. Erianne
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partingshots.jpg
Art by Gin E L Fenton

Parting Shots

by John C. Erianne

 

            It was Paul Tremble’s last day at Lady Godiva’s Erotic Video and he was sitting in the back office, feet propped on the desk, thumbing through the photographs he’d taken of Julius Romney and Natasha.  He removed one photo from the pile and admired its clarity. Romney’s old, boney body poised behind Natasha’s petite frame as he worked his fingers around the hardened nipples of her small breasts.  He had gotten to Romney easy. He found him on his boss, Sergei’s, freak list.  Rich dudes who liked the black market stuff.  That was Julius Romney.  A retired philosophy professor with family, money, and a wife.  He liked young girls.  Eleven, twelve, thirteen year-olds.  Natasha was perfect for the job.  She was five feet tall and had the body of a gymnast. Twenty-two, but she could pass for thirteen.  One last meeting, he thought.  One last payment and he and Nastasha would be off to L.A.

            A moment later, he heard Sergei, stir and grunt.  Paul placed the photographs back in the envelope and placed the envelope back in his knapsack.  He glanced at the security monitor.  Sergei was standing near the front of the store, flipping through a magazine.  Paul zoomed in closer until he could clearly the words BONDAGE GIRL BONANZA on the front cover. 

            Sergei grinned and held the magazine up to the camera, pointing to the image he had been looking at.  A very young Japanese woman, hog-tied on a kitchen floor.  Paul walked out of the office and smiled at Sergei.  Sergei with the pot gut, extenuated by a t-shirt a size too small.  Sergei of the many scratchings of crotch and armpit.  Sergei with the long, scraggly hair and perpetual three-day beard.  Fuck you, you fat, hairy turd.  I’ll be glad to be rid of you.

            “Hey, Paul,” Sergei shouted. 

            “What?”

            “Watch the front a minute.  I have to take a dump.” 

            Paul looked at his watch. It was twenty minutes ‘til four.

            “Sure.  You think, this being my last day, I can leave a little early?”

            “I guess.  Not much happening here. Just wait ‘til I get back, okay?”  Sergei scratched his chin and walked back to the bathroom.

            In the six months he had worked at Lady Godiva’s there were many things he had come to hate about it.  The sticky, inky smell in the air.  The fuchsia and black faux marble decor.   Mostly he hated the regular perverts.  Those middle-aged, never-been-laid assholes who thought porn was some kind of high art form.  Guys like Sidney Goldstein of 501 Spring Street who now stood at the counter to return three tapes he had rented.

            “Returning, Mr. Goldstein?”

            Sidney nodded.  “You still have that refund guarantee, right?”

            “Sure thing.  We here at Lady Godiva are concerned with your pleasure.  If you’re not satisfied, we’re not satisfied.”

            “I didn’t like this one.”

            Cum Slut Hookers Three.  Hmm. Strange.  Hustler gave it three and a half penises.  Not like Hustler to steer us wrong.”

            “But I didn’t like it.  It —”

            “Okay I’ll just credit your account,” Paul said before Goldstein could start his rant about camera angles, lighting  and money shots.  “What are you renting today?”

            Goldstein handed him the video.

            House of Dreams.  Can’t go wrong with Andrew Blake.  A classic.  Well, we’ll just use your store credit and you can be on your way.”

            “Thank you.”

            “Got to hand it to you, Mr. Goldstein.  You’re a real auteur.”

            Once Sidney Goldstein was gone, Paul called Natasha.  Told her to be ready.  He’d be around in a while.

            Sergei finally came out of the bathroom.

            “So, you are leaving now,” Sergei said.

            “Yeah.  Time to hit the road.”

            “Can’t say I won’t miss you.  Hard to find good help in this business.  Can’t say I blame you.  Your girl is very beautiful and she wants to see America.  I understand.  Girls from Odessa are very beautiful.  My mother was from Odessa.  Also very beautiful.”

            “I didn’t realize you knew Natasha.” Paul said, noticeably perturbed.

            Sergei smiled.  “She is stripper, yes? She dances at my cousin’s club.  I see her all the time . . . at the club, of course.”

            Paul’s mind flashed to an image of Natasha giving fat Sergei a lapdance.   It was not an image he wanted to hold onto.

            “So long, Sergei.”

            “Goodbye, Paul.”

            A half hour later, Paul was sitting in his car, parked across the street from Dr. Julius Romney’s two-story Victorian.  The house stood in an affluent part of town, not far from the city park.     He waited until Romney’s wife left the house to attend her weekly book club meeting.  Once her car was out of his sight, he crossed the street and rang the doorbell.

            Romney didn’t answer at first.

            “Julius.  Julius, it’s me.  You’re good buddy, Paul.  You do remember we were supposed to meet today?

            He rang the bell again.

            “Jesus, Julius.  You wouldn’t want me to create a scene out here.  I’d hate for your neighbors to get a look at these nature studies I’ve brought with me.”

            Romney opened the door.   He was a tall man — taller than Paul’s five-foot-seven inch frame.   He was much more imposing in person than he appeared through Paul’s camera lens. He ran his long fingers through his shoulder-length gray hair, then put on his glasses.  “Come on.  Let’s get this over with.”

            The interior of the house reeked of tobacco and pine, but the furniture was clean and shiny without a trace of visible dust.  Passing through the living room, Paul made note of the large, flat-panel television on the wall.

             Paul followed Romney upstairs to the study.   The study, like the rest of the house, was neat and dust-free.   Bookshelves lined the walls.   An Apple computer sat on a small desk by the window.  A larger desk faced the door.  There was a small pile of papers on top of it, and a thick book with a faded brown cover and many bookmarks between its pages.  “You’ll understand if I don’t offer you coffee?”  Romney said.

            “Sure, as long as you understand I won’t show you mine until you show me yours.”

            “Yes, well . . .”

            Romney walked around the large desk and opened the drawer.  He removed three stacks of crisp new bills and placed them on the desk. 

            “Excellent,” Paul said.

            “No, wait a minute.”  Romney reached inside the drawer again and removed a revolver. A snub-nose .38.  Romney’s hand was shaking.  “What if I don’t want to pay you this time?”

            Paul smiled and started to walk toward him.  “What if I —”

            ”Killed me?  What if?”

            “You are an intruder in my house.”

            Paul laughed.  “You’ve been watching too many cop shows.”

            “I’m a wealthy man.  I’m a star in my community.  The police — ”

            ”Are not as dumb as you think.  You used to be a professor.  Smart guy like you.  Figure it out.  No forced entry.  Dead guy.  Unarmed.  No police record.  Only a smudged fingerprint on the doorbell. You wouldn’t have the time to make look good for the cops.”

            Romney looked like he wanted to cry. Paul reached into his knapsack and removed the photographs.  “No.  I’m afraid they’d arrest you.  Then once they found out my last job was an adult video store and connected me to Sergei, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to dig up Sergei’s little black book and connect me to you.  You’d be looking at Murder One for sure, and you’d go down with a pedophile tag as well.”

             Paul gestured Romney to put the gun on the desk.

After Romney complied, Paul shoved one of the photographs in front of Romney’s face.   “This is definitely you, isn’t it, Julius?  Recognize the birthmark.  Kind of looks like the state of Delaware, doesn’t it?  And look at the girl.  Thirteen years-old.  She doesn’t look too happy, here.  And — oh my God — Who knew you could do that with a stuffed animal?”

            Romney was weeping.  “Stop it.  You’ve made your point.”

            “Okay, so pay me.”  Paul tossed the pictures and the negatives on the desk.  Romney handed Paul the money.  He counted it and made sure it was all there.  All twenty-five thousand.

            “How do I know you won’t come back?”  Romney asked.

            “You don’t.”  Paul stuffed the money into his knapsack and started to leave, but as he turned toward the door, he saw Sergei and Natasha standing there. “Natasha?  What the fuck?”

            Sergei removed a pistol from his belt and shot Romney in the head.  His brains splattered all over his heavy, oak desk.  Sergei then pointed the pistol at Paul.  “Hand the money to Natasha.”

            Paul did as he was told.  “So you and Sergei were together all the time.”

            Natasha looked at him and smiled.  “Sorry, Paul.  I really did like you.”

            “So why didn’t you just blackmail Romney yourself?” Paul asked.

            “It’s really more complicated than that,” Sergei said. “I’ve been skimming money from my cousin, Andrei.  He’s Ukranian mob.  Lives in New York.  He trusts me to manage his affairs in South Jersey.  The Adult Video Store.  The Strip Club.  Gas Stations.  The vending machines.  All that, I manage.”

            “And all that you’ve been stealing from,” Paul said.

            “To the tune of two hundred and fifty thousand and change.  Andrei’s not too bright, but even he’s starting to get wise there’s a problem.  So I need to get out of town.  I needed a fall guy.”

            “And a blackmailer – a drifter like me is perfect for the job, right?”

            “That’s right.” 

            “So what, you’re going to kill me now?”

            “No.  I’m going to leave you here to be arrested for Romney’s murder.  Then I’m going to arrange for my cousin to have you killed. Then me and Natasha are going to disappear with the money.”

            “You got it all figured out, haven’t you?”

            Natasha kissed Sergei hard on the mouth.  Sergei gave Paul one last look and smiled.  “You didn’t think she’d really fall for a fool like you?  She knows a real man when she see him,” Sergei said.  He cracked Paul in the head with the gun – hard enough to knock him out.

            Paul awoke some time later to the sounds of police sirens in the distance.  The murder weapon lay next to him.  He grabbed it and struggled to his feet. He skull was on fire and there was a ringing in his ears, but he managed to make it to his car and exit before the police arrived.

 

            After a while, all the small towns Paul had ever been in started to look alike.  Chester’s Bridge was no exception.  The half-hour love shacks and welfare motels were always far from the center of town.  The Highwayman Motel stood out beyond the abandoned factories and tar-roof houses.  The air smelled like garbage as Paul walked up the steps to his room.  Somewhere a dog barked.  Paul’s neighbor, Fred, was leaning over the railing smoking a cigarette.  Jailhouse tats and track marks lined his arms.  “How’s it goin’?”

            “It’s going.” Paul said.

            “You got a dollar I can borrow?”

            Paul reached into his pocket and retrieved a crumpled bill.  “Here.”

            “Thanks, man,” he said, smiling, revealing crooked teeth, one canine missing, the other capped in gold.

            Paul opened his door.  Two suitcases were laying open on the bed. His laptop and his cameras were on the dresser.  “He, Baby,” he said.

            Natasha ran up and leapt into his arms, wrapped her legs around him. She kissed him hard on the mouth.  Her long, black hair draped over his shoulders.  “You want I should give you a back rub, yes?”

            “Cut the crap.  Natasha is dead. So is Paul.”

            “Okay, okay,” she said, a hint of Texas in her voice. 

            He looked at the big bag of money on the bed.  “We did good.”

            She dumped the money out onto the bed. “Oh, my lord.  I didn’t think it’d be that much.”

            “It’s all there,” he said.  “I figure we should have — what, almost 300 grand total minus  a few bucks we needed to finish the set-up?”

            “What’d you do with the gun?”

            “I wiped the prints and planted it in the safe back at the video store.  What’d you do with Sergei?”

            “Slipped him a Ruffie, then called his cousin.”

            “Good.”          

            She handled the money with Christmas-like glee.  Six scores in less than two years and as he watched her play, he knew he couldn’t have done it without her.  He was nobody and she could be anybody.  The combination worked.  His brains.  Her talent.

            He popped an aspirin into his mouth and removed his shirt.

            “Listen.  I need a shower.  So finish packing. Get rid of all of Natasha’s shit.”

            “What’s the hurry?  I thought we could at least stay through the night.”

            “Not that it will track back to us, but I don’t want to be here long enough to find out. And besides, even a retard like Sergei’s cousin will eventually figure out that Natasha has the money. We don't need Russian mob goons picking up a trail.”

            “Okay, whatever.”

            After his shower, he found her sitting on the bed, black wig gone.  Now her hair was short, punky, and strawberry blonde. 

            “Try ‘Juliet Stephenson’ out for size.  Who is she?”

            She switched to an Australian accent.  “ ‘Juliet,’ right.  From Sydney.  Land of koala bears and Nicole Kidman, yeah?”

            “Something like that, yeah,” he said.

            “Nineteen?  Exchange student?”

            “Sounds good.”

            “Are we still going to L.A.?”

            “Eventually.  Thought we’d try Utah for a bit.  A lot of good, upstanding Mormons. Freaks to begin with, I say. Figure we’d run an adoption scam this time. How do you feel about being pregnant and abandoned?”

            “Whatever you say goes for me.  I’ll be whoever you want me to be.”

 

John C. Erianne is the Publisher/Editor of Devil Blossoms. His writing has appeared in a number of publications in North America and Europe over the last two-plus decades, most recently in Blue Collar Review and Inferno. He is currently working on a novel and a really bad screenplay. He has had three poetry collections published while his fourth remains unpublished, floating around the world as a kind of urban legend.

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