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Dana C. Kabel
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wndyhiggins.jpg
Art by Christopher Lee Stine

A Prayer for Wendy Higgins

 

Dana C. Kabel

 

         

           Lord, it’s me . . . Wendy Higgins.  I’m sorry I can’t get down on my knees right now.  Donny came home in one of his moods tonight.  Probably didn’t help that he’d been drinking and . . . well, I got on with my words.

          Really, he works so hard that I shouldn’t begrudge him some drinks with his friends after work.  But I was in a mood, I guess, after spending all that time cooking dinner to have it go cold before he finally came home.  Anyway, I gave him some lip and he gave me the back of his hand.

          It was mostly my fault for mouthing off and provoking him.  And it’s not like he put that chair behind me.  If it hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have tripped and twisted my knee.

          Anyway, please keep Donny safe and out of trouble.  He went back out the door after he hit me . . . probably back to the Horseshoe for more drinks.  I would hate to see him get locked up. . . . that would be my fault and . . . Ooh, I think I hear his truck now…

          Yes . . . thank you for bringing Donny home safe.  Please give me the patience to keep my tongue.  Thank you God . . . Amen.

 

          Hi God, it’s Wendy.  Thank you for getting Donny home safe last night.  I know he went to bed mad at me because he didn’t speak a word. . . . but at least we didn’t fight.  But . . . I found these receipts today while I was doing his laundry.  They’re for some Victoria’s Secret underthings.  It’s nothing he gave me unless . . . maybe he bought some early Christmas presents.  Kind of funny with Christmas being seven months away, but…well, I bet that’s what it is.

          Anyway, I have to ask him because it’s driving me crazy.  Please give me strength.  I don’t want trouble, but I got to know.

 

          Oh Lord Jesus . . . I can’t feel my cheek. . . . I can’t. . . . something feels broken in my face and I’m seeing spots.  I’m just so stupid.  Why’d I ask him, Lord?  Why’d I have to press it?  Oh . . . it’s starting to hurt now. . . . please don’t let it hurt too bad.  And please keep him safe again . . . I think he went out drinking some more. . . .

 

          Lord, Donny came back and . . . it’s a miracle that he made it here in one piece.  He was so wasted that he didn’t even know who I was.  My head is killing me and I can barely stand on my knee, but I helped him to bed and out of his clothes.

          That’s when I saw the lipstick.  On his neck . . . his chest . . . his . . . oh, I know I shouldn’t have looked, but I went through his pockets again.  There was a receipt for that cheap hotel out on Route 5 that they rent out by the hour.

          When he wakes up I’m going to confront him.  Oh Lord, please give me the strength to stand up to Donny.  He can’t lie his way out of this.  I know he’s fooling around on me and I have to stop him.

 

          God, it’s me again.  I guess you really do have to be careful what you wish for.  I stood up to Donny this morning and he didn’t even try to deny it.

          He said he loves her and hates me.  He said what we have together ain’t right and that he should have left me a long time ago and that you were punishing him for being with me and that’s why he’s always getting drunk and beating on me.

            When he gets home tonight, he’s going to pack all his things and leave for good.  And then he’s going to marry the little slut he’s been getting on with.

          Donny said I can keep the house.  He said Mama would have wanted it that way.  I’ll tell you what else she would have wanted . . . she would have wanted us to be together forever.

          That’s why I’ve got Papa’s gun loaded and ready.  When Donny comes back through that door tonight, I’m going to deliver him up unto Thee, my Lord.  And then I will shortly follow.

          A brother and sister should be with each other always.  Donny’ll see that when he gets home.  Please guide my aim, Lord.  Amen.

 

 

 

 


 

mothersmilk.jpg
Art by Jeff Karnick 2011

Mother’s Milk

Dana C. Kabel

 

            I didn’t see the red Acura flying up in the right lane until the beer bottle smashed against my passenger side window.  Jolene jumped out of her skin in the seat next to me.

          “Holy fuck!”  She shouted while white foam and bits of brown glass ran down the window next to her head.

          The Acura swerved in front of me and suddenly dropped in speed.  I almost rear-ended it and saw the familiar Save The Turtles bumper sticker on the back window.

          “Jesus Christ, mom.”

          My mother swerved again, caught the rumble strip on the shoulder and lobbed another beer bottle out of the window.  This one was empty.  I saw her drain it first.

          “Mom?”  From Jolene.

          “That’s my mother,” I said unapologetically.

          “She’s drunk!”

          As if on cue, my mother’s head tipped back with an upended bottle seeming to grow out of the top of her face.

          “What was your first clue?”  I asked.

          My heart jumped at the squawk of a police siren.  Blue lights danced in my rearview mirror.  I pulled into the right lane and the cop stayed on my mother’s tail.

          “She’s screwed,” Jolene said.

          I suppose I should have felt embarrassed, this being our first date and all.  Instead I felt disappointed, since it was the first date I’d had in months and knew that this incident was sure to make it a last date with Jolene.

          Not to sound callous, but I was used to this kind of shit, having grown up under the care of this mad woman who was weaving her way down the road, oblivious to the trouble in her wake.

The years of my youth were spent in fear and shame of my mother.  She stood up to object at a cousin’s wedding.  She objected to there being no open bar.  At my grandfather’s wake she climbed into the open casket and passed out on her father’s body.  She showed up on the dance floor in the middle of my senior prom, dancing with a homeless man she brought in off the street.  When a teacher tried to escort her out, she punched him in the face and ended up spending the night in jail.  There was little in life that shocked or surprised me anymore.

          I followed at a safe distance and silently thanked God that there were few other cars on the road and none of them close by.

          The cop put his siren on full tilt and my mother jumped on the brakes and took a bump from the cruiser.

          She jerked the car over to the left side of the road.  Way over.  Her car went off the shoulder and onto the grass, jumping a gully and nearly turning on its side.  When she was fully stopped, the Acura was pointing at the lane on the opposite side of the highway.

          The cop pulled his car onto the shoulder.  Against my better judgment I pulled onto the right shoulder, where you’re supposed to pull over when flagged down by a cop.

          I got out of my car and stood by the door.  The cop got out of his cruiser and motioned for me to stay put, probably figuring me for a law abiding citizen doing my civic duty to give an account of what I had just witnessed.

          He approached the Acura with his right hand on the butt of his gun.  I wondered if I was going to see him mercifully put the old lush down.

          The cop shouted at my mom to get out and her car door opened.  Jolene was suddenly standing by my side.

          My mom’s fat legs came out of the car along with a collection of empty cans and bottles that spilled out onto the ground.  It was looking like an open and shut case.

          I looked at my date…there was a pained look on her face.  I couldn’t tell if it was horror, embarrassment for me, or a combination of both.

          Mom grabbed the frame of the car and pulled herself out.   She almost fell but managed to hold herself off the ground with both hands on the door.

          She was decked out in a dirty powder blue velour jogging suit from nineteen seventy something.  The front of her pants was soaked wet with either spilled booze or piss.  The latter was confirmed when the dark patch spread further over her crotch and down her legs.  The cop took a step back and made a sour face.  I supposed he got a whiff of the cloud of body odor, piss, booze, and cigarettes that always surrounded her of late.

          “Frank…I’m sorry,” Jolene offered.

          “Wait here,” I said and started to cross the road.

          The cop had a pair of handcuffs out and was moving towards mom when she projectile vomited on him.

          “Fuck!”  He shouted.

          I saw the cop, as if in slow motion, reach for the left side of his utility belt where his taser was strapped.

          “Hey!”  I shouted.

          “Sir, stay where you are!  This is police business!”

          My mom buckled to one knee but still held on tight to the top of the car door with one arm, dangling like a child from the monkey bars.  Another wave of puke sprayed out of her all over the cop’s legs.

          “Godamnit!”  He screamed.  The taser came out and he pointed it at her.

          I suddenly pictured my wretch of a mother flailing on her back under the shock of the taser, choking to death on her own vomit.  I felt guilty for imagining the cop shooting her before.

          “Hey!  That’s my mother!”  I took out my cell phone and held it up.

          “I’m videoing you right now!”

          The cop turned his full attention to me and my cell phone, which actually wasn’t capable of videoing anything.  It was an old cheapy that didn’t even have a camera.

          “Son of a bitch!”  The cop spat.  His face turned beet red and his eyes pierced holes through me.  For a second I thought he was going to draw his gun and ventilate me.

          His anger diverted him just long enough for my mom to reach up and pull his gun from his side.  She must have had what the drunks call a moment of clarity.

          “Mom, no!” 

          Before the words fully left my mouth, the crack of the gun rippled through the air and vibrated in my chest.

          The cop jerked forward, a fountain of blood spraying out of his forehead.  Then he fell to both knees and dropped face down on the ground.

          Mom stood over his body.  One leg was kicking spastically in the death twitch.

          She closed one eye and stuck out her tongue for concentration while she tried to take aim.  Somebody was screaming.  I suddenly realized it was me.  The gun cracked again and the cop’s leg stopped moving.

          She teetered from one leg to the other, swaying and surveying her work.  I guess she was satisfied that he wasn’t getting up any time soon and she threw the gun on top of his still body.

          I heard a retching sound and turned to see Jolene throwing up next to my car.  Her body shook and buckled with the violence of her vomiting.

          “Frankie?  Frankie?”  I heard my mom calling.

          The world started spinning around me.  It spun faster and faster until I couldn’t stand up any more and everything disappeared.

          I checked out.  Way out. 

          They said it was shock and trauma.

          Couldn’t argue with that.  It was certainly shocking and traumatic to come out of my trance to find that I was in the loony bin, and lost track of a couple of months.

          There’s really no good way to describe that Rip Van Winkle effect that does it any kind of justice.

          One day I just woke up and felt like I had been pulled out of a bad dream.  My head was full of syrup and I was wearing paper pajamas.

          It turned out I was in the same cracker factory that they were holding my mom in.

          Didn’t find that out until I was out on the street, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  Mom was locked away in a section of the hospital that I wouldn’t have been allowed to venture into as a patient.

          After a couple of weeks back home sorting through the mail and phone messages that had piled up while my life was in pause mode, I tried to call Jolene.  I didn’t have any fantasies of picking up where we left off.  Especially since where we left off wasn’t such a pretty place to be.  It was just that she was the last sane person I had contact with before I checked out of the real world.  It seemed to make sense to try to connect with her and at least find out if she was all right.

          I heard her voice the first couple of times I called.  Her greeting message prompted me to leave a name and number and promised a return call in the near future.  The third time I called, the message had been changed to the generic robot variety that confirms the number that you just called and tells you that the party you are trying to reach is currently unavailable.  Leaving a message was no longer an option.

          Jolene never called back and I decided not to bother her further.

          After that I decided to pay a visit to the one person that, for better or worse, I still had in my life.  At the rate I was going, probably the only person who would ever love me…my mom.

          The D.A. wasn’t real jazzed on allowing me to visit her, as I was one of two witnesses to her crime.  Mom’s lawyer got me in though, as I was the only living family that she had and she was in a catatonic state anyway.

          It was very difficult to make my feet go one after another back through the doors of the nut house.  My whole body seemed to completely rebel against the notion.

          But I convinced all of my working parts that it was only a temporary visit and that we would never be covered with paper pajamas and doped into a coma again.

          I was led to a room that was barren of any amenities.  Mom was strapped in a bed staring at a high spot on the wall as if the grandest flat screen TV were there showing all of her favorite shows.

          “Don’t expect much,” the doctor had told me.

          I stayed for a half hour, trying to talk to her every couple of minutes without so much as a blink or twitch in response.

          “How are ya?

          “Are they treating you well?”

          “What have you been up to?”

          “Food any better?”

          “Know what they have on you?”

          “Do you remember anything?”

          “Anything at all?  Like blowing a cop’s brains out all over the side of the road?”

          I finally heaved a sigh and got up to leave.

          “Don’t come back here anymore,” she said when my back was turned.

          I almost came out of my skin.  It was like hearing a voice from the grave.

          “Mom?”

          “Don’t you come back here.” 

          I saw her mouth move while her eyes stayed fixed on that spot on the wall.

          “It’s all your fault I’m here,” she said.

          “You never treated me like you should have, Carl.  If you hadn’t been out gallivanting with a whore, none of this would have happened!”

          Carl was my dad’s name.  He died alone years ago.  She chose the bottle over him.  I wanted to scream and pounce on her and strangle every last bit of pathetic life out of her wretched, booze-ravaged body.

          I went out the door and didn’t look back.

          When I got home I called the D.A. and told him my mother was back to her old self and that I would be glad to testify at her trial.

 

 

 

friendswithout.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2012

FRIENDS WITHOUT BENEFITS

By Dana C. Kabel

 

          When I first started going with Coz I thought he was charming.  I knew up front that he was into the bar scene and liked to tip a few back…okay, quite a few.  He sat at my bar almost every night, so I had first hand knowledge.

          Every time I poured him a fresh pint, he’d hold it up and say, “To your eyes, Mandy.”

          That charm wore off a thousand drunken nights later.  He’d be so wrecked that it sounded like, “Two door ass, Mammy,” before he passed out face down on the bar.

          I kicked Coz out of my bed long before he got that bad, but I kept pouring his drinks at the bar.  We kept our relationship friendly and he brought me some business on the side now and then.

          That was why I was laying on a damp basement floor with my hands and feet bound with duct tape and a big knot on my head.  Teach me to keep company with old bed fellows.

          I wasn’t alone in the basement.  Ten feet away a dim light spilled out from under a steel door, along with muffled screams.

          When the heavy door moaned as it opened, and let in the sound of a man crying.

          The new light hurt my eyes and I rolled away from it to adjust.

          “You make me sick!”  Quit crying!”  A gruff voice shouted.

          “Nuh, nuh, nuh…”

          “I said quit it, you cunt!  You played a man’s game and you were dealt a man’s penance.  Live with it.”

          “Nuh…nuh…”

          “Oh for fuck’s sake…get him outta my sight!”

          The sound of a foot connecting with an ass and then the poor bastard spilled out of the door, nearly falling over top of me.

          Something warm and wet splashed on my face and arms.

          “Nuh…nuh…”

          He was hugging his right arm to his body.  My eyes had adjusted.  It took me a moment to recognize the tormented face of this man that I had just met a couple of days earlier, and even in the dim light I could see that his shirt was saturated in blood.

          He looked at his hand and I did too.  First I thought he was making a fist.  He wasn’t.  You need fingers to make a fist and his had been cut off.

          Then I saw another familiar face.  It belonged to a sweaty guy who came into the bar every now and then, name of Kevin.  Last name unmentioned and nobody really had the balls to ask it.

          Kevin grabbed the blubbering wreck by the back of the neck like you grab a pup.   He yanked him back and the man stopped dripping blood all over me.

          “Nuh…nuh…my fingers…they took my godamned fingers.”

          Kevin slapped the back of his head with his free hand.

          “You got off easy!”  He growled as he dragged the poor bastard up the stairs.

          “Where’s the girl?”  Pug shouted.  The voice was unmistakable.  I wasn’t exactly surprised who it belonged to.  Then a shadow moved in the light of the door and I knew I was fucked.

          It was another giant as big as Kevin.  I was yanked rather than lifted off the floor and slung over his shoulder like a sack of flour.  The smell of cigarettes and sweat and cheap cologne filled my nostrils.

          I was taken into the room and dropped.  I closed my eyes on the way to the floor, waiting for the jolt and perhaps the violent snap of bone or crack of skull.

          I bounced off a mattress instead.  The jolt still took the wind out of me.

          I opened my eyes and saw the overhead light swinging.  The giant had hit it with his head and the webbed shadows that danced on the stone walls did nothing for the dread I was feeling in my gut.

          I rolled to my side and my skin stuck to the mattress because it was covered in blood.

          Pug was straddling a backwards chair, a pistol dangling nonchalantly in one hand.  He was an old street hood with a crew of cockroaches that would sometimes congregate in the back of dive bars like mine.  He had a reputation for being as cruel as he was ugly. 

          Nobody called him Pug to his face.  I guess that he didn’t appreciate being likened to a yappy snub nosed canine, but that was exactly what he looked like, sagging jowls and all.

          “Where’s Cosmo?”  He asked calmly.

          I hadn’t seen Coz in two days, and when I had, he wasn’t acting his usual self…meaning he was sober at the time.  That was a fact that I attributed to it being eight in the morning when he stepped into my bar.

          Coz was usually well into his cups by the time he reached my place, but then my bar was usually the last stop on his route.  That was because he knew that if he blacked out or just passed out, a couple of my other regulars would drop him on the couch in back.

          “You interested in making some fast money?”  He had asked after he had surprised the hell out of me by ordering a soda.

          Figured he was giving me a tip on a trick.  Not like he had turned into my pimp or anything…I mean, he was a cop.  Just every now and then he brought a client my way and I kicked him back a little green for the business.

          Now, before you get all judgmental about me…times are tight for everyone, and if I had to rely solely on the income the bar generates, I would starve to death and run out of coke.

          I inherited the place from my dead old man, who really was an old man.  And yes, I married him for just that reason because I figured he would kick the bucket while I was still young enough to enjoy his money.  Again, don’t judge…Lou had no family, and I was fucking his ugly brains out until the day he died with a smile on his face.  It was a win-win for everyone…well, almost everyone.

          Lou had a lot of debt, and all of the money in his bank account and the money from the sale of his nice house went to pay that debt, and all that was left was the stinking bar, but it was better than nothing.

          So yes, sometimes a girl has to fund her expensive vices with a little sex for sale.  It’s not like I’m a whore or anything.  I take high paying, clean guys only.  And it’s only once or twice a month.  Sometimes five at the most.

          “Whattya say?”  Coz asked.  He had folded some money and slipped it in my hand, leaving his clammy paw there a little too long.

          Was he proposing to pay for sex from me for himself?  That would be weird, since we had once been in a personal relationship.

          The way he had let himself go from all the booze and probably drugs, he would have had to pay me an awful lot, but my cushion account was starting to run a little low so if he had the money I probably would have made the time.

          Coz took his hand away and I looked down at what he left there.  It was a folded five dollar bill.

          “Not even close,” I snorted.

          “Jeez, what are you charging for a soda these days?”  He asked.

          “Oh,” I laughed and made the five disappear.

          “Keep the change,” he said with an eye roll.

          “Sorry…you said something about quick money and…”

          “You thought I wanted to pay you for a screw?  Well, not that you wouldn’t be worth it…and not that I’m above picking up a hooker every now and then, but it’d be kind of weird wouldn’t it?

          “I mean...we were in a mutual relationship once…and I know things kind of went south for some reason…and I’m certainly not judging you for anything, but…”

          “Okay,” I cut him off.  “You don’t want to pay to sleep with me.  What is it you want to pay me to do?”

          “Pug Oronati,” Coz said.

          “Eew.  You want me to screw Pug Oronati?”

          “Well, sort of…but not in the way you’re thinking about.  I want you to get close to one of his guys so you can put a wire on him.”

          “Are you nuts?  Those guys chop people up and drop them in the river for taking their parking spots.  I’m not wearing a wire around some psycho mobster.”

          “No, no, I don’t want you to wear a wire.  I want you to plant one on him.”

          “No friggin’ way!”

          Coz took a little baggie of nose candy out of his pocket and chopped a few lines out on the bar.

          I shook my head; apparently he thought he was going to get me high and talk me into killing myself.  But he kept scrambling the powder and lining it up again until I felt my skin itch and my mouth water.

          “Go ahead,” he said.  “This is grade A primo shit.  Best I’ve ever had.”

          Before I knew what I was doing, the straw he offered was in my hand and up my nose and I was making the lines disappear like a Hoover.

          An orgasmic current danced through my nasal cavity and made my gums tingle.  It zapped my skull and fired off all the right cylinders in my brain.

          “Fuck yes!”  I shouted and pounded my fist on the bar.

          Coz went over to the shelf and snatched a bottle.  He spiked his cola with a healthy belt of bourbon.

          “To our demons,” he said, lifting his glass in a mock toast.

          He knocked the drink down and put the empty glass upside down on the bar.

          “Did you like it?”  He asked.

          I was too busy shuddering in ecstasy to answer.

          “There’s more where that came from…a lot more.  Plus five grand in cash.”

          “Who’s the guy?”  I asked.

         

          “I said where is that piece of shit Cosmo?”  Pug barked.

          “I…I don’t know,” I said.

          “I wasn’t asking you, sweetheart.  I was asking him!”

          Kevin was standing in the doorway.

          “I’ll bring him down,” he said.

          “An’ change yer shirt.  It’s disgusting,” Pug said.

          Kevin examined his blood spattered shirt and grinned.

          “Before or after I bring down the cop?”

          “Alright, leave it on.  Shake him up a bit.”

          Kevin went and clomped back up the stairs.

 

          “Do I know this guy you want me to plant a wire on?”  I had asked Coz.

          “Pug’s right hand man.”

          “Iggy?”

          Coz smiled.

          Iggy was an old man who had done a lot of time.  If Pug and his crew had been higher up their social scale, Iggy would have been called a consigliore.  As it was, he was just Pug’s boy.

          “Wire tapping.  That’s kind of a Fed thing ain’t it?  You’re not that kind of cop.”

          “This isn’t part of the job.  It’s part of my other business.”

          Coz was a dirty cop with his fingers in a lot of pies.  But I had never known him to get mixed up with the mob…even low level scum like Pug.

          “I’m not really interested in wiring him.  Just interested in Pug finding a wire on him,” Coz said.

          “Hmmm, sort of a dissension in the ranks type thing?”

          “Yeah, something like that.”

 

          Kevin was back with Coz in his meaty hands.  He was apparently a pro at grabbing puppies by the nape.  Coz looked like he had been beaten and thrown into the river and dragged out and beaten again.  His clothes were stained and dripping wet.

          “What the fuck happened to him?”  Pug asked.

          Kevin shrugged. 

          “Slipped and fell into a tub I guess.”

          “What I tell you about going overboard with the rough stuff?”

          “Eh?”  Kevin shrugged again.

          “Is he alive?”

          “Lessee,” Kevin said and slapped Coz into consciousness and then dropped him on the floor.

          Coz came around sputtering and coughing.

          “Mornin’ sunshine,” Pug said.

          Coz looked at me.  There was terror in his eyes.  I would have felt sorry for him if he hadn’t been the one who had dragged me into this mess.

          “Pug…there’s been some mistake,” he said in a quivering voice.

          “Don’t insult me.  You tried to set up poor old Iggy.  That guy’s like my father…no, better.  I actually hated my old man.  Who were you working for…Slominski or Puccio?  I know they both got a hard on for me.”

          “I…I don’t know nothing.  The girl…Amanda…I used to bang her.  She came asking me about Iggy…how she could hook up with him.  I dunno.  I told her to shit in her hat.”

          Pug laughed and shook his head.  Before I could call Coz a liar Pug said, “That’s not what she told me.”  Which surprised me because I hadn’t told him anything.

          “She…she’s a liar.  Whatever she said to you…she’s just trying to save her own ass!”  Coz said.

          “And you’re not?”  Kevin said before he kicked Coz in the side.

          He grunted in pain and pissed himself.

          “Take it easy Kev.  That cop’s liver is dirtier than he is from all the rotgut he sucks down.”

          Pug got up and walked over to where I was laying.  There was a cannon sized gun in his hand.

          “I’m very sorry sweetheart, but I’m afraid that if what he’s saying is true I’m gonna have to kill you now.”

          “No!”  I yelled.  “He’s lying.  I’ll tell you everything!”

          Pug’s smile didn’t improve his face.  “I know you will,” he said.  Then he put the gun to Coz’s head and pulled the trigger.

          The noise was deafening.  The mess was…well, everywhere.

          Kevin was laughing like he had just seen the funniest thing in the world.

          “Shit!”  Pug said, shaking gore off his pant legs.  There were even bits of Coz’s skull on me, though I was in a little too much shock to notice at first.

           “Cut her loose.”

          Pug handed Kevin the big gun and started wiping his hands on his pants.

          “You…you’re going to let me go?”  I asked incredulously.

          Pug leaned over me with a big grin across his ugly face.

          “Course I’m going to let you go, sweetheart,” he said and kissed my bloody cheek.

          “I understand your surprise.  Ordinarily I’d put a bullet in your head right here and now.  But the trouble you and that dead turd almost caused for poor Iggy…the old guy’s gotta get something outta this.”

          Iggy stepped out of the shadows.  The lines etched into his ancient face by age were as prominent as his wicked grin.  He had a whip in one hand and a chain with a shackle the size of my neck on the other.  I trembled in fear.  Everyone in the neighborhood had heard rumors of the old man’s penchant for sadistic torture.

          “I’m letting you go, but I’m handing you over to old Iggy.  It’s up to him what to do with you now.”

          The old man chuckled as he closed the shackle around my neck.  Kevin cut the duct tape from my legs and yanked me up to my feet.  I didn’t want to think about what the old man was going to do to me, so I thought about what might happen to my bar after I was dead.

 

blame.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees

BLAME

By Dana C. Kabel

 

            Bruce had the same awful dream again.  He was standing in the bedroom doorway watching his wife and his best friend having sex.

          Danni was the picture of porcelain beauty.  Her long black hair cascaded over the pillow and spilled onto the bed like a waterfall.  Her red lips were parted in ecstasy and her green eyes gazed up at the ceiling as if she was praying.

          Alan was naked except for his white lab coat, which swung against his ass with each thrust he made into Bruce’s wife.  Danni wore black stockings on her legs, which were wrapped around his oldest friend’s muscular thighs.

          When the initial shock of walking in on them wore off, Bruce tore his tortured eyes away from the scene of betrayal.  He looked up at the ceiling, at the very spot his wife was gazing at.  And it was a spot; a growing spot of blood on the high white ceiling.

          Suddenly Alan was standing right in front of him.  His lab coat was open and the sweat of passion glistened on his heaving chest.

          “Next,” Alan shouted with glee.  Spit landed on Bruce’s face.  His friend’s eyes were open too big and his grin stretched too wide for his face.

          There was a repugnant odor in the air; like meat in a butcher shop that had been left on the counter too long.

          Bruce pushed past Alan.  The lab coat had Dr. Al stitched in the corner under a yellow smiley face.

          “Danni,” he cried.

          Then he saw the full sight of her.  He saw what Alan’s body had been hiding while he was on top of her.  Danni’s throat was slit wide open and a scalpel was buried in the center of her chest between her two bare breasts.  Her eyes were gazing up at the ceiling because they were glazed over and dead.

          A lot of the blood was dried and crusted, so he knew that she was already dead when Alan had his way with her body.

          Bruce turned and saw his old friend walking away, bouncing on the balls of his feet and laughing like a crazed clown. There was blood all over his hands and on the cuffs of the lab coat.

          Bruce ran after him, but the hall seemed to extend and pull Alan along with it.  The faster Bruce ran, the farther away Alan appeared.

          He woke up screaming in the same bed that had been desecrated in his dreams.  The sheets were soaked with his perspiration and he dragged them from his skin.

          His dog, Pounder, jumped off the bed; off from the spot that Danni used to sleep in.  He didn’t relish the idea of the giant mutt taking her spot on the bed, but the poor bastard kept him up all night crying when he tried to shut him out of the room.

          He was her dog, really; and Bruce often wondered if the pooch would die of a broken heart in her absence.  He doubted he could get to sleep without the sound of the dog’s breathing to fill the emptiness she had left.

.            Bruce crushed her pillow to his face and breathed in.  The scent of Danni’s shampoo was barely detectible.  It had been nearly six months since she had lain her head on that pillow.

“I’m scared,” she said, when she couldn’t hold her brave smile anymore.

“You’re going to be all right,” he said, though they both knew better at that point.

She blinked and a single tear rolled out of the corner of her eye and landed on the pillow.  Then she buried her head in his shoulder, so weak and drugged that she was asleep before he could even get the bad taste of the lie he had just spoken out of his mouth.

That was the last time Danni had slept by his side in their bed.  The next morning, he took her to the hospital, where she was admitted after Alan delivered the painful truth.

“I’m so sorry.  The surgery, at best, may prolong your life for a few weeks.  But the pain…”

Danni held a wafer thin hand up.  She didn’t want to even consider it.  And Bruce had no right to expect her to.

“Just…do what you can to keep me comfortable.  Without knocking me out completely.”

 She stayed in a hospital bed for less than a week before they moved her to a bed in hospice, where she died two days later.

          Alan did everything he could for her, and he was the only doctor Bruce had trusted to care for his wife.  He wasn’t just Bruce’s best friend; he was the most sought after oncologist in the North East.

          “I…did everything I could,” Alan told him at her funeral.  And in his logical mind, Bruce knew that he did.  He wasn’t too blinded by his own grief that he couldn’t see the real pain in his friend’s face.

 Still, sometimes in the quiet of a sleepless night, he couldn’t stop his heart from going to a dark place; pinning the blame of her death on the man who did all that anyone could have done to save her.

          Then the nightmares started; and that irrational resentment grew bigger.  Bruce knew that he should see a therapist to deal with it; but he wasn’t ready for that yet.

          He tried a couple of support groups that were suggested to him, but he spent every moment in those sessions gripping the arms of his chair to keep his ass in the seat.  He couldn’t even get halfway through the hour without storming out the door.  The survivors that told their stories were stuck in a rut of self-pity.  They wallowed in their own misery over every little problem that came into their pathetic lives.  Bruce despised them.

          He grieved in his own way…alone.  He kept the pain locked in a box in his gut.  When it got to be too much to contain, he closed himself up in the bedroom and allowed himself five minutes to cry it out.

          He hadn’t been able to do that since before the nightmares had started.  It was like they blew the lid right off that box and the poison that was contained in there ran through his veins all the time now.

          Bruce cut his shower short that morning when he heard the phone ringing.  He ran dripping into the bedroom and picked up the call just before the answering machine took it.

          Alan was on the line.

          “Hey, I was just thinking about you,” Bruce said.

          “Could you meet me for lunch today?  I need to talk to you,” Alan said.

          There it was.  Alan was going to tell him that Danni could have been saved.  That he made a mistake in her diagnosis and that if they had undergone treatment she would still be alive today.  He was going to confess at last that his own incompetence had killed Bruce’s wife.

          Worse yet, he was going to admit to a lurid affair they were having behind Bruce’s back before they found out she was sick.  Old feelings had sparked up from their college days when Danni and Alan had dated, and they didn’t have the courage to tell Bruce they had fallen back in love.  With Danni gone, Alan couldn’t shoulder the guilt of their terrible secret alone. He would confess to the lurid affair and throw himself at Bruce’s mercy.

          “So, twelve-thirty at Murphy’s?” Alan said.

          “Huh?”

          “Lunch…you’re going to meet me?”

          “Oh…yeah, I’ll meet you at Murphy’s.”

          “See you at twelve-thirty,” Alan said.

          “Yeah, see you then.”

          Bruce went to Murphy’s a half hour early.  He wanted to have a couple of drinks to loosen up.  What he was planning to do wasn’t going to be easy.

          A couple of shots with beer back chasers calmed his nerves and stopped his hands from shaking.  He was sitting in a corner booth with his back to the wall.

          Murphy’s was the typical dark Irish pub.  They had cheap drinks at happy hour and made big, sloppy burgers and corn beef hash in the kitchen.  There were pickled eggs in a jar by the cash register.  It was the kind of place they used to frequent when they were in college; back when Alan and Danni were a couple and Bruce was secretly in love with his best friend’s girl.

          If Alan really was meeting him there to confess an affair, he wondered if he even had the right to judge him, when Alan had her heart first.

          Bruce sat with his coat on the left side of the bench and a newspaper on the right.  There was a gun under each of them.  A .45 was under the coat and a snub nosed .38 was under the newspaper.  A Saturday night special.

          “But it’s only Wednesday,” he said to himself with a chuckle.  The bartender was staring at him with a frown from across the room.  He decided to slow down on the drinks until Alan got there.

          It was quarter to one by the time the doctor arrived.

          “Sorry I’m late,” Alan said.  “I had an appointment run over and then traffic was a bitch.

          Bruce signaled for the girl that had been waiting on him and ordered a couple of beers for them.

          “Do you want another shot?” The girl asked.

          “Not right now, thanks,” Bruce said with a concerted effort not to slur his words or sway in his seat.

          Alan raised an eyebrow and Bruce felt him scrutinizing the situation as the girl cleared empty beer bottles and shot glasses from the table.

          “Have you been drinking a lot lately?” Alan asked when the waitress finally walked away.

          “I don’t know,” Bruce said.  “Guess it depends on what you would call a lot.”

          Alan smiled, though his eyes registered concern.

          The girl brought the beers and Alan asked her to give them some time before they ordered.

          “Sorry,” he said to Bruce as the waitress walked away. “I’m not judging you.  I’m the one who invited you to meet me at a bar, after all.”

          Alan downed half his beer and rubbed the space between his eyes like he was trying to massage away a headache.

          “You know, a shot actually sounds pretty good right now,” Alan said.  “I’m done working for the day anyway.”

          He motioned for the waitress and ordered two shots of top shelf bourbon.  Bruce noticed the bastard’s hands were shaking a little.  He reached under the coat and touched the butt of the .45.  Then he slid his right hand under the newspaper and slid the .38 under his leg.

          Alan’s eyes darted around the room.  He was definitely guilty of something; a deep, dark secret he was keeping in that aching head of his.

          “So what do you want to talk about?” Bruce asked as if he had no idea.

          A thin sheen of perspiration appeared on Alan’s forehead.  Bruce slid his hand under his leg and wrapped his fingers around the grip of the little gun.  He closed his eyes and saw the horrific image from his dreams; Alan pumping away at his wife, but now he could see her throat slit open and she was laughing at him.  Her face was drawn with illness with dark hollows around her eyes, like she looked right before the end.

          He would let the doctor have his say and then he would put a bullet in his head.  Or maybe he would pull both guns out and play with fear and intimidation.  Make Alan sweat it out a bit.  Maybe put a bullet in his leg or stomach first and let him suffer before the end.  Suffer as he had been suffering lately with his crazy dreams and his own fucking headaches.

          Between the two guns, he had enough ammunition to punch more holes in Dr. Al than a piece of Swiss cheese.  Just as long as he saved one bullet for himself and a couple in case he had to stop any would-be heroes from interfering.

            There was no way he was going to rot in a jail cell for doing what had to be done.  He was going to punch his own ticket as soon as he punished Alan.

          The waitress had brought the whiskey shots while Bruce was bouncing those thoughts around.  He hardly seemed to notice the fresh drink that was placed in front of him.

          “Did you hear what I was saying?”  Alan asked.

          “Huh?”

          Alan frowned and moved Bruce’s shot glass just outside his reach.

          “Maybe you ought to wait a little bit on this one.”

          Bruce didn’t say anything.  He was wondering how long a gut shot would take to kill someone.  He had always heard that was a painful way to go.  That’s what they said in the movies anyway.

          “Look, there’s no easy way to tell you about this,” Alan said as he dropped a newspaper on the table between them.

          The headline jumped right off the page, even as it faded in and out of focus.  Bruce supposed he was too drunk to read, let alone drive.  But he wasn’t going to be driving anywhere ever again.  He thought about giving his car keys to the waitress for her tip.

          “Enjoy your new wheels,” he would tell her.

          “Ha!” he shouted.  The headline came into focus again and briefly sobered him.

          AURORA HEIGHTS: GATED COMMUNITY CANCER HAVEN

          Aurora Heights was the name of the subdivision Bruce and Danni lived in for the first nine years of their marriage when he took the job in Colorado designing a string of ski resorts and chalets.  They had been back in Connecticut almost two years before the grim reaper caught his wife.

          They hadn’t been close enough to anyone out there to maintain any lasting contact once they moved.  Nobody there cared enough about them to call them up and tell them that people from their old neighborhood were starting to drop off like flies.

          According to the article, five different families living in the upscale neighborhood had suffered the loss of family members to incurable cancer in the past year alone.  If they had counted Danni, it would have said six. 

            There was contamination in the water that was pumped into the subdivision from a shared community well.  A trucking company that passed by the town on their dumping route had started shaving miles off their trip by dumping toxic waste in an undeveloped wetlands that bordered Aurora Heights.

          “Aw Christ,” Bruce said when he finished reading the article with tears rolling down his face.  He almost preferred the dark fantasy that was haunting his paranoid mind to the reality that was unfolding before him. 

It was his fault that Danni was gone.  He was the one who moved her hundreds of miles away to live in a poisoned house on poisoned land.  Danni had never wanted to go there.  She was depressed and homesick throughout the near decade that they were out there.

That was why they didn’t have any friends there, and why nobody from the old radioactive neighborhood called them up to tell them they were contaminated.  It was Bruce’s fault that Danni was dead and gone and never coming back.

He leaned over the table to reach his whiskey shot and the .38 fell to the floor.  He ducked under the table as fast as he could, to grab the pistol and tuck it back under his leg.

          “What was that?” Alan asked.

          “My…cell phone.”

          “Heavy phone.”

          “Yeah,” Bruce said.  “You have no idea.”

  He moved the .38 under his coat next to the .45.  He didn’t have a plan for hiding the guns and walking out of there with them.  He hadn’t planned on leaving the restaurant alive.

          What the hell was he thinking, bringing them in there anyway?  He knew he was truly beginning to lose his mind.  How could he even think of killing Alan, who had done so much for him and had always treated him like a brother?

          “I’m so sorry, Bruce,” Alan said.  He had trouble looking his friend in the eye.

          “That’s just part of it,” he continued.  “Remember when we were considering surgery for Danni before the final results came back?”

          “Yeah…I banked blood for her surgery because we had the same blood type.”

          Alan dropped a heavy sigh.

          “I ran tests on your blood.  I’m really sorry to have to tell you this…”

          Bruce stopped listening and threw the shot back.  Then he slid his hand back under the coat and wrapped his fingers around the .38 again.

          “You should leave now,” he told his friend.

 

 

Dana C. Kabel’s stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Black Heart Magazine, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Muzzleflash, Mysterical-E, Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey, Thrillers, Killers ‘N Chillers and Yellow Mama, to mention a few. He has a story in the upcoming Otto Penzler collection, KWIK KRIMES, and he blogs at www.thenonstopbullet.blogspot.com.

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