Sugarloaf Key is a quiet place full of rich people who drink too much.
It’s just a few miles outside Key West, so you can drive down for the day and hang
at the bars, transvestite clubs and restaurants on and off Duval Street. Or go just for
the evening (if you don’t mind the hazards of a midnight drive home). Or even stay
overnight. There is always some wild party going on or some companionless guy with a doublewide
an old New York City pal of mine (we’d been lovers back in the day, when he had an
apartment just off Christopher Street in the West Village) retired to Sugarloaf after making
a fortune in import/export. When I called him from Miami in a panic after a
drive-by shooting at my apartment, he told me I could live in his garden shed for as long
as I wanted. All I had to do was mow the lawn regularly and trim the weeds around the mailbox
and the white-painted rocks lining each side of the driveway. The main house was all glass
and steel and hipness raised up on 12’ pylons in anticipation of the polar icecaps
turning to slush and Category 5 hurricanes up the wazoo.
since being bashed in the head with a two-by-four wielded by my associate in a smalltime
bank robbery, Lady Luck had given me the finger. I also got headaches. Bad ones. Sometimes
they lasted for a week or more. After she knocked me cuckoo, said associate ran off
with the money from said bank robbery. By a miracle I managed to escape before the cops
arrived. A horny gent (55, military crewcut, flat stomach, svelte—yoga, cardio and
weight lifting) who lived in a small brick ranch in a neighborhood of small brick ranches
behind the bank took me in. We were an item for about 4 months. Then one day, for no particular
reason, I went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back.
Two years passed. I kept moving south. Athens,
Georgia, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami. Now I was down in the Keys, down on Sugarloaf
hiding in a toolshed from some psycho dudes in Miami who wanted me kaput.
Midweek (Wednesday) was my day to visit Key West. If I’d stayed
up in Sugarloaf without a break, I’d have gone batshit, done a Hemingway with a shotgun.
Two restaurants, a gas station and a convenience store don’t make for a very exciting
existence. I spent a lot of time fishing from the local marina dock or out on open water
with friends with benefits (i.e. power boats, maybe a pool boy). When I ventured into Key
West, I wore a disguise: long, scraggly fake beard, a T-shirt that read ‘Naked
works for me,’ a Goodwill cowboy duster, a black straw fedora pulled low in front
and shades. I figured the badasses in Miami had eyes everywhere, but they’d never
figure me for a ZZ Top wannabe. That Wednesday night I sat on a bench across the street
from the Green Parrot Bar, sipping the warm half of a Tecate and listening to a cumbia
rock band down from the big city lights.
I saw a poem embedded in the sidewalk in front of me.
Key West Afternoon
Captain Tony’s &
the Hogs Breath Saloon,
on a hot afternoon
Pink shrimp with hot sauce,
conch fritters too.
& down at the Parrot
They’re singin’ the blues.
Cute, I thought.
But definitely not T.S. Eliot.
Across the street
a crowd of revelers milled about in front of the Green Parrot. Suddenly there she was!
Robin Banks! The wily bitch! The one who’d hit me with the 2x4 back in the day and
ripped me off! My brain went into momentary cardiac arrest. Fuuuuuuuuuuck!
and lime green bandeau tube topped, she might as well have been naked, as she danced a
little rock & roll two-step on the Parrot’s front pavement with some burned-out
biker guy. After a few minutes the biker stumbled off and I decided she wasn’t really
with him. Quickly I crossed the street, grabbed her arm, pinching it, and dragged her away
from the crowded and well-lighted sidewalk in front of the bar.
“Well, if it isn’t little Miss Dirty Rat,” I hissed.
She starred at me. Did a double take.
shit! Bus stop Bill. You’re the last person I ever expected to see again.”
“Yeah, well, surprise, surprise.”
“I hardly recognized you with that beard. You a big ZZ Top fan?”
“I’m incognito,” I said. “Some bad people are
after my ass.”
“Sounds like nothing’s changed
from when I first met you,” she said. “You got a cigarette?”
As a matter
of fact, I did. I gave her one; lit it with my cheap plastic lighter.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“A loser then. A loser now.”
I slapped her. Her head jerked back.
robbed that bank, baby. You took advantage. We had a deal.”
“Deal? When did we make a deal? You told me what a hot shit bank
robber you were. I dared you. Then I took the money. I never promised I wouldn’t.
Anyway, it’s long gone.”
promised me spaghetti and meatballs,” I said, pushing her ahead of me into an alley.
She was much thinner than I remembered. Almost emaciated. She leaned helplessly again the
cement block wall of a building.
is shit,” she said. “Absolute shit.”
started to cry.
“Shall I just slap you around? Or
cut you up into chum?”
“I’m broke. And sick. Chum works
fine for me.”
I reeled back, suddenly cautious.
do you mean sick?”
“Asshole cancer, asshole. I had
an operation, but it’s come back.”
A sudden sadness washed over me.
Sadness for all the friends gone from HIV. Sadness for the bitter pill of mortality that
Robin was forced to swallow. How did she always manage to get me into a three-hanky headlock?
Put my nads in a melodramatic vice?
“Do you want to eat something? That’ll
cheer you up. How about spaghetti?”
* * *
staying in a men-only hotel, so we had to go to her place. On the way there we stopped
at Fausto’s Food Store and bought tomato sauce, spaghetti, fresh and powdered garlic,
French bread, olive oil, shredded Parmesan cheese and a Tecate twelve-pack. Robin rented
half a room in a crash pad on Stock Island. Her roommate (from Prague) was out, working
at one of her two jobs, waitressing and tourist fucking (cash only, no receipt, no refunds).
No one was using the kitchen, so I opened
two beers, handed one to Robin and put the water on for the spaghetti. The tears had streaked
her makeup. I tapped my beer can against hers.
to fucked up lives,” I said.
She smiled a wee smile.
“Still robbing banks, sweetheart?”
“Nah. These days I fuck tourists
and hustle tables. Pays the rent and the medical bills. The bank thing was strictly
a one-off, spur of the moment thing. What about you, Bill?”
working as a gardener.”
“Ooooh. Sounds potentially lucrative.
Scouting out the properties to hit in the dark of night. There’s a lot of money
around here. Jewelry, paintings, objets d’art.”
made a face like Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“I’m strictly a horticulturalist. No hidden
B&E agenda. Bit of a downward spiral from my glory days, but it’s super relaxing.
I read a lot.”
On that note I noticed the water had started
to boil. Backhanded, I tossed in the spaghetti. Robin laughed. Next, I cut the fresh garlic
into paper-thin slices, dropped it into a pan with sizzling olive oil, stirring it back
and forth with the knife blade until it turned golden brown. When the garlic was perfect,
I added the tomato sauce. Meanwhile Robin sliced the French bread, slathered it with olive
oil and a dusting of garlic powder and ran it under the broiler.
We ate like wolves.
“So good!” said Robin, smacking
her lips. “You’re a swell spaghetti maker, Bill. Better than me by a mile. If
it’d fulfilled my promise back in the day to cook you spaghetti and meatballs, you
would have been seriously disappointed.
She cast me a salacious smile.
“Too bad you’re not bi.”
serious moment I avoided spewing garlic breadcrumbs across the table. I felt her hand squeeze
“Then you’d be able to enjoy this,” said Robin. “You might
even decide to ravish me.”
Next moment she lifted the lime
green bandeau up and over her head. Caught in the bandeau’s uplift, her heavy breasts
rose quiveringly. At the tipping point, they flopped back.
“You expect me to be turned on by those?”
Robin lit a
“What’s the difference? Male? Female? Flesh is flesh. Especially when
the lights are out,” she said.
this thing I have.”
Robin stood up. Her miniskirt fell to the floor. Naked as a jaybird she crossed
the kitchen, rummaged in a drawer for a candle, lit it and fitted it into a brass
candlestick, turned off the overhead kitchen light, came back to the table with two ice-cold
Tecates and sat down. One of her feet pressed and wriggled against my privates.
on, Bill. I’m dying. Give a girl a break.”
* * *
An oyster knife of light pried open my eyes.
I sat up. A
naked woman lay snoozing on either side of me. One was Robin. The other? Possibly her roommate.
A ceiling fan rotated in low.
I had no recollection of the night before after Robin lit the candle and returned
to the kitchen table. Partial amnesia brought on by nerves? The early onset of
My plan. Tiptoe out. Dress in the kitchen. Slip away into the day.
eyes shot open.
“Where are you going?”
go with you.”
We headed back into Key West, of which Stock Island was a suburb. On Southard Street
I parked under the flaming boughs of a Royal Poinciana and we walked back to 5
Brothers for a coffee con leche. As my hand reached for the door, a sleek black BMW 750i
exploded down the street. Came to a ragged stop directly in front of 5 Brothers. A darkly
tinted window receded into the door. A pistol appeared. And a hand holding it. I hit the
Robin, next to me, above me, cried out in
The car sped away.
Robin slumped in my arms. Her mouth full of blood.
swell last night, Bill,” she said.
“Yeah, right. I don’t remember a thing.”
gave a little choking laugh.
“I guess this is payback for smacking you with the 2x4. Besides, who wants
to die from a malignant asshole. Guaranteed to be nasty and painful.”
head fell sideways. She was gone. She was with God, i.e., dead as a donut.
It had to have been the Miami badasses. The ones I’d fucked over in a jewelry
Soon enough the gangbangers would learn they’d missed me. Shot an innocent
bystander. I needed to get out of town. ASAP.
buddy knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who needed someone to help crew a
38-foot motorsailer yacht from Key West to Isla Mujeres, off the coast from Cancun. The
owner, a retired corporate executive, hired me on the spot. I guess he liked my vague answers
to his razor-edged questions. When we got to Isla Mujeres, I was on my own, but with five
hundred dollars in my pocket. Seed money.
We shook hands.
I’d never been to Mexico.
We motored out of Key West harbor two days later.
Robin, for taking the bullet. I owe you.
As for me, I was fucking alive. That’s all that counted.
Ways to Kill Your Lover
by Jonathan Woods
There’s no escaping who you are.
age 31, blonde, skinny as all get-out, with a mole on the underside of her left buttock,
was a psychopath. A lesbian. And a skag user. A1 on all counts.
She lived in a sixth-floor walkup on St. Mark’s Place. What a
pain in the ass that was. All those stairs. And the cooking smells coming from the other
apartments were enough to make you vomit. Then there were the creeps. Always grabbing your
ass on the street. Eying your clutch or your vintage Cartier watch. They even climbed down
from the roof trying to get into Emily’s apartment. One had lost his grip and fallen
six floors to the sidewalk. SPLAT! Another
she stuck with a kitchen knife, but he managed to get away down the fire escape.
pad was laid out shotgun-style, living room in the front, bedroom in the back. To get from
one to the other, you passed through the kitchen/breakfast nook/bathroom into which the
apartment entrance opened. A clawfoot tub sat where the kitchen table should have been.
Oh, the pleasures of sipping a mimosa and crunching a slice of Jewish rye toast while
vigorously scrubbing your underarms and crotch in a foamy mountain of bubble bath. The
pissoir resided in a separate closet barely big enough to squeeze into bare-assed.
New York City circa 1968 filled Emily with joy and amazement. Made her
wet between the legs and tickled the bottoms of her feet. She loved to drop acid and sit
topless on the front fire escape watching the passing scene below. And, man, in those days
St. Mark’s Place was one heck of a scene. Hippies, gurus, dopers, bikers, Santerķa
priests, high-school kids from New Jersey, gays, con artists, lesbians, college girls
looking for adventure, drug dealers, Beat poets, drag queens and confidence men meandered
the sidewalks. And the smells: piss, dog poop, exhaust fumes, marijuana smoke, hotdogs
with mustard, greasy French fries and the proverbial fart. Lovers fucked standing up in
the shadowy entrance hallways of apartment buildings. A rape occurred on a rooftop. At
the 2nd Avenue end Gem Spa sat like the Buddha of egg creams. Around the corner
mid-block stood the Fillmore East. Grace Slick & Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead.
The Doors. A kosher deli next door. Rock & roll, blotter acid and a nosh.
At the 3rd Avenue end resided the Saint Mark’s Baths,
a Turkish bath catering to Russian-Jewish immigrants who liked to show off the length and
girth of their circumcised schlongs as they lamented life in the New World. By evening
the bath crowd turned gay and rowdy. A whole lot of copulatin’ goin’ on ‘til
the dawn’s early light. The AIDS epidemic was still a decade and a half away,
The previous tenants of Emily’s apartment had painted every room
black. Black walls, black doors, black ceilings, black radiators. Black industrial carpet
covered the floor. Were they vampires? Her bedroom boasted a king mattress covered by a
chaos of sheets and pillows and a retro floor lamp with a beaded shade. Books and magazines,
a baggie of weed, a full ashtray, a matte-black .45 semi-auto lay amid a scattering of
female intimates (pushup bras, shelf bras, cage bras, see-through panties, crotchless
panties, thongs, seamed stockings, garter belts, bandeau see-through crop-tops,
bralettes, cupless bras, workout bras, boob-hugging tube tops, you name it).
Emily’s best friend, Audrey, sometimes
stayed over. Audrey’s official residence was an efficiency in Chinatown. Whenever
she was down there, alone, on the street after dark, Audrey got the
heebie-jeebies. Chinatown creeped her out. Her imagination ran wild—a white
woman, single and vulnerable, kidnapped off the street, sold into white slavery
in Shanghai. A scene from The Brides of Fu
Manchu starring Christopher Lee (1966).
shared the Chinatown apartment with her two-thirds-Russian, one-third-Jewish live-in-lover
Bill Oblomov. On his tax return the box for profession said: “writer.” He hated
to be disturbed during his writing time, between noon (when he got up) and 7 p.m. when
he left the apartment for some nearby bar frequented by other “writers.” In
winter this meant Audrey (who worked uptown in Macy’s makeup department) couldn’t
return to her apartment until after dark, which drove her to stay at Emily’s.
Why did Audrey put up with Bill? Well, he paid two-thirds of the rent.
They both enjoyed simple food, a boiled potato, pan-fried tilapia, tea in a glass. Third, if the words were flowing, Bill was an ardent
lover. Okay, his wiry Bolshevik beard left scratch marks on the soft flesh of
her inner thighs. But his long, athletic tongue made up for it!
the great-sex-with-Bill period, Audrey was a rare visitor at Emily’s. But on those
winter nights when she did stay over…! For starters, Emily would rub antibiotic ointment
and shea butter body cream on Audrey’s love wounds. This (Emily’s hands playing
jazzily up and down those cold February night, vanilla ice cream thighs) was a total
turn-on. Audrey’s heartbeat went off the charts. Vivacissimo.
Oh, baby! Kiss, kiss. Moan, moan.
Back down in Chinatown, as spring sprang, writer’s block arrived
like a dose of syph. No more great-sex-with-Bill but plenty of violence! For the first
time Audrey noticed Bill’s disgusting yellow teeth. His breath reeking of garlic,
green onions, cumin, hot sauce, cigarette smoke, booze and other women. Felt the hardness
of his fists.
The next time Emily saw Audrey (about a
week into Bill’s writer’s block slump), Audrey sported a stunning shiner. Left
eye slammed shut like a steel gate, that side of her face swollen, its unhappy flesh variegated
in shades of purple, black, puke yellow and swamp green.
guess you ran into a doorknob,” said Emily, as she removed Audrey’s stockings
and fiddled with the external elements of her vagina. Cut to: BLACK.
The next morning, over Grape Nuts, banana slices and low-fat milk, they
discussed Audrey’s situation. Bill, the “writer,” had to go.
“How shall we do it?” asked Emily, rubbing her hands with
Audrey jumped up and lit a cigarette. Paced
back and forth.
“I know,” she said. “We’ll
drive him over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. At the top we’ll beat him
to a pulp and drop him into the river.”
work. He’s too powerful. And there’s no way we can stop at the top of the bridge.
Other drivers will see us. Or the cops will come because you can’t stop on a bridge.
Not even to pee. It’s a traffic hazard.”
Audrey gnawed on her thumb, looking vague
and fraught at the same time.
“How about you get him into the
sack,” said Emily, “and when he’s passed out afterwards (like they all do) we’ll
drive a six-inch nail through his eyeball into his brain.”
“Okay then, I’ll seduce him and
drive in the nail. You won’t have to be there. Just read about it the next day
in the Daily News.”
“No, no, no!”
Audrey was working herself into a tizzy. Emily rolled and lit a spliff,
took a deep drag. Then handed it to Audrey, who held it but didn’t take a puff, as
she resumed her flamboyant pacing.
Let’s simplify,” said Emily, grabbing back the spliff and sucking greedily.
“You invite him up on the roof for a few drinks. Stand near the edge and engage him
in identifying the heavenly constellations. I’ll be hiding somewhere and I’ll
run up behind him and push him over the edge.”
what if he turns around at the last minute, grabs you and throws you over? I couldn’t
live without you. I’d have to throw myself off the roof after you. And Bill would
collect the insurance money. Besides, you can’t see the stars in New York.”
“GAWD! Audrey. You’re so off the
f-ing wall. And what insurance are you talking about?”
“I don’t know, doesn’t
everyone have life insurance?”
Audrey threw her hands up in the air and burst out laughing. She couldn’t stop.
“What’s so funny?” demanded Emily.
Audrey collapsed onto the only chair in the living room and slowly calmed
“Why don’t we just hire somebody
to do it?” she asked between gasps and giggles.
“Because,” said Emily,
“to hire a hitman will cost a boob and a leg. At least ten grand. And chances are,
since it’s a man, he’ll fuck it up.”
we find a hitwoman?” asked Audrey.
over and hugged Audrey and starting tinkering with one of her tits. Next moment, buck naked,
they rolled and tumbled in a batshit swirl of feral lust. Later, sweat-sodden,
sated, lying on the futon couch, Emily relit the spliff and puffed. Audrey
stared at the black ceiling.
“It’s hopeless,” she said.
“No, it’s not,” said Emily. “We’re
back to my idea of the nail through the eye. Besides, I think it would be fun.
It’s the essence of my being. I was born to kill.”
pulled Audrey tighter into her arms.
Buttercup,” she said. “I’m sure glad we found each other. You ever tried
* * *
The next day they
agreed that Audrey would finagle Bill to a lowlife hipster bar on Avenue A. There she would
introduce him to Emily, who would do her own finagle (the old hand-down-the-front-of-his-trousers,
schlong-grabbing trick) to entice him to a nearby transient hotel across from
the Peace Eye Bookstore. What better place to commit the crime of murder?
Totally film noir.
Audrey called Bill at the apartment from a payphone
outside Gem Spa. There was no answer. An hour later she called again. Still no answer.
What the fuck! After a dozen call attempts, Audrey took the subway to Chinatown and, amid
the raunchy bouquet of steaming Bok Choy, climbed the three flights to the efficiency she
shared with Bill.
When she tried her key, the lock had been changed.
No one answered when she slammed her hand against the steel door. But the noise brought
forth Mr. Dong Lee, the middle-aged pervert who lived in the back apartment. Ashley could
see his eyes unbuttoning her white blouse, dropping it on the floor. Then unhooking her
lacy little black bralette. Did Asian guys have small dicks? She’d never slept with
an Asian guy. Or gal. She wondered if he was circumcised. She cleared her
“Mr. Bill, he win big lottery. Five hundred
thousand dollar. He rich. Very rich,” said Mr. Lee.
kidding! The lottery! Five hundred thousand dollars!”
kidding. He hit big time. Say he done with New York. He leaving town for good.
“Where did he say he was going?”
say go south.”
“You can say that again.”
* * *
Despite their best efforts, Emily and Audrey
never found a trace of Bill. Maybe he’d gone to Cancun or St. Barts or Rio.
Audrey moved into Emily’s pad, became a heroin addict and a hooker and they lived
happily ever after.
Until Emily died of a drug
Evicted from Emily’s apartment,
Audrey took up the life of a bag lady and slowly lost her mind.
last thought as she lay in a hospice dying of AIDS was of lying on a sandy beach with Bill
watching the turquoise waves roll gently in.
know how good you have it until you don’t.
Woods writes his crime and horror tales in an 1896 house in Dallas, Texas. His books include
two story collections Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem and Phone
Call from Hell and Other Tales of the Damned, and the novels A Death in
Mexico, Kiss the Devil Goodnight,and the
forthcoming pulp gothic western Hog Wild. His stories have appeared
in 3:AM Magazine; Plots with Guns; Thug Lit; Yellow
Mama; Horror, Sleaze, Trash; Dallas Noir (Akashic Books), and
other lit-zines and anthologies. He lives in the existential moment with his pals, Miss
Pinky (a Shih Tzu) and Little Ruffy (a Lhasa Apso).