by Jonathan Woods
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 bed.
Philip, 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.
Ever 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.
Glancing down I saw a poem embedded
in the sidewalk in front of me.
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!
Black mini-skirted 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
“Holy shit! Bus stop Bill. You’re
the last person I ever expected to see again.”
“Yeah, well, 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
“I 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.”
“You 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.
“My life is shit,” she said.
She 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.
“What 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.
“Here’s to fucked up lives,”
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?”
“I’m 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.”
I 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 my knee.
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.
me to be turned on by those?”
Robin lit a
difference? Male? Female? Flesh is flesh. Especially when the lights are out,” she
this thing I have.”
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
Bill. I’m dying. Give a girl a break.”
* * *
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
Tiptoe out. Dress in the kitchen. Slip away into the day.
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 pavement.
Robin, next to me, above me, cried out in
The car sped
in my arms. Her mouth full of blood.
swell last night, Bill,” she said.
right. I don’t remember a thing.”
She gave a
little choking laugh.
this is payback for smacking you with the 2x4. Besides, who wants to die from a
malignant asshole. Guaranteed to be nasty and painful.”
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 heist.
the gangbangers would learn they’d missed me. Shot an innocent bystander. I
needed to get out of town. ASAP.
My Sugerloaf 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
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.
Jonathan 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).
O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle
Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After
graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and
galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children,
Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and
art fairs around New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer.
His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.