art by Dee Rimbaud
This is Jenís apartment. Itís the dead of night, and the door is slightly ajar. You walk in and flick on the light switch next to the door. Nothing has prepared you for what you see.
The beige walls, the photos of the Amazon jungle, the pile of clothes in the corner, the white couch, and the living room's light green carpet are spattered with blood, its pungent metallic odor hanging in the air like fine smoke. You see more blood in the small kitchen: on the stove, on the yellow refrigerator, and in and around the sink. The kitchen floor is covered with it. The body, you have been told, is in the bedroom.
As you stand on the blood-soaked carpet, you wonder how your Jen could have anything to do with this.You think of her: a bright young woman with light brown hair, beautiful blue eyes, large breasts, and a gorgeous ass. Jen dreams of going to Brazil and has a crazy sense of humor. You remember when she scored the winning goal for her high school soccer team during the final game of the season. You remember seeing her in a fight in the Taco Bell parking lot, the larger girl throwing herself at Jen, who stepped aside and kicked her opponent into bloody unconsciousness. You remember your surprise at seeing her at church, sitting four or five rows back with her parents, stern but quiet types. You've known Jen forever, it seems.
You left the door open, and turning and looking into the cavernous night you listen for sirens. You hear nothing. It strikes you as odd that the police have not been alerted. Then it hits you: the murder is recent, an hour old.
Death hangs in the air of the apartment like an immense bat and, as you turn towards the kitchen, it beckons you. Locked in someone else's nightmare, you try to think, for you must try to piece things together. You don't have much time. Some one is waiting outside for you.
Looking at the blood on the walls and floor, you're breathing in short rhythmic bursts, like a frightened animal, and you feel light-headed. It's a sickening feeling. Attempting to put it all together, you start with the weather, the time of year.
It's now early October when the stifling heat of the Las Vegas summer has usually given way to pleasantly sunny days. For the past week and a half, however, temperatures have soared into the hundreds.
It's been a record setter for this time of year, hotter than hell, and people have been acting crazy.
Two nights ago, as you lay in bed next to her sharing a joint and dreaming of Brazil, Jen told you that she'd been fighting for the past year with one of her neighbors, a heavy-set Latin man four doors down. The man claimed Jen was responsible for his mother's death.
"What's with that shit?" you muttered. "Listen," Jen said and then told you what happened: in the playground out front of the apartment complex one night last week, the man turned his large, snarling German Shepherd on her.
Jen's arm around you, you stopped breathing as you imagined the story. Jen said when the dog attacked, she was terrified and angry. "But I didn't run," she added. Bitten on the foot, Jen picked up a pipe lying in the sand next to the swing and struck the howling dog again and again in front of screaming mothers and crying children until the animal lay dead, a bloody heap of fur. "Heat does funny things to people," Jen sighed as she kissed you, turned over, and drifted off to sleep.
As you stand in the kitchen's small universe of blood, the picture in your brain changes, and you recall going to a casino with Jen maybe a month ago. As you pulled the slot machines side-by-side, Jen said she regretted her childhood. Pumping quarters, she went on about how she struggled with the memory of her mother and father, whom she hadn't seen in years. You know all about her family. Because Jen's mother drank like a fish, parenting had been left up to the father, a short, stocky, swarthy man with the disposition of a Rotweiler.
Glancing about the room, you see the pile of clothes, and you recognize a sweater she wore in high school. During her first year after high school, you recall that Jen took a job as a stripper at a local club, where you fell in love with her. That's when she became your Jen. Making money at the club would be easy, friends assured her, and sure enough within a year's time Jen was one of the most popular dancers there. Dancing, she displayed a wonderful animal energy. After her breast enlargement, she built up a male and female clientele whose continued business assured her lots of cash. After another year, she had enough money to move out of her parentsí house -- her parents had stopped speaking to her anyway -- and rent her own apartment in a
residential area in the northwest part of town, pay her own bills and buy a car.
A gorgeous dancer, Jen went in for small flower tattoos, nipples rings, and pierced genitalia. Yet, after four years of stripping, sick of aging men who demanded her services night after night, she took a lower paying job at the Tender Trap, a blue collar restaurant famous for waitress with gorgeous bodies and small minds. Always hungry for her company, you followed her there.
Now, standing next to the TV screen streaked with blood, your mind turns to earlier today. You both work at the Tender Trap -- or, at least you did. Today, the restaurant became a madhouse around 11:30, customers -- mostly male -- pouring like hungry dogs through the double glass doors and clamoring to be served. "Yap, yap, yap," Jen kept mumbling. "Shut up, cunt," you heard Jen say to one male customer, who told her she had a sweet looking can.
Clad in tight fitting orange shorts that rode half way up their asses and skimpy T-shirts designed to expose ample boobs, you, Jen and the other girls worked feverishly, taking orders, carrying food, cleaning tables, and talking when you had the chance with the mostly middle-aged men. By 12:30, every table was full, the jukebox blaring Fats Domino and customers standing at the door waiting to be seated. At one point , Jen told you she felt ready to explode. "Like workiní in a fuckiní zoo," she said.
Trying to make sense of it all, you're still in Jen's apartment, standing in the kitchen, the air saturated with the odor of blood. Midway through the sultry afternoon today, when the flow of customers trickled off, Jen ran out to her car and brought back an envelope. "I want you to read something," she said to you with a laugh. You followed her to the back room where she sat down at a wooden table attached to the wall. Only a two customers remained in the restaurant, one the skinny biker that smelled like pig shit and exhaust and the other the thick swarthy guy that always sat in the corner, eyeing the girls and never saying a word. His nick name was Monk. Jen disliked Monk, ran him down behind his back, and refused to wait on him.
In the back room, Jen relaxed with a glass of Pepsi and a huge spicy chicken sandwich. "Yum, yum, " she said, wolfing her food. Sitting across from her, devouring chili, you watched as she opened the envelope and took out the note. She pushed the note across to you. "You nasty little bitch," it read, "it is time to meet the Reaper. I'm gonna chop you into tiny pieces."
Giggling as she ate, Jen mumbled she couldn't take this note seriously. In fact, at the first opportunity, she said that she wanted to show the ad to her on-again, off-again boyfriend Jayboy, a crazy twenty-six year old balding ex-air force man with a deep Arkansas accent and a penchant for violent sex. "Think it's his letter?" you asked. You remembered then that , when Jen tried to dump him weeks ago, Jayboy had threatened to go on a killing rampage. "Hasn't the balls to write this letter," Jen replied. "If he wrote it," she added, "Ill slice his pecker off."
This was less than twelve hours ago.
This is the rest of the story as Jen told it.
"I left the Trap close to five. When I walked to my car, I saw a blue Ford station wagon parked about twenty feet away. My hair bristled. I was being watched, and as I looked at the figure silhouetted in the car's shady interior, I knew it was Monk, a beast hiding in a cave. I stood for five minutes, keys an inch from the door, my eyes fastened upon him. Then, I unlocked my door, climbed in, started my car up, and left the parking lot in a fury of rubber and smoke.
"I stopped at Albertson's on the way home. I needed milk, eggs, bread, meat -- the usual. When I was walking down one of the aisles, looking for bread and humming an old gospel tune, I saw him. Wearing sunglasses, Monk was dressed in a faded leather jacket, his hair combed in a Elvis Presley swirl, standing at the end of the aisle twenty feet away. I would have said "What's up, ya freak?" but decided not to. I turned around and headed the other way. When I checked out twenty minutes later, Monk was no where in sight.
"Driving through falling darkness, I felt hungry again, so I went through Burger King, picking up two spicy chicken sandwiches, curly fries, and a large diet coke and then headed to my place. In my rear view mirror, a mile from home, I saw Monk's car rapidly pulling up on my bumper. Jesus, what I wouldn't have given for a sawed-off shotgun. I floored the gas pedal and pulled away easily. Cooling my rage, I drove around for some time before heading home.
"When I got home and walked through my front door, I knew something was wrong. It's one of those things you feel, like the dark angel that hovers outside my dreams. I never panic, so I walked to the tall book case to the right of the door, reached up and took from the top shelf a large black and white wooden box containing two long, curved knives with golden handles; I had inherited these years ago from my grandfather, a man from the old world who believed violence was the last and most meaningful resort.
"I took one knife out, set the box on the floor in front of the book case, and fingered the razor-sharp blade. This blade, I knew, would easily slice through anything, and I held the weapon between my teeth as I undressed in the front room. Gripping the knife, I walked to the bathroom. Except for my watch, also a gift from Grandfather, I was naked It was when I walked into the bathroom that I could feel his presence, almost certainly coming from my guest bedroom, the one room I hadn't visited.
"I was sweating; this had to be perfect. In the bathroom, I placed the knife on the lid to the toilet, right next to the tub. Knowing he wouldn't make his move yet, I turned on the warm water and stepped into the tub and under the shower. My heart beating rapidly, my dark angel suspended just over me, I waited.
"I waited for maybe an hour, the only sound the drizzle of the shower. Then, I heard and felt it: the rumble from the guest room of someone opening the sliding closet door. My body going electric from fear and excitement, I quickly grabbed my knife and watched through the mist as the door handle slowly turned. My hand did not tremble. The knife's handle felt perfect to the grip as adrenaline rushed through me like heroine.
"At that instant, I felt that my whole life had been a prelude to this moment: standing in the shower, hot water bouncing off my back, poised in the tub, gripping the blade as I watched the door slowly open, saw the dark, heavy figure at the door, a small ax raised slightly over his head. Like a great cat, I leapt over the tub, thrust the great curved knife into his huge belly, and gave the blade a mighty twist in memory of my grandfather. He stood, a huge man, eyes bulging, mouth open in a silent bellow. Blood spurting on me, the walls, the curtain, he dropped the ax, yanked the knife from his body, let it fall, turned and moved away from me.
"Picking up the knife, I caught him easily before he reached the front door, thrust the blade deeply into his back, just above the right kidney. This time, the man emitted a choking hiss as he tried to scream. He reminded me of a fat snake.
"As the man turned to face me while struggling to balance, I saw blood dappling the walls, the ceiling, and the carpet. I heard singing. Blood was universal, and I felt God for the first time in my life. Yet, I could not identify the man though I knew I had seen him before. Blood pouring from him, he moved awkwardly forward, bumped me and I mercifully let him pass. I watched the ox stumble back into the kitchen where he leaned over the sink, grabbed the faucet, and sputtering and choking, crumpled to the floor in a pool of blood. I wanted to dance.
"Yet ecstasy occasionally brings bewilderment, and I wasn't sure what to do. After several moments, I walked into the kitchen, knelt down, extracted the knife from his back and stabbed him several more times. Then I rose, washed the knife off under the cold water faucet, and lay the blade on the counter. Taking deep breaths, I reached down and turned the body over, grabbed the feet, and moving backwards dragged the heavy corpse into my bedroom.
"I lay the body inside the door, between my unmade bed and the closet. Still curious, I knelt and looked at the face. A thread of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. I shook my head. This could not be Monk, I told myself. Monk would have been short and much darker complexioned. Nor could this be Jayboy -- this man had long, stringy black hair.Besides, this man was large and fat. The dead man looked a bit like my father, but he was certainly not that. He might have been the man from four apartments down. I don't know. It didn't much matter. All I knew is that I'd just killed a man and had enjoyed it immensely.
"The job done, I stood, wiped the blood off my watch, and saw that it was around ten thirty. I wondered if anyone had heard. I walked back to the bathroom, climbed in the shower, which was still running, washed and soaped again and again until I had all the blood off, then went back to the bedroom and, trying to ignore the body, dressed in a clean sweater, clean pants, and clean sneakers. Cleansed, I took some money that I had stashed in my dresser, then moved over to the wall, opened and climbed out my bed room window, and walked three blocks to Angela's house."
That was Jen's story, which you'll hear repeatedly over the next couple of weeks.
Still standing in Jen's living room, you now hear sirens, and you think: It's about fucking time. The sirens are still far away and you wonder if you have time to see the body, which is why you came. "There's a corpse in the bedroom," you'd been told, and never having seen one, you couldn't resist coming. But now you have to leave.
Nonetheless, you make yourself walk forward, over the kitchen floor sticky with blood, and into Jen's bedroom. You flick on the light to the left of the door, and a small corner lamp provides dim illumination. You glance around Jen's bedroom, a cold, damp place whose walls remind you of a cave. Then, you slowly look down, and there it is, just inside the door, lying in a heap like an enormous pile of dirty laundry. You wonder how this thing could ever have been human and shuffle around it to get a better look. Its eyes are open, the face slate gray. Your eyes move to the stomach where you see the darkly gaping wound. Blood darkens a faded red T-shirt. Morbid curiosity suddenly seizes you, and you are tempted to kneel and touch the opening.
Oddly, you feel nothing, and rising you see the man's neck, notice that a large chunk of flesh is missing; you glance at the crotch, a bloody mess, and then run for the front door as the sirens approach. Outside, the night air is cool and crisp, almost cold, and you realize that the heat wave is past. Tomorrow will be a normal, beautiful fall day, and you think of your father, your mother, and your two little brothers, who are looking forward to Halloween. You haven't seen these people for a year. You assure yourself that you'll call them soon and tell them that you love them.
Anxious to go, Jen is waiting in your car out in the street, and you quickly open the driver's door and climb behind the wheel. "Angela, you got blood on your cheek right next to your mouth," she says, and you frantically wipe off the stain as she adds, "And some blood on your lower lip, too. Just a spot." Dizzy, you have promised that you'll go with her to a place where she'll never be found. Mexico City is a less than a day away.
"I've got friends in Mexico City," she says, lighting a joint as you start the engine, put the car in gear, pull away from the apartment, and speed down the street. The sirens are almost deafening, but you have escaped.
As you drive through back streets, Jen goes on: "Couple years ago, in a little place outside Mexico City, friends and I got into a fight over drugs and shit with these other guys and my friend shot an old woman that had nothing to do with anything. Cops down there didn't do shit." As you listen, you think of Jen's neighbor four doors down and your blood runs cold as you wonder if you'll turn out like Jen. You hope not. You want to ask her about the corpse's neck but haven't the courage. Not yet at least. You're glad it's still night.
When you hit the interstate, you wonder what Mexico City will be like. You've heard that it's big and dirty, and you know you'll have to trust Jen. Jen will be good to you just so long as you are good to her.
Taking the car up to ninety, hoping to reach Phoenix in six hours, you're pretty sure you and Jen can fly out of the country before anyone can figure things out. Cops are cops, and it generally takes them a week to move on anything. When they come for you and Jen, you'll be in Mexico City and dreaming of living happily ever after in the steaming jungles of Brazil.
TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTRIBUTOR'S BIO
Background by Karen Nicholas.