Category Archives: Matt Mattila

All That You Can

“Go back to sleep” he says to her. He is sitting on the end of the bed, the stoplight down the road flashing yellow caution through the broken blinds. His head is in his hands. The snub nose perched between his knees.
+++++“I can’t,” she says from behind him. She’s tried turning over a couple times It does nothing. It is dark in here. The heat is stifling and sweat crawls on her skin like fingers. She doesn’t want to look at him. Never again. She stares at the ceiling and chases shadows.
+++++“Just try,” he says.
+++++“No point.”
+++++He sighs. Shoots a glance back at her. Her bright silver eyes glare back at him like a tiger in the jungle brush. He says nothing. She says nothing. He looks down at the gun tucked in his knees. She scoffs She shakes her head and tries closing her eyes knowing damn well it won’t help for shit.
+++++She opens them again and sighs. He thinks she’s being overdramatic. He’s smart and says nothing. He blames her mood on the heat. It can do crazy things to you sometimes. Happens to everybody. It’s understandable. Just be patient and drink your water and wait. They can keep moving tomorrow.
+++++“They’re coming for us aren’t they,” she asks in that scared-little-girl voice that makes the hair on the back of his neck flare up. He doesn’t breathe less the stutter in his heart show. Doesn’t look back less he have to look her in the eyes again.
+++++“We’ve been runnin for a long time, baby,” he says. “Runnin fast and not lookin back.”
+++++She scoffs again. He doesn’t believe a word he says either.
+++++“You were fucktard enough to check in under your real name.”
+++++“They asked for my ID,” he begs her, “what’d you expect me to do?”
+++++“Maybe check in under mine since I’m not the one they’re after?”
+++++“What good would that do,” he snaps. “They know you’re with me.”
+++++She makes that irritated noise again and throws the sheet off her legs and her feet bang on the floor and she runs over to the lamp in the corner of the room.
+++++He stands up. He gets between her and the lamp like a bouncer.
+++++“Are you fucking crazy?” he hisses. “What if they’re trying to find our room? We gotta be quiet.”
+++++The shadow slashes her as she steps out. The sweat dotting her pale face and the brown hair pulled back and the thin lips and the wild fiery eyes make him take a step back.
+++++“I don’t give a shit anymore,” she says and lunges at him. He sidesteps her and she slams into the wall and keeps banging her fists into it as he runs over to try calming her.
+++++“I want out,” she starts screaming. “I want outta here. Now.”
+++++“We’re bailin in the morning.”
+++++Now.
+++++Her nostrils flair and a hair pulled back in the ponytail pops off one by one like a string breaking.
+++++We can’t leave tonight,” he reminds the woman again and steps up to her like the fool she is. “They’ll be lookin for us on the roads.”
+++++“What the fuck’s the point in hidin out when all we’re doing is wastin time and blowin all the money we got. They ain’t lookin fo’ me, anyway,” she says with the sarcasm dripping through her teeth, “it’s you they’re after.”
+++++“We can’t drive in twelve hour shifts anymore. We’ll wreck out. You know that.”
+++++“You’re useless.”
+++++She spits at him. Nothing comes out. The fire comes over him. She looks away with that fucking grin on her face and he tries to control himself. Better cool it before he snaps again. That quick trigger wasn’t never good for him.
+++++Gravel outside the window crunches and a motor gets closer. He stops in his tracks and she does too as the headlights creep towards them and the brakes squeak as it stops in the parking an inch from the window. He holds up a hand to shut her up and she is already sitting up with the sheet between her teeth. No sound between them save chopped breathing.
+++++The lights never turn off. They shine right through the blinds that cut across him in piss yellow light and bleak shadow. His shadow fills half the room. He moves an inch at a time and it crawls on the walls like a spider. He shuffles across the carpet and lunges down and grabs the gun and cocks it back. Pull the hammer forward, open the chamber. Six bullets?
+++++No. Five. They’re running because one bullet went into the wrong man.
+++++The gun’s at his side and his pointer slips in and out of the guard. No time to psych himself up. He has to pretend he’s ready to kill a man again in order to protect himself. And what little he has fucking left.
+++++The headlights have been on too long. The motor doesn’t hide the footsteps crunching on sand from the office down on the left to the passenger side of the truck. She gasps again and he wants to put a pillow on her face to shut her up for good.
+++++He doesn’t. No time. The steps have stopped. They’re listening. They start again. They’re coming for the two of them.
+++++“Let’s go,” she whispers and he shushes her with the steel in his eyes.
+++++“Let’s go I said,” she repeats louder.
+++++He ignores her and steps closer to the door. The feet are on the other side. Those aren’t cop boots. No radio chatter. Only a spit to the side that rustles the bush leaves.
+++++“Is that them?” she asks without restraint. She stands up and he shoots her another look telling the woman to shut the fuck up. His heart pounds in his ears. There’s a snear crawli  ng on her lips.
+++++The thug on the other side of the door says nothing.
+++++Three knocks.
+++++Key in the lock. Slow turn left. He runs forward to put the chain up. The gun drops to the floor. The key stops turning. The door starts to open and he slams into it hoping something gets caught between the door and the frame. They kept fighting. Push in, push out. Chain rattles between the track ends and he manages to jam it in and run back and he dives to the floor for the gun.
+++++He lands on floor cold and empty. Her foot slashes his head and his nose shatters and blood patters on the carpet and another one hits his jaw and he’s taken worse beatings than this so he tries to fight and get up and scream at her that he knew she was in on this but the gun explodes in her hands and the round hits his shoulder and it burns and he rolls in agony.
+++++The world is going silent and he fades. He doesn’t try to stop the bleeding. He doesn’t ask why. He knows she’d been planning this for a while. Just let me die, he thinks. Just let it all go away. I’ve done all I can. Just let me go in peace.
+++++It’s been a hell of a two weeks. He killed a man because he deserved it and he thought justice was still a thing in this world.
+++++He rolls over to face them, his blood soaking in a pool beneath him and mixing with the sweat stuck on his skin making him feel cold. He cranes his neck up to see the thug’s face but gets nothing but tennis shoes, blue jeans and a khaki jacket with white gloved hands in the pockets.
+++++“I’m sorry it took so long,” she says in a way the girl hadn’t talked to him in so long, “I thought he’d snap by now.”
+++++The voice is deep. Drawls.
+++++“He got a chance?” it asks.
+++++“I got him good.”
+++++“Good. Wannme to finish?”
+++++“No,” she says, and he feels her staring down at him. “Leave him. Let’s git.”
+++++He laughs from the floor. He can’t stop. She borrows the thug’s gun and pops another round, aiming for his head, hitting the collar bone on the other side. The blood coats his teeth and he keeps going. He tries to say something to her; a goodbye, a thank you, an I-Loved-You, but he gives up and just keeps laughing.
+++++She spits on the floor and the two walk out and the door slams on him. He tries to sit up and collapses back on the pool. Tries crawling to just to see if he can and he’s too weak.
+++++He is laughing when his end comes. Bitch couldn’t shoot for shit.

Elementary Games

Maybe we were just paranoid.  Maybe Hathaway was just weird. He was average enough for this neighborhood. Teaching elementary school paid him enough for a house here. He’d been married for a while. Good woman. Met in college. All that cheesy shit. It was a quiet divorce. Suddenly her car wasn’t parked there anywhere. We went over We asked him. He said it stung a little but it’d been going downhill for a while. It was inevitable. Thank God he didn’t have kids.
+++++Emma-no point in changing her name, God knows it’ll be all over the papers by tomorrow morning-was five years old then.  She’s a smart girl. A little shy. Loves to laugh. I’m not her real father, sure, her real one bailed on her and mom when she was born, but I raised her like my own.
+++++She calls me Dad.
+++++I don’t bother correcting her.
+++++I loved her regardless. I valued her independence, and she needed it. Her mom and I both worked jobs. We were strapped for cash, with the mortgage and the electric and the car.
+++++We needed a babysitter. Someone close-by. Reliable. Cheap.
+++++We had one right next door. His hours were perfect. He’d be out of work by the time she was home from school. She had a key. We made sure she knew how to work the locks.
+++++The rest was up to him. I worked 10-5 back then. Mom usually pulled a long day from eight in the morning to six.
+++++We trusted him. He was a teacher. He worked with kids. Emma clung to him when we were all around. She never stopped talking about him. He made good snacks. He was funny. He told the best stories. He always brought great movies-even better than Frozen.
+++++Maybe she had a crush on him. I could sense it myself. I thought this babysitter was perfect.  The offer was final.
+++++Five year old girls don’t have crushes.
+++++The signs were under my nose. I was so stupid.
+++++The five days a week he never bugged for money. Hundred a week. It was almost like he didn’t want to get paid. He joked that being around our daughter was the only payment he needed.
+++++Maybe that was the first sign. Chills tried to crawl up my spine and stopped.  Maybe I was just being paranoid. Maybe I was just overtired.
+++++Emma was getting more quiet every day. She could’ve just been sad. Maybe she didn’t like school. Maybe the day was too long and she needed more naps. Maybe she missed us and we were working too much.
+++++She’s a strong girl. Stubborn.
+++++By week three she kept moping and I asked her what was wrong and she said nothing. She just needed a nap.
+++++Week four I picked her up early on a Friday. Took her to McD’s. Got her some ice cream.  She laughed for the first time in a month. It was good to see my girl happy again.
+++++The ride home was too quiet. She stared at the rearview mirror with that sad look only little girls can pull off.
+++++She looked me dead in the eyes.
+++++“I don’t like playing Mr. Hathaway’s games, daddy.”
+++++I pulled over. I leaned behind my seat. I asked everything I’d ever learned from TV.
+++++She cried the entire time. I got in the back seat and held her. I said I was sorry a million times and meant every single one.
+++++It was my fault he’d hurt her.
+++++I’ve always been the get it done yourself kind of guy. I called her mother. Told her to get home. Told her to stay with Emma, spoil her. This was her day now. I was going hardware shopping and I’d be home in a bit.
+++++Pliers. A hammer. Industrial scissors. A blowtorch.
+++++I paid cash. I looked the construction type. They didn’t ask questions. On my way out I called him and asked if he wanted to go out for drinks. He was a hard-working guy. A good babysitter. He deserved to party a little.
+++++I ran my hands over the needle pliers with sharp tongs and rubber grips. He said yes. I said I’d meet him at his place for happy hour. I’d drive.
+++++“Sure,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a shot.”
+++++I went to Stop and Shop and got things we didn’t need and dropped them off at home with a few Redbox movies. Told her work called me in for some emergency meeting. I’d be back ten the latest.
+++++“I love you, daddy,” my little girl said.
+++++I said I loved them both. My wife  glared me down.  I knew she didn’t believe me.
+++++In the car, down three houses. He was waiting on the porch steps. I got out, talked to him, smiled, laughed, cracked jokes, got him in the passenger’s seat. I am very good at cracking smiles and making dumb jokes. It’s like a superpower.
+++++We talked about the homelife. We bitched about work. He kept thanking me for taking him out. He joked it’d been a while since he’d been out. I said I could tell. Half-joking.
+++++He brought up Emma. Talked about what a good girl she was. About the kind of TV they watched.
+++++I didn’t look at him. I gave my fakest smile. Hands strangled the steering wheel white-knuckled. Blood boiled under my skin.
+++++We pulled into a dive bar on the edge of town. A brick one-room place near the woods. This was the kinda place good people only came to when they needed to do bad things.
+++++He hadn’t stopped talking about my little girl. I looked over and there was a twinkle in his eye. The fucker had fallen in love with her.
+++++We went in and sat at the first seats. The Spanish bartender had a good wiggle and a nice ass to stare at while she fixed our drinks but Hathaway didn’t admire it. I ordered a V Cuban Libre, a bottle of Captain Morgan for him.
+++++He didn’t know his liquor. There was no alcohol in mine. He drank himself stupid. I carried him on my shoulder out the door and into my truck.
+++++We got to his place in ten minutes. He’d fallen asleep in the seat, mouth open, booze seeping out with his breath.
+++++“Help me in,” he mumbled, and gave me the keys, the one to the front door clearly marked. I got to the passenger side and he fell on top of me. I man-carried him to the couch in the pouring rain.
+++++I tossed the keys on him. He mumbled goodbye and his head slouched. My heart raced. I turned around and headed back to the truck.
+++++He never noticed the bag of tools under his feet.
+++++He didn’t hear the pliers slip out of my pocket.
+++++He never even screamed.

Under a Country Sun

It was the kind of road nothing ever happened on. Maybe that was why Anton and Maria had moved out this way all those years ago. It was quiet out here. A nice little place for them to retire to-trees and empty farmland.
+++++It was her dream to own a farm before she died.  They squeezed up what little money they had and came out here. She enjoyed the place for a week and dropped dead. The clot moved fast. They couldn’t do anything about it.
+++++Something inside him still ached when he thought about it. He thought he’d be over it four years later. He never stopped feeling guilty over her heart.
+++++If he’d had insurance, he reminded himself one more time, maybe she could’ve gotten help. Maybe she still had a chance. Maybe it would’ve gotten sucked out and they could’ve spent a few more years on the farm. Maybe if he’d had the money, if his harvests stop failing, he could’ve bought her a better grave.
+++++It was bad to think of this while driving. His eyes always got watery. His vision got clouded. His car drifted to the right. The rotting fence drifted closer.
+++++He almost rear-ended the car on the side of the road. It wouldn’t have hurt much, anyway. It wasn’t like he was going fast.
+++++Anton stopped a foot from the bumper. Another tap on the pedal and he’d take them both into the ditch. The back of the Cadillac was flawless. Sleek, shining, beautiful black. Maybe the guy was still alive. If he could afford a car like this he probably got some good money. Maybe he’d give Anton a couple grand for being a good Samaritan and helping.
+++++Anton got out of the car fast. He slammed his door hard as he could. The sound echoed across the grass. Birds flew in a hurry. Wind stirred the field the moment he started walking. Like something wanted him to keep going.
+++++The Caddy was sexy as shit. Two-tone black/red paint glowed in the empty sun. New tires with the kinda rims that spin when they move.
+++++He almost ran his hand down the side doors. If he wasn’t looking going past the driver’s door he would’ve cut his hand open on the sheet metal stuck out jagged.
+++++If the back end was a beauty then the front was a nightmare. Everything from the bumper to the windshield was wrapped around the lightpole hanging by its last splinter, as if the car’d been here first and the pole just grew through it. There wasn’t much smoke. Just a faint sizzling sound and something dripping somewhere under the car.
+++++The dash looked intact. The guy slumped over the steering wheel did too. Maybe he was just sleeping. His window was rolled down. He enjoyed the country air an awful lot. Anton knocked on the door.
+++++“You okay buddy?”
+++++No response. He knocked on the roof above him, the sound hollow like a coffin.
+++++Nothing but the breeze and the hissing and the drip-drip.
+++++Time to see if the guy had a pulse. Or a phone so he could call for help.
+++++Anton opened the door slow. Too fast and the guy could slump out and fall to the ground. The guy didn’t move. The car gave an annoying chime Anton could see the stick in drive across the chrome dash.
+++++Anton nudged on the guy’s shoulder. His neck flip-flopped with it before slipping back down.
+++++“You’re not okay are you?”
+++++No response.
+++++“Gimme a phone or something, my friend, I can help you, don’t you worry.”
+++++Anton was worrying enough for the two of them. His heart was racing into stroke territory. He pulled him back and the driver thudded back on the cushion.  The guy’s nose was as crumpled as his hood, a pulp mess. It started making a dripping sound too.
+++++Anton held the guy’s  hands in his lap so he couldn’t start throwing punches when he woke. He put his ear on his mouth. The driver didn’t twitch. Didn’t breathe. No heartbeat. Just a Caddy wrapped around a pole and a well-dressed man slumped over its seat.
+++++Time to go through his pockets. Find that phone. It had to be somewhere in his suit. He didn’t see one anywhere on the mahogany dash. He started on the outside pockets. Nothing in the left one, on top his left chest. He tugged to reach the right side. A few crumpled ones, a mint still in the wrapper. He left them.
+++++The white shirt lacked a chest pocket. Only color on it was blood from his crumpled nose.
+++++Didn’t suits like this usually have pockets on the inside? Anton pulled the left side back to have a look. His heart raced in his chest. Anton waited for a breath, a shout, a hand cold on his arm. A gun on his head.
+++++Anton pulled out a cigarette case. Maybe four inches tall, thick, tough, shining right in his eyes. Anton put it on the seat and went back to looking. He shuddered. His hand hit the slide of the gun.
+++++It was in one of those shoulder holsters.  It was one of those tiny James Bond guns with the short barrels and silver skin.
+++++The guy wouldn’t be needing it. The gun felt alien in Anton’s hand. He put it on the roof and went back to looking. The sun hurt his eyes and he squeezed them shut.
+++++When he opened them the suitcase perched on the backseat stole his eye. The thing looked thick. Maybe there was a phone in there. The guy seemed classy enough to pull something like that.
+++++There couldn’t be any harm in looking. He kept the driver’s door open with that annoying chime going and the gun on the roof and slid to the back door.
+++++The case was even heavier than it looked in all its chrome glory and thick ridges. Anton couldn’t carry this fucking thing. He was too old for this shit. He dragged it across the leather seat with a slow ripping sound like he was skinning the car.
+++++It fell in the dirt and dust flew. He didn’t bother wiping the sand off. No time. He needed a phone. He needed to find out what the fuck was in this case. He knelt close to it, blue jeans on yellow ground. This thing looked hermetically sealed like a tin can. From first glance he couldn’t tell the difference between one side or another. No lip between, no rubber divide, nothing. It might as well have been made from a solid piece of steel with a handle.
+++++Anton ran his hands down the middle like he was caressing a girl. The latches were hard to find. They were built-in, same color. He had to go over them to make sure they were what he was looking for. He pulled. They thwacked open and stood up. No lock. Good sign. The guy kept it open to get something quick.
+++++Weird. Wouldn’t something important enough for a thousand-dollar metal suitcase with invisible latches at least be locked?
+++++Maybe this was a trap. A bomb. Anton would open it and it would leave him a red mist on the side of the road.
+++++He opened it and his jaw hit the fucking floor. Hundreds of hundreds, bundled in purple bands. “5,000” times five across times two up and down times…how thick could this thing be?
+++++Anton took the middle wad out of its line, ran his hand through it. They felt slick like it’d just been printed. They smelled fine as perfume. He tilted the pack up to the sun to make sure they were real, hands shaking. The 100 went from yellow to green on its way back down.
+++++“Christ,” he mumbled under his breath again.
+++++A shuffle somewhere near the car. Anton dropped the money in the dust ready to throw his arms up.
+++++No need to lunge at a gun in his face. No need to stammer out an explanation. A coyote darted across the road with its ears pulled and never looked back.
+++++The driver sat dead with his head lolled to the left, mouth hanging open. His door was still ajar. The chime was still going. Anton had to listen hard to hear it now.
+++++He had to get out of here fast.  Someone would come here looking for this money. There might be a tracker on the car. Someone would find it with the dead rotting driver wrapped around a pole.  He had to take this money. For safe keeping. For the mortgage on the farm. For the kids. For Maria’s new gravestone.
+++++Anton slammed the lid hard enough to wake the dead. Suddenly the case weighed like nothing at all. He ran back to the truck and drove home like something was following him.

***

It wasn’t a big kitchen table, but the case fit on it easy enough, snug square in the middle, the legs creaking under the weight. Anton made sure all doors and windows were shut and locked and turned the AC off to hear any noise. His heart was still thudded in his eyes.
+++++He had to open the case now. He had to believe it wasn’t just a mirage from the sunset. He had to know good things came to those who suffered and waited. He had to know this money was real.
+++++The latches went up easy enough. The top half thudded down and shook the kitchen, rattling glasses. He’d never seen this much money before. Let alone owned it. Let alone have it sit on his kitchen table.
+++++He looked over at the door again, made sure the deadbolt was in its place and the little curtain in the door’s window was pulled in. Everything was set. It was time to get down and busy.
+++++The amount was so goddamn daunting. Counting this thing was gonna be a brain teaser, that’s for sure. No way would he be able to do it in his head.
+++++He dug in his pockets for spare paper. Some receipts, faded-too short, too thin. Business cards he didn’t remember getting. He needed to wash his pants more often. A dollar bill. A piece of yellow notepad, folded up, a pen wrapped inside.  He tested it and the pen wrote in bold black ink and the paper didn’t tear.
+++++The purple bands read “5,000”; the 100’s all sticking together. He undid the band and counted them one by one.
+++++He tried to ignore the tremors. He tried to ignore the tears.
+++++Sure enough. Five thousand, one brick. Five across, two rows. All the same number. He counted one in the other row. .Started writing the math under the old shopping list. Five thousand times five times two.
+++++That was the top layer. He got through to the second one underneath. One by one. Movies taught him that they put fakes underneath. It took him a solid half hour to check and count every stack underneath. None were fake. None were uneven. He looked at the numbers scribbled underneath and almost fainted.
+++++One hundred thousand. Even. Ignore the thoughts racing in his head. Ignore what he could do with this money.
+++++Ignore what someone could do to get it back.
+++++Someone would come looking for it, eventually. Better to hide it somewhere close to him. His bed was the easiest answer. He could watch it when he slept and not worry about it.
+++++He ran up wooden stairs in his rugged boots that clapped on the wood. Slammed the door open. Moved the suitcase under the bed-imagine the places they could go-and shoved it across the carpet and behind the travelling rolling case. He fiddled with it till it looked like he’d never touched anything.
+++++He felt fantastic now. This was a cause for celebration.
+++++Sometimes car crashes are more than just accidents.

 ***

He probably had too much to drink. Anton didn’t wake up till the accent guy talked with the barrel cold on his forehead.
+++++“You know what I’m here for, fokker. Just tell me where and we will have no problem.”
+++++He was Russian. Maybe a Kraut. Anton could never tell.
+++++“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
+++++I wouldn’t fucking believe that myself.
+++++The pistol smashed across his face. A fist slammed into his throat, sucking his breath. A hand grabbed him by the collar and threw him across the bedside table and onto the floor.
+++++Blood dripped from his nose. The blood stained the carpet. His breath came back with a wheeze. Anton laid crumpled over the carnage. The lamp buzzed broken. Everything started hurting. From the bottom he saw the case peeking at him, and it shone in the moonlight.
+++++Black boot with the pants tucked in rolled him on his back and held his chest down over the mess. At least he wasn’t laying over the table anymore.
+++++“Wrong answer,” the voice said above him. Anton’s fingers clawed at the rubber sole crushing his chest. He heard and felt ribs snap like twigs.
+++++“Where.”
+++++He’d learned an old trick a while ago. Back of the kneecap is sensitive. A shard of glass winked in the moonlight an inch from his fingertips. He got it in his right hand, slicing his palm, kept clawing the boot with his left.
+++++Poor fucker didn’t suspect a thing. The shard might’ve been three inches long. He drove every bit into accent guy’s leg. He yelped. Anton pushed up. Accent guy toppled. Anton flew up and got the gun and shot too many bullets.
+++++He made a mess on the floor. Red blood showed black on carpet. Anton’s heart was still racing, his vision blurry. The guy was big. It’d be hard to push him down the stairs and bury him in the yard out back. Maybe Anton would have to cut him up first.  There was a website for that kind of thing somewhere.  He’d have to look when he came back.
+++++The case had to go first. There must be a tracker in the case somewhere. The guy could stay on the floor for a couple hours, at least. Anton pulled the case out from under the bed and dragged it over the accent guy and carried it down to the truck. It was the only car in the driveway.
+++++Anton took the long dust road back to the wreck way too fast and tossed it in.
+++++The money stayed under the bed.
+++++The car was still there, sure, but the plates were gone. The driver’s seat was empty with his clothes crumpled in a pile.

One Last Kiss

It might have been in the way she smiled or the way she moved, but fact is the moment I saw that girl I knew I would want her for the rest of my life.
+++++It had been a long time since I’d had a woman. Some part of me had given up. I was a cashier at a grocery store. I had been out of my parents’ house for two years. I rented a room. I couldn’t start college yet. I didn’t own a car. That was the number one reason why they all left. I couldn’t whisk a woman away on a romantic drive in a city bus.
+++++I had given up trying. Maybe I could be happy single. I met plenty of people at work. The robot face, the robot questions, the robot voice, filled my entire existence. I pretended to smile till my face throbbed. I didn’t have a social life anymore. I had almost no friends outside of that place. The women I worked with chased sugar daddies.  I chased customers. Most had rings. Most were taken. Most rejected me on the spot-the eye rolls, the glare, the gasp. The laughter. I pretended not to feel that pain. I pretended to smile on.
+++++The Blonde changed everything in a way only a beautiful woman can. She wasn’t platinum, a fake. She didn’t strut in stilettos. She didn’t wear a tight dress with a mini-skirt. It was all 5’9” of flaunted girl in skater shoes and skinny jeans that hugged long legs and short black jacket over loose green t-shirt and a good curve. Her face was sharp enough to be striking and soft enough to be called beautiful. That afternoon I had register nine, the one with all of the gift cards and lighters and laser pointers on the metal rack feet away from me. When I first saw The Blonde she was poking her way through all of the different kinds of gift cards we had, arranged like a book in pivoting racks. She was going through all of the restaurants. She’s taken. She’s buying it for her sister, her broke dipshit brother. She pulled a card from the middle and dropped it in her hand basket. Her shirt failed to hide a good swing.
+++++She rummaged through her basket. My stare remained unbroken. She felt it. Steel grey eyes popped up, flicked to the left to pretend to eye gum. She couldn’t hide it anymore. Thin lips were already quivering.
+++++She looked at me and smiled.
+++++Her eyes went back to her feet. I breathe in for the first time in five minutes. I lean over the register on my elbows. I hid the excitement in a small grin. I hoped she couldn’t hear my heart race from over there.
+++++“I can take you, if you want me to.”
+++++Somehow the wording was perfect. Somehow she tilted her head back and laughed and stepped up to my conveyor belt. That small grin was still there. It stayed when she dug in the basket and dropped her stuff on the belt. I eyed them for a second as a box of Wheat Thins and a bottle of Gatorade and toothpaste crawled toward me. Surely somehow they could serve as a conversation starter.
+++++In another version she leaned over the counter and whispered that she’d let me take her anywhere I’d want her to.
+++++Here her eyes flittered from the gum to the army floating at me to the kid checking her out. The smile was gone. She caught my eyes and her grin flittered back, fake, forced.
+++++I got off my elbows to grab the Wheat Thins. The laser burning my eyeballs stopped to scan the barcode, the register beeped, I dropped it in the plastic bag down on my left.
+++++“Find everything okay?”
+++++Robot question. Real smile.
+++++She shrugged. It’s probably the millionth time she’d heard it. She didn’t bother answering me.
+++++She didn’t buy anything worth talking about. Nothing comedic. No book or video game or new phone or CD or anything that said anything about who she was as a human being.
+++++Was. I need to remember to use that word.
+++++The smile crawled on my lips. Hers was long gone.  I said her total came to twenty-eight and change. I tried not to lean over the counter, spun the carousel her way, watched her dig in the latch-over purse for a 20 and 10 she slid into my palm. I kept my hand still. I waited for her to push back against my fingertips, for her skin to linger over mine for the one moment that would mean she wanted me.
+++++She ran to pull her bag off. We had surveys I was supposed to push. I popped a dollar sixty two in the paper in my left hand, circled half of what I was supposed to.
+++++Ten digits brave on warm paper.
+++++Robot words. Pretending to give a shit about what I’d circled. Half of it was in her hand, half in mine, the other tapping what I pointed out. Hoping she noticed the paper tilted with scrawling on the back visible.
+++++She pretended to thank me. She looked down at the receipt, at the change I slid into her soft palm. The girl’s smile was gone. Her face sat blank. Maybe she saw it. Maybe she was thinking about it.
+++++The girl shoved it in her jeans pocket and slammed the bags in her cart and walked out the door.
+++++“Bye, have a good night now,” I called after her. The long-gone southern accent dripped back into my voice.
+++++She turned around to smile back at me and say thank you again. Maybe I still had a chance.

Another half hour before I could go home. The Blonde left at 3:30. It wouldn’t get busy till five. Half the cashiers begged the manager to be cut, turned in their drawers, left. There were almost no customers.  They came in a soft trickle, like blood from a paper cut. Single mothers with little kids, the jobless buying the cheapest bread around, the packs of school kids who needed soda while in the area.
+++++Fact is whenever I heard shoes squeak on tile floor I looked up and wanted the Blonde there. She had swooped around and gone back in the store. She was waiting for me.
+++++The shift didn’t end fast enough.
+++++Wait three days. That’s the rule.
+++++Thirty minutes became one day became two nights’ boozefest became three long days, waiting.
+++++It became a week.
+++++She was playing a game. She was waiting on the other side of the phone. She was deciding when to call. She was trying to figure what to say to me. She was nervous. She knew how much I needed her.
+++++She didn’t want me to forget it.
+++++She was the girl in the gym window.
+++++She was the girl checking her P.O. Box the Wednesday after.
+++++She was a pair of long legs walking away, tempting me.
+++++She was a whispering voice.
+++++She was a soft sigh.
+++++She didn’t own a car. She was stuck taking the bus everywhere, just like me. The Friday a month after I met her I sat in my favorite spot-the very back seat, an inch away from the motor that purred and moaned. I leaned my head back, let it rattle against cold steel, played my music near silent and people-watched.
+++++It was empty for four thirty on a Friday. Most people didn’t get out of work till six. Three people on besides me-the chubby single mom in baggy sweatpants and her kid covered against the rain next to her. They hogged the sideways cripple seats all the way up front.  The kid snored. The girl sat and piddled on her phone.
+++++There was the silent old man in the Home Depot ballcap, balding grey hair and moustache covering scarred white skin. He sat two rows up, alone, ancient headphones over his head, eyes staring out of the window. It looked like a good seat. I told myself fuck it and hopped to a window seat in front of me. The rain slithered down the window. It was crying for me. Something out there missed her too.
+++++I was a half mile from being dropped off alongside a hallway. I would walk home a quarter mile.
+++++We glided by a long broken sidewalk. Empty. Then somebody popped up in the middle coming right at us like a scar on pale flesh.
+++++A girl. The bus raced closer.
+++++Start at the shoes, look up from there.
+++++The blue skinny jeans. The loose t-shirt. The curve. The jacket up over her head. The blonde hair in loose locks around her forehead.
+++++I floated by her on the bus, invisible. She wore the same clothes from three weeks ago. Same hair, same walk, same curve, the same loneliness in the gentle steps.
+++++The same longing hidden under pale skin.
+++++No one else noticed her. She didn’t see us. The bus was in front of a small plaza, fronted by an unlit gas station and flower store and abandoned pizza shop, rotting brown boards covering every opening. I hit the wire on the window, a soft ding from the front of the bus, the driver nodded at me without looking, pulled over, I said thank you, I stepped off.
+++++The rain peppered me like shrapnel. I waited. I faced a bustling road.  I looked left. The girl was still there, walking. I could see her shiver from here. The rain poured over me. I slid the ballcap on and walked after.
+++++Yes. This was her. She was close enough now I could reach out and touch her.
+++++The Blonde was close enough her blood dried on my shoes.
+++++She deserved mercy. I cut her quick. I kissed her lips soft. Her hair didn’t clump under her. I spread it over her head, a halo, like she was already an angel. I refused to take anything from her except the cash and credit cards that would make it look like a robbery. She is already a piece of me. She will never leave. She haunted me before. She will haunt me after.
+++++Now at least she has an excuse.

Bound

Bussing tables was an excuse to prowl.
+++++The job was monotonous. The job was mind-numbing. When I wasn’t clearing tables or wiping them down or hauling buckets full of dishes to the back, I was left with nothing to do but stand in the middle of the restaurant, a song stuck way back in my head.
+++++I stood between every single customer. And I listened to their conversations. During my ten-hour shifts I would hear the divorcees, their tension bubbling under the surface; the young lovers who shared laughter and the joy of being together, the single moms who wanted to stab their three kids.
+++++I have heard their testimonials. I have heard their voices.
+++++Premonitions-which would scream and which would whimper later on in the night, as I cut them with more grace than any lover. Their fates were decided by what they said and what they discussed.
+++++I was no busboy. I was the only man willing to liberate them. I stood between carts and tables. I carried dishes. I made little money.
+++++I was bored.
+++++I waited for the lonely girl, the one who would be lead to a table. She would sit in her chair and sulk. She would wait with wet, empty eyes that stared into a glass full of water.
+++++She would be waiting for me.
+++++She would finish a dish. And there I would be.
+++++“If you’re finished,” I would say, “I can take this for you.”
+++++I would smile. The girl would smile back, fake, forced. The sadness was in her eyes. It always was.
+++++Sometimes it was her grey plastic salad plate, molded like a blooming flower. Sometimes it was a half-full soup cup with the spoon half hanging out and the plate with the circle in the middle beneath it.
+++++Sometimes she wasn’t done. Sometimes she’d wait till the appetizer. Or the Entrée-the Quiche or the Veggie Omelet or the Turkey Burger. She would never have dessert.
+++++What she ate, what she said to me, the only man willing to help in the long lonely night, signified if she went home alone that night.
+++++If she faked laughter, if she made a joke, I ignored her altogether. They were the girls who came in looking for a man, in a restaurant, between ten and four in the morning.
+++++They weren’t worth following. They were only looking for someone to split their bed with.
+++++I waited for and preyed on the girls who needed love. Who didn’t know they wanted it.
+++++I gave it to them. Better than anyone else could.
+++++Some nights they gave me a tip straight to my face. Three dollars to float around in my pocket. More paper to stain someone else’s blood on. I thanked them and waited for their exit.
+++++Another undesirable gone. Another empty table, waiting for the lonely girl even more eagerly than me.
+++++It might be hours between them. Days. One month and six days between number one and number two.
+++++One week, four days, number three.
+++++It took me another half year to find number four.
+++++I was busy in the back, putting three seconds worth of soap and a half-capful of bleach and four seconds’ scalding water that threatened to peel the skin off of my hands. The bleach slimed the rag. The potion bubbled like lava. The smell clawed at my nostrils like bedbugs.
+++++The plastic bucket was too thin, the writing outside scratched and faded. I carried the mixture past the third shift cooks who drank coffee against the wall and mumbled obscenities in Spanish.
+++++I turned my back into the swivel door and was hit again by the silence of the place. It was always silent third shift. Everyone might as well be dead already.
+++++In front of the restaurant a row of swivel stools at a counter, dotted close to the rest of the restaurant. They had a grey divided tub in front of them, and chattered like hens while wrapping silverware in an assembly line.
+++++They ignored me. Always did.
+++++I turned right and walked to my cart, its massive buckets empty. The bleach in front of me rolled like a tsunami, kept back only by thin plastic walls that threatened to give way.
+++++I had put it down when I first spotted her at a booth, slid up against the window, coffee mug billowing soft steam in her hands.
+++++She was brunette, long-haired. She was wearing a dark sweater over jeans. She sighed. I stared. She was beautiful.
+++++I wanted her. She had to be number four.
+++++It might take two seconds to cross the room. I looked at her table. Empty.
+++++My hands drowned in the solution one more time. The water could peel my hands. The bleach stung my nose, slime against my hands. I pulled the rag out, strangled it, the water splashing out of it like blood.
+++++I looked up at her. She still stared out the window, the coffee now placed back on the table, forgotten. The world outside the window, the world she’d come from, was cold and unforgiving. The girl had probably come here for something quick, something light-paying more than ten dollars for an unnamable snack that she’d fit between dinner and breakfast. Maybe she worked thirds, like me, and this was her dinner. Maybe she was just getting up, her brown hair glistening from a fresh shower.
+++++The beautiful ones are always the most mysterious. I had too much to find out before she left me forever.
+++++The kitchen door thudded open. I looked up to see what was coming out. It was instinct now. I had to be aware of everything in case the wait staff needed something-a tray table set up, for instance, for me to actually dish it out while they held it level (if they were that fucking lazy) or even something as easy as for me to get an extra set of silverware.
+++++That was what my job description said. But it wasn’t the only reason.
+++++That door thudding open meant that the girl was getting food. She would be done with her appetizer, her coffee-the dishes would perch at the end of the table, empty, lifeless. They would beckon me.
+++++The dishes were an excuse to get a zoom-in look on the girl. But tonight the only girl in the restaurant wasn’t finished with her coffee. Five seconds later the food was dropped-what looked like some kind of omelet, homefries raw, toast dark. The girl pecked at it, staring at nothing, face blank, deep brown eyes still drowning in loneliness.
+++++She felt me staring. The brown eyes stabbed back at me from across the room. I wasn’t stupid enough to stare back, or smile. I just blew it. My last chance-gone. I would never find another girl again. This one would up and leave right now. And I would never see her again. One more walkaway.
+++++I swiveled around to the tables all the way across from her, empty tables barricading her from me. I pretended to inspect them, make sure they’ve got silverware sets, are clean enough, are in a line. I move a chair out, it squeaks in protest. I push it back, staring at her. She’s returned to pecking at her omelet. The girl isn’t rushing. The girl isn’t panicking.
+++++I smiled, only for myself. I walked back to my cart, feeling tipsy with hope, lost in daydreams with the girl across the room. I was lost in that daydream for the next half hour. My physical eyes were preoccupied with tossing bleach around in the bucket with my rag and walking between long-absent tables and staring out the window.
+++++I snapped myself out of it, look at my watch instantly. It’s been thirty two minutes. If it’s dead like this, I might as well go home.
+++++If the girl’s here, I’ll stay forever.
+++++Sneakers snapped on the floor gracefully. I looked up. She was walking out. If this layout wasn’t so perfect I’d rush after. But the restaurant was on a long, flat street with no side roads for half a mile.
+++++I’d be able to find her. All I’d have to do is look out the window-if I saw her out the wall-high glass where she’d been eating, the girl would have taken a right. If not, she had turned left.
+++++The front door whispered shut. I held my breath.
+++++Her tall figure passed by in a blur. The scarf was tight around her neck, hands deep in pockets, of her black buttoned-up coat. Her jeans were tucked into furry boots. Her exhales trailed down like smoke, then faded away. Her brunette hair bounced, the only part of her joyful, eager.
+++++It took two seconds for me to stack the oval plate half-eaten rye toast hanging off its side, and the very empty coffee and drop them in the bucket. I almost ran back to her table, rag and spare sets of silverware in hand. I shoved the silverware, wrapped like mummies, in my front pockets, threw myself into the seat and wiped my way out. The rag was barely wet. No one cared this time of night.
+++++Outside she was slipping away with every quick step.
+++++The table was easy to reach over. It looked clean in a half second. I threw myself into the other seat, wiped my way out. The silverware flew from my pocket like knives and clanged on porcelain.
+++++Seventeen brisk steps to the counter. I dug my coat out from under the computer, jumbled between purses too heavy. I clocked out two seconds later, zipped up to my neck, nodded goodbye to the waitresses. I slipped my hat, blue on black, on top of my head. They didn’t say anything back.
+++++The cold air strangled my face. The wind slapped my skin. The restaurant door slammed shut behind me, angry with a breath of wind.
+++++The sidewalk curved onward forever, as empty as the street beside me. The night was silent. The road ahead was dark save for the flittering light from street lamps. What businesses that didn’t shut down forever were closed tonight. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The girl wasn’t that far away. Her shadow stretched across the street, curves enhanced. I prepped a line in my head and ran after her.
+++++My lungs were on fire. The wind slapped my face worse than my grandmother did. The cracked sidewalk slipped away beneath me. I stopped when I was ten yards behind her. I stopped to catch my breath. There was a wheeze I hadn’t heard before.
+++++The girl’s hands were deep in her pockets. Her entire body, long with that soft curve, seemed hunched together.
+++++“Miss!” I called into the wind. “‘Scuse me!”
+++++No woman ever likes being called ma’am. Miss reminded her that she was young and pretty.
+++++She stopped. Her head turned behind her, puzzled. I called after her again and jogged to catch up. She was more beautiful a foot away. The cheeks on her soft face had turned bright red. I zipped down so she could see the rest of my face.
+++++My line was easy. My line is repeatable.
+++++“Sorry to chase after you like this. I’m from the restaurant down the road” – I tossed my shoulder in the general direction of behind me –“I think you mighta left something in your seat.”
+++++Her grey eyes, as deep and mysterious as forest fire smoke, looked at me quizzically.
+++++“What’d I leave behind?”
+++++I shrugged, shuddered.
+++++“Not sure. Boss sent me. I was too busy washing your dishes.”
+++++Her pink lips smile, showing teeth. I smile back, hiding mine. In the darkness she didn’t question why a dishwasher was wearing slacks. We introduced each other. I gave her my real name.
+++++“C’mon,” I said, the girl slipping to my side, “Let me take you back.”

***

They found her a week later. There was no evidence. I heard her name on the television. Her bra was missing. Her shirt was torn. Her coat was ripped in half. Her throat had been slashed; the carotid decimated as the pool grew and soaked her brown hair.
+++++Her jeans were intact. The bra hadn’t been tossed out. My now-ex-wife wore it every week until I left her a dozen years ago. The girl made forty-three seconds of news.
+++++I’d freed Mikayla.
+++++In the darkness she comes to me. She is nude, pure, glowing, an angel.
+++++She begs me to come out. She reaches for my hand. She wants me to join her. She is no longer lonely in death.
+++++I look up and see her. She is at peace.
+++++She thanks me.
+++++I grab the girl and try to drag her back into life.

Kissing Heaven

He always wondered why the needle toss-out containers stayed half full. Surely there couldn’t be that many heroin addicts in Connecticut.
+++++The toilet seat was cold on him. He might’ve been sitting in an ocean, letting the still water flow around him. Then his feet felt solid floor. He wondered why they had needle bins now instead of ashtrays anywhere. Smoking wasn’t as bad as shooting. Not that he had anything else on him. He’d downed the last half of his goddamn bag. He hadn’t meant to. He just started with a pinch on the fries in the car, kept chasing. Snapped out of it, everything was gone.
+++++There was nothing left to calm him now. He knew it was going to be a bad idea. There was nothing in the water-soaked plastic bag floating in a fake can of V8 in his pocket, the one the girl at the front of the restaurant confiscated on his way in, long before he came here. Some part of him knew she’d figured he was stoned. Her and the waitresses gossiped about him behind walls, somewhere. One of the girls sat with some people, nodded over at him, they all stared, they all laughed. He stayed quiet. He pretended to type on his phone. The girl had sat him at a chair with tall legs that left him floating. There was no ground beneath him. He held onto the table for dear life with one hand, tried not to scream when the waitress came. He ordered mozzarella sticks and cheddar cheese fries and a Coke and ate it and tipped her five bucks and left without a word. The fake-V8 stash can was on a shelf behind the girl’s podium. He grabbed it and walked out, his
heart beating too fast in his chest. He walked down to his car, on the deepest level of the parking garage, ate the rest. He could still hear her talking about him. He had to use the bathroom. He stumbled out of his car and walked stiffly until he found one.
+++++He wondered if she had sliced some from the top. This was good shit. An eighth of his paycheck went into that can. If she had asked him he would’ve given her some. She was cute anyway.
+++++He hadn’t had a girl in a solid month now. He worked too many hours-sixty a week, overnight, with a morning shift in between, bussing tables. The girls he’d known in school went off to college, laughing at the fact that he didn’t have parents who could afford to send him. Advertising was his dream job. He was funny enough for it. It required an education, a college degree. He would have to do it on his own. So he bussed tables. But there was the one girl who hadn’t laughed, who came back into town for Valentine’s Day. He hadn’t seen her in a while. She looked at him when he was scrubbing a ring of syrup from the table in front of hers.
+++++He looked back at her and she was already staring at him. She looked at him and smiled.
+++++That smile, her green eyes and long blonde hair, pierced through his memory and haunted him.
+++++She was in the casino somewhere. He could feel her now, with all of this shit in his system. She was a mumbling. She was a tingle under his skin.
+++++He looked at the shadow of the doorway. Her feet were there. She would open the door and finally whisper why she left him, the skin on her bare feet brushing against his as he looked up at her. Some part of him would realize this is the closest she had ever been.
+++++A blink and she was gone forever. He knew he would never have another woman again. The THC inside him was truth serum. The lies of the world peeled away like an orange. He didn’t care if he looked insane.
+++++Did he look insane? Had someone else been here the entire time? Public intoxication was a crime. He knew it was. Surely someone had called to report the skinny white boy tripping in the men’s bathroom.
+++++Maybe they weren’t there at all.
+++++That was the worst part-the unknown. It might drive him insane. He might already be insane. He couldn’t know. He’d have to wait until he came down. It might be fifteen minutes, an hour, a day. He knew he was too fucked up to go walking back to the car now. At least he could sleep in there. Here, he falls asleep, wakes up, still stoned, no idea what time it is, when this place closes, if they locked him inside.
+++++He tried to think of how long he’d been in here. What time he realized he had to piss before the cold feeling in his legs would turn into urine running down his thigh and stumbled into the bathroom.
+++++Not knowing. That was the worst part.
+++++He was still fucked up. This was a mistake. The cinnamon rolls, the bag, the casino, everything. He had to act now. He had to move. If he sat here the Laziness would take over and he would melt into the porcelain and piss-stained tile floor, a ghost.
+++++He couldn’t feel his feet. He craned his neck down, bricks crashing against the inside of his skull. They’re still there, attached, clean, in the same shoes. The metal bar was three inches from his hand. He stuck one up and grabbed it, the cold sending shocks like he’d just put his hand in a piranha tank. He gripped onto it for dear life and tried to pull himself up. His legs shook under him. He couldn’t feel them either. Not the pulsing sensation when they were going numb, just nothing. There could have been nothing below his waist.
+++++He stood. He held onto the bar for dear life. He still couldn’t feel anything. He slid across the bar, the rest of him followed. Maybe he was floating. Maybe he was already a ghost. Maybe he’d just forgotten, like he’d forgotten about the girl, his dead mother, the father long gone and far away. Nobody understood him.
+++++He had too much to remember.
+++++The marijuana helped him forget.
+++++Maybe if he made it out of there alive, if he wasn’t dead already, he could find somebody who knew it too. Maybe they’d know it enough that he wouldn’t need the stash anymore. They would be a godsend, an angel, really, sent to save him.
+++++Maybe he had to put himself in hell to find his angels.

How to Kill the Kid at the Counter

Listen instead
Listen instead

If you want money quick and easy rob a joint.
+++++If you want to rob a joint quick and easy try a diner. Try it between two and four in the morning. Make sure it’s open 24-hours. The bars close at one. Everyone’s drunk and hungry, don’t wanna go home. They stay out to eat and chill, sober up. They sit for an hour. They pay and leave. The staff’s bare. Nobody wants to work the shift. They’re fighting sleep. They’re dead men walking. In back two cooks who take turns sleeping and a dishwasher who speaks no English. No busser on weekdays. In front one waitress diddling on her phone and forced to clean her own tables. She’ll do her shit far from the register-top up the syrups on the table, keep the coffee pots brewing, count her tips.
+++++The kid behind the register’s young. Small for his age, no muscle on his body. He’s a pretty boy, clearly-good shirt, clean black slacks. A hard worker. He might be eighteen or nineteen but looks fifteen. He’s braindead. They all are. He keeps the register locked, even if he’s right behind it, so no one can jack it. He stands behind the long granite counter, eyes half closed, waiting for a customer.
+++++The windows perpendicular to him are glass, wall high, the ceiling one giant skylight to let in the dark night. They bounce lights off of them like a prism. Pull up and flash your highbeams. Keep them on. Park close. The lights travel far in the long night. They’ll blind him, daze him. Grab your gun, keep your car running, keep the gun hidden in your jacket, a smile on your face.
+++++No matter where the joint is act quick. Bring that gun. Get him behind the register. Get the waitress to panic and run away to call. Keep the cooks behind the walls. Get the manager to lock himself in the office. If he’s even there.
+++++Hope he isn’t. Hope the kid isn’t pissing his pants.
+++++Try to keep the gun level. Try to remember everything you’ve heard. Try to keep yourself calm. Try to pretend you’ve still got this.
+++++Pretend you’ve still got a chance when something hits you and you black out, cold.
+++++Wake up in a hospital, cuffed to a gurney. Stay there two days tops. Go to jail for a long time.
+++++The kid didn’t just work the shift because he can stay up late. Just because he isn’t big doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to kick your ass.
+++++Sorry I forgot to tell you.

Through the Walls

Carl got the job because he needed money. He kept it to look at girls naked.
+++++Being a janitor had its perks. The hotel was high-class, he worked good hours. It paid rent for a studio apartment and alimony and child support for his retard son.
+++++It was enough to get by. Then the movie stars came-ridiculously good-looking people who walked his hallways, freshly vacuumed just for them. They ignored him. No look, no smile, no “hi”. Nothing. Good asses to stare at, fake tits, painted faces, guards to shove him aside and threaten him when he said he had to clean next door.
+++++Maybe they were paranoid.
+++++Maybe they thought he was trying to sneak a peek. Maybe they thought he was putting cameras in there when he dragged his cart in there with him, one plastic wheel squeaking, the spray bottles sloshing and the rags swinging. The door would auto-lock behind him. They thought he was just some balding white-trash psycho in a bandana who limped and whistled Johnny Cash. Weird but harmless.
+++++Behind that door Carl could see through walls.
+++++The stars came. The websites followed. They’d showed him where to put the cameras-the waterproof ones in the showerhead for the top-down look, the thin long one (“the Snake,” he’d started calling it. They liked that.) in the drain so the invisible men could look up to them like goddesses.
+++++He didn’t step into adjoining rooms to put the cameras in. Carl did it to clean. The cameras were already there. Later he’d grab the feed from the transmitter in the floor air duct, lurking in a layer of dust and around a bend. It was wireless, two inches wide and a three millimeters thin, silent, the antenna wrapped around the matchbox-sized box powerful enough to handle thirty cameras on three AAA batteries. The little fucker was tough. It could survive anything. It gave him everything-peace of mind, a future, hope. All he had to do was unplug a USB, put it in his pocket, jam another one in the slot and slip out the door. No one suspected anything.
+++++Last Tuesday it came time to change the batteries/grab the raw footage again. There were no celebrities that day. But rituals can’t harm you. The managers weren’t in on it. He was the only one who got checks for “tips” every Wednesday. He was looking forward to it.
+++++The room with the transmitter had been rented out then. No one had told him it was taken. They usually did. Carl pulled the cart with the bad wheel as always, the USB and batteries turning over in his clammy palm. He was whistling “Ring of Fire”. He shoved them in his pocket, limped up to the door and knocked.
+++++Water running in the bathroom, muffled- the shower. No camera in there. Not on this floor.
+++++It still didn’t feel right. The batteries scraped against each other. He knocked.
+++++“Housekeeping,” he said for the millionth time.
+++++The water stopped. A door shut, frantic.
+++++“Sure, yeah,” a young woman called.
+++++“Come in,” the voice said, “But not in the bathroom.”
+++++“Alright, thanks.”
+++++He opened the door with his key and stepped in. Carl dragged the cart behind him, kept whistling “Ring of Fire.”
+++++There were two beds in here, perpendicular to him, the bathroom door on his left. Clothes slithered to the floor, a couple yards away, through a thin wall. Music started-metal, screamo, whatever they called it these days. It rattled the window in front of him. It clouded his mind, strangled his eardrums.
+++++Good sound cover. One bed was spotless-lacy bras and flat skirts and formal frilly shirts laid on precisely. The other was a mess, sheets on the floor. He’d get it after.
+++++He stooped over the grate.
+++++Carl was a smart guy. But he didn’t know everything.
+++++He didn’t know that the girl in the shower knew about that transmitter, that a Russian model found herself on the website last week and called her uncle.
+++++He didn’t know that the door had opened or that she was behind him with a cold, professional look in her eyes again.
+++++He didn’t know that shotguns could be silenced too.