The Sweetheart SourJune 24, 2016
Greed’s a high octane fuel no matter the age of the engine. I’m certain these two clueless kids hadn’t thought much about the consequences. Things hadn’t gone as they’d planned. After I arrived they went plumb off the rails.
They reek of bubble gum, acne-wash and fear. I’m certain the latter, not the cold, causes them to rattle their hand-cuffs. With Suzie bent over the hood like this, I get to enjoy the full scenic view of her backyard. This promise of spring makes me feel itchy all over. I cuff her too and wheel her around, only to have her eyes cut my lawn. I grip her shoulder, “Ain’t you a little old to be partying this late with teenagers?”
Suzie grinds her teeth at me. I laugh nervously and make her join the others on their knees. I step back. My flashlight bounces across each face. They’re quite a sight, like a Golden Chocolate Oreo. A white boy about seventeen or eighteen, Divine Johnson, the chocolate filling, is about the same age, and Suzie, well past her mid-twenties, completes the sandwich.
The white boy’s the first to crack, “You can’t detain us without reading us our rights.”
“Well,” I say, “you got the right to shut up, but I’d start squawking.”
He says, “We didn’t do—”
“Shut up Michael!” Divine snaps at him, “Don’t say nothing. He ain’t read us our Miranda Rights yet. He’ll have to let us go and he knows it.”
“It’s awful cold out here,” I drawl and squat even with her dark face, shining my light into her eyeballs. She winces but remains defiant. The smoke from her dual frontal exhaust pumps in rhythm. I’m certain if I linger too long at her crossing, she’ll crush my penny. “I hear the temp’s only gonna drop more. Now I’d rather be some place warm wouldn’t you? But we can’t until I figure out why two teenagers and a…” I pause on Suzie, “…a MILF are out here in the middle of nowhere—”
The boy grunts at me, “What does it look like Pig?”
I blind him with my light and say, “It looks bad whatever it is ya’ll were doing over—” I shine the light where the two girls once stood. It takes two scans to find the bulky sealed envelope on the pavement. Before I disrupted negotiations there had been a disagreement about the price. I heard Suzie saying, “Five grand’s too much.”
Divine wasn’t having any of it.
I collect the envelope and say, “What do we have here?”
A silence answers me.
I immediately took Divine for the brains between the teenagers. Especially when I tapped my flashlight against the driver side glass. I thought the boy was gonna leap out of his pale skin. He jammed his foot on the accelerator. The motor screamed as it revved. If the fool hadn’t left the car in park, he would’ve driven straight over the girls, probably killing them both. Part of me wishes he had, it would have made things easier. But…hindsight’s for assholes.
I break the seal and thumb inside, “This looks like three or four thousand dollars.”
“What?” the boy asks in mock surprise, “I don’t know nothing about none of that—”
“Uh-huh,” I sigh, “I’m going to search your vehicle. Don’t suppose you’d like to give me a head’s up on what I’m gonna find do you?”
The boy spits, “Fuck you pig.”
I sigh. Kids, right? No respect. “Can it Chief!” I snap, “I wasn’t born yesterday. Nobody carries around a bankroll without a reason. You don’t look like no master thief so I doubt you’re selling stolen art. Gimme s’more of your bullshit.”
Susie speaks, “The money’s mine.” I shine my light at her, watching those white teeth click against the cold.
“Go on,” I say and rummage through their car, “I’m listening.” It reeks of stale pot smoke and B.O. Fast food wrappers litter the floor and backseat. His phone sits between the radio and stick. I grab it and sigh. Kids, right?
Susie says, “I guess it don’t matter now—” she hesitates, “It’s hush money.”
I pan around one last time, lingering on the backseat. I notice two bags in the clutter. They’re stuffed with God knows what. I turn off the engine and pocket his keys, turning back to the penitents. I shine my light at Divine, “You do know extortion’s a crime don’t you?”
Divine sneers, “I don’t know what this white bitch is talking about.”
“The hell you don’t!” Susie half-shouts, “I don’t know how, but she’s got a recording of me and—“ Suzie directs this at Divine who eats a sour lemon and looks away. “—And…well…I’m in a compromising position.”
I look at them in disbelief, “You don’t say?”
Susie continues, “Go through our phones officer. You’ll see all the messages. She’s threatened to spread it around—“
“Okay, okay,” I say not wanting to reheat old hash. “I get the picture. This compromising…um…position? Must’ve been pretty bad to go through this trouble.” I ask, zeroing the beam on her. “You commit a crime or something?”
“No! I just don’t want it getting out, that’s all. It would jeopardize my job.”
“Well,” I sigh. The truth always stings, “Sorry to say this but it’s gonna get out now. All of it.”
Suzie’s eyes flare open, “It is?”
“Yes ma’am,” I say, “gonna be part of my report.”
“But I didn’t do any—“ Suzie gives it all she’s got, “she’s the one black mailing me!”
Divine turns slow and faces her, “You’re not innocent so stopping trying to suck this cop’s dick to get out of it.”
“It—” Suzie says, “I’m not! I mean—I didn’t do anything. I wouldn’t—”
“Go on and tell him Coach,” Divine says. “He’s right. If you didn’t do nothing why agree to pay up?”
“The young lady has a point,” I say. “This recording, is it audio or video?”
Suzie murmurs, “Audio.”
“So how does she know it’s you?” I ask.
Suzie regards me with disgust, tilts her head to the side and growls, “She just does okay.”
I nod, “This recording? I assume it’s here now?”
“I don’t know,” Suzie says. “It’s on her phone. That’s what the money’s—”
My beam lands on Divine, “Well?”
“You got it on you?”
Divine hesitates, “I ain’t saying nothing without a lawyer.”
Suzie quickly interjects, “If it wasn’t in the car she has it in one of her pockets.”
Divine stiffens against my hands as I search her. It’s in her back left pocket. I feel guilty touching the kid’s ass, but she brought all of this on herself.
“Well,” I mope, “looks like a case of she said, she said. I’ll have to take everyone downtown.”
“Is there some other way?” Susie pleads, “Maybe we can work out some kinda deal?”
In faux amazement, “Ma’am, you’re not trying to bribe an officer of the law are you?”
“Of course not,” she protests, “I’m only asking if there’s an alternative to arresting us.”
“Alternative?” I ask.
Suzie grovels, “I really, really, really don’t want this— I’m a good person—I really am—I just made a mistake! Nobody got hurt!”
“Nobody?” Divine snarls. “What about Big Rodney? Huh? What about him?”
“I don’t know any—”
“Don’t let her fool you,” Divine says. “She’s more dangerous than she looks.”
“Listen,” Suzie pleads, “I could split the money between you three. I don’t care about it—honest. This will ruin me—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say and wave my hands, “you’ll lose your job. I get it. What kinda gig is so important you’d pay a ransom to keep it?”
Suzie demurs, “I’d rather not say.”
I snort, “You expect me to cut a deal with someone who won’t even tell me her job?” I shake my head at her, “I think she’s right about you. You are dangerous.”
Suzie pouts, “It’s complicated I don’t—”
Divine blurts out, “She coaches high school basketball.”
Suzie winces and I counter, “High school? Here I was thinking you were someone important.”
“It is important!” She cries, “It’s a tough job.”
I smirk, “Yeah, keep telling yourself that. School huh? Well…I think I can pretty much guess what’s happened. Was it drugs?”
“No,” Divine says glaring at Suzie.
I ask, “Was it alcohol?”
“Wrong again,” Divine says flat.
“Well then,” I smile to keep from laughing, “it must’ve been sex.”
Divine grunts, “You’re damn right.”
“Oh my!” I say, “Ma’am you do know having sex with a student is highly illegal.”
“It wasn’t a student,” the boy giggles. “It was with another teacher.”
“Wait?” I ask, “It’s a recording of two consenting adults?”
He’s uncertain and says, “Well, yeah.”
I say, “That ain’t a crime.”
Divine smirks, “They were fucking in the boys bathroom at school.”
I wrinkle my nose. Something about the way she says it is unsettling.
Divine continues, “My cousin caught ‘em doing it. He made the recording. They must’ve found out somehow, because twenty minutes later he got hauled off in an ambulance.”
“What the hell?” I chastise Suzie, “What’s wrong with you?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Divine’s desire for revenge consumes her good judgement, “I told her if she paid me off I wouldn’t share the file with anyone else.”
“Well did you?” I ask.
“No,” she says, “I should’ve though. This dirty bitch sucks at coaching and doesn’t deserve to—”
“Shut up!” Suzie shouts at Divine.
“I won’t either,” Divine hardens and then gives herself away. “Look for yourself, it’s all on my phone. This bitch’s gonna pay for what happened to my cousin.”
I nod slowly at Divine then at Suzie who smiles back, shuddering in the cold.
I swipe across the phone and I’m in. I press play. In the wind, Suzie’s moans are barely audible. I switch it off, “That’s awful,” I say, “a damn shame too.”
“What is?” Divine asks.
“About your cousin,” I say, “you really think this woman did all that?”
“She had help,” the boy says, “whoever’s sticking it to her put Rodney in the hospital. They say he may not make it through the night.”
My flashlight points at the pavement, “There’s one thing that bothers me about this story.”
Divine says, “Every word’s the truth.”
“I don’t doubt that,” I say. “My problem’s with motive. If you knew all this, why didn’t you go to the police yourself?”
The boy sneers, “Fuck the police.”
I flash him again, “Watch your language son.”
Divine shrugs, “We needed the money.”
“What for?” I ask.
The boy pipes up, “We’re moving—to California.”
“Hmm,” I picture the bags in their car. “Running away?”
“You could call it that,” Divine says.
“The cops around here got problems with us,” the boy says, “the cops and our parents.”
Divine agrees. She smiles and for the first time tonight I see she’s truly a beautiful young woman. She speaks with relief, “Officer, until tonight, you’re the only cop in this shitty town that’s ever been fair to me and Michael.”
I squint at her. My heart goes bump, bump, bump. “You don’t say? Why would anyone bother a couple of crazy kids like you?”
The wind unsheathes again, slashing us with misty knives.
The boy beams, “Weeeeeellll, I got caught doing something—”
“You weren’t supposed to be doing?” I ask.
“Yeah,” the boy says and nods a shoulder at Divine. “Apparently one of them things was having a black girlfriend.”
Divine’s mouth wrinkles with empathy or pity, I can’t tell.
“Well,” I say, “running away ain’t the answer. No matter how far away you get, you’re still gonna be you.”
“I’m gonna change my name,” the boy says and nods, as if that solves everything. Moron.
I extract the keys for the handcuffs, “I guess I’d better take ya’ll downtown so we can get an official report.”
“Are we under arrest?” The boy asks. “I can’t have another one or my probation officer will send me to county.”
I don’t answer him. I’m already unlocking Suzie’s cuffs.
I should’ve seen it coming. Once she gets a hand free she lunges at Divine. There’s a loud crack as Suzie belts her in the mouth. Divine, completely defenseless, crashes backwards into the car. But Suzie keeps swinging. It takes everything I got to pull her off the girl. I have to drag Suzie several feet away and drop her like a bad habit.
“That little bitch! I could kill her!” Suzie screams.
I whisper and hold her tight, “Chill out it’s almost over. We got what we came for—”
“Yeah? That’s easy for you to say! Didn’t you hear her? She’s going try to pin her cousin on me.”
“No she won’t,” I say. “I won’t let it happen.”
“What are we gonna do with them huh?”
“They’re kids,” I say, “we’re the adults here and we’re gonna do what adults do.”
She snarls, “What’s that?”
I smile, “We’re gonna teach ‘em a lesson they’ll never forget. Now you stay put and act like the cuffs are back on.”
I leave her and return to the boy, kneeling over Divine. His voice cracks, “Is she dead man?”
I squat and check her pulse. There’s a bump, bump, bump; I wish I could say I felt relief, “No she’s still alive.”
“We need an ambulance man!”
I turn and face him, “Calm down, everything’s gonna be okay. I’ll radio it in—”
The expression that seizes his pale mug says it all, “You…you…what happened to your mustache?”
I’d never been a very convincing actor. A review of my turn as a tree in a school play was less than wooden. I’m just no good at being anybody but myself. I knew the boy was dumb but damn, I can’t believe it took them this long to figure it out. Hell the silver badge on my shirt reads booty inspector. The mustache I’d taped above my lips, hangs by a hair and when I touch my face it falls off. Damn it Suzie! She must’ve jarred it loose. I don’t got time to point fingers because the boy’s already on his feet, “You’re not a cop—I know you—you’re Mr. Sax from the high school!“
There’s a brief moment when what he says registers in his thick skull. The light goes off and immediately he bolts away from me.
“Goddamn it!” I clamor, but wouldn’t you know it—the fool trips on his untied shoelaces, slamming face first into the car’s bumper.
He’s out cold. A stark reminder of how I dispatched Divine’s cousin earlier in the bathroom. “Shit,” I mutter, “just what I needed—more trouble.”
Suzie gives me the silent treatment all the way to her place. She’s probably thinking our tickets just got punched for the prison train to Siberia. I can’t say it bothers me too bad. My mind’s chugging along with the ins-and-outs of our next stop. Every mile I make forward somehow switches my track sideways. I know this is no way to run a railroad. The switchman’s gotta break in our favor. I pull into Suzie’s driveway and hit the button for the automatic garage door.
She finally thaws, “What the hell are you doing? We can’t bring ‘em here.”
“You know another place with a garage and no questions?”
“I don’t want them here,” she bristles, “I don’t care where, it just can’t be here!”
I shake my head, “We’re running out of time and options.”
“You were just gonna teach ‘em a lesson…we agreed to it.”
I tighten my grip, “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“I never agreed to bring ‘em here. Never ever!”
Despite her protest, I pull into the garage and kill the headlights. “Look baby,” I say, “the way I see it, we got no other choice. Maybe we did before you went all Wonder Woman on Divine’s face, but now—”
“I…I…I…” She stammers, “I don’t care, I’d do it again if given the chance. She had it coming—I was All-State in basketball.”
I lean back in my seat, admiring her profile in the soft dash light, “What would you have me do with them? It’s too risky to leave ‘em back there, they might involve the real police.”
“No they wouldn’t,” she says, “didn’t you hear how much they hate cops?”
“That’s just tough talk,” I say. “Besides after you double-crossed them. They might consider it an option. Or worse, they inform the school-board. Then where would we be? Tough to land a teaching gig after the world knows you’ve assaulted a student.”
“Me? I…” she stops and shakes her head. “You! What about you? There’s two boys knocked senseless because of you.”
“Both were accidents,” I say. “Big Rodney slipped on a wet floor and this other kid tripped on his—“
“You honestly expect me or anyone else to believe that horse shit?”
“It ain’t horse—Look I—”
“You’re the one that handed me an envelope of newspaper headlines instead of real money. We could’ve paid them off and had this settled. But no. You had to play fast and loose with everything and now we got two kids unconscious in my backseat!“
She’s furious and wants to cry, but something’s damming up her water works. I think I know why too.
“Suzie,” I say gently, “remember, we’re on the same team. If we stick together, there’s still a way out of this. For both of us.”
Her eyes glow like swimming pools at me, “How so?”
I glance back at the sprawled students. We’ve opened a box that’ll never shut again. No matter how hard we jam down on the lid. We’ve got nothing to lose, “I say we rough ‘em up.”
Suzie groans, “What good will that do?”
“Well,” I smile, “it’ll let ‘em know we mean business. Then we’ll ship ‘em off to California. If we give ‘em a few bucks, they won’t look back either. You’re probably right, they’re not going to the police. What foot could they stand on if they did? Do two wrongs make a right? I don’t think so baby. Besides,” I lower my voice, “you’ll feel better if you can get a few more punches in—”
“No I won’t,” she says, “I already feel awful about it—”
“You could’ve fooled me baby. You throw a mean jab.”
Suzie’s cracks a smile my way, “Yeah? I did hit her pretty good huh?”
“You knocked a tooth out at least. Maybe more.”
“Yeah?” She pictures it, “yeah I probably did. I’ve never done anything like—It’s—” I know it before she says it, “—a rush. You know what I mean?”
I grin, “It’s limitless you—”
She finishes my thought, “—Can do anything.”
The tip of her tongue parts her teeth. She holds it there as she leans in.
I start feeling itchy again. Her hand brushes mine. It’s no longer cold, but warm. She’s—warm all over. We’re kissing before I know it. Her hands cradle my face. She bites my lip. Our train ride through Siberia melts. All it took to fire her furnace was a blast to a student’s face. She wants me to board her caboose, and straddles me, but what made Suzie Palmer famous bumps against the car’s horn.
She yelps at the surprise. Then she’s giggling and kissing and unbuttoning my shirt. Our breath fogs the windows.
I pull away, “You sure you wanna do this out here? Now?”
I say, “this is how we got into trouble in the first place.”
Suzie pulls away sensibly, “Okay. Let’s go.” She grabs my lapels out of the driver side. It’s hard to ignore the cold of her garage as we kiss. Our smokey breath steams off us in clouds. A two-spined freak breathing fire. I get a hand free and press the button beside the door. There’s a mechanical sputter as an overhead chain clangs. She’s pulling me into her warm threshold, before our last exit automatically rattles shut.
We don’t get far, making sparks in the kitchen. Then more of the same down the hall. We’re all hammer and tongs. Finally, we collapse, leaving behind strewn clothes and debris. We lay there glowing, I don’t know how long, a pile on the floor, breathless and dreaming dreams in our solitary dusk. No one really knows the one’s they love. My mood feels tempered, as if we’ve reached the end of the line. Our last stop.
The sex was okay. She snores satisfied. It stops once I roll her over. We lay there, two forged spoons and sleep…
“Wake up! Goddamn you wake up!” Susie screams as the world blurs into focus.
“What?” I ask. My head still between dimensions.
“The car!” She screams, “We forgot about the car!”
My first thought? The kids awoke and stole away in Suzie’s Ford Taurus. I’m on my feet taking awkward steps down the hall, with one leg safe in my pants and the other desperate to join it. I finally get trousered but the smell hits me before I round the corner.
The burning monoxide stench of bottled exhaust. Suzie’s standing between the kitchen and the garage, still nude, shrieking and shivering against the chill. The air’s toxic, I cover my nose and mouth, “What’s going on?”
Her only answer, a wailing shout, “We forgot about—”
She doesn’t need to explain. I already know the truth before I see the idling car. The smoke is thick and I cough, cough, cough. How considerate of us, we’d left the motor running so they wouldn’t get cold. If the kids had moved at all, I couldn’t tell. The purple bruises the only color on their grey faces.
“How long were they out here?” I ask Suzie but she’s no longer there. I hear a clanging of chains. To my horror she’s returned and she’s pressed the button.
I shout, “What the hell are you doing?”
She’s a wreck when I stop the garage door half-way.
“I…I…” She stammers, “We have to let it air out.”
“Like hell we do,” I say, forcing her into the kitchen.
“But what about the kids?” She asks and I think, good Ol’ Suzie’s compassionate to the end. When I don’t affirm her concern her face falls. She stutter steps back a few feet. Luckily the wall keeps her from spilling to the floor and falling to pieces.
“C’mon,” I say, “get dressed we’ve got work to do.”
She doesn’t budge. I repeat myself but she only angles an arm, covering her goods and whimpers, “We killed them. We killed them. We—”
I give her milkshake a stir, “Get a hold of yourself!”
She congeals in my hands and leaves the room. I don’t press the issue. I finish dressing and make hasty arrangements for the departed. I gather supplies. A delicate situation like this deserves attention to detail.
I check on Suzie. She’s a monument on the edge of her bed. Completely still and naked.
“Suzie I…” She ignores my overtures. Her stare is a thousand yards away. “…I’ll come back and check on you when I’m done.”
I leave her there and experience a queer notion, like this is how I’ll always remember her.
Somedays, you just can’t get rid of a body.
I drive my two wards to the rail yard. I don’t know the train schedule, but at this point it doesn’t matter. One will be through here soon enough.
I position the corpses on the rails. I sit and wait. I don’t know how long. Part of me wants to make sure, you know, see it to the end. However another part of me knows I’ll never sleep again if I witness this.
Still, I wait.
I keep expecting their bodies to rise and stumble towards me, pointing fingers, moaning accusations, “You did this to us! You did this—”
But of course that doesn’t happen. Once you’re dead, you’re meat for worms or exhibit A or B or C. Nothing can change this either. Nothing—
Susie’s right. Juries don’t believe in accidental murder. The snot freezes in icicles at the end of my nose. I figure if I wait any longer, someone might catch me waiting or worse, I freeze to death myself. I get back in the car and drive home.
My wife’s asleep when I crawl into bed. She rolls over groggy. Her breath slaps me like sewer gas, “What time is it?”
“Dunno…didn’t mean to wake you Margaret I’ve…” I whisper and before I know it, I’ve wrapped my arms around her, “…couldn’t sleep so I went for a drive.”
She pats my chest and mumbles, “It’s okay honey. Go to sleep, it’ll be alright in the morning. You’ll see.”
The sun will rise in a few hours. I lay there waiting for the sound of a distant train. If it doesn’t come, I expect there’ll be a tragic discovery, an investigation, a deposition, a grand jury, a trial, a verdict, an appeal, a last meal, and finally I’ll be strapped down and given the darkness. I wonder if I’ll see a light. I weigh the odds and don’t think they’re in my favor.
Suddenly, there’s a soft hooting whistle in the distance. I must be imagining it. I hold my breath to hear it again. I don’t know how long I wait to exhale. The room’s a stuffy box. All I hear is my heart go bump, bump, bump. It’s a lonesome sound.
I guess I’m just jealous, those kids crossed big river together. Maybe they were even holding hands. I don’t know.
When I imagine the whistle blowing again — I weep.