Saturn in Retrograde I 1:7
Part 1, Chapter 7 of my 2004 crime novel
Milt Seebaum followed Pat Ireland into her little apartment, noting the soft smell of womanhood as it rose to greet his nostrils. His own place never smelled like that, he thought bitterly. Inside, the refuse of an over-intellectual woman that had sublimated her femininity in a pile of boring course work, lay scattered around the dim room. Text-books lay half open, revealing diagramatical constructions that were as perplexing as the inside of Pat Ireland’s head. Mountains of papers were stacked precariously upon a flimsy computer desk. A few dirty dishes rounded everything out. It was a normal, boring, compact place; the place a thirty-three year old faculty member might be expected to live. There were framed posters of The Beatles, and a screen saver of Stonehenge. There was the regulation poster of the Eiffel Tower bought in Paris. It was bourgeois chic. “Make yourself comfortable Milt. Want something to drink?” He felt the first few stirring of excitement grip him. How long had it been since he had been offered a drink by a young woman? “Sure,” he said as evenly as possible. He was getting a little nervous now. What was she expecting him to say, “hell no”? “How about a beer? It’s what’s handy.”
“Oh, a beer would be just fine I think.” Who am I kidding, he thought, I usually go to bed with warm milk.
“Here, I have Dosequis, and I hope you like it...I like it.”
She came back into the living room and sidled up on the rattan couch. The coffee table in front of them was cluttered as everything else, bearing a heap of periodicals and fluff magazines that must have been a weakness for Pat Ireland. “You know, Pat,” Milt Seebaum began warily, “you are the only person I know who keeps Sassy and The New England Journal of Literary Science in the same place”. Pat seemed nonplussed. To be perfectly honest, she hadn’t brought Milt Seebaum here to talk about magazines. “Oh, I don’t know...one’s just as interesting as the other don’t you think?” ‘Oh...I don’t think either one of them could be accused of being very interesting. My personal favorite is Field and Stream.”
“Mm, really? Never saw you as much of an outdoor type, Milt. Thought you’d be cloistered away in some dark corner with the American Journal of English Literature...something academic, intellectual, respectable. You are respectable, aren’t you?” She lifted her beer, polished it off, and asked if he wanted some wine. He had barely taken two sips of his Dosequis.
"Wine? Uh, sure, yeah...you know Pat, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me.”
She said nothing, but got off the couch slowly, keeping him in her gaze in a steady, feline way that excited him terrible. She disappeared into the kitchen, and he gazed around the room in elated panic. There was something about being made drunk in the presence of some strange woman, even a woman as boringly familiar as Pat Ireland. Oh, he already knew the game was afoot, yesiree. Didn’t even have to worry about playing his cards right, did he? She was in the driver’s seat. She came back out a few moments later, carrying a bottle of cheap (read: undrinkable) wine, and two bell-shaped glasses. “Take. Drink. Relax...mm, that’s good.” She sipped casually on the white wine. Drink enough of it, and even Milt Seebaum looked like Fabio. Milt took some wine, some beer, and some more wine. His head was pounding. His heart felt like a little ticker ticker machine. He absentmindedly worried about his blood pressure. “You know Milt, I have some ulterior motives in inviting you over. I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward, but, uh, well...I don’t quite know how to say...” He gulped. He leaned forward. He hadn’t been intimate with a woman in a dozen years. It was all part and parcel of being a tall, hook-nosed, living equivalent of Ichabod Crane. It went with the professional territory. “Y-you want to have intercourse?” He slurred, leaning forward a little too much. The alcohol always did have a heavy effect on him, and he never, really, drank. “W-well, jeezus, Milt, you sure have a romantic way of putting it! How about: I would like to have a romantic fling with an older, attractive co-worker? Is that okay?” She laughed. She moved closer to him on the couch. He could feel her hot breath play against the side of his nick. He was old enough to be her father. What was the game here?
“Why me, Patricia? Why in the world would a young, attractive woman like you want some crusty, doddering old fool like me?” She rubbed his neck with her index finger, and smiled. “Well, let’s just say that there’s something about a man’s mind that attracts me. And, Milt, baby, nobody has a mind quite like yours. You know it. It’s like you stepped out of a time warp.”
Time warp, he thought. That is exactly right. I don’t belong here. I belong in some moldy library, holding hands with Longfellow. Well, here I am. Now what? He started to shrink away from her. “Patricia...now, I don’t exactly rush into these things. Never have, never will...” Suddenly, she lunged on top of him, pressing him down, her mouth flowering open across his own. He was quite liquid now, groping her tightly, madly, the blood rushing to his head. His heart beat like a drum.
“O-okay. I understand. I’m a male rape victim.” They both began to laugh. Fuck Longfellow, he thought, and pulled her close to him. It was in the bedroom, in the darkness, where they had finally cast aside their clothes, and really got into heated, manic love-making. Milt had never thought such intense passion could be mustered on a Saturday night. It hadn’t in years, seemed like a possibility that was open. Later, as they lay in the darkness, letting the spent passion of the evening linger in the air like some rapidly dissolving force of electricity, he asked Patricia again, why, in fact, she had chosen to be with him.
“Because. There was just something about you that seemed, I dunno, promising. Special. Different...like you weren’t just out for a piece of ass and a good meal. Like you made love the way you wrote...or, at least, from what I’ve read of you. You know women and poets.” “You weren’t too bad yourself, dear. I don’t think I’ve had a night like this within recent memory.”
“It doesn’t have to be the only time. Honestly. We can do it again. Tonight. If you want.” She curled up next to him, and he pulled her close with one skinny arm. He still felt troubled. In fact, the feeling was actually increasing as the pleasure wore off. “But is this really right? I mean, I mostly pride myself on my ability to keep one notch above the rest of the real, raw, world. Do you know what I mean? I’m old. I’m not sure I don’t...I dunno.”
“Feel like a shit heel? Immoral? Surely, two adults can jump right in the sack and not worry a damn about it. Afraid of committing a little white sin?” He felt glum for a moment. He wasn’t sure she was ever going to be able to understand him.
“Well, damnit, you said it yourself: it’s as if I stepped out of a time warp. I’m an old fuddy-duddy. A gentleman. I don’t just jump into bed with anyone out of pure animal lust.” He had a half-mocking, half-serious tone in his voice, but she could tell he was masking some small regret. She made a ptui sound with her lips, and said, “Oh, Mr. Uptight Prude, are you afraid I’ve set you on the cold, hard path toward becoming a womanizer? We’re you raised Catholic?”
“Well then, as long as I’m not an altar boy, what are you worried about?” In truth, he could think of nothing.
They drove through the interminable night, the rode stretching out before them in endless sameness. Mile after mile, the yellow dividing line sweeping past in blurring disarray, the expanse of darkened farmland picturesque with rotting barn and fence post making the evil night seem as deep and dark and bottomless as the pits of hell that Tanner Benjamin thought, surely, must be waiting for him below. She held the wheel in a tight little grip. She didn’t seem to even be slightly aware of the full ramifications of the brutal double-murder she had just performed. He corrected himself. That they had just performed. He was an accomplice after the fact. He was going to prison---no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He wondered what it would be like, confined for life in a sweaty, filthy cage with large, brutal men forcing him to do horrible, painful, humiliating things that he scarcely wanted to imagine. He had once read a prolonged, torturous article on prison rape. It had made him physically nauseous for several hours afterward. And, let’s face it, he thought, if I go in, they’re going to make me a bitch. He suddenly cried out, as if he had just realized the full importance of what had transpired.
“How in the hell can you be so calm at a time like this? Do you realize when they catch us, what they’re going to do to us? Sabrina! You just killed two men in cold blood!”
He was actually screaming now. He was terrified, felt like he was on the verge of some sort of complete breakdown. Then he thought that that might be the best thing. Maybe he could cop an insanity plea an end up in an institution. He continued to yell for a few minutes, and so she began to yell too. So he yelled louder. And on. And on. Until, finally, she brought the car to a screeching halt at the side of the road. She popped on the dome light.
“Tanner! Tanner, calm the fuck down. Calm the fuck down, or I will shoot you. Do you hear me, Tanner? I will shoot you now, and dump you out here in the middle of flying saucer country, and nobody will know the difference.”
He stared at her in amazement. He knew she wasn’t bluffing. He felt ice water pump through his veins. When was this night going to end? “Tanner, do you see anyone fucking following us? Do you?” She spoke sharply. He shook his head no, too scared to make a peep. She breathed in. She breathed out.
“Now, the reason that you see no one following us is because nobody knows it was us. Or me. I’d take the fucking rap. I killed them. I did it. You didn’t know what was gonna go down, did you?” He shook his head no, and slightly whimpered.
“Now, stop being a fucking baby. Nobody is gonna chase us down, tonight, or any other night, because nobody fucking cares. Okay? Now---” And she shifted gears, and slowly got back out on the road.
“I am going to get some food. Okay? You too. You look like you could use some coffee, at least. There’s a diner up here, somewhere. Gonna be okay?” He shook his head yes. He didn’t think he was ever going to be okay again.
She sat in the corner of her room, looking at the shadows dance on the wall. It was all she could say about the spectral fingers cast by the bushes in the moonlight. Those fingers danced; invited. She would use them to take her to sleep. Sleep, all I really want. All I can really count on. The only comfort I have. Downstairs, she could hear mommy fighting with Bruce. Big, stupid Bruce, who drank and stank and farted, and mommy thought was just great. Wonderful. Her new “daddy”.
Bruce, who drove a truck and watched wrestling, and sometimes looked at her in a way that scared the holy hell out of her, sometimes. But what did Mommy care? When Bruce brought over dope, or money, or what have you. Mommy was in her own world these days. Now she was yelling at him. Calling him a “worthless mother fucker”. Well, she could agree with that, at least. She listened. All she could make out were a whole lot of cuss words, and something about Julie. Somebody (some bitch, to use mommy’s words) named Julie did something and now Mommy was mucho pissed. Mucho. And mommy was, usually, pretty laid back. Now, she could hear the door slam. It must have been Bruce, because she could hear mommy rush to the phone and dial up her friend Ronnie Hampton. Ronnie was sixteen and pregnant, and usually up for babysitting for the evening. “H-hello? Mrs. Hampton. This is Jill Lavender. Um, I was wondering if Ronnie might be interested in coming over for a few minutes and keeping an eye on Lindsey. Yes, I know it’s late, but it’s an emergency. My father has taken ill again, and I really need to go and make sure he is okay. Can you put her on, please?” Mommy had that “will not take no for an answer” sound in her voice that she used sometimes. Lindsey rolled over on her side and listened. “Hi Ronnie, this is Jill. I know it might be kind of late to ask, but I need you to come over and keep an eye on Lindsey while I go out for just an hour or so. You can? Okay, okay great, oh thank you very much Ronnie, I really, really, owe you. Okay, I’ll be waiting. Bye.”
Lindsey could hear Mommy downstairs rushing around, putting on her coat, grabbing up her billfold. Mommy thought that she must have been asleep, by now. Surely. Lindsey rolled over on her back and stared out at the sky, The stars seemed like magnificent little dots in the heavens. She had read, somewhere, that some people thought that there might be life on other planets. She hoped that there was. Life. Somewhere. Else. She looked at the swaying shadows on the wall. The branches of the trees outside. The fingers seemed to be curling around, seemed to be inviting her. To sleep. To dream.
Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.
She felt her lids grow heavy. Ronnie Hampton was nice. If she woke up early tomorrow, Ronnie would make her breakfast and watch cartoons with her till Mommy felt like getting up. She slept. It was bliss, in a world where mommies did what they were supposed to do. Always.
Bruce McGonnagill pumped the engine until it roared. Speeding. He knew he had better cool his engines soon. But, damnit, that damn broad had made him sore tonight. Mad as hell, to be perfectly honest. So, he got some on the side. Big deal. Wasn’t like he was married to that mop, and even if he was, so what? He was a man. He was just following his biological prerogative. He chased down an alley, pumped it again, came out the other side with a screech, blowing gravel. What the hell was he doing? Was he just going to ride around like some aimless fuck till dawn. No. Bruce had been in jail twenty times for twenty different things. It didn’t much matter to him if he got pulled over or not. What the fuck. Go for broke. Live fast and die young. It was the way of the beast.
He popped the tab on a Bud and set it in the crotch of his jeans. He was gonna scout for some pussy tonight. Hot stuff, something young. Something to throw in that mop's face, and make her see that she needed him. He didn’t fucking need her. “No sir. Not me. Not this tiger.”
It seemed like the road was never going to end. Above them, the stars were strewn in galactic wonderment, shining their naked truth down upon a midnight world where life had stopped making sense for Tanner Benjamin. What time was it? He strained down to look at his watch. Dumbfounded. He told himself he must be hallucinating. All of it. He looked up. He looked out the passenger window. He looked over at the psychopathic woman who sat behind the wheel of the car. She seemed as stern, as impenetrable as an iron case. Could it be true? Could it? Could all of this really have transpired in only. Forty. Five. Minutes. Bugs jumped up and splattered on the windshield in the American night.
“Here is where we are going Tanner. Hope you like.”
Up ahead, in the distance, set on the side of the road like a location from some cheap movie, the Roadside Café was lit civilization, and surrounded by hillbilly getaway cars. And a few cop cars. And he still had some blood on his palms. But by this time he was beyond thinking of himself as anything but a hostage.
“Yeah. I guess that’s okay. What could happen?”
“You could eat.”
“I could also puke.”
But surprisingly, he did eat.
She pulled in much too quickly, squealing tires, and must have brought not a few heads up to peer out the long diner window. She turned off the car. This bitch seemed to be daring someone to hassle her. Tanner got out on shaky legs, saying nothing. He noticed, immediately, that there was a Volkswagen bug parked where there shouldn’t have been. Hillbilly’s, as far as he knew, never drove Volkswagen bugs. Through the door. Into the dining room. No wait to be seated. Just sit. Smoking section. The fluorescent lights hurt his eyes, making him wince. He imagined he looked as if he just spent the last three days smoking crack. They sat. A very tired waitress approached a moment later. She had tremendous dark circles under her eyes. She automatically placed two empty mugs and a pot of coffee in front of them and got out her little pad.
He looked at the menu. It might as well have been written in Chinese.
“Um yeah, I will have steak and eggs. And my friend here will have...what will you have, friend?”
She looked at him expectantly.
“Steak. And eggs. Over easy.”
His voice was a little pip. She looked up at the waitress, handed her the menu, and said, “He’s tired, is all.”
The woman heaved a gusty sigh, and said, “ain’t we all, hon. It’s been a long night.”
The woman walked away quickly. Tanner scanned the smoking section, trying to avoid looking at Sabrina. It was a typical Saturday night at the Roadside. Big beards. Loud drunks. Several scantily-clad barmaids drying out with their grubby, macho bonehead daddy’s. And five people that did not belong in the picture at all. In the booth across the aisle from them, a large woman with a Civil War-era cap puffed an immense curled carven pipe of antique origins. Next to her sat a pallid, lanky young man with a fishing cap and a scruffy beard. His hair was pulled into two pony-tail strands. He was much too “tree-hugger” to be smoking his little wooden pipe in this dive. They both seemed to be busily grilling a third party seated across from them. A little weasel of a fellow with a sock cap. Short, stocky, smoking one right after the other. They seemed like they had him under arrest. Tanner could only catch brief hints of the conversation, but it all seemed to revolve around ghosts. Or flying saucers. Or whether or not the little man was “crazy”, “doing something dangerous”, Or whether or not “Jack Cards” had something to do with something. “Tanner,” Sabrina leaned over the table, exposing quite a bit of her bra less bust, and whispered.
“That guy looks just like you.”
“Not a chance,” he said. What the hell. He had some pride left. The other two people had come in just after them. A short, frazzled-looking woman that looked as if she had hurriedly thrown on her outfit and make-up. She was walking with a purposeful strut in front of a much older man, who looked, for all the world, like the portraits of the famous Rhode Island horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Mixed with a dash of Jimmy Stewart, and a smidgen of a young Don Knotts. The man seemed like he had just about spent all of his energy already that evening. Tanner knew, exactly, how he felt. Suddenly, he realized who it was. Milt Seebaum. His favorite college professor. What in the hell was he doing here at this hour? And with her? Before he knew it Tanner was already up, and moving slowly toward his old Prof, in a kind of half-sleepy disbelief. “Professor? Professor Seebaum?”
The couple had seated themselves at a little table in the corner. The man stiffened, and turned around slowly. Sure enough, it was old Milty. His face seemed to lose all blood. “Uh...hey, there, um. Mr....I can’t seem to.” Milt fumbled for some words, eager to brush him off. Tanner looked in his eyes, saw they were bloodshot, and wondered what the hell Milt Seebaum of all people was doing out on a Saturday night drunk with some young broad. Or some younger broad, at any rate. “Tanner, sir. Tanner Benjamin. I was in your two oh one class. Remember? I’ll never forget that class, sir. Great class.” Milt Seebaum fumbled for a bit more than said, “Oh, oh yes. Mr. Benjamin, I believe. A good student, you were. Always punctual.” He looked at Tanner with a face that said he was desperately trying to think of something else to say. Tanner turned and started to walk away, when the woman that was with Seebaum suddenly chirped up and said, “Why don’t you invite your girlfriend over and sit with us. Looks like we’re both here for the same reason.” The resultant meal was an amalgam of the bizarre, surreal, and the ferociously mundane. It was strikingly, brutally comic, and in it’s intense nothingness it shocked Tanner into a new sense of the highly absurd and grotesque. “Um, so are uh, I don’t think we have been introduced...”
“Sabrina. Sabrina Sabrina.”
“Sorry...didn’t catch that last name.”
“Um Tanner, so what have you been doing with yourself lately? Any luck kick-starting the old writing career?”
“Well, to be perfectly honest Prof, not much. I’ve been scribbling a few things here and there. Mostly poetry.”
“Poetry does not pay the bills, young man.”
“I know...but what else do we have?”
“So are you two, an item?”
Pat Ireland seemed the most hopeful party sitting at the table.
“Well...you could say that we are old friends, really.”
“Really? And what did you major in Sabrina?”
“Well, it is getting late, Pat...maybe we had better leave these two kids to do their thing...go home, get some sleep.”
Milt Seebaum looked as if he was on the verge of a minor case of exhaustion.
His skin looked as if it might be glossing over with a fresh coat of some thin, gray paint that was lurking just beneath his pores. He looked like he had been left out in the cold for two evenings running.
“No...really, you guys the night is young. Hey, does anyone want to go check out a haunted house? I know of a great place just out in the country a piece.”
“A piece? A piece of what?”
Pat Ireland turned toward Milt Seebaum and smiled the patient, tolerant smile of a patient, tolerant bourgeois liberal intellectual.
“Colloquialism, Milt...sometimes I think you live on another planet.”
Tanner was nearly about to keel over, but realized, once again with a sort of dawning horror that all that was standing between him and collapse, that he was, in fact, still a hostage.
“A haunted house? Sabrina, you didn’t mention anything about a haunted house.” “Yes I did. Don’t you remember? I told you all about that crazy old family that was killed by the father all those years ago...I told you, on the way here, you snapper-head!”
Pat and Milt looked at each other with a kind of vague bemusement, as if to say, love is blind, and dumb, and deaf too, apparently.
“Yes, well, it’s good to see that you’re alive and kicking Tanner...I must confess, out of all the students I have had in maybe the last five years, you alone seemed to always stand just a little above the rest. In effort, in ability. Please, take advantage of the talents you’ve been granted.”
And this from a guy that couldn’t remember me twenty minutes ago, Tanner thought bitterly, but let it slide. He had bigger things on his mind at the moment.
“So...about the haunted house?” Milt Seebaum started to reply, more forcefully, that he was going home, but was cut short by Pat. Pat, who had just let him sink his grizzled old tube steak between her plump little thighs, now apparently, had him by the psychological balls. She said, “Well, why not Milt? You said you needed some fun on Saturday night.”
“I...uh, that is, poking around some old place, in the middle of the night, does not sound like it would be much fun for me, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, come on, live a little...it’s what you need, Milty, you old fussy man.” Already, Pat Ireland knows exactly what I need. I’m ruined. But he couldn’t see any way out of it.
“Okay,” he sighed.
“Let’s go see your house, and you can tell us all about it on the way there.”
Milt Seebaum spoke with the patient, tolerant tone of a father trying to console an idiot child. Sabrina looked as if she had just been handed a lollipop. Tanner sighed inwardly, filled with an apprehension not inconsistent with the events of the evening. Pat Ireland thought that a drive through the country might be fun. ***
You could not have asked for a more picturesque, beautiful night. Do you know what I mean when I say the sky looked as if it had been created for young lovers? Every star a beautiful pin-point of wonder against a curtain of deep black velvet. And Venus, that ascending master of the sky burned with the mystic fire that named it in the beginning, when the ancients where cataloging the heavens. They were piled in Sabrina’s car, Sabrina’s idea, and Pat Ireland had thought that that was just fine. The two men blanched, but what could they do? It was the Season of the Witch. Vroom. Vroom. Rattle. Bang. Bug splatter of the night, bug guts on the windshield, not a cop in sight. Where were all the cops, thought Tanner. In the donut shops? It was hell bent for leather, and Sabrina swung the car around each turn wildly. The two older passengers began to regret, slightly, that they had not taken Pat’s car. Pat’s little VW bug. Pat’s wheels were safety. Sabrina’s wheels meant they might each end up in traction for six months, if not worse. Farm fields as far as the eye could see. Indiana is desolation, thought Tanner. Indiana is row after row of rotting barns and decrepit farmhouses. And in the midst of all this, the Breadbasket of America. What time is it?, Tanner thought madly. What the hell time is it? But his trusty wrist watch had quit working.
"Uh, I think we can dispense with the formalities tonight Tanner...just plain old Milt will do.”
“Okay...Milt, do you know what time it is?” Milt Seebaum had a very nice digital watch worth about five dollars. It glowed in the dark. “It says half past one.” Tanner could tell that neither of them could believe that. Suddenly, with a screech of tires they were all thrown to the side, causing not a few groans and the first profanity that Tanner Benjamin had ever heard Milt Seebaum utter since he had known him.
They were thrown forward as the car came to a violent halt in the weed-choked front yard of a dilapidated house that had not, it could be assumed, seen occupants in several decades. It sat like some ancient monolith of a bygone era, illuminated in the harsh moonlight. It brooded.
“Well...here we are.” It sat far back of the road, surrounded by a ring of trees that looked as equally dismal, and forlorn. An ancient tire swing still swayed gently in the breeze, perhaps remembering the jovial buttock of some young whipper snapper that was now old, or dead. They got out slowly.
“Wow,” said the ever tolerant Pat. “So you say this place is really haunted, huh?”
“Sure is...there was a family back her in the fifties. They were a part of some strange religious group. I think they were called the Crabbites. Well, anyway, the father found out his wife was having an affair. He was really crazy, thought that God talked to him...use to speak in other voices. They had some other people living here with them, I think some cult members or something. Anyway, yeah he killed his wife and child, a little girl. Then, when the others found out...they all committed suicide. Some by knife, some by poison, some by rope.”
“Oh, how horrible...” Pat Ireland said the last word with the emphasis she usually reserved for moments when it was appropriate to think that some item that had just been related to her was, truly, tragic. In truth, she was more fascinated than anything. The two women started toward the rickety porch. The windows, long broken, boarded-up, and otherwise really did seem, for an infernal moment, as if they were terrifying eyes spying the entrance of some foul intruders into their silent, vigilant domain.
“Pat, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to climb up on that porch...I mean, what if you fall through? Hospital’s miles away.”
“Oh, Milt, you old grandma, where’s your sense of adventure?”
Climb they did, and in a few minutes, with the aid of a flashlight that Tanner had no idea Sabrina had brought along with her, the men warily followed the women through the door. The smell of fetor and age was so overpowering and sickening, at first Tanner found it quite hard to accommodate himself. It was one noxious blast, and the accumulated dust of years made breathing labored. From the few glimpses the men got of the place from the flashlight beam, they could see that the furniture, from whatever period it had last been occupied, still remained; a grotesque and declining reminder that, once, this place had been habitable. Sabrina rattled on non-stop, but Tanner paid little attention to her barrage of inanities. At least, Prof Ireland thought her to be interesting, and the two women rather followed each other further back into the darkness, chattering between themselves. At his shoulder, in almost the decrepit doorway, stood Milt, breathing heavily, exasperated and totally spent. The alcohol he had smelled earlier was, probably, almost oxygenated by now.
“Door was probably locked...she must have come here earlier and forced it. You know, this is trespassing. If we get caught, there will be a stink. I don’t think Pat has thought of that. Uh, Tanner, can you do something with your girlfriend? Get us all back safe?” “She’s... not my girlfriend, Milt. Tell you the truth, I’m not sure just what the hell she is.”
“How long have you known her?”
“Well, I’m not exactly sure at this point, Prof. But, I would guess, oh, about three hours now.”
Milt Seebaum choked. He didn’t want an explanation. Forty minutes later he had one, and it was not what he expected at all. In the moonlit glow the place was, indeed, sepulchral. A Poe could not have conjured such living ghastliness. Tanner didn’t want to take more than a few steps away from the door, where Milt Seebaum cowered impatiently, ready for the cool comfort of his rumpled bed sheets, the softness of his pillows, the safety of his little hobbit-like hole. His books. His color TV. PBS. Warm milk. A full pipe. His classical CD collection.
“This has got to stop, soon.” Tanner heard him mumble under his breath.
Bruce pulled into the parking lot of Jokers Wild, a local strip-delicatessen. It was Saturday night, and he knew his favorite girl would be here, shaking her tits for a bunch of horny old men that couldn’t stand looking at their wives naked after so many miserable years. He finished off the last of his third beer behind the wheel, leaned over, reached into the glove box, and pulled out a nine millimeter pistol. He made sure it was loaded, got out, locked his truck, and strutted inside. He was a big man, was Bruce McGonagill, and this was a rough place. And tonight, of all nights, was roughest. But he knew he could handle himself. Just in case, though, he wanted some back-up. That’s what the gun was for. If he found himself surrounded in the parking lot, or some group of black hoods tried to stop him as he drove through what amounted to the ghetto, he wanted to know he could reach in his glove box, and take out Mr. Safety. Otherwise, he would beat the holy hell out of any man that wanted to merely brawl. He walked though the dark wooden door, looked over at the bouncer, and noticed all his front teeth were missing. His kind of place. He handed him five bucks, mumbled something, and as soon as naked flesh hit his eye he knew that he had made a wise decision in coming here. This was it. This was the center of male dominance. Naked women on display, to be treated lie the sides of meat that they were.
He grinned. A lovely little thing in a g-string and pasties jiggled up to him and asked him if he would tip her. “Sure thing, hon,” he said, and reached for his wallet. He made sure to slide the bill down the v of her crotch as far as physics would allow his fingers to go. She didn’t bat an eyelash, but leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
He strode up to the bar. A woman that looked like Mrs. Captain Kidd was handing out beers in a can. No glasses. No glasses at all. “I’ll have a Bud.” Bud was a man’s beer. She handed him over his beer, and he turned. A couple of short trolls were busy with a pool game. He wondered why anyone would come to a titty bar to play pool. He walked out to the stage. A very young, long-legged woman was gyrating around a pole. Nothing new there, but he sat down anyway, put his beer on the counter, and leaned over. She crawled across to him, swaying, her tiny breasts pleasant. Inviting. Enticing.
“Hey, I’ve seen you around here before.”
The pounding music made conversation impossible, a series of droning yells. She looked young enough to be his daughter. He liked that. “Yeah...how much for a lap dance?”
“Ten dollars. Here, tip me.” She thrust her pelvis in his face. He dropped five bucks. Later he would drop over a hundred. Still later, he would hand over pretty much the contents of his entire wallet for the month. Dad would be proud.
They had been upstairs for a very long time. Tanner and Milt had simply waited out on the rickety front porch, careful lest they should snag their clothes on a rusted nail.
“What do you think they’re doing? Do you think we should go up and get them?"
“I dunno. Do you want to risk it? We don’t have a flash light. I only have a lighter.”
“Damn it, I thought Pat was smarter than this.”
He reached up and rubbed his sagging face.
“Oh, I am so tired Tanner. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I rather wish we hadn’t run into either one of you this evening. Pat seems like the type that, if she has proper encouragement, can be convinced to stay on the straight and narrow. But, alas, my experience with women is sorely lacking.” “Milt...you and me both. I don’t know exactly what is happening tonight, but I wish I hadn’t called in. Called in.” He said it again, suddenly, as if just realizing that he was now, most certainly, unemployed. He felt like screaming: at himself, at Sabrina, the Devil Woman, at Milt Seebaum and his stupid, frumpy lover. And at the cicada chirp of a mid western midnight.
Gary was sweating bullets. Really sweating bullets. He wasn’t use to being dish-bitch, and he didn’t like it. It made him look inferior in front of his own employees. If that was possible. Behind him, a thoroughly tattooed lummox led the not-so-merry crew in another, ceaseless round of orders. The heat was a little breathtaking. “We need two enchiladas, a super, a side of rounds, here’s some more shit...some more shit...and some more shit. By god, I’ll be a happy mother fucker when we close this bitch down tonight.”
He handed out little slips of paper to various cooking stations. Waitresses in very tight white shorts began bringing back bus tubs full of sickening, filthy dishes. Outside, the voices of the crowd had risen to a general, ear-splitting roar. “Gary, we are really getting backed-up up front. There’s no more room to put anything used.”
“I know, darlin’. I’m working as fast as I can.”
In truth, he was. But the damn washer kept getting backed-up somehow. It had to be pestered with, the filter had to be dug out. Clots of half-chewed food held between his fingers. And every bit of it looked like a round, pugnacious, well-beaten Tanner Benjamin. I’m gonna kill that little fuck. I’m gonna kill him when I see him. Tanner Benjamin, your ass is grass. He slammed the lid of the washer down, heard the satisfying sound of the sprayer putter into action. Outside, University Avenue was already a mass of young bodies. Crowds: hanging out on the porch area, trudging down the sidewalks, loitering in front of the coffee shop. It was a hot, happy, drunk evening. It was loud. Cars blasting ghetto rap. Young guys on the prowl. For booze, for sex, for fun. People chewed sandwiches, doffed beers, smoked cigarettes. It was typically a Saturday night in this rowdy, party college town. Lower-living wasn’t simply tolerated tonight, it was encouraged. It was mandatory. It was all about drinking yourself into the newest stupor. Did you care where you woke up the next day? Or with who? You paid, your body paid, but it made Monday classes seem so much more tolerable. It was all loud. It was all life. It was right now, and here he was, doomed to work well past his typical shift, closing down a filthy place and ensuring he would be too wrecked, and it would be far too late (by about two hours) to really enjoy any of the campus festivities. He kept moving. Bus tub. Empty. Dish rack. Spray. Close. Cycle. Open. Put away. Go get another. He had it down now to a fine science. But, even as fast as he was moving, he still couldn’t keep up. The waitresses were forced to bring quite a lot of them back too him. Tanner! You shit! You stinking little shit. What the hell time was it? It had to be close to closing the grill down.
The two women finally emerged from the darkness, rattling the floorboards. Milt Seebaum turned around slowly, disgustedly, exhausted. Patricia Ireland was staggering, her eyes red. The smell of fresh marijuana smoke followed the women outside. Milt finally had nothing to say. He was shocked into a new awareness. Patricia Ireland, for her part, could do little but stumble recklessly in the front yard, and giggle. It had been a few years since she had last tasted the liquid sweet smoke of strong marijuana, and the effect was exhilarating. At this particular moment in time; Patricia Ireland found Sabrina to be, well, one cool chick. “Pat...I didn’t come out with you tonight so you could smoke grass, and giggle like you were sixteen.”
“ Milt, man...you sure got a long nose...man...” Patricia Ireland could say little else that was coherent, and every incoherent statement was punctuated with the same ridiculous giggle. Milt finally lost it. In the inimitably restrained fashion of the world-wide Milt Seebaums, he allowed his usual, carefully-controlled tones to rise to a sort of desperate, dying shriek.
“Miss...miss...I hope you are aware that we are not going to let you drive home in this condition! Miss...miss...I want you to relinquish your keys to me, and I will attempt to get us back home tonight. Miss! Sabrina!”
Sabrina was as oblivious to him as if he had been transported in from some strange dream. She began to dance: erotic bucking of the hips, posturing of a veteran go-go jiggler. She must have been listening to her own, internal, sacred music. She suddenly raised her little gun, and fired into the air. Milt Seebaum looked, suddenly, as if his bladder might pop. He gasped, backed toward the car slowly. Tanner backed with him, turned his head wearily, worriedly, and stated flatly: “I wouldn’t say anything about it, sir. She’s killed two men already tonight.”
The car shot the line all the way back into town, but at least the lights of the city gave a kind of reassurance to the whole scene: it was possible that this whole, macabre night might, finally, come to an end. Milt Seebaum looked as if he might weep. Pressed up next to him, her not inconsiderable breasts pressing against his stomach, Patricia was leaning in a sort of half-crouched mode.
Child-like voice. Paranoia. He tried to ignore her. He looked stolidly ahead, certain that he was being punished for his indiscretion. This was God, that was it. The Milts of the world were expected to remain within a certain parameter of expected, acceptable behavior. Anything more was flagrant violation of holy writ. And so, he would die. He was comfortable with this. After all, what did life amount to, after one had attained a certain state of being, of mental harmony, and had published all the papers that one was capable of writing in one’s chosen field of academic endeavor? So. Fate was unkind; cruel, unfair. It had been good to him for many decades. Sooner or later, everybody laid down the final, losing hand. Game over.
Imploring. Needy. Childish bitch, he could have batted her on top of her sandy brown hair. Instead: “For God’s sake, Patricia, what?”
“Do you like me?”
“Yes. I like you.” Sabrina looked in the rear-view mirror.
“Hey Milty, old boy...you aren’t being mean to my new friend are you?”
Sabrina said these words as if she was dragging the syllables through cotton candy and black dialect. Tanner simply stared, aghast, out the passenger side window, remembering what the fat man looked like as he had grasped, in his death agonies, the refrigerator door handle. He wondered, again, what prison life was like.
“Where are we going, Sabrina?”
Tanner’s voice had a slight tremulous quality to it, mixed with the sort of caution that one takes with a very powerfully built, mentally challenged adult who was prone to violent, misguided upset.
“To my favorite bar Tanner. It’s Saturday night, buddy, we’re gonna live it up. Tanner is the strangest name. Who named you?”
“What...what’s your favorite bar?”
“Beowulf ’s. You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Hm, that’s not the right answer, baby. You better give me the right answer, or, you know...pow!”
She said the last word with mocking relish, quieter and quieter, finally just moving her lips and giggling. From the backseat, another spasm of Patricia Ireland laughter. Milt wondered if he might be able to reach up and over and secure the pistol, left lazily, precariously, in the lap of the driver. Then he thought better of it. He would wait; they would go to the bar, and he would call the police. If he made a move now, even if he didn’t get shot, she might wreck. Kill them all anyway (and she seemed to be trying damn hard to have an accident as it was.) No. Discretion was the better part of valor.
Bruce McGonagill was seated on a plush white couch at the edge of the stage. On his lap, a lusty young woman gyrated acrobatically, making sure to excite him with the prospect of exploring her talents further in more subdued, private quarters.
“Oh yeah...oh mamma, lemme feel them tits.” (Touching of the performer, for all of those unacquainted with proper strip-club etiquette, is expressly forbidden. Although it is okay, theoretically, during the course of a lap dance, for certain acts that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate contact to transpire. Such as grabbing the twin globes of flesh sitting on your lap. Or, having the oftentimes surgically-augmented mammary glands of said dancer thrust into your face, and across your cheeks. And, of course, the grinding of crotches is what the entire act is all about.) Bruce had a tremendous, massive erection brewing; a maddening tension that was impossible for him to master, and always had been. It was going to have to be conquest. There was no other solution. It was bare instinct that drove Bruce McGonagill from one seamy situation in life to another, and he would be damned if it was going to be any different now. Over near the bar, a trio of very large bouncers played a sort of ballerina-shuffle with an intoxicated gent who had forgot himself. Punches were thrown. Profanity was yelled. Breasts continued to jiggle and sway. It was like Bruce McGonagill had died and gone to that great candy store in the sky.
His breathing was as ragged as a ripped dishcloth. He wanted to rip the thong out from between her legs and take her in the strange, savage fashion of primal beasts in the sub-Saharan jungle.
He was man.
He was meat.
Let him roar.
Instead, he moaned, “How much? How much baby? I know you go on dates.”
She stopped her contortions for a moment, and considered. Last week she had made buku bucks going down on a heavy-set, smelly trucker that was missing teeth. That had not been fun. But this guy was handsome. Rugged, tough, certainly an ex-con and probably free with his fists with whatever bitch dared to cross him when he was drinking. But he was also hunky. Big time hunky. Her business sense perked up. “It depends...what are you willing to spend, big boy?” He didn’t answer for a second, and so, as a means of convincing him she managed to straddle his face with her pelvis. He breathed in deeply. He could smell her; her sweat, her sex. It smelled like heaven. It was a perfume musk specifically calculated to drive men like Bruce McGonagill over the edge.
“Anything...anything you want baby. When?” She smiled. She had an arrangement with the boss.
“Now, if you want. Where?”
“Not my place...”
“Oh. Old lady?”
She already knew the answer.
“She can’t do for you can she, big boy? Not the way I can. Let’s get a hotel room.”
Jill Lavender sat in her parked car, at the edge of a darkened, dangerous lot, and watched her boyfriend emerge. On his arm, some little slut in a mini-skirt with blond hair. They got into his truck. Son of a bitch is way too drunk to drive. Let’s see how far he gets before him and that whore get pulled over. She had been sitting here for what seemed an interminable amount of time. It was not her idea of a happy Saturday night. And it was damn frightening, too. This particular desolate area of town had the distinction of being known as the “combat zone”. A few weeks ago, a tragic, dope addled young woman named Jane Doe had been found stabbed and left in a dumpster. Her killer had been the infamous Perpetrator Unknown. It was getting routine for the SWAT team to be called to the nearby housing projects. How do we say it? It wasn’t anywhere near Sesame Street. She waited until he ambled his rusted monster out of the parking lot, careful to the curb, making sure to use his turn signal. Oh, he’s going to be extra-careful now. He’s got a hot piece of merchandise he just paid for. Bastard. I’ll kill him when I get my hands on him. I’ll literally fucking kill him. Well, here goes. She turned the key in the ignition, and her old, battered station wagon roared to unsteady life. She had been right. He was far too preoccupied to even notice her slouched down in the driver’s seat, parked fifteen feet away from him. Brain in his prick. Liquor for courage. No money this month. She promised herself she would kill him. She was a woman of her word. She slowly pulled out of the strip-club parking lot, and followed them out under the train-trestle to the rest of the wee morning hours.
They had come to a screeching halt in front of Beowulf ’s, which was dank, and dark, and had a combined smell of spilt beer, tobacco, pizza cheese, and unwashed hippy. It boasted a faux medieval décor including wall-mounted swords, shields, long drinking tables, and a fireplace. It was like a tavern set-aside for fantasy role players to drown their dateless sorrows at. Sabrina looked at Milt in the rear-view mirror. Suddenly, she seemed to be stone cold sober, as if her buzz had been some sort of dramatic put-on. She seemed as lucid, as psychotic as Jack the Ripper must have been when he cut the uterus from his fifth victim. Her eyes were like the steely tip of a hastily drawn dagger. “Don’t get any ideas, man. If you even try to get away from us, or call the cops, or what have you, I’ll kill Patricia. You got that? You can’t protect her. Got that? Got that?”
“Yeah...I got that.”
“Tanner, same goes for you. We’re going to have fun tonight. A lot of fun...”
They exited the car. Patricia, apparently having dozed off under the combined weight of alcohol, sex, haunted house exploration, and much marijuana, had to be roused to waking.
“We’re going now Patricia. Get up.”
“Are we home?”
Downtown. Sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning, before last call became the grim reminder that bar-hopping had to end sometime.
One of them, a highly psychotic young multiple murderess, was holding each of them, for all intents and purposes, hostage. To drink. To have “fun”. Tanner Benjamin could not believe the luck he had been blessed with.