H E T E R O N O M Y
Max E. Keele
Watching Charles is like watching a movie with every other frame missing.
He sees Roberta's red spike-heel patent leather shoes lying beneath the sofa. In a high nasal whisper, he sings, "Goddamned Bob, 's a fucking slob." He walks the shoes to Roberta's closet; he carefully places them next to her tan sandals, where they belong. He doesn't notice that her overnight case and day pack are gone.
Hovering like smoke above his Holiday Inn ashtray, Charles whines, "C'mon, Bobbie, hurry home." He sounds like a child who needs to pee, whose sister is locked in the bathroom. He sips his port, bites his lip, grinds out his cigarette, and collapses back into the chair.
The telephone rings, and Charles jumps, splashing a drop of port onto his clean white jeans. Heart fluttering, he bobbles the phone from its hook before it can ring again. "Hello, Bobbie?"
"Nope," says the voice on the phone. "It's me. Irene."
"Oh." Charles deflates. "Irene." He absently rubs at the purple spot on his leg with twitching fingers. "What's up?"
"Nothing much, hon. Just wondering if you might be interested in some quality blow I ran into."
Charles sighs. "Well, no, uh, I'm supposed to be drying out, you know? Cold turkey all week. Bobbie made me promise."
"Okay, if you don't want any...."
"Sure I want some. But...."
"You got money?"
"No, and the goddamned estate's still in trust." He licks his lip, then bites it. "I can't get into to it for, like, another six months."
"Well, look, Chas, what if I just turned you on to some? It's good shit, really."
His face lights up. "No kidding, you'd give me a freebie?" His face dims. "Hell, I better not. But thanks anyway. Bobbie and me, we got a deal. If I quit coking, she'll quit screwing around.... That's fair, isn't it?"
"Sure, Chas, I guess. Won't change your mind?"
"No, really. I can't. Bobbie'd kill me. Well, take it easy, Irene, catch you later." He starts to hang up, but can't quite. "Hey, wait. You seen Bobbie today?"
"To tell you the truth," says Irene, "I did. She was with that bitch, Fern. You know, bull dyke, purple hair. They were on their way to the bus station. Looked pretty cozy, to me."
"Really? For sure?"
"Sorry, Chas, would I lie? Looks like Bobbie's a little loose with her end of your deal. But anyway, I gotta go. See you."
"Yeah, later." Charles hangs up. He fingers the livid scars on the inside of his skeletal elbow: tiny sewing needles pointed at his heart. He touches them like one touches a dying lover. Lightly, fondly, sadly.
In the kitchen, he refills his glass from a gallon jug. He lights another cigarette and returns to the chair, Beethoven, and waiting. The phone rings again, again he spills some wine.
"Hi, man," says the ticklish voice of Roberta. "What's up?"
Charles' face cracks into a smile. "Not a hell of a lot. Where you been? I got us some wine, uh, purple port. A whole gallon..." He reaches into his pants and fondles his penis.
"Oh, been around. Hey, did I leave my red spikes there? I meant to take them. Port, huh."
"Yeah, they're here. Your old buddy Irene says she saw you today, headed for the bus." Charles massages his wrist, still smiling.
"Uh-huh," says Roberta.
"With some punk chick. Irene says you two were 'cozy'." His smile hardens to a tense grin. "Who was she? Do I know her?" The grip on his penis becomes painful; he lets go, and jerks his hand away.
"I doubt it, honey, she's just a friend." Charles sucks his lower lip in between his teeth. "She a queer? Irene says she's got purple hair."
"Now, Chas. That's like, nobody's business but hers. What's it to you, anyway?"
Charles chews his lip. He pinches the scars on his arm. "Nothing. Well, when you coming home? There's a whole gallon of wine, almost, and we could sit around, watch TV, or something."
"Not tonight, baby. I got to run down to 'Frisco tonight, see my mamma. You know how it is. Okay?"
"Maybe tomorrow?" Charles bites hard. "I'll save the wine."
"Sorry, Chas, not tomorrow, either. Won't be back until Friday, soonest."
Charles sniffs. "Hey, well, while you're in town and all, you might, like, run into Billy, or somebody, and you could, like, maybe score me a dime bag, or even a nickel. I'll pay you back triple the minute I get that trust, I swear."
"Nothing doing, lover. You promised to quit, remember? That was the deal, wasn't it?"
He tastes blood. "Yeah, sure, but what about your half? You promised to stop being a fucking lesbian, right? You're going to 'Frisco with that punk bitch, aren't you."
Roberta clears her throat. "Well, what of it?" She pauses a long minute. "I mean, even if I was, like, what's the fucking difference to you, huh?"
Charles jumps to his feet. "It's that chick. Right, Bob? That chick! You're going to spend the whole week in town fucking that punk queer bitch, right? What's all this shit about promises, baby? You said that if I laid off the coke, you'd stop doing chicks behind my back. You said that, Bob." He laughs, half crazy. "You're cheating, but you won't get me a lousy dime bag. That really sucks."
Roberta has quietly hung up, but Charles doesn't really care. Victorious, he shouts, "Hey, Roberta, you goddamned faggot, you can't lie to me! Goddamned Bob's a fucking slob; goddamned Bob, the fucking slob!!" He slams down the receiver and breathes hard for a while. He stands, and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He stomps to the kitchen and collars the gallon of port. He slides hard into Roberta's chair. Excess energy bleeds off in one long, pitiful sigh. With the jug snuggled into his lap, Charles begins to sing in a coarse whisper, "Goddamned Bob, 's a lesbo slob, and she can't even give a good blow job."
He refills his glass to the brim, lights a cigarette, leans back, and proceeds to get drunk.
The bar is hot, dark, crowded, noisy. She cranes her neck to see around a tight knot of leather freaks. They pass a bottle of amyl nitrate around, all agiggle. A splotch of purple floats briefly through the smoky air, the crowd. Bob cups her hands and screams, "FERN!" The purple reappears, smiling, and looks her way. Fern's bright head flashes on and off as it worms through the mass of costumed androgynies. Agile and strong, lithe muscles rippling, she cuts her way through. The leather fags part like the Red Sea, and two sweaty cocktails land on the table in front of Bob. Fern has arrived.
"Jesus, Bobbie, how'd you get us a booth? This dive's packed to the tits!"
"Gotta know the right people," Bob shrugs. "What did you bring me?"
Fern slides into the booth. "Pina Colada for my baby, and a scotch for your man. Cross your legs, slut."
"Why? Who gives a shit," Bob pouts. Her legs cross anyway. "All the guys in here are fairies, you know."
"I give a shit." Fern reaches out a tattooed arm, squeezes Bob's left breast, the one with the eternally inflamed nipple. Bob squirms, just a little, and she smiles.
With a wooden match, Fern lights a Lucky Strike, then rolls the pack back into the sleeve of her rip-black tee shirt. "You're cute when you pout, kitten." She exhales a huge rush of smoke. "Guess who's playing tonight."
"Eviscerated Slug. Saw Billy Hero talking on the phone when we came in."
Fern looks over her shoulder. "Right. He didn't see you, I hope." She downs half of her scotch. A tiny dribble escapes the corner of her knife edged lip, and collects in the hollow of her collar bone. "Suppose he's got any dope?"
"If he didn't, it'd be a first. Billy's always carrying something. Want me to go ask..." Bob is cut off by an ear slashing burst of feedback. Staccato drums chase chainsaw guitar. The leather boys squeal and beeline for the dance floor, leaving Bob a passable view of the stage.
Smoke erupts, proscenium right. Light spurts--red, green, red--spatter the stage. Billy Hero leaps into the spotlight, his spike mohawk jutting stiff and brave. He strangles the microphone and screams, "FAGGOTS SUCK ASS!" The crowd roars.
Bob knows that Billy used to love her, once upon a time, and possibly still does. She remembers the way his dope-bloodied eyes filled with tears the night she told him good-bye. She feels sorry for him, sometimes, but in Bob's view of life she is a simple, drunken butterfly, and the punker was just another flower along the way. "I love Billy like a morning glory," she giggles to herself, "but I love Irene like a rose, and Chas like a buttercup." Hers is a harsh world, but butterflies must keep moving. Bob smiles tenderly at Fern and tries to think of a purple flower. "Of course," she thinks, "I love Fern like an African violet."
The Eviscerated Slug fires up and Billy howls: "I'd rather fuck a doggie's ass than brush my teeth with broken glass!! I'd rather rape and kill a nun than sell some asshole tyrant guns!!"
Bob watches Fern. The African violet perches at the edge of her seat, hands and feet pounding the wild rhythms, eyes glazed with dull lust. A tiny dark spot appears at Fern's denim crotch. Thick musk floods the booth.
"I'd rather be red than dead," Billy wails, "I'd rather be bald than have a hole in my head!!"
"Too bad Chas is such a woodhead," Bob yells to Fern. "You'd think a junkie like him'd be a little more open minded, but not Chas. Christ, all that weird shit he listens to, no wonder. A little slam dancing would loosen him up, for sure." She takes a long drink. "Soon's I get back, I'm taking him out to dance. For sure. And as soon as I'm rich, Fern, I'm buying all our dope. From the minute he gets that trust fund, on." She finishes the drink. "Right, Fernie?"
"I'd rather sleep on razor blades than sit through Macey's damned parades!! I'd rather chew off my big toe than have to live in Idaho!!" The band plays on. The bar grows smokier and the drinks keep coming. The Pina Coladas are freezing Bob's brain. Fern's purple hair bobs before her eyes like a dancing glass of ruby port.
"Think I should call Chas back. Bet he's still pissed. Probably puking all over my carpet. Fucking twerp." She stands unsteadily and weaves toward the restroom. Fern doesn't look up.
Bob hits the door marked Les Femmes with her shoulder and rolls inside. A pair of fags has taken over the powder room. "Don't mind me," she slurs, "I'm just a girl." She pees, then grips tight to a sink and tries to look at herself.
"Don't sweat it, love," says one of the fags. His friend is busy. "I mean, you're simply gorgeous, for a girl. Right, Ted?"
"Christ sake," she mutters, "now I'm simply gorgeous."
"For sure, but, well, you know, pretty is as pretty does. Hey, honey, you want a Quaalude? Come on, Ted, give the pretty girl a 'lude. That's my baby, oooh, that's it."
Bob takes the tablet and eats it. She doesn't say thank you.
Back in the bar, the band takes a break and chaos results. Bob fights her way back to the table. A fresh drink awaits. "'Lo, Billy," she says, "long time no see." She slides into her seat, and Billy slides in beside her.
"Well, well, if it ain't the love of my fucking life. Having fun? I knew you wouldn't stay with that dildo Chuck for very long. A million bucks, or not. And speaking of Chuck, wanna hear the latest?"
Fern throws Billy an evil look. She growls.
"What latest?" Bob stirs her Colada with her finger. She sucks foam from an inch of scarlet nail.
"Roberta," Fern interrupts, "you've tucked the back of your skirt into your panties."
Bob hates the name Roberta. "Fuck you. Latest what?"
Billy looks sideways at Fern. "Well," he sneers, "just talked to my sister, Irene, like, before the gig, and she's talked to little Charlie twice since yesterday. And don't listen to Fern. An ass as cute as yours should be exhibited."
"Fuck you, too. So? What did Irene say about Chas?" Bob's face is losing color. The Quaalude bobs madly on a stormy Colada sea.
Billy tries to speak, but Fern jumps all over him. "She just said he was raving drunk, that's all. Probably doesn't miss you a bit." Fern puts a hand to Bob's forehead. "You feel alright, baby? You don't look too good."
"Thanks a lot, Fern. But that's not what I heard in the lady's room. I'm okay, just raving drunk, s'all."
"Not too drunk, I hope," Billy says. "Just sold some shit to Fernie that ought to perk you right up. Unless you want to jerk this bull dyke off and come back with me. It'd be just like old times." He grabs a fistful of Bob's upper thigh and his little finger worms its way under the elastic of her panties. The finger twists a curl of stiff hair. It hikes across Mount Venus, over the river and through the wood, down into the damp abyss, and starts nosing around for an entrance to the cave. Bob doesn't notice. "Then again, it doesn't look like you'll last till I get off. Fern, take poor little Bobbie home, and for Christ sakes, let her get some sleep." He withdraws his finger. "Shit, gotta go back to work. The show goes on, and like that. Why don't you both come around to practice tomorrow? Fern knows where." Billy leans over to kiss the tip of Bob's nose, then whispers to Fern, "And you better bring my money, bitch. Nobody rides for free."
Bob flounders in the thickening atmosphere. She gasps, then blurts, "Fern, get me out of here. Need air."
"Thought you'd never ask. Been trying to get you alone all evening. Here, straighten your skirt. You look like a goddamned slut." Fern smoothes the back of Bob's skirt, cannot resist the urge to pat the firm flesh there.
It seems to Bob as if they fly to their motel on the back of a huge yellow butterfly named Marvin. "Thanks Marvin," she sighs dreamily.
"What?" Fern wrestles with Bob's sweater. She receives no cooperation. "Who in the hell's Marvin?"
"Fernie? Issat you?"
"Course it's me, pussycat. We're at the motel. Christ, I thought you were gonna puke all over that cab. Roll over, so I can unzip your skirt. That's a baby. C'mon into the bathroom. Treats."
Bob sits naked on the floor, her back against the tub. The cold ceramic makes her nipples stick out like almonds in white chocolate. The left, an angry bloated thing, flashes neon carnelian demands for attention.
Fern kneels on the tile in front of the toilet, holds a bent spoon over a flaming Zippo. The white scum in the spoon bubbles slow motion.
"Here we go," Fern says, excited. "Rockets to Fantasyland. You ready? Ladies first." She knots a black stocking around Bob's upper arm, pinches the hard nipple. "That too tight?"
The needle penetrates Bob's vein; a tiny streamer of blood erupts into the dropper. Bob flashes back to the night she laid the spike on Charles. He was afraid at first, but she mothered him, petted him, licked him and jabbed the nail in. She broke his cherry, and man, does he love that needle, now. So much that sometimes it scares Bob. She's afraid that he'll die before he inherits his millions.
"Fern, wha'd Irene tell Billy 'bout Chas? Tell tru', wha' she say?"
"Nothing, baby, nothing. Just how he's talking crazy, like he's coming out here to get you, or something. The wimp's just drunk, that's all. Forget it."
Bob tries to say, "How could I ever forget my little buttercup?" but a raging cold fireball incinerates her brain. Every nerve in her poisoned body explodes in one blinding orgasm. "Chas!"
Bob quivers like an old refrigerator. A gallon of curdled Pina Colada rises in her throat, but a black swoon precedes the tsunami and she is spared the indignity.
Fern tosses her legs over the side of the bed and sits very still while her spinning head comes to rest. She scratches her pubic hair. She presses her clitoris and the finger comes away sticky red. "Fucking wonderful."
Hot water stings her hard body with a thousand needles. A tiny bar of motel soap foams through the light hair under her arms. She grumbles into the water. "That fucker Billy. Should've told me that shit was pure. Ain't gonna pay him. Ought to kick his ass." She towels and dresses, rolls up the sleeves of a stained sweatshirt, exposes the tattoo dagger on her forearm. She flexes her muscles and makes a hard fist.
"Bobbie, hon," Fern gently shakes Bob's shoulder. "I'm going out for a while. You be alright?"
"Uhhh. Lemme sleep."
"Sure, baby, you sleep. When I get back, we'll go for breakfast. See you later." Fern tucks a blanket tight around Bob's neck. She dips into Bob's purse and removes five twenties and a ten. She lights a smoke and slips out, locking the door behind her.
The motel crouches at the bottom of a canyon of weathered tenements in a seedy section of downtown. She walks Turk Street toward the bus stop, past a battery of sleaze shops. She flips her half-smoked Lucky at a sailor who got caught looking her way. "What the fuck you staring at, asshole? Come a little closer, I'll kick your balls up around your ears!" The sailor ducks into the nearest doorway.
It is a short bus ride. Fern amuses herself by thinking of slow ways to disembowel Billy. As soon as she steps off the bus, Fern hears the Eviscerated Slug, still a block away. They're jamming on an old Trog's tune, "Wild Thing". Fern spits and makes a face.
The rough music leaks through the boarded-up windows of an abandoned Russian Orthodox church. She pauses to light another smoke. Dust and dead leaves sift from the onion dome with every thumping bass note. She enters.
Billy sits cross-legged on a much desecrated altar, a microphone in one hand, a black 38 Special in the other. Absently waving the revolver, Billy sings. "Wild thing, you make my ass sting, you make my balls sing, you make my peter scream.... Wild thing, I'd like to kill you, but I just don't know for sure...." When he sees Fern standing at the door, Billy drops the mike and dances down the aisle to meet her. "Hey there, my little dyke-friend, how goes it? And what have you done with my one true love, my lovely butterfly, my Bobbie? Haven't eaten her, have you?"
The band chokes to silence, and wanders into the back of the church.
"Cut the shit, Billy. She's sick as fuck. Why the Christ didn't you tell me that blow was pure?"
"Because you neglected to ask." Billy's eyes track randomly. "Besides, I should think you'd've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of that C." The gun in his hand wanders with a mind of its own. "And I do hope you've brought me my money, as I've already spent it on some truly wonderful brown heroin." He smiles, but his eyes are tarnished lead.
Fern slaps the gun away. It clatters among the dust bunnies beneath a pew. "You bastard. Bob's in a goddamned coma from your fucking super coke, and all you can do is nod your stupid head and play word games."
"She's really that sick?" Billy inspects his empty hand. He pulls an imaginary trigger. "Well, it's not my fault. When we were living together, she could do twice that much C, lace it with H, and chase it with T. You probably let her drink too much."
Fern wads the money up, but leaves it in her pocket. "Look, asshole, I didn't come over here to make an arrest. What did Irene tell you last night? What's with Chuck?" She squirms as a sharp cramp cuts into her neglected womb.
"Ah, yes, the news, the news." Billy concentrates. One eye springs open wide. "Yeah, got it. My sweet sibling says that Chuckie's in a bad snit, wants his lost love back, and, and... Uh, says he's rushing down here, to rescue my Bobbie from your perverted purple clutches. Irene seemed worried for you. Said Chuckie's making threats of violence. In a way wimpy voice, no doubt." He laughs and the sounds of it seems to filter down from some great height. "Now I get it! You're gonna talk her out of going back, aren't you."
Fern grips the pain in her guts, teeth clenched. "I'd like to see Charlie stop me. Is your sister as big a liar as you are?"
"My dear Fern, Irene loves Bobbie as much as I do, and I'd do murder to get her back, wouldn't I? All you want is her talented pussy. But anyway, we've got to keep her away from Chuck. Neither of us can compete with a million bucks."
"Why in hell do you think I took her away? All she ever saw in him was his fucking inheritance." Fern's shoulder muscles tense. She thinks, Someday I'm gonna kill this prick. "Listen, Hero, we've just got to keep him off her. If the son of a bitch can get her back to Portland, we're both history. You gonna help?"
Billy scans the floor for his 38. "Did I tell you? The Slug leaves for Europe in a couple of days. Twenty city tour. Why don't I take Bobbie with me? She'd be better off, and Chuckie wouldn't know where to start looking." He laughs and claps his hands.
"Over my dead body." Fern reaches down, and comes up with the pistol in her hand. "You had your chance, and you fucked it up. Bob's mine now." She aims at Billy's head and pulls the trigger.
He laughs harder. "Well, well. We'll just have to settle this later. For the moment, be practical. I'll go buy some bullets and when Chuck blows into town, I'll blow his ass right out again."
Fern tightens her stomach muscles, clenches them, smothers the cramp to death. "Sure thing, Billy. But I'm saving the last dance for you."
The rush of his wake-up fix is thinning out. It took the last of the heroin and without the money from Fern there would be no more. I'll get that cunt, he thinks. He cooks the last few molecules of opiate from a cottonball, injects them. The loaded revolver lies on the edge of his fold-out bed. He cradles it for a moment, then shoves it into the inside pocket of his motorcycle jacket. The tiny dose of heroin dulls his anger.
In a flash of lucidity, he asks himself if one silly, fickle girl can possibly be worth all this. He remembers the feel of her, slick and hot. He digs around the debris in a broken down cardboard box until he finds a packet of old Polaroids. First picture: Bobbie. Leaned against a doorjam, champagne magnum in one hand. Thumb hooked in the pocket of her unbuttoned cut-off jeans. Tiger stripe bikini panties. Other thumb between painted pouting lips. Cinder hot demon's eyes. Billy remembers that night, remembers the liquid opium, the bubbly, the borrowed camera, the scene. Second picture: Bobbie. Sitting wide-legged on the arm of a leather sofa. Naked except for a black tanktop, pushed well up over her breasts. One hand covering her pubes. One curl of hair peeking between her fingers. Jaws ajar and teeth bared. Pink tongue, pink nipple, crimson nipple. He remembers how he begged her to pose, how she demurred and blushed, how she got right into it, how she seemed to transform into a professional porno actress before his gaping eyes. Third picture: Bobbie. Lying on her back on a beach towel on the bathroom floor, head propped against ceramic. Knees up and wide. Flaming labia spread with both hands. Tiny brown button asshole puckered for a kiss beneath that gaping crimson chasm. Eyes screwed tight, lower lip gripped between stark teeth. He remembers the feel of her muscular vagina clenching hard on his penis, the taste of it--fresh sashimi, with shoyu, hot green tea, the scent of it on his finger. He can smell it even now. The last picture: Bobbie. Same place, only resting on her shoulders with her butt held high off the floor. One finger jammed to the second knuckle in her asshole. Empty champagne bottle buried to the neck in her cunt. Look of Are you happy now? painful and dark across her face. He hadn't asked her to do that. Only to pose. He remembers her that night, curled fetal against the wall, not crying.
Billy asks himself again if one silly, fickle girl can possibly be worth it. Worth violence and evil. Worth risk and danger. The weight of the gun by his heart tells him that she is.
From his very first glimpse of her, he was obsessed. Her giggling, drunken beauty gnawed at him like an addiction. He had to have her, he did have her, he wants to have her again. Billy never loved his mother, or his dog, or himself. What he has always loved is Roberta, drugs, music. To their credit, drugs and music never ran away with his sister. The day Roberta left him for Irene, Billy was too stoned, too weak to stop her. But now, Billy thinks, I am strong.
Billy Hero occupies a phone booth on the corner of Polk and Eddy, the way the Nazis occupied Poland. As he dials, street people drift about like leaves. An occasional tourist eyes his haircut and leathers with friendly anxiety. A prerecorded long-distance operator with a stuffed olive voice says, "Please deposit one dollar and thirty-five cents." It takes his numb fingers ten minutes to feed the hungry phone. At last the line rings, and a distant woman answers.
"Irene?" His nose begins to run.
"Well, it sure ain't the Mata Hari."
"Right, sis. Get serious, I got to talk to you." Billy props one chained boot up on the phonebook shelf. "Listen, you told me last night that Charlie the wimp was coming after Bobbie. He still coming?"
"I wouldn't go around calling guys wimp, little bro. Not until you can get rid of the fear in your voice. Besides, you gave Bob up a long time ago. My gain."
"True enough, and I'll never forgive you for it either, you hopeless faggot."
"Shit, man. You know I'm a devout bi. And you know that if I hadn't taken Bob off your hands, somebody else would've. Somebody like Charles. Face it, Bob's a harlot. What the fuck do you want with her, anyway?"
"Maybe hard for you to dig, but I'm, like, still hooked on the slut. If I had it to do over, I'd never let you take her away." Billy fondles his gun. "So quit pissing around. What's with Chuck?"
Irene says nothing.
"Irene! This's important. I got to know!"
"He's on his way, Billy." Her voice is quiet and slow. "He'll be there any time now. Took the train."
"Fuck! I need more time. Does he know where to find her?"
"Yeah. I told him."
"Goddamn you, Irene." Sweat runs in a cold thin stream down Billy's side. "If you could just keep your fat mouth shut.... The band's leaving for Europe tomorrow. Could've got her on the plane and.... Why do you always have to fuck me up? Now I got to deal with him, and Fern, too."
"Well, if I were you, I'd worry about it. That Fern's a real nasty bitch. She's been pushing Bob around ever since I introduced them."
Billy groans. "I've got you to thank for that, too?" He fiddles with the hammer of his gun. "Well, to hell with Fern."
"You be careful with her, man. She's deadly."
Billy's finger finds the trigger. Remembering the weapon is loaded, he jerks his hand away. "I can take care of her. Thanks for the chat, sis. I'll send you a card from Brussels."
"Billy, wait! Almost forgot, Charles borrowed my 45 yesterday. Guess he's got it with him."
"What!!? You gave that asshole your gun!? The fucker's gonna kill somebody! Probably me, goddamnit! Why do you always fuck me up?"
"Cool it, man. I didn't know what he was up to, until he was already gone. Maybe you just ought to let him have her. She's no damned good, anyway. Man, she sure ain't worth all this."
"Fuck off, sister, don't tell me what to do. We ain't kids any more; I won't let you jerk me around like you used to. Bobbie's mine, and I'll kill for her, if I have to. Dig?" Billy throws the phone into the wall. It bounces once, then dangles, spinning like a hanged man.
He's out of the booth and traffic drowns the sound of the hanged man, laughing with Irene's tiny voice.
No one dares to stand in his way, no one dares to shout at him as he rumbles down Turk. Even the sailors clear a path. Billy's skull is closing in on him. He yells at the tourists, "I need a FIX!!" He rumbles on.
At last, a decrepit motel emerges from between the shadowy ranks of tenements. Billy charges the stairs and bangs on number 17. Fern answers. She wears a man's flannel plaid shirt and nothing else. The shirt clashes with her hair.
"Come on in, Billy. I was hoping you'd turn up."
Bob lies in a tight fetal ball on the bed. A complementary ice bucket full of vomit reeks quietly on the floor beside her. Fern sits at the edge of the bed, legs wide.
Billy twitches. He averts his eyes from the white string he sees hanging in Fern's dark pubic hair. He looks instead into her sneering face. "Bobbie's still out? She okay?"
"Sure, she's breathing, anyway. Wanna fuck her? Bet you dig necrophilia."
"You're a real shit, Fern. Know that?" Adrenaline pumps through Billy's veins, washes out the last of the heroin. "Maybe she needs a doctor."
"Good idea, you call them. While you're at it, call the cops, too. I hear some asshole drug pusher's responsible. Oh, yeah. Irene just called. Seems Chuckie's in town, packing heat."
Billy's hand flexes rhythmically. "Get her dressed, Fern. And you, too. We're getting out of here."
Fern doesn't move. "What's the matter, Billy? Lose your nerve? You're sure not much of a killer when the other guy's got a bigger gun."
The back of Billy's hand cracks hard against Fern's cheek. His other hand holds the 38, twitching like a rabbit's nose. His voice falls like a hammer. "Listen, you fucking bitch. You're gonna help me get her out of here, or I swear I'm gonna shove this piece right up your ass and blow your queer brains out. Now, MOVE!!"
Fern moves. The ball of her foot lashes hard into Billy's groin. Snarling, she launches herself, claws out, at Billy's face.
From the bed comes a terrified scream. Roberta sits bolt upright, her eyes as round as bullet holes. The gun erupts; its blast shatters the air like a frightened girl's scream.
"Hi. In the john." He sounds like a 45 at 33. "Be right out."
Irene switches on the radio, changes it from classical to rock. She is mildly shocked to hear her brother, Billy. She smiles. A toilet flushes, and blends so well with the song that it seems to belong there.
Charles emerges from the bathroom. His face is quivering, softened wax. A ball of spit rappels down his chin. Sweat condenses on his forehead and rolls into bloodshot eyes. His jaw works on rusty hinges. "'Lo, Irene. Could we please turn that down?" Veins at his temples swell and throb.
Irene adjusts the volume one click. It makes no appreciable difference. Finally, Billy fades away; she turns the sound to inaudible. "Chas, honey, you don't look so good. Hung over?"
Charles pushes an empty wine bottle with his foot. It rolls a short distance before crashing into three more. He cringes.
"You poor baby." Irene tenderly strokes his damp hair. "I could kill that bitch for what she's driven you to." She leads him to Roberta's sofa, and sets him on it. She perches lightly on the sofa's arm, exposing several inches of thigh above dark silk stocking tops.
"I don't give a fuck about Roberta," he says. His eyes slide painfully up her leg. They catch in the sheer stocking at her knee. "I, uh, just needed a good drunk, that's all."
"Well, I think four days probably qualifies, Charles. Have you heard from her? When is she coming back?"
"With any luck, never. Look, let's just forget about her, okay?" He turns his head toward her, and finds a perfect yellow knit breast touching the end of his nose. Like a puppet jerked to attention, he stands. Thin blood rushes from his head and he begins to topple. Charles puts a hand on Irene's steady shoulder. The blood inside his hand heats up. His heart begins to pump. He is at last animated; the hot new blood rushes directly to his groin. "I think I better take a shower," he says, blushing. "Bet I stink."
Deep within her poker face, Irene's green eyes roar with laughter. She uncrosses her legs to step down, and Charles nearly swoons. She is not wearing panties. She shaves. "Sure, Chas, you have a nice hot shower. And if that doesn't cure you, I've got something that will." Charles swallows hard. He tries to say something, then gives it up and disappears into the bathroom. A soft laugh follows him.
Irene hums a happy tune as she putters about the room, tidying up. She imagines herself in mink and diamonds. The telephone rings; she answers it. Against an angry background of airport noise, Irene hears a frenetic woman's voice. "Hello, Chas?"
"Nope. Charles isn't here. Whom may I ask is calling?" She sits back on the arm of Roberta's chair.
"Irene?" A bewildered pause roars through the phone like a jet take-off. "What are you doing there? Where's Charles?"
"Well, I'll be go to hell. If it isn't Roberta. Howdy Bob, how've you been?"
"It's me. Where's Chas? I have to talk to him!"
"Sorry, doll, but he's not here. I thought he was in San Francisco with you. Didn't Fern or Billy tell you?"
"Maybe. I'm not thinking too good lately. Look, when you see him, give him a message please? It's important. God! It's all so horrible! Just tell him that I'm sorry, but I have to go away. Say good-bye for me, Irene. Tell him I tried to love him, I really did. Tell him he'll always be my, my buttercup, and, oh God, I'm so sorry!"
"Hey, chill out, Bob. You're freaking. What's happened?" Irene picks a tiny lint from her sweater.
"Oh, Irene!" Roberta cries in short, violent sobs. "I'm scared! I think, I think I killed Fern!"
"What do you mean, you think? That makes no sense at all."
"It's a long story. I, I got really fucked up night before last, and passed out, and the next thing I know I'm sitting up in bed at the motel holding a gun, for Christ's sake, and Fernie, poor Fernie's on the floor, and there's blood coming out of her head! If Billy hadn't shown up right then to tell me what to do, why, I'd be in jail, for, for murder! Billy's taking me away to Europe. I gotta go right now, and, and I'll never be back! Irene!!" The crying grows louder, and Irene can barely hear Roberta say, "Irene, I love you, you're a rose, sorry I fucked up so bad. I'll miss you. Tell Chas I'm sorry!" One more 747 of a sob thunders through, and the line goes dead.
Irene shrugs, and reaches into her purse for a cigarette. She lights it, French-inhaling a lady-sized puff. She fishes a large, mirrored pillbox from the bottom of her bag. In it, a quarter ounce of fine Peruvian cocaine shares space with a gold plated razor blade. Irene chops out four identical lines.
"Who was that on the phone?" Charles stands in the hall wearing only a towel. He looks much healthier; his waxy face glows like rosewood.
Irene sets the cocaine aside. Her face distorts into a stellar display of woe. "Terrible news, Chas," she cries. "Billy just called. He said that, that both Fern and Bobbie got killed in a wreck last night. Their taxi got creamed by a train. I'm so sorry, Chas."
A tear might have formed in Charles' eye, but he sees the cocaine first, and the opportunity to mourn passes by. "Oh," he says, sympathetic. "But you have to admit the bitch deserved it, don't you? I mean, that's what you get for hanging around with homos and punkers, right? Am I right?" Charles drops into the chair, limp. He pulls Irene into his lap and draws her head to his shoulder. "Hey, that looks like some blow. Did you bring that just for me?
She nods, sniffling.
"You're so sweet." His hand smoothes out the wrinkled field of buttercups at her side, takes a hike up the delightful mountain of her hip, runs laughing along the banks of her thigh, and comes to rest in the damp hollow where stockings give way to flesh. She squirms, giggles, and nips his neck.
Pinocchio's nose begins to grow.
Charles rolls a matchbook into a tight cylinder. In a very short while he will be using hundred dollar bills. He holds the mirror while Irene snuffs up two lines. As he raises the mirror to his own wooden face, Irene unties his towel.
She pulls his strings.
© 1983, Max E. Keele