THE BUS, THE BEGINNING
Jahn looked at the cold landscape through the bus window. It will be snowing soon, he thought, in these mountains, the High Nevatumblas.
He had been riding two days from Lisomon where he had left her — or abandoned her, as he saw it. By necessity, she pleaded. It had to be done to survive, she cried.
Because of Lechke.
Lechke was a large, hard man with dirt beneath his nails. He knew the sheriff, so he thought he was above the law — and divine justice too, though he didn’t know God.
He had taken a shine to her, and no one should say no to Lechke. The fact that Jahn had loved her so long meant nothing to Lechke who wanted her now, and that settled the matter in his brutal mind.
Jahn glanced at the young girl beside him. Fleeting snow brushed the bus window as sundown drew near. Light was fading. Trees flashed by.
The girl boarded the bus that morning at the town called Fiscada. She was 15 years old, she said. Small for her age, yellow-haired and plain but with true hints of future beauty.
Looking back out the window, he remembered what his love said. This will not be forever, but it will be months. Not months but years, Jahn thought.
It will be like death, but he would still breathe, place one step ahead of the next, patient. He was headed to Mintablisko. He would be alone.
He turned toward the girl again and wondered. Could it be true?
She looked so innocent.
I killed my mom and dad last night. Why? Because they always hurt me.
I waited till they fell asleep and then I got Daddy’s pistol from the dining room drawer. I wanted to shoot them both between the eyes like you see in the movies, just like that.
I walked up to the bed and put the barrel near Daddy’s face and pulled the trigger, right between his eyes. The noise surprised me, and the pistol kicked.
Mommy woke up and screamed. I stepped back, aimed at her chest and pulled the trigger two more times.
Then I went downstairs and made two peanut butter sandwiches, and I put milk in a thermos, and I walked six blocks in the dark to the bus station.
Jahn wondered. Is she telling the truth? She said her name was Kristanabel. He looked again out the bus window and saw ice sticking to the glass.
He felt gloomy and lonely. Kristanabel was wearing a short pleated skirt and sandals with no socks in this cold weather.
Three hours later the bus pulled into the station at Mintablisko. Police were waiting at the door, waiting for Kristanabel. No one was waiting for him.
Outside, he picked up his bag and shivered.
* * * *
The morphine the old man got from the defrocked doctor helped, but it was a stopgap measure because he was dying on a bed in the Marbol Hotel on the sad side of the city.
He’d been there three weeks, and nobody was visiting. Just the old bellman who took pity and was the mule who funneled the morphine from the doctor. It lessened the pain.
The unlicensed doctor had come just once to confirm what was clear, that these were the final days. He couldn’t afford a hospital. He couldn’t afford a hospice.
Only the Marbol.
Many years ago when both he and the Marbol were young, he had often stayed here. He had been a businessman, a very successful one, and the Marbol was a chichi hotel in those distant days.
He had a charming wife named Victoria and two children, a boy and a girl, and everyone called them well-behaved. He bought a new Buick every two years, and his suits were made in Barcelona.
He and Victoria and the children lived in a split-level in another city. There was a pool out back, lush grass and a barbecue grill. Everything was beautiful.
But then he met Naomi.
He was at the top of his game, but Naomi was like an oil spill that he stepped into and slipped, heels over head. Everything collapsed, and he slid rapidly down and with much regret — at the end. There were scenes with Victoria, gin, tonic, screaming, tears and lunacy.
First, he lost Victoria and the children, then the split-level with the pool and the barbecue. The Buick. His work. When the money dried up, so did Naomi.
A golddigger, he discovered too late.
That was so long ago. He never recovered and now, at age 76, he was supine in a Marbol room that smelled of grime and bleach and needed a good sweep.
Every night, feeling the morphine, he thought of Naomi, her black hair, her movie-star thighs, her wasp waist, her lips and sparkling eyes. She would be decrepit, but he would die to see her.
But he died without seeing her — or anyone.
Just the old bellman who called the coroner.
* * * *
THE REDHEADED NEGRO
His name was Billy Lancing.
An old man’s body had been hauled from that same room three days before, but Billy didn’t know that. The graying sheets had been flipped, and air freshener had been sprayed.
Billy was a half-breed, but that term’s misleading because he wasn’t a 50-50 split. He was mostly white, but black genes showed in his full mouth and nose, the twist of his hair — like Malcolm X who found fame a few years down the road.
Two redheaded negroes, Billy and Malcolm.
Billy’s mama was an octoroon hooker in San Sebastian, but he didn’t mess with her anymore. He had, as he liked to think of it, gone straight, earned his own way. He was a whale of a pool shark.
A couple years back he had such a fat wad from playing pool that he enrolled in college, but college was not for Billy. After a semester, he lost interest, plus he married a coed and spawned a child. A classroom at 8 a.m. couldn’t compete with a pool hall at midnight, so he dropped out and found a job managing a 24-hour bowling alley that included pool tables.
That’s where the trouble started.
A slicker shark, a fat man from Los Angeles, appeared one night with two young dim-eyed hoods with broken noses, and put Billy in the poorhouse.
Blame it on ego. Blame it on stupidity. Billy should have known better than to go so far, but he had a reputation to protect.
He played until he was broke, not even one buck in the secret lining of his suit. You wouldn’t believe how that fat man played pool, how the balls adored and followed him. Those slave balls couldn’t say no to the fat man.
As with college before, Billy was fed up with family life, so he used being broke as an excuse to run, and now he was alone in the Marbol Hotel with a fresh wad of money from a fake check he’d cashed at a package store the previous day.
Billy Lancing had never committed a bona fide crime before, and it scared him, that check scam. He had never been in jail, but this initial sin eventually led to his stabbing in San Quentin, killed by a black-headed homosexual negro with a colossal attitude and a throbbing lust.
If only Billy had stuck with the coed and his kid.
Lying on his bed in the Marbol Hotel, of course, he did not know that his life would be short and useless. But right now he wanted a woman.
He’d been dry too long. He was hungry for skin.
He found her in the hotel lobby. She looked so young, but she said she was 18, and Billy wanted to buy that. She was inexpensive, and she loved to talk.
Her name was Kristanabel.
She related a crazy story about killing her parents, that the cops had nabbed her but lacked the hard evidence to nail her, so she was released the previous week in Mintablisko.
Kristanabel told this story as they sprawled on the bed with Chesterfields and marginal gin, and it made Billy nervous. He glanced toward her small sequined purse on the bureau and wondered if it hid something that would scare a pool shark who had just turned 26.
There was a pounding. Police! Open the door! Billy jumped up and pulled on his pants. Kristanabel dove beneath the sheets. Two hard men with plainclothes and steel badges entered.
Billy never learned how they found him at the Marbol Hotel. He was tried and convicted of passing a bad check and soiling the morals of a child.
Billy went to San Quentin and his death while Kristanabel landed in the foster home of Mr. and Mrs. Myron Blade and their two normal children.
Kristanabel saw how Myron looked at her, and she knew it would work to her advantage. She remained on the shy side of 16.
* * * *
THE DESK CLERK
He was unattractive, tall, skinny, and he smelled of vegetable oil.
His mother had been a fortune-teller who practiced esoteric arts. It was his mom who had steered Lenny toward phrenology.
Phrenology obsessed Lenny. The shape of people’s heads. Lenny had only the lightest grasp of phrenology, but that didn’t lessen his love of heads.
After pursuing various occupations earlier in life, it became clear he wasn’t suited for much more than sitting behind a hotel counter and pointing customers thataway, plus having them sign names and pay cold cash.
The Marbol Hotel sat in the seedy side of town. It had seen sweeter days, but nowadays most Marbol doings were marginal, both legally and morally.
The owner, Sol Levowitz, had told Lenny that hookers were verboten.
But Levowitz didn’t pay Lenny very much, and the occasional hooker would enter with a street john. She would get a room by slipping a little extra into Lenny’s hand while he was examining the slopes of her head for clues. To what, he was unsure, just clues.
Some hookers, however, the stingier ones, sidetracked the Marbol’s ban by offering Lenny a little hootchy-kootchy instead of cash.
This delighted Lenny.
It was the only way he ever saw a woman naked, but that was not the only thing. It gave Lenny a very close look at the hooker’s head, the hills, the ravines.
A hooker freebie meant two things to Lenny. Flesh and phrenology. This sometimes led to misunderstandings with the woman beneath. Here’s why:
Lenny’s face, of course, would be near the hooker’s head, and he could study it carefully. Quite often, the question of phrenology made Lenny forget the other side of the equation, what he was doing farther south, which the hooker considered the principal attraction, the main act.
To the hooker, this was a quickie. But when Lenny became captivated by the subtle ups and downs he saw on her skull, the other ups and downs dragged out. He flipped to auto-pilot, and the flight could become a long one.
New York to London, sometimes Calcutta. The aroma of vegetable oil — far past its due date — would crescendo.
Lenny’s close-up study of the hooker’s head frequently would be brought to a brusk finale when she bellowed: Are you ever going to finish, dammit?
Or something of that sort.
The women never appreciated Lenny’s love of esoteric science.
* * * *
He was sitting on this dark night, 2 a.m., at the hotel bar sipping a Guinness Stout and talking to Bo the barman. Maxence’s shift had just ended, and big black LeRoy had taken over the baggage cart till 10 in the morning.
Maxence always ended his nights at the Marbol bar. Nobody was waiting at home. It was ever the same. He would talk to Bo a bit, and he would ponder the past even more. Maxence had been born in France — Sant-Amant, a small town south of Paris — and had been a mercenary man.
First, it was the Legion. Later, he freelanced.
After the second Guinness, perhaps even sooner, his thoughts always turned to Chloë Jomo-Gbomo, his long-gone lover from Sierra Leone who had been killed by a berserk jitney bus driven by a Mende man high on ganja along the main avenue of Freetown.
Maxence later killed that Mende man out of pure fury, but he didn’t feel any better for it because Chloë was still dead and gone. He cried and cried.
Maxence liked Guinness Stout because it was dark and savory like the women of the African men he murdered which was how he met Chloë Jomo-Gbomo.
Chloë’s man at that time had missed Maxence’s Jeep with a bazooka shell during a dustup in the Congo. Maxence’s aim was better with his .45.
Chloë dashed out of a nearby hut and kicked her man’s dead body and spit on it. Maxence knew right away there had been no love there, and Chloë was very beautiful. He immediately made her his own, and she was happy with that.
The two of them fled the Congo together and moved to Freetown where they lived six years in a third-floor walk-up. Chloë found work plaiting hair while Maxence drank blazing café and smoked Gauloises.
Nights were spent naked and sweaty under the ceiling fan.
Maxence drank Castle Lager in those days because Guinness Stout was not sold in Freetown. It didn’t matter, he thought, because he already had something dark and delicious with Chloë Jomo-Gbomo.
On Chloë’s free day they often picknicked at Siaka Stevens Park where they would spread a blanket under the African sun shaded by a cercropia tree.
They drank Castle and ate cans of cashews. And sandwiches.
He would rub her silky bare legs beneath the skirt of kuba cloth, and she would caress the scar on his cheek.
Our spirits call you ghosts, she said one day, white and unsolid. But the scar is a good thing because it proves you’re a protective man.
He fell deeply in love for the first time in his brutal life.
And then she was dead on the main drag of Freetown as the jitney driver tried to escape, but a jitney jammed with passengers makes a lousy getaway vehicle.
She had only stepped out for a pack of Gauloises.
Maxence wandered some years through Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean picking up piecemeal murders till one day he realized he was too old for that game. He retired to hotels, luggage and tips.
The Marbol was a good gig, and he intended to stay as long as they’d let him.
Later, he would kill himself. He knew the ropes.
Another Guinness, Bo.
Coming up, Max.
* * * *
He was raised in Two Egg, Mississippi, and his daddy was a lawyer. Milton Burgwyn Johnston was the name. Mama was the former Eunice Camilla Langston from the nearby town of Bonham where the best apple pie in the world is baked.
They were prominent people, God-fearing, and they knew their Beauregard would be prominent too. And his sister, Claire. As a teen, Beau attended cotillions, wore seersucker suits and saddle shoes. Later he earned his degree in art history from Ole Miss in Oxford and won a master’s from Vanderbilt up there in Nashville, Tennessee.
His daddy and mama wanted him to study the law, but he didn’t. Beau was drawn to art. Normally, he wouldn’t defy his mama and daddy, but the pull of art was powerful.
They lived in what had been a plantation home a century before. It had been the Johnston residence for generations. There were magnolias that smelled good after nightfall. There were rocking chairs on a front gallery that caught evening breezes that softened the summer heat.
Eunice Camilla Langston (the former), Milton Burgwyn Johnston and Claire, who wore braces but knew she would be stunning someday, felt their lives were the best lives anywhere.
Till that dark night ruined everything.
Half a mile behind the plantation house there was a lake where water splashed musically against towering cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.
The pond was shadowy, especially at night, and water moccasins slithered conspicuously if you paid attention. Beau was 23 and Tyrone Lincoln was 17.
Tyrone came from a family of sharecroppers, folks who lived in one of Milton Burgwyn Johnston’s pine-slab cabins half a mile up the road.
Tyrone’s mama was named Beulah, and she washed clothes in a galvanized tub with water from a hand pump in the yard. Aside from Tyrone, the other kids were Tiara, Jazmine and Precious.
Beau and Tyrone were near in the water, and they were naked. Hoot owls could be heard in the high cypress limbs now and then, but mostly it was quiet, very quiet for Beau and Tyrone who slipped into these waters on many nights without saying a word to another breathing soul.
They met that night on the bank, as usual, stripped bare, held hands, and dived into the cool dark water. Moonlight touched the surface at those spots where it could slip through the Spanish moss in the trees overhead.
They swam and laughed and embraced and laughed even more.
An hour passed. Or perhaps it was two.
The flashlight caught them by surprise. It was Milton Burgwyn Johnston standing on the nearby bank with a double-ought cradled in right arm.
You boys get outta there, he said.
Two nights later, Beauregard Lee Johnston was on a Trailways bus barreling north with two suitcases and enough cash to get himself going, but not much more. That was seven years back.
He is Bo now, the only employee of the Marbol Hotel with art degrees. He mixes a mean whiskey sour, and he often wonders what happened to Tyrone after that final night in the cool water together, touching.
* * * *
MARIA THE MAID
Maria found a cleaning job at the Marbol Hotel, but this lonely life among the pinche Gringos was not what she expected.
She wanted to earn floods of money to send back to her family in Puertecillos where her sisters, Ismeralda and Lupe, still lived with Mamá and Papá. She had heard the Gringo streets were paved with greenbacks if not gold.
She had planned on banking a fat dowry to start her life with Pepe, her boyfriend in Puertecillos whom she had not seen in those three years.
One day, while Maria was changing sheets in Room 212, I eased into her sleeping space in the Marbol’s basement, and I opened a drawer.
Yes, I am a Nosy Parker. Here are brief excerpts from letters I found. They were written in Spanish, but I translated for you.
Dear Lupe, I miss Puertecillos so very much and Mamá and Papá and you and Ismeralda. And Pepe most of all! How is he doing? Is he missing me?
There’s a Gringo who comes by the hotel sometimes and sits in the lobby. I’ve gone out with him now and then because I get so lonely. He teaches me the English. Once I let him kiss me, but he put his hands on both my (tetas), and I had to fight to get away.
Dear Maria, everybody here in Puertecillos misses you and always asks about you. You’ve been gone so very long. I am sad to tell you that Pepe has been seen running around with that (puta) Martita. But Mamá and Papá send thanks for the money you’ve been wiring us.
We’re building a real bathroom with a flush toilet on the back of the house. No more freezing our fannies in January. Ha, ha, ha! And we’re putting more beefsteak in our tacos.
Dear Lupe, the Gringo, his name is Bobby, somehow got down to my room late last night and wanted to kiss and only the Virgin Guadalupe knows what else, and you know that I am saving myself for my handsome Pepe. I had to call Maurice to throw Bobby out. Maurice is the hotel’s security man.
Oh, how much I want to have Pepe here with me. I miss and love him so.
Tell him. Over and over and over.
Dear Maria, how I hate to write you this, but Pepe and Martita got married yesterday. It was just the civil ceremony, but they’ll be doing the real wedding in the church next Wednesday. And you’ll never believe this, but he invited me and Esmerelda and Mamá and Papá to the wedding.
Papá said that if he goes he will take the .45 and shoot the pelotas right out from between the crotch of Pepe’s pants. And I think he means it too.
Please come home, Maria.
Dear Lupe, when I got your last letter I cried and cried. The next day I phoned Bobby, and he came over at 10 and stayed all night with a bottle of tequila.
He was so silly and funny. He didn’t know anything about lemons and salt, and I had to teach him. Maybe I love him.
He told me he just got out of prison last month, but that he was innocent, and I believe him. He is such a sweet man, and very handsome if you don’t mind that part of his left ear is gone.
Dear Maria, I have such sad news. Papá went to the church and shot Pepe’s pelotas right off. Papá is being held at the juzgado. You need to send as much money as you can quickly so we can pay off the judge. The juzgado in Puertecillos is a horrible place. Mamá is in bed and won’t get up.
And Pepe is going to sue us for what happened to his pelotas. Please come home. With money.
Dear Lupe, I am going to marry Bobby next week. Then he will look for work, and I will continue cleaning here at the Marbol Hotel. I don’t have any money to wire you. Bobby says he needs to save what I make so we can rent an apartment. Tell Mamá and Esmerelda that I love them, and I hope Papá gets out of the juzgado real soon.
And tell that pendejo Pepe that I’m pleased he lost his pelotas.
That was all I got a chance to read because I heard Bobby and Maria coming down the stairwell. I hid in the closet for over an hour.
They kissed and did other things I will leave to your imagination, and then Maria gave Bobby all her tip money, and they left the room.
And so did I, just barely dodging Maurice, the hotel dick, known to employees as the Hall Prowler. He’s not a man to mess with, but that’s for another day.
(Note: Many years later, long after Bobby had been strangled during his fourth prison stretch, Maria would look at her four kids and think back to her old life, and she would yearn for Guanajuato.)
* * * *
THE HALL PROWLER
The Marbol’s man is called Maurice or — to the other hotel employees — the Hall Prowler because that’s what he does when he’s not sitting at the bar shooting the breeze with Bo and nursing a sarsaparilla.
Maurice is a former military man. He’s a trim 5 feet-10 inches tall with cold, sky-blue eyes, a buzz cut and a mysteriously easy-going manner.
He once worked hotels in Las Vegas, and he wants to return because he loves that town more than Sinatra ever did.
Maurice never married, and he has no kids he admits to. He’s a free spirit who’s licensed to carry.
He settles disputes at the hotel, and he keeps an eye on things. Lots of “things” happen at the Marbol and settling them rarely takes more than a glance into those stony blue eyes.
It was Maurice who led the police to Billy Lancing’s room the day that Billy began his descent toward a prison death, and his way-too-fresh bedmate, Kristanabel, became a foster child to Mr. and Mrs. Myron Blade, something they lived to regret, by the way. You’ll see.
Maurice rides a Honda Silver Wing 500 with saddlebags, an older model from before they went and made a silly highway scooter out of it, and he lives in a furnished apartment that he keeps neat with the dishes washed and racked.
He’s saving his money because he wants to retire and move to Vegas before he’s old. You can buy a house pretty cheap in Vegas, or at least you could during the times we’re talking here.
* * * *
There were two parts to this thought. One was, oh God, I’m going to prison. The other was, oh God, that was good.
At least she had turned 16. If only she were 18. If only she were not his foster child. If only he could get a grip on himself. If only. If only. He sighed.
Myron had no idea what he was up against. In the year since the girl came to live with his family, she had said little out loud, but she had said much in other ways.
The slow strolls between the bathroom and her bedroom with the loose towel slipping. The prolonged stares over the dinner table directly into his eyes as Mrs. Blade served broccoli or mashed potatoes or pork chops to the children, the real children.
Kristanabel was no child and perhaps had never been. The Blades knew little of her past, especially that she had killed her parents in cold blood while they slept.
They knew nothing of her cunning, her remarkable intelligence, that she had neither morals nor heart. They were deceived by her calm face and occasional sweet smile.
Then one day it happened. Words were whispered in the dark evening hallway as Mrs. Blade washed dishes. Hands moved this way and that. A wicked young smile here, heavy breathing there. Just a few moments in the hall shadows, the two of them.
This was not their first visit to the Marbol Hotel. It was their fifth, and each was better than the last. Both felt that way, but for different reasons. As he breathed harder, she tightened the rope, the trap. She dug the hole deep and dark.
He looked at her. She had filled out over the past year. She had arrived thin. Now she was rounded. Her hair was long and blonde, and there were freckles.
There was a knock at the door.
Myron jumped up naked, rushed over and opened it a crack. Two cold blue eyes below a buzz cut stared at him. Whatcha doing in there, sport?
* * * *
He turned one way, then another. Which room? He knocked first on 426. The door cracked and a sweaty, shirtless man stared out.
Whatcha doing in there, sport? Maurice fingered the door open a little farther and saw a human form hiding beneath the bedsheet.
Smell of sweat, not meth.
Excuse the intrusion, sir. Maurice pulled the door shut and turned toward Room 428 on the opposite side. Yes, far stronger there, the aroma of dope.
Shouldn’t have disturbed the lovers, he told himself.
The Hall Prowler patted his pistol and thought: Probably be better to just phone the police. He did, and five narcs came with guns and a warrant.
Three hours and lots of noise across the hall later, Myron Blade and Kristanabel stepped down the stairs and out to the sidewalk, passing Lenny Slick at the front desk. Lenny looked at their skulls.
They had arrived as father and daughter on vacation from Topeka, but Lenny knew better. Hanky-panky registering as respectability was common at the Marbol Hotel.
It had been a mighty close call for Myron, and he was still breathing heavily, not entirely from fear. Kristanabel smiled salaciously and swung her hips a few steps ahead.
An hour later, Maria opened their room door, rolled in her cart and looked around. It was dank and musky, and sin stuck to the floral wallpaper like flies on fresh dung.
* * * *
The day was off to a great start, and he was sitting naked on the edge of the bed in the Marbol Hotel. He had murder on his mind.
Murder for love, which is the best sort, the most unstoppable, the most satisfying, the most sensual, murder you do with blood in your eyes, killing the competition. And he wouldn’t use a gun or a knife.
No, he was gonna bludgeon that sumbitch to death, show him who was boss, even all the scores. And get his woman back.
Jahn inhaled and reviewed his plan because planning is critical when you’re facing a man as cruel and crafty as Lechke.
Lechke had brought her to this city months back from Lisomon in the foothills of the High Nevatumblas where the three of them had once lived.
Get out of town, Lechke told Jahn, and Jahn had done it, like the pusillanimous piece of pathos he had been at that time. But time and anger had changed him, and now he was cocked.
His woman’s name was Lydia, and they had been long in love when Lechke snatched her and dispatched the competition, Jahn, as easily as spitting tobacco on cold cement.
There was nothing to be done. They had cried and parted rapidly one night while Jahn could still escape with his skin attached to meat and bone.
He went to a park last night and chopped a hunk of hard oak. He chiseled it with an ugly knife till it was four feet long and thick all around except at the thinner base where he wrapped adhesive tape for a good grip. He sanded some, but left the head rough and brutal.
Every night Lechke took Lydia to a downtown dive on Duval Street named Danchiuk’s where they drank vodka and ate dolmasy till closing time at two.
Walking later down the dark street, hand in hand, they always passed an even darker alley, and that is where Jahn would launch his attack to get his woman back. He had not heard from her in the year since he was sent packing ignominiously from Lisomon.
They were tipsy and laughing as they approached, and they did not see Jahn in the alley. They sailed past, and Jahn slipped astern, lifted the hard oak and brought it down on Lechke’s head with a killing force. He dropped heavily. And forever.
Lydia saw Jahn and began to scream. She turned to Lechke and dropped to his chest, wailing, My love! My love! In that instant, shocked, all Jahn’s plans changed. He raised the avenging oak once again and crushed Lydia.
He stood there confused for a few seconds till his head cleared.
He looked up and down Duval. All was silent except the sound of dripping blood. He dipped into his pocket for paper and tobacco. He licked his lips.
He was a man again. And totally free.
* * * *
THE BLOODY BITE
Kristanabel’s sharp teeth gripped Myron’s ear, and she tongued a bit of blood. She was lying naked atop his bare, hairy, upturned back in a bed of the Marbol Hotel. Releasing her grip, she whispered, There’s no other way.
His face was buried in the pillow as he thought, She’s crazy. What am I going to do? That thought was followed by, Maybe it would work. Maybe.
We must kill her, or we’ll get caught, Kristanabel whispered. Myron turned his head as she freed his ravaged ear, and said, What about the children?
I will take care of the children. I will be like a mother to them. Though she knew the children would have to go too. Kristanabel hated the children.
But first things first, and the first thing was that Blade bitch.
Myron turned over with effort, and the girl slithered to his side. He looked at her, and drew a deep breath as his chest pounded. Would he kill for her? he wondered. What had happened to him? The long blonde hair. The cold, cutting blue eyes. The soft round body. Those lips. That was what had happened to him, and he knew it.
There was a knock from the hall. Kristanabel pulled the sweaty sheet over her bare skin, leaving only her hair and eyes out in the dank air. Myron plunged his legs into pants, and opened the door to Max the bellman.
Your order, sir, Max said with a malevolent smile, as he handed the aluminum tray to Myron and turned on his still-military heel, thinking, Oooh, boy. Max had seen much at the Marbol, but little on the spectacular scale of Kristanabel.
On the tray was a hamburger and fries for Myron, plus rare roast beef between three slices of black bread with brown mustard, lettuce, tomato slices and plenty of onion for Kristanabel. A cold jar of whole dill pickles. Two dark ales — and a root beer for show.
As they ate cross-legged on the bed facing one another, Myron thought, No wonder she’s filled out so much since she came to live with us. What an appetite. She was like a skinny kitten then. Now she is a cat.
A black cat tinted pale. Fingering his aching earlobe, crusty with dried blood, he looked at her sharp teeth and wondered what lay ahead. She was 17.
And he was sweaty.
* * * *
PAIR HELD IN CRIME OF PASSION
DCPD officers say that Myron Blade, 44, and Kristanabel Wasoo, 17, were in custody after the bodies of Blade’s wife, Hermione, 42, son Blake, 7, and daughter Janicia, 10, were found in the Blades’ home in the bedroom community of Residential Hills.
Police report that Blade phoned them early yesterday in a state of hysteria, saying that he and the girl Kristanabel had killed the three with cyanide.
On arriving at the residence, officers found Blade wandering the front yard in soiled jockey shorts, babbling incoherently.
The Wasoo girl was pulled from beneath a bed. She fought furiously, police said, and three officers were required to hogtie her.
The three victims were lying face up on the living room floor mysteriously arranged like spokes of a wagon wheel. A large bottle of cyanide was on the coffee table.
Police have yet to determine a motive, but one of the neighbors interviewed by The Daily Voice said, I always thought something fishy was going on. Another neighbor said the Blades were just a normal family till two years ago when “that Kris” arrived.
She watered the lawn in the skimpiest swimsuit you’ve ever seen. She had trouble written all over her, way too mature for her age, said the neighbor.
And she cursed like a Bulgarian sailor, the neighbor added. Yet another neighbor, who requested complete anonymity, responded, oh, mama mia! when asked for a description of the girl.
Last night police gave this updated information: Blade and the Wasoo girl were in separate cells, unable to communicate.
Blade was in a strait-jacket restraint, and the girl had leered at a male guard while demanding a rare roast beef sandwich and dark ale.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for this morning. And funeral arrangements for the three victims are pending.
* * * *
DOWN AND OUT
The state offers condemned prisoners their choice of execution: Hanging or the firing squad. Blade choose the noose.
Just six hours before Blade’s execution at 7 p.m., his accomplice, Kristanabel Wasoo, 18, escaped from the Women’s Prison on Dumaphry Road.
A guard had opened the cell to deliver a rare roast beef sandwich and a chill dark ale when Wasoo leaped upon the guard’s back and slit her throat with a homemade shiv carved from cold steel.
The guard’s body was found during a routine check 30 minutes later. There was no sign of the young Wasoo woman, just a plate of bread crumbs on the bed, two bloody slivers of beef and an empty bottle of dark ale.
* * * *
THE FINAL CUT
His hair was blood red, like his eyes.
Earlier that afternoon he’d been freed from the joint where he’d spent three years, and now he was gripping his seventh Budweiser beer.
The lights above the mirror shone like Christmas sparkles, and the barmaid was beautiful too. Her name tag said Kris.
For the past two hours he’d sat silently, listening. He’d learned that Kris ended her shift at 11, and she lived in a trailer out back. She was some looker, blonde, young and tender too.
This will be easy, he thought.
About 5 minutes before 11 he paid and walked outside, a little unsteadily. Those were his first beers in three years. And in those three years he had only seen men, ugly men.
He wanted more.
He crouched behind an old Chevrolet near the trailer door, pulled the knife from his pocket and jumped her from behind. He pushed her up the cinder block steps into the trailer.
And locked the door.
Three days later a state patrolman with time on his hands parked along a lonely piece of highway to stretch his legs. He saw circling buzzards.
Just off the roadway, he spotted three plastic trash bags, jumbo size, all ripped open by coyotes. The body parts included a severed head with blood-red hair.
One more, honey, said a regular named Joe. Kris handed him a Miller Lite and asked if he wanted salty nuts with that. Perhaps some fresh, warm popcorn.
Joe loved her winning smile. The customers all loved the sweet girl.
* * * *
The falling leaves drift by the window.
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
Patricia Kaas alternated Autumn Leaves in English and French from the stereo on the other side of the living room as Kristanabel looked through the window of the mobile home to the snow-covered mountains, the High Nevatumblas.
Since you went away the days grow long,
and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.
She stubbed her glowing cigarette into an ashtray and breathed deeply. She had actually kind of liked the guy, not an emotion she was accustomed to. It was unsettling.
C’est une chanson, qui nous ressemble
toi tu m’aimais et je t’aimis.
He loved this song, he had told her one night as he put his saxophone down on the corner table in the bar where she worked and he occasionally played jazz for tips. He was a musician.
One night she went home with him to his trailer down the road, a mobile home that was small but comfortable and — most of all — warm.
He would serve hot tea and then spaghetti and vino rojo.
He would look at her, saying, You are so beautiful.
She would look at him and smile.
The town was small, and there was nothing much to do. The bar where they met, where she worked, was the nightlife, so they made their own nightlife in the trailer. It had lasted for weeks.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
the sunburned hands I used to hold.
She glanced down the hallway where she knew he was, lying on the bed in a pool of blood, a kitchen knife stuck in his neck, the same knife he had used to make salad and slice salami.
Kristanabel stood at last — she had been sitting for two hours — put on her coat, picked up his car keys from the table, opened the door and stepped out into the freezing night.
She aimed the Mercury down the highway and just kept going, leaving him there with Patricia Kaas.
* * * *
But something weird happened.
A year later, while on his knees in The Lady of Our Suffering Bloody Jesus Christ Almighty God Church in the big city’s barrio, a statue winked at him and said: Do right, jovencito.
And he did do right. He entered night school and volunteered with Meals on Wheels. Years passed. He gained citizenship, and he earned a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice for Minorities.
He changed his name from Manny to Mark — Mark Montoya — but he never lost his love of tacos because you can take a Mexican out of Mexico, but you can’t take tacos out of a Mexican.
That was, as mentioned, about 35 years ago and now Montoya is a lieutenant at the Fourth Precinct. He’s seen lots of easy blondes and fast money, neither of which he ever touched because of what the winking statue told him.
Do right, jovencito.
But he isn’t so jovencito anymore. He is 55 years old, and eligible for retirement with full medical coverage and an absurdly fat pension. Gracias, government union!
He’s solved lots of crimes in his police career, but there is one open file in his drawer that obsesses him. The name on that file is Kristanabel Wasoo.
The serial killer.
There was a prison mugshot, of course, but he prefers this photo from Kristanabel’s parents’ album so many years ago. Montoya flips it over.
To mom and dad on my 15th birthday. You’re the best !!!!! Love and kisses!!!
Dated just three days before she shot them dead in their bed.
Kristanabel is hard to catch because she lives on her looks. She uses men. She uses them for money, to get jobs, usually in bars as a barmaid. She uses men to get fake identification, so her name is ever changing. And then she kills them.
She is a phantom, as hard to grasp and corral as cold fog on a winter-gray morning in the High Nevatumblas.
Montoya jams Kristanabel’s file back in his desk drawer, grabs the snub-nosed .38 Police Special and shoves it into his holster as he stands.
No, he mutters to himself. Retirement can wait. I have work to do.
This case holds just one clue, her sole weakness: rare roast beef sandwiches and cold dark ale.
Our cop heads to a delicatessen near the Marbol Hotel.
* * * *
The log cabin sat on a plateau in the High Nevatumblas, and Kristanabel considered it cozy. The nearest town, little Bagadzha, was five hours down a snow-packed trail in the Jeep Wrangler she had taken from the last guy who had seen her naked and hadn’t lived long enough to regret it.
All natural blondes are not dumb, and Kristanabel had been thinking. She’d been lucky so far, and lying low for a spell made sense. She had money, the Wrangler, and no real need for human companionship. She was a full-bore sociopath after all.
The Wrangler’s previous owner had built this cabin, his getaway retreat, but he wouldn’t be needing it any longer, so Kristanabel had come here and made herself at home.
And on this frozen January night, she was sitting before a roaring blaze in the stone fireplace, a wineglass half-full of Beaujolais on the hand-carved and polished table beside her reclining chair.
There was blood-red lipstick on the wineglass because a hot girl should always be looking good.
An antique phonograph filled the room with old Bessie Smith blues, and a bear rug was beneath her feet, which were encased in wool socks and knit Snuggies.
A book was open on her lap, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, a really good read. Politics amused Kristanabel, though she was a libertarian at heart and didn’t really understand cooperation.
She glanced down at the bear rug and wondered what it would be like to skin a beast alive, as Bessie Smith sang Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl.
Next to the wineglass was a lady-like Walther P99 Compact though Kristanabel’s preferred method of dispatch remained a sharp blade.
There was a knock at the door . . . Kristanabel jumped up, Walther in hand.
Pushing aside a window curtain, she peered out. A snowflaked man encased in heavy coat and fur hat saw her looking through the window, and they shared the same thought at the same moment:
Who the Devil are you?
* * * *
THE END OF MAXENCE
Max lit another Gauloise and looked at the Luger lying on the end table.
He scanned the room where he lived in the Marbol Hotel, where he had worked as bellman for 12 years, hauling bags for questionable people, delivering pizza from down the street, pointing prostitutes in the right direction, patting them on the fanny for his own fun tip.
The news had come yesterday from the public clinic: a mean tumor in his left testicle, way too late for treatment.
When you can’t cut throats anymore, you do what’s necessary to keep the Gauloises coming and the Guinness Stout flowing. It’s a hard world.
Perhaps I’ll see her again, over there, thought Max. She was the only woman he’d loved, the only woman who’d loved him, Chloë Jomo-Gbomo from Sierra Leone, who had been killed by a ganja-stoked jitney driver in Freetown.
Max stubbed out his final Gauloise, and picked up the Luger.
Three stories below, Lenny Slick leaned against the reception desk reading The Daily Racing Form. He heard a loud thump, but he ignored it.
Mysterious sounds were common at the Marbol Hotel.
He underlined a nag named Tough Love who looked promising for the afternoon Daily Double.
* * * *
THE ROMANCE LOUNGE
A kitchen knife through his mournful heart was not what Lawrence had in mind for a Valentine. But that’s what he got.
It was the eve of Valentine’s Day, and the hillbilly bar’s name attracted him, a first-time visitor.
Kristanabel, meanwhile, had run out of money, so she had abandoned the snow-covered cabin in the High Nevatumblas. Just as well because Springtime would bring the thaw that would uncover the mystery visitor’s corpse.
And he would smell.
She was back in Dark City, staying in the Marbol Hotel. Again.
When Lawrence came through the lounge door, she knew he was the one. He looked wealthy, and he was. He looked lonely, and he was. He looked to be easy pickings, and he was.
They had driven to his elegant townhouse in a Mercedes M-Class, which certainly shamed the Jeep Wrangler parked in the Marbol’s underground lot.
Sitting in the living room, she knew there were two options: Lawrence could die happy. Or not. She chose the former because, frankly, she liked getting naked with company.
He wasn’t bad looking for an old guy, probably in his early 50s. In good shape to boot, which played a small role in choosing him back at the Romance Lounge.
So the evening started down the path Lawrence dreamed of. What a Valentine’s Eve, he marveled. The incredible pain of the previous five months melted and evaporated on the twisted sheets.
He admired Kristanabel’s resplendently naked backside as she stepped later from the bedroom toward the kitchen where, she said, she’d pour cold, dry, double martinis.
She returned, but not with martinis.
After dressing, she counted the cash in his wallet, which was considerable. She took the seven credit cards and the key to the Mercedes.
Walking down the stairwell, she smiled broadly. Another payday.
* * * *
BEEF AND ALE
Best roast beef sandwiches in town, it was said. And the cooler included 10 brands of dark ale, but the only one that mattered was Black Sheep.
That was the worm on Lt. Montoya’s hook. Bogdan’s Big Beef Deli was the only joint downtown that sold Black Sheep, and Montoya knew it was Kristanabel Wasoo’s preferred slurp.
Montoya had been sitting there for nine nights straight, nursing a Black Sheep on the counter and waiting for another, a beautiful blonde, to walk through the door.
He was growing very fond of the roast beef, which Bogdan’s Big Beef Deli served with onions on Beefsteak Soft Rye with Kosciusko Spicy Brown Mustard.
That’s what you call a real sandwich, not for children or pansies.
If there was anything Kristanabel loved as much as dark ale, it was hot roast beef, rare and red. And Bogdan’s Big Beef, in the heart of Dark City, just six blocks from the old and seedy Marbol Hotel, was ideally situated.
And then Lady Luck smiled on the old wetback cop. A beautiful blonde walked in. It was her, and she was alone. She paused, scanning the deli with lovely, green eyes.
Montoya tensed and wiped his bottom lip with the back of his hand, thinking some Kosciusko Spicy Brown Mustard might still be lingering there.
But there was none.
She sat two tables behind Montoya’s counter stool, and Bogdan himself shuffled toward her with a lascivious Russian smile. You know what I want, handsome, she said, even though he was far from handsome, the ugly, Slavic dog.
A bloody beef and a Black Sheep, he said out loud, chuckling.
How to handle this? Montoya spoke to himself. There were 14 or so other customers, and he wanted no blood on his hands, especially now because this would be his final collar before retiring and heading home to Guanajuato where he was born.
It would be the feather in his cap, the final coat of Brasso on his badge.
Gotta stay cool, he told himself.
The beautiful blonde stood unexpectedly, surprising Montoya as she walked toward the restroom, closing the door behind.
Montoya waited. Three minutes passed, then five. He looked at his watch. At 10 minutes he jumped up and pushed the john door open. It wasn’t even locked.
She was gone, and the window was open.
What is this? A freaking TV show? Montoya cursed to himself.
* * * *
THE FINAL BLAST
A bottle of bourbon (Old Crow Reserve) sat on the nightstand, and a dead body was on the bed, an icepick in its neck.
Kristanabel Wasoo sat on the stool and looked at herself in the vanity mirror. She wasn’t 22 anymore, and it showed.
The hair was still long and blonde, though helped with a bottle. The face was beautiful and seemed smooth, if you didn’t look too closely and the lights were dim as they were in the dives where she lurked.
She didn’t know why she had brought him to this hotel, this latest horndog doofus. Perhaps it was a slayer’s nostalgia. She had not been here or even in Dark City in 13 years, but here she was, and it was nearly midnight.
His wallet held $156 in cash and 12 credit cards. She smiled.
But the years had turned her reckless.
She doffed her clothes and lay atop yellowing sheets on the second bed, the one with no corpse. She offed the light and stared at the ceiling that was faintly illuminated by neon outside that flickered The Marbol Hotel. Yes, she had turned reckless.
Standing on the sidewalk was Mark Montoya and 35 buds in the law-enforcement biz. And that did not count the demolition crew.
A crazy sequence of circumstances had led to this moment. Montoya had tracked Kristanabel down, and she had entered the Marbol, a decrepit hotel that was scheduled for demolition the following week.
City planners had contracted a 20-story condo, part of an ongoing downtown restoration that would attract young, wine-sipping professionals. The Marbol sat on primo real estate these days, prime dirt. Kristanabel knew none of this.
By 6 a.m., the charges had been set, and the hotel had been quietly evacuated, every room save one, the one where an aging but still lovely blonde slept on one bed and a man with an icepick in his neck slept on another.
As sunlight shone on concrete, Montoya told the crew chief: Let ‘er rip!
And he did.
The blast went viral on YouTube, and Kristanabel soon had her own Wikipedia page with links to Ma Barker, Bonnie Parker and Lizzie Borden.
Montoya retired, changed his name back to Manny and built a big home on a mountaintop in Mexico. It was made of adobe and red clay.
He adopted a street mutt and named him José.
He found a girl of 17 named Lupe. She had smoky eyes, brown skin, straight white teeth, a protruding butt, a chest like two ripe mangoes, and he lived happily ever after, eating blue-corn tortillas and pinto beans that Lupe’s mama made.
* * * El FIN * * *