A nice hard boiled yarn. By Todd Matthy
Another Saturday night. Drinking at the bars, playing darts and unsuccessfully trying to score. Yeah, another Saturday night but for some reason, I stayed out later than usual. Call it clairvoyance, call it what you will, but my instincts told me this night was different.
“Another Bud,” I told Donna, the bartender and my best friend. She and I were like Homer and Moe.
“Dave, it’s you and me. I’m closing up, no one’s gonna come in ‘ere anymore.”
“Just one more?” I asked with sad puppy-dog eyes.
“Only because you’re cute,” she quipped, playfully tapping me with her bottle opener. I felt tired. After the beer, I would call it a night. The bar was dead. The only sign of life was the twang from the opening chords of Chris Issak’s ‘Wicked Game:’
“The World was on Fire
Nothing Could Save Me But You”
On cue she strolled in, like Venus in that painting where she emerged from the sea. Smooth, creamy skin with delicate lips, colored like luscious red strawberries. She had deep cerulean eyes with long seductive lashes. Her hair, a lustrous gold like the sun, contrasted with the darkness of her mink coat.
I wanted to run my fingers up and down her back just to feel the shape of her body in the softness of her coat. She sat in the booth behind me, hoping to blend in and not be noticed. Our eyes met for a moment, she smiled.
“Talk to her,” Donna whispered.
“You think I have a chance with that?”
“I don’t see anyone else,” she said, shoving me toward her. I was startled; so was she. My heart raced.
“I just thought I’d say ‘hi’,” I stuttered.
“Come sit,” she beckoned in a northern European accent.
“Don’t see no one else.” She motioned toward the other seat.
“So…do you have a name?” I asked sitting down.
She complemented me. Calling it a strong name. She seemed genuinely sweet, yet scared. She always looked over her shoulder for something that wasn’t there.
“What you do?” she asked, pretending I didn’t notice her agitation.
“I’m a cop.” Ex-cop was more like it. I.A. is a bitch.
“Sound nice,” she responded.
“All right, I’m closing up!” Donna shouted, killing any chance I might’ve had.
“It was nice meeting you,” I told her. As I made my exit, I felt a tug on my arm.
“Wait!” she bid. “Can I have ride?” she asked. “I, not from here. Not know where to go.” She said, batting her eyes.
“I can take you to a hotel. There’s one off Central Avenue,” I told her.
“I have no money,” she answered. I found this peculiar considering her wardrobe. “Don’t want to leave trail,” she continued. The mystery deepened.
“Why? Jealous ex-boyfriend? Husband?”
“In a way,” she sighed. The Jukebox sang:
“It’s strange what desire
Will make foolish people do”
“How ‘bout my place? We can go there,” I suggested, certain she’d say ‘no.’
“Ja. Very much so,” she answered enthusiastically. My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t expecting this.
“All right, but I gotta warn you: I wasn’t expecting company.”
“You’d be surprised how messy I am,” She joked. Wrapping her arm around mine we exited together. She burrowed her face into her collar, scanning the streets while we walked. It was weird but I didn’t mind. We arrived at my car, a 1986 Volvo station wagon, bought from a used car lot.
“This is it,” I told her, embarrassed. “I know it’s not what a girl like you is used to, but you can tell your friends you took a ride in a classic,” I joked, hoping humor would make up for my awful set of wheels.
“Awwwww,” she sighed, “ I love it and how you’re honest ‘bout it.”
“So, you still want a ride?”
“’Course.” She smiled.
To be honest, I shouldn’t have been driving, but the cops in this town…well, having been one I knew I could beat a DWI in exchange for either a parking ticket or a financial arrangement. Just as long as the cop turned off his dashboard cam-I learned that lesson the hardway.
“Thank you,” She whispered and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips were warm and moist. I was driving an angel back to my place. It was too good to be true.
She snuggled up in her coat and winked at me. I winked back. I had a feeling she would be the death of me (or something along those lines). Upon arrival, my doorman flashed a thumb’s up. “Gon’ high class, Dave?” he asked. I ignored him.
Her eyes widened at my apartment. Unwashed dishes were stacked in my sink, I hadn’t taken the garbage out, and the reproductions of vintage Star Wars and Led Zeppelin posters didn’t exactly scream Marriot honeymoon suite.
“I…I wasn’t really…expecting company so…” I didn’t bother finishing; she was too enamored by my record collection to pay attention.
“Do you have player?” she asked as she picked out the “Wild at Heart” soundtrack.
“Yeah, it belonged to my parents. I stole it before they threw it out. I only like one song on that soundtrack.”
“Really? What song?”
“Wicked Game’. Want to see if it still works?”
“Ja, very much so!” She answered excitedly.
I opened the turntable and blew off the dust that had accumulated over the years. She dropped her coat on the floor, unveiling a backless skin-tight dress. I was frozen for a moment, and turned on the record. It sounded like a walkie-talkie after it was dropped in a bucket.
“Do you have on CD?” she asked.
“Only the single,” I answered.
“We play later. I need shower.”
An awkward silence followed. Did she really say that? I asked myself.
“Su-sure,” I stuttered like a schoolboy and got her a towel and a change of clothes.
“Superman shirt?” she asked when presented with the clothes.
“Is that a problem?”
“No. Cute. I have Little Mermaid pajamas.”
“Cool.” I blushed while she entered the bathroom.
Once I heard that the water was turned on, I ruffled through her purse to find out more about her. I found her cell phone and turned it on. I found her number and wrote it down; I didn’t want to lose track of someone like her. I was curious about her so I looked in her phones photo album. To my surprise it was empty. “Must be a new phone.” I thought to myself. I turned it off once I heard the jerking of the bathroom door and jumped back to the bed. (Hell hath no fury like a woman catching you in her purse.)
She strolled out in nothing but the towel. She sat next to me on the bed. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen. She slowly scooted closer to me, pressing her leg against mine. She flirtatiously flicked her wet hair at me and ran my fingers through it. “Thank you, you are kind gentleman.” She said softly wrapping her arms around my body and pulling me closer. Like a magnet, our lips were drawn together and the towel fell off. As if by magic, “Wicked Game” started playing:
And I never dreamed I’d meet somebody like you
The next hour was heaven: I moved my arm up her silky smooth skin, still wet with warm water from the shower. She kisses me up and down my neck, while I kiss her from her neck to her cheek. We lay together, closer, until we share the same rhythm and move together in unison. Chris Issak the soundtrack of our dance.
“No I don’t want to fall in love
(this world is only gonna break your heart)
No I don’t wanna fall in love…with you
Finally, I felt a tickle between my thighs and we stopped. We fell asleep holding one another and doused in sweat. I woke up an hour later to an empty pillow and depressed area where her body had been, and caught her rummaging through my pants.
“What are you doing?” I asked, though I knew the answer.
“I’m sorry…you’re really sweet guy but I only need place to stay for evening. I must move on.”
She put on her coat and went for the door. I blocked her.
“Give me back the money you stole from my wallet!” I demanded. She sprayed me with mace. My eyes felt like they were on fire. I was tearing up and even the tears were painful. I was suckered, played the fool.
“What a wicked game to play
To make me feel this way
What a wicked thing to do to let me dream of you”
“Oh God… I’m so sorry…” she apologized. My vision was too blurry from the mace to really see what was going on but it felt like she was helping me to my bed.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” I yelled while slapping her away.
“I’ really sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“You ask to spend the night and I let you! You sleep with me then you leave at dawn with my money and you weren’t even going to say goodbye! When I brought you here you acted all weird like you were being followed or embarrassed by me…” I rambled not even thinking about my words.
“It’s…” she tried to speak up.
“I mean if I embarrass you, why did you even approach me? Unless you’re…” it began to dawn on me. “Oh. I get it now. Did one of my friends hire you? Was it John? Alex? Donna? Of course, it had to be Donna. It explains why she was so insistent I sit with you. Are you a gold-digging hooker? Because if you are, I’m sorry I disappointed you.”
She slapped me, then her eyes welled up and her jaw clenched. I must’ve really hurt her feelings, she cried like a lost child. Was this the true face behind the glamour?
“I’m sorry.” I tried remedying the situation but couldn’t get through. She stared blankly out my window and wept. She seemed so lonely, so sad. Like she had left everything that made her a person back in the old country. She found a new life as a goddess who brought men to their knees and obeyed her every word. But power and fancy clothing couldn’t hide the fragility within. As a man, I wanted to fix it. I wanted to save her.
“Can you at least tell me what’s wrong? I’m a good listener,” I asked and gently placed my hands upon her shoulders.
“You won’t understand,” She answered.
“You right. I am whore. Okay? Or was whore. I stopped. Now, they after me.”
“Who? Do you owe them money?”
“Yes and no. I took money when I left, but also saw things. Things I rather not say. Things I reported. They found out I tipped off police.”
“Did they hurt you?”
“No.” She wrapped her arms around my shoulders. The tufts of her mink tickled my bare chest. “ I was the prize, as Zladko called me.”
“Back up a minute. Who’s Zladko?”
She took a deep breath and pulled a cigarette from her purse. I told her it was okay even though smoking was banned in the building. She lit it up and began to tell her story.
“I was dancer. Family struggled but got by. Then, younger sister gets scholarship in Prague but didn’t have the money. I move there with her and get job to help her pay. Couldn’t find job in ballet so I got job working at club…as dancer and call girl. I took baths with tourists, et cetera. Paid well, but barely enough for sister’s education; she almost had to drop out. Secretly, she took job, too.”
“Working with you?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Working for Madame. She was cruel and hurt her, let men hurt her. Came home with black eye once. Madame worked for man named Zladko. I went to Zladko offering myself in exchange for her. He fell in love with me. He was kind: He let her go debt free, bought my contract from club and made me his personal girl.”
“What do you mean?”
“I became his girlfriend. Traveled with him to business meetings, vacations, nightclubs, wherever he had to be, and in exchange he treated me like princess. Diamonds, fur coats, an allowance, everything I need to live life of luxury. I sent all money to my sister. One day, he calls me. Says we’re going to America and wants me to accompany him. Naturally, I agree.”
“Why did you leave him?”
“I realize what he doing. Was running slave ring. Wanted to leave but afraid for sister. Afraid they’d take her. I saw underage girls tied in sacks, brought here against will. There were beatings…but worst of all…the fights.”
“Men force girls to fight when contract end; Winner got freedom other dies. But the winner pay a heavy price; blinded with hot iron so as not to identify proprietors and customers. I could take no more. I confront Zladko but he say it business and to forget it. I couldn’t. I call police, but they couldn’t find evidence for arrest; so Zladko go free. He purge ranks, check phone records. I took what I could and fled, neither I nor sister safe.”
“I try to contact my sister, but no answer. So I go looking for protection. Men, say police go to bar where I met you, so I hide out hoping for protection. Now you know why I must go. Zladko’s after me and his men are brutal.”
Something about her eyes and her tone of voice told me her story was true. She needed a hero and against my better judgment, I decided it would be me.
“Its okay, you’re safe here. I’m a former cop so stay with me for a few days. I’ll get some things together and we can…”
“Did you not listen to a word I said? I’m a danger and as long as you’re with me, you’re in danger! I have to go. I have to get home to my sister, then I’ll…”
“Stay on the run your whole life? I won’t allow that. Stay here. I don’t think Zladko will suspect you’re staying with someone like me. It’ll throw him off your trail. After a couple of days, you can go to the police. I still have several friends on the force.”
She smiled genuinely amused by my attempt to sound heroic. Did I convince her?
“It’s light out and I want to leave at night. So you conned me into staying for rest of day.”
“That’s great! I mean…I’m glad you’ll stay. I promise you as long you’re with me, you’re safe.”
“I hope so,” she softly whispered. She wanted to believe she was safe but her heart told her otherwise.
The rest of the day was uneventful. She spent most of the day looking distant and scared until I decided it might be nice if we watched some movies. She got a kick out of comedies. To my surprise she was a Simpsons fan, big one, too. She said that Lisa reminded her of her sister, bright and outspoken. It made her want to go home more so than before.
“I can help you get home if you’ll let me.”
“How?” She asked.
“Zladko is looking for you, and you want to get away from him. Well, I’ve seen a couple of movies and I think the best way for you to get home without him knowing is with a fake ID and a wig.”
“Isn’t your government looking for fake IDs?” she asked.
“I don’t think they’ll give you a second glance (unless it’s for other more obvious reasons!); you don’t look Mid-Eastern. Worse comes to worse: if you’re caught, just tell them the truth.”
She thought about it for a minute. “Where do you get ID?”
“I have a friend at the station who can make one. Give me until tomorrow. I promise I’ll bring you to him, and as soon as it’s made, I’ll take you to the airport.”
She thought about it for a moment. She knew leaving immediately might attract unwanted attention.
“Tomorrow, first thing. Dawn.” She agreed.
“We can leave right before if you like,” I agreed, but inside I didn’t. Her choice, which by all means was the best one for her, would take her away from me. I wished with all my heart something would happen to keep us together-Some wishes come true, but not how you expect them.
I put some water in a kettle and started to boil it. I figured some tea would calm her. Maybe because I was paying to much attention to the crackling of the boiling water, I missed the jingling of my locks. Suddenly my apartment door opened.
“Kristina,” I was going to say, “run!” when something like a brick KO’d me in the jaw. Before I could compose myself, a tree trunk crashed into my ribs, again, and again. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t breathe, and for a moment I was some place else. But it was only a moment. Kristina’s voice brought me back. When I opened my eyes, I saw her struggling and kicking in the arms of some olive-skinned man.
“Don’t damage her!” a foreign voice ordered from the doorway. I turned to get a look at him but got a giant boot under my chin instead. I fell back, wondering my jaw was broken. Surprisingly, it wasn’t.
“DAVID!” she shouted, breaking free of her captor’s grip and throwing herself on top of me like a mother protecting a cub. She was bawling her eyes out.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw him, dressed in a full-striped Armani suit and a pink shirt from Brookes Brothers, slicked back hair and expensive cologne, with a cigarette in his mouth: Zladko.
“You shouldn’t turn your cell phone on!” he screamed at Kristina, pulling her by the hair. “Did you not think I’d have GPS?” he continued, slapping her across the face. She had no idea what he was talking about. She thought her phone was off the whole time she was here.
This was my fault. I turned on her phone to learn about her and brought this on the both of us. I had to make this right. I tried to get up but the giant goon stomped on my fingertips. I was powerless. He ordered the olive-skinned goon to put her mink coat on her.
“Zladko! Leave him alone!” she pleaded and his man covered her mouth.
“Silence!” he yelled at her and gestured toward his goon, who pulled out a piece and placed it between her red lips. Her eyes widened with fear. “You’ve done enough.” Said Zladko. “I ask questions, I get answers. Your sister safe. You on other hand make big mistake and have to pay! Take to car, now!” he ordered. They dragged Kristina away. His attention turned toward me.
“What she tell you?” he demanded, smashing my face into the floor.
“Nothing, really. I just met her last night.”
He slapped me.“You lying!”
“Only that she came here to get money for her sister.”
“What else?” He kicked me in the ribs, “WHAT ELSE?”
“I told you, don’t lie to me!” he shouted, putting his cigarette out on my forehead. “One way or ‘nother, you dead. It all question of how much you cooperate. Tell me what I need to know and everything happen quickly. Give me nothing, slow and painful. Now tell me, how much she tell you!”
When someone tells you they’re going to kill you, does it really matter if you give them the information they want? They’re going to kill you anyway, so why bother? At least, that’s what I thought as this piece of Eurotrash got in my face. He was going to take my life and still threatened me. The only satisfaction I could have was going to my grave, knowing I didn’t give him what he wanted. Yeah, that would be a good death. So I did the one thing a helpless man staring at a stone cold killer could do: I spat on him. What did I have to lose? I was dead anyway. The answer: a few teeth.
He repeatedly hit me in the face. But the anger and the frustration in him made the pain all worthwhile. Then, his phone rang.
“What?” he yelled into the receiver. “Uh huh. She’s ‘calm’ now? Be right there.” He hung up.
“I go now,” he told his big goon. “Finish him. Meet at graveyard’ finish whore there!” His man nodded. Zladko gave him a set of keys and slammed my door. The whistle on my teakettle went off while the big goon grabbed me by the shoulder and threw me into my kitchen.
When fighting for your life against someone bigger, do whatever it takes to survive. If it means sacrificing your body, so be it. If it means getting scalded, so be it. You’re dead if you do nothing, so you might as well do something. Right? I took the hot teakettle right off the burner and threw the water in his face. He screamed! Immediately, I smashed his face onto the burner. I don’t how long I held it but I was turning up the heat the whole time. He screamed louder than anyone I’ve heard before. The air smelled like charred flesh and gas. I let him up, he clutched his face in agony. I remembered one thing from my days at the academy: if a perp is down restrain him with minimal force. But this was not the academy and I was no longer a cop.
I smashed him over the head with a plate. Its funny: since I’m too lazy to do dishes, I always have a fresh stack. Gonna have to thank my parents for those. I pulled a steak knife out from the drawer and plunged it into his testicles. He screamed louder than when I burned him. I plunged again, this time into the soft spot of his knee. Finally, I took the knife to his jugular; blood flowed from his neck like a fountain.
I fell into a cold sweat, my limbs shook, and I vomited. It took me only a few seconds to stand up and turn off the burner, but it felt like an hour. Despite my police training, nothing prepared me for the stark reality of taking a life with my own hands.
I stood there looking at the bloody mess of the man upon the floor, wondering how I got into this mess. Kristina. I turned on her cell phone and now Zladko was going to kill her. I had to get to the cemetery. At that moment all the pain within me went away, her life was in my hands.
I got my shotgun and a .45, and stole the keys off the goon’s body. A Dodge Viper, I guess crime does pay. I didn’t have time to think about how I was probably going to hell. A girl’s life was at stake. I quickly exited my apartment when I bumped into my neighbor, Mr. McGuilicutty.
“Might’ late to be ‘avin’ a party eh Dave?”
I didn’t bother explaining the details I just had to get out of there. “Listen, Mr. McGulicutty, there was an attempted robbery in my apartment and I used lethal force to subdue the guy. Call the police!”
“Wot?” he gasped.
“Just do it!” I yelled back while darting down the stairwell. I found the Viper waiting for me in the parking lot. I got in and floored it.
I violated every traffic law in the book. I ran red lights. I went dark to avoid policemen. I had to get to her. I knew this girl was trouble: someone like her doesn’t just show up in a bar and everything’s all ‘happily ever after’ (especially not in my life). I was probably going to get killed. Why bother, I hardly knew her? I led them to her. If only I hadn’t turned on her blasted phone. I turned on the radio, hoping to calm down. Our song was playing:
“What a wicked game to play
To make me feel this way
What a wicked thing to do
To let me dream of you”
I arrived at the graveyard; nobody was there. Yet. I had time to plan so I wouldn’t have to improvise. Fifteen minutes later, a Mercedes pulled up. Zladko had arrived. I couldn’t let him see me; it would blow my plans.
“Pepe,” he called out.
“Yes,” I answered, doing the best foreign accent I could.
“Where are you?”
“Just taking piss.”
“Did you do task?”
“Uh…muy perfecto,” I answered. He turned away while I shimmied up the tree. If I had any chance of rescuing her, it was taking to the high ground.
“Where you now?”
“Up tree. Look out for witnesses,” I answered. To my amazement he bought it.
I waited while a hearse parked near an empty plot. Zladko opened its back and unloaded an empty coffin. Three minutes later, another Mercedes pulls up. The driver parks and pops the trunk. There she was, my Kristina, helplessly struggling. Her arms and legs tightly bound, her mouth roughly gagged. “MMMPHHHHH MMMPHH” she muffled.
They locked her in the coffin, lowered it, and began shoveling dirt on top of it. I could still hear her muffled screams through the wooden casing. I couldn’t believe they were burying her alive, and the only thing standing between her and a slow agonizing death was myself. ‘Alright, hero,’ I told myself, ‘it’s time to make your stand!’
I took out the big guy guarding Zladko. Everyone scatters. I use that to my advantage: My next shot got one of the goons burying my girl. I shot the other before his brain registered what had happened. I still heard Kristina’s muffled screams. One target and two shells left: Zladko. Perfect. Unfortunately for me, Zladko pulled his piece first.
CA-RACK! His bullet pierced my shoulder. My bones splitting, tendons ripping like torn thread.
“AHHHH,” I screamed and fell, hitting my bad shoulder on the ground. I crawled along the grass while Zladko sprinted toward me. I was a dead man. The muffled screams of Kristina inspired me to keep going.
“Supposed to be dead!” he shouted, the full force of his expensive shoes kicking me like I was a soccer ball. “Should’ve done job, ‘self.”
I used my good arm to draw my .45 and shot him in the leg. Next, I mounted him and dug two of my fingers into his eye as deeply as I could. He screamed and released his weapon. Good. I kept digging ‘til my fingers were under his eyeball. I pulled it out. He screamed so loud my ears rang. I bought myself some time and leveled the playing field. I got to his gun; unfortunately, he got to mine. It was all or nothing for both of us.
I tackled him from behind but he was able to get on his back while I mounted him. We both had guns, whoever fired first was the winner. I shoved the shaft of my gun into his empty eye socket. He was stunned momentarily.
His brains splattered across the headstones and grass. I was going to hell. I’d murdered five people that night in cold blood. I would’ve prayed for forgiveness but I had a more pressing matter to attend to: An angel that needed to be saved. I prayed I wasn’t too late and hoped saving her life would offset the bloodshed.
I jumped in the open plot and opened the coffin as fast as I could. Her eyes were closed, her body pale from dissipating oxygen. I removed her gag, hoping it wasn’t too late. She opened her eyes: vulnerable, admiring, cerulean eyes that melted my heart. I untied and held her close. Her tears moistened my shoulder.
I took her to the Viper. Once inside she nestled into my bad shoulder. The relief on her face was enough for me to ignore the pain. I kissed her brow, and she smiled like a child tucked into bed. I started the car and turned on the radio. Our song was playing:
Now I wanna fall in love…(the world is only gonna break your heart)… with you!”
Couldn’t agree more.
“Wicked Game” lyrics are owned by Chris Issak
Photo: The Lovely Torrie Wilson
Copyright ã 2008 Todd Matthy