“Oh Christ, you don’t even fucking want me to get started on those sons-of-bitches.” I took another swig of cheap beer and put my dirty glass back on the bar. I watched the tiny amber bubbles in the beer stream upwards from the bottom of the glass.
“Couple of hooligans, were they, eh?” I swiveled on my seat to face Steppe. Vacant pinball games sparkled their cheap plastic glitter in the fuzzy background. The bar was empty. It was late.
“Sunny Fields,” I mused, looking back at the bubbles rising continuously to the top of the beer left in my glass. “And August Meadows. Total good-for-nothings. They were in my class, you know. ’87.” I moaned, jokingly. “Saw both those bastards every day for four years...those bastards.” I chuckled, slowly shaking my head, thinking back to the old days. “We really were all just a bunch of kids back then...” And up the bubbles floated. Trickling up and up forever. Where did they come from?
“You must have had a hoot with them fellas, back in your academy days...” prompted Steppe. I swiveled to face Steppe again. Unoccupied casino games in the background laughed and flashed illusory visions of wealth to nobody in particular, fool’s gold and costume jewelry. The bar was quiet, most of the lights were off; the corners were dark. Tables and booths were empty. A mop and a bucket of filthy slime were standing on the brown tile beside the restroom door.
“Oh, God yeah. Shit...those guys?” With my good arm, I picked up my glass, drained it, and set it back on the counter-top loudly. The bartender didn’t notice, or at least, he pretended not to. He was sitting on his stool, watching a pre-recorded football game. “I could tell you one or two stories about them, but first,” I said loudly, “I’m going to need another drink!”
The bartender watched the game for a few more seconds and then put it on pause. Sighing, he reluctantly got up from his stool. He was obviously annoyed.
“Another pint for you, sir?” he asked irritably with his tired face and sloppy jowls, with an emphasis on ‘another’. I nodded and turned to face Steppe. I half-smiled. He got out his wallet and placed his card on the scummy bar-top. He tapped it once with his index finger and slid it to the tired old man after my glass had been refilled.
I picked it up. As I lifted it to my lips, some of the head overflowed and ran down the side. I felt the liquid, cold on my fingers. I took a deep draught. The same little bubbles glided smoothly down my throat, fizzing and tickling. That’s really where they belonged. I savored the sensation.
“Well?” Steppe prodded, “tell me something.” A cigarette vending machine stood silently against the wall by the locked front door.
I took another swallow of beer and thought for a moment. “The good old days. What’s a good story...?” Steppe waited while I traveled back in time. “Fields and Meadows, those pranksters...”
“I’ve got it. Let me tell you about this one time -”
The barkeep returned Steppe’s card. I sharply stopped mid-sentence and watched the old man with disdain; my eyes deliberately followed him all the way back to his stool. It took a moment. He turned the football game back on. I hate interruptions.
I resumed. “You wouldn’t believe what those bastards did to me this one time.” I took another swallow of beer, this time relishing the sensation of having an audience. Smiling, I coughed a little. I took another look around the bar. I would tell Steppe the story in my own sweet time. We were the only people still there. Steppe knew the old bartender – name of Paddock – and so he let me stay after the shop was closed down. For some reason, this kid Steppe looked up to an alcoholic like me; crippled, one-armed, discharged, pensioner. Always asked me to come around and tell him war stories and the like. And he bought me drinks. So in that regard, he was a supplement to my annuity, I guess. Plus, talking to someone after all this time gave me a kick. And Steppe was going to be a cadet in the navy just like I was, once upon a time. Starry-eyed, idealistic, ready to make a difference, geared up to fight ‘the bad-guys’ and all that horseshit.
“Well, it happened at this one party. It was, what...” I paused for a long time. The game quietly droned on in the background. Steppe waited patiently. I looked down at the floor. It was stained and covered with pretzel crumbs. “Fifteen years ago? Fifteen? Fifteen years, already?” I thought, flipping back a mental calendar of events. “Yeah, because I had just been detailed to that cruiser. Thirty-month mission...my first ship. You know. I told you about that, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, I remember. You gave the first officer a fat lip one week out of port?”
“Yeah that’s the one.” I chuckled, remembered what it felt like to cut a knuckle on a superior officer’s front teeth. “I decked him, all right.” Good memories.
“Right, so anyway,” I continued, “there was like...a going-away party for everybody who’d landed assignments. We were all graduating. There was a shitload of guys there. Well, I don’t know...fifty or sixty at least. I recognized most of them. They were all from the academy.”
“Me, Fields, Meadows, and a whole bunch of the other graduates and even some of the COs of the academy all pitched in and rented out this club downtown. It had become something of a yearly tradition. A ‘gentleman’s’ club, was what it was called, technically. I’d been there a couple of times, you know. Everybody had. Because, you know: they didn’t let that many women into the academy back then.” I paused to think. Steppe didn’t understand me. “So this place was, you know...where all the guys went when they had...off. Catch my drift? It was...one of those places.” Steppe looked at me, his boyish smile slowly fading. He still wasn’t picking up my meaning.
“Don’t you get it? It was a special kind of club, you see. They sold more than drinks, you understand?” I chuckled, hoping he would. He didn’t. I gave up.
“But okay. So they were gonna have a bunch of, like, uh...strippers there, right?” I said like a conspirator. “You have to remember: I was just a kid like you. Like I said, this was what? Fifteen years ago?”
“That’s what you said.” His eyes were wide.
“Well, one of these...strippers...she was a - say...how old are you again, Steppe?” I looked at him quizzically, enjoying the feeling of being a mentor.
“I’m seventeen, sir,” Steppe said, preemptively protesting any censorship. That’s plenty old in the New World.
“Seventeen? That’s unfortunate...” I said under my breath, thinking back.
“Unfortunate? What do you mean? You’re not going to tell me this story?” Steppe looked crushed, agape.
“No, no...of course seventeen’s old enough. Old enough...it’s just that that’s my unlucky number, that’s all.” I was still thinking back.
Steppe looked nonplussed.
“I only asked your age because this story...it’s just that this story is a little...shall we say...” I considered my word choice. “Unwholesome.” After another swig of beer, I grinned and added: “sexually.”
Steppe started grinning too and had a sip of his beer to hide it. He tried not to grimace at the flavor of the brew and looked back at me with concealed admiration. “Go on, sir,” he nudged.
Young men everywhere, a sea of them. A throng. The testosterone was almost a palpable presence in the air. Jacked up: really ripped like motherfuckers, crew cuts, chiseled features, sharp uniforms, shiny boots. Ready for war. Every sailor in the place knew he’d get his chance, myself included.
But this was not the time.
I had a drink in my hand.
The bass pulsed, sub-sonic. Rattling teeth and bones. You could feel it like ten-ton-hammer of compressed air, pounding your body every second. Feel it in your chest. Seamless, ceaseless. You couldn’t resist: you moved with its throbbing patterns. Everyone knew the song and moved with you. Everybody else was partying. Everybody had a drink. Why the hell not? It could be the last time.
Laser lights spun around, flashing blue and gold and red bolts all around the room, too fast to watch. Spotlights illuminated the heads of the crowd. Disjoint images flashed in the light of the pulsing strobes. Every action was captured and mechanically separated for the eye into each of its minute constituent motions.
The room was hot, stifling, crammed with dozens of virile youths. My short-cropped hair glistened with sweat. It ran down my back in streams. The sweat made my navy tunic stick to my body like latex. Everybody was soaked. A lot of guys had taken off their shirts completely. You could see their muscles ripple to the thumping of the music. Others at least had their uniforms unbuttoned, untucked.
In lovely contrast, I felt the cold, slippery can of beer in my fingers. The aluminum was wet. It had been in an icy cooler. I lifted it to my waiting lips. Tipping the can upwards, I delighted in the flavor of the beer rushing into my mouth, down my throat. My head bounced to the music, beads of sweat flying off and catching the strobe light on time-lapse trajectories.
I had been standing by the bar, tossing back drinks for most of the evening, when everything suddenly receded and was replaced by an ominous sense of foreboding. The music faded, the crowd grew distant, the heat withdrew from my body. Despite the sensory overload in the club, I noticed, above all else, a prickly sensation as the hair on the nape of my neck stood up. My eyes widened, my senses jumped back onto alert. Inexplicably, I was suddenly beset by a pressing sense of alarm. The beer had gotten me relaxed and the music already had me loosened up. Now I tensed with an odd feeling of trepidation. I knew somehow that something untoward was about to happen. I slowly scanned the room, trusting my instinctual anxiety, warning me to be careful. Every sensation was sharpened, heightened, intensified.
My eyes lighted upon the reason for my apprehension. Two reasons, to be precise. With uncanny flair for detecting scoundrels, I saw Fields and Meadows making their way to me picking through the crowd. That was why my instinct told me to expect something terrible to happen to me! Fuckers! My first impulse was to turn around and get away from them. Turn around and get away. Whenever I got together with those two guys, something wrong always happened to me that left them in tears, laughing. Blighters! I was just about to bolt when Fields made eye contact with me. He raised his arm in salute. I smiled wanly and toasted him with my half-full beer, recoiling inside. I was had.
Those fun-loving fuckers were up to no good as always, that much was certain. I recalled, for instance, the crippling blow dealt to my finances when I went out with them gambling at some seedy dive they introduced me to. In fact, I was still recovering from that economic setback. Fields and Meadows were on the prowl for victims, looking for some silly sod to fuck over for their amusement. Looked like it was my turn.
They had no problem getting through the crowd; everybody who saw who they were got out of their way, as if merely the slightest physical contact with either of them would occasion inevitable ruin.
The scorned figures arrived. “Whoa, nice threads! Just get those washed?” screamed Fields over the pulverizing sound in the room, smirking. He fiddled with my undone collar, and unfastened a few more buttons. My chest glistened with sweat.
“Whatta you guys want?” I yelled.
“Wanna enjoy our last night together, little man!” Fields.
“Hell yeah dude!” Meadows. Both were rocking to the music.
I wasn’t biting. They were up to something. “Well, enjoy yourselves! I think I’m going to find someone over there I rather talk to!” I gestured to the farthest corner of the room. “Excuse m – “
The lights became red. The music slowed. A curtain parted. Doors opened. A masculine cheer rose at once from the mass.
“Dude, yes! The strippers are here!” Fields was beaming like a moron, looking all around him.
Out came the girls. A ton of them. Strutting out onto the stage, hopping up on tables, stepping up onto the bar. Earring jingling. Collars, leather, braids. Girls of all descriptions. Long legs, taut bodies, shapely, pleasing, available. Blonds, redheads, brunettes. Some glowing with ardor for carnal intercourse. Others sinful, licentious harlots, ardent and inflamed. Some brisk, rough, ready, strong, full of vitality and verve. Lusty. Still more exquisite and graceful. Swaying like saplings, revealing themselves; sumptuous, lavish, delicious. All really working the crowd. Poised, polished magnetizing, and alluring. Selling their charm and refinement. Shining with sweat and pubescent vigor. My heart was beating painfully. My skin was flushed. Every one of them exactly matched the description of ‘my type’.
Every male in the club, myself, Fields, and Meadows included, watched the various dancers with rapt attention. Red spotlights followed all of them. Every eye in the place was glued to one girl or another, or flitting between several with undecided agony as to which was the more beautiful. Once in a while, one girl would finish her routine and be offered a drink and a stool by the bar. Sometimes another girl would emerge and take her place. The highest-paying patrons, even though we were all just getting out of the academy and were all therefore pretty poor, would reach an agreement with a girl. They’d go downstairs together.
I sipped my beer, watching the proceedings covetously. One bastard after another would lead a girl through a door, down a staircase, and to a waiting bed. Thanks in no small part to Fields and Meadows, I didn’t have the money to have a really good time. Just to add insult to injury, I had to sit here and watch the girls, whom I couldn’t afford, with the two guys responsible for the lamentable state of affairs. I tried hard to make myself content with just watching the strip show. I struggled to put all other desires out of my mind and concentrated on drinking as much beer as I could.
Meadows interrupted my self-pity session. “Man,” he yelled, beckoning me closer so that he could be heard over the techno. “Dude, let me ask you a simple question. Is she fuckable, or what?” He pointed to one of the girls who, finished with her routine, was now standing by the bar. With his other hand he took a swig of beer.
“Yeah, of course. She’s hot as hell. So?”
“Well, so go for it!”
Even in my state of intoxication, I knew that he must have been joking, ridiculing me. She was not an option. She was out of my price range for sure. All thanks to the damned high jinks of theirs at the casino that bankrupted me. “Fuck off, guys. I don’t need you bastards to taunt me with this bullshit.” I started to turn to leave.
Fields stayed me with a hand on my shoulder and spoke up, grinning like an idiot. “No, man. You don’t understand.” He shook his head slowly. His teeth were bright violet in the black light. He looked at me with an intensity that bespoke conspiratorial excitement. “Dude, that’s what she’s for. We paid her already!”
Meadows clasped my sweaty hand in his. “Me and Fields,” he yelled, trying his best to look contrite, “we feel...sorry...about what happened to you at the casino. We, in a way, almost feel responsible.”
“Almost. Almost!? Almost feel responsible? You fuckers! You are fucking respon - ”
“So anyway, we did this to make it up to you.” He let go of my hand and extended his arm in the direction of the girl. “Ta-DA!”
Fields chimed in, jovial as a dimwit. “We also feel bad about that, uh,” he raised his eyebrows, “accidental mix-up, with your train-tickets that one time.” Yeah, I hadn’t forgotten that one either. “Did feel a little bad about that one...” A little?
“Oh!” he remembered, “and for that time when we got a hold of your card and used your public account to buy all those gay pornos and blow-up dolls and dildos and stuff.” An event that was also still vivid in my mind. “And for when the whole academy found out...damned if I know how, though...” he said, sardonically.
“And for breaking into your locker and – “
Meadows hastily cut in. “SHUT UP! Shut up, he doesn’t know about that yet!” Meadows glared at Fields and then looked back to me, smiling. “Um. Just a joke.” Fields looked a little more sallow than normal. He raised his arms to Meadows in a conciliatory gesture. Broke into my locker? What?
“Yeah! Just kidding, uh...ha ha.”
I looked at them skeptically. It was forgotten.
Meadows appeared to be penitent enough. “Man. Please. To show there are no hard feelings, Fields and I sprung for this wench over there. She’s all yours, no strings attached, all night long if you want her.” He looked at me intensely with seeming sincerity. “It’s on us.”
I looked over at her, past the throngs of guys who were still dancing to the rhythm, swilling brew, and making arrangements with prostitutes of their own. She was leaning against the bar. A couple of guys next to her were trying to speak with her. She kept shaking her head ‘no’.
“See that? She’s reserved for you, man!”
They were for real. I couldn’t see how this could be one of their tricks. Everything seemed genuine. Wow. This was going to be a blast! I hadn’t been able to afford a woman since that casino fiasco. I was about due. Overdue, really. This was really great! Fields and Meadows weren’t bad guys after all! Hell, they were downright terrific! Got me a real-live woman for me to spend my last night here with.
Meadows must have seen my smile, ear to ear. “No need to thank us! You deserve it! I admit: we were assholes!” He held out his hand. “Friends?”
I considered it for a moment and thought back to what was waiting for me at the bar. I took his hand and shook it hard. I didn’t see any danger; no predictable situation is dangerous. And I knew exactly what was going to happen; I was going to get laid for free. When he let go of my hand, I gave Fields and Meadows each a little salute. “Don’t wait up for me guys: I’ll be down there all night long!” They were grinning at me and at each other.
“Don’t worry about it, man. You should just go right over there and kiss her! Just do it! ‘That that is, is.’ Shakespeare’s Hermit of fuckin’ Prague, my man.” Meadows had a point: if Shakespeare wrote it, it had to right, right?
I started walking toward the woman. Meadows saluted me with a ‘hoo-yeah’ as I glanced back over my shoulder for reassurance. Fields was cheerful as a simpleton. ‘That that is, is.’ Hell yeah: that’s my doctrine.
She waited for me to arrive. She watched me approach. Suddenly I stood by her, and leaned against the bar. Even in my drunken state I didn’t have the effrontery just to kiss her as Meadows had suggested. That could wait anyway. I took a swig of beer instead. I signaled her to come closer to me with my free hand. She craned her neck to bring her ear close. She smelled strongly of perfume. I gazed at her slender neck. I had to yell to be heard over the music. “So, my friends over there,” I gestured with a sweeping arm motion, still admiring her neck, “they tell me that, uh...that is, Fields and Meadows said that you were paid to, uh...” I made a rolling ‘you know’ motion with my hand.
She straightened up and stared at me impassively, defiantly silent. I was struggling with my speech. It was a little slurred from the alcohol. But I had to impress her, I had to act like a gentleman, and I had to sound intelligent, so I did my best to stay coherent.
I continued, screaming, hurting my throat. “To, uh...you know...” I swallowed, salved the rawness with some more cold beer. “Paid for everything. Already.” I paused, actually starting to feel uncomfortable to be having this conversation. I scanned the room. Everyone was holding drink or else in the process of procuring another one. Everyone was ogling the dancers that were still on the stage or on the bar-top, lithe, languid, seductive, dark-eyed, and unblushing, swinging around poles, tossing off garments. The men’s bodies bobbed and swayed to the music. The women dipped and writhed. I spotted Fields and Meadows staring right at me. Meadows was shouting something to me from across the room. The music was way too loud for me to hear him, but that didn’t stop me from understanding his message. He was mouthing the words: ‘Fuck yeah!’ and swinging his fist in the air, to the rhythm. Fields was grinning like an idiot and shaking his head. This was cool.
I screwed up all my drunken beer-courage. Gotta live. Yell. “They said they paid you to go all the way,” I blurted, all at once. Tact did not exist in my universe. “With me.” Howling.
She cupped her hand over my ear. Effulgent skin and teeth in black light. “You want to have sex with me.” Her voice came clearly over the din. Her sweet breath washed over my skin, bracing, cool, as if from an angel’s trumpet. She spoke with a frankness that startled me, even though I was toasted. But I could roll with that. Yeah. Like that guy Rousseau always said: transparency, right? If we could all just cut through the bullshit, and the deceit, and the opacity of normal conversation, then everything would be a lot simpler. Honesty. Truth. I thought back to class.
I shook my head vigorously with assent. “Ya know, uh...Miss: ‘success may have it’s day, but there are centuries for the good that can be done by truth’”. She looked at me with no trace of emotion on her face, clearly not understanding a word I was saying. Oh well, I was drunk; I didn’t understand myself either. “Anyway! So, yeah! I wanna have sex with you!”
“Let’s go then.”
Before I could say ‘okay,’ she took my hand and, turning, began leading me somewhere deep into the bowels of the establishment. We were moving. We pushed our way through the throngs. Some of the guys looked first at me and then appraisingly looked up and down the girl who was leading me. I got a few smirks, a few thumbs-ups, smiling nods, and even laughs. I felt like a king. I strode proudly behind the beauty. I looked over my shoulder. Fields and Meadows were following at a self-consciously inconspicuous distance. That fact should have troubled me for at least moment, but I was too excited to care a whit.
I traced the petit outline of the girl. Her skin-tight, white, one-piece jumpsuit left little about her fantastic body to the imagination. I watched her ass move as she walked elegantly, catlike, through the club, lush and fertile. It glided with a smooth motion at every step. Her thighs were taut, strong, and athletic. I looked at her shoulders. Her black hair was done up in a casual bun, and wisps and strands of it had come loose, tickling her face and neck. Her arms were thin, sinewy. Her chest was small; she stood perfectly straight to maximize its apparent size. Glitter sparkled in her hair and on her neck and face. Craning my neck, I could see her nipples projecting out against the tight white plastic jumpsuit. Her appearance was only the more delicious because I knew that it was all mine. I tried to calm down. I wanted to make this last all night.
We walked past the restrooms. Cracked porcelain, inoperable toilets, phone-number graffiti, broken mirrors, broken blow-dryers, overflowing trashcans, overflowing urinals, smashed bottles, missing light bulbs. The only thing that worked was the condom vending machine. I noticed a couple of guys helping one of their friends stagger inside before he threw up. The poor bastard was in a cold sweat, clutching his stomach, his eyes clamped shut, trying to breathe, his steps faltering. When they opened up the door for their buddy, I chuckled at the sight of two other guys passed-out on the tile in puddles of puke. No such thing as too much fun?
She used a key around her neck that I hadn’t noticed to open a door. She inserted the key, turned it gingerly, and pushed through. We passed into a different dimension. The music faded. No more jagged drums, frantic cowbells, keyboards, synthesizers. The bass alone penetrated the thick walls of the basement. It was a dull, monotonous pulsation rumbling from upstairs. My ears were ringing. It had become so quiet. I walked down a rickety metal staircase and followed her into a long, dimly lit hallway that was lined on either side with numbered doors. Fluorescent flickering and buzzing. Bugs crawled at diagonals on the walls, antennas flaring. Warm puddles of beer on cracked cement. Condom wrappers. They were all bedrooms; pay by the half-hour. The walls were painted some drab pink color.
We were alone. “Turn around, baby.” My words echoed down the hallway and up the staircase. She turned at once, putting a hand on her hips. I put my hands on her shoulders.
“What’s your name?” I was stupid-drunk; you weren’t supposed to ask that.
“Call me whatever you like.” She didn’t blink.
The apathetic girl had changed now that we were no longer under a black light. She seemed more frail. More than just delicate – puny. Her skin was only lightly tanned, her teeth shiny and white. Her eyes were still black. So was her stringy hair. Lots of make-up, eye-shadow, lip-stick, glitter. Her face was a little eerie, almost mask-like. I thought I heard someone on the stairs, but it must have been my imagination.
She waited to see if I was finished, and then led me to a dingy bedroom. Number seventeen. She swung the door open. It squeaked uneasily on rusty hinges. She strode inside and turned on a cheap lamp that sat on a cheap end table that was beside a cheap bed with a filthy mattress and a spotty sheet. It was more like a cubicle than a room. There were no other furnishings. It was tiny; three by three meters, probably. No window or anything. The carpet reeked of beer and something else I didn’t even want to try to identify. I’d been in rooms like this before.
Making myself at home, I jumped into the room and spread out on the bed. Took a deep breath to clear my head. Trembling with excitement of the orgy to come. I breathed. Staring up at the cracks in the ceiling and savoring the moment, something made me think back to some pornography I read in a baroque literature class I had once. The strangest things pop into your head sometimes.
I sat up and swung my feet over the side of the bed, facing the girl. “What do you want me to do?” she asked. She stood by the flimsy door drearily and waited for me to give her an instruction. I looked at her, top to bottom. I enjoyed the moment, trying to squeeze every delicious drop of anticipation. I made her wait.
One by one, with shaking fingers, I undid the rest of the buttons on my shirt and tunic and tossed both garments to the floor in a heap. Then I removed my sweat-soaked undershirt, threw it on top. My legs crossed, I began unlacing my boots slowly, first one and then the other. I left my boots loose on my feet. Cool air flooded in; I wiggled my sweltering toes, letting my skin breathe. It felt good. My belt buckle was loosed, my pants unbuttoned, unzipped. I stood up slowly before the girl. I was much taller than she. My pants fell around my ankles.
I was in a good mood; felt like I was in charge. I was; I liked that.
“Remove the interdict from that which is protected,” I said theatrically, playfully applying one of the phrases I somehow remembered.
“I’ve never heard of that before,” she said blankly.
“Guide the guilty man to your low dungeons,” I proffered, still enjoying the situation I had unexpectedly found myself in.
“Please rephrase,” came her dull response.
“Dip my pen into your inkwell?” I pressed.
“I’m not familiar with that position.” Nothing.
“Thrust my sword into your scabbard?”
“Please restate instruction.” Still nothing.
“Burn my firewood in your stove?”
“Please re– “ Forget it.
“Let’s just fuck, okay?” Annoyed. She wasn’t playful at all. Fine. “Get undressed.”
She brought her hand to her neck and began tugging gently on the zipper than ran down the front of her white plastic jumpsuit. It was tight around her neck, her breasts, her hips, her thighs. She jerked the zipper down by degrees. Tug. Her neck was thin, lovely, fragile. Tug. Outlines of her ribs were just visible beneath the soft skin of her chest. Frail. Tug. The slight curvature of her insubstantial breasts became visible. Pasty. Tug. Her navel in the center of a caved-in, pale tummy. Tug. A few dark, wispy hairs. The zipper was undone, a light strip of flesh revealed down her middle. She stared into the distance impassively. Pure and profane.
I was ready.
“I’ll tell you something,” I slurred drunkenly, high on adrenaline. “The only decent thing about this stinking world, the only thing that’s worth a damn...” I stepped toward her. “...is our passions.” I was close to her, near enough to smell her perfume again. “...The fulfillment of our passions,” I amended. I put my hands on her shoulders and drew close.
“All the misery in the world,” I whispered slowly in her ear, “stems from the inhibition,” my lips brushing against her skin, “of those passions.” I grasped her zipper and began pulling it up and down casually, teasingly. She looked at once tender and lacerating. “They can make us miserable,” I intoned, “when they are denied.”
I pulled her close, putting my mouth all over her neck, grabbing handfuls of her greedily, trying to suck her up, pressing her hotly against me. She seemed a little less than willing; obstinately reluctant. No matter. I squeezed her small, weak body, smothering her, tight, damp. I pushed against her. She pushed back, slipped out of my grip, stepped away.
“That’s the tiniest prick I’ve ever seen in my life!”
“Huh!?” Come back. Come again?
“Get that thing away from me,” she said with derision, wrinkling her nose and walking backward toward the door. She opened it and took a step out into the hall, zipping her jumpsuit back up to her neck haughtily.
I took a moment while my mind grappled to comprehend the turn the situation had just taken. Dumbfounded. I was denied? “What the fuck?!” There I was. A moment passed. Alone in the room, pants still pulled down, wondering what in the hell just happened. Bass throbbed tediously from upstairs. “But! They paid!”
She paused, looking at me over her shoulder. “Oh, and you’re a lousy kisser, too!” she added, offhandedly.
“Hey! A – what?! I never even – “
That’s when I heard surreptitious snickering outside in the hallway. Sounded like two guys...Fields and Meadows! Those fuckers did it to me again! Humiliated me again! Ah, cunning; the knowledge of human weakness.
Shirtless, I pulled up my pants loosely and ran out of the room.
She stood in the hallway between Fields and Meadows.
Meadows asked me how it went, through thunderous guffaws. I was infuriated, breathing hard, wasn’t listening, wasn’t thinking. “Get you sword sheathed there, big guy?” He pointed his thumb over at the girl, who was humorlessly watching me.
Fields was as merry as an imbecile.
Meadows stepped closer, jeering, too close to me, right in my face, filling my view, filling my ears, my thoughts. “’Oh! Dip my pen in your inkwell! Dip my pen in – ‘“
I nailed him savagely with a right hook square to the teeth. I felt a sharp pain on my knuckles as his teeth left deep gashes in my skin. Bones inside my hands and wrist seemed to snap and crack.
Meadows made a deep grunting noise as he absorbed the full might of the unexpected blow. His mouth and jaw were crushed by the force, his buck-teeth staved in by bony fist. His head jerked back and bounced off of the cement wall on his way down to the floor. He whimpered as his knees gave out, limp. He crumpled like a dry leaf. He was already out cold even as he began to collapse. Slow motion to the bottom. Then his head bounced off of the cement floor. The sound echoed down the corridor. He came to rest. A pool of dark blood slowly began to expand across the floor from his mouth. A tooth or two may have been floating in it.
Though I was satisfied by the state to which I had so easily reduced him, his injury was only an event that was occurring on the periphery of my senses. I was too preoccupied by my own pain to enjoy the afterglow of such a fulfilling release of emotion.
“Oh, God!” I bawled. “My fuckin’ wrist!” I shook my hand about in agony as I staggered and hopped around the hallway pointlessly, trying to escape the pain. Blood spattered on the garishly pink wall and trickled down to the concrete floor. I didn’t know if it came from the slashes left in my fist by Meadow’s incisors or from his wrecked mouth itself. It really wasn’t important whose blood it was anyway. Felt like my wrist was sprained though; it hurt to move it. I couldn’t bend my fingers at all. Pain pulsed all over me. “God - damn!”
Meadows was only out for a second, and was already recovering fast. He seemed groggy and disoriented, but at least now he was partially conscious. He struggled to his feet, coughing through thick phlegm and sticky, hot blood. Meadows feebly looked at me with wonder as he hurriedly stumbled in the direction of the stairs and safety. Globs of black blood were dripping from his gaping mouth and gore-slicked teeth as he scurried away. The front of his shirt was matted with blood. It was a lot of blood, a conspicuous amount, really. He was probably going to need some dental work. At least I could be confident that Fields and Meadows didn’t have any friends to avenge my affront.
That reminded me: there we still one more devilish rascal to punish. I paused to leer at Fields menacingly, shaking my crushed hand in white, throbbing pain. Fields was mortified. Eyes wide, focused on me, terrified, knowing that he was next on my list. I watched his adam’s apple convulsing in fear. He crept backwards past the callous bitch they hired to humiliate me, putting her between us, a human shield for him. Curiously, she made no move to escape; why she seemed willing to place herself between my rage and its objective I couldn’t comprehend. Was she trying to protect him? I’d go through her, if necessary. I advanced a step further. Fields panicked.
With both hands and with all of his might, Fields shoved the slight girl at me. He spun around and fled even as the girl careened towards me helplessly. I grabbed her roughly and flung her out of my way. She rebounded off the pink cement wall, sputtering, spun around, haywire, hugged the wall for support. Banged. Winced. I hardly noticed; I was in the mood for revenge.
I took a few clumsy and faltering bounds to pursue Fields and Meadows, but my boots were so lose that my feet would have come out if I tried to run. I stumbled after them a piece, tripping on my laces, shouting, waving my fist. “That’s right, motherfuckers! That’s what I thought! Yeah – FUCK YOU!” I shouted after them. They were picking up speed. I heard them sprinting up the metal stairs. The music grew loud for a second as the pair reemerged in the dancehall, and then were gone.
I was smiling and nodding to myself in the hall, shaking the pain out of my smashed fist when I remembered that I wasn’t alone. The girl. With dim, inscrutable eyes, she stared off into thin air.
“Are you okay?”
No reply. She stood against the wall in her white jumpsuit.
“How much did they pay you?”
She stared into me. I waited, cooling off.
“You better catch up with your friends.”
No movement. It was like she didn’t even know I was trying to talk to her.
Suddenly, she jerkily turned to face the exit. And I thought I heard something rattle, like a couple of ball-bearings loose in a tin can, but I had to be my imagination. Perversely, I was reminded of something I read once by some nineteenth-century feminist. I recalled her words effortlessly, like I’d read them minutes ago. “She was created to be a toy for man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever he chooses to be amused.” She took an uncertain step forward, her head wobbling from side to side.
She placed one faltering foot in front of the other, slowly, cautiously. It was a sad parody of her confident stride that I had so admired when she led me downstairs earlier. It wasn’t the smooth, gliding, precise, self-assured, efficient, clockwork walk of before. She was uneven, unsure, dysfunctional somehow.
“What’s going on here? Are you sure you’re okay?” She stopped when she heard my voice and turned to consider me. We looked at each other.
“You want to have sex?” she asked passionlessly.
Wasn’t the response I expected; that startled me. “Jesus, do you ever have a one-track mind,” I said as I chuckled. “You’re not hurt or any – “
“You want to have sex?” she cut in, not listening to me.
“Uh,” I was caught off guard. “Are...you serious?”
“You want to have sex?” She repeated.
“Yeah! I mean, yeah, sure.” I shrugged.
She grabbed my hand and led me back though the still open door into the bedroom. But her grip wasn’t as sure as it had been earlier; her step was wobbly, her hand clumsier. I walked inside in a fog. I was being swept along by events. Events that I couldn’t have predicted, yet somehow had an air of predictability about them. The pain in my hand was unnoticed now, even though the girl’s fingers were grasping the dripping slashes. I had sex on my mind; pain could always wait. My heartbeat was speeding up again, like a racehorse. Boy do I have a one-track mind.
“What do you want me to do?”
Something gave me pause. I bit my lip nervously.
“What do you want me to do?” she repeated. Déjà vu.
“Haven’t we...sung this song before, ma’am?”
“I’ve never heard of that before,” she said blankly.
“Ah-ha.” I paused to consider the girl as she stood before me, waiting for me to supply her with input. “You know, that’s really typical of Fields and Meadows,” I said more to myself than to her as I belatedly began putting things together.
“Please rephrase,” came her dull response. I wasn’t even listening.
“Those bastards,” I mused, shaking my head incredulously. “I just can’t ever fucking win with those guys...”
“I’m not familiar with that position.”
“You: shut up.”
“Stupid fucking droids. It figures that those guys wouldn’t even hire a genuine woman for me. Fucking assholes. Let me guess what’s gonna happen if I take my pants off again.” I proceeded to hastily unbuckle my belt.
“That’s the tiniest prick I’ve ever seen in my life!” She gasped loudly, scrunching up her face with derision. She immediately turned to leave.
Before she could, I seized her by the shoulders and shook her violently. I was quick about it, animated by anger, and didn’t even bother to pull my pants back up.
“Who rented you?!” I shouted in her face, specks of spittle showering her face. She hadn’t closed the door to the shabby bedroom, but I didn’t care if everyone in the place heard me. In fact, I wanted them to.
“This unit does not share the identities of clients with – “
“Who, the fuck, rented you?!”
“This unit does not – “ I slammed her again the wall in frustration. I heard a few satisfying crunches and grindings inside of her, followed by sparking noise. She shuddered and jerked in my grasp. I could smell burnt electronics. “It must have been Fields and Meadows, just like they said...”
“ – with the public. Full client confidentiality is guaranteed.”
“Guess what I’m going to do?” She looked at me plainly. “Don’t take this personally...well...since you’re not a person I suppose that’s not something I’ll have to worry myself about...Fields and Meadows paid for you already...now they’re really going to pay for you.”
“With the public – with the public – with the public” she stuttered. Evidently, I had already done some damage. I looked at her tenderly but spoke though gritted teeth. “Though you, I’m going to finally get my revenge on those, fucking...” I couldn’t come up with a word strong enough to describe Fields and Meadows in a manner that sufficiently correspond to my hate.
I flung her against the wall again. I could hear mechanisms working inside of her sputtering smoke and electricity, gasping, breaking down, falling apart. “With the public – with the public – with the public – “ she continued. The room was suddenly filling with smoke. I coughed. “With the public – with the public – with the public – “ When she opened her mouth, I could see bluish-white sparks illuminating her throat.
“How much do you cost?!”
“With the public – with the public – with the public – “ Her voice was raising in pitch and speeding up like a chipmunk.
“How much do you fucking cost, bitch?!”
“Withthepublicwiththepublicwiththepublic...” I slammed her body against the wall again.
“Fuck you!” I hurled her out of the room and into the hallway. She flew at the concrete wall, rebounded, and landed in a heap on the cold floor. My ears were gratified my an enormous burst of sparks coming from the computerized girl as she mortally short-circuited herself laying on the ground. She didn’t sound like Meadows did when he fell down though; she clattered. Like she was hollow. She was motionless, quiet. I looked at her frail arms, her strong thighs, her narrow shoulders, sloppy black hair. I waddled over to her, my pants still around my ankles. I knelt, put an arm under her chest and flipped her onto her back.
She stared impassively at the ceiling, a warped, robot face, plastic skin; the picture of the phony health that belied eternal deadness.
Numbing bass from upstairs pumped relentlessly. Life goes on. A long moment eased its way past. Smoke began to dissipate. At length, the mechanical vixen fell quiet.
Suddenly, a couple emerged from a nearby room, both looked relaxed, pleased, satisfied, optimistic. Their small talk was cut short when they say me stooping over a busted-up robot hooker. Their smiles faded. Foreheads wrinkled, suspicious, eyes sharpened, eyebrows furrowed. Heads ominously cocked.
I felt like a kid who got caught masturbating by his parents.
I couldn’t think of anything to say. Color drained from my face. I looked down at the broken girl, then back up at the couple’s waiting stares. I stammered, “uh, I thought she looked a little wiry for my tastes, but really...” and attempted a laugh. It came out as a nervous, guilty chuckle.
“Oh, and you’re a lousy kisser, too!” the droid said coyly.
I looked around the quiet bar. Both the old barkeep and Steppe were listening. The football game had been switched off. I noticed a few more empty glasses on the bar that hadn’t been there when I began my story.
“So?” asked Steppe. “How about when they busted into your locker? Fields accidentally spilled the beans before the whole thing started, or what? What was all that about?”
“Before,” Steppe prompted, “Fields said he and Meadows broke into your locker and then Meadows hushed him up right quick. What did they do?”
“Oh yeah. Well, that’s the real trick of the whole thing. They ‘borrowed’ my card and paid for that robo-hooker for me out of my own account. In advance. So...they got me after all...”
I exhaled audibly. “Took me a while to pay that one down. Not just repairs, either. Lost profits...”
Nobody said anything.
“Thanks for the drinks guys.”
Steppe helped me from my stool onto my wheelchair.