At 10:15am she was all about me. By 4:15pm that same day she was with him again and forgotten everything she’d said to me that morning.
I always figured a guy like me was too smart to fall for words. But a dame like that, hell … I figured I’d take a chance. I figured wrong. Finding out you’re just as gullible as the next guy can hurt. Even if you knew it might be coming. That’s the worst part.
Now I’m in a bar I’ve never been to and I’m about to find out why I never stepped in this joint. I didn’t need trouble. The beautiful bartender just slipped a note to me under my old fashioned. It says, “You better leave.” I don’t know how she knows anything. Maybe she’s pegged me for the wrong guy. Either way, two mean looking guys are coming my way. All I can do is clench my fists and hope for the best. It’s been a while since I’ve put my knuckles on anything.
The guys coming at me don’t look like the talking type. No. They mean business. The kind of business where they’ll come back if I whip them both. And the chances of that happening are fifty/fifty at best. Who am I kidding? These hands are rusty and I’ve gone soft with a broken heart. Candy really did a number on me. That’s her name. Candy. The broad that had me hanging on her every word this morning. Candy.
I look their way and hear the sound of billiards. The break shot. But there’s no pool table in this dive. The back of my head goes cold and numb. Something’s hit me hard and I’m on the ground before I can see what hit me.
Fights look glamorous in the movies. A coordinated flurry of kicks, punches, well timed blocks, and near misses. In real life they’re ugly and usually over in a matter of seconds. When you’re fighting more than one guy, they don’t take turns throwing punches. They throw their hands at the same time. And when you’re knocked out, it only takes a second to wake back up, which is where I’m at right now. Just in time to feel the point of a shoe dig into my ribs.
They say a broken heart can knock the wind out of you. Well, so can a worn out wingtip. I feel my ribs quitting on me and I can’t breathe. Curling into a fetal position on the laminate floor doesn’t help but it’s all I can do. The floor smells of vomit and fresh bleach. With each kick and punch a vision of Candy flashes before my eyes. The way she looked at me with her head on the pillow next to mine. The sincerity in her eyes when she told me she loved me. The beating continues and I can hear her voice through the ringing in my ears. “I love you.” She whispers. “I love you, too, Candy.” I whisper back. I see the way she looked when she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. Not even the taste of my own blood is enough to take the taste of her out of my mouth. I can still taste the softness between her legs. Candy.
My insides are pulp. I’m a pathetic display of a has been fighter. Rusty as hell and down for the count. They laugh at me. It’s a blow to my ego. These guys came expecting a fight but I fell for the setup. And now it’s costing me more than my pride. I didn’t see the guy behind me with the leather blackjack. I’m embarrassed that this fight was over before it even began. I didn’t stand a chance. But that seems to be my m.o. for the day. Falling for the set up and not standing a chance. Candy.
This poor excuse for a bar is silent except for Dusty Springfield on the jukebox. “Grab that leg,” is all I hear and I’m dragged across the floor. My eyes are so swollen and stinging with blood that I can’t even make out shapes. The floor turns to the pavement of the parking lot and I hear the door slam shut. At least the parking lot smells better than that floor.
“Open the trunk,” one of them says. I tell myself to do something but my body won’t listen. I’m too beat to resist. I’m thrown in the trunk like an old gym bag. The ungiving nature of a tire iron is all I feel on my hip when my body hits the greasy insides of the trunk.
We drive and the night wears on. Every pothole is an invitation for more pain. I lay there more occupied with memories of Candy than I am about thoughts of my own demise. For a woman of such commanding confidence, she had a very innocent way about her and sometimes the fantasies of a little girl would shine through.
She would tear into every new marshmallow cereal box and dig through the entire thing, searching with intense focus. Until finally emerging with a prize, beaming with pride and declaring, “There’s a surprise in every box.”
I remember reading in a book years ago that said the right woman can do something for a man’s conceit. That the right woman can give a man every reason to live or every reason to die. That didn’t make sense to me until now. Sitting at the bar I wanted to die because of a woman… but now… It’s funny how immanent death can change a man’s mind. My heart still aches but I want to live. For her. I need to see her again. I start to doubt myself because I wonder if I’m worth her love. “Why not me? Why did she choose him?” That’s when it hits me like a freight train and I have to laugh even though it hurts. The saying is true, “nice guys finish last.” I’ve always been the nice guy and it’s always cost me the dame and my pride. This time it’s costing my life. At the end of the night I’ll be the nice guy finishing last again. Dead last.
Einstein has a theory. Sitting next to a beautiful woman for an hour can seem like one minute. Laying down in the trunk of a car beat to a pulp for five minutes can seem like forever. We’ve been driving so long my body is stiff and my face is crusty with dry blood. I don’t want to move but I don’t want it to end this way; going out without a fight and a broken heart. I’ve done nothing worth remembering. Nothing good for anybody. I’ve been selfish. My life has been a waste and now I’m going to be finished off by strangers because of some mix up. What kind of end is this?
I’ve never been in a fight where I felt like I was going to die. The kind where I’m all in and all my cards are on the table. Every fight before this, everyone went home at the end of the night. This fight is different. I won’t be going home. Maybe none of us will. But I have to see Candy again. She’s worth changing the kind of man I am. She’s worth turning into something I never thought I could be. She’s worth killing to live for.
My sight is coming back and I see the brake lights come on in the dark of the trunk. My ears have stopped ringing and I hear the wheels on a gravel road. I grab the tire iron that’s under my hip and stuff it up the sleeve of my coat. My adrenaline kicks in and I don’t feel pain anymore. Only anger. I’m not sure if God will forgive me for what I’m about to do so I say a prayer. I pray to the God I stopped believing in when I was a kid. The God that preachers hide behind after indulging in mortal sin. The God that is generous with forgiveness if you live in his house and pray to his son. Something about being in church made me want to get away from God. This trunk has brought me closer to God than any church ever could. If God works in mysterious ways, this is His ultimate. Bring me back only to forsake me when I exit this trunk. I have nothing to lose and nothing is more dangerous than a man in my position. Live like I’m going to hell.
We stop and I hear three voices. “Get the trunk,” one says. I tell myself to get ready and I grip the pointy end of the tire iron. I gaze toward the sound of footsteps at the foot of the trunk. Keys rattle at the lock. The trunk opens wide and I see him, Candy’s other guy, Cristo. I recognize him from the photo that showed up on her phone when he called her late one night. She and I were in bed together and she had the nerve to answer and take the call outside. I knew I should have left her then but I couldn’t. Her lips were pure sugar and her voice was that of a siren. Sirens are known to lead sailors to disaster but I don’t care. I still love her. Lead me to disaster, Candy.
“Get him out of there,” he demands. They’re stupid enough to do what he says. I wait for them to get closer. And closer. The one reaching for my jacket lapel gets the tire iron first. It slips easily into his Adam’s apple. I push it so far in that my fist feels the stubble of a five o’clock shadow and his blood pours out like a water hose left open on the lawn. He’s trying to say something but whatever it is, it’s stifled by curdling blood. He tries to pull himself off but I’m pulling him toward me. His skin rips up to the curve of his jaw bone. He’s trapped and choking on more than blood. His tongue doesn’t seem to be doing him any favors. I feel his body go limp and the entire weight of his body rests on a tire iron.
His friend pulls him off the metal shaft and his body drops to the gravel like a bag of sand. “He killed Joey, man! He killed Joey!” He applies pressure to Joey’s neck but Joey can’t be saved. Joey’s already dead. Joey had it coming. You, my soon to be dead friend, are in shock.
I leap out of the trunk and rise back up with a full heart. I strike him on the back of the head with the tire iron as he tries to save Joey. He doesn’t know what hit him and collapses on top of Joey’s dead body. I don’t hesitate and dig the tire iron into the base of his skull. I feel my anger grow with every convulsion of his nervous system.
It’s a clear night out. The air is cool and crisp. The moon is full. It’s a perfect night for redemption. I pull the metal from his neck and before I can turn my attention to Cristo, I feel a cold pain pierce through my leg. A gunshot rings out and my body can’t take the pain. Falling to the ground is my only option.
“I have to admit, I was wondering what she saw in you but I’m beginning to see it now,” he says.
I sit up and lean my back against the car. The 45mm he’s pointing at me is enough to keep me from doing anything stupid. “I’m guessing you’re, Cristo,” is the only thing I think to say.
“It’s detective. Detective Cristo.” He pulls his coat away and flashes the badge on his hip. “And you just killed two fine police officers. The penalty for that is death.”
“Then you better take me in, detective. But before you do, I have to ask… Candy. Is she worth all this?”
“You think this is about her? This isn’t even about you. This is about me. I have to know – I have to prove it to myself that I’m the best man for her. She’s mine and I’ll keep proving it to myself as many times as I have to.”
“You’re nothing without that gun and that badge. I don’t need things like that to be the better man.”
“You civilians. You all have this noble thought that being the better man is about one man against one man. But it’s not. It never has been. It’s one man’s resources against another man’s resources. And you have none. You might have fight in you and heart but you don’t have what I have. Power. Influence. A network of people willing to do things to gain your favor. Or the connections to get her the kind of heroine that really does it for her. Ain’t that right, baby.”
An unbalanced footstep makes its way from the backseat to the gravel and a breeze catches just right. I recognize the scent but it can’t be. Candy.
“What’s happening, Cristo? You didn’t hurt him, did you?”
Her voice sounds like that of a fallen angel. As though her soul is distant from her body. Her question tells the story of a woman that knew he was coming for me. She’s known all along and I somehow still feel sorry for her.
He has a smirk on his face, “There’s some coke on the backseat, darling. Wake yourself up before you come out, okay? There’s somebody here that might be excited to see you.”
My eyes do the talking for me, “I’ll kill you the first chance I get.”
He keeps talking, “A woman like her doesn’t need anything, so you have to make her have needs. And fortunately for me, what this one needs, I’m the only one able to get it for her. Addiction is a powerful thing.” Then all goes quiet.
We glare at each other. Neither of us giving way in this staring contest. Two hard snorts break the silence. It’s the sound of Candy’s fall from grace. She emerges from the car and her footsteps are as graceful as the walking dead.
My body is so sore and beaten that I can barely turn my neck to look as she walks by. She’s not ready for what she’s about to see. “Oh my God! NO! What happened?!” I wonder if her screams are because of my bloody appearance or because of the bloody mess I’m sitting next to.
Cristo sells her a bill of goods that puts me in the hot seat. “Baby, you remember. We were all just sitting around having a few beers, then all of a sudden he kills Joey and Bill. I mean, really out of nowhere. I had to shoot him. It was the only way to stop him from getting to you. I had to protect you.”
She doesn’t listen to a word he says and falls to her knees. She wraps her arms around me and I crumble into her lap. It’s a welcome reprieve after the long night I’ve had. She’s heaven on earth and smells every bit the part. She takes a used up, crumpled tissue from her bra, licks it, and starts patting the blood from my head.
“I’m so sorry. I tried to warn you. Tried to get a note to you but it was too late.” Her voice is different now. “I love you,” she says.
I’m a fool to think she means it but I believe her anyway because I’m her fool. I want to believe that the Candy I know is back. She places the tissue in my hand. “There’s a surprise in every box,” she whispers to me. She glares at him, “Damn you, Cristo. You bastard.”
“I’m going to forgive you,” he tells her. “Now get over here.” He walks over and yanks her up by the arm. He pulls her away and my head hits the ground. She stumbles to keep up with him.
He stands behind her with his arm around her neck and whispers in her ear. “You did this. All you had to do was not be a whore. Because you had to get your lady-nut off, people died. How does it feel to be such a selfish bitch.”
“I’m all out of morphine, baby. Can you give me some more tablets so I won’t feel so bad when you shoot him?”
Morphine. In the tissue. What an angel. An angel of mercy and an angel of death. I down the tablets like aspirin.
“Sure, baby. You can have some. Just tell me you love me and they’re all yours.”
With a shallow, faraway stare she says, “I love you, Cristo.”
“Turn around so I can see those pretty eyes of yours when you say it.”
She flashes a look in my direction before she turns to him. Her eyes are able to pierce mine in a dual of looks. It’s a fleeting moment but she’s let me know she’s mine before she turns to look at him. The morphine is starting to kick in. The pain subsides and I’m worried that my judgement will fade with it. I have to act fast.
The keys are still in the lock of the trunk. I grab those first and run to the driver’s seat. My leg feels soft and runs crooked but it’ll do. I put the keys in the ignition and gunshots shatter the rear window. The car engine roars like a beast when I put the pedal to the floor. The rearview mirror shows Candy on the ground and Cristo pointing his gun in my direction. Gunshots pepper the air but none of them hit metal. He’s too angry and impatient to get a good shot. He’s too impulsive. I got away but I can’t help but think I left her there with him.
The night air combs through my hair and moonlight guides the way. The dirt road turns to pavement and I grip the steering wheel so tight my knuckles turn white. I need to assess what’s happened so I pull over. I need to stop the bleeding. I figure a car full of cops would have a first aid kit so I open the glove box. No luck, just a vile full of coke, two loaded nine millimeters, and a knife. I cut a seatbelt from the backseat and tie it tight around my leg. I’m getting tired. I must have lost more blood than I thought. I’m not going to make it.
The coke wakes me up and I head back down the dirt road for round three. Thoughts of Candy fill my head. Her body. Her voice. Her touch. I’m coming for you, Candy. And I’m coming for you, Cristo.
The headlights lead the way through a back road that’s fresh out of a horror movie. I can’t really tell if I’m headed in the right direction even though there’s only one way to go. The headlights on the dusty air make it difficult to see. I kill the headlights and the engine and coast a bit further. There’s enough moonlight to see two bodies laying on top of one another. I hear familiar moans and turn the headlights back on. Candy.
Cristo gets off of her and buttons his pants. She gets up off her knees and gives me a look of both rapture and regret. I grab the two nine millimeters from the glovebox. They fit perfectly in each of my hands. Getting out of the car would take too much time so I swing the door open and rest both of my elbows on it. The car door steadies my hands and I’m able to fire with accuracy. I don’t give him the satisfaction to say his peace. I unload both barrels on him before he can even say a word. He gets no closure. Only an ending. And Candy gets to see that I’m the better man.
I need to rest but there’s no time.
“Get in,” I tell her. “Hurry. I’m not feeling so great.”
She runs to the car. “Oh, God. You came back. I can’t believe you did this. For me.”
“I’d do anything for you. I love you. Now please, get the fuck in the car.”
She pushes me to the passenger seat. “Let me drive.” That’s the last thing I hear before everything goes black. She’s my angel. Candy.