Bourbon Street. Midnight. Jean stepped out of the cab feeling antisocial. He walked down the crowded street with a determined gait, avoiding the shoe shiners, the tap-dancing poor children, and the statue mimes. He ignored both the shouting Jesus freaks and the shouting strip club flesh mongers. He didnít give so much as a glance to the cheap beer stall, the trashy souvenir shops, and the cut-rate jazz bar. He paid little more attention to the drunken platinum blonde flashing her tits from the balcony of a nightclub. Smells of food, cigarette smoke, horse shit, trash, and vomit floated on the cool spring breeze. Sounds of dance music, laughter, and soliciting restaurateurs all vied for his attention, further souring his mood.
A cigarette hung loosely from the pinkish lips of his pale, hairless face, which contrasted sharply with his long straight black hair, pulled back into a ponytail. His hand, fingernails painted black, reached up an plucked the smoldering stick from his face and dropped in down past his long, black trench coat to be stepped on by his black leather boots.
He abruptly turned right onto St. Peterís street to avoid the rest of the Bourbon Street spectacle. He walked for a block, crossed over Royal Street, and continued south through Pirateís Alley, sidestepping the unconscious drunk curled up against the white wall of St. Louis Cathedral. Pirateís Alley quickly gave way to Jackson Square. Here, Jean stopped, checked his watch, and lit another cigarette. "The little fuck ought to be there by now," he thought.
He turned left and resumed his walk. He passed between the front of the cathedral and fixated briefly on the supernatural glow of the candles on the tables of the tarot card and palm readers. Turning right again at the end of the square, he followed the glows down the squareís east side till he reached Decatur Street. Here he turned left and walked past the closed shops, skirting the small crowds gathered on the sidewalk outside the doorways of bars. A few blocks later, he saw his destination.
It was a simple door wedged between the shuttered entrances two souvenir shops. The door was marked only with a "V." Jean pushed the door open and walked into a long, dark hallway. At the end of the hall, he opened another door and walked into the main room of the Red Stain Tavern. His brown eyes scanned the area for a face. The freaks were everywhere.
Jean had often seen these people, who he considered to be deluded wretches, walking around the French Quarter in their Goth costumes, and he had always greeted them with open contempt. He was now suppressing his contemptuous urges and hoping that his costume would be enough to let him blend in. The place was filled from wall to wall with leather, sickly pale makeup, and strange hair, but none of it matched the image in his mind.
Loud, pounding industrial rock music assailed his ears from the back of the room. He followed the sound past the bar, squeezing between tightly-packed groups of Goths and the casually-dressed suburbanites who came to gawk at them, to a small dance floor in the rear of the establishment. Through the black lights, strobes, and gyrating bodies of stoned teenagers, Jean spotted the face he had seen in the picture.
The face belonged to a darkly dressed blonde boy in his late teens. He stood against the back wall of the dance floor next to one of the underage freak girls whose wide eyes and uncoordinated motions suggested that she had ingested something besides the beer in her hand. Jean reached behind his back and ripped his pistol out of its belt holster. He leveled it at the boyís head and released the safety. As his forefinger slid into position, the boy looked up and locked his eyes with Jeanís. A powerful Feeling of familiarity, far greater than the mere recognition of the boyís face, washed over Jean and momentarily broke his concentration. The boy opened his mouth to speak, but Jean shook the Feeling and squeezed the trigger.
The hammer slammed into the back of the bullet casing, and Jeanís world went into slow motion. He watched intently as the bullet punched a hole in the boyís skull between the nose and left eye socket. His head snapped back as the bullet exited, taking blood, brain matter, and pieces of skull with it. His body smacked into the wall and slid down into a lifeless, gory heap.
Jean didnít wait for the reality of the shooting to settle into the chemically dimmed minds of the tavernís patrons. He replaced his pistol in its holster and bolted out of the door to the left of the dead boy before the first scream. He could hear the shouts of the outraged freaks behind him as he sprinted through the back storeroom, dodging cases of beer and old barstools. He stopped only once to throw the main circuit breaker before exiting out into a dark alley.
Sarah thought it was funny. Chrisí head had just popped open like a cherry and sprayed juice all over the wall. She stood there staring, fascinated by the boundless patterned complexity of hundreds of droplets hitting the wall. A piece of cherry was still stuck to it. She looked closely at the cherry pulp. It was gray. "The kicks ass," she thought, "Gray cherry pulp. I wonder if itíll change color. Chris was right; this is some good shit!" Just as she was wondering what gray cherry tasted like, she noticed Chris passed out in a heap next to her. "Lightweight," she sneered to herself, or did she say it out loud? She started to turn to look at the gray cherry again when she noticed that Chris had started to melt. As she watched, he dematerialized into a mist as gray as the cherry pulp and drifted swiftly up the wall into the ceiling vent. "I am definitely going to buy some more of this shit tonight," she thought. Just then, everything went black, and she heard sounds of screaming far away.
A shower, a change of clothes, and one bottle of wine later, Jean was a changed man. Gone were his pale makeup, black nail polish, and dark clothes. He sat on the bed of a motel room, slightly drunk, dressed in a pair of khakis and a polo shirt. He peered at the pile of hundred dollar bills in his hand as he took another drag from his cigarette. The money had been in the usual drop spot, just as Louis had said it would be. Jean smiled faintly as he thought of the old manís pudgy hands counting out his pay.
Louisí fat face and slow manner concealed the mind of a methodical, sociopathic businessman, the type of mind that could order the killing of a 16-year-old boy without another thought on the matter. Old Louis expected everyone who owed him money to repay him. That was his Rule. Jean was the enforcer of the Rule, and had done so nearly a dozen times.
The killing had never bothered Jean. Most of his targets had been pimps, pushers, con men, and gutter trash. He simply reasoned that Louis paid him well to do society a favor. However, he was having a hard time applying that justification to this boy. He seemed slightly weird and very familiar, but otherwise harmless. Jean wasnít really sure why Louis had ordered his killing. When Jean had asked him a week ago, he had muttered something about stolen money. Jean hadnít taken any real time to examine Louisí motives. Rent was due soon, and his girlfriend wasnít getting paid for another week. "Besides," he reasoned, "itís none of my business. Better you than me, scrub."
Jean felt boredom creeping up, so turned on the TV to see if there was any news of his job. A psychic infomercial flickered on the screen. He muttered, "Fucking bullshit," and clicked the TV off. He glanced at his watch - 1 a.m. The next newscast wouldnít be on for another three hours.
"I guess I could call Dawn," he thought, "She ought to be off work by now." He glanced at the phone sitting on the small table next to his bed. Suddenly he felt inspired. "Iíll go home and meet her."
Jean figured that if his girlfriend took the usual amount of time to close up the video store and talk with her friends, he could make the hour-long drive back to their apartment in time to surprise her with the remaining bottle of wine. "She could use it," he thought. Drawing new energy from his resolve, he put out his cigarette, stood up, and walked into the bathroom to check his appearance in the mirror. His long, black hair was an uncombed mess, so he ran a brush through it a few times and drew it back into a ponytail. He looked down at the counter and searched for the elastic band he had used earlier to tie it up.
The Feeling seized him again. He snapped his head up to look in the mirror, but he only saw his own reflection. He let go of his hair and spun around. There in front of him stood the boy. At least, the right side of its face resembled the boyís. The left side of its face had a hole the size of a quarter, surrounded by brown, encrusted blood, just left of the nose. The left eyeball dangled out of the socket by a few nerves and blood vessels.
Jean felt a terrible fear rising in his gut. He quickly suppressed it. Years of experimenting with the hallucinogenic drugs that Louis had exacted from his debtors as payment had taught Jean to never fully believe what he was seeing. His first thought was that the wine he was drinking now had been provided by Louisí vineyard, and it wasnít unthinkable that the boys had slipped in a little something extra. That would be something Louis would do, "forget" to tell him about the acid in the wine. Jean was trying to think of a good revenge joke when the phantom began to speak.
"What the fuck is wrong with you!?"
Jean was startled by the accusatory tone. It was amusing to hear such angry speech coming from a boy with an eyeball dangling from his head. He cracked a smile.
"You think this is funny, asshole?"
Jean began to chuckle, thankful that he was too drunk to take this phantom seriously. The boy continued, "I havenít eaten in a fucking month! I spent the last of my energy tonight getting that stupid bitch and the club to follow me around. I got her stoned as hell, and was about to take her home when you showed up and did this bullshit!" The boy turned his head to the right and pointed to the large cavity in the back of his head where the exiting hollow point had done its work.
At the site of the shredded brain matter, Jean burst into full laughter. The phantomís deathly pale face became visibly red on the right side. It reached up and snatched the dangling eye from its socket and threw it into the sink behind Jean. "YOU FUCKING SHITHEAD," the phantom shrieked, "Iím sure you think this is really goddamn funny. ĎYeah, letís go fuck with the new kid.í Congratulations! Are you happy? You put me in a world of fucking hurt! Last time I went this long without eating, I started to feel like someone was pounding on my bones with a sledgehammer! Now I barely have enough energy to feed, much less healÖ."
The boy broke off his raging to sniffle. A tear welled up in his bloodshot right eye, and a fresh trickle of blood had begun to run out of the empty socket and down his left cheek.
Jean was not laughing anymore. This was definitely a lot weirder and a lot more personal that most of his hallucinations. He hoped it would end soon, and decided to prepare to leave while he waited for the effects of the drug to wear off. He stepped past the boy and walked into the bedroom to get his suitcase. The boy turned to look at what he was doing and shouted, "So youíre just going to leave me like this, you bastard? Couldnít you at least help me find something to eat?" Its tone turned desperate. "Jesus, just a little bit to keep me from having to FEEL that way?"
Jean continued packing his dark clothes, and ignored the plea, partly because he didnít understand it, and partly because he reasoned that the apparition would go away if he ignored it. It was beginning to annoy him. But, the phantom didnít go away. It took a seat in a chair next to the TV. "Where are you going," it asked a defeated voice.
Jean decided to switch tactics and humor the phantom, hoping that his brain would get tired of this grotesque conscience-bending game and move on to more pleasant hallucinations. He mumbled, "Baton Rouge."
"Why?," asked the dejected-looking phantom.
"Going to meet my girlfriend."
"Whatís her name?"
"How long you been with her?"
"I donít know. Six months maybe."
"Six months?," said the phantom, sounding impressed, "She must be a rare type."
"Will she let me drink?"
"What? Look, if you want something to drink that bad, drink this." Jean tossed the remaining bottle of wine at the seated phantom. To his amazement, the boy caught the bottle, read the label, and set it on top of the TV with a sneer of disgust.
"Itís the only thing Iíve got, scrub," said Jean, "Drink it, or disappear to somewhere with a better selection." The phantom glared at him with its one eye. Jean felt the Feeling flicker in his guts again. He looked back at his suitcase, grabbed his gun and placed it on top of the clothes. Pausing for a moment, he wandered if this whole hallucination was his long-dead conscience trying to tell him that shooting the boy had been wrong. He decided that apologizing to the phantom might make it go away. "Hey scrub," he said as he turned to look at the boy. The chair was empty.
Jean looked around the suddenly hazy room. The phantom was gone. He shrugged, closed his suitcase, and walked out of the door, closing it behind him.
Dawn unlocked and opened the apartment door. Her hand fumbled across the wall and located the light switch. The ceiling globe sparked to life. She looked around the living room and sighed. She had half hoped that Jean would be home. Her feet and back hurt. She wished he were there to pamper her the way she had been pampering customers all day. Then she noticed the thick haze in the room. "Not the furnace," she thought, " I just had that goddamn thing fixed!" She set her plastic bag full of groceries on a chair and marched into the kitchen to turn the exhaust fan on. She felt back muscles tighten again.
She walked back into the bedroom and began to undress. She took off her company shirt and threw it across the room. The day had been brutal. Two shifts, opening and closing; one short lunch break; and some of the worst customers in recent memory. As she removed her underwear, she smiled and thought of the spoiled teenage girl that threw a full-blown temper tantrum, complete with screaming and fist-pounding, when Dawn refused to remove forty dollars in late fees from the girlís parentsí account. Her manager had to drag the princess out. "I hope you learned your lesson, bitch," thought Dawn as she tied the waist strap of her robe.
She wandered slowly back into the living room. She picked a bottle of body wash out of her grocery bag and scanned the room. The haze was gone, butt she decided to leave the exhaust fan on in case the furnace belched smoke again. She walked into the bathroom, removed her robe, and stepped into the shower. "I hope the hot water works," she mused. It did. She felt the warm water flow down her back, bringing comfort to her sore body. She closed her eyes and let the water flow across her face, washing the dayís stresses, the teenage brat, the broken furnace, and her longing for Jean from her consciousness. A piercing chill raced up her spine and abruptly ended her bliss.
Jean stopped his car in parking space in front of his apartment. His drive had been uneventful. There had been no more hallucinations. "Whatever the bastard put in the wine, it was short-lived," he thought. Still, he had to admit that the drug had a frighteningly real level of effect. Jean could still see the phantomís bloody face as clearly as if the incident in the motel room had actually happened. He pushed those thoughts out of his mind when he saw Dawnís car parked two spaces down from his. "Iím too late," he thought, "Sheís already in bed."
The door to the apartment was unlocked. "Maybe sheís not in bed after all," he thought. He opened the door. The living room light was still on. He could hear a low hum coming from the kitchen. He crossed the room to investigate. As he passed, he noticed a bag of groceries lying on the chair. He entered the kitchen and turned the exhaust fan off. "Dawn," he called, "Baby, are you here?" No response. The apartment was dead silent.
He approached the bathroom door and slowly opened it. The bathroom light was still on. The showerhead was dripping. A layer of moisture, like dew, covered the walls, mirror, and sink.
He moved on to the bedroom and tried to open the door. It was locked. He knocked on the door. "Baby, Iím home early," he called, "please open the door." Again, no response. Jean knocked harder. Still, no response. Jeanís guts sank with a feeling of dread. Dawn was a light sleeper. She should have woken up when he opened the front door. He quickly unsnapped his suitcase and pulled out his pistol. With a swift snap kick, he popped the door lock and burst into the bedroom, holding his gun in front of him.
Dawnís completely nude body lay sprawled across the bed on its back. Her eyes were half-lidded, and her wrists were slashed open in several places. The mattress, from her head to her waist was soaked with blood. Jean dropped his gun, rushed to the bed, and put his ear to her mouth. Her breathing was barely audible. He put his fingers across her neck and felt a faint pulse. He stood up, quickly pulled off his belt, and wrapped around her right arm to fashion a tourniquet. He glanced around desperately for something to use on her left arm. Nothing.
He dashed to the closet and threw the door open. His eyes scanned his tie rack for a spare belt and found one on the bottom rung. As he bent to pick it up, something brushed his left cheek. He looked over to see a note taped to the closetís folding door. He focused on the letters scrawled between bloody fingerprints on the scrap of notebook paper.
thanx 4 the drink
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