The voice on the phone says, “We
need to talk to you, Mr. Soames,” so I know to pick the
place up. Company coming. I don’t
like for Company to come into no pigsty, but one of the reasons the place is
such a mess all the time is, it’s
so small. I got nowhere to keep shit except around, you know. But I shove both
the dirty laundry and the dirty dishes in the oven—my
mattress is right on the floor so I can’t
shove stuff under the bed, and what won’t
fit in the oven I put in the tub and just before I pull the curtain, I think,
well, shit, I shoulda just put it all in the tub and filled it and got it all
washed at once. Or, well, just the dishes, because I can take the clothes over
to the laundromat easier than washing them in the tub.
So, hell, I just pull the shower curtain, stack the
newspapers and the magazines-newspapers on top of the magazines, because most
people don’t take too well to my taste in magazines, and they
wouldn’t like a lot of the newspapers much either. But I got
the Sunday paper to stick on top and hide it all, so it’s okay.
Company’ll damned well know what’s
under them Sunday funnies because they know me. But as long as they don’t have to have it staring them in the face, it’s like they can pretend it don’t exist.
I’m still puttering and
fussing around when the knock on the door comes, and I’m
crossing the room (the only room unless you count the bathroom, which I do when
I’m in it) when it comes to me I ain’t done dick about myself. I’m
still in my undershirt and shorts, for chrissakes.
“Hold on,” I call out, “I ain’t decent, quite,” and I drag a pair of
pants outa the closet. But all my shirts are either in the oven or the tub and
Company’ll get fanny-antsy standing in the hall—this
is not the watchamacallit, the place where Lennon bought it, the Dakota, yeah.
Anyway, I answer the door in my one hundred percent cotton undershirt, but at
least I got my fly zipped.
a little different this time. The two guys as usual, but today they got a woman
with them. Not a broad, not a bitch, not a bimbo. She’s
standing between and a little behind them, looking at me the way women always
look at me when I happen to cross their path—chin lifted up a little, one hand
holding her coat together at the neck in a fist, eyes real cold, like, “Touch me and die horribly, I wish,” standing
straight-fuckin-up, like they’re
Superman, and the fear coming off them like heat waves from an open furnace.
They all come in and stand around and I wish I’d straightened the sheets out on the mattress so it
wouldn’t look so messy, but then they’d
see the sheets ain’t clean, so six-of-one,
you know. And I got nothing for anyone to sit on, except that mattress, so they
just keep standing around.
The one guy, Steener, says, “Are
you feeling all right, Mr. Soames,” looking around like
there’s puke and snot all over the floor. Steener don’t bother me. He’s
a pretty man who probably was a pretty boy and a pretty baby before that, and
thinks the world oughta be a pretty place. Or he wants to prove pretty guys are
really tougher and better and more man than guys like me, because he’s afraid it’s
vice versa, you know. Maybe even both, depending on how he got up this morning.
The other guy, Villanueva, I could almost respect him.
He didn’t put on no face to look at me, and he didn’t have no power fantasies about who he was to me or
vice versa. I think Villanueva probably knows me better than anyone in the
world. But then, he was the one took my statement when they caught up with me.
He was a cop then. If he’d
still been a cop, I’d probably respect him.
So I look right at the woman and I say, “So,
what’s this, you brought me a date?” I
know this will get them because they know what I do to dates.
“You speak when spoken to, Mr. Soames,” Steener
says, kinda barking like a dog that wishes it were bigger.
“You spoke to me,” I point out.
Villanueva takes a few steps in the direction of the
knows what I got in
there and how I don’t
want Company to see it, so this is supposed to distract me, and it does a
little. The woman steps back, clutching her light coat tighter around her
throat, not sure who to hide behind. Villanueva’s
the better bet, but she doesn’t
want to get any further into my stinky little apartment, so she edges toward
And it comes to me in a two-second flash-movie just
how to do it. Steener’d be easy to take out.
He’s a rusher, doesn’t
know dick about fighting. He’d
just go for me and I’d just whip my hand up
between his arms and crunch goes the windpipe. Villanueva’d
be trouble, but I’d probably end up
doing him, too. Villanueva’s
smart enough to know that. First, though, I’d
bop the woman, just bop her to keep her right there—punch
in the stomach does it for most people, man or woman—and
then I’d do Villanueva,
break his neck.
Then the woman. I’d
do it all, pound one end, pound the other, switching off before either one of
us got too used to one thing or the other. Most people, man or woman, blank out
about then. Can’t face it, you know, so after that, it’s free-for-fuckin-all. You can do just any old thing
you want to a person in shock, they just don’t
believe it’s happening by then. This one I would rip up sloppy, I
would send her to hell and then kill her. I can see how it would look, the way
her body would be moving, how her flesh would jounce flabby—
But I won’t. I can’t look at a woman without the flash-movie kicking in,
but it’s only a movie, you know. This is Company, they got
something else for me.
“Do you feel like working?” Villanueva asks. He’s
caught it just now, what I was thinking about, he knows, because I told him how
it was when I gave him my statement after I got caught.
“Sure,” I say, “what else have I got to
He nods to Steener, who passes me a little slip of
paper. The name and address. “It’s
nothing you haven’t done before,” he
are two of them. You do as you like, but you must
follow the procedure as it has been described to you—“
I give a great big nod. “I
know how to do it. I’ve studied on it, got
it all right up here.” I tap my head. “Second
nature to me now.”
“I don’t want to hear
the word ‘nature’ out of you,” Steener sneers. “You’ve
got nothing to do with nature.”
I agree. I’m mild-mannered because it’s just come to me what is Steener’s
problem here. It is that he is like me. He enjoys doing to me what he does the
way I enjoy doing what I do, and the fact that he’s
wearing a white hat and I’m
not is just a watchamacallit, a technicality. Deep down at heart, it’s the same fuckin-feeling and he’s
going between loving it and refusing to admit he’s
like me, boing-boing, boing-boing. And if he ever gets stuck on the loving-it
side, well, son-of-a-bitch will there be trouble.
I look over at Villanueva and point at the woman,
raising my eye-brows. I don’t
know exactly what words to use for a question about her and anything I say is
gonna upset everybody.
“This person is with us as an observer,” Villanueva
says quietly, which means I can just mind my own fuckin business and don’t ask questions unless it’s
about the job. I look back at the woman and she looks me right in the face. The
hand clenched high up on her coat relaxes just a little and I see the
purple-black bruises on the side of her neck before she
clutches up again real fast. She’s
still holding herself the same way, but it’s
like she spoke to me. The lines of communication, like the shrinks say, are
open, which is not the safest thing to do with me. She’s
gotta be a nurse or a teacher or a social worker, I think, I because those are
the ones that can’t help opening up to someone. It’s
what they’re trained to do, reach out. Or hell, maybe she’s just some-body’s
mother. She don’t look too motherly, but that don’t
mean dick these days.
“When?” I say to Steener.
“As soon as you can pack your stuff and get to the
airport. There’s a cab downstairs and your ticket is waiting at the
airline counter, in your name.”
“You mean the Soames name,” I
say, because Soames is not my name for real.
“Just get ready, get going, get it done, and get back
Steener says. “No side-trips,
or it’s finished. Don’t even attempt a side-trip
or it’s finished.” He starts to turn
toward the door and then stops. “And you know that if
you’re caught in or after the act—”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m
on my own and you don’t know dick about
squat, and nobody ever hearda me, case closed.” I
keep myself from smiling; he watched too much Mission Impossible when he was a kid.
Like everyone else in his outfit. I think it’s
where they got the idea, kind of, some of it anyway.
Villanueva tosses me a fat roll
of bills in a rubber band just as he’s
following Steener and the woman out the door. “Expenses,” he
have a rental car on the other end, which you’ll
have to use cash for. Buy whatever else you need, don’t
get mugged and robbed, you know the drill.”
“Drill?” I say, acting perked-up, like I’m thinking, Wow,
what a good idea.
Villanueva refuses to turn green for me, but he shuts
the door behind him a little too hard.
I don’t waste no time; I go to the closet
and pull out my traveling bag. Everything’s
in it, but I always take a little inventory anyway, just to be on the safe
side. Hell of a thing to come up empty-handed at the wrong moment,
you know. Really, though, I just like to handle the stuff: hacksaw, mallet,
boning blade, iodized salt, lighter fluid, matches, spray bottle of holy water,
four pieces of wood pointed sharp on one end, half a dozen rosaries, all
blessed, and two full place settings of silverware, not stainless, mind you,
but real silver. And the shirts I don’t
never put in the tub. What do they make of this at airport security? Not a
fuckin thing. Ain’t no gun. Guns don’t work for this. Anyway, this bag’s
The flight is fine. It’s
always fine because they always put me in first class and nobody next to me if
possible. On the night flights, it’s
generally possible and tonight, I have the whole first class section to myself,
hot and cold running stews, who are (I can tell) forcing themselves to be nice
to me. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t
mind it, but it makes me wonder all the same: is it a smell, or just the way my
eyes look? Villanueva told me once, it was just something about me gave
everyone the creeps. I lean back, watch the flash-movies, don’t bother nobody, and everybody’s
happy to see me go when the plane finally lands.
I get my car, nice midsize job with a phone, and head
right into the city. I know this city real good, I been here before for them,
but it ain’t the only one they send me to when they need to TCB.
Do an easy 55 into the city and go to the address on
the paper. Midtown, two blocks east of dead center, medium-sized Victorian. I
can see the area’s starting to get a watchamacallit, like a facelift,
the rich ones coming in and fixing up the houses because the magazines and the
TV told them it’s time to love old houses and fix them up.
I think about the other houses all up and down the
street of the one I got to go to, what’s
in them, what I could do. I sure feel like it, and it would be a lot less
trouble, but I made me a deal of my own free will and I will stick to it as
long as they do, Steener and Villanueva and the people behind them. But if they
bust it up somehow, if they fuck me, that will be real different, and they will
be real sorry.
I call the house; nobody home. That’s about right. I got to wait, which don’t bother me none, because there’s
the flash-movies to watch. I can think on what I want to do after I get through
what I have to do, and those things are not so different from each other. What
Steener calls the procedure I just call a new way to play. Only not so new,
because I thought of some of those things all on my own when I was
watchamacallit, freelance so to say, and done some of them, kind of, which I
guess is what made them take me on for this stuff, instead of letting me take a
quick shot in a quiet room and no funeral after.
So, it gets to be four in the morning and here we
come. Somehow, I know as soon as I see the figure coming up the sidewalk across
the street that this is the one in the house. I can always tell them, and I don’t know what it is, except maybe it takes a human
monster to know an inhuman monster. And I don’t
feel nothing except a little nervous about getting into the house, which is
always easier than you’d think it would be,
but I get nervous on it anyway.
Figure comes into the light and I see it’s a man, and I see it’s
not alone, and then I get pissed, because that fucking Steener, that fucking
Villanueva, they didn’t say nothing about no
kid. And then I settle some, because I can tell the kid is one, too. Ten, maybe
twelve from the way he walks. I take the razor and I give myself a little one
just inside my hairline, squeeze the blood out to get it running down my face,
and then I get out of the car just as they put their feet on the first step up
to the house.
“Please, you gotta help me,” I
call, not too loud, just so they can hear, “they
robbed me, they took everything but my clothes, all my ID, my credit cards, my
They stop and look at me running across the street at
them and the first thing they see is the blood, of course. This would scare
anybody but them (or me, naturally). I trip myself on the curb and collapse
practically at their feet. “Can I use your phone?
Please? I’m scared to stay out here, my car won’t start, they might be still around—”
The man leans down and pulls me up under my arm. “Of
course. Come in, we’ll call the police. I’m
I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing at that
one. He’s an operator maybe but no fucking doctor. Then I
taste blood, so I let it run out of my mouth and the two of them, the man and
the kid get so hot they can’t
get me in the house fast enough.
Nice house. All the Victorian shit restored, even the
fuzzy stuff on the wallpaper, watchamacallit, flocked wallpaper. I get a
glimpse of the living room before the guy’s
rushing me upstairs, saying he’s
got his medical bag up there. I just bet he does, and I got mine right in my
hand, which they do not bother wondering about what with all this blood and
this guy with no ID and out at four in the morning, must be a criminal anyway.
I used to ask Villanueva, don’t
they ever get full, like they can’t
drink another drop, but Villaneuva told me no, they always had room for one
more, it was time they were pressed for. Dawn. I’d
be through long before then, but even if I wasn’t,
dawn would take care of the rest of it for me.
getting so excited it’s getting me even more
excited. I look at the kid and man, if I’d
been anyone else, I woulda started screaming and trying to get away, because he’s all gone. I mean, the kid part is all gone and just
this fucking hungry thing from hell. So I stop feeling funny about there being
a kid, because like I said, there ain’t
no kid, just a short one along with the tall one.
And shit if he don’t
twig, right there on the stairs. I musta looked like I recognized him.
“We’re burned! We’re
burned!” he yells and tries to elbow me in the face. I dip and
he goes right the fuck over my head and down, ka-boom, ka-boom. Guess what,
they can’t fly. It don’t
do him, but they can feel pain, and if you break their legs, they can’t walk for awhile until they can get extra blood to
heal them up. The kid’s fucking neck is
broke, you can see it plain as anything.
But I don’t get no chance to
study on it because the big one growls like a fucking attack dog and grabs me
up from behind around the waist. They really are stronger than normal and you
better believe it hurt like a motherfucker. He squeezes and there go two ribs
and the soft drinks I had on the plane, like a fucking fountain.
go slow for that,” he says, “you’ll go for days, and you’ll
beg to die.”
Obviously, he don’t
know me. I’m hurting all right, but it takes a lot more than a
couple of ribs to put me down, and I never had to beg for nothing, but these
guys get all their dialog off the late show anyway and they ain’t thinking of nothing except sticking it to you and
drinking you dry. Fucking undead got a, a watchamacallit, a narrow perspective
and they think everyone’s scared of them.
why they send me, because I don’t
see no undead and I don’t see no human being, I
just see something to play with. I gotta narrow perspective, too, I guess.
But then everything is not so good because he tears
the bag outa my hand and flings it away up in the hallway. Then he carries me
the rest of the way upstairs and down the opposite end and tosses me into a
dark room and slams the door and locks it.
I hold still until I can figure out how to move and
cause myself the least pain, and I start taking off my shirts. I’m wearing a corduroy shirt with a pure linen lining
sewn into the front and two heavy one-hundred-percent cotton t-shirts
underneath. I have to tear one of the t-shirts off, biting through the neck,
and I bite through the neck of the other one but leave it on (thinking about
the guy biting through necks while I do it), and put the corduroy shirt back on,
keeping it open. Ready to go.
The guy has gone downstairs. I hear the kid scream and
then muffle it, and I hear footsteps coming back up the stairs. There’s a pause, and then I see his feet at the bottom of
the door in the light, and he unlocks the door and opens it.
“Whoever you think you are,” he
says, “you’re about to find out what you really are.”
I give a little whimper, which makes him sure enough
to grab me by one leg and start dragging me out into the hallway, where the kid
is lying on his back. When we’re
out in the light, he stops and stands over me, one leg on each side, and looks
down at my crotch. I know what he’s
thinking, because I’m looking up at his and
thinking something not too different.
He squats on my thighs, and I rip my shirts open.
It’s like an invisible
giant hand hit him in the face; he goes backwards with a scream, still bent at
the knees, on top of my legs. I heave him off quick. He’s
so fucked I have time to get to him, roll him over on his back and give him a
nice full frontal while I sit on his stomach.
It is a truly def tattoo. This is not like bragging,
because I didn’t do it, though I did name it: The Power and The
Passion. A madwoman with a mean needle in Coney did it, one-handed with her
hair standing on end, counting her rosary beads with the other hand, and when I
saw it finished, with the name I had given it on a banner above it, I knew she
was the best tattoo artist in the whole world and so I did not do her, I did not. It was some very
ignorant asshole who musta come in after I did that split hex open and nailed
her to the wall with a stud gun, but I caught the beef on it, and the tattoo
that saved her from me saved me from the quick shot and gave me to Steener’s people, courtesy of Villanueva who is, I should
mention, also Catholic.
a tattoo that means a lot to me in many ways, you see, but mostly I love it
because it is so perfect. It runs from just below where my shirt collars are to
my navel, and full across my chest, and if you saw it, you would swear it had been
done by someone who had been there to see what happened.
The cross is not just two boards, but a tree trunk and
a crossbar, and the spikes are driven into the forearms where the two bones
make a natural holder for that kind of thing—you
couldn’t hang on a cross from spikes driven through your
palms, they’d rip through. The crown of thorns has driven into the
flesh to the bone, and the blood drips from the matted beard distinctly—the
madwoman was careful and skilled so that the different shades of red didn’t muddy up. Nothing muddied up; you can see the face
clear as you can see where the whips came down, as clear as the wound in his
side, (which is not some pussy slit but the best watchamacallit, rendering of a
stab wound I have seen outside of real life), as clear as you can see how the
arms have pulled out of the sockets, and how the legs are broken.
You just can’t find no better
picture of slow murder. I know; I seen photos of all kinds, I seen some
righteous private art, and I seen the inside of plenty of churches, and ain’t nobody done justice to nothing anybody ever done to
someone, including the Crucifixion. Especially the Crucifixion, I guess.
Because, you see, you cannot take a vamp out with a
cross, that don’t mean dick to them, a fucking plus-sign, that’s
all. It’s the Crucifixion that gets them, you gotta have a
good crucifix, or some other representation of the Crucifixion, and it has to
be blessed in some way, to inflict the agony of the real thing on them. Mine
madwoman mumbling her rosary all the way through the work, don’t it just figure that she was a runaway nun? I wouldn’t a thought it would matter, but I guess when you take
them vows, you can’t give them back. Sorta
like a tattoo.
what that madwoman believed, anyway, and I believe it, too, because I like
believing that picture happened, and the vamp I’m
sitting on, it don’t mean shit if he
believes or not, because I got him and he don’t
understand how I could even get close to him. So while I go get my bag (giving
a good flash to the kid, who goes into shock), I explain about pure fibers
found in nature like the linen they say they wrapped that man on the cross in
(I think that’s horseshit myself, but it’s
all in it being natural and not watchamacallit, synthetic, so that don’t matter), and how it keeps the power from getting out
till I need it to.
And then it’s
I have a little fun with the silver for a while, just
laying it against his skin here and there, and it crosses my mind not for the
first time how a doctor could do some interesting research on burns, before I
start getting serious. Like a hot knife through butter, you can put it that way
and be dead on. Or undead on, ha, ha.
You know what they got for insides? Me neither, but it’s as bad for them as anyone. And I wouldn’t call that
a heart, but if you drive a pure wood stake through it, it’s
It lasts forever for him, but not half long enough for
me. Come dawn, it’s pretty much over. Them watchamacallits, UV rays,
they’re all over the place. Skin cancer on fast forward,
you can put it that way. I leave myself half an hour for the kid, who is not
really a kid because if he was, he’d
be the first kid I ever killed, and I ain’t
no fucking kid killer, because I seen what they
get in prison and I said, whoa, not my ass.
I stake both hearts at the same time, a stake in each
hand, sending them to hell together. Call me sentimental. Set their two heads
to burning in the cellar and hang in just long enough to make sure we got a
good fire going before I’m
outa there. House all closed up the way it is, it’ll
be awhile before it’s time to call the fire
I’m halfway to the
airport when I realize my ribs ain’t
bothered me for a long time. Healed up, just like that.
Hallelujah, gimme that old-time religion.
“As usual,” Steener says, snotty as
all get-out, “the
bulk of the fee has been divided up among your victims’ families,
with a percentage to the mission downtown. Your share this time is three
Nasty grin. “The check’s
in the mail.”
“Yeah,” I say, “you’re from the government and you’re
here to help me. Well, don’t
worry, Steener, I won’t come in your mouth.”
He actually cocks a fist and Villanueva steps in front
of him. The woman with them gives Steener a really sharp look, like she’s gonna come to my defense, which don’t make sense. Villanueva starts to rag my ass about
pushing Steener’s hot button but I’m
feeling important enough to wave a hand at him.
“Fuck that,” I say, “it’s
time to tell me who she is.”
Villanueva looks to the woman like he’s asking her permission, but she steps forward and
lets go of her coat, and I see the marks on her neck are all gone. “I’m the mother. And the wife. They tried to–” she
bites her lips together and makes a stiff little motion at her throat. “I
got away. I tried to go to church, but I was … tainted.” She
takes a breath. “The priest told me about—” she
dips her head at Villanueva and Steener, who still wants a piece of me. “You
put them away?”
The way she says it, it’s
like she’s talking about a couple of rabid dogs. “Yeah,” I tell her, smiling. “They’re all gone.”
“I want to see the picture,” she
says, and for a moment, I can’t
figure out what she’s talking about. And
then I get it.
“Sure,” I say, and start to raise my
Villanueva starts up. “I don’t think you really want—”
“Yeah, she does,” I say. “It’s the only way she can tell she’s
all right now.”
“The marks disappeared,” Villanueva snaps. “She’s
fine. You’re fine,” he
adds to her, almost polite.
She feels the side of her neck. “No, he’s right. It is
the only way I’ll know for sure.”
I’m shaking my head as I
raise the shirt slowly. “You guys didn’t think to sprinkle any holy water on her or nothing?”
take the chance,” she says, “it might have—”
as far as she gets, because she’s
looking at my chest now and her face—oh, man, I start
thinking I’m in love, because that’s
the look, that’s the look you oughta have when you see The Power and
The Passion. I know, because it’s
the look on my own face when I stand before the mirror and stare, and stare,
and stare. It’s so fucking there.
Villanueva and Steener are looking off in the opposite
direction. I give it a full two-minute count before I lower my shirt. The look
on her face goes away and she’s
just another character for a flash-movie again. Easy come, easy go. But now I
know why she was so scared when she was here before. Guess they didn’t think to tell her about pure natural fibers.
“You’re perfect,” she
says and turns to Steener and Villanueva. “He’s
perfect, isn’t he? They can’t
tempt him into joining them, because he can’t.
He couldn’t if he wanted to.”
“Fuckin A,” I tell her.
Villanueva says, “Shut up,”
to me and looks at her like he’s kinda sick. “You don’t
know what you’re talking to. You don’t know what’s
standing in this room with us. I couldn’t
bring myself to tell you, and I was a cop for sixteen years—”
“You told me what would have to be done with my husband
she says, looking him straight in the eye and I start thinking maybe I’m in love after all. “You
spelled that out easily enough. The agony of the Crucifixion, the burning and
the cutting open of the bodies with silver knives, the stakes through the
hearts, the beheadings, the burning. That didn’t
bother you, telling me what was going to happen to my family—”
because they’re the white hats,” I
say to her, and I can’t help smiling,
smiling, smiling. “If they had to do it, they’d
do it because they’re on the side of Good
Suddenly Steener and Villanueva are falling all over
each other to hustle her out and she don’t
resist, but she don’t cooperate, either.
The last thing I see before the door closes is her face looking at me, and what
I see in that face is not understanding, because she couldn’t go that far, but acceptance. Which is one fucking
hell of a lot more than I’ll
ever get from Steener or Villanueva or anybody-the-fuck-else.
And Steener and Villanueva, they don’t even get it, I know it just went right by them, what
I told her. They’d do it because they’re
on the side of Good and Right.
I do it because I like to.
And I don’t pretend like I ain’t no monster, not for Good and Right, and not for Bad
and Wrong. I know what I am, and the madwoman who put The Power and The Passion
on my chest, she knew, too, and I think now she did it so the vamps would never
get me, because God help you all if they had.
Just a coincidence, I guess, that it’s my kind of picture.