Write On Me, Sam

The motel’s feable forty-watt bulbs cast her flesh in an orange and ghostly light. Sam hadn’t been this close to a woman in a long time. His nervousness surprised him. The place smelled of mildew and lilac, an odd combination, but not wholly unappealing. His ballpoint pen wobbled against her stomach. Her black hair fanned out on the ivory pillows, while she sprawled on the bed and stared down her nose at his handiwork.

The woman, who told him to call her Annie, contacted him through Craigslist where he sold his “handyman” services, but she didn’t want those. She’d remembered him from his past life, from a news article, in fact, that she kept framed. Sam wrote it five years back, when in good standing with the Chronicle, on a local Italian gangster arrested for murder. A few murders actually. Lawyers cited the story, which covered the arrest, at the man’s trial. Sam couldn’t place the lady, however, but maybe she’d been involved. She looked familiar. Relative of one of his victims? A TV news reporter?

Sam got “Journalist of the Year” for his work on the Carmine Francesco case. What he didn’t get was a raise. And that damn award didn’t save him from the budget cuts.

Their emails were brief. Meet on Union Street at one of the seedy motels sprinkled about San Francisco, write that award-winning story in ballpoint on her golden body, and done. She wanted to see his words on her flesh. Annie agreed to his two-thousand-dollar price tag. Paid up front. No bodyguard duty, no assault-for-hire, nothing but an evening with a beautiful woman. Maybe he’d break into the escort business and leave the hired thug biz behind. Thought made him smirk. He’d kissed flying fists too often for that shit.

Sam admired her bare flesh, his pen pausing for the briefest of moments. He’d stripped off most of his own clothes and wore only a pair of black boxers. She smiled at him with her candy apple red lips, black eyes stormy with passion. Arms above her head. Hands beneath the downy white pillows.

“I can barely keep the pen straight. Fucking turned on, Annie.”

She purred. “Write on me, Sam. Reward after.”

Next line, he told himself, ignore the tits and ass. Earn the money.

Francesco, a married father of two, faces a life sentence if convicted.

He stopped. Married… Shit. The wife. Knew he’d seen her somewhere.

Sam felt her body tense a half second before her hands swung out from under the pillow. He pulled away and rolled off the bed. A blade sliced into his cheek. Got a glimpse of the thing as he bailed. Stiletto tactical knife. Fucking Mafia blade. Kept under the pillow. Oldest trick in the book.

Annie lunged after him, attempting to keep him off balance. Not Annie, he remembered now, Anna. Anna fucking Francesco.

Sam gripped the pen, easily dodging her next swipe, and plunged the ballpoint into her right shoulder. It went in halfway before she twisted sideways, screaming, and careened into a dresser. Her ribs banged against the wood, and she hit the floor. The stiletto flew from her hand under the bed, but the ballpoint stayed in the meat.

Sam knelt by her head. Anna’s eyes fluttered. Conscious, but not moving. The lady knew she’d been beat.

“A revenge kill? You even care that Carmine was fucking around on you? I got it from the detectives, saw the surveillance photos. Man had more lovers than Pepe Le Pew.”

Her eyes narrowed. Sam went on. “Be glad I chose not to include that in my stories, Annie.”

He plucked the pen from her shoulder with a slurping noise. The shock and pain caused her dark eyes to roll up inside her head. In blood and ink, he wrote a final inscription on her bare stomach. Blood trailed from the wound over her breasts and dribbled down her arm. He’d be long gone when she came to. With luck she’d pay attention to his parting words.

Come after me again and I’ll fucking kill everyone you love.

So much for romance.

The Man with the Moist Lips

Moist. What is it about that word people hate? Sam wondered.

He’d overheard the baristas gabbing about it at the drive-thru coffee joint. It stuck with him as he climbed the steps to the second floor apartments overlooking Nineteenth, the ones with a half-assed view of Potrero Point from one side. He didn’t know the guy who lived there, but had the address from the lady who hired him on Craigslist. Two thousand for a quick snatch of what’s hers, maybe a beat down if it came to it, but this was some IT guy she was talking about, not much in the way of a workout for Sam, who managed to punch the bag a bit during the quarantine. He’d taken his share of lumps in the last year too.

The barista, still wearing a face mask, said she hated the word. Said everyone did. Moist being the ugliest fucking word in the English dictionary.

He quoted Kerouac as he got to the right apartment and knocked on the door. “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” He liked the word. Not that he could remember using it, even when he was a Chronicle reporter – back before the Great Recession lost him his wife and job. He got stuck with the teen daughter, who ate more lasagna than that damn orange cat.

The door creaked open and a small voice creaked. “Hello?” 

Sam kicked it open the rest of the way and threw his body into the apartment like a charging rhino. His right hand swung. The dude, as shrimpy as he figured, went down in the middle of his immaculate living room. The place was straight out of an IKEA ad: gray rectangular couch, uncomfortable recliner, and dripping with silver glow lamps.

“Only going to ask once. Where’s… Oh, there she is.”

One still-in-the-package, mint condition Summer in Rome Barbie from 1999, in linen coat, halter top, polka dot skirt and tiny matching scarf. Girl made Rome blush. Sam rubbed his knuckles as he approached the doll, which had been conveniently placed on a bookshelf next to a bedroom door. Only this was a weird door for an IT guy who decorated with IKEA shit. It had locks on it. A lot of locks. At least five chained padlocks.

IT dude crawled after him. He wore a pink V-neck sweater and jeans that looked as though they’d just come in the mail. He wasn’t making an effort to get up. Sam pinched the Barbie, but stopped a few feet from the bedroom door. Something shuffled around on the other side.

He looked down at the IT man. “Do I want to know what’s in there?”

The man looked panicked. He licked his lips, wrinkled his brow, and gave a lot of thought to his answer. “No.”

Sam heard him, but seeing the spittle glisten on his lips brought that word back into his head. Moist.

Something pounded against the other side of the door. Sam kept back a few feet. The banging continued. The chains and locks shook. He tucked Barbie under his arm.

The door trembled in the frame at this point. Sweat began to form on Sam’s forehead. “Keeping someone locked in there?”

“It’s no one, just my brother.”

He could hear an odd hissing sound on the other side of the door. The sound of nails scratching the surface. His “brother’s” fists rattled the wall.

“Whatever you do, don’t let him out!” The IT guy cried over the banging.

“Shit. Why would I do that?”

Sam left with the Barbie under his pit while the scrawny guy went to the padlocked door. He could hear him on my way out, making cooing sounds to whatever was on the other side. Jesus, his brother? Sam thought. He kept seeing that IT guy in his head, even when he brought
the Barbie to the client and cashed clean with her, he couldn’t shake the guy’s moist lips.

“Yeah, I fucking hate that word,” Sam said as he went to make a deposit. “Fucking moist.”

Cosplayers Shouldn’t Kill

“You want me to kill her because she’s going to dress as Daenerys?” Sam felt like a damn fool. He should never have advertised for dirty work on Craigslist. But times were tough. Living in San Francisco wasn’t what it used to be. Even the Comic-Con had moved to Oakland. Nobody could afford the city these days, let alone a down-on-his-luck thug.

His client, who went by the name of Doctor Diva, wore a skimpy Catholic schoolgirl outfit, the button-up shirt tied Daisy Duke-style (not that Diva would know the reference) above her navel. North of that he saw two buttons, with only one in use. Fake boobs, golden and curvy, spilled out at the top. She wore an obvious platinum blonde wig with a red bow on top. Sam figured she was trying to look like an Anime character of some sort, but he had no idea who. His cartoon watching days ended with He-Man.

The dude in him had no complaints about Diva’s sexed-up appearance. The dad in him? Not so thrilled by her fashion choices. Let alone her homicidal instincts. Diva couldn’t have been more than a few years older than his own kid.

“Affirmative’s the biggest bitch,” Diva said. “She’s only in the cosplay business because she couldn’t hack it as an actress. She’s not legit like me.” Her rage stemmed from an overheard conversation, in which another cosplayer named Affirmative Solo shared her plans to dress as the Queen of Dragons for tomorrow night’s fashion show. Diva had the same outfit in mind. Cue the murderous rage.

Sam looked across the quad. People dressed as Pokémon and kinky, half-naked Disney characters populated his line of sight. There was no mistaking the actress turned cosplayer with her flowing black Elvira gown, jet black hair and ample chest. The professional banner over her booth helped. A horde of eager boys waited in line to get her autograph. Diva had no line, Sam noticed.

He did dirty work, sure, but murdering a young woman for being successful wasn’t in his bag of tricks, not that he’d turn down the money. He told Diva he’d put a slug in Solo’s brain when she went to her room for the night, but the two grand had to be wired first.

Sam tossed out his usual warning. “You do it, there’s no turning back. I’m not kidding, little girl.”

Diva fiddled with her phone. Her hands shook like she had palsy and her face turned sheet white, but the little psycho got it done.

“If I change my mind, can I text…”

Sam didn’t let her finish. He knew the transfer was untraceable and immediate. “Nope. I’m a freight train now.”

Diva scampered off, looking ill. Sam loitered around the booths, navigating a sea of foam weaponry and skin-tight costumes. He’d catch Solo alone, get her to leave the Con, but not kill her. Diva would be the only Daenerys, the darling of the fashion show like she wanted, and nobody’d get a coffin. Sam would give half the kill money back and call the matter handled.

Two ambulances howled to a stop when he walked outside. Costumed geeks crowded the sidewalk at the 10th Street exit. Sam went up to a sobbing Ronald McDonald version of Thor and asked what happened.

“Some chick jumped off the damn roof!” The clown god cried.

The herd parted to let in the medics, giving Sam a glimpse of the jumper. Dark blood pooled on the asphalt, outlining the pile of mashed potatoes that used to be Diva. There was no mistaking those golden breasts and that schoolgirl outfit. Her blonde wig lay a few feet away.  Her real hair was brown, like Sam’s own daughter back in the city. The little psycho had a bit of a conscience after all, only her moral compass was for shit. Sam wondered if that was enough to get her into Heaven. Her two grand would keep him in the city for another month, now that he didn’t have to refund a dime, so that might grease the pearly gates for her.

It Otter Be Illegal

“We’re all dressing as Thanos,” he said. Like an idiot, I asked him to repeat the answer, just to be sure I’d heard right. Was he really talking about a villain from the Marvel Comics movies?

“Baby Thanos. Mama Thanos. And…”

I cut him off. “Papa Thanos. I got it. Just sounds stupid.  Keep paddling, man. I’m freezing my ass off out here.”

Ernesto cast me a dejected look. We were side by side in our two red kayaks off Moss Landing and we couldn’t see shit. I angled close to him to get a picture of the corpse on his bow, promising Ernesto I’d blur his face before texting it to Carlos. We paddled away from the beach, further into Monterey Bay, not that we could see it.

“You’re no fun, man. Don’t you like Halloween?”

The fog was thick as pea soup. Of course I wasn’t in a fun mood. I took pics like I was told, making sure Carlos would see the rope tied to the dead man’s ankles. We’d tied the other end to two cinder blocks at Ernesto’s feet. I understood the hit, sure, but Carlos and his flair for the dramatic made no sense to me.

“Why you suppose he wants us to sink the poor bastard?” I asked Ernesto. “We put a bullet in his head. Why couldn’t we just bury him in a field?”

Ernesto kept paddling. He sailed more weight than me, so it took him longer to get his glide on. It was like we were the only two people in the Bay. “He likes to send a message to his dealers, that’s why. You steal a cut from Carlos; you die in a bad way.”

“This is just stupid. Keep going, man. We need to be further out. Don’t want him washing up.”

Ernest lifted his paddle from the still sea, suddenly afraid. “Hold up. You see that?”

“See what?” But then I did see it. A black shape darted toward us. A second later it emerged. A damn sea otter. It shot itself out of the water and landed right onto Ernesto’s bow.

He nearly choked on his own spit. “Holy shit! Get it off!”

“Take it easy!” I reached behind me for my pistol and watched the otter settle right on top of the corpse near Ernesto’s boots, its big black eyes scanning the sea. It couldn’t care less about the kayak’s pilot. “It won’t hurt you,” I said. “I read about otters doing this sometimes when there’s danger in the water.”

“My heart is pounding!” Ernesto laid his paddle in his lap, sucked in a calming breath, and smiled nervously at his passenger. “Never seen one this close. It’s right on top of Manuel; like it doesn’t even care it’s on a dead dude. Quick! Take a picture for Carlos before it jumps off.”

I put my gun away and grabbed the phone again. The otter kept scanning the gray water, its whiskers twitched just inches above Manuel’s dead eyes.

Ernesto started to laugh. “Add this to the text. Tell him it otter be illegal. Get it? It otter be…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish the rest. Next thing I knew the kayak flipped over. The man, the corpse, and the otter went into the drink at the same time. I saw what looked like a giant black fin dip beneath the craft in a fury of whitewash. Definitely wasn’t the otter. This was huge. The wake crashed against my kayak, making me drop the phone in my lap. Not a single thing surfaced, but I didn’t wait around long. I left Ernesto’s kayak to float upside down on its own and got a safe distance away. My body felt hot and flushed. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“Ernesto? Hey, you out there?” I got no answer.

Manuel had to have sunk like a two-ton anchor. Who knows about Ernesto? Could be his last words were a stupid otter joke. Could be he got ate by whatever that big dark fin belonged to. Could be he drowned.

One thing I knew for certain. There’d be one less Thanos on October 31st.

Dating Today

She had the body of Nikki Minaj, but the face of a Latina warrior. Hot lava poured from her scalp and draped itself over her mountainous bosom. To Charlton, who’d been around and Googled everything that hadn’t come around, it was the most beautiful hair color he’d ever seen. Bottled or not, he loved it. The woman sauntered across her bedroom wearing only black panties and those no bigger than a shoe string, while flicking her cell. She scrolled right over and over again.

The princess pursed her full red lips while looking thoughtfully at the screen. She’d spent more than ten minutes on her makeup. It would be a night of selfies and sexting, basically the new American pastime.

Women today, Charlton thought. They sure had a lot to keep track of. Between social media, dating, and their trippy Craigslist flings, some women barely had time to keep a nine-to-fiver nailed down. The princess made her money from her looks, not to mention a good chunk of alimony on direct deposit. Her bank statements made it clear how much money she made without having to punch a clock.

She’s the real deal, he’d told the boys down at the Shadowbox one night. This was a woman he’d consider killing forever with. They laughed. Charlton? The notorious dating machine? Stay with only one woman until he died of wrinkles? No way.

Charlton had been around. The boys, all married save for Neil (who’d never so much as seen anyone other than his big sister naked ), cherished his stories. The five of them would settle onto the bar, letting the velvety darkness of the Shadowbox settle over them like a warm blanket, salivated when he shared his exploits.

“I know chicks,” he said. “They may talk big, but they all want to be dominated by guys like me. Deep inside, they want a dude to take care of them.”

“Bro, you don’t read the news, do ya?” Joe muttered with a snort.

Manny elbowed his buddy. “News schmooze, keep talking, Chartown!”

“Fake news ain’t my news,” Charlton said.

Joe laughed, but kept his mouth shut. He liked Char’s goofball chick stories as much as anyone.

Princess had the goods, Charlton told them, the whole package. Did he mention she could slap together fifty tamales like no one’s business? And they were good as Hell. Green, red; it didn’t matter. Tuesday he stood in front of her fridge, buck naked, door opened, and chomped down five with hardly a breath. If she noticed he’d broken her rule about eating tamales before noon, she never said. Charlton heard her tell her girlfriends about that rule enough times it had practically burned a damn hole in his brain.

“I haven’t felt like this since forever. It’s like my heart is as big as Costco.”

“Have you told her?” Joe asked.

“Not yet, maybe tonight.”

The skinny lady killer imagined how it would be later. How would she react if he told her? It was hard to know. The lady was a horn dog, but not a romantic. Would that bubble of lust grow or burst if she knew she wasn’t alone? He’d been close enough to smell her perfume, alone in her house long enough to masturbate on her bed and eat her tamales, and spent hours under her bed while she paraded around in her panties. He knew what she liked as well as he knew the window locks in her bedroom. He’d been on similar dates throughout Seaside. Dating today was complicated and his buddies wouldn’t get the nuances of it. Joe might even do something stupid, like narc to PD, if he knew the details of Charlton’s love life.

Manny snickered with a Coors at his lips. “Just maybe? Dude, if you like her, you gotta man up! That’s what I did with Mona.”

“Manny up,” Joe said, the hint of a smile on his lips.

Charlton shrugged. He’d tell her tonight. Maybe bring a pizza and knock on her front door. He’d keep a knife on him in case she said no.