Love Story

What a shithole.

Stained walls, peeling paint. Everything in a dingy gold-brown, piss-shit cast --
sunlight through dirty, yellowed glass at the end of the hall. Third floor, Monroe Villa
Hotel. Hourly rates. Whores. Hopheads. Her.

Room 3-C.

Ear to the door. It's cheap and old and it's seen the floor before. It's thin, and it sells
them out. Sickening sounds. Voices. One hers. The other not.

A deep breath and a step back. Cold sweat. Loosen the tie, reach in the coat --
"click." One more deep breath. Let it out, and step into it good. The door cracks, the
frame gives. Dust, splinters, paint chips. Grotesque cracks like brittle bones. The
door meets the floor again, and I'm walking across it toward a bed. A scream, sweat
smells, thrashing sheets -- blurs of movement and panic. A bottle falls off a shitty
little nightstand. No, he knocked it off. His back is to me, and he's reaching for
something. A piece of crap .32 revolver, but the stupid putz is tangled in the sheets
and reeaaachinnggg...

My hand is in and out of the breast pocket. I flick the switch, flip it around, and in
the glass of a cheap landscape hanging over the bed I catch the reflection of my arm
arcing smoothly downward. I slam the switchblade neatly through the back of his
hand, slicing tendons and sinking that beautiful Italian stiletto tip about a half inch
into the cheap pine. He's screaming like a little girl impaled on a nightstand. She's
off the bed, screaming, crying, curled up in the corner knees to chin with her hands
over her ears.

I grab his piece, empty the cartridges onto the floor, and butt him in the back of the
head with it a couple times. Grab the handle of my knife, snap the blade off in the
wood, pull it out and yank him screaming onto the floor. He looks ridiculous, tangled
up in the sheet, sobbing, hand a bloody mess. He looks up at me and manages to
get out a strangled, squeaky, "Don't hurt me. What do you want?" I pull the .45 from
my shoulder holster and shoot the big toe off his left foot. He lets out a disgusting
sound -- something like a scream, I suppose -- that's so pathetic I actually feel sorry
for him. So I shoot him in the balls to take his mind off the toe, and leave him there
to bleed for a minute while I walk around to the other side of the bed.

And there she is. Bathed in sunlight streaming through the window. Radiant and
glowing like an angel. Her tears catch the light, shining like stars, and her eyes are
like suns, and she's the whole fucking universe right there in front of me. Infinite and
magical. All-encompassing.

She rolls those huge eyes up at me. Mascara streaks down her cheeks, lipstick
smeared, hair everywhere. Scared. Confused. Beautiful. She wants to say
something, but the events of the last few minutes seem to have affected her
vocabulary. The guy missing a toe and a package moans, spits, and hacks up some
god-knows-what, and stammers out, "You... fuck-ing... cocksucker..."

She looks in his direction for a long second, then turns those eyes back to meet
mine. And I see a house in the country. I see kids playing in the sprinkler. I see her
standing there on the front porch, smiling and waving as I drive up after a long day.
Slowly she closes those eyes.

I raise the Colt and take a beat. My head is throbbing, my heart is pounding. I'm
drenched in sweat. My hand shakes. Breathe in. Sight. Breathe out. Slow squeeze.

I put one through the back of his head from across the room. I blink once. Twice.
Look away and look back again. That spray of blood on the wall behind him -- I'll be
goddamned if it isn't shaped like a fucking heart. What a day...

I turn back, and she's standing there. The universe. Everything that is, was, and will
ever be. She steps toward me. She puts her arms around me, pulls me tightly to her,
and presses her face into my neck. "What have you done?"

"I got you that divorce we talked about."


There's screaming and crying. Screaming. I'm in a shitty room, staring at a mirror
shaped like a heart. The glass turns to blood and a hand reaches out. A hand with a
hole in it. It grabs my throat. It squeeeeeezes. Slow. And I can't breathe. And I can't
move. Screams. Loud.


I jerk awake, and almost spin myself right out of the goddamn hammock.

On the other side of the yard, the kids have found a small lizard. They're screaming
and giggling, trying to decide whether to make friends with it or run away from it.
"Daddy, we found a dinosaur!" I laugh and wave, and lay my head back as the
afternoon breeze starts to come in from the west. Warm, sunny day. Central coast.
The country, more or less, with a hammock hung between two oaks and a Plymouth
parked in the drive -- four doors, of course. That afternoon breeze, with that ocean
smell. It always puts me out. Put my hands behind my head and start to drift...

"Room for one more?"

I squint up and she's wearing the sun like a halo. With her hair pulled up, and rays of
gold light shining through her dress. Curves of her legs. Sunlight on her neck. She
sets down a pitcher of lemonade and climbs onto the hammock. She squeezes in
tight, with her head on my shoulder, her arm across my chest. Kisses my neck, and
doesn't say another word. As she dozes off, I lay there staring up at the trees,
listening to the kids laughing. And this is one of my favorite things, to listen to her
breathing close to me, to know she's somewhere quiet and peaceful.

We don't talk about it. But she can tell when I'm thinking about it. She just smiles
that smile, and winks. "Penny for your thoughts, Prince Charming." But she knows.
And she thinks about it too. I've heard her cry at night when she thinks I'm asleep.

I think a lot about that day in 3-C. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not sorry. Hell, I've
hurt plenty of shitbirds and lowlifes. Punched, kicked, broken. Sapped. Stabbed.
Shot. But that one ended it. I resigned from the force the next day. Dropped the
shield on the desk and walked away. Clean.

But back to 3-C...

Dug a slug out of the wall. Wiped the room. Wiped her tears.

And the dead ex met a tragic "end" in a fiery car crash, up off Mulholland late that
night. Drove off a cliff. I worked the case. The file read that he had been cheating on
her, got drunk and despondent, and couldn't live with himself. Decided to end it.
Check out early. Hell, he even left a note telling the world what a sorry son of a bitch
he was. I had always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid...

Nobody blamed her for wanting to move on. I called in a favor or two, and the
official divorce was official about a month later. I emptied all my "special" accounts,
made sure the t's were crossed and the i's were dotted, and we hopped in the car
and headed north. Two days later we were married in a little white chapel in Pismo.
That was five years ago.

I work for a little podunk department up here now. Roust the occasional wino on the
beach. Pretend to give a shit when the hot rodders race at night out near Avila. Do a
lot of paperwork. Think about her. She's still the universe. And her lemonade is the
best I've ever tasted.

The other day, I was having a bite to eat, and a little kid about ten or so, with his
cowboy hat and tin star and cap pistols, says, "Have you ever killed somebody?"

I looked at myself in the mirror behind the counter. No blood. No hand.

I couldn't help smiling.

"Onlywhen I had a good reason."

Chris Shinkus is a writer who's never read Hemingway, a musician who hates
The Beatles and an all-around great guy who's not scared of anything.

2006 Underground Voices