Chicks dig a jacuzzi, dude.
The smug prick at the concierge hadn't said that. But he could see it in his eyes, this fruity smug Daughtry knock off, in his eyes above the minuscule trimmed goatee and the impeccable ironed—dear god, ironed—polo shirt. The collar was even popped.
That was a week ago. He hadn't argued. Because that certainly had factored into his decision of choosing this particular Holiday Inn Express. Who really needed room service or a hotel bar or even fucking HBO when you could surrender all that for a free fucking rockstar and stripper stewpot?
The prick had said that. “Surrendering”, that is, not “rockstar and stripper stewpot”. Surrendering. Like his honor bar and his shower caps were at war with each other.
At least it was a non-smoking room. He couldn't sleep smelling that shit all night, the way it clung to everything in the room like a damsel in distress. A stale, musty, disgusting damsel in distress.
The rest of the week had been a haze. Not a blur, more like a six-day hangover fuzz, stumbling around the redbrick tourism eyecandy of Frederick, MD. Not DC. Not Baltimore. Frederick. Frederick, Medical Doctor. Population less than a Barry Manilow concert. Hell, less than an REO Speedwagon reunion tour. Whoop-de-fucking-do. It'd been a bust.
All he did know was she was as dead today as the day he'd arrived. Too late. He'd been too late.
He started with the funeral. Her funeral. Cold. Raining. Clichéd. Her letter tucked in his inside pocket. Somebody sang Eva Cassidy's take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Tore what was left of him. The singer, an old friend of both his and hers who had moved out West like every other un-sensible young person pretending to be sensible, had fallen behind her conditioning while staying current in her tanning. Her voice was flat and her rhythm was shit. He felt like telling somebody so, but the tree he had picked to lean against nonchalantly was consciously out of polite earshot. He still bobbed his head to the beat. He couldn't help it. This was her favorite song.
He'd wanted to join the line to toss a handful of wet, soon-to-be-mud earth on her, say goodbye proper, but another line had formed. He wasn't as inconspicuous as he had hoped. It was her old roommate that recognized him first, slapped the bejeezus out of him before he could even remember what her fucking name had been. Jessica, that was it. She hadn't said anything, just let loose and stormed off. Her father came next and took a swing at him. That was to be expected. Her husband came after, and took a swing at him. That was less expected, but inevitable. A nice rhythm established. When the priest finally stepped up, he expected him to take a swing, too, even though he hadn't heard of a boxing padre outside the four-oh-seventy-seventh. Instead, the priest offered his hand, helped him to his feet. Asked him if everything was all right, my son, clean yourself off. Then the priest took a swing.
Apparently Catholics can hold a grudge.
He spent the rest of the week looking. For anything. He owed her that much. Wandering the faux colonial veneer Frederick had adapted to draw all the wine trail yuppies downtown like Black Friday. But he was out of practice, too. And too late. Getting into a rhythm that didn't evolve into anything. Nobody.
Not even him.
He knew he was here, though. He just couldn't see him. There was nowhere else he'd be.
Tonight was his last night. He'd had enough. Enough of being too late. He looked down the rolling river of asylum carpet, the paisley patterns unique in no way at any point of the hallway, the non-threatening stucco, the calming wall sconces. It was like a movie set. A bad movie set. Somebody was playing The Dramatics nearby. At this time of night. The week had been a bust, he had to admit. But as he fumbled the stupid little keycard into the slot, began the cycle of wait for the damn light to go green, try the handle, the light goes red, swear, try the damn card again, the light go goes green, turn the handle, the light goes red, swear swear swear, repeat repeat repeat, he thought he might even lower himself to using that jacuzzi just once. Cap a crummy week off right. He wanted a smoke, but had run out yesterday after the scrambled vomit of a continental breakfast. He wasn't going cold turkey, just refused to pay Maryland prices. The Orioles? Seriously?
He took a breath, calmly cursed the lock designer's religion heritage and upbringing, then tricked the door open with a quick twist and thrust from his hip.
He must have wanted a smoke worse than he thought. The smoky dank of his room seemed fresher, like it was still hanging in the air instead of clinging to the walls and the sheets and the blankets and the furniture. Then he remembered it wasn't supposed to be clinging to the walls and the sheets and the blankets and the furniture when you stay in a no-smoking room. Then he remembered he hated that stank, so he always booked a no-smoking room. Then he remembered he was staying in a no-smoking room.
The Dramatics hadn't been coming from down the hall, it was coming from his alarm clock that he didn't even know had a radio built into it. “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” Playing so low it sounded like it was coming from another room. And the smoke smelled fresh because it was fresh, hanging in the shine of the lights of the parking lot through the window before the updraft from the air conditioner obliterated it. He let the door close. The dark settled like a promise.
“Evening Abbot,” he said to the black. “Could you short me one?”
The floor lamp by the window clicked on. Abbot sat in one of those ridiculous maroon armchairs, the ones that looked like a reject from Masterpiece Theater.
“Sorry, Deacon, ol' mate, fresh out.”
He'd been using one of Deacon's shoes as an ashtray. Mount St Marlboro's. He plunged his latest in now, causing a fresh eruption of butts. Onto the desk, the complimentary stationary, the complimentary blotter. Next to the cut wires on the complimentary phone.
His hair was a lot shorter than last time, almost a fiery orange buzz. He'd shaved, too. Clever boy. That's how you keep all of her family and friends and neighbors from knocking the stupid out of you. Make yourself look different. What a novel concept.
Abbot uncrossed his legs, and Deacon could see it bridging his lap, a silencer the size of a coffee can screwed on the end. Deacon always thought they looked as ridiculous as their purpose. A silencer for a sawn-off? What's the fucking point? How's that even possible?
Deacon frowned. Abbot wore brown shoes. And not like, subtly stylish brown shoes, no. Blatantly brown brown shoes. Deacon felt like pointing out that they didn't match. He told him: “Your shoes don't match.”
Abbot glanced down at his feet. “Never miss a thing, eh?”
Deacon sat on the couch across the bed, opposite the armchair. “You can be a tough fucker to find when you want to be.”
“I can be an impossible fucker to find when I want to be.”
That was that. They stared. The Dramatics ended, Sam & Dave came on. That famous horn line announcing “Hold On, I'm Comin'”. Deacon tapped his foot. He couldn't help it. He flicked his head.
Abbot smirked, a yellow eye-tooth. Gross. “Had to do something.” His turn to flick his head. “No fucking HBO?”
Deacon shrugged. “They gave me the jacuzzi instead.”
Abbot leaned forward slightly and turned up the volume. “Oh, right, yeah. Nothing like a rock star party at the Holiday Inn, yeah? I bet Maryland chicks dig the jacuzzi, man.”
Deacon felt like laughing in his face. But didn't. Something told him laughing at a guy who'd been chain-smoking in the dark for hours listening to soul music with a shotgun in his lap might land in the “bad idea” column. So he didn't. Instead, he shrugged again. Brilliant, he thought. That probably told him off but good.
That was that. They stared. Sam & Dave belted the chorus.
Deacon smirked this time. “Appropriate.”
Abbot didn't move. “Only in your head, mate.” Again with that “mate” crap. Maybe he thought the accent made him sound tougher. Abbot was about as Irish as greening the Chicago river. He was glaring straight at Deacon. Neither moved.
Deacon tried again. “Time to hit that dusty trail, Abbot.”
Abbot overlapped his name. “I figured it'd be you. Y'know, I figured it'd be you they send.”
Deacon held his eyes. Those yellow, animal eyes. “Nobody sent me, Abbot.”
“I came on my own.”
Abbot was ignoring him. “I figured it'd be you. Saw you at the bloody funeral. At her bloody fucking funeral. Who better, I says to myself, who better than the best, eh?”
Abbot got up, paced about his side of the room, the sawn-off pacing its own path in his hand, swung to his hip, over to his other hand across his chest, up to his shoulder, back down to his hip, up to his other hand repeat repeat repeat. Deacon wondered if he could get to the knife on his shin. But no, he knew if he made a move, Abbot would probably shoot him in the head. He had an ASP Airweight Expandable Tactical Baton up his right sleeve, rigged to drop into his hand if he cocked his wrist just right. But no, Abbot knew about that too, and if he saw him cock his wrist, would probably shoot him in the head. Stashed across the room he had a machete his last girlfriend had given him for Christmas, a camping hatchet he'd had since he was eleven, and a Rawlings BB1AM Ambush aluminum baseball bat he picked up earlier this week because he liked the name. Of course, they were placed strategically so he could snag them if somebody had tried to get the jump on him—not when they were already waiting for him inside. He knew trying to get to any of them would probably tip off Abbot, and get him shot in the head. It was times like these Deacon wished he didn't want to do a “hands on” job so much.
Abbot paced. Never took his eyes off Deacon. Never took his finger off the trigger guard. “Soul Finger” by The Bar-Kays took over for Sam & Dave.
After another beat, Deacon repeated: “I came on my own.”
“You came on your own.”
“They had nothing to do with it.”
“Like fuck they didn't.”
Deacon exhaled sharply. He tried again: “They're not pleased. Obviously. Obviously they're not pleased you're here, instead of there, where you're supposed to be, but they did not send me.”
Abbot said nothing. Only paced.
Deacon finally splayed his hands to him. “Feel better?”
“I didn't kill her.”
“I didn't fuckin' kill her, Deac.”
“I know, Abbot. And don't ever call me that.”
“That bitch. That—that—holier-than-thou slag, I could have, I fuckin' wanted to, but I didn't.”
“I know, Abbot, I know!”
“You know? How the fuck do you know, eh?”
Deacon set his jaw. He had had enough. “Because I FUCKING KNEW HER TOO, DIDN'T I!”
Abbot slowed, then stopped. His face fell into a scolded child.
“Oh, no, sorry, man, I didn't mean it.”
“I'm not an imbecile, Abbot. I'm not a child.”
“Give me some fucking credit, please. Show some respect.”
“I will, mate, I'm sorry.”
“Good. Now could you put the tank down, please?”
Abbot looked even more hurt. He must have really wanted to shoot somebody tonight.
Abbot sighed, set the gun down on the bed. “There, you happy now?”
“And none of that wrist-cockin' shite, neither, or I'll pick that back up and shoot you, eh?”
“I'm well aware of that, Abbot, yes.”
Abbot bounced on the balls of his feet, flexed his hands in his gloves.
That was that. Neither stared. A nightfly DJ took over for the Bar-Kays, letting them know they were in the middle of a long set of songs, they're listening to the best soul in Frederick County, they'll be right back after this station identification, they can't stay on the air without your support, repeat repeat repeat.
Abbot was still bouncing, not saying anything. Deacon tried: “Did she have a wake?”
“Yeah. Yeah she did.”
That was that.
“Did you go?”
“Yeah. I did.”
That was that.
“How—” Deacon stopped. All of sudden he couldn't say it. Abbot looked at him. Deacon coughed, tried to cover it, the sudden catch in his throat, the water in his eyes. “How'd she look?”
Abbot kept his eyes. “She looked good, mate.”
“Yeah. You know, about from being fuckin' dead and everything, she looked great as ever.”
Deacon laughed, without even a touch of mirth, and immediately hated himself for it.
That was that.
He looked up and saw Abbot still staring at him, studying him. Deacon didn't feel like talking anymore. He just wanted Abbot to go the hell away so he could crawl into his bed, now saturated with all that fucking smoke, and sleep for a hundred years or so. Fuck all this. Abbot must have seen it in his face. “How'd you hear?”
“How'd you know she was dead?”
“None of your fucking business.”
Abbot paused, held up his hands. “All right, mate. Easy, now.”
Deacon didn't look at him, ran his tongue over his bottom teeth. No need telling him about the letter, the first she'd sent him in years. The first they'd spoken in years. How he thought of keeping tabs on her again, for old times' sake. How he was thinking of how to compose the perfect reply when he found out Abbot had disappeared. How when he saw he'd gone to “visit Doc Freddy”, he only had to look at the postmark to put two and two together. Doc Freddy. Freddy the doctor. Frederick, MD. Subtlety was never Abbot's forte.
Curtis Mayfield came on, “If There's Hell Below We're All Gonna Go”. Deacon tapped his foot, bobbed his head. He couldn't help it. The aggressiveness of the bass line wasn't helping Abbot much. The sudden change in Deacon was unsettling. He was tensing. Deacon could hear the leather creaking around his knuckles. Gloves. Come on, man, how clichéd could you be?
Deacon exhaled again. “Fuck this. I'm tired. Get lost, all right? I'm done.”
Abbot stared at him.
“I'm serious. Get the fuck lost. We're through.”
Still Abbot said nothing.
He didn't like this. When Abbot wasn't smoking, he was talking. When he wasn't talking, he was thinking. And when he wasn't thinking—
Abbot dove for the shotgun. Deacon leaped forward at the same time, getting his knees on the bed just as Abbot lodged the shotgun under his arm. The cradle, he called it.
Deacon had a vision of what was left of his face smeared on wall behind him, on that disgusting, cream-striped wallpaper, running down onto the pullout couch, the look on the maid's face when she realized she'd have to clean that up, when she realized she'd probably need a plaster knife to scrape it all off.
But no, thanks to Abbot's attention to detail, the ridiculous canister of a silencer extended the cannon just enough for Deacon to get a hold of it and wrench sideways just as Abbot blasted the television to sparks and smithereens. The kick of the gun knocked Deacon's hands lower on the stock, just where he wanted it. Abbot cried out briefly when Deacon wrenched the gun, his finger stuck in the trigger guard. One good reason not to bother with those damn leather gloves, Abbot, Deacon thought. Abbot's other hand came up to pummel Deacon in the side of his head once, twice, three times. Deacon realized on the fourth that Abbot was keeping in time with the bass line. He'd tap his foot if he wasn't getting such a beating. Deacon finally got the rifle free and rammed it into Abbot's face. Blood sprayed out in both directions and he collapsed to his knees, hissing and sputtering through his gloves.
Deacon took a few steps to steady himself. Abbot had really clocked him but good. The room spun a bit. That damn bass line was wreaking havoc on his inner ear. He unscrewed the silencer, dropped it on the bed—dumb thing—and cradled the gun under his own arm. He took a step back.
That was that. Deacon caught his breath, the gun leveled at Abbot. Abbot grumbled and swore. Isaac Hayes' “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” came on.
“Wrap it up, Abbot.”
“Shut up already.”
Deacon pumped another shell into the chamber. Abbot shut it abruptly.
“Really wished you hadn't done that, Abbot.”
“Ah...” Abbot brought his hands away from his face slightly, blood over his mouth and chin. He wouldn't look up. “I wasn't really gonna shoot ya, mate.”
“My TV might have to disagree with you.”
“Well, all right, Deac, maybe I was, but come on, mate, put yourself in my shoes, eh?”
“I said don't ever call me that.”
“You can't stand there and tell me you wouldn't do the same, mate. I mean, you standing there says you really are doing the same, eh?”
Deacon jutted his jaw. Couldn't argue with that.
Abbot laughed. “Yeah, that's what I thought.” His hands went to his chest. Deacon brought the gun up to his shoulder.
Abbot held his palms out. “Easy, mate, easy. Look,” He slowly reached into his jacket and pulled out a box of smokes. Pall Malls. He shook them. Music to Deacon's ears.
“Sneaky bastard. I knew you were holding out on me.”
“Yeah, well,” He put on in his mouth. “I didn't want to waste one, you know?” He offered the pack. “I mean, if you was gonna be dead anyway.”
Deacon kept the gun up. “Light me one.”
Abbot looked hurt again. “Ah, come on, mate. You made your point.”
“You're right. I did make my point. Light me one.”
Abbot put the other in his mouth. He spoke around them, his teeth clenched. “Fair enough, mate, fair enough. Uh,” he gestured to his hips. “can I get my lighter?”
Deacon nodded. “Slowly, now.”
Abbot started to slip his hand in his pocket, his left on his belt. He chuckled to himself, “Fucker tells me to do it slow, like I can't see he's got a fuckin' shooter at my head.”
Too late, Deacon saw what he was doing. Abbot fell to his right side, kicking his legs out and around, sweeping Deacon's feet out from under him. Luckily, he was smart enough to get his finger off the trigger and avoid squeezing a blast into the ceiling, but dumb enough to not squeeze one into Abbot's head, where it belonged. He landed on his back, hard, and felt the air blast out of him in a rush. He tried to roll, but Abbot was on him in a flash, the folded knife locked and poised over Deacon's left eye. He brought his arms up to stop the plunge, but the combined weight of Abbot's body and the lack of oxygen wasn't going to be enough. Isaac preached about the struggles of the ghetto while Abbot flicked his wrist a few times, grinning yellow again. The tip of his knife raked Deacon's lower eyelid, fluttering his lashes. Not the eyes, goddamn it, not the eyes. Deacon knew he couldn't last. Abbot was stronger than he was, that was a fact. But stronger doesn't mean smarter. He doubted he was wearing a cup. He rammed his knee into Abbot's groin twice quick, enough to see it register in his eyes, his yellow animal eyes, before driving it up so hard he hoped to send his balls out the top of his orange skull. Instead, Abbot slacked, and Deacon was able to twist away before Abbot wretched all over the carpet. Nope. No cup. Rookie mistake, Abbot. Deacon got to his feet. He kicked the knife out of Abbot's reach, though he doubted he had any strength left to make a grab for it. Deacon held a hand up to his eye, spots of blood came back on his palm. Fuck. He turned Abbot over with is foot. He was wheezing and bleeding and grabbing his groin. “I'm sorry, mate, I'm sorry...”
“Yeah, yeah, shut up.” He stooped down and helped Abbot up, leaning him against the edge of the jacuzzi. “Let's have no more of that, all right? You've done your best and— here, where's your smokes?” He reached in Abbot's jacket, found them, took them out. “Ah, here we go. You've done your best, and you just couldn't—” He shook out two, lit them and stuck one in Abbot's mouth. “Here, smoke this.”
Abbot took a drag and wheezed, “Cheers.”
Deacon inhaled deep, his first in two days, and felt himself wake up again. His head clear. About time. He leaned next to Abbot on the jacuzzi.
“All right, man, let's be realistic here. Come on, you and me, killing each other? Over what? Over her? Sure, I'd be the first admit, she was worth it. But come on, you and me go back how far?”
Abbot was chuckling. “Pretty far.”
“Pretty far, right? So come on, let's forget this shit. All this, in here tonight. Fuck this place. Fuck this city. Here's what we'll do. Let's you and me go down to your car and cruise into town. All right? Find us a couple girls, huh? A couple real sluts—ones with rings, yeah? Who could resist us, huh? The Brothers Badass on the town, lock up your daughters, lock up your wives! Lock up your grandmas, eh? Right? Bring 'em back here, fire up the jacuzzi? Come on, who's going to turn us down, a couple murderous lads like us, huh?”
Abbot kept nodding. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Then tomorrow, we get us some coffee, hell, we get us some eggs, eggs benny, right? Pancakes—“
“Yeah, flapjacks! Hashbrowns, biscuits, the fuckin' works, man, just, just not here, all right? Believe me, I've had my fill of the shit they pass off for breakfast here. We go into town, we get some greasy shit on a plate, and we find her killer together. You and me. Like the old days, huh? Let's go stir up some true villainy, eh? Huh? What do you say?”
Abbot was nodding and smiling, the cigarette dangling from his blood and spittle covered lip. “Yeah, sure. Sounds good.”
“Yeah, sounds good, only—“
“Only what, man? Come on, let's go cruise.”
Abbot laughed again. “Only—come on, mate, only I haven't got a car, mate.”
Deacon looked at him. “You don't?”
“No, mate, I don't drive. I haven't even got a fuckin' license, remember?”
Deacon started laughing with him. “Oh yeah, yeah, you're right. Well, there goes that idea.”
“Okay, well. Plan B, then.”
Abbot turned to him, confusion flashing on his bloody face a split-second. But he'd been too busy to notice. Too busy listening to notice Deacon cocking his wrist. Too busy laughing to see the baton fall into Deacon's far hand. Too busy thinking about those girls in that jacuzzi to see Deacon turn, whip the baton to its full length, and swing it to his face.
Deacon wasn't sure, but it almost sounded like he got out “Deac, wait, she didn't send the lett—“ before the stick smashed across his mouth. The cigarette exploded right along with his face, sparks and teeth flying, before he toppled into the jacuzzi.
Deacon hit the jets. The bubbling and churning bringing Abbot back to the brink of consciousness. Under normal circumstances, Deacon would have grabbed him by the hair and held him under. Since Abbot insisted on the buzzcut, he had to settle for his collar. It worked out all right. Abbot's gloves were too slick to make any kind of purchase on the edge of the jacuzzi. Reason number two to avoid the whole gloves thing. He stood there and held him under, Abbot flailing in the red water like the stew had been left to boil too long, until he finally lay still and the jets ceased their function. Deacon kept his hand on Abbot's collar, hit the jets again. Just to make sure. Make a friend, kill a friend, make a friend, kill a friend, repeat repeat repeat.
When the jets were finally silent again, Deacon stepped back and flopped onto the bed. Let the baton roll out of his hand, off the bed, and thunk onto the floor. He touched his shirt, the letter was soaked. And he'd dropped the cigarette when he turned on Abbot. The Pall Malls bobbed next to Abbot's head in the jacuzzi. Goddamn it all, he thought. The Chairmen of the Board was on the radio. “Give Me Just A Little More Time.”
That was that. Deacon sat. Tapped his foot in time. He couldn't help it. Abbot floated. Didn't do anything in time. Didn't do anything but float. That was that. Deacon thought, at least the music in this goddamn town was pretty decent.