Starting at dawn to beat the heat got them to lunch by ten-thirty. They lounged on the crude temporary front steps, ate sandwiches from paper sacks, drank Gatorade or beer, and smoked. Gabe tipped his head back, looked up the front of the still-skeletal structure, and asked, “How are you with heights?”
Jack shrugged. “Spent half my life on rooftops. Why?”
Gabe looked skyward again. “Good, ‘cause way up there on the third level, this layout has a row of clerestory windows. If Ray had his way, we’d be working off ladders, but I’m gonna break his balls to rent some scaffolding.”
He pronounced it ‘clear story’ and Jack was thrown. He knew what they were, but just last night he heard it pronounced clair-RES-tory by a guy he’d stabbed and thrown off a moving train.
“What did you call them?”
Gabe repeated, “clerestories. Big, fixed-pane fuckers. Heavy as shit. Expensive.”
Jack dragged his tongue along the new sharp edge on his lateral incisor. “Just another day at the office. Clear stories.” And fuck you, Ray.
He’d gone into the city to pick up a few things he’d left with Go and Chi. The trip was mostly a distraction to keep from thinking about Anna, about being seconds, inches, from burying himself inside her—and, he had to admit—blowing his load like he was twelve. Jesus. The interruption had left him gutted and angry with no place for the emotions to go. A deserving stranger paid the price.
The man had slammed into him on the subway when the car had taken an unexpected lurch. Rather than the usual muttered apologies riders gave one another when unintentional contact got rugby rough, the guy acted like Jack was the only oaf. He huffed off toward the next car, but not before leaking to Jack the details of how he’d savagely beaten a working girl to death the night before.
Already the man couldn’t remember her face. He hadn’t worried that she would remember him—another nameless, faceless dick to suck. He’d hit her because she’d made the mistake of mocking the noises he made while she worked on him, whimper for whimper. Killing her was more satisfying than the sex. He couldn’t stop thinking about doing it again.
The guy was an architect. He was running a list of specs through his head like some kind of furious prayer. “Clair-restory windows,” the client wanted, and he hated them. “Clair-restory windows,” she’d said, and he was too afraid to correct her. Now the word rattled around in his skull while he envisioned the tortures he wanted to visit on her, his one and only lucrative client. Any other female would do, and they were everywhere. Jack got all this from the fumbling body slam and he couldn’t let it slide.
He followed the man too closely through the grimy sliding door into the wind-whipped, ear-splitting space between the cars. The man turned aggressively, arm raised, his heavy wristwatch catching Jack in the mouth just as his momentum impaled him on the knife Jack held, braced for what he knew was coming. The man had a moment to take in Jack’s smiling face and hearty “You’re welcome!” before Jack boosted him over the feeble metal gate into the stinking, rushing blackness.
He wiped the blade on the sole of his boot, folded the knife into his jacket, and made his way into the next car. No one looked up from their papers. He rubbed his mouth, checked himself in the greasy glass of the door, and confirmed the broken tooth. The cocksucker.
It was almost midnight by the time he got back to Angel’s Rest. Even this late, it was hot and muggy out. Heat lightning flickered through the clouds, too far off for thunder. Their daybreak starts made staying there practical and being back on her couch was preferable to his flop in town. All the windows were dark and the door to her apartment locked.
Rather than impose on Gabe or sleep in his car, Jack made himself comfortable on a ratty sofa that had been abandoned in a dark corner of the lobby. In the space of a dream, he was awakened by the sound of a car crunching along the potholes and gravel of the steep driveway. The driver pulled right up to the open front door and cut the engine. The passenger door swung wide and the yellowed interior light came on. It was Ray and Anna.
Jack slipped into the deep shadows just inside the door, so close that if he lunged, he could grab her. A light set low in the car door spotlighted Anna, or rather, her leg. Ray was left in the gloom. She turned to step out, leg extended, the toe of her high-heeled shoe on the gravel. The blood-red dress was cut clear up to her hip. Her hair was falling down from an updo, her eyes and lips dark with heavy makeup. A strand of pearls glowed at her neck. Jack couldn’t look away from her.
From the dimness of the driver’s seat, Ray, high on something, fizzled like a cheap bottle rocket, erratic and spitting. His black hair hung over his forehead, the formal tie undone, shirt collar unbuttoned. Jack couldn’t make out what he was saying, the menace of his tone building and receding. For all the impression Ray was making on Anna, he might as well have been alone.
Jack took another stab at catching her thoughts. What he got was the cold, dark side of the moon. There was no “up” and the absence of gravity, time or place, made him brace himself against the wall through a rush of vertigo. A malevolence crouched there, waiting for some cue.
Oblivious to Ray, she stared out into the night. At Jack’s intrusion, she lifted her chin and cocked her head in his direction just a degree or two. The thin, satin spaghetti strap drifted off her shoulder as she raised her other arm to fend off Ray’s ranting. The only thing holding the dress up was her breasts. Jack watched her flex the fingers of her right hand and curl them into a street fighter’s fist.
Jesus! Where’d she learn that? Here comes the pain.
Ray grabbed her left wrist, anchoring her, and she came across her body with her right and punched him in the face. Punched him—not a girly slap—a solid shot. Ray reeled back, then made a feeble grab for her, but she’d already slipped from his grasp and was out the door. She staggered briefly, the stilettos unstable in the gravel.
Jack shrank deeper into the shadows as she flashed through the doorway. She hit the stairs at a run but paused at the top in the darkness. A bouncing waterfall of pearls cascaded down the steps, some making it all the way into the spill of light still coming from the open car door. Little glowing eyes watching her back. He heard her key the lock, slam, and re-lock the door. That’s when he decided that Ray was not going up those stairs.
Ray was still sitting in the driver’s seat rubbing his face. After a minute, he got out and came around into Jack’s line of sight and shut the passenger door, cutting off the light. He leaned back against the car and lit a cigarette. The smoke drifted through the darkness and gave Jack a pang. Suddenly, Ray flicked the half-smoked butt to the ground in a ball of sparks and climbed the granite step up into the lobby. Jack tensed, ready.
Ray took two tentative steps into the hollow room. Something snapped under his dress shoe. He stopped, fumbled a lighter out of his pocket, and knelt to examine the source of the sound. He lifted the lighter higher and saw a few more pearls scattered across the floor and the steps. Jack held his knife at his side. Ray cut off the lighter, muttered, “Fucking witch,” and stepped back outside. He got in the car, pulled it around the circle and down the driveway.
Jack watched the taillights disappear, closed the knife, and slipped it back in his pocket. He dragged the couch across the floor to block the stairs, crushing several more pearls in the process. He lit a cigarette and pinched up one of the crushed orbs and rolled the precious dust between his thumb and forefinger. Lying back on the couch, he drew a cross in the sweat on his forehead with the glittering powder and then licked his fingers. There has to be some kind of magic in this shit.
Sam sat at the top of the stairs, his hands gripping his knees, eyes closed.
Stretched out halfway down the stairs, Hope lounged, watching Jack sleep. She looked up at Sam.“What are you sulking about, boy?”
“I’m not sulking, I’m...I don’t know. Unsettled.”
“Unsettled, my fine ass. You’re jealous. My boy here was ready to do for her. Do serious. And where were you?”
“I was with her,” Sam protested. “When she went inside. I was ready.”
“So why are you out here?”
“She...” Sam bit his lip.
“Well?” Hope sat up.
“She took up a big knife from the kitchen.”
Hope started up. “Fool, she could hurt herself, she might...”
“No,” Sam shook his head. “She was waiting for him. The husband.” Sam glowed pinkish in the dark. “She tore off her clothes. Everything! She was crouched down just inside the door holding that knife, bare as the Lord made her.”
Hope giggled, “I’ll bet that’ll keep you warm on a cold night. Your idea, her getting nekkid?”
“No!” He shouted, then dropped his voice. “She doesn’t need me.”
Hope smiled up at him.“Don’t be fooled, Sam, she may have the fire when she’s poked, but you’re her strength. Be steady. This one here,”—she toed a pearl down the stairs, watched it bounce onto Jack’s chest and roll into his navel—“still thinks he knows what’s coming.”
excerpt from "Prophets Tango" by Deborah Lacativa c.2020