Love in high places
Chapter 8 Love in high places
I did as I was told. What else could I do? I don’t seem to remember a montage of ninja training in my backstory, no secret swat teams backing me up, rappelling down the roof as we speak. My one and only knight in shining armour was probably on the other side of town with a hangover. And here I was making little jokes to myself when my head was probably going to be decorating my own mantle in a matter of minutes. Goodbye cruel world, we were going to have so much fun together.
I walked gingerly into the living room with the air of someone who’s hand was permanently glued into the cookie jar. The proverbial curious cat about to meet a sticky end.
It was dark, because of course it was, how else to set a mood. I couldn’t see a thing, completely pitch. But I felt a wave come over me, a sibilant ring from the dark back seat driver. A cold feeling at the back of my neck I assumed wasn’t the kiss of a channel number five lipstick but the barrel of a gun.
A hushed voice with a slight Latin twang told me to walk closer and as my eye adjusted I saw my Aunt. Silent and solemn on her knees in front of the couch in our living room. She wasn’t making a noise. Her head hung like she was Marie Antoinette awaiting the headman’s axe with a cloistered dignity as if she were about to let her captures eat cake. I hope they’d choke on it.
Then it struck me, the gun at my neck was still there and there was another, a knife in the dark, a knife at my Aunt’s neck. There were two of them, two killers. That made it a lot easier to lug all those parts I imagined.
“What now Cuz?” The gun at my neck croaked with a boyish whisper.
“We do them here, no witnesses, the older bitch is yours, I’m gonna take my time with this one”. The voice I recognised said.
Hi Antoine, great party last night.
He dropped my Aunt, the knife coming away from her neck, something deep inside told me that was good. She was still and stoic, taking on the doer nature of a good martyr, no tears just a distant and tacit acceptance. A cold detachment to the earthly realm.
The gun at my neck came around my side and Ruez got close enough so I could smell his breathe.
“I bet you thought that was pretty funny, me all tied up like that, naked. I bet it made you feel really - powerful.” He spat in the dark but I could see the odd white tooth and feel the knife twist under my chin, I wasn’t afraid, there was something else. A shiver of cool excitement rising up from the darkness. The blackness gently shifting building silently beneath the waves trying to tell me- what? ‘I told you so’. “How do you feel now uh?” He said.
“I-“ I was rudely interrupted by a crash of glass. The room almost turned red with their fear, their shock. Their perfect bubble burst by some idle cat burglar or maybe my neighbour Gary got carried away showing someone his backswing.
“Go check it out” Ruez whispered.
“Why me?” The younger boy croaked.
“Because I said so” Ruez hissed. Turning his head to spit on our nice carpet, yuck.
“Fuck me man” The younger voice said as he tiptoed out of the room.
He got close again, his breathing rising and falling on my face. “I bet you’re wondering how I found you. It wasn’t the phone-“ He stopped, breathing heavily as if he wanted me to ask. Wanted me to play some guessing game. I just looked at my Aunt. There was something strange about her, something unsettling. She said nothing, looked at nothing, like she expected this, like she was already dead. Like she’d been waiting for this the whole time. “My cousin Emillio, he goes to your school, aint that a trip? I described you and he knew right away who you were, I think he must have some kind of crush on you.” He laughed. “Maybe I should let him drill you when he comes back, maybe we’ll take turns before we mount your head like you and your sicko boyfriend did my boys.”
School, it didn’t even cross my mind. All the faces in the crowd, blending together. So hard to pick one out, one looking at me, seeing me, waiting, watching. That was the last place I should have let my guard down but I did. Probably sat behind me for years and we wouldn’t have exchanged a Qué pasa? I guess my Spanish is getting better.
I was surprised, no silent alarm from the dark watcher, no ring on the black bat phone? A distant warbling chuckle fading in and out. An unintelligible whisper, a game of hide and seek. Oh you were playing possum. I’m being punished, for what? What did I do? Dreadfully dim Diana didn’t do anything wrong.
That was exactly the point. I was being punished for being a goodie two shoes.
“I know you didn’t do all that alone, little girl like you had help.” He was breathing heavily now, looking around, feeling darkness coming soaking into his flesh, getting closer. He got close, putting the knife against my throat “Who you working for huh? The Diaz brothers? They closing in on my turf? Tell and I’ll only cut off an ear and leave your pretty face alone, how bout that?”
Another crashing noise coming from the kitchen, the sound of a muffled cry and a deeply disconcerting thud.
“Hey Emillio, hurry your ass up!” He whispered harshly into the dark empty hallway.
“Maybe he tripped, it’s pretty dark”
“You should go check on it, maybe he grazed his knee”
“I said shut up” He hit me with the base of the knife and the room shook, a pulse of pain radiating down through my neck and shoulders. I felt my knees buckle and I started to feel nauseous almost instantly.
My vision fading in and out and I see something, I feel something, I can see right through him, the animal roar. The shrill cry of whatever it is inside him, that’s like me but not like me. Sending vicious feral war cries out in answer.
Two shadows stretch and cross but then another, deeper darkness swallows them both. Eclipses them, blots them out, fills the room with a deep impenetrably darkness thicker than ink and tar and I feel my knees wobble and he feels it too.
“Emillio, what took you so long man?”
Emillio stands in the door way, doing the strong silent type thing as I feel the room shaking around me, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. The eye of the hurricane tossing my little world up into the stars as I try to hold on for dear life. I’m falling pulling at Ruez, trying to stop the room spinning, just keep still, can he feel it?
“Talk to me man – get off me- crazy bitch!” He throws me to the ground.
I spread my fingers out on the carpet praying for this feeling to stop, the pressure inside building. The cry of the dark thing inside growing louder and louder, telling me to watch.
“What the fuck, say something, you’re freakin me out, man”
He strides to the door and then he feels it, the pressure, the animal fear, the dagger intent, the murder dripping from the walls, but it’s too late. I hear the rustling of dark wings unfurling, spreading across the walls casting a shadow darker than pitch. The thing inside Ruez, I see spark for a moment, turning its ears up like a mouse just before the owl swoops out of the dark.
I can see it in the corner of my eye but moreover I feel it, I have sonar, echo location. I can see the whole room like it was a water colour, every pixel laid out in front of me in stark detail. The darkness like a piece of pin art, it’s solid, I can touch it.
I’m crawling, I see the knife. The figure at the door is slow, like he’s moving in water, but I can’t seem to get out of the way, Ruez is frozen, the knife in his hand at the end of a long tunnel. It takes forever for the signal in his brain to cross the lake of circling sharks and tell him that’s exactly what he needs. His movements slow and shambolic. He lifts the knife as if he were conducting an orchestra raising the point not knowing where exactly he wants to put it or if there’s even a place for it. The shadows surround the man at the door, bind him, make an armour, a shield. He’s riding them. I want to cover my eyes and ears, if I could, if I thought it would keep the screaming out. The dark fires lapping at me, the blinding black light.
The man at the door was a dark god cutting through the room. His movements slow and powerful, uncaring, unfeeling, unwavering. He passes Ruez like he was made of spider webs. Passes through him like he wasn’t even there, like he was a memory, a far gone conclusion, a sentence waiting for a full stop. Cutting him once across the neck with an effortless flourish, an afterthought someone else’s mess cleaned up, my mess.
His head drops to the floor and rolls towards me and I see nothing in his eyes. A voided emptiness, a perfect mirror of my own.
I look up, I try to look at him but his face is blank, a mask or something else. I feel it rising, the part of me deep down, screaming and laughing, I can’t tell if this is the end or the beginning. A triumphant cavalry cry or the last gasp of a dying lizard about to have its head crushed under a desert rock.
I can’t take it anymore, the crushing pressure, the blackness folding over me, getting heavier and heavier. I feel myself letting go, a giddiness and a drowsiness, I can’t keep my eyes open. The rattling thing inside tells me it’s ok- that I can sleep.
I hear a muffled scratching noise and a voice too close to my ear say “You see it now?”
A sharp scratching sensation at my neck, and then nothing but sweet black nothingness and falling.
-A sound like dripping water, things coming into focus.
“Wake up wake up”. A little boys voice says.
A little girls voice says “Look what you did”.
“It wasn’t my fault, he made me do it,”
“Made you do what?” A low hushed voice said.
I felt a swimming heady feeling and my eyes roll back in my skull, I felt groggy, my head full of silt and naughty pictures of what could and what had been. The light was on and it peaked through the crack in my eye. It was bright and burned like boiling oil.
“Diana?” The voice said again. Then I felt it on my skin, that cold implement pressed unfeeling, clamped on my wrist. Completely alien, unaware entirely of its own weight and the pressure it applied, or the shock it delivered. Every trip to the gynaecologist thrust back into my mind making for a full body cringe.
I hissed away from the shock of the cold and the static and the fear of familiarity. Freddy Krueger leaping out of my dream about to give me a shiatsu with a happy ending.
I crawled into a corner of the couch I’d been laid on and looked around like a cornered animal. Hiding my eyes from the harsh light, trying to catch glimpses of the person talking. Of course I knew who it was but my brain seems to like surprises.
“What are you doing here? Where’s-?” I croaked out.
“Your aunt? - in the kitchen- she’s alright” The man said with the cool brisk calm of an EMT. As if holding the good news hostage for greater effect. A scary feeling a pause can make, the power it can hold.
It was the man from the Starbucks, in what I could only assume was my living room bleached almost white from the morning OC sun and every light in the room. I couldn’t see his face, the light was too bright but who else could it be? How many G.I Joe villains do I know?
The wheelchair and the cold metal grip.
“Are you alright?” He spoke softly this time, like he was talking to a child. His whiskey scarred throat made his words sound like they passed through a dirty coffee filter to get to my nice clean ears.
Good question, am I alright? I looked about myself, everything seemed to be attached. I wasn’t looking at the inside of a burlap sack, I got the crap stung out of me by mosquitos though, California man.
But other than feeling like an inside out gym sock I was ok, a little muggy, a little fragile but I was all there. As all there as an amateur teen psycho can get.
There was something else though, something missing.
I looked about my living room slowly moving my head with a deliberate painful tossing of heavy wet beach sand in my skull. Like some kid on Christmas morning with an eggnog hangover.
“What are you looking for?”
Why the ‘parts’ of course. “Err nothing, I dropped my phone, I guess.” Some blood, some sign that it wasn’t all some euphoric fever dream. The hand of god come down to swat me on the butt and then tiptoe off back into the clouds.
Anything would have been good, a toe, a blood trail, a bloody handprint on the wall. Some Poe maybe written in brains on the mirror above the TV.
But there was nothing, not a trace, not a fingernail, not a hair, not even a pillow out of place. The living room was how it always looked, unlived in and boxy in the same sandy colours as the outside of the house. A dark old TV in the corner reflected the room at an odd bevelled angle in black. Only a feint smell of cleaning products remained.
Was it all a dream? A twisted fantasy of a twisted fantasist? I wanted so badly to be in the middle of this, did I just dream it into existence. Created my own boogieman to toy with myself? Was my imagination that overactive?
So then what was all this, why was he here? “Can I see her?” Posed as a question it sounded strange like I was a prisoner. But I knew she would hold some shred of it if it was real. Some shard of it would be in her eyes even if she lied. There was something there I could hold onto, but maybe I wanted to believe enough that I would just see it regardless.
“Not just yet, I wanted to talk to you.” He really did sound like a councillor now. His voice was softer and his face hidden by the light made him look far less like some Halloween mask come to life on a broken scarecrow.
“Shoot” I said, probably a poor choice of words.
“Tell me what you remember about your parents” He asked like he could cross his legs and he had a clipboard.
But the question seemed to linger and suddenly I could hear a tingle of rusty cans ringing on a line. An intruder stepping over the dark divide from the happy preppy sunshine world of Diana the day dreamer into Diana the dweller of the dark. I could hear myself swallowing, the unknowing of things suddenly a weight across my shoulders.
“They died in a car crash” Something said using my lips.
“Who told you that? Your Aunt?” He asked, now intently listening behind the light. I couldn’t tell if his eyes were even open, it was just one bright blank canvas, shadow pooling in the crags and scars on his face. “Do you wanna know the truth?”
“Do I?” I asked myself out loud. A sudden bobbing sinking feeling gripping me like headlights in the bright deep darkness lunging at me, freezing me in place like a rabbit.
I heard a creaking rattling noise as he leant forward in his wheelchair like an alcoholic football coach about to give some rousing speech after charismatically rubbing his stubbly chin .“Your father was a very- neat- man, but he got involved with a lot of – messy people” He stopped to take in a wheezing breath through his scarred nose.
“Needless to say it ended badly”
“Yeah, as in your mother got her skull caved in with a baseball bat and your dad drowned somewhere off the coast of Biscayne Bay and his body was washed out into the gulf stream.” I didn’t say anything but I could hear my breathing like I was in a dark tunnel alone and my pupils must have shrank. Everything thereafter sounded like I was a in a deep long empty hallway. “But that’s not what made you the way you are, no that came later”
“The way I am?” My voice echoed down that long white hall.
“Don’t fuck with me, the time to fuck with me is over” He said softly like he meant it.
“Why are you telling me this? How do I know you’re-?”
“That I’m telling the truth? You don’t, you won’t ever know, not for sure but I came to you.” He was smooth and diplomatic now.
“Was it him?” There I was being dumb again.
“Him-who? Oh, no, wouldn’t that be nice and simple? A neat little ball” He cleared his throat and jangled around in his chair, moving the bulk of his large torso around. “No, this is a lot more –complicated.”
“Complicated” I felt like a child now, small, cradling my knees like he was some old relative about to tell me about the birds and the bees. Very very awkwardly.
“He was- different, neat, clean, sharp but he got careless, too caught up in himself. I helped him and his – sister - with a few of his ‘messes’ and he helped get me out of a few of mine – he was a good guy- when you stripped him down.” He said making a croaking noise in his throat as if unsure himself.
“All said and done he would have been a good father- but it just wasn’t meant to be.” He made a sucking sound in his mouth and got lost somewhere and came back leaning back in his chair again. There was something about the way he moved, like a caged animal who carried his cage around on his back. Animated but restrained.
“My aunt, I-” I was sounder dumber by the minute, starting sentences I couldn’t finish.
“She’s not your Aunt, you can stop calling her that” He said waving his claw around before poking it into his jacket pocket.
“No, she’s not, it was very fuzzy after what happened, a lot of courts, a lot of foster homes a great big chuckle clusterfuck-“ He took out a pack of cigarettes and forced one through his stoney cracked lips.
Your Aunt, your real Aunt” His face suddenly got more lines, shadow forming in the cracks, he touched his face as something like pain from an old wound danced like a devil in the cold moonlight in his mind as the cigarette dangled from his lips unlit “She’s dead.”
“When my parents-?”
“No, this came later, like I said.” He made a noise in his throat like he was getting tired of explaining something so obvious and flat to a complete dullard, Diana the dullard. He sighed and sparked a lighter with his good hand. “Look, I’m not doing this well, explaining it.” He took a pull of the cigarette and then took it out again and tried again. ”I guess she wanted to be the ‘cool Aunt’ instead of the dead eyed older sister” He said with a little mirthless chuckle. “She wanted to protect you.”
“Sister” I have a sister. What came later? “Protect me from what?”
“Half-sister on your mother’s side.” He cleared his throat put the cigarette back between his lips and worked the ants out of his ancient pants. “After what happened I managed to pull a few strings and I buried the both of you six feet under a mountain of paperwork. No one could find you, you could be whoever you wanted to be, make a fresh start in a new town. Get away from all this mess and have a chance at something close to normal. I felt like I owed it to your father, but there was one thing I didn’t account for.”
I knew exactly what he was going to say, the little lithe fingers at the back of my neck told me, the whispering thing, the dark dancer snickered.
“You” He said pointing a shiny claw at me. “Now I’m not a tech savvy guy as you might expect. Not my generation. I prefer the kind of tech that needs to be oiled and cleaned every day, all this computer crap just goes over my head but not over his.” He cleared his rattle snake throat and coughed loudly before taking another long pull on his cigarette. “You didn’t know it, you couldn’t know it but every blog, every post, every tweet was a red flag to someone who was looking, a bread crumb leading him closer to you.”
“Does he want to kill me?” I asked.
“If only it were that simple.” He sighed letting out a big cloud of noxious smoke.
The next day after school instead of taking me home Paul and I had planned a little trip up into the chino hills, about a half hour drive from school. A spur of the moment kind of thing for me but something he’d apparently been eagerly awaiting to do that didn’t involve putting anything in my butt. We had everything we needed packed up into the back of his dad’s hummer.
The sun was still where it ought to be, just hanging in there, tired but ready to give us enough rope to hang ourselves with this warm afternoon.
We took the state highway through Anaheim, the traffic was delightfully manic, no one took a shot at us but no one dared. Paul’s dad’s mobile fortress of solitude could part the waves with ease. Only a semi had the chance to come out of a head on collision with anything less than a broken axle. It rocked like a boat as he over took the angry Orange county drivers on their way home from a busy day of working in crampt office jobs in paradise or just sex waxing surf boards. His driving was precise but with a necessary measured violence, each turn, each gear change was a tactical strike. It was really the only way to survive California traffic, squash or be squashed was the name of the game, of course it helped to be the biggest dog on the road.
But all the carnage outside the bottled aggression pent up from hours of staring at computer monitors. Or talking about air conditioning parts released on the commute home from the good people of Orange County wasn’t enough of a distraction for me. My head resting on one side looking out the window but not really looking at anything in particular. Maybe idly flipping people off as we passed which was a custom, a learned response, like an ok sign.
My mind drifting to the couch and the words of the strange old man in the wheelchair. Stored and kept and remixed a little in my head, distilling it, boiling it down to its most sweet base elements. My eyes opening and closing as the scenery drifted by through Carbon Canyon. The dry dusty hills covered in anaemic greenery drying out in the noonday sun.
“Your blog, or whatever it is, why did you make it?” The old man asked me as he slipped his cigarette into a silver cigarette case for later.
“I don’t know, it’s just something- I needed a way-.” I stumbled, it started to feel like I was describing rubbing up against a washer dryer.
“To talk about it?” His voice was harsh and scratchy and getting scratchier. This wasn’t how I pictured telling anyone about this, had I thought about telling anyone at all. I think everyone does, everyone wants to tell eventually, they want people to see them, the real them, one way or the other.
“Why serial killers?” He asked, as if it wasn’t obvious.
“I almost didn’t want it to be true, you’re the same as him.” He got uncomfortable for a second, I almost felt like I should blush. “Something inside you” He pointed the claw at his chest and said “It talks to you?” He said pointing the claw back at me.
“What does it say?” He got comfortable in his chair, waiting to hear anything.
“I doesn’t say anything” I whispered through pursed tight lips.
“Well then what does it do?”
“It, it just makes it seem like a good idea.”
“Have you ever?” He shook his head.
“No” I said.
“Not even an animal?”
We were rounding the dune-like sandy hills, the grass was a desert khaki colour, we had to drive around the whole park to get to the entrance on Elinvar drive.
We parked up at the end of the street and hopped out into the muggy mid-afternoon. Paul got out without saying a word and circled back around the car and opened the trunk.
“Here grab this”. Innuendos aside, He took out a small black case and handed it to me, I took it, it was a little heavy but I ate my Wheaties this morning.
I was feeling a little giddy, maybe it was the slight elevation. The air was a little thinner and smelled different, less like people and more like dirt.
He pulled out something long and thin and hard wrapped in a piece of shamy leather and set off quickly up the trail at a medium paced stride.
“You coming?” he yelled back at me, he was feeling it now for sure, all those juices flowing. Must have felt like he was straddling a camel in Baghdad with an m60 strapped to his back heading to Osamma bin Laden’s pool party.
I kept up pace as we hiked further and further away from the road, getting a lot quieter as we did, only my minds wanderings to keep me entertained.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask her, my ‘Aunt’.
“I don’t know, I just- it just seemed right.” There was something in her words that seemed practiced, as if she was waiting for this. I was being shielded even now from something darker than even my imaginings and it made my heart skip thinking what it could be. Dancing just outside my peripheral vision, gliding along the edge of a wine glass, ready to crack it and slip off. “I wanted to give you a chance. A chance to be whole”.
My aunt looked at me, her eyes welling with a cocktail of emotions all of which I couldn’t begin to understand. She was looking into my eyes knowing, and knowing that I knew she knew. That there was nothing behind them. I was empty and she’d known all along. She’d hoped and prayed but her worst fear had come true, I was a monster, a shadow, a poor reflection of a human. No different from the ones she was running from.
She burst into tears on the breakfast bar in the kitchen. All I could do was stretch out a puppet like hand and pat her head saying “There there.” Dropping my hand on her head like it was made of wood.
I couldn’t feel anything but my heart pounding and my legs chaffing lugging the case around. There was a little bit of wind coming off the coast and reaching the high-ish peaks. The empty hilly landscape stretching out now on all sides. I regretted the jean shorts this time. The brittle dry grass slashing and scratching my legs as I walked. The sun was slowly losing its grip on the sky, starting its shambolic descent into a watery grave once again. Only to rise from the dead the next day with a cock crow and a “Hey what’d I miss, no gruesome murders I hope” expression on its face.
It was warm but the breeze and the coming night gave you all the heady air you needed to feel a slight buzz. Maybe I was sharing a high.
I could feel the smile in the back of his head. Beaming like a Boy Scout heading to a magical Indian pow wow.
When it was quiet enough, secluded enough. Far away from the road and civilisation we stopped and he set the thing in the wrappings down and unfolded it.
“You can put the case down on that rock” He said as he stood the rifle up looking it up and down. It was a regular hunting rifle, probably one of his. Just a regular wooden hand cocked hunting rifle. I guess he thought a tactical black semi-auto AR would have been too scary and most likely illegal in this super liberal state. Anything black and scary and pointy was usually banned in California, all the good it did.
I watched as he patted it fondly, cocking and shouldering it, looking down the iron sights.
I set the case down on the rock and opened it. Inside was four pistols of varying calibre, don’t ask me what they were, I’m a girl. One was a revolver, I knew that much. There were two like that one out of the matrix and a little one that looked like the one James bond uses but a little more boxy.
“Pick one and we’ll start.” He was walking over by another rock about fifteen feet away from the spot he put out the mat that had previously wrapped the rifle. Now spread out like a picnic blanket. And I forgot to make sandwiches. Oh well.
He set up a can of diet coke on a rock, I hasten to think where he found it, only fat girls drink diet coke. I like water, of the mineral variety, the mineral being steel from the faucet. But what about the fluoride in the water turning the ‘friggin frogs gay Diana’?
I’m not that type of crazy. Sadly.