What was it the Beatitudes said? “Blessed are the poor in spirit?” That much he knew to be true, because he was the poorest in spirit it was possible to be, but he had all the time in the world. Takes the edge off. He always thought of the Beatitudes on heroin. He couldn’t tell you why, but he was always more Catholic on heroin. Maybe because being faded out of his mind was the closest to an afterlife he was ever going to get. But there are other blessings and he knew this, he just never expected one to smack his arse with a baton and let him worm his tongue into her mouth 10 minutes later.
He never expected her to be kind. And she was, though she didn’t know it. He knew good from bad and he knew which category he fell into but hers was a case altogether different from his. There was a brittleness to the rage in everything she did, a conscious posturing for an unseen audience. The rage itself was very real, yet there was an undeniable poignancy to it he knew she wanted to hide. But a quavering note can’t elude a trained ear.
She didn’t have to worry about him judging her. He’d never had a high horse to his name, much less mounted one. Though he’d mounted uglier things in his time, to be fair.
Safe to say she wasn’t one of them. Pity he couldn’t remember much of what it was like to have sex with her other than the color of her car - twilight royal purple, she’d told him when he’d asked about it later. Normally a color reserved for Corvettes but she’d gotten it special.
She slipped out from under him, pulling her pants on and draping herself over the front seat without so much as a moment’s eye contact, groping for the overhead light. It clicked on and she slid into the driver’s seat, fumbling with the cassettes in a heap beneath the steering column, starting the engine in the meantime.
Cassidy reached for the radio dial, his hand large and pale as a lunar moth in the dim orange light, and she smacked it away. “My car, my rules,” she muttered. “But shotgun’s all yours.” Too tall to squeeze into the front of the car himself, he got out and saw they hadn’t gone far from the strip club but had pulled into the dingy vacant lot to its side, still in view of the dull string lights and billowing columns of steam. He sat in the passenger’s seat and watched her for a moment, face limned with the same faint red of his own. Looking at a girl in the dark, he could always convince himself that they were the same. It was simply convenient that darkness all looks the same if you stare at it long enough. But there was an unearthly glow about her even in the dark, as if the sun never set on her completely.
“What’re you looking at?” she asked.
“You,” he replied simply, reaching to tilt her chin in his direction. She smacked his hand away again, though not with half so much force as before. And it wasn’t without the faintest ghost of a smile that he couldn’t help returning even as her eyes remained fixed on the cassette player.
He dimly realized he’d be leaving the church van and the air-conditioning spare parts with it in the strip club parking lot, but it wasn’t so far from town that he couldn’t walk there and drive back before morning. As the crow flies, anyway. He couldn’t turn into a bat, but he could give the average lout a run for his money so far as long-distance running was concerned, if he had a mind to.
Cassidy didn’t have a mind for much right now beyond the curve of her neck and its smooth descent into the hollow of her clavicles. A lovely neck it was, too, so finely muscled - the second thing he’d noticed about her after her big doe eyes, like copper pennies at the bottom of a well. Whenever he was bleeding out, a bare neck was an open invitation to go for the jugular, but lucky for her he’d already decided against that the minute she’d carefully maneuvered him into the car and onto her lap. No one who dragged the body of a man they’d almost certainly just murdered to the hospital deserved death, of that kind or otherwise.
She closed the cassette slot with a dry click and dialed the volume to the three-quarter mark. Piece of My Heart as covered by Janis Joplin started to play as Tulip backed out of the vacant lot in a slow three-point turn.
“I saw her play this at Woodstock,” he told her by way of conversation, but her only response was the nearly imperceptible upward quirk of her right eyebrow. “Girls normally want to hear the story behind that one,” he continued hopefully, but she made a contemptuous noise low in her throat. “It’s that or the tattoos. Or they love the accent.”
“They’re paid to like it.”
“You wound me, lassie! There’s not enough money in the world for me to ply every girl I meet with it. If you know nothing else about me, you should’ve guessed that at this point.” An open smile this time. Playing the fool always worked because he was good at it. A natural, you might say.
“Fair enough.” She was quiet for a minute or so after this exchange, driving towards the outskirts of town until they stopped at an intersection without a single other car in sight. “I love this song, you know.”
“When Janis sang it, it wasn’t about rising above the pain or something stupid like that. It was about screaming at it until the screaming itself hurt more than the pain you’re feeling.”
“I don’t think that worked out so well for old Janis, now did it?”
“Maybe not, but it sure as hell feels good.” Tulip looked at him sidelong, the shadows cast by the lone red light overhead keeping her face expressionless and her gaze dark and far away. She turned right and put them in sight of Toadvine.
“Oh? Fancy getting a room for the night?” She scowled.
“No. Wanna do something for the girls.” He raised his eyebrows. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s the exact opposite. They have the night off tonight. Like, really off - I spoke to Mosie and insisted on it. No one here but the two of us.” She drew her cell phone out of the pocket of her jacket and dialed as the two of them headed into the brothel.
“Pizza for y’all in fifteen!” she yelled up the stairs after finishing her call. Appreciative tittering in reply was just audible above the blast of the stereo. Tulip pulled a CD out of her jacket (what didn’t she keep in there?) and turned off the unending loop of 80s rock.
“Fucking...shitty...hair metal,” she mumbled. Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album began to play. “Much better.” She turned to look at him where he still stood in the doorway, a grin twitching at the edge of his lips.
“What’re you, the cat that ate the canary? Take a seat and wait for the pizza.”
So he did. The pizza place was apparently just down the road so they hadn’t long to wait. She paid with cash and called the girls down. It was something to see - this gaggle of women, lovely and unlovely but all comfortable in their skin and their unmentionables, swarming all over the three greasy pepperoni deep dish pizzas Tulip lay out in unexpectedly artful spirals on two large steel platters. The lurid glare of the overhead lights seemed almost warm reflected back from that tangle of bodies and hushed voices, and on the edge of it all was Tulip, draped precariously over the settee with a nearly empty bottle of Jack dangling from the limp grip of her hand. Landslide started playing and she murmured the lyrics softly to herself in between gulps of whiskey, slightly misty-eyed. Somehow, Cassidy thought that had nothing to do with the drink.
“What was the point of this, really?” She offered him the bottle and he finished it off.
“Wanted to do something for Lacey’s friends other than killing Clive. That was mostly for myself.”
“You’re an honest drunk.”
“I’m an honest person. It’s him that’s lying to himself. Him that’s running from his past. From me. Casting me off like...like a...” She grew silent and Cassidy saw that even now, she would not let him see her cry. Her lower lip trembled and she swallowed so hard that he wondered that the girls couldn’t hear it, though of course he only heard it because of his heightened senses. He noticed so much more than most realized.
“Do you want me to take you home?” Tulip shook her head with sudden vigor and stood up, but wobbled and nearly fell. Cassidy took her by the arm and they made their way across the room. She pulled away from him feebly at first and he let her, but eventually she gave in to the necessity of the circumstances and leaned into him.
At the car door, he asked for the keys and she handed them to him begrudgingly, pulling her hand back at the last second when he reached for them. “Not a single scratch. I may not remember anything else about tonight but you bet your ass I’ll remember that.” Her uncle’s home wasn’t far, and she lingered at the front door.
“Well?” he asked, not sure what he was waiting for.
“You can come in if you want,” she slurred. He shook his head.
“I’ll see you around, Tulip. Got to head back to the hardware store and get the church van before morning or Emily will have my hide.”
She nodded, probably not really understanding, but it didn’t matter. Like she said, she wouldn’t remember any of this. He’d thought about leaving a scratch on the Chevelle, just to give her something to remember. He’d almost made it to the end of her driveway when she yelled after him. “Hey! Pack some sunscreen!” He could see her grin in the dark, the pearly outlines of her small white teeth.
One of the many things he hated about Annville was the lack of ground cover. Come morning, the shadows would be few and far between. So he ran. It always ended in running, but this time he felt like he was running towards something.