He opens his mouth before opening his eyes, and it makes a sound like sweaty flesh peeling off Naugahyde. The sound is only slightly louder than the one he expects his eyes to make when he opens them, so he does not. Instead, he becomes preoccupied with the thick crusty axe someone drove into the top of his skull while he was sleeping. Pain radiates from it, piercing his eardrums and the back of his eyes, threatening damage. In fact, the pain spreads through his entire body, gnawing at his muscles as if he’d spent the night engaged in exhausting physical labor. Even patches of his skin hurt, stinging as if rubbed raw.
Seth Anders opens his eyes slowly. Although the motel room is a dim gray, he flinches and groans with pain at the light, squinting as he lifts his head from the pillow. He sits up and clumsily slides his legs out from under the tangled sheet and over the side of the bed. He isn’t sure what annoys him the most, the hangover itself or the fact that he let himself get so drunk the night before. As he massages the back of his neck with one hand, he winces as he strokes over one of the sore spots. There are others here and there, as if he was attacked by fire ants in the night.
He can’t remember getting drunk. He can’t remember anything, not at first. It takes a moment.
The digital clock on the nightstand reads 3:14 p.m., its big red numbers glowing accusingly. He croaks the time aloud, rubs his eyes, and mutters, “Middle of the afternoon, for crying out loud.”
The air in the motel room is slightly cloying and redolent of perfume, liquor, and sex. It is the smell combined with the sight of two mostly empty bottles on the dresser that makes Anders remember the two women.
He eases himself to his feet, dipping a bit when the room seems to lurch to one side, and turns around to look at the bed. It’s empty, and when he looks about the room, turning his head with stiff-necked caution, he sees no clothes, no purses, nothing. They are gone, though he does not remember them leaving.
They probably had the good sense not to get themselves hammered, he thinks as his stomach cramps and rolls. But then, as he remembers, he doesn’t recall drinking much himself, certainly not enough to justify a hangover of such proportion. Anders isn’t much of a drinker, never has been, and he can’t remember having a hangover since college, and never one quite like this.
Three despondent balloons hover halfway between floor and ceiling over by the dresser, and confetti and noisemakers litter the ugly copper-colored carpet.
“Happy New Year,” Anders mutters as he lifts his robe from the floor and slips it on. His feet barely clear the carpet as he makes his way to the bathroom. The flesh between his legs is sore and burns as he walks.
The face in the mirror is a strange one: pale and long, with shady crescents beneath the puffy eyes, his brown hair, thinning on top, splayed around his head, lips cracked and pallid.
After splashing some cold water on his face, he leans both hands flat on the sink and lets his head hang low as the tap runs. He thinks about the two women. The events of the night before come to him in jittery, disjointed images, just vivid enough to make him smirk and shake his head in disbelief. He cannot believe what he did. Where did a doughy, married, forty-nine-year-old high school English teacher find the energy to do such a thing, not to mention the nerve?
Anders thinks that perhaps he is not suffering from a hangover alone; perhaps he is feeling the aches and pains that come from indulging oneself in something as silly and ultimately embarrassing as a midlife crisis.
Anders walked out on his wife on the first day of his Christmas vacation, and ever since then every time he thought of himself as a married man, he amended that, considering himself as a soon-to-be-divorced man. He knew that after twenty-two years, it was going to take awhile to make the mental adjustment, but he intended to make it as soon as possible.
Anders had spent the first afternoon of his Christmas vacation preparing an elaborate dinner while Agnes was at a UFO seminar. The meal was to be an effort to breathe some life back into their marriage before the death rattle sounded, to create a little romance . . . to remind her that he was there.
In their second year together, Agnes had taken up the harmless hobby of macramé, which ledt to crocheting, which led to knitting. She went from one hobby to the next, like a hummingbird in a flower garden. Anders did not object, although he found hobbies to be impractical and had none himself. But over the years, Agnes became more and more consumed by her hobbies; by the time their kids were in school, she was juggling three at once. She went from rock hunting to Middle Eastern cooking, from learning Esperanto to growing roses, from collecting Tarot cards to bird watching, and more, so many more. After the kids left for college, conversation no longer seemed necessary at the dinner table. He stopped trying to keep up with Agnes’ hobbies, and she stopped trying to include him in them. Over the intervening time, a chasm opened up between them.
Nearly a year ago, Anders had realized that he was lonely in spite of the fact that the kids visited frequently and he was happily married. That was when he realized that he was no longer happily married after all. Not exactly unhappy, and certainly not miserable . . . just married. The revelation panicked him, and he began to make an effort to scale the wall that had been constructed, one slow brick at a time between himself and Agnes.
He tried talking to her more, asking about her hobbies and fellow hobbyists none of whom he knew. Agnes talked, but with an air of distraction about her, as if there were someplace else she’d rather be. Sometimes when he spoke to her, she’d look at him with surprise, as if startled to find a total stranger in her house. Anders tried to take her to dinner, to movies. She usually didn’t have the time, but the couple of times they did go out were very awkward, she was always running into people that she knew from her UFO-watching club or from the Crystal Society, and Anders would stand around while she talked with them about sightings or about the metaphysical properties of crystals. It was awkward because Agnes never introduced him, and it made him realize he had no friends of his own.
The candlelight dinner he’d prepared for her on the first day of his Christmas vacation was to be his final effort, although he didn’t know it at the time. Agnes arrived home just as Anders was lighting the candles and turning down the lights. But she arrived with eleven other members of the Crystal Society. She sniffed the air and said pleasantly, “Oh, you cooked dinner. Is there enough to go around?” Anders said, “Sure,” then went into the bedroom, packed a couple suitcases, and left the house while Agnes and the girls chatted in the kitchen. After dinner at Flora’s Café, he went next door and checked into the Thunderbird Motor Lodge, then started thinking about what to do for the next thirty years or so. Just like that, as casually as if he were rearranging the furniture in his office rather than his entire life. His only regret was that he’d let the relationship with Agnes, which once had been so intimate and joyous, just slip through his fingers.
He’d gone home early Christmas morning, because he knew the kids would be showing up and he didn’t want to ruin their holiday. Otis came with his wife and baby, and Kala brought her boyfriend. It was a noisy, festive gathering, and none of them seemed to notice anything unusual. Seconds after the kids left, Anders was on his way out when Agnes stopped him at the door. With genuine curiosity but no emotion whatsoever, she asked, “So, have you found a place?”
After splashing more water on his face, Anders turns away from the mirror, sick of the sight of himself. The thought of a shower is just too much. He prefers to come slowly back to life; coffee first, then a shower. Anders decides to go over to Flora’s.
As he goes to the closet, he notices his clothes from the night before scattered all over the room. He remembers tossing them. They took turns removing articles of clothing. Anders and the two women, almost as if they didn’t want to separate even long enough to undress, touching and kissing and licking. The memory amazes him, but he is shamed by the fact that he must think a moment to remember their names: Darci and Krista. They were so oral, both of them, their mouths all over him. And they were half his age, probably younger than his kids. But they were so beautiful, so carnal, as if they’d been fantasized rather than born. They looked like they could make him forget he was ever married, happily or otherwise. They almost did, too. Almost, but not quite.
He puts pants and a shirt on the bed, takes a clean pair of socks from the dresser, then mounts a search for his shoes. On hands and knees, he finds one beneath the chair beside the dresser, then gropes beneath the bed for the other.
His hand slaps onto smooth, cold flesh, and a gasp catches in his throat as he jerks his hand back, crawling backward quickly. He doesn’t move, doesn’t even breathe as he stares slack-jawed at the dark space beneath the bed. For a moment, his confused mind ceases to function properly as it claws for some shred of logic to hold on to. But it finds none. That was flesh he touched under there, and it does not, it simply does not belong under the bed, not cold naked flesh, no way.
His breath comes in tremulous bursts as he lowers himself very slowly until he is lying flat on the floor, head turned to look into the darkness beneath the bed. There is a shape of some kind in the murky space, but it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust themselves, to bring the thing into focus . . . to see the hair, Krista’s red hair.
Anders and Agnes had never paid much attention to New Year’s Eve. Another holiday a week after Christmas seemed like overkill. But a celebration of some sort was in order. After all, it wasn’t just another year that was beginning; his whole life was starting over. Besides, he’d spent the last week looking diligently and unsuccessfully for an apartment. He deserved a few drinks, maybe a game of darts if there was a board. Whatever he did, he decided he wasn’t going to sit in that motel room and watch Dick Clark rock in the new year; he’d done that with Agnes too many times.
Outside The Shimmy was just a flat, nondescript building attached to the side of a coffee shop; inside, it was mostly the same, only darker and smokier. Country music was playing on the jukebox. Normally Anders hated country, offended by its feigned, self-righteous wholesomeness, but he figured if he was going to start a new life, he might as well try new things, and he gave the song a chance. By the time he reached a barstool, he decided his new life wasn’t that new and simply ignored the twangy music.
A small exhausted Christmas tree twinkled half-heartedly, and balloons floated among festive streamers, all of it draped in a veil of cigarette smoke.
Anders perched at the bar, ordered a vodka gimlet and looked around. It was busy, as Anders had expected it to be on New Year’s Eve. There were only two empty stools, all the booths were full, and just one of the cocktail tables stood unoccupied. There was no dartboard, but two video games and a pinball machine stood against the back wall. Beneath the country music there were voices, laughter, and the sound of ice clinking against glass.
As the bartender put the gimlet on the bar, the song ended and the voices became louder. Anders took his drink and walked to the jukebox over by the video games. Taking a sip, he read over the patchwork of country, blues, and pop as he jingled change in his pocket. Another country song started as Anders put in a couple of quarters and punched up some blues, preferring B.B. King’s guitar to Garth Brooks’. he took another swallow of his drink as he headed back to the bar, and that was the first time he noticed them.
They were sitting in a booth leaning over their drinks and smoking. And they were watching him. He nearly tripped over their gaze, immediately wondering what was wrong. Was his fly open? Had he put on a stained shirt? Suddenly nervous, he returned to the security of his stool and took another swallow.
The bartender set a bowl of peanuts on the bar, and Anders popped a couple into his mouth. Slowly, he sneaked a look over his shoulder to the booth where the two were sitting. They were still watching him but looked away the moment he caught them.
One was facing away from him. She had hair the color of raw honey that fell in luxurious waves to her pale bare shoulders, he followed the line of her arm down to her hand, where the tips of her unpainted nails rested on the scarred tabletop. The other woman was facing toward him and had long, thick, straight red hair. They wore tight clothes, party clothes, the kind of clothes you’d wear to a nightclub, not to The Shimmy. The redhead wore a simple, short black dress and Anders looked at her bare legs beneath the table, shapely ankles crossed. But he did not stare. He was already embarrassed by their stares; he didn’t want to get caught gawking at them.
The long-faced bald man on the nest stool watched Anders watching the women and finally chuckled. “You oughta buy one of them a drink,” he said. “I saw ‘em checkin’ you out over at the juke. Shit, buy ‘em both a drink, maybe you’ll get lucky. Write a letter to Penthouse about it.”
Anders ghad been caught. He was reaching his embarrassment threshold. He laughed it off and ate some more peanuts. A minute or so later, the man sitting next to him was chatting with the bartender. Anders snatched another cautious look.
The redhead was leaning forward, smirking as she said something to the blonde. She was staring directly at Anders, but she didn’t look away this time. Instead, she leaned back, tilted her head to one side, and stretched a leg beneath the table as she shifted position, giving him a good look. Then she returned her attention to her companion.
Anders’ face became very warm, and he almost laughed out loud at himself, sitting at a bar on New Year’s Eve staring at a couple beautiful young women and blushing like a shy teenager. It was laughable, no doubt about that.
A noisemaker squealed somewhere in the bar, and another quacked in response. The man beside Anders pulled a disgusted face and shook his head as he slowly got off the stool, leaving Anders between two empties.
“That’s my cue to go home,” he said. “The later it gets, the louder it gets, and I’m all holidayed out.” he put some money on the bar, nodded at Anders and walked away.
Anders turned on the stool and watched as the man went to a coat tree by the door and slipped on a rumpled overcoat. He let his eyes wander from the man to the women in the booth, but he felt an immediate shock of awkwardness and turned back to the bar quickly.
They were both looking at him, hunched forward and chattering intently over the small round candleholder in the center of their table.
Anders frowned at his drink for a moment, then took a sip, wondering why they kept looking at him like that. Did they know him? Maybe they were former students. The possibility made him consider going back to the motel to watch Dick Clark after all.
The country song ended, and a moment later, Anders’ first song began to play. He tapped the bar to the beat and scooped up some peanuts, leaning back and dropping them in his mouth. He nearly choked on them when he looked over his shoulder to see the women coming toward him with their drinks and purses, smiling and walking like they were a music video or something. He gulped the peanuts down and wet his mouth with a sip of the gimlet.
“You look awful sad for New Year’s Eve,” the blonde said. She didn’t speak very loudly, but he could hear her plainly above the music and voices. He watched her lips form words, moist and smooth as rose petals.
“Yeah,” the redhead added. “You look like you could use a little help.”
Anders felt his mouth working independently and fought to control it. “Uh, help? Doing what?”
“Having fun,” she said, and they both eased onto the stools flanking him.
Hookers, Anders thought, feeling a little better. That explained a lot. But why were they targeting him? He certainly wasn’t the only man in the bar. Did he look that needy?
The bartender stood before them, smiling. “Darci? Krista? Anything for you?”
“No, thanks, Ron,” the redhead said. “But another for our friend here.” she put her hand on Anders shoulder and squeezed ever so gently.
The bartender grinned at Anders, winked, then went to make a drink.
“That’s very nice, thank you,” Anders said, nodding. “But you didn’t have to do that. I haven’t even finished this–”
“People who only do things they have to do are not happy people,” the blonde said.
With her hand still on his shoulder, the redhead added, “In fact, they’re usually pretty miserable.” She touched his earlobe with a fingertip. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Anders almost said he was, that he’d lived here for almost twenty years, but thought better of it. Instead, he just said, “No, not . . . really.”
The bartender brought his drink and winked again.
“And you’re all alone on New Year’s Eve,” the blonde said.
“That’s how it turned out,” Anders replied, finishing his first drink.
“Well, you aren’t alone anymore,” the redhead said, touching the fingertip to his hair. “I’m Krista.”
“And I’m Darci. Who are you?”
“Stuart.” He spoke the name without a second’s hesitation, surprising himself.
“Well, Stuart, you’ve certainly got better taste in music than most around here.”
Darci put her hand on his knee. It was cool through the material of his pants as it inched upward along his thigh.
“What’s a tasteful man like you doing alone on New Year’s Eve,” Krista asked.
Anders started to give some inane response but stopped, thinking that it was a very good question. Why was he alone on New Year’s Eve? He wasn’t married, not really. He had no intention of purchasing the services of the two lovely women, but he might as well enjoy their company until they realized he wasn’t interested and moved on to better prospects.
“I was just wondering that myself,” he said, sipping his second drink.
“Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore,” Darci said, running her nails over his crotch.
The touch sent shock waves through Anders body, and his back stiffened. So did his penis.
Krista leaned over and pressed her breasts to his arm, lightly touching his ear with her lips. “Now you’ve got us, Stuart. Wanna dance?”
“Uh, no, no. I’m afraid I don’t dance. I’ve never had any rhythm. My wuh–” He almost said wife. He almost told them how his wife had laughed at his dancing when they first met. He corrected himself quickly. “My wuh–worst, um, memories are of, um, high school dances.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed,” Darci said, cupping him in her hand and massaging his erection through his pants. “We can go someplace else. Someplace where it’s just the three of us. We won’t laugh at you. Promise.”
“Yeah, we’ll find your rhythm,” Krista said. “It’s in there somewhere, you just gotta–” she flicked her tongue over his ear– ”pull it out.”
His face hot, Anders knew he had to bring an end to this or he was going to break out in sweat. “Look, ladies, I’m flattered. Really. But I’m afraid you’re not uh . . . within my budget.”
The women laughed. It was a beautiful sound, their laughter, and it had no cruelty or condescension.
“You’re too hard on yourself, Stuart,” Darci said.
“yeah, we aren’t ladies of the night.” smiling, Krista bit his ear and hissed. “We’re ladies of the moment!”
“And at the moment, we wanna teach you to dance,” Darci said, stroking and squeezing his erection. “So why don’t we go someplace where nobody’s watching us?”
“Uh, like I said, I’m not–”
“We don’t charge, honey,” Darci said, leaning close as she scraped her fingernails over his balls. “We want to teach you how to dance. Just dance your little heart out.”
“Don’t worry,” Krista said. “Your wife will never know.”
He looked at her, startled, about to ask how she knew.
“Unless she’s got your ring bugged,” she added with a throaty laugh. Her fingers teased the back of his neck and nuzzled his hair with her nose.
Anders looked down at the wedding band still on his finger. He hadn’t thought to take it off, he’d forgotten it was there. He’d gained some weight, and it was squeezed into the flesh. He figured he’d probably have to have it cut off and thought he wouldn’t be surprised to find the skin beneath it black with moist rot.
The women smelled of alcohol, of course, who in a bar on New Year’s Eve did not? But they’d probably had too much to drink. If they weren’t prostitutes, that was the only explanation Anders could think of. Darci’s restless hand between his legs and Krista’s lips against his ear were going a long way to convince him he should take advantage of their drunkenness.
“You staying here?” Darci asked, brushing her smiling lips against his cheek.
“Next door,” Anders replied. He regretted it immediately and squirmed away from them. “Thanks for the drink, but I think–”
“I think you’re a sad case,” Krista said, smirking as she pushed herself against him again, ignoring his squirms. “You’ve got two women coming on to you, and you’re wiggling like a boy in church. I thought that was every man’s fantasy.”
Darci went back to what she was doing as well. “Most men can’t handle having their fantasies come true. Did you know that, Stuart? They can’t. too much for them. They talk a good game, but when the cards are on the table, all bets are off. You’re not going be like most men, are you, Stuart?”
He looked first at Darci, then at Krista, back and forth. They were beautiful . . . and they were driving him out of his mind. His hands trebled as he took a few healthy swallows of his gimlet, then asked, “You’re not prostitutes?”
“We’re missionaries, Stuart,” Krista said. Her words were slightly garbled because she was sucking on his earlobe and sending an electric current straight to his groin. “We spread the word. And tonight, the word is legs . . . or maybe lips.”
“We wanna do this because we want to,” Darci assured him. “For free. No strings attached. In fact, we’ll even buy you another drink.” She turned away from him. “Hey, Ron. Another one for Stuart here.” Then , to Anders, she said, “We’re gonna hit the ladies’ room, Stuart. You enjoy your drink. When we come back, we can go to your place, and I can make you dance. With my tongue. My tongue’ll make you dance, Stuart, I promise.”
Suddenly, they were gone, and once again, Anders was sitting alone with his drink. The music and voices had faded out before, but they came rushing back from all around him.
He could still feel them on him, Darci’s hand, Krista’s lips, and he could still smell their perfume. But they were gone. He shifted position on the barstool, reaching down to surreptitiously adjust his erection in his pants. It was a powerful erection, hard as a brick and almost as painful, and he was struck with the certainty that it would never go away. Not unless Darci and Krista came back. Not unless he left the bar with them that night. His erection would not go away unless they made it go away, he felt sure.
It was absurd, of course, but he was feeling his vodka, and Darci and Krista had been feeling him, so he was worked up; he allowed himself the silly thought, then dismissed it. But it would not go away. And neither would their ghostly touches, still on him, teasing him, making him feel things he hadn’t felt in years. He tipped the drink back, finishing it off as Ron brought him another.
“Looks like you’ve made a couple friends,” Ron said with a harmless leer.
“Do you know them?”
“Not really. They come in here maybe three times a month.”
“They’re not prostitutes?”
“Wouldn’t let ‘em stick around if they were. They’re just real friendly. You’re new here. From outta town, are you?”
Anders nodded vaguely.
“Yeah, they seem like outta-toners. But they’re not hookers.” he chuckled, shook his head, and started down the bar saying, “Just real friendly.”
Anders hands were trembling so hard he used both of them to lift his drink. It was his third, and it didn’t live as long as the first two. The alcohol warmed him, made him feel giddy, but it could not numb the hunger he felt for the two women in the restroom.
They were on him again, their hands and lips, and Anders was elated that they had come back, that it hadn’t been a nasty joke with blue balls as the punch line.
At that moment, Anders decided he couldn’t think of a better way to start a new year than doing something about which he could write to Penthouse.
Anders does not know how much time has passed since he crawled crablike away from the bed as far as he could get, until his back was against the wall. Maybe an hour, maybe thirty seconds, he doesn’t know. His mind is too busy to keep up with time, too busy going over the night before, trying desperately to remember everything. Sometimes, as he stares at the space beneath the bed, his thoughts slip out of his mouth.
“A witness,” he says, his voice high and breathy. “They’ve got a witness. He’ll identify me.”
He is thinking of the bald man who sat beside him at the bar. And the bartender, of course. Who else? Who else in the bar will remember him, the last amn to see those two beautiful young women alive?
“I didn’t do it!” he gasps, pulling his knees up, hugging them. “I didn’t, I couldn’t, I–”
–can’t remember, he thinks. I can’t remember, so I don’t know what I did!
He stands suddenly, winded, feeling panic in his throat. He can’t see them while he’s standing, but knows they’re there, flat on their backs, arms and legs straight, almost as if positioned that way.
It occurs to him that they might not be dead after all; maybe they were still passed out. But he remembers that white skin, cold as marble.
“No,” he says, moving decisively toward the bed, “they can’t be dead. Can’t be.” Moving with erratic, jerky motions, he slides the bed to one side, until the two women are unhidden.
Their clothes are balled up between their feet with their purses on top. Their eyes are closed, and their hair is pooled about their heads. There is no blood, none that he can see. But they do not move as he watches them closely, not even to breathe.
With nerves humming just beneath his skin, Anders gets on hands and knees and crawls to Darci’s side. He presses a hand over his mouth as he reaches down and touches two fingertips to her neck, feeling for a pulse. The rolling in his stomach worsens when he feels no sign of life. He touches her face reluctantly, rolls her head back and forth, holds his palm over her mouth and nose. No breath.
“Oh, my God,” he whimpers. “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God.” he says it over and over again, realizing after a moment that he is crawling on hands and knees in a small circle. There is movement inside him, and he scrambles to his feet as he heads for the bathroom. His insides explode just before he reaches the toilet, and some of it splashes onto the tile floor. He hunches over the bowl for a few minutes, groaning into it. He wants to keep vomiting, to heave up the fear in his gut, the terror filling his chest and smothering his lungs.
Anders staggers out of the bathroom and goes to the dresser, grabs one of the bottles, and tips it back, taking a couple of gulps. It scalds his raw insides, but he takes a couple more. He is beginning to sweat as he turns and looks at them again.
The clock on the nightstand reads 4:03; more than forty-five minutes have passed, but it feels like seconds. Anders is shocked that so much time has gone by. If he could let nearly an hour pass without comprehending it, what else might he do without knowing it?
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “I didn’t. I couldn’t.” his cheeks are moist, and he realizes he’s been crying. “I couldn’t!”
Then who did? he wonders. Did somebody get into the room, kill Darci and Krista without waking me, then hide them under the bed? How would–why would somebody do that?
He looks at Krista’s purse, then at Darci’s, and kneels down at their feet. He opens Darci’s first. It appears nearly empty at first, its black lining clean as if it were new. There is a billfold, a checkbook, some keys, and a black notebook. He opens the billfold and looks at her driver’s license. Darcelle K. Peterson. She is thirty-one years old.
Was thirty-one, Anders thinks.
There are fold-out pockets with credit cards and photographs in them. There is a black and white snapshot of Darci with her hair in a beehive: it looks old, its white border yellowed with time. He finds sixty-eight dollars and change. The black notebook contains phone numbers, addresses, shopping lists, meaningless reminders. She hasn’t been robbed. That would make it too easy, a robbery-killing: he would call the police, and after the initial suspicion blew over, everything would be fine. Although he is certain she has not been robbed, either, he opens Krista’s purse anyway.
The inside of Krista’s purse is almost identical to Darci’s: perfectly clean and almost empty. Anders frowns. He has never seen a woman’s purse so neat and tidy. Agnes’ purse was always a pocket of chaos, with chunks of lint and old breath mints and numerous old register receipts packed in one humongous mass. His mother’s purse was always a mess. His sister’s too. But these purses look freshly shoplifted.
There is a folded-up manila envelope in Krista’s purse, bulging with its contents. He pulls it out, unwinds the red string from the tab, and opens it. The envelope is filled with what looks, at first, like business cards. But they are not. Some are driver’s licenses, some are credit cards, there are a number of social security cards, and in the bottom he finds half a dozen passports.
Each driver’s license has a picture of either Darci or Krista on it, each under a different name and with a different address. So many identities . . . and just two people.
The envelope slips from Anders’ hands, and the licenses and cards and passports spill onto the carpet. He is paralyzed by fear, unable to move, even to blink. Although he thought it impossible, the situation has just become worst somehow. Two women with an envelope full of identities? Good ones, too. Those driver’s licenses must be fake, but they are great fakes, professional. So who are they really, these two gorgeous women who, one New Year’s Eve, just suddenly get the urge to team up and seduce a middle-aged man with a puffy paunch and an occasional problem with heartburn? That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life, not even in the real lives of people who write ;letters to Penthouse. Anders begins to think there is something going on here, something much starnger and more ominous lurking beneath the already horrible surface.
Anders feels sick again but does not vomit. The poison stays inside and tries to eat its way out. He stands and paces, his body prickly with sweat beneath the robe. The sweat is stinging him in places.
Stinging the wounds, he thinks, only vaguely wondering what wounds he might have. Were they that rough last night?
The light outside the drawn curtains is dimmer. The first day of a new year is winding down. Anders can hear the traffic outside. And rain, it is raining.
I’m going to have to go out there, he thinks, staring at the door. I’m going to have to call someone . . . the police, an ambulance, someone. And they’re gonna come and take me out there in handcuffs.
He hurries to the bathroom, wets a washcloth, and dabs his face and neck with it, then continues pacing, thinking now, trying to remember everything. There are blank spots . . . gaps in his memory . . . images that skip a beat, jump ahead in time, like those old damaged black and white movies on television in the middle of the night. Those skips get bigger, more jarring, until the memories stop. But he goes over them again, and again . . . and again.
Once inside the motel room, Darci and Krista were at him like two cats on a scrambling rodent. They’d bought two bottles of whiskey at a liquor store on the corner, and Anders dropped them in their brown bag onto a chair. He felt a panicky moment of claustrophobia as they closed in on him, kissing him, groping him, removing his clothes, their own, and each other’s. he was still wearing his underwear, socks, and unbuttoned shirt when they pushed him unto the bed, face up. Krista pinned his arms to the mattress, and Darci straddled his legs.
Anders’ shirt was the first sartorial casualty of the night. Krista’s fingernails ripped into it and began peeling it off him as she sucked him hard on one nipple, then the other. When she kissed him, he feared she was going to suck his tongue out by its roots. She chewed on his lips, nipped his flabby chest, teasingly at first, then harder, almost too hard.
Darci pressed her mouth to his cotton briefs and wrapped it around his erection, which was straining the material. She gnawed on his cock, her tongue wet through the cotton, and pulled at his shorts as her fingernails clawed teasingly at his balls.
Anders’ heart was hitting his ribs like a police battering ram, but very fast, and he suddenly regretted not sticking to that diet he’d started about five years ago because he feared he might have a heart attack and die beneath these women. A blissful way to go, yes, but not so soon. His heart continued to hammer without consequence, and he soon became too lost in the things Darci and Krista were doing to him to worry about dying.
He heard the sound of material ripping again, his underwear this time. He tried to lift his head, but Krista wouldn’t let him. Darci tore the briefs away from him and took him in her mouth.
Someone in the room made a sound like a deer in pain, and Anders was shocked to realize it was his voice, that he was making the sound, but he had no control over it, over anything. They controlled him, completely, as surely as if they possessed his soul like demons. And that sound coming from Anders’ throat was one of delirious joy. He reached out his hands and felt delicious flesh, soft round breasts, and rigid nipples. Their skin was cool, and he found the sensation of it exciting.
As Krista kissed and licked and sucked her way around his neck and over his abdomen, Darci’s tongue licked around the base of his cock, then down, over the wrinkled flesh of his scrotum, then down even further as Krista reached over and stroked him while she kissed and chewed his belly.
There was another sound in the room: Lusty, throaty laughter. Darci and Krista were laughing as they devoured him, laughing in a buoyant way, with relish.
Anders felt heat rising inside him, between his legs, growing thicker and unbearable, and he was going to come, he knew it. But he did not. Krista stopped stroking him and squeezed his erection in a fist, then let go of him and–
–that is where the first skip occurs.
Anders folds his arms on top of the dresser, drops his head onto them, and groans as he goes over it again and again, that one moment that just seems to blink out in his memory, one second on his back and the next–
–he slid in and out of Darci, his movements slow, controlled by Krista, who clutched his ass with both hands, guiding him as she pressed her face between his legs and licked and sucked his balls.
And they never stopped laughing. Sometimes they even talked to him, and each time they pressed him for a response.
“You enjoying this, Stuart?” Krista asked, and when he didn’t respond, just kept grunting, she said, “C’mon, Stuart, you enjoying this? We’re not boring you, are we?”
“No, no, yuh-you’re not,” he gasped.
Darci smiled up at him and said, “You look so serious, Stuart. How come you’re not smiling? Fucking is fun!”
After awhile, when he was beginning to feel the rising heat again, Krista pulled him off Darci, her voice trembling slightly as she said, “My turn, Stuart. On your back, baby, it’s my turn.”
Once he was flat, she mounted him, fell forward on him, engulfing his face in her long red hair as she kissed his face and throat, licked and sucked on his ears, and humped viciously. She sat up straight as her fingernails dug into his doughy flesh, and her bucking grew faster and faster. Anders turned his head to the right and saw Darci lying on her side, her grinning face inches from his. She ran her left hand through his hair as her right hand nested busily between her thighs.
Krista became frantic and cried out as she came. She said something. It startled Anders because it was in a foreign language. French, or maybe German, he wasn’t sure. He ahd other things on his mind. She kept moving on him, grinding her head back, lips on clenched teeth, and–
–he cries out in frustration, pounding a fist on the dresser. He empties the bottle and lets it thunk to the carpet as he begins pacing again.
His memory decays rapidly from that moment on, and there’s no way he can fill in the blanks. The sex is just a series of disjointed images that simply end.
He remembers, at one point, being on the floor. He was on the bed, then–skip–he was on the floor with them, rolling around, limbs entwined, rutting like animals, their cool, smooth skin rubbing frantically against his. One of the women–he couldn’t remember if it was Darci or Krista–opened one of the bottles and poured some whiskey over his head. Krista drank some, then kissed Anders and spit it into his mouth. He drank some of the bottle, too, but he doesn’t remember drinking much. Maybe two or three swallows. Not enough to have blackouts, not nearly. Unless he’d become very sensitive to alcohol without realizing it over the years; after all he isn’t as young as he used to be.
Just flesh, that is mostly what he remembers, tongues and breasts and moist lips hidden in thatches of kinky hair. And the laughter, of course. They never stopped laughing, and Anders joined in after a while, enjoying himself for the first time in his life.
He stops his pacing to look down at Darci and Krista, wondering how long before they will start to smell. He moves over to Darci’s side and looks down at her throat. Like Krista’s, it is unmarked. If he did kill them, how did he do it? Strangling would leave bruises, and there is no blood, so he didn’t stab or bludgeon them to death.
Feeling sick again, he hurries to the bathroom, just in case, but nothing comes up. He stands over the toilet a moment, staring at the puddle of vomit on the floor. The sobs surprise him in their suddenness and intensity. He puts the lid down, sits and cries until his lungs ache. With his tears come resignation.
Anders stands, getting himself under control, wiping his eyes. He walks to the phone bolted to the nightstand, picks up the receiver, and punches in 9-1-1.
On the second ring, a female voice says, “Nine-one-one operator, what is your emergency please?”
His voice fails him at first, and he coughs a few times. “I’ve, uh, found . . . there are two, um . . .”
“What is the emergency, sir?”
“I’m at this motel, and . . . when I woke up . . . there were two dead bodies . . . under my bed.”
“You found . . . excuse me, sir, did you say you found them under your bed? When you woke up?”
“Who are these two people?”
“Two women. Young women.”
“Do you know them?”
“I did . . . sort of.”
“How did these women die?”
“I don’t know, I . . . didn’t do it. Really, I don’t re–” He coughed again. “I didn’t do it. I don’t know. They’re just dead. I’m at the Thunderbird Motor Lodge. Room twelve. I’ll wait here until they come.” He hangs up the phone.
The room is very dark now, and Anders turns on a lamp. It lends a garishness to the two corpses.
Sweat clings to him like honey, burning in the wounds. He frowns as he wonders again how he got cut in so many places. He feels sweat dribble down the middle of his back and down his sides from his armpits, and he drops the robe and goes straight to the shower, swinging the bathroom door shut behind him out of habit, although the door closes halfway. He turns on the cold water and begins to rub a bar of soap over his skin halfheartedly as he stands beneath the stream.
He winces as he passes the soap under his left armpit; something stings sharply. Reaching under his arm, Anders feels a few small puncture wounds. He inspects every spot on his body that stings as if raw: behind his neck, in back of his ear, between his legs just behind his scrotum, and between the folds of flesh where his legs join his groin.
Anders’ insides turn cold. He feels a dread that he cannot quite identify.
Who were they really? What had they done to him?
He turns off the shower and steps out, grabs a towel, and begins to dry himself, his mind numb, perhaps beyond repair. He is unable to concentrate enough to think of what he will tell the police. He freezes with the towel over his head.
There are voices in the room. Quiet sneaky voices.
Anders jerks the towel from his head and looks at the half open door, his eyes gaping as he wonders if the police have arrived.
But they are female voices. Two female voices, chattering in hurried whispers, giggling mischievously. There is movement as well. Anders sees shadows flitting over the dresser and hears whispers of fabric. His throat begins to close, and, to prevent it, he makes a startled, cough-like sound.
The movement stops, and the voices are silent. A hand pushes the bathroom door all the way open, and Darci and Krista stand in the doorway, smiling. They are all dressed and carry their purses. And they are still beautiful. But something is different. They look much paler than he remembers.
“Well,” Krista says hesitantly, “this is an awkward moment, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, Stuart,” Darci says. “We don’t usually do this sort of thing. Stay over, I mean. we just stayed too late and had to crash here until sunset.”
Anders backs away from them, saying, “You . . . you’re both . . . you were . . .”
Krista steps forward and reaches out to touch his face, but Anders throws himself backward, slamming painfully into the aluminum towel rod on the wall. She places a hand to his cheek, and it is very cold. It’s as cold as they were just moments ago while lying dead on the floor.
“You don’t look so good, baby,” she says. “You look like you could use a little of the dog that bit you.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve gotta go,” Darci says.
Anders tries to speak, but his mouth moves silently.
“Don’t worry, Stuart,” Krista purrs, leaning close to kiss him. Her lips feel repulsive on his now. “You’ll only remember the good parts, I promise. And you were good.” she turns and steps past Darci and out of the room.
Darci licks her lips and winks. “You were real good, Stuart.” then she, too, leaves the bathroom.
Anders realizes he is shivering. The punctured flesh on his neck and behind his ear and under his armpit and between his legs stings cruelly as he hears the outside door of the motel room open, then close.
With his mouth hanging open, he staggers out of the bathroom to the window and pulls the curtain aside. Just cars in the parking lot and traffic on the street outside. Darci and Krista are nowhere in sight.
Anders turns around and stares a few minutes at the empty space on the floor, the place where, just minutes ago, two corpses lay still and naked. The unidentified dread he felt earlier is replaced with a sickening fear as the dimly lit room becomes bathed in the pulsing red-and-blue glow of a police car. He turns to the window again and looks at the light bleeding through the frayed curtain as three knocks sound on the door.