New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample chapter from Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks:

Chapter 1

Across the bar a lean blond with a missing front tooth is massaging my tits with his eyes, and I get an idea. I'm on my third margarita at Viva Zapata in Key West, bored with the chitchat on both sides. It's one of those nights when my sweetie - Punch - is at Captain Tony's drinking with his buds, knowing whatever I do, I'm thinking of him. It's true - his hard muscles with the smoothest Kahlua and cream skin, thick black hair past his shoulders, a view of the world evolved way past our time - I'm his, body and soul, no regrets, till I die - promised seven months from now, at the end of October.

A creative scene is forming in my head, and I have to try it. That's a personal vow, since my twenty-second birthday. After Pop died, I got sick of weighing and choosing my options when nothing turned out to be in my hands from the start. Now I challenge the insanity of life with my crazy mind. That way there's no judgment and no expectations - except for, like, gravity - and lots of surprises.

What I need is material for Punch's life's work, his novel, to make it exciting. The book's the only thing that matters to both of us. All I ever did was work at a Cracker Barrel restaurant - besides being Pop's full-time housekeeper - but I always wanted to be a writer. We read about Hemingway in high school, and I'd be an adventurer-novelist myself, if I had the brains - which I don't. I know my limitations. So being with Punch is the next best thing, the only thing for me. I'm ready to get some cool night air on my hot moist skin when Blondie comes up. He's shouting against the loud hard rock, something about us having leeway since we're both blonds. I nod, whether I'm hearing right or not. He asks my name and I tell him Juliette. "Romeo," he says, and points to himself grinning. He seems like a nice guy, but far gone.

"Got one already," I tell him.

He starts talking and I pick up a bit about his co-workers in construction. One time they made him a replacement tooth out of epoxy. I'm supposed to be impressed. I am. I picture the kelly green peg of hardened glue set next to the other teeth.

"So where is it?" I ask.

He laughs and sticks his finger in the gap. "Won't stay put."

I laugh with him, but I'm thinking of my mother and her lover. He had a front tooth missing. His bridge was found broken on the floor, next to her bloody nude body. I wasn't supposed to hear the story - I was just a kid. But knowing the cruel truth about life like that is what makes me feel I should be a writer.

I finish the last gulp of margarita number three and pick my dollars off the bar. Moving away, I yell "Bye," and put my hand up in a sort of wave-and-halt signal, so he doesn't follow me out. He mouths, "Bye, Juliette," with a sad look on his face.

Three drinks are my limit, what I call a drinking session. More than that and I forget stuff or go inside myself. I want to be conscious, not lose details or feelings. Punch and me set ourselves a year to play with and it's half gone already. Soon it'll be lights out, tits up - R.I.P., motherfuckers.

I've been thinking a lot about death - I'm not all that keen on it. But I can do what I have to, if the time comes. I gave it a go once, but Pop had my stomach pumped.

This time I'll eat the sleeping pills with Punch. On our last night we'll get our bodies air-brushed to look like skeletons and ride Captain Tony's float in the Fantasy Fest Parade. Right in front of Sloppy Joe's we'll make a big toast and swallow the pills.

Everybody will think we're just drunk until it's too late. Thousands of people will see our dead bodies curled up together and laugh at how we're partied out. Then we'll be the highlight on the news and they'll see what kind of party it was, how much the surface differs from the truth, as Punch would say. I've known that all my life with Pop, but never said it out loud. Yeah, irony hits hard, Punch says.

But if Punch writes his Great American Novel, I'm figuring he'll want to live. He'll be happy forever and won't have to drink himself into a coma anymore. That'll improve his health a lot, keep his blood sugar more stable. We can have a real life together. Being with Punch is the only dream I ever had. I'll do fucking anything for him. When I think for one second how he tried to take care of his mother, my eyes water up - if only I could go back in time and make it all better. He was twelve when she died - cancer, his grandpa told him later on - but for years he thought she starved because he didn't bring her enough healthy food. They were living alone in some downtown room when she got bad, and he had to steal for both of them. I think some old men might have used him too, but there's no sense dwelling on that. He didn't tell anybody his mother died for four or five days. He kept piling up food the whole time, and then he just took off. I don't want to think about it.

I turn left toward Catherine Street, more like an alley, which is why I choose it. When the beat throbs down behind me, the night's quiet. The black sky is silver-glittered above the yellow glow of the street. It's probably near two. I'm light with tropical abandon - ready to screw with convention.

The breeze blows clear through my short rayon dress. It's short and loose - like me, until I met Punch. I wear thong panties because I like them better than none. Punch likes them too. The stretch nylon rides the taper of my waist above my hips, makes my skinny ass look round. The grip is firm between my legs. When a breeze flares out my skirt I get wet with knowing how good I look. I can almost fly. I head left up Catherine Street a couple blocks to a stone wall in the shadow of Australian pines. I know the spot. It's on the way home, but I'm not ready to go home. Punch and I try to make interesting things happen for the book - create truth that's stranger than fiction. My idea is for a racy scene. I hope it works well enough for Punch to use it. I slip off my thong and sit down on the rock wall to wait for some company. I think of my mother who's been dead since I was nine. She'd left Pop and taken off for California. I think she was happier there, right up to the fatal beating. I remember the guy. He killed her right after I made my one visit.

My ass is pressed into crumbly stone and long, soft pine needles. They imbed my cheeks. This should be a comedy scene. Somebody might say it's tragic, I guess, my whole damn life - but not me. I know exactly what I'm doing and why. I take a joint out of my bag and light it up.

I let a couple pass me. Then a young man. He's dark, maybe Bahamian, too hip. I know from his walk I'd never catch him off guard. After a few hits, I put the joint out and finger myself while I wait, feel the tingle. I wish Punch was lurking in the shadows to watch. I can't wait to tell him what I'm doing. Maybe he'll take notes. I hold my little tits through the rayon, like he does, and pinch the nipples, one then the other to make them stick out. I relight the joint, suck on it, hold the smoke. I picture the shining need Punch gets in his eyes. He says something supernatural happens when he looks at me. I see the one I want passing under the light. He looks hurried, needs slowing down. Tall and gawky, tidy hair, shorts, T-shirt and sneakers. Closer up, I figure late twenties, a tourist sunburn. Nice guy. Probably thinks all girls are like his sister. I put down the joint, whip off my dress, and step out in front of him.

He flinches. His eyes take hold, my tits, my crotch.

I throw my head back, my arms straight up, with hands curved like a ballerina.

He shakes his head, trying to unscramble his thoughts. He backs off.

I step forward, close in till my nipples touch his T-shirt. I stare at his eyes, raccoon-mask sunburn.

"What do you want?" he says.

I smell beer on his breath, hope it hasn't given him too much courage. "Surprise me," I say. My voice sounds husky, like Kathleen Turner I think.

He takes a giant step back, laughs. It's a nervous laugh, like I'm counting on.

"Come here," I say. I'm chuckling, trying to hold back the giggles the weed is bubbling up in my chest.

He stares. He looks around. "I gotta go. I don't need any trouble."

"There's nobody in the bushes."

He looks both ways.

I glance around. We're still alone. I whisper, "You think this is candid camera? It's not. Believe me."

I take his hand to my hair, then turn my face and lick his palm, laugh.

He stiffens, looks both ways again. "I bet you have AIDS or something."

"Doubt it." I shrug. My nipples rub up and down on his T-shirt. I want to tell him I'm working on a novel, but that would spoil it. He frowns and his lips go out. He's younger than I thought. His voice is bold. "I heard of a woman like that," he says. "She writes it the morning after - with lipstick on the mirror - 'You've got AIDS.'"

"I heard that. I bet it's made up."

He's thinking.

I'm wondering where to go with this. No way I'm going to fuck him. I should've made more of a plan. "Hey, take off, buddy," I say. "You just got flashed, that's all. Go tell your girlfriend. You were good - didn't hardly look."

His lips scrunch to the side, like he's not too happy about being good, but he nods and sidesteps away.

I laugh. "Hey," I holler. "Now you've got a Key West story for your friends back home in Indiana."

The guy turns. From the look on his face, I think I guessed right. I walk into a patch of light, smile and wave. I think next time I should bring a gun - just for effect. Since I thought it, now I have to do it. I giggle. Picture little me holding a gun. Punch will like that for the book. Too bad my mother didn't have a gun. I might have gotten to know her better.