Where the Party's Atby Fred on 1-7-2009 • Category: Fiction
I felt fortunate when I walked into El Dorado and saw Melody sitting alone at the bar. Even on the rare occasion she isn't on a man's arm, every guy in the place is elbowing for her attention. Tonight, the bar was nearly empty and Melody drank unmolested. She was casually dressed in snug jeans and an olive scoop-necked top with sleeves that barely covered her shoulders. She didn't wear much makeup. She didn't need it.
I took the stool next to her and said hi. "What are you drinking?"
"Lemon martini," she said.
I ordered another round for her and a beer for myself. We made innocuous small talk while I tried to think of a clever way to make a pass at her.
A few minutes into my second beer, a guy with a crew cut and a goatee swaggered through the front door. I knew him as well as I knew anybody in Columbus—I had only moved into town a few months ago. He walked up to me. "What's up, Jim?"
His name was Will. He liked to tell people to call him Big Willie. "Not much," I said. "What's up with you?"
"Got a week's pay in my pocket and I'm ready to blow it." He ordered a draft from the bartender and looked at Melody. "Don't I know you?"
"Sure," she said.
"Melody, right? You know Pete and them."
Will stuck a cigarette between his lips and pulled a lighter from the breast pocket of his plaid flannel. "So, uh... you like to party?"
Melody smiled. Her right calf—crossed over her left knee—bobbed jauntily. "Sometimes."
"I've been looking for a party all night."
"I think I know where we can find one."
"Yeah? I got money for... you know, party favors."
"I'll make a phone call," she said. "Maybe I can set something up."
Melody led the way in her Jeep while I followed in my Cavalier. Will rode shotgun with me. We parked in front of a house on Indianola Avenue. The three of us converged on the sidewalk.
"Where are we?" asked Will.
"You wanted to party," Melody said. "This is where the party's at. My roommate's holding. There's plenty to go around."
"Cool," Will said. He gave me a wily grin.
Melody paused at the front door. "One thing you should know. My roommate's gay."
Will twisted his mouth. "Guy gay or girl gay?"
"I guess that don't bother me," Will said slowly. I shrugged.
"Okay, cool." Melody opened the door and led us inside.
The house was a two-story colonial, not big but roomy enough for two single twenty-somethings. We walked through the living room to the kitchen and went up a staircase to the first of two bedrooms. Techno music throbbed through the door. Melody knocked twice and swung it open.
Inside we met a rail-thin man with dark, curly hair. Melody introduced him as Reynaldo. He shook our hands delicately. "So what are you boys looking for?"
"Cheddar," Will said. "You holding?"
Reynaldo probed him with humored eyes. "How much? A gram? An eight-ball?"
"Can you handle a quarter?"
"I can handle anything you ask for." He opened the closet and leaned into it waist-deep. Melody sat on the bed and extracted a cigarette from her purse.
Will leaned close to me and whispered, "You see the way he looked at me?"
"You know, like he was sizing me up. You think he might hit on me or something?"
"Don't worry about it. If he does, just tell him you're straight."
"But what if he..."
Will cut the question short as Reynaldo emerged from the closet. On the dresser, he measured a quarter of an ounce from a bag of white powder. He stood aside and, smiling broadly at Will, gestured at the pile like a game show model presenting a dinette set. Will used his driver's license to split three lines from the pile: one for Reynaldo, one for Melody, and one for himself.
"What about your friend?" Reynaldo asked.
Will glanced at me. "What's up, man? You want a rail?"
I asked Melody, "You got anything to drink?"
Alone in the kitchen, I wanted to kick myself. What the hell was I doing there? I didn't do coke. I didn't even like being around it. Not knowing anyone in town, I was desperate to make friends, but maybe I was better off alone than wasting my time with these clowns. I found a beer in the refrigerator and killed half the can in one guzzle.
Melody's voice behind me: "Hey, Jim."
I turned and smiled.
"What's the matter? Don't you like to party?"
"How about tequila?"
Melody pulled a bottle of Cuervo and a lemon out of the refrigerator. "See if there's a clean knife in that drawer," she said while she rooted through a cabinet.
I opened the drawer and pushed around its contents. Melody set two shot glasses on the counter. "I'm glad you stuck around," she said.
"Because I know you won't be too coked up for sex."
I turned to face her, inadvertently pulling the drawer out of its slot. Silverware and utensils spilled to the floor.
Melody put a hand over her mouth, giggling. "I didn't shock you, did I?"
"No, I just... maybe a little."
She helped me scoop everything back into the drawer. "Sometimes," she said, "coke makes me... aggressive."
I slid the drawer back into place.
"So?" she asked. "Did I scare you off or do you want to stick around for a while?"
I wondered how far from sober this woman was. I said, "Well..."
I never got a chance to finish the thought. From the bedroom we heard Will shouting furiously. There were several thumps and a scream. Melody and I froze, our eyes on the staircase. It took a few seconds for Melody to react. I followed her up the stairs.
We found Will standing over a supine Reynaldo. He looked at us sheepishly. "He got smart, so I hit him a couple times. I didn't mean to hurt him."
Melody bent over Reynaldo. "Why'd you hit him?" I asked Will.
"He started acting queer." He asked Melody, "Is he okay?"
Melody looked up at me, her wide eyes quivering. "I think he's dead."
Will and I looked at each other. His eyes pleaded for me to believe him. "I didn't mean to hurt him. I just wanted to shut him up."
Melody rushed out the bedroom door, stealing Will's attention from me. "Hey!" He ran after her.
I stood there staring at what I now knew to be a corpse. The left side of Reynaldo's face was pulpy. It looked like Will had crushed his temple. That must have been the fatal blow. I was still staring when Will dragged Melody kicking and screaming into the bedroom.
"What are you doing?"
"Come on, man!" he yelped. "Help me chill this chick out!"
"What's the matter with you?" I reached for Melody's arm, not to help Will restrain her, but to pull her away from him. Melody must have suspected otherwise because she kicked me in the stomach. I doubled over, gasping. Will gripped Melody around the waist with one hand, opened the closet, and hurled her inside.
"Jesus, that hurt." I tried to force myself upright. A knot of pain beneath my sternum kept me slouching.
"Yeah, she's gonna be trouble for sure," Will said.
I looked at the closet door. Will had blocked it shut by wedging a chair beneath the doorknob. Melody screamed and pounded from inside. "What the hell did you do that for?" I said.
"To keep her out of the way ‘til we figure out what to do."
"What do you mean, what to do? We have to call the police!"
"Hell, no. We call the cops, we'll go to jail for sure."
"Will, this guy is dead. If we don't call the cops, we'll get in even more trouble."
"Nobody knows we're here. All we gotta do is clean the place up and split."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever.... What about Melody?"
"You're right. We gotta get rid of her, too."
"What? That's not what I meant."
"What else can we do? And don't say call the cops."
"I'm not going to help you take this situation from bad to worse. If we call the cops now, we can still say it was an accident. I'll back you up."
"They'll never believe me. I'll wind up with a murder case, and... and you'll be an accessory!"
"What? I wasn't even in the room when it happened! No way I'm taking the rap with you."
"Oh! Oh!" He jabbed his finger at me. "So you do think I'll take the rap!"
I wished my mouth had a rewind button. "That's not what I meant. Let's just tell the police it was an accident, okay?"
"No cops, Jim."
We had obviously reached an impasse. Will and I stared at each other wordlessly. Even Melody had gone silent.
I broke the standoff by starting for the door. Will grabbed the back of my shirt and threw me into the wall. Before I could react, his fist crashed into my mouth. I went dizzy. He held me against the wall with his left fist wrapped around my collar and his right cocked for another punch. "Listen, asshole, you're either with me or against me. I killed the homo with a combination, you think I can't do you?"
"Okay, okay!" I could taste blood where my teeth had shredded my lips. "I'll help you out. Just calm down, all right?"
"You'll help me out?"
"Isn't that what I said?"
My mind scrambled for an answer that would appease him. "We'll take the body out of town and bury it in the woods."
Will let go of my collar. "You and me together, right?"
"So prove it."
"What do you mean?"
"Kill the chick."
"What? Why me?"
"If we're in this together, I need to know we're in this together. Show me some solidarity." He jerked his head at the closet. "Do her."
I gazed at the closet with narrow eyes. My upper lip twitched. "Okay. I'll take care of her."
Will watched me expectantly. "Well?"
"What, you want me to do it now?"
"Sure. What are you waiting for?"
"I don't even know how to do it. How should I do it?"
Will spread his hands. "Dealer's choice."
I stared at the floor thoughtfully. "I guess I could find a knife in the kitchen."
"A knife? Kinda sloppy, ain't it?"
"Well, what do you want me to do? Give her cancer?"
"How should I know? You think I've done this before?"
I sighed heavily. "I'll think of something." I nodded at Reynaldo. "In the meantime, you better wrap him up in some sheets. We'll put them both in the trunk and find a place to bury ‘em."
Will tried to drag the body onto the bed. "Jesus, he's heavier than he looks. Help me out here."
I shook my head, pointing first at Reynaldo's body, then at the closet. "You handle your body, and I'll handle mine. Okay?"
Will frowned. "Yeah, whatever." I started for the door. "Hey, where you going?"
"To the kitchen."
"For a knife?"
"I don't know. I haven't decided yet. First I need some liquid courage."
In the kitchen, I went through the motions of making a drink, in case Will followed me. When he didn't, I grabbed the cordless phone off the wall and called 911. I stood facing the wall, hoping my voice wouldn't carry to the second floor. "I need the police right away. There's been a murder.... I'm in a house on Indianola. I don't know the address. This maniac beat a guy to death and now he means to kill a woman and maybe me, too.... Jim Ferrell. I don't have time for questions, just—"
Will wrenched the phone out of my hand and threw it against the wall. It exploded into pieces. I stared at him the way a wounded rodeo clown stares at a charging bull. In his right fist he held two feet of electrical cord he must have ripped out of some appliance.
"Now you done it," he said, eerily calm. "Now I gotta kill you, too."
I took a step away from him. "Will, the police are on their way right now."
Will took a corresponding step forward. "This won't take long. I still got time to take care of you two and slip out. Just don't fight it, okay? I'll try to be quick. If you fight it, you'll only make it worse."
We circled each other warily, him looking for an opportunity to strike, me looking for an escape. He wrapped one end of the cord around his left hand and held it taut, turning it into a makeshift strangling device. A garrote, I thought stupidly. It's called a garrote.
I didn't think I was strong enough to overpower him, but I didn't have a choice. Either I put him on his back or he'd put me on mine, permanently. I swung a haymaker at his chin. He saw it coming and lowered his head. My fist bounced off his skull, doing more damage to my knuckles than to him.
Will caught me in a bear hug and slammed me to the floor. I twisted away from him, trying to break free, but he got the cord around my neck and pulled it tight.
I gagged. Will choked me from behind while I knelt on one hand, clawing at the cord. My face felt hot. My head felt ready to explode.
On the floor, protruding from beneath a cabinet, I saw a silver handle—one of the utensils that had fallen out of the drawer. I reached for it, praying it was something I could use as a weapon, a knife or an ice pick, anything sharp. It was a carving fork. I quashed my disappointment with a reminder that it was the only weapon I had. I held it in my fist in a stabbing position and jammed it into Will's side. Adrenaline and terror gave me the strength I needed to make it work. The tines slid deep into his body. Blood drenched my hand.
The cord slackened. Will fell backward, both hands grasping the fork in his side. I stood, gasping for breath, and staggered out the front door. I collapsed on the lawn.
I don't know how much time passed before I heard the sirens. I lay on my back and watched cops' faces hover over me. I managed to rasp through my bruised throat that Melody was trapped in the bedroom closet. Then one of the cops cuffed me.
Later that night, I learned that Will had died on the kitchen floor. The carving fork had punctured his liver. The police found Reynaldo's body wrapped in a sheet and Melody in the closet, frightened half to death but otherwise unhurt.
For the next month, I hardly left my house. On the fourth Saturday, I finally realized I was going stir crazy and took a walk to a nearby diner, just to remind myself that there were still other people in the world. Out of sheer coincidence, Melody was there. I hadn't spoken to her since the morning after the incident, when the police let us go.
Melody seemed uncomfortable talking to me. I did my best to put her at ease. "How've you been?"
"Okay," she said. "I was just picking up breakfast on my way to work."
I nodded. "So, uh... you been back to El Dorado?"
"Not since that night."
"Me neither. I haven't been out at all, really."
Silence spread between us. "Well," she said resolutely, "I have to get to work. Maybe I'll see you around."
"Hey." I stopped her with a gentle hand on her elbow. "I was thinking I'd go to the Danube tonight for dinner and drinks. I could use a night out. Maybe you could join me."
She bit her lip. "I don't know if I'm up to it tonight."
"Well, uh... listen, I'll be at the Danube at eight o'clock. If you want to hang out, drop by. I'll buy you a lemon martini."
She smiled. It was an awkward smile, but at least it was a smile. "Maybe."
She never showed. The rational part of my mind had known there was only a slim chance she would, but the part of my mind that still dreams was disappointed anyway. I stayed at the Danube until closing time.
Around midnight, a guy sat next to me. He looked vaguely familiar; I was pretty sure I had seen him at El Dorado.
"Hey, man," he said.
I grunted some kind of response.
"Don't I know you?"
"Maybe a little."
He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "You like to party, don't you?"
I fixed him with a gaze that made him lean a few inches away from me. "No. Never. Not in any fucking sense of the word."
The guy showed me his palms complacently. "Hey, okay, man. I was just asking. No harm done, right?"
"Yeah, okay," I said, my glare never wavering. He scrambled away from me.
No harm done.