CHAPTER 17: THE GOOD SISTER
After the roar of the club, the outdoors rang with silence. The night insects were silent, and the birds hadn’t started yet leaving only the susurrus of cars rushing by on the distant highway. I gulped the night air still trying to bring myself back down to earth while Camille handed my parking stub to the valet. She climbed up onto the curb beside me and ran her fingers through my hair, massaging my scalp. It helped. I felt myself start to calm down.
“So, you and your red-haired friend got some kind of beef, huh?” she asked, but it wasn’t really a question. “What’d he do? Fuck your woman?”
“Yeah, I gathered. Tell me anyway.” She took out a cigarette and pressed it between her lips. In the glow of the building’s LEDs she looked older than she did in the dark, but she was still hot, and my body warred with itself over which brain it wanted to send my blood to.
I struck a match and shielded it from the wind for her while I considered how to explain the perfect storm of co-dependence that summed up my relationship with Tombstone. I was closer to him than I was to my own family, but he couldn’t have been more different from me if he’d tried. We orbited each other like two stars trapped in a gravity well. If fate saw fit to drop me into the deepest jungle, or the most remote arctic ice floe, sooner or later I would find Tombstone there, crossing my path, haunting me like bad luck.
“You know what an angler fish is?” I asked. “One of those ugly-ass deep-sea fish with the little dangling light?”
“Yeahhh, okay?” Camille sucked in a deep lungful of smoke and held it while she tried to figure out why the fuck I was talking about fish.
“When they mate, they kinda just fuse together and that’s it. They’re one fish after that. The male just becomes a part of the female and they can’t ever…break apart again.”
“Symbiotes,” she said.
“The fish: they’re symbiotes. They depend on each other.”
“Yeah, well…that’s me and Tombstone. I write the music. He plays it. He writes the lyrics. I sing them.” A snake endlessly eating its own tail.
“Okay, so? A lot of people are co-dependent without…” Camille waved vaguely in the direction of the club with her cigarette surrounding both of us in a halo of smoke. “Why all the chest-thumping?”
“I dunno. Stupid stuff.” He tried to sell my grandfather’s watch! I wanted to say, but I realized how faint and weak that would probably sound to a stranger. “We were broke and he tried to sell something that was important to me. Like, really important to me. Something I couldn’t replace, and…I got it back, but…”
“Okay, sounds like a dick move, but you said you got it back, right? So, what am I missing here?”
I stared out over the club’s parking lot realizing she was right: the watch had just been a convenient excuse. Our real problems ran deeper than that. We’d been at each other’s throats for weeks before that, fighting over everything. The band. The tour. Women. Booze. We’d been on the road almost non-stop for more than a year, and I’d loved every minute of it, but Tombstone hated it. He hated being on the road, hated going onstage, hated being away from his girls. But the money was too good to pass up, so he went along with it.
But now the money was gone. The tour was over. Tombstone had a home to go back to while he licked his wounds. And I didn’t. He had a family waiting for him. And I didn’t. He had someplace he belonged. And I didn’t. Without the band I was nothing. And without Tombstone there was no band.
“Fuck…” I muttered as the realization set in. Camille just nodded as if she understood and slung an arm across my shoulders.
“Look, sometimes symbiotes can live without each other and sometimes they can’t,” she said. “But the whole point is that they’re stronger together. Sooner or later you and Tombstone are gonna have to work out your differences. I like you too much to see you go down like that.”
“Oh, trust me; you’ll like how I go down,” I assured her with a raised eyebrow. Camille threw her head back and laughed.
“Yeah? Well, in that case…” She leaned in close and pressed her breasts against my chest. “What do you say we finish what we started?”
I grinned back.
“I’m taking my smoke break,” Camille announced to the door guy nearby. He glanced up from his Sudoku, took one look at me, and knew a lie when he heard it.
“Don’t ‘uh-huh’ me, mister.”
“Just take it to the other side of the property line,” he told her.
“I know the rules, Dutch,” Camille rolled her eyes.
“And be back before your rotation. If Avi goes on the warpath I’m not covering for you.”
Camille waved the cigarette in his face. “I’ll be back before this is done,” she said. “Just see if I don’t.”
Door Guy Dutch rolled his shoulders in a shrug that said do what you want and turned back to his Sudoku. Camille took me by the hand and led me along the side of the club to the fence line. A narrow gap opened onto an easement at the edge of the property, and a shallow drainage ditch ran between two fences: chain link on one side, wooden panels on the other. A series of wooden pallets bridged the gap. Camille stopped at a secluded spot between the dumpsters and a propane tank.
I had to admit, it was a new low, even for me.
“Don’t be precious,” she said balancing her cigarette on the top of a wooden post. “You afraid to get a little dirty?”
“Fuck no.” I reached into my pocket for my wallet, but Camille caught my wrist.
“Put that away, I’m a slut not a whore.”
“How dare you, I would never presume such a thing,” I told her in mock outrage. “I am a gentleman.” I extracted a foil packet from out of the billfold and held it up to her. Camille’s expression softened in comprehension and she laughed.
“And a boy scout. Very prepared.” She reached down between us and undid my belt and the fly of my jeans, tugging them down off my hips. My erection sprang free in the warm summer air. The soft, warm skin of her palm stroked the length of my shaft once or twice and I saw stars. “You clean?” she asked.
“Just got tested. Came back clean.”
“Gonna need a condom anyway,” I told her as I ran my hands up her waist and sides to squeeze her tits under her dress.
“The piercing?” I felt her thumb find the barbell and gasped.
“Yeap,” I managed.
“Don’t worry, I can handle it.” She tore the foil packet open with her teeth and rolled it on in a dexterous movement almost too fast to see. I pressed her back against the cinderblock wall with a surge of frantic need. She wrapped her legs around my waist, and I thumbed aside her g-string to sink into her in a single, swift movement. A gasp escaped her lips.
“Oh, God,” she moaned as I pinned her to the wall with my hips. Her legs clenched around me, pulling me in deeper. “Fuck me hard.”
I thrust into her, bracing myself against the cinderblock wall, aware I’d put my hand down in something sticky and greasy at the same time. My brain shut off. All I could hear was the pounding of my own blood and the frantic panting of Camille’s breath in my ear. The dumpsters reeked of putrefying food and moldy paper and I felt like filth, which felt like a relief. My back ached from holding her up, but I couldn’t stop. I thrust harder as the low, continuous siren sound of Camille’s moaning sent sensations of ecstasy through my body.
“Ohh, fuckkk….” I groaned in pleasure. Camille came with a clenching gasp that gripped me inside and out. The force of it pushed me over the edge and I came too, like a flood, draining all my anger and frustration and leaving me empty but unfulfilled.
In the emptiness came disgust. Disgust with myself. Disgust with Camille. Disgust with the smell of the trash and the filthy dumpsters.
This is your life. This is all there is. This is all there will ever be.
I pulled out of her abruptly and turned away to vomit in the weeds that were overtaking the perimeter of the easement.
“Goddamn,” Camille said behind me. “It wasn’t that bad.”
If she was insulted, she didn’t show it. She straightened her dress with the businesslike attitude of someone who spent a lot of time getting in and out of clothes and retrieved the still-burning cigarette from the fence post to take a drag while she waited for me to finish retching.
“Sorry,” I croaked when I finally ran out of bile. I pushed myself up onto my knees to shed the condom and threw it on the ground before looking up at her. “I don’t know what came over me—oh, fuck!!”
In the stagnant water of the ditch behind Camille stood a ghoul-like figure staring at the two of us with an expression of inarticulate horror.
I was hallucinating. I had to be. I’d finally broken with reality. Lurid neon flames crowned a face carved out of deep shadows, and a pair of hollow, unblinking eyes that drilled into my soul. I struggled to cover myself.
“What the hell?!” Camille turned to follow my gaze, saw the ghoul, and started to laugh. “Oh, it’s her. Take a breath. It’s just one of the nuns from next door.”
I gasped for a breath. My wits struggled to catch up with me.
“There’re nuns next door?”
“Yeah, and they’re a pain in the ass. Been trying to close us down for months.” Picking her way along the grassy incline, she held out her hands to the woman and made a kissing sound as if she were trying to coax a kitten. “C’mere sister. It’s okay, c’mon.”
The figure shuffled toward Camille and I could see she was a woman: old, and probably demented, but human. The good sister did not seem to be aware of my presence: her wild stare was fixed on the colored lights playing across the front of the club, and her mouth sagged open as if stricken with awe. She was wearing some kind of limp nightgown. Even in the darkness it was possible to see the dark points of her nipples hanging down over the ridge of her belly—a round, doughy mass balanced on two spindly legs. Her feet were bare.
Camille got a grip on the old woman’s flaccid bicep guided her up the grassy incline of the easement onto the club side. “Damen Warner meet Sister Mary Edith,” she said. “She’s got the Alzheimer’s so she tends to wander. We better find someone to walk her home. Fucking nuns. Know how to ruin all the fun.”
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