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Excerpt

Excerpt

The Dark End of the Street: New Stories of Sex and Crime by Today's Top Authors

 

SCENARIOS by Lawrence Block

The road veered a few degrees as it reached the outskirts of the city, just enough to move the setting sun into his rear-view mirror. It was almost down, its bottom rim already touching the horizon, and would have been somewhere between gold and orange if he’d turned to look at it. In his mirror, some accident of optics turned it the color of blood.

There will be blood, he thought. He’d seen the film with that for a title, drawn into the theater by the four uncompromising words. He couldn’t remember the town, or if it had been weeks or months ago, but he could summon up the smell of the movie house, popcorn and musty seats and hairspray, could recall the way his seat felt, and its distance from the screen. His memory was quirky that way, and what did it matter, really, when or where he’d seen the film? What did it matter if he’d seen it at all?

Blood? There was greed, he thought, and bitterness, and raw emotion. There was a performance which never let you forget for a moment that you were watching a brilliant actor hard at work. And there was blood, but not all that much of it.

The sun burned blood-red in his rear-view, and he bared his teeth and grinned at it. He could feel the energy in his body, the tingling sensation in his hands and feet, a palpable electrical current surging within him. The sun was setting and the night was coming and there would be a moon, and it would be a hunter’s moon.

His moon.

There would be a woman. Oh, yes, there would be a woman. And there would be pleasure --- his --- and there would be pain --- hers. There would be both those things, growing ever more intense, rushing side by side to an ending.

There would be death, he thought, and felt the blood surging in his veins, felt a throbbing in his loins. Oh, yes, by all means, there would be death.

There might even be blood. There usually was.

#

Yes. This was the place.

It was the third bar he’d walked into, and he stepped up to the rail and ordered his third double vodka of the evening, Absolut, straight up.

As far as he could tell, all vodka was the same. He ordered Absolut because he liked the way it sounded. Once in a liquor store window he saw a vodka that called itself Black Death, and he’d tried ordering that for a while, but nobody ever had it. He didn’t suppose it would taste any different.

The bartender was a short-haired blonde with hard blue eyes that took his measure as she poured his drink. She didn’t like what she saw, he could tell that much, and under the right circumstances he’d enjoy setting her straight. She had an inch-long scar on her sharp chin, and he let himself imagine giving her some new scars. Breaking some bones. Driving the heel of his hand into her temple, right next to the eye socket. If you did it just right, you got the eye to pop out. If you did it wrong, well, there was nothing to stop you from trying again, was there?

He didn’t like her, didn’t think she was pretty, wasn’t drawn to her. But he was hard already, just thinking of what he could do to her.

But all he did was pick up his glass and drain it. On nights like this the only effect alcohol had on him was to energize him. Instead of taking the edge off, it honed it. The anticipation, the heightened excitement, caused his body to metabolize alcohol differently. It course in his veins like amphetamine, but without the overamping, the jitters. Picked him up and straightened him out, all at once, and a pity they couldn’t use that in their ads.

The bartender had gone off to make a drink for somebody else. He thought again of the hard look in her eyes and pictured her eye popped out. He put his hand in his pocket and touched the knife. Let her keep her eyes, at least for a while. Cut her eyelids off, put her in front of a mirror, let her watch what happened to her. Cut her lips off, cut her ears off, cut her tits off. Teach her to look at him and size him up, teach her to judge him. Teach her good.

He couldn’t pick her up, no chance of that, but he could easily wait for her. Lie in ambush, be there in the shadows when she closed the bar and walked to her car. Next thing she knew she’d be naked, wrists and ankles tied, mouth taped, watching herself in the mirror. Like that, bitch? Happy now?

Then he turned away and saw the girl and forgot the bartender forever.

#

What other men would see, he supposed, was a pretty woman. Not supermodel looks, not heart-stopping beauty, but an exceptionally attractive oval face framed with lustrous dark brown hair that fell to her shoulders. He saw all that himself, of course, but what he saw most clearly was her utter vulnerability.

She was there for the taking, there to be taken, and it was almost too easy, like shooting tame animals at a game farm. Not that he ever considered letting that dissuade him from scooping her up. Her vulnerability had a powerfully erotic effect on him. He was rock-hard, and knew he’d stay that way until dawn. He’d be able to fuck her all night long, he wouldn’t stop until she was dead. And maybe not even then. Maybe he’d throw one more fuck into her afterward, just for luck. What was death, after all, but the ultimate submission?

He watched her, felt the energy flowing, and willed her to look his way. He knew she’d be unable to resist, and sure enough her head turned and her eyes met his. He put everything into his smile, and knew the effect it would have. At moments like this his face turned absolutely radiant, as if lit from within.

She answered with a tentative smile of her own. He walked over to her, and didn’t she look like a bird hypnotized by a snake? One hand holding her stemmed glass, the other resting on the bar, as if for support.

“Hi,” he said, and dropped his own hand on her free hand. Her hand was small beneath his, small and soft. If he pressed down hard he could break all the bones in her sweet little hand, and he could picture the look in her eyes when he did, but for now his hand rested very lightly upon hers.

“My name’s Jerry,” he said. “Actually it’s Gerald, with a G, but people call me Jerry, with a J.”

None of this was true.

#

You know where this is going, don’t you? Of course you do. Why, you could probably write the rest of it yourself.

Clearly, there’s going to be a twist, a surprise. Otherwise there’s no story. Boy meets girl, boy fucks girl, boy kills girl --- that’s not a story. However dramatically you might present it, however engaging their dialogue, however intense his pleasure and her pain, it just won’t work as fiction. We might hang on to the very end, completely caught up in the action, but by the time it was all over we’d hear Peggy Lee singing in the background. “Is that all there is?”

No, that’s not all there is. We can do better than that.

For example:

#

He didn’t need any more vodka. But she poured drinks for both of them, and another would do him no harm. He tossed it back, and had just enough time to register the thought that there was more in it than alcohol. Then the lights went out.

They didn’t come back on all at once. Consciousness returned piecemeal. He heard music, something orchestral, harshly atonal. He was seated on some sort of chair, and when he tried to move he found that he couldn’t, that he was tied to it, his wrists to its arms, his ankles to its legs. He tried opening his eyes and discovered he was blindfolded. He tried opening his mouth and discovered it was taped.

And then she was touching him, caressing him. Her hands knew their business, and he responded almost in spite of himself, desire shoving fear aside. Her hands, her mouth, and then she was astride him, engulfing him, and God knows it wasn’t how he’d planned the evening, but then the evening wasn’t over yet, was it? They’d do it her way for now, and later it would be his turn to tie her up, and what a surprise he’d have in store for her!

But for now this was fine, this was more than fine, and she took him right up to the edge and held him there, held him there forever, and then tipped him over the edge.

The climax was shattering, and it sent him away somewhere, and when he came back he was no longer wearing the blindfold. He opened his eyes and she was there, naked, glistening with perspiration, and he would have told her how beautiful she was but his mouth was still taped shut.

“You naughty boy,” she was saying. “look what I found in your pocket.” And she held out her hand and showed him the knife, worked the catch to free the four-inch blade, turned it to catch the light. “Now tell me, Gerald with a G or Jerry with a J, just what were you planning to do with this?”

But he couldn’t tell her anything, not with his mouth taped. He tossed his head, trying to get her to take off the tape, but all that did was make her laugh.

“That was a rhetorical question, sweetie. I know what you had in mind. I knew the minute our eyes met. Why do you think I picked you? I wasn’t sure you’d be bringing a knife to the party, but it’s not as though I don’t have a knife or two of my own.”

She turned, put the knife down, turned back to him, and her hand reached out to take hold of him, he soft little hand, the one he’d had thoughts of crushing. She stroked and caressed him, and if he could have spoken he’d have told her she was wasting her time, that he wasn’t capable of response. But his flesh had ideas of its own, even as the thought went through his mind.

“Oh, good,” she said, using both hands now. “I knew you could do it. But sooner or later, you know, you won’t be able to.” She bent over, kissed him. “And when that happens,” she murmured, “that’s when I’ll cut it off. But whose knife shall I use, yours or mine? That’s another rhetorical question, sweetie. You don’t have to answer it.”

#

That’s better, isn’t it? The only thing wrong with it is the predictability of it. The biter bit, hoisted upon his own petard, and what’s the use of a petard if you’re not going to be hoisted upon it? He’s on the hunt, he finds Little Miss Vulnerability and makes off with her, and in the end he’s the vulnerable one, even as she turns out to be Diana, goddess of the hunt. Perhaps this particular Diana makes it a little more interesting than most, but still, we saw it coming. A surprise ending is more satisfactory when the reader as well as the protagonist is taken by surprise.

How’s this?

#

They took his car, drove to the dead-end lane he’d scouted earlier. Earlier there had been another car parked at the lane’s far end, and he’d crept close enough to identify its occupants as a courting couple. He’d entertained the idea of taking them by surprise, and some day he’d have to do that, but he’d stayed with his original plan, and had had the great good fortune to find this girl, and the other car was gone now and they could be alone together.

He parked, killed the engine. He took her in his arms, kissed her, touched her. He noted with satisfaction the quickening of her breath, the heat of her response.

Good. She was turned on. Time now to show her who was in charge.

He took hold of her shoulders, moved to press her down on the seat. She didn’t budge. He put more into it, and she pushed back, and how could such a soft and yielding creature be so strong?

Her lips parted, and he saw her fangs, and got his answer.

#

Now that might work, if we weren’t up to our tits in vampires these days. The undead everywhere, curled up in their coffins, guzzling artificial blood in Louisiana, being the coolest kids in a suburban high school, so many vampires it’s clear Buffy never made a dent in their ranks.

So what’s left? Werewolves? Cannibals? How many ways can we spin this? And to what end?

Ah, the hell with it. I could go on, but why try to dream up something?

Here’s what really happened:

#

Her apartment, her bedroom, her bed. Soft lighting, soft music playing.

Soft.

“Jerry? Is there, you know, something I should do?”

Dematerialize, he thought. Vanish, in a puff of smoke.

“No.”

“I mean ---”

“It’s not gonna happen,” he said.

“That’s okay.”

“I think that last vodka put me one toke over the line, you know?”

“Sure.”

Dammit dammit dammit dammit…

“But here,” he said. “Let’s see if we can make the magic happen for you, huh?”

“You don’t have to ---”

“Please.”

He used all his tricks, his mouth on her, a finger in front, a finger in back. It took time, because his own failure held her in check, but he was patient and artful and he found her rhythm and took her all the way. At one point he thought her own excitement might be contagious, but that didn’t happen.

“That was wonderful,” she assured him, afterward. And offered again to do something to arouse him, but seemed just as glad when he told her he was fine, and it was late, and he really ought to be on his way.

He got out of there as quickly as he could, and on the way to his car his hand dropped to feel the knife in his pocket. Its presence was curiously reassuring.

He drove around, thinking about her, thinking of what he could have done, of what he should have done. He found a place to park and thought of what might have been, if he were in life the man he was in his fantasies. The man who didn’t let his knife stay in his pocket. The man who acted, and reacted, and lived as he wanted to live.

The scenario played in his mind. And he responded to it, as he’d been unable to respond to her, and he touched himself, as he had done so many times in the past, and as he’d known he would do from those first moments in the bar.

Afterward, driving home, he thought: Next time I’ll do it. Next time for sure.

# # #

The Dark End of the Street: New Stories of Sex and Crime by Today's Top Authors
by by Jonathan Santlofer and S.J. Rozan

  • Genres: Fiction, Paranormal Romance
  • paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1596916834
  • ISBN-13: 9781596916838