Paint it Black
Publisher: Our Noir
The car was just sitting there, its hazard lights blinking like beacons in the darkness. In the lightening, he could see someone walking around the car, in and out of the shadows.
Stop here? No, no, not right. Rain. Too...too...It wasn't supposed to happen here. Stop. Stop!
He slowed the truck, pulling onto the shoulder about twenty feet behind the stalled car. A man came around the car and looked back at him, shielding his eyes in the glare of the truck's headlights.
The wipers beat with the thick pounding of his heart. He could see the man's face. And his eyes, hopeful as they squinted back at his rescuer.
He eased the truck forward, closing in on the car. He left the truck idling and got out. The man seemed to relax slightly as he walked toward him. That was funny. He had to struggle to keep from laughing.
"Hey, man, thanks for stopping," the man said. "Shit, ain't nobody gonna help on a night like this."
The man was talking, talking...about his dead battery, about the rain, about his wife being mad, his lips flapping on and on about stupid shit. The noise hurt his head and he thought about letting the man go but he knew it would be days before he could get another. There was no reason to waste tonight.
He stared at the man's face. Something started pounding in his head, like the mad rush of waves on the beach, muffled, endless, pounding water. The face was there in front of him, the face. He put his hands over his ears and shut his eyes.
"Hey, something the matter with you?"
He opened his eyes. The man's face glistened in the headlights and his mouth was moving, but he couldn't hear anything but the rushing water in his head. He forced himself to focus, to listen. The man was asking him something, he could hear him now, faint, like he was talking underwater. Jumper cables, the man was asking him if he had jumper cables.
The man's face was rain-slick, the color of wet leaves. It had looked different back in the parking lot. He hadn't been sure but now...
Yes...oh, yes. Perfect.
He walked back to his truck. Reaching under the seat, he pulled out a dirty rag. He could feel the outline of the knife beneath it. Carefully, he stuck it inside his jacket. Closing the truck door, he reached back into the flatbed and pulled out a long, metal pole. He started back toward the car.
No! Stop! Not right...it's not right!
He turned back to the truck bed. He rummaged through the de/pis, his heart pumping faster, his hands groping for it. Where the hell was it? If it wasn't there, he would have to let him go.
Finally, his fingers closed around the wet aluminum. He pulled out the can of spray paint. He let out a breath.
Yes. Okay....oh yes. It was okay now.
He walked back toward the car, the pole held at his side, the can and knife secure in his jacket. The pounding echoed inside his heading, hitting the spot behind his eyes.
The man was peering into the open hood of his car. He looked up, his eyes searching for the jumper cables. He frowned when he saw the pole.
"What the fuck you gonna do with that, hang curtains?" The man started to laugh. He laughed, falling against the car, reeling from booze and the hilarity of his own joke.
The laughter floated on the thick, wet air, like a low rumble of thunder. It rumbled inside his skull, ping-ponging there like a half-forgotten childhood chant.
The rain pelted on the metal hood, the blood pounded in his head, waves hard on the beach. It hurt his ears, this noise. He didn't like it, the noise. And the man's smell, booze and sweat. He didn't like that either. He stared at the laughing face until it started to melt, the features melting away with the rain until he could see nothing left but the color of his skin.
Slowly, he raised the metal pole. He touched it to the man's leg.
A sharp bang. The man reeled back against the car and fell to the ground. He lay there, twitching, his eyes rolled back, his mouth moving, like a fish on a dock.
He waited, standing over the man, waited for him to come to. The gaping wound in the man's leg was wet and black. The rain was coming down harder now. It was taking too long. He scanned the dark causeway road for headlights.
Do it...finish it.
He set the pole against the car. Lifting the man under his arms, he dragged him down the slope away from the road toward the shore. The man was limp, like a corpse, but he was still alive on the inside. He could smell the pumping blood, hear his heart still beating.
He dumped him near the rocks under a sea grape tree. A flash of lightning revealed the man's face. He was conscious, his eyes wide with terror now, his lips moving with silent questions.
What? What did he want? Why? He wanted to know why? The bastard wanted to know why?
He reached in his jacket and pulled out the knife. It was dark here away from the road and he couldn't see the man below him. But he could smell him. He plunged the knife blindly down but it met sand. He raised it again and this time felt the satisfying thud as it met flesh. Again, again, again, and the man was still trying to move. His moans drifted up in the darkness mixing with his own frenzied grunts. Blade against sand, blade against flesh, over and over. Finally, quiet.
He stood up, panting, his arm quivering. The lightning illuminated the man below him for a moment, just long enough for him to see that the face was still there. The man was gone but the face was still there. And the waves in his head, they were still there, too.
No! Fucker! Goddamn you to hell! You piece of shit. You should have been scrapped from your mother's womb with a spoon!
With a cry, he dropped to the knees and began to pound at the face. He kept pounding, right, left, right, left in a raging rhythm, over and over, the head flopping from side to side in the wet sand.
He stopped. He tilted his head back, closing his eyes, letting the rain wash over him, letting his breathing return. The air was thick and metallic with blood and lightning. A shudder of ecstasy rolled through him. The waves had stopped.
Picking up his knife, he struggled to his feet, spent. There was just one thing left now. He reached into his jacket for the can of spray paint. It was gone. Had he forgotten it? No, he had put it in his jacket back at the truck. It must have fallen out. He scanned the darkness of the rocks. There was a lot of trash. It could be anywhere now. He felt a wave of panic closing and he knew he had to stop it because the waves would come back.
A headlight beam washed across the tree branches. He froze, waiting for the car to pass.
No...no. Forget the paint. Fuck it. There would be another.
Slipping the knife in his jacket, he trudged back up to the road. Picking up the metal pole, he went back to the truck.
He was putting the pole in the flatbed when another flash of approaching headlights made him look up. The car was slowing and he stood tensed, ready. But the car sped past, tires hissing on the wet road.
He smiled. Ain't nobody stopping to help on the night like this. He got in the truck and drove slowly away leaving the empty car's red hazard lights pulsing weakly in the darkness.
The jet dipped its right wing and the window filled up with turquoise.
Louis Kincaid pressed his face against the window and stared down at the water just two thousand feet below. He could see a speckling of sailboats, a race in progress maybe. They looked like white birds drifting against a cloudless blue sky, and it gave him a momentary rush of vertigo, like he was upside-down. He shook his head, a soft laugh bubbling out of him. The old woman in the seat next to him looked over, frowning slightly.
"The Gulf of Mexico," he said, pointing. "Man, that's pretty, don't you think?"
She nodded and buried her face back in her Barbara Cartland paperback. Louis looked back to the window. A sweep of beach came into view and then a block of custard colored buildings along the shoreline.
A soft voice came over the intercom, announcing they would be landing in Fort Myers in ten minutes. Louis felt a quiver in his stomach. It wasn't nerves over his first trip in a plane so much as anticipation of what lay ahead.
He leaned back in the seat, his gaze drifting back to the window, the same question in his head that had been bouncing around there for days now. What in the hell was he doing here anyway?
Dodie...it was all his fault. If Dodie hadn't called, gotten him out of bed. Or if it hadn't been so damn cold that morning. Or if his damn car battery hadn't been dead again. If any of that hadn't happened, he might not have accepted Dodie's offer, might not be on this plane now, going to a place he didn't know, a job he didn't really want.
Hell, not just a job. A hundred bucks a day, with a minimum of five grand, just to do some digging around and find out who killed some woman's husband. Dodie had told him his friend, the wife's lawyer, needed someone special for the job.
"I'm a cop, not a private dick," Louis had told Dodie.
"For a hundred bucks a day, you can be any kind of dick you want," Dodie said. "You want the job or not?"
He didn't want it. But there was nothing else on the horizon. He was finished as a cop in Michigan, if not technically then practically. There was nothing to do but start over again. He shook his head slowly. Twenty-six and starting over again. And not even with a real badge. He didn't even have a gun anymore.
He looked back out the window, at the checkerboard of white tile roofs and green palm trees.
"Shit," he muttered. "At least it'll be warm."
© P.J. Parrish