The Great Pretenders
written by: Rae
The night air is pleasing. Fresh and damp. Paved streets glisten the lanterns above casting their effervescence. Like candlelight. Only better. I pull her closer to me while we stride down Welsher Way. Most of the Mom'nPops now closed. Storekeepers safe at home with their families. Long after savory supper enjoyed. Somewhere mothers fathers and grands sit cozy. Safely snuggled up. Sound of her voice breaks the silence of my thoughts. Like everything else about tonight it is the most beautiful noise I've ever heard.
"What's got your intellect in a conundrum on such a pleasant night?"
"Actually nothing as deep as that. Was thinking that the shopkeepers are somewhere enjoying the ambience of a warm fire on this cool damp evening."
"Ha! It's me you're talking to. I know you. Something more to those pleasantries."
She was right as she most often was. It was hard to hide anything from someone who knows you better than you do yourself.
"Let's just say decisions made are best enjoyed sugar-coated."
"Sugar coated by resolve or regret?"
His mind locked on regret.
"Well, there's no going back. Accept to where we began."
"No. Not even there. Here is where we begin again."
Only one establishment was still alive with light and sound. Kelly's. A local favorite. Many a passer through found relief from their travel burdens here. Road crews. Shift workers from the custom window manufacturing plant. Kelly's tea and coffees were unlike any other for miles. The food a combination of international delicacies and all American favorites satisfied one's late night cravings. A place for us, a couple of urban renaissance old timers and hipster chic drifters alike. We walk in happy our table is open. There were folks in various spots. A highway night crew chowing down on fish and chips served up basket style. The Kelly's way. A lone hippie traveler here. Young millennial couple there. Just your typical evening in Steel Town. Seated comfortably I look into her thoughtful brown eyes.
"So what'll be tonight?"
"Hmmm. I'm feeling adventurous. Espresso with a shot of brandy."
I smile back at her. Feeling the warmth of her beauty envelop our already very intimate corner. Decisions made are indeed resolutions. Long as the woman you love looks at you that way.
"She lives life on the edge of coffee brandy."
Her laugh always melted his soul.
"Be right back."
Make my way around small round tables. Through the quaint semi quiet. Henry is working tonight. A boisterous elderly Irish fellow. Always full of optimism.
"How's it going tonight my man?"
"Ah! Same ole. Same ole. What can I get for ye aching bones."
Always like to see the aged members of the community thriving. Think they're more suited for public service work. Their experience and appreciation of people and life are contagious. Funny how that happens toward the latter end of life's spectrum. Youth tends to take for granted the value of time and connection. Real interaction with people.
"Make it two espresso shots of the brandy in each. Hell make mine a double."
"A ho. Feeling lucky tonight are we now. Coming right up lad."
Henry began rustling up his magical brews. I turned about. My gaze finding hers naturally. Dark curls coiled delicately against classic round face appear like a halo. Glow streaming in through the windows from the lamp outside seemed to find her a worthy vessel through which to shine. Patrons entranced in the world where smell of burgers onion petals and steak sauce permeate its rustic rooms. Occasionally the pub door opens adding new players to the scene who bring with them faint scents of incoming rains and cigar smoke. Young couple leaning into conversation. I wonder what about? Watching how the girl looked coyly at her admirer. An obvious nervous wreck. First date no doubt. How odd? Familiarity and unfamiliarity can be both comfortable yet uncomfortable. All at once.
"Here we are. These'll warm you both up nicely."
Henry put the final frothy touch on his cuppa masterpieces.
I pay handsomely for the fruit of his labor.
"Enjoy me friends."
"Indeed we will. Thank you Henry."
Espressos in hand I carefully maneuver back through the myriad of tables and patrons. People talking to people not gadgets. Real hometowners. They seem more than strangers just now. Much like family.
"Here we are my lady."
We pause waiting for each other before enjoying the first sip. It was a ritual. Cups raise slowly to lip. Testing temperature with slightest tilt. Perfect as usual. Liquid paradise glides along palate. Sliding seductively down throat. Immediately I feel the effects of the double shot of spirit. Passion, like an electric current, rises like Phoenix within me. Her leg tangles with mine beneath our table.
Her eyes close. I couldn't take mine off of her.
They wanted a night to remember. Something different unlike other flings friends overplay as the party of all parties. Here they were. To say each was eager would be an understatement. She'd made a game of it. Tricked out threesome but only one gets the dangling prize. Daddy would decide. Smile crept across her lips. It was deceptive but masterfully masked with naiveté. Her choice definitely Sal. Standing prepped out in his white oxford shirt and khaki cargo shorts. His smoky features sly, sexy with a hint of innocence. Hands tucked away in his pockets. Waiting for further instructions. Ready to be up for a challenge. Her gaze moved swiftly to the other. As far as she was concerned the third wheel. Overly confident without cause. Fitting of his ready for Club THOT attire. Topped off by a borrowed player's grin. He looked like a peacock about to strut his plumes. She was up for anything but a tryst was never in the cards. Her hand was a play made for the pleasure of two alone.
"So guys sure you ready for whatever?"
Sal shrugged taking his hands out of his pockets. Sabrina was not like any girl he'd ever known. Different but not strange. Much. Sexy but a real girl next door. Not untouchable. He looked over at Darrell nodding in agreement. They'd been friends since third grade. It couldn't get any crazier a night than some others they'd stumbled into. Literally. That one time they had too many pulls from the beer drat. Alcohol and night swimming. Bad combo. They were both strong athletes. Darrell was a wrestler. He a soccer punk. Still can't get over that dead deer floating up too close for comfort. Darrell thought it was a human corpse. He was obviously drunker.
"My Dad will be out in a sec. Wants to check you out. He's kind of the protective type. Don't let him scare you."
"Hey your Pops will be chill with my vibe. No worries."
Darrell as always way too cocky for his own good. Sal eyed him a, "Play it cool."
She smiled at the peacock. Not knowing he was about to be plucked.
"Here we are. These the chaps you going about with tonight, huh?"
"Daddy this is Sal and Darrell."
Darrell stepped forward first. Hand extended.
"Didn't ask to shake your hand. You're a little eager aren't you son?"
"No sir. Just want you to be confident your girl's in good hands."
"I'll be the judge of that. Off with your trousers. Be right back."
Sal and Darrell watched the burly redhead disappear through the swinging doors. Bustling and rattling could be heard.
"Well, strip down to your Calvins. He isn't kidding."
"Wait what the hell is he looking for?"
Darrell was nervous. Confidence from before dissipating fast.
"Yeah Brina the strip search though. Bit much."
"You down for anything or not?"
She moved in close. Her hands skimming her ample décolletage. Hearing her Dad's voice make its way back into the room. She stepped quickly away.
Sal couldn't believe his hands were actually unbuttoning his pants. The mind is an awesome thing. It'll completely shut down when it has no explanation for what the body is doing. Like now. Feeling his fingers slowly unzip. Seeing Brina's father trying to help Darrell get his pants off. A tape measure hanging from his neck. Hearing Darrell curse and bolt out the door. His khakis begin their descent.
"Well there looks like your friend left you holding the bag did he now?"
Brina's giggle shook his mind back into alert focus. Catching his pants mid torso.
"Oh pull your pants back up. I was only pulling your legs. Like to see what you're made of. Grits or gravy. Taking my precious cargo out and about. Don't like trusting that to any joker."
Sal smiled. Relieved would be an understatement for the emotions flooding his bloodstream at the moment.
Sabrina thought Sal was absolutely adorable. From eager to curiosity. Bewildered to, "Oh what the hell!" He passed Daddy's balls test. Obviously he has them. As for the plucked peacock?
Darlene nestled tight against Parker. Sound asleep his breathing steady, methodical. Like his mind. He was a brilliant man. The main attraction. Fact he was easy on the eyes an extra special bonus. They'd been introduced by a mutual friend at a cultural event. She had been invited to read one of her poetic works. He was actually there in his professional capacity. She learned months later. They talked briefly and just as a colleague was whisking her away to be introduced to a famous author in attendance Parker extended his hand.
"It was a pleasure meeting you Miss Witmer. If you ever need my services." He had slipped his calling card into her palm. Of all the men she'd met that night and her long time friend Rebecca made sure there were plenty eligibles present, he was whom she remembered most. Not saying much but what he did say. Questions he asked though few. Pointed. Direct. He wanted to know who the woman was. Not the artist or professional person she appeared to be. She called him. They met for tea. Next she knew Parker Andrews was a permanent presence in her world. Her hands caressed the soft hairs on his broad chest. He'd decided to retire early. After wrapping up his last case. It was an intense long ordeal lasting years. Much of which he wouldn't or couldn't talk about. Not unusual for an investigative reporter doubling as a freelance private detective. He was gone a lot. At the end of it he got to the bottom of things. Justice served to the deserving. Good and bad. After only 15 years he walks away. She could only imagine his last case pushed him mentally into his subjects. Farther than his comfort level could handle. He would eventually reveal the secrets. She wondered if she'd be able to reconcile the bits of him. Resolve and regret.
Feel of wet skin and kisses. Smell of sweat sweetened flesh spiced with floral. Sound of fast hard breaths. An occasional pant. Intoxication of it making her head spin. Sal buried in her bosom. Sabrina McMurray wins again. Her fingers raked through his dark curly hair with one hand. While with her free one she tried reaching up over the dashboard. She wanted to doodle her name in the condensation on the windshield. Sensation of cold wet glass tingling through her body. Merging with hot arousal was too much to resist. As her fingertips tasted first thrill of chilly bliss there was a tap on the driver side window. Neither of them responded. Sal probably didn't even hear it. Being preoccupied with soft round mounds of flesh. She didn't care to acknowledge any interruption. Her own personal pleasure principles prohibited any such nuisance. But there it was again. This time accompanied by a familiar voice.
"Sal. It's D man. You in there?"
And they plummet from seventh heaven. Look of annoyance mixed with confusion. Always dueling emotions in him.
"That can't be the plucked peacock."
Sabrina thought out loud.
"Darrell. He just couldn't accept his own cowardice."
Sal cracked the window.
"Man what are you doing here?"
"Look I have to talk to you."
Darrell looked past his best friend at the hot stranger. She looked pissed.
"Can it wait? Kinda busy."
"It'll only take a minute. Seriously man."
Darrell was not happy how things went down tonight. What he thought was gonna be a hella good time. Something he and Sal would have a story of conquest to tell. Yeah Brina was a hottie. In her way. On the curvy. It all settled where it was supposed to. She was way too weird though. He always felt she didn't really like him that much. She only hung around because he was Sal's friend. And that mess with her dad tonight? He didn't feel bad about bailing but he wondered what went on with his boy after. Darrell figured he wasn't leaving Sal in any danger. Just giving him the nod. That thot was all his.
"Hey let me see what's up. I'll be right back."
Sal kissed her quick on the lips. Looked himself over as he reluctantly opened the car door. Letting in more of the cool night air. Sabrina watched as the two walked to the rear of the Honda Accord. She closed the driver's side window. Checking her own appearance in the rearview mirror. She could make out Sal easily. His stark white shirt shone in the full moonlight. Darrell was a little bit harder to see. He was wearing darker shades. As her eyes adjusted he came more in focus. They spoke in friendly hushed tones. Darrell eventually leaning on the trunk of the car. She freshened her lip gloss. Mussed the mass of dark brown hair. Turned up the volume slightly on the radio. From a classic rock station Pat Benatar was lyrically prophesying love is a battlefield. She wasn't in the least bit interested in what was being said back there. She already partly knew. Darrell was just being nosy. Sore loser as he was. Figured he'd put a temporary wrench in his boy's night. A typical jackass. There was a thump on her side. She didn't see anything. Windows were still partially fogged up. Then a bump on the roof. Sabrina looked in the rearview as she turned on the headlights. She thought she saw two figures but the darkness obscured part of her visual. She turned around in the seat. Only one man was standing in back of the car. His hands were stretched out in front of him. Even though it was dim. Sabrina could make out the look of terror and disbelief on Sal's face.
Four in the morning. Not used to sleeping. Accustomed to observing sights sounds situations. Parker watched her now. Absorbed by the peaceful rhythm her breathing made. Call it habit. Maybe instinct but his mind constantly active. Always remembering to analyze. Look for obvious clues then hone in for details. He had to be more satisfied than he'd been in quite some time. Darlene fulfilled him. He would be alright after the adjustment. Transition from observing human activities to being actively engaged in them. Then why couldn't he keep that young couple out of his thoughts? As if they were the only people at Kelly's last night. There was a considerable assortment of locals and transient regulars. Those two seemed out-of-place. Amongst lot of potential question marks. It was the way he carried on. Obsessed with rolling up sleeves that appeared already in folded position. The girl incessantly talking to him. Sometimes seeming to convince him of something or other. His dark head bowed but occasionally looking up in sort of a half nod. Then back to picking at the sleeves. One at a time. Two glasses of random beverage sat on the table. Neither of them touched. The ice in one nearly melted appeared at the top. Making the drink appear lighter in color along the glass rim. At a point she grabbed his arm. He started slightly. When they rose to leave. She, a voluptuous brown beauty, leads a walking zombie. But as they passed their table in route to the exit pub front door he looked
their way. For that briefest moment eyes locked with seasoned investigator's. He dropped his arms. Put hands in his pockets. Parker immediately noticed two clear signals in that boy's demeanor. Distress and confusion. A sleeve had come slightly undone. There were tiny specks of blood on it.
Sitting across from her Sal couldn't focus. At least on anything normal. What was that? Normal. Tonight definitely wasn't normal. Brina was talking. Saying things clearly not normal. Why was she acting like they were? She called her dad who drove out to where the three of them had been. Trying to have a good time. Now one of them was dead. Blood staining his Calvin Klein shirt. He remembered Darrell seeing one just like it in a store window at the mall. Vowing to work enough over time at Sports Locker to get it by the weekend. He did. Rarely did his best friend not do something he said he would. When he wanted to. Brina's dad when he got there grilled him. Not her.
"What the hell is all this? I let you out with my daughter and your friend turns up dead?"
"I don't know, Sir. It happened so sudden. Fast."
He held his hands up in some kind of attempt to demonstrate. It felt grotesque. Contorted. A lot like tonight.
"Did you see anything?"
Did he see anything?
"Daddy it's dark out here. Full moon's been in and out of the clouds. We heard noises. Something bumped into the side of the car. Then on top."
"Yeah it came from up top. Down on us both. I grabbed at whatever it was. Next thing I could make out..."
Sal lost his voice trying to piece together what his mind hadn't quite processed.
"Might have been a scared buck. Let me have a look round."
At that point he let Brina turn the Honda around to face, the scene. Headlights glared directly on the area. They all looked about the ground for deer prints. There were none. In fact no prints of any kind except theirs. Sal noticed Brina's dad begin to erase, with his footsteps, something in the gravel.
"You two get on with your evening. I'll take care of this."
"Wait. What? Shouldn't we call the police?"
"And tell them what?"
"That...that somebody's dead?"
"And when they ask you how it happened?"
Sal did not have an answer. For the first time he looked down at himself. Immediately noticing Darrell's blood on his sleeves.
"C'mon Sal. Daddy will take care of it. Let's go."
Sabrina took him by the hand. He looked so vulnerable. Not scared. She thought him even more sexy. Not the time for that. Got to get his head right. They got in the car. She in the driver seat. Sal plopped down beside her on the passenger side.
"We'll go grab something to drink. Finish out the evening. It's gonna be okay."
Driving off Sabrina saw her Dad in the rearview. He had gotten a shovel from the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee. She could see dirt and gravel flying up in the brake lights.
"Brina this isn't right. We've got to let somebody know. He's my best friend. We can't let his family go through not knowing what happened to him."
"That's the thing. We don't know for sure. Do we?"
"We tell what we know then."
"Sal your sleeves have blood on them. There isn't evidence of anything or anyone else present but you me and Darrell."
He heard her but didn't or couldn't comprehend. Rerolling his sleeves seemed to be the one thing he could do. Like it pacified his anxiety to be doing something, anything other than pretending everything that happened tonight was normal.
Sal managed the drive back to Brina's place. Pulling into driveway of the flat he was calmer. His mind beginning to assess the situation they were in.That he was in. Darrell's parents. His younger brother will soon be wondering where he is. There will be a call. He'd have to lie. How? What to say. That's what his brain was trying to work out. Brina put her arms around his neck. They felt like rope. Twisted.
"So just be normal. This will blow over. Hardest part is the beginning."
She kissed him. Hard. Long. Her tongue wanting to invade his mouth. But his was stuck in his throat. There was no room. He couldn't breathe. Felt himself pull away
"Beginning of what Brina? I've got to face my best friend's family. Lie to them. Pretend I mourn for his death. When I'm actually tortured by a guilty conscience. What exactly is the beginning of things?"
She gave him the most bizarre look. He still found her incredibly attractive. And he'd wanted to kiss her back. Way she looked at him. It made him think maybe not returning her goodnight kiss was the most normal thing to happen tonight.
"The beginning of us."
With that she was gone. He watched her walk up the drive. Porch light was on. So were lights inside the living room. Her dad's truck parked alongside his still running. Looking as if it'd been there all night. Brina waved and the door closed. Sal pulling out the driveway got another glance of the Jeep. He thought, that's the model for my game face. Look like I've been here all night. In the morning he'll be learning his best friend is missing. Eventually Darrell will be found dead. Maybe he won't. He and Brina will go on. Her dad will go on. They'll be loving hard in a cold back seat. He'll be pretending to live out loud and in control of it all.