The Deserving


By R. Marquez



"I tried to teach you how to do things right, but you're too stupid, too lazy to learn. Blame yourself for this, not me." Lloyd's face twisted into a familiar ugliness.

Maxine knew better than to respond. They sped down the dark road past tall, evergreen trees and pockets of snow. She leaned her swollen cheek against the coolness of the passenger-seat window.

"You're a worthless bitch. I can't believe I put up with you for this long." He kept his eyes on the windshield the whole time he berated her.

Stupid, lazy, worthless — Maxine heard it all before from her stepfather and the string of men that she'd known since leaving home.

"No one will miss you now that your mother's dead."

He was right. No one remained to raise a fuss and, this time, Lloyd wouldn't turn the car around and head home.

Maxine glanced at the clock embedded in the car's dashboard. Soon it would be over. She pulled the seatbelt strap across her lap.

"Scared of dying in a crash?" Lloyd's lips pulled back into a sneer.

Using one hand, he snapped his own buckle into place. He pressed his foot hard on the gas pedal. The car roared forward and Maxine's body sank deep into the seat. Her eyes moved from the climbing speedometer needle back to the road. The car beams shone on a band of white that dammed the blackness ahead.

Now.

"Is this how you got rid of Sylvie?" she asked.

The brutality etched in Lloyd's face deepened and his fist shot toward her. Dodging it, she grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard to the right. They careened off the road and headed straight toward a towering pine. Maxine shut her eyes and prayed.

* * *

Footsteps crunching outside the car and the smell of oil returned Maxine to consciousness. She leaned away from the cushion that saved her life and glanced at Lloyd lying with his eyes closed on his own deflating airbag. Her door groaned opened.

"Oh, my God. Your face — "

Hands pulled at her. A moment later, the tightness around her chest eased. "We need to get you out of here. Can you walk?"

Maxine nodded, wincing from the pain in her head. Her savior half-carried, half-dragged Maxine to the sedan parked a few feet away.

"You need a doctor."

Maxine wanted to explain that she'd recovered from far worse with nothing more than an ice pack and aspirin.

"Lloyd..."

The older woman's eyes darkened into a flinty blue. "Someone else will come for him."

* * *

"Sir, sir."

Lloyd's lids blinked opened. A uniformed man bent over him; the cop's round face spoke of his age; his helmet and uniform identified him as a member of the Washington State Patrol.

Lloyd's memory returned. He peered over at the empty passenger seat and fear tickled his gut.

"Lie still, sir. I radioed for the paramedics."

Lloyd moved his limbs and touched his face. The airbag, and the seatbelt he seldom wore, saved him. His mind returned to Maxine. Could the impact have flung her out of the vehicle? The closed passenger door belied that theory. Ignoring the officer, Lloyd stepped out of the car.

"Sir, please." The patrolman tried to restrain him.

"I'm OK." Lloyd pushed the cop away and took in the scene: the patrol officer's white Ford Crown Victoria, the looming trees, and the road curving away into darkness. Lloyd limped to the passenger side of his crushed vehicle.

"You're lucky I came by. I normally take the highway back to the station this late at night," the cop said.

Lloyd didn't answer. He gazed up and down the road. Where was Sylvia?

"Are you looking for something, sir?"

Lloyd leaned back on the car and focused on the young patrolman's face. "No, I'm a little woozy that's all. What happened?"

"You hit a patch of ice and lost control. Any idea how fast you were driving?"

Lloyd shook his head.

"Drinking tonight, sir?"

"No." Lloyd made it a point to remain clear-headed on nights like this.

A siren wailed in the distance and both the patrolman and Lloyd turned toward the sound.

"They're coming," the cop said.

* * *

After refusing the aid of the paramedics, Lloyd bribed the tow truck driver to take him back into town.

"The cop said either a truck spilled a mess of water on the road or an irrigation pipe burst," the driver said.

The man was a regular Chatty Cathy.

"You're lucky only your car got smashed."

"My head is killing me so if you don't mind."

"I was just trying to — "

"Shut up and leave me alone."

The man turned the radio on loud and didn't say another word.

Lloyd entered his house using the kitchen door. The place appeared the same; the dishes put away and the melamine table bare except for Maxine's ugly salt and peppershakers. The faint aroma of the hash they'd eaten for supper lingered in the air.

"Maxine?"

The empty house swallowed his words and returned nothing.

Lloyd walked into the living room. Empty. He went next to the bedroom. Maxine's pictures hung on the walls and her quilt covered the bed. He opened the closet door and found her clothes on their hangers. He pushed them apart and the faint odor of rose sachet filled his nose. He backtracked to the bathroom. He swung open the medicine chest and stared at her toiletries.

Lloyd's vision blurred again and his body ached. The puzzle of Maxine's whereabouts must wait until tomorrow. He reached for a bottle of aspirin and poured a glass of water. He knocked back a few of the chalky tabs then headed for bed.

* * *

Lloyd touched the splintered trunk where his car hit the pine tree. He stuck his hands back into his pockets and walked up and down the road, poking into the frozen shrubs that grew along the edge of the pavement. The cold air made him shiver beneath his coat and he stomped his feet to force circulation into his toes.

Damn, where did you go, Maxine?

Though Lloyd threatened to do a few things to her last night, nothing happened. Wherever she was, she better not shoot her mouth off, especially concerning Sylvie.

Snapping blue eyes and reddish curls floated in front of him. Lloyd shook the image off and trudged back to the heap he'd borrowed from his neighbor. It would do until he pawned Maxine's jewelry and bought something better.

Lloyd drove back into town and turned the car into the business district. No point rushing back to an empty house. He spotted a pink glowing sign. On impulse, he pulled over to the curb and parked. He hadn't visited the Pink Martini for a long spell.

Lloyd walked toward the neon martini glass, paused at the entrance and peered inside. Despite the early hour, several folks sat at the bar and at the tables scattered around the room. The place appeared the same, a jukebox in one corner, a pool table in another, and the long, wooden bar in the back.

Lloyd scouted the room for the barkeep and cheered up; must be Mick's day off. Lloyd pushed through the doors and headed for the bar. Glasses clinked together below the counter.

"Beer, whatever's on tap," Lloyd said to the invisible bartender.

A man rose, all six foot three of him. He glared at Lloyd. "What are you doing here?"

Lloyd hesitated.

"Get out."

"Come on, Mick, isn't my money green enough for you?"

"No."

Lloyd's face burned and his fury rose. What he wouldn't give to take the bastard down. Mick, his eyes on Lloyd's face, reached under the counter and placed a bat between the two of them.

Lloyd wished for the courage to grab it and wreak havoc on the man. Instead he asked, "Why you holding a grudge?"

Mick snorted. "Even if the police didn't have enough proof to nail your sorry ass, everyone knows what you did to Sylvie. Out." The barkeep wrapped his fingers around the bat handle.

Lloyd stomped away. He returned to the borrowed coupe, the familiar rage growing inside of him. He kicked the car door pretending it was Mick's face.

Mick's reaction to him reminded Lloyd of his old man, the soulless drunk. Lloyd Senior would start Friday nights with a bottle of Wild Turkey then finish the evening by smacking his wife and son around. Lloyd's ma never protected him. At seventeen, Lloyd ran away from home and never returned.

His mother died a year later and Lloyd skipped the funeral. Five years after that, a letter from the prison system caught up with him. His father had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Did his son want to bury him? Lloyd threw the letter away. Good riddance to the both of them, especially his useless mother.

Maybe if she'd done things right, the old man wouldn't have drank or lost his temper as much. The only decent thing Lloyd could say of her was that she stayed with his dad until the bitter end. He'd only known one other woman who had done the same.

Sylvie's sightless eyes and toothless mouth flashed in front of him. He shook the vision away. Better to remember her the first time they met at the Pink Martini, sitting pretty on a bar stool while all the men tried to catch her eye.

After he walked up to her, her eyes never left his. He liked everything about her at first, even her name. She told him it passed from mother to daughter though she'd changed it a little to make it her own.

Lloyd rubbed his face trying to rub away the memories. Like his mother, Sylvie disappointed him, and like his mother, Sylvie got what she deserved.

After driving home, Lloyd walked into the kitchen and spied Maxine's ceramic shakers on the kitchen table. Lloyd's gut told him whoever picked her up from the crash site helped her run away from him.

He slammed the red bits of china to the ground then, with his work boots, pulverized the chards and smeared what remained into the worn linoleum floor.

Maybe the next bitch would be better.

* * *

Even though the Pink Martini turned away Lloyd's business, he knew a place that would welcome him.

Now alone, Lloyd frequented Joe's Lounge most evenings and always found a stool waiting for him. He'd knock back a few and listen to the others talk. After a month, the regulars nodded when he entered and the bartender greeted him by name.

One night, nursing his third beer, catcalling and kissing noises made him swivel his stool around in time to catch two females sitting down at a table. The dark-haired one dressed younger than she should. Still, she looked fine, especially to a man who had gone without for a while and with a few drinks in his gut.

Her companion wasn't much to look at, with a scar across one side of her face and gray hair.

The younger woman ignored all the compliments coming from the bar patrons and kept her eyes on her drink. Soon, men began sending rounds to their table. Both gals smiled and nodded at their benefactors and a few of the regulars dared to approach them. The elder, knowing her place, concentrated on her beer and let the other one do the talking.

The dark-haired woman laughed and joked with each visitor. After a bit, each man, shot down, returned to his seat. Lloyd wanted to try his luck. It had been a long time since Maxine.

The woman caught him gawking at her and returned his gaze, her lips curling into a smile. That smile took away ten years.

"Want me to send over a couple of beers for you, Lloyd?" the barkeep asked.

Lloyd nodded and dug out a few more bills and dropped them on the counter. The man walked two bottles and glasses over to the ladies. He jerked his head in Lloyd's direction.

Lloyd slipped down from his stool, tucked his shirt into his jeans, and ran a hand through his hair before sauntering over to the two women.

"Hello." He kept his eyes on the brunette.

"Thank you for the refreshment. We're going to be whooped by the time we leave here." She leaned back in her seat.

Lloyd grabbed an empty chair from one of the other tables and sat down. "My name's Lloyd. What's yours?"

"Jenny." Though she drank from the bottle, she held it dainty-like. Jenny gazed at her friend and lifted a brow. The woman tipped her mug and drained it. She walked out of the bar without looking once at Lloyd.

A collective sigh whispered through the room and the other men returned to whatever business they had going on before the women's entrance.

"You here alone, Lloyd?" Jenny asked. She had a languorous way of speaking that enticed him.

"Yes, ma'am," Lloyd said.

"Is a little woman waiting up for you at home?"

"No, ma'am, no one waits for me at home or anywhere else."

"Sounds lonely, Lloyd. Do you want me to come home with you?"

* * *

Lloyd glared down at the spaghetti on his plate. He told Jenny this morning to cook the pork; a week in and she was already screwing up.

"What's this crap?"

"Pasta. I bought the good sauce. You'll love it."

Lloyd's anger rose. He tried to beat it down. "I asked you to fry the chops."

Jenny sat in the chair opposite him wearing a silky red robe emblazoned with a yellow dragon. She took a long hit from her cigarette. "Chill, Lloyd. I burnt them so I made something else."

The bile in his stomach crept to his throat. He'd splurged on those chops and the bitch ruined them. He picked up his full plate and threw it at her.

Jenny ducked and the crockery hit the wall. The red sauce splattered everywhere and the plate rung as it hit the floor.

Jenny studied him, her eyes wary.

"Hey, I'm sorry, Lloyd. I'll stop at the store tomorrow and buy you two more."

The fury unfurled inside him, rings of it radiating down his body. He stood up and clenched his fists.

Jenny stepped toward Lloyd and pressed her body against his. "Let's forget dinner, Lloyd," she said in his ear. "You're making me so hot right now..."

He grabbed her and pushed her onto the table. She opened her robe; she wore nothing underneath. His anger morphed into a different kind of hunger.

* * *

Lloyd came home in a foul mood. Before he punched out for the day, his boss told him that lay-offs were coming. Standing in the man's office, Lloyd wanted to push the bastard against the wall and pound him until he crumpled to the floor. Instead, Lloyd stood, hat in hand, pleading for his job. His boss told him the company could only afford to keep its best men and Lloyd wasn't one of them.

Entering the house, Lloyd's thoughts turned to Jenny and his stomach soured further. She'd played a dirty trick on him the night before. A month together and he didn't know how he put up with her. She'd pushed him over the edge several times, yet the most he'd done was slap her or shove her against a wall. She had a wily way of diverting his anger and afterwards she'd disappear for a couple of days. Then she'd return, dressed in heels and not much else and his anger would dissipate once again.

One time he followed her back to the apartment house where she stayed with her brother. The rundown four-plex opened onto a small courtyard that faced the street. He pounded on the apartment door, cursing her. A large, surly man with tattoos answered.

Lloyd swallowed hard and left without a fuss. That time, Jenny let a whole week pass before coming back. When she finally showed, his desire and loneliness eclipsed his anger.

After last night, those tricks would never work again. After she burnt dinner and left the kitchen a mess, Lloyd called her every name in the book. She apologized and poured him a glass of whiskey she'd brought over. He took a big swallow of the vile stuff and the next thing he remembered, he woke up alone, stiff from sitting up all night in the kitchen chair. She had played him for the last time.

Lloyd pulled his car into his driveway and walked to his door. A fluttering piece of paper taped onto the knob greeted him. He tore it down and read:

Lloyd,

It's over.

Jenny

He stared at the writing and coldness gripped him. Who did the bimbo think she was? Before he let her walk out on him, he'd put her in the ground first.

He strode back to his car. Before his hand reached the handle, he remembered Jenny's brother. His eyes narrowed. This would take some planning.

* * *

Lloyd stood in an alleyway near the front of Jenny's apartment complex. He broke his rule and brought along a small bottle of Wild Turkey. He needed something extra to keep him warm and his courage up. Every few minutes, he peered around the corner of the building across from Jenny's home. Her brother worked on his Harley in the courtyard.

Another hour passed before Jenny strolled down the street and into the square. Her brother wiped his hands on a rag and stood up. She ran and flung herself on him. Her arms and legs wrapped around the big man and he carried her into the apartment.

Anger flared in Lloyd. He wanted to rip her heart out. If he had a gun, he'd walk up to the both of them, blazing away. He slid his hand under his coat and fingered the butcher knife. This would do. Soon, she'd get what she had coming.

More time passed and a V-twin engine rumbled close by. Lloyd peeked from his hiding place. The brother straddled his bike at the courtyard entrance. For an instant, Lloyd feared he hadn't pulled his head back fast enough. Must have been his nerves, after a few seconds the chopper roared away.

Nighttime now and with Jenny's lover gone, Lloyd had his chance. He swallowed the last bit of whiskey and packed the empty bottle back into its box. He took a deep breath and crossed the street to the courtyard.

His eyes darted around the empty square. He crept toward Jenny's apartment and peeked into her window. She sat in the front room wearing her silk robe. A tumbler sat on an end table and she balanced a cigarette between her fingers.

Women didn't welcome uninvited visitors at night and Lloyd had a plan to circumvent this. He knocked on her door and stood to one side of it.

"Who is it?" Her voice called out.

He covered his mouth and said, "I found a parcel in my mail box with this apartment number." He held the whiskey package in front of the peephole.

"Thanks. Just leave it."

"No problem." Lloyd dropped it on the cement slab in front of the unit and clomped away. He pressed himself against the wall of the adjacent apartment.

Five minutes later, her door opened. He rushed over, pushed Jenny back into her living room, and closed the door behind him with the heel of his boot.

Jenny staggered backwards until her legs hit the couch then she sat down abruptly. She surveyed him and asked in her trademark drawl, "Couldn't keep away, could you, Lloyd?"

"You cheating tramp," he said, his back pressed against the door.

Jenny leaned against the cushion of the couch. A smile curved her lips and she bent over to pick up her glass and exposed her breasts. "You want something to drink?"

"That's a onetime trick, Jenny."

She raised her painted brows. "What do you want, some of this?" she asked, pushing back the skirts of her robe.

"I don't want none of that biker's sloppy seconds, whore," he said.

Jenny's smile vanished. She took a draw of her cigarette and blew out the smoke.

"Why are you here then?"

"Payback, bitch." He pulled the knife out from under his jacket. He enjoyed how her eyes widened at the sight of it.

"You have it all figured out, don't you?" she asked.

"Yep," he said.

"I'll scream."

"No one will come." Not in her neighborhood.

She took another drag of the cigarette. The smoke curled around the dragon embroidered on her robe. She perched the ciggy down on an ashtray.

"Anything I can say to talk you out of this?"

He shook his head.

"Nothing ever stops you, does it, Lloyd?"

Lloyd's rage swirled in his gut and sparks of electricity flowed to his nerve endings. Jenny seemed to shrink and transform from a woman into something less than human. Wrath pushed all rationality out of Lloyd's brain and the thought of plunging the knife over and over into her filled him.

He charged toward her with the weapon held at a wicked angle, his frenzy too far gone to notice the black semi-automatic in her hand.

Whoosh, whoosh, two holes smoked on Lloyd's forehead. He fell forward and the knife clattered on the floor.

Jenny gazed down at Lloyd and reached for her lit cigarette. She took a moment to knock off the ash before she walked over to the corpse. She gave it a hard kick. The body rolled a little before settling back into its original position. She took another puff before taking a cell phone from the pocket of her robe.

"It's me. The deed is done. Tell Maxine she's safe."

The phone buzzed in her ear.

"We're square, Sylvia. I'm giving you the-rat-bastard-deserved-it discount."


R. Marquez has been writing full time for the past two years and is working on the second draft of her second mystery novel. You may visit the author's website at www.r-marquez.webs.com. This is the author's second short story published on omdb! online.


Copyright 2013 R. Marquez. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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