"Welcome to Miami."
Paige pushed through the throngs that were squeezing out the door of the American Airlines' jet, and headed directly for the parking lot.
Right on time.
Home on Saturday.
Just as planned.
Only, she was alone, and she carried no luggage, only a cheap shoulderbag to hold what she had had on at the end, her Smith and Wesson 9mm, and a book, another copy of Healer picked up at a used book store in Helena.
She'd read it twice already this week, hoping the words could help, could heal. Could make everything, if not all right, then at least headed in that general direction.
But maybe she was beyond that.
Paige wore her other change of clothing now, picked up at a army surplus store located next door to the book store. A trip to a tiny strip mall, for just the necessities -- jeans, 501's, men's, a little baggy, a twenty-seven inch waist was the smallest size the store carried with her needed thirty-six inch inseam. And a black t-shirt under a black sweater. Plain. Very plain.
She felt plain, and unattractive. Ugly, really. There was no makeup on earth that could cover the bags under her eyes, the puffiness of her lower lip.
There was nothing that could make her feel pretty.
Paige had been in Helena, at one of the bureau's branch offices, so that she could attempt to piece together for Wesley Selden everything that had happened.
It was a debriefing that never seemed to end. All those details on how she survived, never a question as to why?
But that was one answer Paige preferred to keep to herself. How do you explain revenge without sounding barbaric? How do you explain that you more than had to kill, you needed to, wanted to, with every fiber of your being, every moment of your history, and that you'd have felt nothing unless able to pull the trigger?
Paige didn't have those answers, and still, she felt nothing now, walking to her old Saab 900, in the long term parking lot.
Section twenty-three-A, just as Steve had scribbled on the ticket before handing it to her -- he parked, while she checked in their bags -- before she incarcerated it in an inside zippered pocket of her bomber, along with her car and house keys.
The car started and sounded as she remembered. A funky purr, an occasional spit.
Paige turned on the stereo, and turned up the volume, there was a tape already in the deck. Then she hit PLAY, and just about died right on the spot.
The Moody Blues, singing "Nights In White Satin."
Steve . . .
A little surprise, no doubt, for when they returned. He had promised her that she'd become a convert.
Choking back the tears, she really couldn't cry any more, there were no tears left, Goddamnit, not in her lifetime, Paige reached out, and was about to switch off the song, when she stopped herself short.
No. She'd listened. And she'd like it. And maybe even, she'd learn to sing along, as off-key as ever.
Paige pulled from the lot onto 836, heading east toward South Beach.
The traffic was relatively light, considering -- considering the holiday jams that would follow in the next five weeks, shoppers and revelers, and Goddamn tourists seeking warmth.
"Fuck them all," Paige muttered, feeling bitter. She was bitter.
She reached the Interstate 95 intersection, two exit ramps, one south, the next one north, quickly following one another.
But instead of going straight, heading toward the MacArthur Causeway, which would drop Paige and her Saab right onto 5th Street in South Beach, she turned off at the first exit, for 95-South.
Slamming the Saab into third gear, downshifting to pick up speed . . . faster . . . south . . . toward blessed route one . . . south . . .
South . . .
It took Paige three hours, forty-six minutes before she entered the Key West city limits, before that infamous "Route One Ends Here" sign came into view.
She rented a room, her usual room -- it was where she had been staying during these past undercover months -- at the Banyan Tree Guest House on Elizabeth Street, then headed out for a drink.
Paige needed a drink, to sit, and soak up the heat.
It was eighty-seven degrees in Key West, she overheard the hotel's desk clerk report. And a heat wave was expected over the next few days.
Fine with me, Paige thought, wanting the world to melt, needing for the cold to be forever cast from her blood, her bones, her aches and pains, including the ones in her head, the ones in her heart.
"A Rolling Rock," she ordered, sitting at the bar in the Hogs' Breath Saloon.
Paige was looking over the menu. There wasn't much to choose from really. But all of it seemed to taste tropical, blackened and barbecued. Or perhaps it was just a state of mind. An illusion. A mistake. Mistaken identities. Her story with Steve. Shane's with hers. The goddamn food.
Even Greta wearing that wig . . .
Maybe all identities were mistaken. Even to ourselves. Did we really know who we were? Did we care? Paige ordered dinner and shrugged. Whatever.
The beer felt so frosty going down, not Montana cold, but a certain special chill. That cliched cold beer on a hot day. Every day would be hot from now on, and every beer cold. That's all Paige wanted now, hot days and cold beer. Was that asking for too fucking much?
He was cute, tall, lean, very tan. He also had a Rolling Rock in hand. A few too many in his gut. He pulled up a stool next to her's, and leaned close. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"No," Paige said, evenly and certainly loud enough for him to hear.
"Aw, c'mon, honey," he said, putting an arm around her shoulders.
"What part of 'no' don't you understand?" Paige asked.
"Honey, that word ain't part of my vocabulary."
"Make it one, and fast," Paige said, reaching into her purse.
"I could make this a vacation you'll never forget," he said, not giving up.
Paige slapped her badge on the counter, then turned to face him.
"So could I," Paige said. "Don't make me shoot you."
He got the message, and fast, backing off, suddenly wide-eyed and sober, just as the bartender placed a blackened chicken sandwich down in front of Paige. She ate it quickly, quietly. Passing on a second beer, just asking for a glass of water instead.
And when she was through, Paige paid her check, left a tip, and exited the saloon, walking down Duval Street, past the drunks and cruise ship curiosity seekers spilling in and out of the bars that lined the street, past the barely-dressed strippers teasing men into Short & Curly's, past the t-shirt shops -- lots of t-shirt shops, too many Goddamn t-shirt shops -- past Fast Buck Freddies, and Jimmy Buffett's hamburger joint, past the art galleries and boutiques, and turning finally, around.
She'd had enough for one night, and headed back to her room. To sleep.
Paige could sleep forever, like Sleeping Beauty.
Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea, she thought.
There was certainly one other person in Key West who would have agreed with her, wholeheartedly.
Shane was watching her from the street.
Hidden in the shadows of a banyan tree, he was only a few yards away from her bedroom window.
Paige had entered her room, and peeled off her t-shirt, pushed off her jeans. She was walking past the bed now, wearing only panties, and that crucifix around her neck. Greta's good luck charm. Paige ran her hands through her red hair, as she headed toward the bathroom. The shades were up. It was as if she couldn't care less. Not anymore.
"And so naughty," Shane added, in a coarse whisper, the words sticking in his throat.
He walked around the circumference of the resort. There was a sign that warned: "Private. For Guests Only." But there was no one to enforce the rule. And if anyone asked, he'd flash his beautiful smile, and no one would doubt that he belonged.
Especially now, with the goatee.
Shane last shaved the day he left for Montana, and just today decided that a goatee would be a nice change, trimming away the excess.
He was such a master when it came to using a razor.
Plus curling his hair, that frazzled musician look, and dying it jet black, made him seem, well, a little older.
He could probably pass for a writer, one working on his first novel, or a book of short stories.
Yeah, Shane liked that idea, to be disguised as an author. So far, he'd played the part of law student, bank teller, retail manager, musician, male model, gym teacher, and of course, ski bum, with such ease. It was amazing how a little hair styling could change the perception of one's appearance, could make anyone into anything.
Even a Prince . . .
Once his way inside was set, at least in his mind, once he knew which windows and what doors allowed him best access to Paige's castle, Shane ventured to a spot where he could kill some time. Where he could wait.
Short & Curly's.
Located down a little red-bricked alley off Duval Street's busiest block, it was a hole in the wall, nothing more, nothing less. A twenty-by-forty foot room with an old oak bar at one end, and a stage at its center. Surrounding the stage were dozens of padded red vinyl-covered chairs.
His knapsack strapped over one shoulder, Shane walked past the massive bouncer guarding the front door, then to a seat, only inches from the stage, where he settled into one of those padded red vinyl-covered chairs, let out a low, barely audible groan, then focused on a curve.
There were no redheads dancing.
But that was okay.
Shane could imagine. And in only a few short hours, he'd have the most beautiful redhead of them all.
He'd have her all to himself.
He'd have her forever.
Sunday, November 17, 1996
The prettiest of the strippers, a young bleached-blonde woman named Dawn, walked with Shane from the club. It was closing time, and she asked him to see her safely home.
Along the way, she explained that she lived alone, and for only two-hundred and fifty dollars, she could show him the time of his life.
"You're really cute," Dawn said, adding that she didn't normally take customers home.
But at the white picket fenced gate that led to the small conch house in which the young woman lived, Shane apologized, insisting that he had plans, but that otherwise he'd love to take her up on her offer.
Dawn seemed a little confused, having never before been refused. But she tossed it off to his most likely being gay, and headed mindlessly off to bed.
On his way over to Elizabeth Street, Shane made jokes about waking up at the crack of Dawn, twisting and turning the cliche around every which way in his head.
He was thoroughly amused, and distracted, until the saw the street sign.
The word "Elizabeth" written vertically in black letters down a wide whitewashed band at the bottom of the closest telephone pole.
Checking his watch -- it was a little after four AM -- Shane turned down the street and headed toward the Banyan Tree Guest House.
He disappeared into the shadows, crawling by the trees, or seemingly through them. Until he came to Paige's first floor window.
It was open, as was the other window in the bathroom, with only the screens providing protection from the mosquitos and other monsters of the night. No lights were on anywhere. It was as if the island were asleep. And Shane preferred it that way.
He chose the bathroom.
It would be farther away from Paige in case he slipped, in case he made a sound. Placing his knapsack softly on the ground by his feet, he reached into the front zippered pocket for some wire cutters.
Snipping through the screen was easy, after that initial piercing. What little sound he made was more than drowned out by the constant whir of the ceiling fans in both the bathroom and bedroom.
Shane pulled back the netting, pushed his knapsack through the window, then followed, lifting himself effortlessly and without a peep.
Stepping down onto the tiled floor, he set about gathering the tools he'd need. Since Paige was asleep, and no doubt would violently refuse to take the Veronol orally -- Greta had been a cinch, he just offered her a shot from a flask, telling her it was vodka and orange juice, which she thirstily accepted -- he'd need to inject her with it.
He prepared the hypodermic needle, spraying out any air bubbles. He would have loved to jab the needle into her behind, but the chances of him hitting a vein were slim, at best. No, her neck would be preferable. And a lot more direct.
Next he pulled out the fresh red rose, some grooming scissors, a small rechargeable electric trimming razor, and a hair brush. Shane left the diary -- his thoughts, his actions, every minute detail of his life for the last two and a half years -- in the knapsack. They could read it later, together, snuggled in bed. He was sure, quite positive, that Paige would want to know everything.
He stuck the grooming items into his back pocket, and placed the stem of the rose between his teeth.
Then, with the needle in his right hand, Shane crept from the bathroom, through the open door and into the bedroom, where he found Paige, sleeping, under the white cotton sheets.
He stopped at the edge of the bed, gently placed the rose down on the woven rug, and moved over to her.
Despite the darkness, Shane could still make out the color of her hair. So red, so beautiful.
She was lying on her stomach, her face buried in the pillow. Her body, it looked so tempting under the flimsiness of the sheets. He could barely wait to see her, to take her panties off, to marvel at the red patch between her legs, to shave it, mold it, into a heart, a Valentine of love for him.
Shane positioned the needle just at the base of her skull. He was so excited, his breathing was hard, and his hands shaking a little.
"I can't wait to turn on the lights," Shane whispered, "to see your beautiful face, the recognition in your eyes."
But as he jammed the needle in and pressed the plunger, the lights in the room came blaring on.
"Why wait?" Paige asked.
She was coming toward him. Walking from the shadows. Paige knew he could come. Watching him watch her at the Hog's Breath. The alteration in his appearance hadn't thrown her off for a beat. The blending in. She could feel his presence the moment she walked into the bar.
Shane had been expecting her. So she let him watch, she let him follow, and she waited.
And now the wait was over.
"But, you're . . ., " Shane said, panicking, pulling back the sheets. But what he had imagined to be Paige was nothing but an inflatable doll wearing a red wig.
"I'm offended," Paige said. She held her Smith & Wesson 9mm in her hand. "That you couldn't tell the difference between that, and me."
"You can help me," Shane said, his tone wavering, his breathing hard and uneven.
"Help you what, Shane?" Paige demanded.
"My . . ." He looked down helplessly.
"Your erection," Paige said, spitting out the words, the distaste in her mouth. "I can help you get it up?"
"It's not like that," he said, the panic rising in his voice. "It's . . .," and Shane lunged, not at her, but toward the open window.
But Paige was quicker, aiming, pulling the trigger. The first bullet catching Shane in the back of the shoulder, pushing him back against the wall, into the corner of the room, spinning him around.
"No, please," he begged, reaching out for her, the tears falling from his eyes.
The next bullet hit him in the groin.
"You'll never get it up now," she said.
Shane could feel the warmth of his blood flowing across his back, down his legs, he slid down against the wall, onto the floor.
Shaking, he curled up into himself, and was crying. "You were everything to me. Everything I was working toward," Shane said, in a small, squeak of a voice.
He was staring up at her, helpless and yet still so enamored.
"Don't you see," Shane said. "I was going to kiss you afterwards, and then you'd wake up. And we'd make love." His voice took on such a far away edge. "I'd finally get to make love. And we'd be together forever. The redheaded Princess and her . . . real . . . Prince . . . Charming."
Paige glared at him for a long moment.
"There is no real Prince Charming," she said, finally, sadly, understanding the meaning of her words.
Focusing no more, Paige walked over to the bed, leaned back against the edge of the mattress and sat down, settled down for the wait, holding Shane in her sights, her captive.
The guest house was waking, quickly. The town coming back to life. Sirens. The red-blue-red-blue-red-blue flashing lighting up the night, lighting up the room.
Shane was whimpering. Slobbering the words, "My princess," over and over again, as he pulled further and further into himself, lost in his daydream, lost in pathetic life.
Turning away in disgust, looking up, Paige caught a glimpse of herself in a full-length mirror that was mounted on the closet door, opposite where she now sat. She had to laugh, really. She barely recognized the person gazing back.
"Some princess," she said.
The next afternoon, after the inquisitions and paperwork, and Shane was booked and cuffed and gurneyed away, Paige took a long walk, aimlessly through the streets, and back alleys, past banyan trees and piers, stopping finally at Mallory Square.
There she took a seat, on a railing, over-looking the water.
Paige sat that way, still, for a time. A tune playing in her head.
It was one of the songs on Steve's Moody Blues tape. She didn't know all the words yet, but the melody haunted her. She hummed it lightly as she watched the sun set with the hundreds of others. Not bothering to applaud. What did the sun know about gratitude?
Paige stayed there long after, after the sunset, after the tourists had gone home or away or to get drunk. Still humming to herself, or singing the words to every song she had ever known, feeling the presence of the crucifix, Christ and the cherubs, under her shirt, pressing it to her skin, wondering, and wishing she could believe -- or would that just make the cherubs laugh? -- wishing there was something she could believe in, just wanting to sit there forever.
She probably could have. Just hearing the music in her head and watching the sun set.
That was one way to eliminate the disappointments.
That was one way to help heal the pain.
SNOW BLIND ©2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved