Notes: This is the opening to my novel Violent Femmes. This is from a revised 3rd draft that I’m doing a final polish on before packaging up to send out to agents and publishers. I will be posting pieces from the beginning of the novel here until I’ve posted about ~25 pages. –Erik
The speedometer in this overcrowded rusted out American combustion relic is pushing 80 MPH and we’re halfway to dawn when poor wrong place wrong time Carl wakes up for the first time since Jaydee shot him back at the convenience store outside of Vegas. The first sound I hear from the backseat is a gasp like he’s just come up from underwater and he’s sucking for breath. And then it’s pretty much screaming and four letter words.
“Fucking… what the fucking fuck? I…” Carl manages to sputter. He’s stretched out over Bonita and Jaydee’s laps, staining their knock off designer clothes and the interior upholstery. He tries to sit up and Bonita gently presses him down.
“Shhhh…” Bonita says, her big cover girl eyes swelling up with fat salty tears.
I see him in the rear view mirror and he sees me. His eyes are darting around and they stop on my reflection. His skin is pale and getting paler. The kind of pale that means he might bleed to death in the backseat before we need to stop next for gas and Funyons. We have a brief rear view staring competition and he goes still and it’s like he’s begging me or condemning me or trying to tell me something with his big stupid boy blue eyes. I want to yell out that it’s not my fault, that none of this is my fault and that if I could just tell him the details that led to this he’d laugh and understand. Really this is just a zany sitcom caper with a couple of capital crimes. Hilarious. I wish I was that good a liar.
This story really begins with my not really sweet at all fifteenth birthday and the car accident that changed everything but I wanted to start things off like all of the best stories; right in the middle. We’ll catch up to the rest of it soon enough. Bear with me. This is why God made flashbacks.
Kitty puts her hand on my shoulder to get my attention. “Eyes on the road, sweetheart,” she tells me and points to the freeway. I blink and pretend to forget about the gut shot boy. Kitty taps her press ons against the dash and turns up the radio. Kitty is my co-pilot. She’s my driver’s ed teacher. She’s composed, almost elegant even. If someone told you she was the first lady of the United States and you had no idea who the first lady of the United States was, you’d probably believe it until you saw the spray of blood on her heels or did a background check.
“Let me go on!” Gordon sings and Kitty sings along with him. “Like a blister in the sun! Let me go ooooon, big hands I know you’re the one!”
“Kitty!” Jaydee shouts from the backseat. She’s got Carl all over her hands and in her wig and smeared in flailing finger prints on her arms and cheeks. Carl is oozing out through a tangle of Bonita’s pastel scarves.
Kitty sighs and pulls up her little pink pill box from the floor next to her vacant pink heels. She told me that she went to school to be a pharmacist once upon a time but Jaydee told me it was a lie. She’s just a high class Rite Aid junkie, no better than a backroom needle fiend but with slightly better teeth. They’re both liars. Really, I’m starting to think that everyone is a liar. And then there’s me without a poker face. Kitty takes out a syringe, hooks up a fresh needle, and sucks something clear and opiated from a prescription vial.
“You!” Carl says when he looks up to see Jaydee’s bruised and split face covered in too much make up. “You fucking shot me!”
“Ay dios mio, este muchacho va a morir,” Bonita says. She has her rosary in one hand and she’s holding down Carl’s legs with the other. Mascara and tears are running down her cheeks, her gold sequined dress is ripped in a few places and smudged with liquid Carl in others. She needs a visit from the hairspray fairy ASAP.
“No one’s dying,” Kitty says. She flicks the syringe and squirts out a tiny stream. She hands it to me. “Hold this, dear,” she says.
I take the needle. “What happened to ten and two?” I shout out over the music.
“Don’t be clever,” Kitty tells me. She grabs Carl’s arm. He’s either too weak or too disoriented to stop her. She finds a vein with surprising ease. “Just a little sterile kiss and then two surprises,” she tells him. She kisses his arm and then follows it with an alcohol swab.
“Betty,” she says and puts out her hand for the needle. I hand it over. I’m her high speed needle nurse, the getaway driver and enabler. I don’t know what the hell I am. I kind of figured I’d be learning to parallel park before attempted murder, kidnapping and drugging. But there’s a lot of things I’ve been figuring wrong recently.
Carl looks up at Jaydee. “I don’t want to die,” he says. Please. I don’t…”
“I’m sorry,” Jaydee says. I can’t tell if she’s being sincere or mimicking sincere to cover her inner sociopath.
“Sorry only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, dear,” Kitty say and sticks Carl. “Surprise number one,” she says and then frowns. “I’m afraid there will probably be some light bruising.”
“Who the fuck are you people?” Carl asks. He looks at Jaydee. Her nose is fractured; her left eye is swollen nearly completely shut. Her split lips are lacquered in peach lip gloss. She’s wearing costume jewelry and a crooked mostly platinum wig. She’s got a strappy black top on, jeans and no shoes. Then there’s Bonita Tequila, one of Las Vegas’s most revered old time show girls with epic hair, scarves and inconvenient shoes, Kitty L’amour, amateur pharmacist and questionable role model and me, driving the getaway car. It’s a fair question. Before anyone thinks of an appropriate answer, Kitty’s second surprise goes straight to Carl’s head. “Ohhhh…” he says and blinks his eyes very slowly.
“Okay then,” Kitty says. She turns back around and straightens her blouse. She takes a measured, calming breath, and then pulls out a mint tin from her pink pill box. “Raise your hands if you want a Xanax.”
Bonita and Jaydee raise their hands immediately and Kitty begins to dole out pills and sour apple mineral water.
I put out my hand for a pill.
“Have you lost your mind, child?” Kitty asks me.
I stick my tongue out at her. She fixes my hair. She closes the mint tin and puts it back in the pink pill box. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve been stealing pills from her pink pill box for days. This is already me heavily medicated.
In the backseat Jaydee lights up a cigarette and sets about inhaling it in record speed. The smoke crawls inside of her, mingles with her blood and swirls around in her eyes, a breathable nicotine ghost. “We’re going to get arrested and we’re going to spend the rest of our lives in prison.” She doesn’t sound panicked anymore. She’s past panic.
“Maybe,” Kitty says. “Let’s take things one step at a time though, shall we?”
Jaydee rolls down the window and the desert air fills the car. Jaydee puckers her lips and blows a cancer kiss. The wind picks up Bonita’s scarves and takes Jaydee’s smoke away. Jaydee takes a final drag and flicks her cigarette out of the car. I see the orange tip, tumble end over end until it disappears behind us in a final anticlimactic burst of tiny sparks.
Kitty takes out her compact. She checks her makeup and touches up her lipstick. “Go ahead and step on it, dear,” she tells me.
My name is Elizabeth but if I get arrested I’m going to tell the fuzz my name is Betty Bang Bang. Chances are pretty good that I’m already wanted in connection with one murder tonight and if we don’t make it to Kitty’s mysterious middle of nowhere doctor soon, I’m afraid Carl is going to be number two. Poor Carl. One of those, sorry you got shot while I was getting mineral water and Jaydee’s a psycho that got her hands on a gun kind of misunderstandings. I hope he doesn’t die. He seems like a nice boy. I bet he’s in a pretty good band. He looks like he’s in a band. All this murder, adrenaline and smoke is making me dizzy and numb. I wish Kitty gave me one of those pills.
We’re headed south from Vegas to Arizona to hide out at Bonita’s special gentleman friend’s house. It’s not the most sophisticated plan but circumstances have necessitated some planning on the fly. As soon as we get out of the middle of nowhere, I’ll be surprised if every cop west of Texas isn’t looking for us from behind his mirrored cop glasses. There are roadblocks in our future. There are guest appearances on America’s Most Wanted. I feel like we’re driving right toward a big brick wall and the brakes are out and Kitty just says “go head and step on it, dear.” Yeah. I’m pretty sure Jaydee’s right about how this ends.
I close the window and pretend my foot is made of lead.
Anyway, it’s about now, with us a few hours out of Vegas, that the Boxer and the Scientologist track me to Kitty’s penthouse. They find the door broken down at the end of that big pink hallway. They find Kitty’s broken things, a whole lot of blood, a puddle full of teeth and bone and a picture of Kitty, Bonita and me waving and blowing kisses at the camera stuck on the refrigerator door. Wish you were here.