I never saw him coming. He must have been hiding in the fire stairs, because there was no one in the hallway when Linda (I thought her name was Linda) and I came out of the elevator. We made our way to her apartment, clutching each other and kissing feverishly as she groped in her purse for the key.
She finally found it, turned, and with my arms still around her, opened the door. That’s when I felt a hard shove in the back.
It sent us both stumbling into the apartment. My hip slammed against a table, and I was spun sideways and deposited onto her couch.
I looked up and blinked, as two sights flashed before my eyes.
One was the horrified expression on her face. The other was the man in the doorway, filling it with his bulk and holding a very large knife.
He gave the most deranged grin I ever saw. Then, never taking his eyes off her, he closed the door behind him.
“Hello, Lydia.” (Lydia, that was her name.) “Am I interrupting something?”
“Ray!” she gasped. “What are you doing here?”
Why do people always say that? I stared at the knife and hoped Ray wouldn’t answer her by demonstrating.
“What am I doing here?” His grin turned to a sneer, and he shot a vicious glance at me. “What’s that asshole on the couch doing here?”
It was a good question, and I felt I should tell him so. “You’re absolutely right, man. What am I doing here?” I spread my arms and opened my palms in a gesture of peace and good will. “I certainly should not be here. And I swear, if I’d known…”
“Shut the fuck up!”
He pointed the knife at me, resulting in major cringing on my part. His gaze flicked back to her.
“You think this is how you get even with me, Lydia? Screwing that sorry piece of shit over there?”
At the moment, I couldn’t quibble with his description.
“Where’d you pick this one up, at the concert? Who is he, the fuckin’ bass player?”
I was, actually, the lead singer, not that it had any significance at all. Jimmy Lacy, of Jimmy Lacy and the Rock Pile, the band with the hit back in 2003 called “Itchin’ to Scratch.” And I knew what I was doing here.
This was where I was going to die.
* * *
We’d had a contest going among the five of us: who could get the most women. It was the only thing that was remotely exciting about our current tour, and a helluva lot more exciting than the number of people we were drawing. But that’s what happens when you’re one-hit wonders. They eventually forget you.
Prostitutes didn’t count in our little game; that was too easy. It had to be a consensual hookup that did not involve money, and it had to be with a member of the audience, or more than one, if you really got lucky. Beauty didn’t officially matter.
As we took the stage that night in Watsonville, Iowa, our keyboard player, Brett Jones, stood in first place. I was one chick behind him, and Donnie McCabe, our lead guitarist, was two behind, in third. The bass player and drummer, after a promising start, hadn’t gotten laid in a week.
We blasted into the opening song, “Funk Jockey.” I gazed around at the eight hundred or so people, in a venue that held upwards of two thousand, and figured the odds of anything happening tonight were next to nil.
Then, four girls, definitely on the cute side, scampered down the aisle toward us; two blondes, one redhead, and a brunette. They stopped in front of the stage and began to boogie their butts off.
Within seconds, they were joined by dozens of others, male and female, but the original four were directly in front of us. And the brunette, her long hair moving as she danced, was staring straight at yours truly.
I dipped the end of my guitar at her and winked. Her face lit up in a beautiful smile.
She stayed in front of the stage for the whole concert. Every now and then I’d aim a lyric at her, a tactic that never failed to piss off Brett and Donnie. As lead singer, I did have that edge over them, despite their superiority in the hunk department.
But things like this happened all the time, and it didn’t mean squat. Girls could practically take their clothes off in front of us during a concert, and then disappear afterward. The real test was whether she’d be there after the show.
She was. Right outside the dressing room.
Two of her friends, the blondes, were with her. This got Brett and Donnie to the doorway, crowding around me on both sides, Donnie minus his shirt. They worked on the girls, but the two of them were only there to giggle and observe what was going on between Lydia (a name I’ll take to the grave) and myself. And there was plenty.
“I love watching you sing,” she said in a soft, wispy voice.
I mentioned she was beautiful, right? Long, slender legs in tight jeans, a bare stomach that was absolutely flat, and a tiny halter top covering what appeared to be perfect breasts. All of it combined with big brown eyes, a turned-up nose, and lips I wanted to kiss.
“I love watching you dance,” I told her.
She looked shyly at her toes, peeking out from her sandals. “You could still do that, if you’d like.”
Her friends went into a chorus of “Oooooooh!”
She looked up, and then straight at me. “And a lot more.”
This got even louder oooohs.
Our eyes linked together. “Don’t move,” I said.
I ducked back into the dressing room and set a new world record for splashing water on myself, toweling off, and pulling on my street clothes.
Back when the band was riding high, we had individual hotel rooms, but that was long ago. Nowadays, I shared mine with Dave, our drummer. It was another rule of the game that we couldn’t inconvenience roommates. Unless, of course, they wanted to be, but that didn’t apply here.
I could have sprung for another room, but my annual income had been in steady decline, so I resisted it. The tour bus was always a possibility, but it’s way more comfortable if a chick has her own place, and it turned out she did. Or so she claimed.
We jumped into a taxi, she gave her address, and it was complete heat in the backseat from then on. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other the whole trip. I threw some money at the driver as we pulled up in front of her building, and we floated out of the cab.
We were still floating as we came out of that elevator and kissed our way down the hall. The dying moments of the life I once knew.
* * *
“What am I going to do with you, Lydia? How am I going to teach you to stop pulling this shit?”
He’d turned on the overhead light before closing the door behind him, and now it glinted off his shaved head. His big arms, bulging out of his black T-shirt, were heavily tattooed, and his belt buckle, in the shape of a death’s-head, grinned mockingly at me.
“Maybe I should castrate your friend here in front of you. Would that make an impression?”
That did it. The bolt of terror that ran through me galvanized me to speak.
“Look, man,” I told him, “I don’t know you, and I don’t know her, okay? Whatever is going on between you started way before this, and it’s got nothing to do with me. Just let me leave, and you can both work it out after…”
“Nothing to do with you?” He took a menacing step at me. “You’re here, aren’t you? Why is that, pray tell? Because you thought you were going to fuck her.”
People use the term “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” to describe a rock musician’s life, and it’s mostly true. But the drugs part of it had been gone for me for over a year since the last rehab, and the rock ’n’ roll component was fading along with our record sales. That left only the sex part, and it had never felt so pathetic.
He took another step closer, and I sank further into the cushions.
“You say you don’t know her, and you don’t know me? Well, you got that right. You don’t know if she has a boyfriend or a husband, or kids, or what her situation is, and you never wanted to know. You don’t care about her or anyone else, do you? You just want to have your little party.”
I couldn’t speak, because everything he said was absolutely true.
“Yeah, there’s a lot you don’t know, isn’t there, asshole?” He held the knife out at me. “Maybe you should get to know some of this.”
That’s when Lydia made her move.
She’d been standing next to the end table, and Ray had taken his eyes off her. So had I. She grabbed the lamp off of it and brought it down hard on his outstretched arm.
The knife fell to the floor, as he turned toward her with a snarl. I saw it lying there. I had to keep him away from that knife; that was all I knew.
I launched myself off the couch and rammed my shoulder into the small of his back. It knocked him, staggering, into the wall. As he turned, Lydia charged at him.
I never saw her pick up the knife, but there it was, in her hand. I watched in shock as she plunged it into his stomach.
He slid down the wall with a groan, and she was on him, stabbing him again and again.
“You bastard!” she screamed. “You bastard!”
I stood there, horrified. Blood was everywhere. It was all over her, as her thrusts gradually grew less and less. Finally, she stopped stabbing him.
Then she dropped the knife and stood up. I saw that her top was partially off, revealing one bloodstained breast.
I couldn’t help staring at it.
“We did it, Jimmy,” she said.
“God, I want you so bad!” she moaned.
She reached back and undid her top the rest of the way. It fell to the floor. She slid out of her jeans and stood naked in front of me. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“Let’s do it,” she said in a husky voice. “Right now.”
“But…we have to call the police.” It was like someone else was speaking, from far away.
“No, we don’t, not yet.” She took my hand and led me toward the bedroom. “It won’t matter. Please?”
Incredulously, I followed her. I’d never been so aroused in my life.
I was out of my clothes before we’d even reached the bedroom. She threw herself onto the bed, and I threw myself onto her. We clung to each other as we moved to a steady, sensual rhythm, building to that final crescendo.
“Oh, Jimmy,” she said over and over. “Oh, Jimmy.”
Just on the edge of orgasm, I heard Ray’s voice.
“A corpse in the next room and he’s still hot to trot. I guess some people never learn, do they?”
I thought it was my conscience. Then I realized I was actually hearing it.
With a gasp, I rolled off Lydia and looked toward the bedroom doorway. There he was, holding the knife again.
“Realistic, huh?” he said, smiling and pretending to stab himself in the hand. The blade retracted and reformed as he did. “The fake blood was pretty good too, don’t you think?” He cracked up laughing.
“But this knife is real,” said Lydia from behind me.
I looked over my shoulder, and she was holding another knife, an even bigger one. She must have had it under her pillow.
“All yours, Ray,” she said, getting up off the bed.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Ray was grinning and starting to undo his pants.
She went over to him, gave him a little kiss on the cheek, and handed him the knife.
“Indulge me, baby,” she said. “Make him sing ‘Itchin’ to Scratch’ while you’re doing him.”
And as my mind recoiled from the full, hideous reality of what was about to happen, she leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I told you, didn’t I? I love watching you sing.”
Then the gates of Hell officially opened for business.