Taken from my collection, Show Me a Hero, published by New Babel Books. For more information about the book, visit www.NewBabelBooks.com or www.taylorverse.com/showmeahero.html. To purchase the book, click here. (Trade paperback for $17.99 and ebook for only $.99.)
Sin and Error PiningAt Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.
—William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour Lost, Act I, Scene 1
The man who killed me wore a tattoo of Santa Claus across his chest. The old elf in the red suit sat in his sleigh, moist with the man’s sweat in spite of the night’s chill, and his reindeer jerked with every shudder my murderer made as the icy breeze kissed his bare skin.
I lay puffing for breath, wanting to cry out for help, even though I knew it would come too late. He held the knife above me, christened with my own blood, so thick that it dripped in a steady stream of crimson onto me, staining my new cashmere sweater.
“My name is Katrina Warner,” I said, taking my time to speak without sputtering, even through the pain. “I live on 216 South Rotunda Drive. I won the 1988 trophy for jazz dance in the eleventh grade. My favorite color is blue. I like my eggs scrambled with catsup. I can’t stand coffee without cream and sugar.”
“Shut up,” he spat, his eyes glaring at me through the holes of his purple masquerade-style mask. He sat straddling my hips, one hand pushing down on my stomach, forcing more blood from the gash where he’d stabbed me.
“I went to the park today with my father. He didn’t remember my name, but he knew the park. He got Alzheimer’s ten years ago. I celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday on a cruise ship on the way to Greece.”
“I said shut up!”
“My favorite Christmas song is the one about the chestnuts, the one Nat King Cole does. I never liked eggnog. I got a portable DVD player from my boyfriend last Christmas, but he wanted it back when we broke up.”
He shoved one hand over my mouth and jammed the knife deep inside my gut again, in the same place as before it seemed. I could feel the pull as the knife worked up toward my ribs and deeper toward my spine, widening the gap.
I winced but didn’t scream. I couldn’t let myself. What use would it be anyway? The weapon had done its work, and I knew I had only three minutes and thirteen seconds to live.
The packages I’d been carrying lay where they had fallen, strewn about the alley as if I’d thrown them to the four winds on purpose. The large, red box, taped shut on all four sides and wrapped with a matching bow, contained a set of the Harry Potter hardcovers for my niece. Close to it and upside down was the plastic Macy’s bag with dad’s socks and a new robe to replace the one he had worn out at the home. Near my feet, just past the cuff of my killer’s jeans, was the bag of Bath and Body Works cleansers and body sprays for the other girls at the office.
The alley darkened as a winged man flew above us and blocked out the sun for a moment. My guess was Tobit’s Angel. According to the papers, he was back in New York for some Peacekeepers meeting. Behind him flew a woman in long robes that dangled from her like sashes. I’d never seen her before. Must have been somebody new. As they passed by, I thought of calling out, yelling that I was down here and that I was dying, or maybe just to say hello to one of them before I died and look into the gaze of our mortal gods and goddesses and see my own face reflected in their eyes.
But I didn’t. Here on the ground, in an alley, a dying copyeditor for an obscure underground music magazine with fewer subscribers than the populations of most small Southern towns, I knew I was beneath their notice. The man on me had merely killed a nobody woman trying to finish up her Christmas shopping—not tried to overthrow a local government or hijacked an ambassador or threatened to explode like a nuke in a major international hotbed.
I looked up at him, trying to appear sympathetic. He took his hand away from my mouth. “I wouldn’t look good in tights. I still have that annoying baby fat on the insides of my thighs that won’t go away no matter how much weight I lose.”
“What are you babbling about, lady? Just shut up and die already.”
As he spoke, he continued sawing toward my ribs. The pain had become mere force, and most of the acuteness had faded from either calm or adrenaline. And though I knew my body was growing weaker, I somehow felt stronger, more focused... alive.
“I have fifty dollars in my purse that’s not in my wallet. You have to unzip the section in the middle. It’s in the pouch there. There’s a coupon for a free cheesecake at Myrtle’s there, too. You should try their cheesecake. I wish I had.”
“I’m sorry, but the credit cards are pretty much maxed out because of Christmas, but with the two hundred in the wallet and the extra fifty in the middle pouch, you ought to have a little something for your efforts.”
He stopped cutting me and shifted his weight, moving up from my hips to straddle my waist. “Lady, you’re crazy.” He pulled the knife out and stared at it, then at me. “Why ain’t you dead yet?”
“You really should try to escape. The cops will be here in two minutes and forty-two seconds. A lady walking her poodle will walk by the mouth of the alley and scream, and then they’ll come running here for you.”
“Shut up, I said!”
“Just trying to be helpful.”
He pushed the flat of the blade against my nose. The point stuck up phallic-like between my eyes. “Maybe I shoulda done your throat instead, lady. At least that way, you wouldn’t be carrying on like some kinda crazy.”
The pain returned, thanks to his new position and my weakened stomach muscles, and I coughed up blood and nearly gagged on it.
“Good,” he said, “‘Bout time.” He lifted his arm and looked at his watch. “Damn, you sure taking a long time to go. You ain’t some kind of superhero, are you?”
I listened to his accent as he spoke. A put-on Southern accent that could have fooled most people who didn’t grow up there. But he had the long ‘a’ sound all wrong. Probably an acting student. He lifted the knife, set it down by his knee, and wiped his long, black bangs out of his face and grimaced before grabbing the knife again. His shirt lay open, unbuttoned nearly to his waist, its ends tucked into his tight, black jeans, and his chest looked to be freshly shaven. Santa Claus jumped slightly as another breeze shot its frozen breath into the alley.
He’d be dead in two minutes and twenty-six seconds. I’d seen it the second he brushed past me on the sidewalk, triggering the limited precognition that I fondly called my five-minute warning. One shot. Clean. In the chest. Falling limp beside my own body.
I tried to shake my head, but found that the act of moving even that little brought more sting to go with the pain. So instead, I simply said, “No.”
I took a deep breath and almost moaned as the force of breathing tore open the wound a little more. I was sure the lower part of my sweater had been soaked through now and would be sticky against my gutted corpse when the cops would finally be able to check on me.
“Yeah,” he said, “You gonna help me make a name for myself, lady. They’re already calling me the T-Bone Killer in the paper. On more cut across the top, so they’ll know it was me, and then I’ll take that money you offered and be on my way.”
“Wha—what’s your name?” I whispered, my words as full and labored and intentional as each struggling breath. The strength from moments before had waned, and my vision was darkening to a blur. “I’m Katrina.”
“You said that already.” Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran along the edges of his mask.
“Oh.” No feeling in my hands or legs. Except for a twitching muscle in my upper arm, I couldn’t move at all. “You didn’t—”
“I ain’t telling you who I am.” He pulled at the edges of the hole in my stomach, but I could barely feel anything other than the dull pressure of his hand keeping the tension steady. “You think I’m stupid or something?”
“Why Santa Claus?”
“Oh.” He glanced at the tattoo, then at me, then off into the mouth of the alley. “Why not? It was while I was in the army. I was lousy at cards. Winners picked the loser’s tattoo.”
“Ah.” I could pick out the colors but not the shapes of Santa and his reindeer. “Nice. Different.”
“Thanks.” He pulled his shirt tight and buttoned it again, covering the Christmas scene inked into his skin. “I was a different person then. Weak. Stupid. That was a different season in my life.”
“To everything...” I started, but choked on a sharp stab of pain, and let the rest remain unspoken.
He glanced down at my sweater. “I ain’t gonna rape you or nothing like that, but I gotta make sure they know it’s me, okay.”
I didn’t answer, and he didn’t really leave me time to, but instead ripped open my sweater and peeled it off my skin and bunched it up at my sides. Then he scooted back down to my hips and wiped as much of the blood off the upper part of my stomach as he could with his free hand.
I closed my eyes and waited quietly as he cut the top of the ‘T’ into my skin, just above the base of my ribs. He cut deep enough to scrape against my ribs, but not enough to puncture my lungs. Not one for overkill, I supposed. He took his time, meticulous to the point of insanity. Probably not far from the truth, I guessed. As he cut, he trailed behind the knife with his finger, moving it away every few seconds, then returning to continue its path.
I forced my eyes open, wanting to see him again before I lost my sight for good. I almost closed them again when I saw him pull his finger from his mouth.
“You got anything good in these packages, lady?” he asked as he finished cutting. The absence of the knife seemed more alarming than its presence had been while he was marking me with his calling card.
A robe, socks, books, women’s body washes, I wanted to say, but the strength to speak above a whisper was gone. And I had to save what was left for my last words.
In my mind, I inventoried the remaining packages. The one that had fallen closest to the wall contained a one-piece workout suit, with the biker shorts, not the thong thing that seemed popular on fitness commercials. The little bag that I had flung the farthest had a leather belt with three clips for pouches, and the Dillard’s bag contained a pair of lace-up boots. Together with the mask I’d picked up at the Army Surplus last week, they had been intended for my debut next Saturday night.
“Thirty-two seconds,” I whispered.
“I warned ... you...” The words trailed off.
“What are you talking about?”
“The cops.” I shuddered.
“Tell them you killed Katrina Warner.”
“Tell them...” I closed my eyes, not that it mattered. But it didn’t seem right to leave my corpse staring up, waiting like a drooling fan for more heroes to fly by. And I couldn’t count on the man sitting on top of me to close my eyelids for me.
Not when he would need someone to close his.
I pushed everything I had left into my last words. “Tell them the T-Bone Killer killed Ms. Futura.”
I regretted the name the moment I said it. I had planned on coming up with something better over the next few days while I worked on the final adjustments to the costume. It sounded so stupid. So amateur. So... non-Peacekeeper.
“Crazy...” he mumbled, then stood up.
I counted the seconds in my head. Twenty-one. Twenty. Nineteen. Eighteen.
A dog barked. A woman screamed.
Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve.
Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.
Men shouting. One last spasm. My lungs and heart stopped.
And nothing more.