She sat at the bar on a Tuesday night.
“From the lady at the other end,” the bartender plunked a whiskey sour in front of her. “Fancy,” he grunted.
She was fancy. The only time sequins were seen in this kind of bar was when they were bedazzled on a biker mama’s leather jacket. Rhylan acknowledged her but focused on her beer.
“May I keep you company, honey?” The women invited herself to the bar stool next to hers, dress shrinking up her thighs as she sat back on the seat.
Rhylan shrugged. “If you want but it’s gonna be an early night for me.”
“Can I convince you to stay out a little longer?” the woman asked. She nudged the whiskey sour closer.
Rhylan finished her beer. “I have a long day tomorrow.”
“You work on cars?”
“Yeah. Motor oil is my signature cologne.”
“Chesapeake,” the woman held out an elegant hand, fingernails perfectly shaped and glossy in the bar light. “You can call me Chessie.”
“Rhylan.” She gave the elegant hand a brief squeeze. “You from around here?”
“I’m only passing through. I was hoping for a little company before I go.”
“And you hope to find it here?” The bar was half empty. The rest of the patrons were middle aged men still in work uniforms. Quiet guys who just wanted a place that would allow them to smoke indoors over a beer or two. The owner was more than happy to look the other way if it kept steady traffic coming through the place.
“Because beyond the stale smoke I could smell honey. I’m a bear when it comes to honey.” Chessie licked her lips.
Rhylan pushed away from the bar. “It was nice meeting you, Chess, but I need to turn in.” She pulled on her jacket. “Have a safe ride home.”
“You too, honey.”
The minute she pulled out of the parking lot the sky crumbled and released a torrential downpour. She turned at a stop sign then slammed on her brakes, veering into the opposite lane to avoid hitting a parked car.
Drawing a shuttering breath to calm her adrenaline rush, she noticed the spare tire leaning against the vehicle. She pulled onto the shoulder and turned on her emergency flashers. Running back to the car, the driver side window rolled down and she recognized a familiar face. “Amily?”
They had been childhood friends. Rhylan crawled into the passenger seat. “Long time no see. When did you get back to town?”
“About a year ago. Oh god, Rhylan. I’ve got to get his car back. He’s going to be so mad.”
Amily wiped her eyes, smearing mascara. “Dane.”
Rhylan had dated Dane in high school. She remembered spending most of her high school days in front of the gas station next door with him smoking cigarettes alongside the kids who fought as much with their parents as they did with their teasing combs and hairspray. The relationship hadn’t ended well.
Amily had stayed indoors, stuffed away in the art lab or library. Looking at her now, soaked through and teary eyed, Rhylan regretted not staying inside with her.
She coaxed Amily into telling her about the last few years since they graduated high school. After her second year of college, she dropped out and moved back to get a phlebotomy certificate. That was how she met up with Dane who was working dietary. He had quit smoking and was more charming than he had been in high school. They went on a date, then another one, then he helped her get her first job at the hospital, and when her car broke down, he had spotted her the cash to get it fix. Rhylan almost didn’t believe it was the same guy.
But it slowly soured after that. He got laid off. He took up smoking again and the hospital wouldn’t hire him back. She tried to be helpful, tried to coax him in the right direction. She moved in with him to help him pay rent but even with the financial support, he became agitated when it came to money, counting the bills in his clip three times a day. He started to control her finances, made her give up her cellphone, forced her to use a landline, then cut the cord. He made her give away her cat then yelled when the shelter wanted a ten dollar surrender fee.
“Why’re you still with him?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “He seemed nice in the beginning then it went down hill.” She pressed her head against the steering wheel.
“Well, it’s good to see you again,” Rhylan ran a hand through her soaked hair. “Your spare got air in it? I can change it. Won’t even charge you for it but you need to get your car onto the shoulder.”
When Rhylan finished, she reached into the driver side to pop the trunk. “I can put them back,” Amily said. “Thank you for changing it.”
“No problem,” Rhylan picked up the jack and the flat tire. “Just remove the mat.”
“I can get it really. I’ve troubled you too much.”
Rhylan sighed. “What’s in the trunk, Amily?”
Amily stood aside. Inside the trunk was a roll of black trash bags, duct tape, and a clean shovel.
“It really went downhill didn’t it?”
“They’re not mine,” Amily said. “They’re Dean’s.”
Rhylan looked at her. “And you’re going back to him?”
Amily bit her lip, a new wave of tears threatening to break. “I can’t go anywhere. He has my debit account and everything.”
“Okay, look. Crash at my place tonight. Tomorrow I’ll go with you to your place. We’ll get your stuff. What shift does he work?”
“So he’s gonna be there. Nice.” Rhylan rolled her eyes.
“I’ll figure something out.”
A car with out of state plates passed them at a crawl. “That car’s passed us three times.”
“Get your things and get in the truck.”
“But I can’t leave the car.”
“Screw the car. I know a guy who’ll tow it, no questions.” Rhylan grabbed the shovel and the roll of black bags and tossed them into the bed of her truck. Amily grabbed her purse and Rhylan started the truck and pulled out.
They didn’t see the car again but Rhylan made sure to take a couple laps around her neighborhood before parking in front of her apartment building.
When she woke up, Amily was missing from her bed. After a quick shower, she found her sitting on the floor staring at her wall. “Hey, good morning?”
“I love accent walls,” Amily said.
“It was like this when I moved in. Kind of looks like dried blood.”
“Blood reminds me of you,” Amily said.
“Me too.” Rhylan pushed her tongue under her upper lip. “The previous owner left an unopened can of this paint. It gives me an idea.”
“Do you have brushes?”
“Nah, but I’ve got something else.”
Brrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiip . . . .
Rhylan tore off another plastic bag along its perforated edge. Tossing the roll, she added the bag to the overlapping mosaic of black plastic covering every square inch of carpet in Amily’s living room; in addition to the walls. Amily taped the bag over the baseboard with blue painters tape.
Rhylan picked up the paint can and shook it before prying the lid off with her house key. Pouring it into the tray the paint was more brown than red. She placed the lid over the can and hammered it down with her wrist before flopping onto the covered couch with a crunch. “Now we wait.” She stretched both legs out before her.
They didn’t have to wait long. The door swung open. “Why are you leaving the door unlocked? Do you want us to get robbed?” Dane stopped short when he saw Rhylan and wiped at his nose with his sleeve. “Rhy? What’re you doing here?”
“I took the day off,” Rhylan said. “Decided to help you guys with your wall.”
“The landlord doesn’t let us paint.”
“I don’t think he’ll mind,” Rhylan said. “Might cheer this place up.”
“Why are you wasting money on paint?” Dane slammed the door behind him.
“It’s Amily’s money. She can do whatever she wants, can’t you Amily?” Rhylan asked. “You work hard for your money, don’cha?”
He narrowed in on her. “We’re going to lose two hundred dollars over this.”
Rhylan stirred the paint with a brand new paintbrush. Before Dane could stop her, she christened the wall with rustic red. “Come on. Get a roller. This will go a lot faster with you doing the top.” Dane made a fist and Rhylan shook a roller at him. “I have dental insurance this time, Harper.”
Amily’s jaw dropped.
“I never hit you.”
“So my teeth magically fell out from the impact of your good looks? You knocked the penis envy right out of me.”
“Is that why you look like a dyke?”
“Stop being a bitch and do one nice thing for the girlfriend you don’t deserve,” Rhylan reached out with the handle of a roller. He begrudgingly took it, roughed it through the paint. It splattered as he ran the roller up and down the wall, applying a sloppy, thick coat that dribbled over the white.
His back turned, Rhylan gave Amily a handle that nearly toppled her over. Together they watched Dane slosh through the paint tray and slap on more paint, big globs dripping down below criss-crosses of uneven strokes. Rhylan squeezed Amily’s arm.
She tugged at the handle and stepped up to the paint tray.
He turned in slow motion. Her palms grew clammy, arms seizing, and then Rhylan, smooth as a brushstroke, retrieved the handle and swung the ax in a powerful side arc.
The coverage had been perfect. When they peeled back the painters tape not a single drop of blood had hit the white baseboards.
Rhylan pulled up to the chained entrance of the marshlands. Her step-father used to take her fishing here when she was in middle school until the property became off limits. She looked both ways before taking out the bolt cutters.
“I doubt anyone will question a work truck in these parts.”
Rhylan dropped the bolt cutters. It was the lady from the bar leaning against the fence, dressed for clubbing rather than a hike. “You break down somewhere?” Rhylan knew she was blinking way to fast to be taken seriously.
Chessie smiled. “I like you Rhylan. I think you’re cool and you’re so sweet.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
“Now that you have her boyfriend in the back? No, no, don’t panic. I think that’s super romantic and I want to help you.” She backed her against the truck. “So how ’bout you give me the body. You’ll be doing me a favor and I know I’ll be doing you one too so we’ll break even.” Chessie nuzzled in close, pushing her knee between her legs, and they were chest to chest. “Hell, you smell so much better than him.” The flick of her tongue was like an electric current to the brain.
“Take it!” Rhylan wrestled out of her embrace. She scrambled to the back of the truck and dropped the door.
They had tried their best to wrap the body so it didn’t looked like a plastic bag mummy, stuffing the extra bags around the head and legs. Chessie grabbed it with both hands and yanked it out onto the ground. “You should go now before I change my mind.”
Rhylan tossed the bolt cutters into her truck and pulled out. She watched Chessie in the rear view mirror before jerking the wheel to avoid colliding with an oncoming truck. When she looked back, Chessie and the body were gone.
She pulled off at a rest stop to splash water on her face. Her shirt was soaked, her stomach sticky to the touch. She pulled it up to her face then took it off. It reeked like something had drooled on it. Throwing it in the trash, she came out in her sports bra.
“What?” she asked a guy who caught her eye. “I’m covered, sweetheart. Stare at your girlfriend.”
A woman peered around the map display. “You smell that?” she asked him when Rhylan was through the double doors.
“That overripe, fermenting smell?”
“Yeah. She’s close but I wonder how that girl managed to get away.”
Originally written in 2014, I overhauled and rewrote the story to be a companion piece to Boca Blue. You can read them in whichever order you choose.
If you have a moment, please pop down into the comments to let me know your thoughts.
Sorry, no tasty alcoholic beverages in this one but you can BYOB.