You ever held a heart in your hands, Detective Brogan? I ain’t speakin’ about no pig or cow, some beast reared for slaughtering that your pretty wife buys paper-wrapped at the butcher shop over on Kennedy to serve with creamed potatoes an’ gravy at your table after church on Sunday.
No, Detective, I mean a real, beating, human heart. Ever felt the heft of it while it pumps out on you? Cradled that cooling heart with slick fingers as Death calmly waits to lay claim? I don’t reckon you have, Detective. Not a fine, upstanding po-lice officer like you. I’m guessing there ain’t many folks had that most singular of experiences.
I have, Brogan. But you knew that already. You saw me behind the Red Rooster, my shirt and pants blood-soaked, her beside me in the alley. It’s why we’re all in this goddam room; you and your sidekick, that streak-o’-piss buttoned-up lawyer and whoever else you got behind that mirrored glass.
You all want to know what happened, don’cha? How something so terrible, something so truly heinous, could come to be. You could try asking Maisie-Rae. Only Maisie-Rae ain’t saying nothing to no-one no more. Guess that leaves the telling of it to me. You all able to hear my tale, Brogan? Think you have the spirits for it? You reckon so? Well, boys, settle down into those hard- backed, ass-numbing chairs and listen hard. You might wanna hit record on that machine too, be sure to capture each single word ‘cos I only got the one chance of telling my story.
Do I start at the beginning or the end? Likely makes no difference, seems to me the starting was the end of everything anyways.
Did you know I loved her, Detective Brogan? Course you didn’t. Sounds plain dumb, don’t it? Especially after what went down in the filth behind Red’s. Well, I did, Detective. I loved Maisie-Rae with every atom of my being, thought about her all my waking moments. Sleeping too, I dreamed of her. Oh, Brogan, I fell deep. Deep I’m telling you. She consumed me, I was crazy about her. My heart was all hers, given freely, just waiting on Maisie-Rae to take hold o’ it.
You’ll think this even dumber but, believe me, it’s true. Maisie-Rae even said she loved me. I know, Brogan, I fuckin’ know! Hardly believed it myself when she came out with that bombshell. I mean, how could a fine woman like Maisie-Rae Laurens – beautiful, accomplished, intelligent, adored by all who knew her – love a deadbeat loser such as me? There she was, youngest daughter from one of the finest families around these parts; her family grown prosperous down the generations, their wealth coming straight outta the land her granddaddy’s granddaddy had the foresight to claim as his own. It was good land too, plentiful in its riches. Benevolent with its shelter. The Laurens grew strong on that land. They are fine folks, Brogan, everyone in these parts knows it. And everyone knows Maisie-Rae was just about the finest of them all.
Couldn’t say that o’ my family, we never did amount to much. We settled ‘round the same time Old Man Laurens did, only my forebears failed to make good choices. The land my kin staked proved little more than dirt. Dirt that came to define all o’ us.
My Daddy liked to say the Laurens and us grew outta the same ground. ‘Cepting they were healthy crops, good and strong, reachin’ upwards to blue skies, faces basking in sunshine and light. Not us, we crawled among the dirt, scavenging through the manure and shit that so greatly enriched those magnificent Laurens. “Faces basking in sunlight while we scrabbled in dirt.”
Those were Daddy’s own words, he could be a real poet when sober. Though I don’t often recall him being poetic. Was my Daddy poetic those times you hauled him in, Detective?
My folks spent years working that stoney, tainted land, busting our asses to grow anything from it. All we grew was poorer. Meaner, too. I don’t recall a generation didn’t see one of us sent up to the big house. Daddy did a stretch or two there. You remember don’cha, Brogan? Yeah, course you do, ‘cos you made damn sure my Daddy had no place else he could go.
Don’t get me wrong, Detective, I ain’t looking to rile you and attach you no blame. I know it was Daddy’s fault every time. Him doing what he did and you simply doing what was required of you. It’s how it works, ain’t it? Still, meant I didn’t see much of my Daddy while I was growin’. Nor my brothers, neither.
And that ain’t right, a boy oughta have his Daddy and his siblings around him.
Happen it was best they weren’t around. Gave me a chance of making something outta the little I had. I was the best of a rotten bunch, even taking my own brief liaison with juvie into consideration. That was right before Daddy passed and he’s been dead how long now, Brogan? Nine, going on ten years?
My brothers are gone too. Joe’s buried right beside Daddy. As for Paulie, the youngest o’us, I have no fuckin’ idea where he is. Paulie rose one morning, filled a holdall, took a quart of milk from the refrigerator and set off walkin’. Ain’t seen my little brother to this day. Daddy sure was pissed at Paulie leaving! Went on the biggest bender this town did ever see. Three days and nights of drinking, whoring and generally fuckin’ things up. Until time came for you to throw him into a cell. Weren’t the last time neither was it, Brogan?
It’s only me now. An’ I ain’t been in trouble with you boys since my juvie days. Keep myself honest, working hard at whatever shitty job I can get. I go to work, collect my pay-check, go home. It’s dull but don’t lead me to trouble. Not that folks round here see that. To them I’m simply my Daddy’s middle son; just another o’ those wild Willard boys. But folks are wrong, it was only two boys born bad. Well, two plus Daddy o’ course.
Hey, I gone off down a side road, ain’t I? I can see you all gettin’ bored. You even takin’ notes anymore, Brogan? Your pen’s moving awful slow over that notebook. Guess, I better get to tellin’ what you all wanna know.
It weren’t long after meeting her, must have been right around Halloween, that Maisie-Rae said she loved me. She took me to meet her folks, wanted them to know about us. Man, they were frightened half to death when we walked in holding hands. Thought it was some trick-or-treat shit Maisie-Rae was pulling. Maisie-Rae told me to forget what her folks spoke ‘bout me, said she weren’t gonna let nobody, no matter who, come between the both of us. Said the only thing she wanted was my heart ‘cos she loved me with all o’ hers. All. Her. Fuckin’. Heart. Just let that settle on you for a moment, Detective Brogan, Maisie-Rae Laurens declaring she loved a deadbeat like me. My Daddy, drunk or sober, woulda laughed hearin’ that.
You know that peculiar way of talking o’ hers, those goofy phrases she got from her grandmammy? “Billy”, Maisie-Rae would say, “I got a whole barrel’s worth of love and affection all squished into my half-pint pitcher of a heart. An’ dang, Billy, I’m saving every cherry-red drop for you.” Man, I couldn’t help but love her more every time something like that tumbled outta her mouth.
You know another thing made Maisie-Rae so sweet? She never cussed, leastways, not like you or I do. Dang was about the worst I recall hearin’ her say. Oh, she’d switch around profanities every once in a while, sometimes letting loose with a darn or a heck, just to keep you guessin’. She was peculiar that way, kinda old-fashioned like a school mistress. No sir, Detective Brogan, I never heard one cuss word cross her lips. But, boy, what lips! Maisie-Rae had the prettiest, sweetest, tenderest lips I ever kissed. And we did a lot o’ kissing. Did other stuff, too. Stuff that Maisie-Rae’s ol’ grandmammy didn’t teach her but I was sure glad Maisie-Rae knew.
Like when we first hooked-up. I was at the Red Rooster havin’ a couple of beers. Just a couple mind, Brogan, I don’t drink heavy, not like my Daddy. Anyways, Maisie-Rae came in, sat right next to me. Told me to buy her a glass of what I was drinking. Told me! That girl had some sass! We drank and talked, mostly shit mostly about nothing. Then a Jason Aldean song comes on an’ Maisie-Rae gives a little holler, says she just has to dance. She slides off her stool, skirt riding up her thighs as she does, and pulls me away from the bar. We danced for a while, her holding tight to me as the jukebox played. Then, Maisie-Rae leads me out back and tells me to make love to her. Make love to me, she says. Hell, I never been told that before! Girls have wanted me to fuck ‘em, not make love to them. But I was more than happy to do whatever Maisie-Rae asked! Afterwards, we went to my place and loved some more. That’s where it all started, Brogan, at Red’s over beers and Aldean’s “Night Train”.
We didn’t return to Red’s after that first night. Things mighta ended sooner if we had. I told Maisie-Rae there weren’t any sense in courting trouble, so we kept kinda low, mainly staying at my place. Every once in a while we’d head to a bar outside town. Until, last night. Maisie-Rae was hell-bent on Red’s. I didn’t wanna go but she pulled that look that drives me crazy, kissed with me those sweet lips and, hell, Brogan, what’s a boy to do?
So we go to Red’s, have us a few beers an’ a plate of their ribs. You ever had Red’s ribs, Brogan? Just about the best, ain’t they? Then Maisie-Rae heads to the bathroom, says she’s gotta powder her nose. Powder her nose! Who even says that Doris Day shit these days?
Maisie-Rae, that’s who.
When she comes back, she’s different, kinda edgy, all buzzed up. Maisie-Rae starts dragging me out back. We get outside and it’s rainin’ real cold. Maisie-Rae tells me to fuck her right there in the alley, just like I did before. I say I’m not gonna, tell her that first time behind Red’s was because I thought nothing else would happen between us. I tell her we oughta go back to my place so we can take our time, you know, Brogan, seeing how we was in love.
She starts laughin’ at me, cussin’ real bad. You heard me, Brogan, cussin’! Maisie-Rae tells me to stop whining like a love-struck pup and to get to fuckin’ on her. The rain’s whippin’ into us and she’s going crazy, screamin’ an’ shouting’ at me. That’s when I see it, right there on her shiny lipgloss. Man, she sure got her nose powdered in the bathroom. All those months an’ I never suspected sweet, goofy, beautiful Maisie-Rae got herself a habit. She was in Red’s that first time looking to score, it’s why she wanted to go there last night.
Maisie-Rae gets louder, wilder. She’s pushing, grabbing at me, scratching with those perfectly manicured nails. Tellin’ me I’m not a man ‘cos I won’t fuck her. I say I’m happy to fuck her, just not there in that dirty alley. She’s rilin’ me bad an’ I don’t feel the knife slide in. I don’t feel as it cuts, peeling back flesh.
But I see everything so clearly an’ I watch her pretty smile fade as the cherry- red starts to pump.
Then I hear the scream. One o’ the waitresses, you know that tall blonde with the heavy eyeliner and the nose stud? Well, she’s steppin’ out the door, going on her break. Blondie drops the cigarette she’s lightin’, turns back inside the bar, still screaming. Her Marlboro spins through the dark an’ lands beside me, its orange tip cracklin’ as it dies in the wet dirt.
It didn’t take long for the lights to appear. I always loved the way those reds and blues shine so pretty. You think they’re pretty, Brogan? Or you been around them too long to still appreciate their beauty? Well, I see it, the way they bounce pretty patterns off everythin’. I watched them bouncin’ off you, Detective, as you took in that alley. You stood there, shinin’ red an’ blue, the rain drippin’ from your hat as you slowly shook your head. ‘Cos you always knew, didn’t you Brogan? You knew that’s how it’d end for me.
Maisie-Rae’s in front of you now, Brogan, so go on, quiz her all you want. Only she ain’t talkin’. Not to you, not to no-one. Her oh-so-pretty lips are slack, ain’t nothing behind those eyes. Maisie-Rae ain’t saying what went down an’ I’ve said all I’m gonna, so I sure hope you got everythin’ on tape. Like I told you at the outset, Detective, sweet Maisie-Rae grabbed hold o’ my heart that first time at Red’s. An’ last night, in the filth and rain, she held it tight in both hands. Time came for her to give it me back, I was just about gone the way o’ Blondie’s cigarette.
Anyways, Detective, I’d sure love to stay a little longer but Joe an’ my Daddy are waitin’ on me. Damn it, Brogan, even little Paulie’s come for me!