The beat-up Ford Escort pulled up in front of the Bayou Bar & Grill shortly before six, and a woman’s head poked out, and then she realized there was a driveway that led to the rear. She looked around briefly, then pulled the car out and slowly turned into the drive and steered it around the side of the building to the alley at the back. The woman, made up to look a bit garish, was dressed in tight blouse and skirt, and from afar she was not unattractive. Closer inspection, however, revealed a kind of makeup smeared hussy with tight, shriveled features and gnarled hair.
She was nervous, plenty nervous. She hardly knew what to expect from Big George Lesslie, or whether the police would descend on her at any moment and slap on handcuffs.
The alley was quiet and empty. She pulled the car to one side, shut off the engine, and leaned back. Tried to compose herself. It was five-fifty p.m., and soon her Prince Charming would appear. She took out a compact and flipped it open, gazing upon the beauty of her face. What she saw was hor-rifying. She had once been an attractive woman married to an insurance salesman, with a son and a decent little home. Then her husband turned cheater, they divorced, the alimony dried up and her son moved away. She had lost touch with them completely.
Now she rolled down the car window, eased her elbow out, and that’s when she first caught sight of him. He was big and broad-shouldered, and he had turned the corner of the building and was approaching the car. This had to be him, this had to be Big George.
She waved to him. He waved back, and he could feel a lump of excitement. Naturally, he couldn’t yet exactly SEE what the source of that excitement was.
“Hi,” she said, as she stepped out of the car.
“Wow,” Big George said, being fundamentally too stupid to distinguish beauty from a clever cosmetics job. And her shape wasn’t bad, with the cheap bra accentuating her smallish and generally sagging breasts.
She looked like a combination of an aging Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, wig and all, but who was asking questions. “You wrote the letter?” Big George said.
“I did,” she said. “Now, come and kiss me.” She had to admit, for a floozy she put on a pretty good act. “No,” she changed her mind, “in the car.” And she slid back in behind the wheel, and Big George went around to the driver’s side and got in. He could smell her perfume, and he liked it.
She slid her tongue across her lips enticingly, and opened her mouth as if to invite him in, and she batted her eyes. “Now,” she said, “now you can kiss me.”
And he did, holding her somewhat frail body in his arms and kissing her on the mouth, a mouth that was not hesitant to yield up plenty of tongue, but a mouth that was shriveled and somewhat toothy. And son of a gun if she didn’t feel soft to the touch, and if her mouth wasn’t desirable, and if he wasn’t becoming aroused. She herself was actually starting to enjoy this, perhaps a little too much. The stranger who had paid her would get his money’s worth, as might George Lesslie, if they kept up. And yet, still she felt uneasy.
“In the back,” he said. And then he caught himself -- “No, there are cops around. Let me get rid of them.”
“Cops?” she said.
“I’ll explain in a minute. Wait here.” He got out of the car and two uniformed cops emerged from the woods. “It’s okay,” George told them. “You can go.”
“I mean, I don’t think there’s a problem.”
“We’ll hang, all the same.”
“I mean -- ”
“We know what you mean.”
Big George returned to the car and climbed in beside his beloved. “You’re beautiful,” he said, and kissed her again. And his tongue roamed with her tongue, and they were both becoming aroused. “So, we went to high school together?”
“Sort of.” Her employer would owe her a few extra bucks for this kind of performance.
“Let’s go somewhere and be alone.”
“Alone suggesting, one would presume, humpty dumpty?”
“Aw come on, we can make up for lost time. There’s a place just up the road.”
“You said you loved me,” Big George said.
Or the stranger had said it for her. Some day she’d catch up with that stranger, and she’d settle a score. If the cops didn’t get to him first.
“Did you mean it?” Big George was wide-eyed.
Should she call a halt to this farce now, or string him along? Her employer would be most gratified and get his money’s worth if she played humpty dumpty with this guy, this big, sweaty, married oaf. She was one of life’s forlorn souls, drifting along aimlessly on the currents of fate, but she did not want to completely lose her moorings, and she felt she was on the verge of turning into an out and out whore.
“There’s a place, up the road,” Big George pointed. She shrugged. “Come on.” Okay, oaf, she thought, and she started the car and steered it out of the alley, knowing the cops would surely follow, as elsewhere in Baton Rouge, deep within the overgrowth of cypress trees and swamp tangle, the stranger steered his truck into the driveway of none other than
Mojo John’s -- yes, the mojo man he had lately dispatched in a not altogether flattering way. John’s shack seemed deserted enough. No doubt the cops had already had their fill of the place, and so he would never have been expected to turn up there.
He lifted the chloroformed Spud out of the truck and hefted him inside. There, he parked Spud in a chair and bound his hands and feet.
The place was still pretty creepy, even in not-so-bright day-light. Dark and shadowy, with bottles of strange roots and curios hanging from the walls. And he didn’t like the weird smell of things. But for the moment, it was a place to call home. He whipped out his cell phone.
“I’ve got him,” the stranger snapped. “I’ve got him, and if you want him alive, you’ll have to swap straight up for George Lesslie.”
“You’ve got who? Who is this?”
“I’ve got Spud,” the stranger said. “And if you don’t believe me, just ignore my orders, and you’ll have a dead son-in-law on your hands. Bring me George Lesslie, or Spud is going to die.”
“Uh -- ”
“The Katt should know this. And tell her I’ll call back in an hour and arrange the swap.”
“Wait -- ”
“I want Big George, got it? I’ve killed the others, don’t play funny.”
Josephus tried to process what he had heard. “Honey?” he called. The Big Katt appeared on the stairs. “I just received a most unnerving phone call.”
“Don’t tell me, Daddy.”
“It was him, honey, it was your ex, and he said things you won’t want to hear.”
“Try me, Daddy, try me.” She came down the stairs.
“He’s got Spud. He wants you to trade George Lesslie for Spud.”
“Oh Daddy, when will this nightmare end?”
“When we get him, Katt baby, when we get him, and this time he’s overplayed his hand. There are only a limited number of permutations.” The voice came from the entry hall, and it belonged to none other than one of two police officers standing there. “He went into the woods, your Spud. We figured him for a short stay, only we figured wrong.”
“Scuff marks. An empty bottle of chloroform. He’s got him, that sicko has got your Spud all right.”
“Oh Daddy, what are we going to do?”
“We swap,” the officer said.
“With that murdering fiend?”
“He’s obsessed with Lesslie. The chronology is obsessive to him. So we dangle Lesslie.”
“It all sounds so simple, but then he tricks you.”
“If it’s a decoy, we’ll be ready for that. He gets within ten miles of this place, we’ll get him.”
Meantime, Big George Lesslie was pulling back the bed covers in some cheap motel room, with the cops parked outside. They didn’t like babysitting this kind of adulterous behavior, but it might just yield up the psycho.
Inside, the tart knew full well that she had reached her limits. But George Lesslie, the big dope, was surely smitten.
“You’re as beautiful as you said you were, and more.”
The tart blushed, as tarts will. She couldn’t remember having received a compliment like this in many a long year. Many a long year meaning, come to think of it, say, since the late Paleozoic or early Pleistocene era.
“I mean that. I can’t wait to see you naked.”
“Look,” she said.
“I’m married, this is a bad thing, I know. But when I saw you again, I couldn’t control myself.”
Saw her again? He had never seen her in the first place. If he had, he would never have made this rendezvous. She had to call a halt to this. “Look, this whole thing is a fake. That psycho hired me to write a phony letter. He’s out there somewhere doing God knows what. When you need money, you do stupid things.”
Big George was oblivious, sweaty and oblivious, and his heart rate was exceeding the speed limit. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he said.
“Honey, if I get these clothes off, you won’t love me. You’ll probably puke your guts out. I’m easily fifteen years older than you, and those are a hard fifteen years. Care to see my tread marks?”
“We were made for each other, destined to be together. You said so in your letter.”
“Honey, I am telling you, this merchandise has been discounted, double-discounted, and discarded on the irregular pile. I can’t even make the reject bins at Wal-Mart. Don’t be stupid.”
“You think I can’t satisfy you.”
“Listen, jerk. The whole thing was a fake. The letter. I’ve never known you or talked to you. That maniac out there just wanted to deceive you. I got paid to show up. Money. Cash. You had better alert your cop friends out there because God knows what that psycho is up to.”
“But -- us?”
“Am I not getting through? I’m not about to get in bed with you, I am not an old flame, and the psycho who made me write the letter just wanted to mess with your head. Now, goodbye.” She turned on her heels and left. Left, that is, into the waiting arms of the police. They nodded, and she got into the patrol car.
Poor George was crestfallen. Not so, however, the stranger, who was now toying with an awakened Spud, poking at him with a stick, and pacing nervously, but enjoying the torment.
“What is this?”
“This is the part where kidnapping comes in. We swap you for Big George Lesslie. I want Big George, then I’ll come for you.”
“Don’t be. You’ll get yours, at the proper time and in the proper place, and then I’ll get mine -- the Katt, the glorious Katt. All that ever meant anything to me.”
Spud wasn’t in the mood for small talk, and he still felt groggy. “You’re whacked.”
“I’m your average nice friendly guy. But I lost three million bucks in one trade, and you get unfriendly fast. People came looking for me, my wife turned her back on me. But she won’t anymore.”
“Uhm. . .” Yeah, this guy was an absolute maniac. What had ever possessed the Katt? Then again, we never truly know, do we, about our partners, our lovers. Love has a way of blinding us to the truth. The cripple with the bloated bank account who trusted his devoted and beautiful wife, wondering lo these many years if she had chosen him only for his money. Only to awake one night and find himself on the business end of a carving knife, what remained of his limbs about to be sawed off in a symphony of bloody death. Or the sensuous beauty who spent her days primping at the nail parlor, while her high-powered successful investment banker husband was off fornicating in some cheap motel room with a 14-year-old girl. And ready, if provoked, to use the gun he had bought to shoot his nail-parlored sweetheart, sensuous mouth and all, right between the eyes, and pin the act on his neighbor. “He was jealous, your honor. Jealous of what I had, and so he killed the object of that jealousy.”
Yeah, Spud thought, hands and feet tied, this first husband was completely and utterly insane, and now, this maniac was about to make a second phone call.
“Me again, your favorite fiend. The drop, or swap. Half a mile up the road, where I grabbed Spud. Same spot. Be there at eight o’clock sharp with George Lesslie. I want to see Lesslie standing in the road, and no cops anywhere. I escort Spud out and all I encounter is the Big Katt, and she’s got Big George with her. We make the swap. See you soon.”
And so it had been arranged. Now the cops huddled and had to figure out how to handle it. They couldn’t block the road in both directions, at least not until the stranger had entered the trap. Then they could lock the area down. He’d never get out by car. And they had hounds who could track him through the woods. This was a win-win for the police, had to be. Assuming the stranger made the swap, a very dangerous assumption. The stranger’s mind worked all of the possible permutations with the relentlessness of a computer. He needed Lesslie. But if he exposed himself, how would he escape? Unless. . . . And it was always the unlesses that killed you. Unless he could get to Lesslie before the cops did. Then he’d have both Spud and Lesslie, and could literally kill two birds with one stone.
He laughed out loud, and put his fist across Spud’s face, snapping the Spudster’s head back. Blood trickled from the sides of Spud’s mouth.
“Second rate,” the stranger muttered. “Second string. Pennsylvania pansy.”
This was not a friendly fellow, this stranger. Not friendly at all. But he could smile and he could laugh, and he smiled and laughed to himself, because soon, very soon, he would write the last chapter to this little saga of revenge, and he would have the Big Katt all to himself. Little did he suspect as he laughed gleefully to himself, that even for the most calculating and brilliant of fiends, sometimes in life, the truth is, you can find yourself just plain spit out of luck.