13

Velvet came awake suddenly, in the bright haze from the motel windows. She rubbed her eyes and thought: So now starts the rest of your life, babe. What are you going to do?

Sleep remained impossible after that priss-assed cop dropped her off at the motel. She lay awake, listening to the hum of the air conditioner as it chilled the room, and the gentle bump of her heart as she hugged a goose-feather pillow close to her body.

Pete dead. And only yesterday he’d said to her: I’m not gonna do another flick with you until all this with my brother is settled, understand? You can help me or you can fly your ass back to California, but I’m not leaving now.

She’d pouted, furious. Well, if you loved me you would.

He’d set his lips tight and turned away from her. I guess I don’t love you, then, Velvet.

And now, even though she was sure Pete hadn’t meant it – the words could not be undone, loved away, erased, made into meaningless wisps.

Velvet thought about Lucinda Hubble and Faith Hubble, and a hot cinder formed in her heart. Hatred was too polite a word for what she felt. She thought of young Sam Hubble and her throat tightened, for Sam and Pete and what could never be. If God were merciful, Pete strutted in heaven now, and her own mother might be meeting him at the pearly gates, smiling at him with all the love she’d once lavished on Velvet, taking him by the hand, introducing him to the other souls flitting from cloud to cloud.

That image made her cry. Like you believe in that shit anymore, girl. Pete was probably frying in hell and scooting over in the bubbling oil to make room for her.

The cry did her good. Velvet dried her tears on the pillowcase. Enough weepiness, it was time for action. She needed a Plan B. The Hubbles clearly wielded influence here. The local powers-that-be, she suspected, would treat her as Pete’s embarrassing girlfriend if it was suicide and a possible suspect if it was murder.

And she had zero intention of sitting like a lump and letting her ass be moved around the political chessboard.

She decided Claudia Salazar would be useless, but Whit Mosley wouldn’t. She reviewed the mental picture she’d formed of him: nicely tall, trim, full blondish hair, tan but not from idling on a beach, face a little too boyish for his years, kindness in the smile. Smart but not snotty, a beach bum grown up, perhaps only recently. Average teeth, firm legs and butt, terrific hands – the checklist of how she typically evaluated the rookie male talent for her movies on initial meeting, before the pants dropped. She liked a man with strong hands. The hands were seen more in the movies than you would think – cupping breasts, running fingers through hair, holding faces for a kiss. And Whit might be putty to a woman with her talent and charms and persuasive skills.

At nine in the morning she called her production company’s lawyers in Van Nuys and a few friends, ignoring the time difference between the Texas coast and California, breaking the sad news about Pete. She left a voice mail for the lawyers to find her some legal representation in Corpus Christi, a big-city attorney hardened enough to deal with pissing-mad senators and provincial police.

Then she took a bath, relaxing herself in the soapy hot water, and only when a stray thought crossed her mind did she sit upright in a panic.

What if whoever killed Pete thought she knew what Pete knew?

She didn’t. He’d kept his research about Corey tight to his chest, just telling her all was going well. He had discussed none of the screenplay with her.

The killer might not believe that. She dried off, combed her hair, and sat naked as she leafed through the Coastal Bend yellow pages, researching pawnshops and gun dealers.

The images played across the television, the screen the only light in the cabin, and the Blade sat and watched as Big Pete Majors took Velvet Mojo from behind, both of them grunting like animals, she tilting her head to keep her wraparound sunglasses on during the pounding encounter. They moaned so much it sounded like they had intestinal disorders. Pete did not offer a range of theatrical nuance. He just knelt behind her, ramming with his hips while Velvet pleaded with him to go stronger and faster, more like a testy coach than a lover. Pete’s face was as blank as the boys the Blade remembered from the mental home. He watched the tape twice before he finally fell asleep in his recliner.

He awoke in a sour mood because he had dreamed not of Velvet but of Whit Mosley, laughing at him. You? She’s gonna pick you over me? What reality does that happen in, fat ass? The Blade had watched Whit in public and women smiled at him, whereas women suddenly recalled other appointments and hurried on their way when the Blade tried long conversations. Hating Whit was easy. The Blade imagined Whit dead, hollowed out, and himself stepping into Whit’s skin, pulling the pallid skulllness face over his own like a mask, fitting his fingers into Whit’s fingers like gory gloves.

Why not kill Mosley as well as take Velvet? He considered. Dismemberment held a certain appeal, as did evisceration, although they certainly cut short the fun. He considered decapitation overrated; heads seemed mocking without bodies attached. The Blade had learned that truth the hard way.

He’d never wanted to kill a man particularly before, but it promised an interesting difference – like fries after a solid week of potato chips. He daydreamed about Whit dying from a slow, careful series of cuts, and a slow whisper filtered into his ears. He stared at the ceiling and its whirring fan. The fan, spinning, resembled a dark eye. Mama’s eyes. He stared, barely breathing, only hearing Mama’s voice telling him what he must do.

He awoke and knew he had slipped to that inky world that Mama had shaped. She used to say, with her sure smile, right before she warmed the wrench on the stove or clicked the clothespin shut on his little flick of a penis: We’re together forever, honeybunch, and don’t you ever forget it.

Thank God, he would think, that he had managed to become the hero of his own story. Mama had not won. He had. He would still.

His phone rang; he picked up and chatted through morning niceties, then listened.

‘This young woman who found Pete’s body,’ the familiar voice murmured into his ear. ‘Do me a favor. Give her some money. Get her out of town.’

‘Sure,’ said the Blade. ‘I can do that for you.’

‘Santa Fe is lovely this time of year, and I bet there’s a nice, affordable youth hostel. Or perhaps Florida, if she’s still set on a beach.’ He listened to detailed instructions and hung up the phone.

His thumb began to itch for the keen sharpness of his knife. If Heather Farrell needed to leave town… well, many were the avenues. A hefty bribe paled compared to other options. He’d gotten away with this every time. (Well, except that one time, so very long ago.) Why not again? He was already in the mood.

He considered how best to approach the problem and how to avoid any messy ramifications. A lure, simple, would do. Nothing could interfere, after all, with his plan for Velvet. He ducked under the sagging bed he slept on and reached for his bowie knife. It was lovely, stout, and sharp enough to cut hopes and dreams. He rummaged in a box with MAMA’S STUFF written on the side in thick Magic Marker and found a worn sharpening stone. The Blade dragged the knife back and forth across the stone, a rhythmic caress that whispered: Heath-er, Heath-er, Heath-er.

The Blade flicked on his stereo. The Beach Boys sang in perfect harmony about their 409, and the knife moved to the beat.

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