Bareknuckles Pulp No. 15: Thinking About Her

Honor among, er, serial killers don't come easy. Mr. Funk's back in the Department.

Thinking About Her by Matthew C. Funk

For a long time, Tammy spent the ride to Lompoc listening to her shackles clatter and thinking of Neal. She had a smile on her face and her mind elsewhere.

The female Marshal across from her had her eyes on Tammy the whole way.

After Tammy watched the healthy blue of day putrefy into night, the Marshal asked the question Tammy knew had been burning the back of her lips the whole time.

“Why’d you do it, Tammy?” Her fingers choked her shotgun barrel.

And Tammy just stared at the corpse of another day blackening. She smiled her smile. It felt good because it was hers alone—not the Marshal’s—just hers and Neal’s.

“All right,” the Marshal said. “We’ll just go on what Neal said.”

“That’s what I always did,” Tammy said.

Her mind unmoored again. Her nose caught a ghost of Chanel.

“Oh yeah?” The Marshal said. “Have I got a surprise for you, then.”

Tammy hardly heard the threat in the Marshal’s tone. The words had taken her to a lifetime ago, when Neal had said the same, and there was a girl named Jolene.

* * *

Neal released one end of the garrote and the wire swung by his naked hip. The Bad Girl, Angela, panted harder as she watched its sway. The leap of Angela’s chest fouled Tammy’s aim as she tried to push more pins into it.

“You’re wandering,” Neal told Tammy, scolding in his tone but a smile on his angelic face.

Tammy focused harder on the pins, guiding them through the steps: Denting Angela’s skin. Popping it. Sliding in until they stood and Tammy could count seconds until the blood came.

“You’re thinking about her,” Neal said.

Tammy shot him a look. Even in their cellar, amidst the rust and beetles and dim, Neal’s hair and skin gleamed—Tammy’s shining dark knight.

“You are,” Tammy said. “Not me.”

She turned back to put the twelfth pin in. Neal turned her by her shoulder. She faced him until her grin cracked.

“You so are. You’re thinking of Jolene.”

“Please,” Angela said, thrashing in her ropes. It rocked the steel chair she was bound to. Fluids pooled on the seat splashed. “Just let me go and I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

Neal backhanded another wide bruise onto Angela’s face. He raised a finger.

“Excuse us, Bad Girl,” Neal said. “We’re having a moment here.”

A minute later Neal and Tammy sat naked in their egg-yellow kitchen and sipped double-olive martinis.

“Okay, I was thinking of Jolene.” Tammy shrugged.

“Knew it.”

“You always do. How?”

Neal milled a finger next to his eye, smiling his sly grin. “You get the La-La Land look. And your jaw kind of softens. You look ten years younger.”

“It’s like time travel,” Tammy said.

“You go back to our first special moment.”

“I do. Though there have been so many special moments.”

They both sipped. And Tammy let herself think of Jolene. She didn’t even hear the scraping of the metal chair below them.

* * *

She only heard Neal’s voice from a decade ago, just after they married, telling her how he knew she liked it rough. She’d smiled big as her bruises.

She only felt the serenity from when she’d watch him, hour after hour, hammer the eyebolts into cellar beams, string chains, gather knives and prods and lashes that would grace her skin. She’d felt blessed to be bound to such an unlimited man.

She only saw Neal, majestic above her curled in his lap, with that faraway look in his eyes. She’d known then that he had so much more power to inflict—and that she would not survive it.

She smelled only Chanel perfume, and dry-cleaning treatment on a Vera Wang dress, and the sweet fear sweat of the first Bad Girl to die for them.

Jolene had died in Tammy’s arms with Neal’s ligature around her throat. In that moment, feeling Jolene’s pulse die in her own chest, Tammy looked on her man and saw Neal as a god.

* * *

Tammy sipped her martini, but even the sour of the double olive couldn’t get the flavor of adrenaline from her mouth.

The chair scraping sped below. It made Tammy smile and Neal, his eyes ever on her, smiled back.

“See?” He said. “Off you go again.”

She laughed. “And what did you tell me then?”

“Same thing I always do,” Neal said. He tilted his martini at her and leveled his features. “A good girl lives for her man.”

“And bad girls die for him.”

“Yes. They do.”

Tammy laughed. Emptying her glass, she realized that laugh came without restraint.

There was a time, another lifetime, where inhibition would have held it back. It would have held her back. In that lifetime, vulgar ideas like conscience or compassion kept her shackled.

That life had molted away. Neal’s hands and words had brushed it from her.

“I love you,” she said. And there was no limit to that word. No deed it could not accomplish. The testament to that laid in 27 unmarked graves.

“I love you,” he said. The sound of it was epic framed by the silence from the cellar.

They washed their glasses and Tammy opened the cellar door.

“Oh,” she said, tapping her head. “Almost forgot. Should we get the trash bags?”

“Nah,” Neal said. “We’ll shower after we cut her up.”

They both lost their smiles when they found the cellar window open and Angela gone.

* * *

Tammy laughed to herself, right in the Marshal’s face. It felt more important than her shackles.

“You find something funny?” The Marshal shrugged. “I guess you may as well. Given what Neal told us yesterday, I don’t know why I’m even taking this trip.”

Tammy frowned. That sounded like a puzzle. She didn’t like puzzles. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re as good as a free woman.”

Tammy knew she was free. Not the way the Marshal meant, though. Neal had freed her. The Marshal’s meaning caged her heart in fear.

“What do you mean?”

The Marshal didn’t grin when she told her. Neither did Tammy.

The moment she got to a phone at the prison, she called her lawyer and demanded to meet with Neal.

* * *

Tammy sat in jeans and a T-shirt she wanted to tear off. Neal was dressed in a prison jumper. Wearing anything better than him seemed a sin.

“Why?” Tammy said. She tried not to yell. For Neal’s sake, not their lawyers’. “Why did you tell them I didn’t have any part in the murders?”

She watched Neal break even more: He sniffled like a boy in detention. He ran a hand through his faded hair. He looked old and shrunken when he shrugged.

“Because you didn’t, Tammy.”

She stared in disbelief.

Neal couldn’t even meet her stare. Tammy just had to watch as the man in front of her broke every part of the man she loved.

“You bastard.” Tammy stood. She banged the table. He didn’t even glare. He looked like he’d never hit her for acting out again.

It made her want to hit him.

“Mrs. Dooley,” her lawyer cautioned, hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off and pointed at Neal.

“You fucking bastard,” Tammy said. “You took my life away. And now you want to take that from me?”

“I already pled, Tammy,” Neal yelled at her back as she stalked out. “It’s over.”

She shook her head all the way out of prison. She had given everything to Neal.

She would not let him just give it back.

Matthew C. Funk is an editor of Needle Magazine and a staff writer for Planet Fury and Criminal Complex. Winner of the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, Funk has online work at numerous sites indexed on his Web domain.