It's not a place so much as a state of mind.
Quebec by R. Daniel Lester
The call comes at 11:37 p.m. Quebec isn’t sleeping and neither is the girl. The girl is watching television and blowing bubbles with strawberry-flavoured gum. The blue light from the TV casts an eerie wash over the motel room’s geography--peeling wallpaper, stained carpet, faded bruises. The girl doesn’t seem to notice or care. This is her world. Blue TV light in a motel room is her reality. He watches her instead of the television. Something about her, the effortlessness of her boredom as she lounges naked on the motel room bed, the sheets a mess, her long legs intertwined, is sexy and Quebec wants to be that piece of gum in her mouth. To be caressed and worked by her tongue. To slide over her lips and teeth. To be pushed against the moist inside of her cheek. To maybe be swallowed and sit alone in her stomach for seven years, or whatever the old wives’ tale is.
Then the phone rings and he doesn’t want to be gum anymore. It is time to work. He tells the girl it would be a good time to use the bathroom and she shrugs and says okay and shuts the door behind her. When he hears her pee hit the water, he answers the phone.
And it’s the voice. Maybe the same voice as always. But probably not. What doesn’t change is the electronic scrambler. What does change is sentence structure. Language choice. Verbal tics. He thinks it is at least three different people. He always wonders about the room they’re calling from. If it’s a wood-panel den in a mansion on a hill with the desk light on and the voice’s face cast in shadow. More likely it’s a call centre in India, row after row of computers. One, two, three, forty voices. Satellite offices scattered across the globe. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Plausible deniability. Murder Inc.
How he knew to get the room in the motel was the first call. The first call always came on a drug corner payphone, outside a hole-in-the-wall joint selling cardboard pretending to be pizza. Once every two weeks he waits there. No call, no work. The phone rings, he picks it up, he works. Simple as that.
The voice tonight gives him further instruction. Says that three doors down, room 104, at approximately two a.m., a man will be checking in. At first, he won’t be alone. But he will be. The protective custody is local, not federal, because the man himself isn’t a player. So no babysitter. Only the occasional patrol car drive-by to make sure everything’s okay. Just a small-time hood testifying in a small-town trial. But the trial itself is the first domino in a line. If this one falls, the rest will follow. Other trials will take place. Solution: stop the first domino from falling down. Remove it from the line. Take it away. Then the rest are safe. And now, certain people have paid a certain market price, wired certain off-shore accounts, to ensure this happens.
When the voice is finished, Quebec hangs up the phone. There is a lot to consider. The girl makes things more complicated. Adjust on the fly. Be liquid.
The girl comes out of the bathroom. “Everything okay, sugar pie?” she asks.
He nods. When they brokered the deal on that dead street across town, he asked her to be affectionate. He paid for the whole night and said he just needed to feel loved. Her guard went down. He saw pity in her eyes and was okay with that. Being the object of pity is a weapon of the mind, like a gun is a weapon of the hand.
She lies back down on the bed, changes the television channel. A sitcom laugh track fills the room. She laughs too, not wanting to be left out.
“Another beer, honey?” he asks, playing the part of doting john.
She smiles and winks at him. And Quebec wants to find the asshole that put the bruises on her and teach him what bruises are all about. Find an abandoned warehouse with good soundproofing and have at it. Then let the bruises heal. Then produce more. School him. Make him a student of agony.
He grabs a bottle of beer from the ice bucket and twists the cap. With his back to the girl, he drops the contents of a sleeping pill inside. Swirls the liquid around. Turns and gives it to her. She grins and takes a big gulp.
Quebec sits down on the edge of the bed and strokes her hair. And waits.
The man in room 104 dies with barely a sound. Just the look of panic in his eyes as he wakes up in the tub and sees Quebec sitting on the edge dressed in a white plastic painter’s suit, hood pulled tight over his head. The target tries to struggle but it is too late. Already weak, already bleeding out. Gloved fingers on his head, push down, a few air bubbles drift to the surface, then nothing.
Suicide. The man was distraught and took his own life. Stress from the upcoming trial. Depression. Bad day. Whatever. The cops would find evidence to the contrary if they looked but they’d have to really look. And Quebec knows that people are prone to believe what they see.
The voice was right. Two a.m. check-in. A half hour before, he jimmied the lock and slipped inside. He moved quickly for the bathroom and stood in the combination shower and tub, pulling the curtain across. He had a silenced pistol, the wrist-mounted knife he always carried on jobs, a hypodermic needle and two razor blades. The razor blades were to make it look right. The needle was to put the target down for a ten-count. The knife was for any unplanned close work. And the pistol was in case the local lawman was thorough enough to check the shower. The cop wasn’t. Quebec heard him take a cursory look through the motel room but small-time hoods didn’t warrant much more. Quebec was pleased. He didn’t want to have to shoot a cop.
Next, he waited. For an hour. Until the target decided to take a shower. Not bad. He had waited longer. Then he plunged the needle into the man’s neck when the shower curtain opened. Face went slack. Knees buckled. But Quebec was ready. Caught him under the armpits and eased him down into the tub.
Then it was follow the script. Run the water, use the razor blades, get fingerprints, get out.
When he returns to his room the girl is still asleep, turned to one side, snoring slightly. She doesn’t know about the silencer pointed at her head. Doesn’t sense the weight of the man on the bed, the one holding the gun, waiting for Quebec to return.
“Sit,” says the man and it’s like looking in a mirror. Same gun. Same feral gaze. Same predator scent.
Quebec sits in the chair beside the little table with the ice bucket on it. The ice has melted.
“Throw your piece on the bed. Then hands where I can
Quebec does this. There is silence as the two killers consider each other. The stranger doesn’t bother pointing the weapon at him. Doesn’t need to. The implied threat to the sleeping beauty. Must’ve been watching. Maybe listening the whole time. Research. Preparation. Know your prey. Quebec understands this because it is exactly what he would do. Exactly what he did do, once upon a time, when the voice told him Papa had served his purpose. Q kills P. Then it was gloved fingers over the mouth, pull him off balance, blade between ribs, hand moves up and twists. Gurgle and an exhalation, as the body let go. Bladder too.
The man called Romeo sizes Quebec up with steel-gray eyes. “They said I shouldn't talk to you. That I should shoot you right away. That you're a tough motherfucker.”
“Nice of them,” says Quebec.
Romeo gently presses the silencer barrel into the back of the girl’s head. “She was a mistake, by the way. Pretty sloppy, Mr. ‘Keh-Beck.’”
Quebec knows it’s a mistake in the other killer’s view, but he also knows it’s never a mistake to feel loved, even if it’s only for a few hours. Sure, it was a paid gig, but he could tell she wasn’t that good an actress. They created something, a certain chemical reaction occurring in the gap between sweaty skin and between their foreheads as he put his to hers at the moment of release. Nothing anyone could explain or understand using the spoken word. Grunts maybe. Forgotten sounds, those of the caves in the firelight and the charcoal drawings illuminated on the wall. So, yes, in that way it was a mistake. He falls easily. He doesn’t want to watch her die.
“So what are you waiting for?” asks Quebec, stalling. He needs only seconds to flick the knife into his hands. “Want to know the secret handshake?”
Romeo says nothing.
“Wait, don’t tell me I’m your first. Busting your cherry, huh?”
“I’ve done plenty.”
“Oh, sure. But this is different than knifing a street punk in a dark alley. This isn’t jacking long-haul cargo and popping the truck driver from behind. This is staring another professional in the face and taking his life. And there’s more to it, you know, than pulling the trigger.”
“Yeah, there’s trust. Trust between employer and employee. Work like we do, you rely on information. We’re not here to think. We’re the fist. The brain does most of the planning. That takes trust. Trust in the details.”
Romeo grins. “Well, I guess you feel pretty fucked over then, don’t you? Me waiting for you like this. Only one place I could get that kind of dirt.”
Quebec nods. “Same place I heard about you.”
Doubt creeps across steel-gray flecks. “What do you--”
The first mistake Romeo makes is losing focus. The second is shifting his weight on the bed. The third, his last, is firing two shots from the hip as Quebec launches himself from the chair, blade out, teeth bared. Both shots, somehow, only graze Quebec’s torso but still take their meager reward of flesh. Then the blade is plunged deep into Romeo’s throat.
Dawn creeps across the night sky as he carries the girl to his car and props her up in the passenger seat, fastening the seatbelt across her body. When that’s done, he walks around to the other side of the car, gets in and starts the engine. Then he drives, simply drives, putting distance between them and the motel.
Later, outside of yet another hick town, he turns left down a gravel road and drives five minutes. Then he pulls over and gets out, removing the garbage bag from the backseat. The garbage bag contains the painter’s suit, the gloves and the listening bug he found on the base of the bedside lamp. He drops the garbage bag in a ditch, douses it with lighter fluid and drops in a lit match. Flame curls orange and hot. The bag burns down to a twisted sculpture of fused plastic and ash.
The gun disappears down a storm drain. Let the cops find it and do their worst. Wouldn’t matter. They would only travel in circles. The gun is a snake eating itself.
The blade he keeps. He has further plans for it. Voices he wants to hear in person. Eyes he wants to stare at as the life ebbs out of them. It’s the only way she’ll be safe. Because they know about her now. He has no doubt they were listening as well. This is how they work. They collect information and store it away like a squirrel hides a nut for the winter.
Finding them won’t be as difficult as it would’ve been before. There seem to be differing points of view. One voice set Quebec up to be erased. R kills Q. Another voice didn’t want that to happen. Q kills R. So, the voices are fractured. At war, maybe. And with confusion and chaos comes opportunity.
And Quebec knows right where he’ll start. It was the way the guy handed him the pizza slice the last time he went there to wait for the phone call. A knowing glance. E had always felt they must have eyes on the payphone, but he’d never known who it was until that moment. Probably the man won’t know much, he’s just an errand boy, a quick fifty bucks earned to make a call when Quebec shows up, but what he knows he will tell. Pain is an ancient and timeless thing. After that, Quebec will climb the ladder one rung at a time. He is patient.
Beside him, the girl stirs. “Hey, baby,” she says, rubbing her eyes. “Guess I slept pretty well, huh?”
“You dose me?”
“Not for that,” he says. “Don’t worry.”
”I trust you. Not sure why, but I do. Where are we going?”
“For a drive.”
“Hmm. Cool, baby.”
Minutes pass by. The sun rises. Clouds form out of nothing. Bugs splat on the windshield. They drive.
“I’m not headed back where we came from,” says Quebec. “How’s that sit with you?”
She thinks about this. “Okay by me. I’m just that kind of chick. But my pimp’s an asshole. Might look for me.”
Quebec stares out the windshield at the two-lane highway that stretches to the horizon, to forever. “He’ll need binoculars.”
She laughs, still groggy. “Dude, he’s such a fuck up, though, so I don’t know he’d have the time. Got his dumb ass in deep and now he’s trying to snitch his way back to the surface. Got to hand it to him, though. He conned the cops into hiding him out in some motel until the trial. As if he’s gonna get whacked like some mob informant. What a douche.”
Quebec grins. Life is funny. “He give you those bruises?”
“He’s been under a lot of pressure lately. With the trial and all.”
“Well it won’t happen again,” he says, knowing this to be truer than she’ll ever know.
“That’s okay by me. And you do know you’re bleeding’, right?”
“Cut myself shaving.”
She doesn’t know what to make of that. Just shakes her head. Meet all types and sorts in her line of work. This one’s strange, answers phones when they aren’t ringing, but otherwise seems okay. Gentle, at least. “So, once we get where we’re going, what’s the deal between you and me?”
Quebec figures he owes her. He used her in a few different ways and she almost paid the ultimate price. He wonders how long they could make it, if that’s what she decides. They’ll have to move around a lot at first. This kind of disobedience won’t be tolerated. Heads will roll. Hopefully not his. When it’s over and he’s still standing they’ll hit the road again. That’ll work for a while. He has money saved up. But life gets expensive. Maybe in a year they’ll need jobs. Real jobs. Something small and boring in a small and boring town. He might be ready for that. The killer and the whore.
He sets the cruise control five over the limit and takes his foot off the pedal. He turns to her. “You don’t owe me anything and the deal is whatever you want it to be.”
The girl blinks once, twice, and turns back to the window. Quebec counts nine telephone poles until she says, “Yeah, sure what the fuck.”