The Ultraviolet Stripper

The blonde come running out the back of the strip club, naked besides the purple panties, her body bouncing under the light of the neon sign. She tore through the back parking lot, bare feet and tender heel in dry dirt, and she threw open the door to the car, jumped into the front seat, slap the sleeping Detective behind the wheel and: “Drive. Just drive.”

Detective Dana Cable come to life, his key turn in the ignition, the engine rear back and bark as he spun the steering wheel and peeled out as fast as it could take them.

Dana saw a car in the rear view, pulling out of the club and heading in the opposite direction. He heard the sound of a single gunshot from inside the building. He thought of going back. He knew it was too late.

"Just drive,” said the stripper.

“I’m not taking you home.”

“I’m not going home,” she said, reaching into the backseat. She pulled Dana’s blazer from the seat and slipped it over her shoulders to cover up.

“Just drive.”

Cable obeyed.

He had stopped at the Kitty Club late that afternoon to talk to the blonde girl. They told him her name was Violet. He sat with her backstage. “Ricardo Sosa’s out. He broke out.”

She was putting on her makeup, eyes in the mirror, and suddenly stopped. Dana thought she was beautiful: platinum hair, a thin face, long, a smile like the bulb at the end of the string.

She wasn't smiling now. Violet nodded. Wasn’t surprised. And then her eyes back in the mirror for more mascara.

“He’s gonna come to see you.”

They sat there for a moment, the stripper and the cop, the little dressing room suddenly full of all the things you don't want to know. A Puerto Rican girl covered in baby oil slid by, counting her singles. “We want to protect you.”

“You don't care about me,” Violet said, pulling her hair back, "you just want him." There was no anger in her voice.

Dana looked at her, into her eyes, and she looked back at him like an X-ray. Dana let her look.

"I care," he said.

Violet nodded, pulling on a black wig, a bob that made her look a little like Louise Brooks. She was completely transformed as she slid into her black maid's outfit, suddenly so French Dana could hear accordion. She turned to him and said matter of fact: “He’s going to kill me either way. If I’m lucky he won’t rape or beat me first.”

Dana watched her pull a feather duster from a cardboard box, and he suddenly felt an aching desire to protect her. Some women just make the blood rush. Even through all the nightmares of homicide, all the brutal cases unsolved, all the blood and lies and greed, a look from a beautiful woman still sent shivers up the back of his buzzcut neck. And there was something about this Violet: from little girl to lustful mistress in a matter of seconds, and she seemed at home in both skins. She was taking the news of Ricardo's breakout well. Most women would be screeching.

“You’re not safe here.”

“A girl has to work,” Violet said, putting her pocketbook and makeup bag into a locker with a rusty hinge. She secured the locker with a padlock. “I’m just a girl.”

Dana had to smile. He told her that he would be watching the club, to let him know if she sensed trouble. “I’m just around the back if you need anything.” And then, because she got him dizzy, he left without asking for a cup of coffee. He was supposed to drink a cup of coffee.

He was supposed to stay awake.

Out in the car, waiting for nothing to happen fast, Dana watched the men pull in and eye him suspiciously as they went inside for adult entertainment… mostly truckers and farmhands, with the occasional carful of teenagers. Dana was supposed to stay awake but he had fallen down, missed the sunset, closed his eyes, been entered into the dark again. He fell asleep if sleep is what you could call it: sleep was the place the monsters came to play.

In the sleep he was in the house, his house, his wife away with the kids, on a picnic just over the hill… just over the green grass... just beyond the perfect symmetry of his front lawn. And in the wide awake of this sleep he was not a police officer; he didn’t know what he was. He knew only that the law no longer mattered. And in this vision, this speculation of increasing frequency, it was neither day or night, no: it was a timeless moment in the late afternoon, without meaning or character, without the passage of time, and the quiet in the house was the only sound to be heard.

“Can we stop someplace for a hamburger?”

Dana looked over at Violet, her blonde hair whipping in the night breeze. "I haven't eaten all day."

His mouth was a tight frown: “We’re not stopping for food.”

He remembered his sleep.

Dana had been alone in his house, his wife and kids away, the clock stop ticking. And in his house alone Dana decided to go upstairs, turned to the staircase for ascension, took one step up, and then another, and another besides, walking upstairs for reasons he did not fully understand. Then a few steps up the stairs Dana felt the dizzy of confusion, the loss of understanding, the insecurity of gravity once assumed and unspoken, and suddenly: he wanted to come back down. He wanted his feet on the ground.

Scattered moments of his previous sleeps came back in a rush of parallel lines: his wedding day- standing in front of the church, forgetting his books at school, watching his mother beat his father, his first arrest… and the day he first killed a man. The smell of salt water. The taste of orange juice. The ache of afraid. The moments and memories of all the other sleeps were at once comforting and horrifying, and in this sleep Dana turned around to come back down the stairs… but as he turned he saw he had climbed higher than he thought, and the steps he took down brought him no closer to ground. The stairway grew at 33° and he felt his feet running against the motion.

The staircase got longer, he was making no progress. 

And then he heard the voice, that voice, the voice sing ugly in a warm moan of self-satisfaction. And the voice was coming for him: discordant, indulgent. Dana was terrorized.

In this sleep he turned again, this time to run up the stairs, away from the voice, back to the safety of the second floor, but by now the staircase leading up was growing too, riser and tread. It was growing twelve steps at a time, so fast, so tall he could no longer see the top. Landings began to appear between flights, and soft green moss was growing in the cracks between the steps. Dana tried to take the stairs, but by this point his feet were too heavy to lift off.

The voice… it got louder: menacing in its confidence, in its timelessness, its lifelessness, sending a chill through his spine like a phone call through a switchboard. This was the point in the sleep where Dana usually began to scream, out loud, waking his wife Helen, his two children appearing in his bedroom doorway rubbing their eyes, wanting to know what was going on. Dana, face soaked with perspiration, could never tell any of them that he could not find a way off the staircase.

Tonight, before he could finish the sleep, before he could call out loud, a topless blonde girl had jumped into his car and shouted: “Drive!”

Dana shook his head, alive on the highway, Violet beside him in his blazer and little else, trying to stay awake after almost dozing off. He was lucky this road had painted lines.

He turned to the girl: “Was it him? Back there? Was it Ricardo?”

“It was him.” Violet said. “I didn’t see him but it was him.”

Dana felt a sinking feeling, and suddenly wanted a drink more than he had in years. He warned her again: “I’m not taking you home.”

“I don’t want to go home,” Violet said, reaching out, high voltage, pulling Detective Cable's right hand from the gearshift, tangling his fingers in her own.

“Just drive.”

*                                              *                                              *

One thing her Father had told her that she remembered, maybe the only good thing he ever did, was to tell Violet as a little girl: "Just don't be no fool."

It had made her laugh at the time, especially by the bad grammar from her college professor Father, but it was worded so perfectly she knew it meant more than it sounded like. She promised herself that whatever she did, no matter what people and places she encountered, whatever her experience, she wouldn't be no fool. It was the last line she left in the letter to her parents before she ran away from home.

And Violet made good on her word: she had left her apartment two days earlier when she first heard from Tony the club manager that Ricardo had broken out. She had seen it too many times: the men, the boyfriends, they were animals, they were all alike. Everybody always asking the girls the same stupid question: "How could you go out with a guy like that?"

"Because he's strong and good-looking and he hangs out at my job all day and he gives me money and he has more money than God and because he fucks me so good I see the sunbeams... is that enough or do I need to go on?"

All the girls in the same situation- their boyfriends got paroled or come back into town, and a couple days later Tony would gather all the girls in the cafe before the club opened, and he would do his best to look serious, and he would say, “I hate to be the one to have to tell you but… as the manager here it’s my job to inform you: April was killed last night.”

“Crystal was killed last night.”

“Summer was killed last night.

“Ginger was killed last night.”

The first few times it happened she had felt the sun fall from the sky, the tears spill from her eyes, and she would look around at all the girls crying, wondering what would they do now? How could they go on?

But that had been years ago. It was different now. Violet remembered the last time Tony had gathered them, knew what was coming because of who was missing, and for the first time she saw through his hollow eyes. She saw everything just a little more clearly these days: the girls would be crying but she noticed they were paging through the movie magazines as they wept. The musicians at the club would wear their sunglasses inside to cover up the spirals in their eyes from their jungle cigarettes.

Tony, burly, take a deep breath to get into character. He would furrow his brow, stand up straight, pretend like the girls at his club were something more than merchandise, and as he spoke to them pretending to care Violet thought of a farmer bringing all his hens together to explain that someone had been hungry for fried chicken.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but… Cherry is dead.”

And as the wave of grief hit the girls, as their voices rose in pitch and absolute surprise, Violet thought about Cherry. And she had only one thought: ‘Stupid bitch.’

On that day Violet promised herself she wouldn't be no fool, do whatever it takes to stay alive, and so far…

So far.

“Where are we headed?” asked the cop driving fast.

“I’m staying with my friend Leonard. He plays piano at the queer bar so he’s out all night. If you see a light on there’s something wrong.”

But there was no light on at Leonard’s when Dana pulled the car in quiet and led Violet inside… he opened the apartment door with his gun drawn and searched the place. It was clear.

Inside Violet put the lights on the dimmer switch, put the percolator on the stovetop which smoked the crumbs from the toast Leonard had made for breakfast. She went into the bedroom to change.

Dana looked the place over: a second floor one-bedroom, posters of a Japanese singer on the wall… a collection of plants on the triple window sill, all of them fine prune, immaculate groom, some of them sitting under ultraviolet bulbs, casting a glow indigo into the darkened apartment.

There was a spider plant, jade, dieffenbachia, snake plant… all of them sat lush and hungry, leaves like tongues dangling down over their pots. They seemed quite comfortable rubbing shoulders in their small clay pots, but there was something menacing about their look of... patience. The hum of the ultraviolet bulb gave them all a voice.

One of the plants, a Venus fly trap, waited patient while a buzzing insect crawled over its petals… Dana watched. The fly, completely unaware, wings blinking flutter, took tentative steps up and down the flower’s leaves. Dana stepped closer, transfixed.

The fly moved up and down the petal, his antennae rub soft against the green meat of the leaf.

Dana, hypnotized, felt his fingers go hot, realizing he’d let his match burn down, too engaged to light his cigarette. He dropped them both.

The fly, pausing from the disturbance, went back to his work: sniffing, rooting, testing the plant. He walked up one side and down the other.

He didn’t have a clue.

In the moment it takes to pull a trigger the Venus had closed its leaves around the buzzing insect- the fly was gone- and the plant chewed crunchy and swallowed, licking its lips and smiling wide.

It stuck its tongue out at Dana.

Violet came out of the bedroom, a silk camisole and matching shorts.

“Your friend has some interesting specimens,” Dana said, watching the plants watch him back.

She smiled. “Yeah,” and then, serious: “Is Ricardo coming back for me?”

Dana, who didn’t like to lie, lied: “I think you’ve seen the last of him.”

She nodded, unconvinced. “Well… what are we gonna do all night, Detective.”

“Dana,” he said.

"Girl's name," she said, her first reaction, and then hearing her own words aloud she started to laugh. Dana laughed with her.

“Well... don’t you wanna know my real name?”

“Not particularly,” he said. “I’m only here to get your boyfriend.”

Her face went sour then, tired. “Please don’t call him that. I'm done with men like that.”

Dana nodded, “Sorry.”

Violet's smile grew back as she walked across the room- slow- toward Dana. She pressed herself against him, rub her chest against his through her silk top. He could feel the warm and sweet of her. He could feel her heart beating inside. It was full of love... and radiating.

“We can drink coffee and play gin… be polite and laugh at one another’s awful jokes…” She was breathing into his ear, whispering, purring, making liquid of his brain: “Or we could fuck like it’s our last night on Earth.”

She kissed his cheek.

“It just might be,” Dana said, forgetting his marriage vows, forgetting the faces of his children, forgetting the staircase at home. He could feel the hot blood coursing through his roots and veins.

“It just might be,” Violet said back.

Dana looked at her. She was ripe… sublime. She was better than alive. She was electromagnetic.

Dana unstrapped his pistol, laid it on the table beside him. He tasted death, knew this could be his fatal mistake, and in the moment, senseless and divine, he found he didn’t care. Some cases never get solved.

Violet took off her camisole, the white of her breasts filling Dana’s open eyes. Neither one of them heard the car pull up.

Violet stepped slow out of her bottoms as Dana took her to the sofa and laid her down. She spread her legs to feed him... and he realized he was starving.

Dana fell to his knees before her, held her hips and began to feast.

The Venus fly trap turned its head to watch.

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