Love Don't Mean a Thing
A Nick Kepler Adventure
by Jim Winter
......A man does a lot of stupid things when he's drunk and lonely. So does a woman, especially when her divorce becomes final. The Friday following the Fourth of July, Audrey Weathers marched into Jerry's, a bar in North Olmsted, divorce papers in hand, declaring she would ravish the man of her choice before the sun came up. She'd made the offer to me a few times before, but with her wedding ring gone, it sounded tempting for once.
......I'd already had three shots of Jack and way too much beer. I raised my mug to her and said, You go, girl!
......That was all the encouragement she needed. By nine o'clock, I found myself pinned to Audrey's bed, my back and arms scratched raw by her nails. Audrey was a happy woman that night. I felt pretty good myself.
......When we finished, she leaned down and sank her teeth into my shoulder.
......She flicked her tongue across the skin as she bit harder. Mmm, God, I needed that.
......The moon cast a white light on us. I looked over at my shoulder to see she'd drawn blood. It didn't hurt, really. Instead, it made me want to go again. I reached behind her neck and pulled her down to kiss. How do you like being a free woman?
......She uncoupled herself from me and stretched her body over mine, rubbing her thigh against my cock, teasing it. It feels wonderful.
......I reached over and turned on the lamp to look at her. Pale skinned and crimson haired, she was thin and tall, mostly legs. Her rump had started to sag a little, but then she was forty. And I was no spring chicken myself. I stroked her hair and noticed a scar running along her hairline. I traced it.
......Cole do that to you? I said.
......She pressed a finger to my lips. That's all over now.
......I shifted so I could look at her body more. She had full breasts that filled my hands when I'd cupped them. Now, in the light, I could see scars from cigarette burns near her nipples, on her flat stomach, and on her forearms. I grabbed her wrist and gently brought it closer to my face.
......The bastard burned you?
......He did a lot of things, Nick, she said. He hurt me, used me, treated me like a dog."
......My jaw tightened. I put my arms around her again and pressed her against me. Its okay, now, I whispered. Everythings okay.
......She nuzzled my neck. I could feel her smiling as her lips pressed against my skin. Tell me that. Tell me its okay. Tell me youll be good to me.
......I began kissing her again. Between kisses, I said, Ill be good to you. Ill never hurt you. I worked on her neck, her breasts, her belly... I looked back up. Cole ever do this for you?
She smiled and pushed me down to where she wanted me.
......We had dozed off around eleven. At twelve, the last of the alcohol caught up with me. I padded my way down the hall to the bathroom. Had I been awake and not on the back end of an evening-long buzz, I might have heard the footsteps in the hallway. Id like to think that.
......I didnt, though. Only when Audrey started yelling did I realize something was wrong. I rushed back to the bedroom only to see a man standing in the doorway, his back to me. Audrey had the sheet pulled up around her.
......Go away! she screamed. Get out of here!
......The man held a pistol in his hand, a .22 from what I could see. Its my house, Audrey. His voice was low, even, rough. No matter what the court says, this is my house, and you are my wife. He sniffed at the air. Wheres the guy you been whoring with tonight? I want a piece of him.
......Dont you get it, Cole? Were divorced. Youre not even supposed to be here.
......Cole started across the room toward her, his hand raised. I came up behind him and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. He fell back toward me, letting out a yelp. The .22 went off and put a hole above the headboard. Audrey ducked.
......Cole came down on his ass, and I put my fist into his temple. He bobbled the gun, and I kicked it out of his hand before he could get his bearings. He started to dive for it, but I tackled him, slamming the heel of my hand into his head. He rolled over onto his back and started kicking.
......At that point, I realized how stupid it was to fight in the nude. I had everything exposed, and Cole had his work boots. I scampered backward only to have him lunge at me. He grabbed me and rammed his fist into my face. I managed to keep my nose from getting broken, but just barely.
......I head-butted him. That bought me a little time and a lot of pain. I pushed him off me with my legs then got to my feet. He spotted the gun and moved for it. I jumped on top of him again and started pounding his back. He grabbed for the gun. His flailing only knocked it out of reach.
Audrey screamed again. I looked up and said, Grab the fucking gun!
......Cole crawled toward the gun again. I grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head back. He tried elbowing me. I barely felt the blows. Audrey brought her foot down on the .22 and kicked it under the bed.
......The gun seemed to be all Cole cared about now. He rolled on his side throwing me off, then dove toward the bed. I looked up just in time to see Audrey bring the heavy lamp down on the back of his skull.
......She turned the lights on. My image showed in a full-length mirror across the room. I looked like a torture victim, bruised and bloodied. Cole looked dead. I reached down and felt for a pulse.
......Is he -- is he dead? she asked.
......I shook my head as I moved to the other side of the bed. I started pulling on my jeans. Hell live. You gave him a nice goose egg on the back of the head, but hell live.
......I pulled on my shirt, turned, and saw Audrey holding the .22.
......Dont, I said.
......She put both hands on the gun, stood, and pointed it at the floor where Cole lay. Why not? We can call it self-defense.
......I jumped across the bed and grabbed the gun from her. No!
......But he tried to kill me!
......I know. I pulled the magazine from the gun and checked the chamber. Cole had already jacked in a round. Ive been down this road before. Took a lot for me to make that one disappear.
......Cole moaned. His eyes fluttered for a moment, then he fell silent again.
......Audrey slipped her arms around my waist and started chewing on my ear. You can make him disappear, Nicky. No one would have to know. She found one of my nipples beneath my shirt and began playing with it. Itll be our little secret.
......I pushed her off of me and knelt by Cole. Feeling his pockets, I came out with his keys.
......Whats he drive?
......His car. What does he drive?
......A Cavalier. Why?
......Get dressed. I need you to help me. I slid the magazine back into the gun. Ill handle Cole.
......She threw her arms around me again and kissed me. Thank you, Nicky. Thank you.
......Cole moaned. His eyes fluttered for a moment, then he fell silent again.
......I'd driven west on Route 2, away from Cleveland. I could have taken 90, but it eventually merged with the Turnpike. I didn't want to explain the muffled thrashing noises in back at the toll booth.
......The lake kicked up something fierce that night. I couldnt see it, but I could definitely feel it. Storms were coming in from Canada.For now, though, we just had wind. Lightning flashed beyond the horizon when I pulled off the highway. I still had time.
......I'd stopped at a little lakeside park not far from Cedar Point. It had a boat ramp and a pier and precious little else at this hour. The breeze held a chill as I got out of the car. I opened the back door and dragged Cole Weathers out by his hair.
......He screamed, or tried to. Audrey and I had trussed him up and gagged him with duct tape. I could have left him in the lot and been done with him. Instead, I pulled the tape from his mouth.
......He screamed. Successfully, that time.
......Go ahead, I said. Theres nobody within two miles to hear you.
......What are you going to do to me?
......I took out a knife and held it up. He lay there under the parking lot light, his eyes wide, no sound coming from him.
......Look familiar? I said. It's yours.
......He trembled as I leaned in toward him. I cut the tape on his ankles, maybe cutting him in the process. I didn't care. He tried to scamper away, but his arms were still tied behind his back.
......Let me go, man, he pleaded. I was just trying to scare her.
......You succeeded, I said. And now I'm returning the favor.
......I don't feel well, he said. My head hurts.
......Yeah, a concussion will do that to you. I reached behind my back and pulled out his .22.
......Maybe if you weren't threatening her with this.
......I told you -- I was just trying to scare her!
......That why you burned her with cigarettes?
......He opened his mouth to say something, then stopped.
......I walked over to him, grabbed him by the back of his shirt, and hauled him to his feet. I pressed the muzzle of the pistol against his neck. Now, then, Cole, we're going to learn what fear is all about.
......I wasn't going to kill you, he said. Honest.
......I poked him with the gun. Turn around. Start walking down the ramp.
......He turned and staggered toward the boat ramp. I stayed right behind him, prodding him with the gun. He stopped at the water's edge. Now what?
......I grabbed one of his wrists and cut the tape from it. Can you swim?
......I've got a fucking concussion!
......Not my problem. Into the water.
......He turned around, and I put the gun in his face. The water or the gun, Cole. What's it gonna be?
......More flashes of lightning appeared off to the west. The storms must have cleared Detroit and Windsor by then. Cole shook, partly from the water, partly from the concussion, mostly from fear. Slowly, he turned and walked into the water.
......How far? he asked.
......He got knee-deep into the lake. In the distance, waves smashed against the breakers. Cole stopped again. It's cold. Let me out.
......Why? So you can scare Audrey ? Move it. I fired a shot over his head. Now!
......Cole shuffled as best as he could into the water. He got waist deep before he turned around again. What do you want from me? I'll do anything.
......He backed away from me, barely visible now in the rapidly fading light. I could still see him in the residual glow from the street lamp behind me. The water came almost to his neck.
......I'll just wash up on shore. They'll trace it back to you.
......I smiled, remembering a night two years before when another woman had called me for help. You think you're the first woman-beating scumbag I've made disappear?
......What do you want? I'll do anything! !
......Yes! Oh, God, it's freezing!
......Okay. Tell me the truth. What were you doing there tonight?
......I... I.... His teeth chattered now. I was going to kill her.
......I fired a shot to his left. The bullet skimmed the water close to his shoulder. I don't believe you.
......I... was... g-g-gonna frame you f-f-for it. Ooooh! Sh-sh-shoot Audrey... D-d-drop the gun... Y-y-you'd get blamed.
......No prints, wise ass.
......I'd say I l-l-left the g-g-gun with Audrey... He stopped to let his teeth chatter some more. Sh-sh-she dared m-m-me. T-t-taunted me all d-d-day.
......I checked the magazine. Three shots left. I closed it again. That the truth, Cole?
......Y-y-yes. He started breathing shallow, trying to gulp air. L-l-let me... out...
......She taunted you, did she? Why would she do that?
......R-r-rub my n-n-nose in the d-d-divorce. S-s-said she would s-s-suck you 't-t-til your b-b-balls t-t-turned b-b-blue. His speech was starting to slur.
......When did she start calling you?
......Th-th-this m-m-morning. His voice had grown weaker now. I shoved the gun in my waistband.
......Are you sorry?
......He looked like he was nodding. He could have cold, though.
......I can't hear you, Cole, I said.
......Yes! he bellowed. I could hear his teeth chattering loudly once he said it.
......Good boy, Cole. Come on out of the water.
......He stumbled toward the shore. When he reached the water's edge, I put my hand out to stop him.
......Here's how it's going to be, Cole. I'm going to take your car back to Cleveland. I'm going to ditch it on the Shoreway and let the cops take care of it. You can find your own way back to town.
......B-b-but that's f-f-forty m-m-miles!
......"So maybe you should start walking." He didn't seem to take the hint, so I took out the .22 again and made a show of checking the magazine. Three shots, Cole. I grabbed him by the collar once more and threw him down onto the ramp. I pointed the gun at his head once more. I told you that you weren't the first wife-beater I've made disappear. You and Audrey are now divorced. Do you understand that?
......He nodded. I don't think he could talk at this point.
......Good. Now if you ever go near Audrey again, if you lay a hand on her, threaten her, or simply look funny at her, I will hunt you down and kill you. Do you understand?
......He put up his hand in a defensive gesture. Kill me, he said between gasps. Got it.
......Now, you can wait here until dawn for the early fishermen. They can get you to a hospital. Or you can walk back to Route 2 and hitch a ride back to Cleveland. I don't care. The bottom line is if you ever go near Audrey again, I'll kill you. And they will never, ever find the body. Got it?
......His breathing had become less labored now. Got it.
......I turned and headed back to his car. An hour later, I left it on the Shoreway near downtown Cleveland. The police would tow it away in a few days. I walked the mile into downtown to catch a cab at the Marriott.
......Audrey greeted me at the door. Clad in a terry-cloth robe, she'd been up all night. Her breath smelled of whiskey and cigarettes. She threw her arms around me.
......Is he dead?
......I didn't return the embrace. He's alive. He's standing on the shoreline near Sandusky, wondering if he should hitch a ride home or to a hospital.
......You didn't kill him? she asked.
......I'm not a killer, Audrey. Shooting Cole would have been cold-blooded murder.
......She bit her lower lip. He'll come back.
......I shook my head. No, he won't. I said I'd kill him if he ever threatened you again. I meant it.
......I don't understand. You say you're not a killer, but you'll kill him if he comes back? What is this?
......I pushed my way past her and headed into the kitchen. Got any coffee?
......She grabbed my arm and tried to spin me around. No, I don't have any coffee. Killing him now, after he tried to kill us both, would be cold-blooded? But retaliating against him later isn't? What is this?
......I turned on her and shook off her hand. Not us, babe. You. You taunted him all day before going over to Jerry's. You had me all picked out, didn't you? Lonely man who packs a gun. Guy who's got a rep for pounding on a few abusive types in the past. Sorry, sister, but you played me."
......She pressed against me and stroked my cheek. You're a lonely man, Nick. That's all I cared about.
......I reached into my pocket and held up Cole's keys. His car, his apartment... I held up the key that fit her door. And yours, Audrey. He had your key on him. Do you expect me to believe you didn't know he'd be here tonight? A man who burned you with cigarettes? Blackened your eyes? Cut you? You were setting me up to kill him, weren't you? Hoped he'd come while I was here, maybe catch us in bed together.
......No, Nicky. I just wanted to be with you. That's all.
......Well, you were with me, all right. I moved in on her until I was nose-to-nose with her. But Cole is still alive. You're going to have to live with that.
......I started to walk away, heading for the front door.
......I stopped and turned.
......She had a blank look on her face, her eyes clouded with confusion, or maybe it was whiskey. I love you.
......I snorted. Save it.
......As I walked out the front door, I heard a whiskey bottle shatter against the doorframe behind me. I kept walking.
Copyright © 2009 by Jim Winter.