Saturday, July 18, 2009

Skin Deep

by Bosley Gravel

Part 1: Murder, Murder Most Foul

Terrence had tied the knots well--there was little chance of them accidentally slipping tonight. She was spread out across the bed, a ball-gag in her mouth. A dozen empty bottles littered the floor. The stink of the booze and full ashtrays hung in the air. She wasn't old, but she might have easily been mistaken for it. She had started living hard from an early age and now only in her mid-twenties she looked a decade older. Her body was riddled with small badly executed tattoos, perhaps born of too much free time in the prison yard, or too much cheap whiskey on Saturday nights.

"I've got a special treat for you tonight, you sick slut."

He stood naked, one hand on his hip, the other pointing at her, trembling slightly.

She couldn't reply, yet her eyes reflected only apathy.

"See, I know, you know all about me and Katherine," he paused to wipe some the white powder from under his nose. "And Tex. I know you know about Tex."

The boredom fled, her eyes widened. The fear worked some gristle into what was previously flaccid.

"Oh yeah, I know you know," he laughed. "Don't look so scared, Julia, you like this S&M shit."

She seemed to forget she was tied up and tried to sit up, but the ropes did their job.

"You're a nasty one, that's for sure," he said. "But I didn't think you'd try to blackmail me."

She managed some muffled words through the ball-gag.

"Oh? You weren't? Please. Please. Please. I was born at night, but not last night."

He giggled and bent down and pulled out an electric clothes iron from under the bed, along with a baseball bat and some duct tape.

"Didn't I say it was going to be a special night?" Her eyes were dilated with fear and anger; she shook her head.

"I already told you, this is the way it's going to be," he said and plugged the iron into the wall. He considered the settings and turned a knob. The ball-gag did little to stifle the actual screaming. He ripped tape off the roll and sealed her mouth shut. While he was at it he double-checked all the knots, and then picked up the iron, licked his finger and touched it to the metal, it replied with a satisfying sizzle.

"Don't worry. I still like you. How does that saying go? I hate her so much I wouldn't piss on her if he was on fire? Well if it starts hurtin' too bad, you just blink twice and I'll cool you off, okay? Oh, and I hope you didn't forget our safe word . . . what was it again? "

She groaned in her throat.

He giggled, set the iron down for a moment, dug around on his night stand, found his drugs and inhaled some off the back of his hand. He grinned again, displaying yellow teeth and a tongue coated with white froth.

He picked up the iron again, it turned his hand in to a steal fist. Julia shook the whole bed frame in her attempts to get free. As he approached the phone rang, causing him to sigh loudly. He turned and picked it up.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm taking care of it. I'm going to find out how much she knows. That's all. Then, I'll take care of her. She'll talk. We need to make sure she hasn't told anyone else about it . . . Katherine, it's got to be done. Just like we did to Tex . . . I told you! Nobody will miss this stupid cunt except maybe the bartenders when they want to collect her tab. I've got to go."

He slammed the phone down.

"Dumb bitch ruined the mood," he said. "I'm going to get a beer. You want anything?"

She flailed around, her wrists and ankles were red and raw now, blood leaked through the abrasions.

"Didn't think so," he said. "Be back in a minute."

And he was . . . and he had brought not just a beer, but other stuff too, stuff from the kitchen, stuff that would help him get back in the mood.

Part 2: Final Respects

Katherine was about Julia's size, maybe a little taller, but she had the polished look of a well kept housewife. Her vapid eyes described a life that was much too easy.

Katherine stood in Terrence's bedroom grimacing in distaste.

"My God, what did you do? You've ruined the bed. Why?"

Terrence's eyes were mischievously guilty, he hung his head.

"I wanted her to talk."

"Talk? With her mouth tapped shut? What's wrong with you?"

He was silent for a few seconds.

"Oh, like you should be pointing fingers. You had me poison your husband."

"That was for--for money. This--this was not necessary."

"Forget it," he said. "We need to get rid of the body and I've got a plan."

Terrence unrolled a sheet of plastic meant to cover the floors when painting. He had already cut the ropes.

"Lord, this room stinks," Katherine said.

"She shit herself," Terrence said with pride.

Katherine shook her head. Terrence hoisted the corpse up in his arms and got her on to the plastic and rolled her body up in it and taped it up.

"Now I've got some old carpet in the garage. We're going to wrap her up in the carpet and put it in the back of my truck. I'll need some help with that."

"Okay," she said, "Then what?"

"We bury her."


"You'll see, you'll see."

* * *

It was a humid night in the middle of the great state of Texas. The lights of Austin hovered in the air, bejeweling the horizon like the crown of some decedent king. The sky threatened a shower with rumblings from the clouds, and warm confident winds whisked the branches of the trees.

The truck followed the winding roads to the top of hill. The gates to the cemetery were locked. Terrence pushed Julia's sickeningly light corpse over the top of the stone fence. It hit the ground with a soft thump. He tossed a shovel after the body and linked his fingers and offered them as a step for Katherine.

"You're not going to do what I think you are, are you?"

"Probably," he said, as she stepped into his hands and he pushed her up.

"I'm rich," she said. "Why am I doing this? Tell me that."

"'Cause we had a deal."

She disappeared over the wall, he took a running jump and scaled the short wall on the first try.

* * *

The clouds covered the stars; there was no moon tonight. Katherine held the flashlight as Terrence dragged the plastic wrapped corpse towards the graves. They found the tomb stone easily, it was shaped like an oil drum, Terrance read the epitaph aloud, it said:

Here Lies Tex
The dude with the crude
May he rest in peace.

He giggled. "What a joker."

"I don't like this," she said.

"Just shut up and hold the flashlight."

He peeled back the sod, and started digging. The humid air drew beads of sweat on him almost immediately. His muscles were lean and hard from years of manual labor and he made short work of the digging.

"I remembered what you said," he said. "That Tex had it in his will to not be embalmed and to be buried in a pine box he built himself. Makes it easier on us."

He pried the lid up with shovel and looked down

"I can't look," Katherine said.

"Ahh, shit, give me the flashlight. Holy hell, he stinks worse then the slut. It's a wonder what two weeks will do--"

Katherine turned her back, "Hurry up."

He giggled again, and pulled Julia's corpse down into the grave and got it laid down on top of Tex. The lid wouldn't fit anymore, so he just set it on top of them, pushed it down with his foot and started filling the hole back up with moist earth.

"Come hold the flashlight, you chicken shit," he said. Katherine turned back around.

"What did he look like?" she asked quietly.

"All rotten, now hold this," he handed her the flashlight.

She shined it on the hole as he filled it back up. Within thirty minutes he was already laying the sod back down.

"See? You'd never know there is two corpses in their now," he said.

"Yes, a veritable criminal mastermind," she retorted.

"A what?"

"Never mind, let's get out of here."

Part 3: Waking Nightmare

He had been floating in oil, swimming, eating, drinking, oil--the darkness was inky, thick. He imagined himself a whale in a sea of blackness, and then a slim sea otter gliding through the nothing.

Sometimes he was back on his Daddy's ranch eating watermelon on the porch. He was just a boy then, learning the ranching trade. Other times he was a horse running across the open plains of the dry southwest, stopping occasionally and sniffing the ground as he grazed. It was here he found oil and turned into a man again and dug a well. The oil flowered from the ground, filling the air with black beautiful crude. And then he was back in the oil-sea, swimming, drinking, rubbing his belly, swimming across the great Nothing, the Great All-Gone.

He was free and untamed. It had been perhaps a few hours ago, or might have been a year or only a day--time had no meaning here--when he had first sensed the Other in his oil heaven. It was a filly, and she was in season. He changed his form into Arabian stallion and galloped across the endless nothing. Her cries had been frightened at first, even on the edge of insanity, but now they were winding down into a focused rage that seemed to act like a beacon.

A sobering thought crossed his once blissful mind, perhaps it was Katherine, she had loved him after all and came looking for him in her death . . . it did feel a little like Katherine at first, but now, as he swam closer to the pulse of existence he realized it was not. This one had a sense of longing, of desire, of motivation--something that Katherine had never had.

He came upon the other and she was beautiful, her flesh was made of jellied oil. He let his wide nose run over her strange flesh. It was then that he understood that all the dreams he had, were only fantasies, and only she was real. He had never really felt that cold watermelon on the porch. Nor had he really ran across that plain . . . it had all been a trick of his mind, now trapped in the oil, it was not a place of freedom, it was a clever prison.

But she--she was real, he inhaled her scent and he mounted her.

They rutted in the void . . . every ghost neuron and nerve ending flared with pleasure. His horse body shook with pleasure. He even fancied that he was braying into the dark oil . . . but it wasn't oil anymore, it was an oppressive blanket of black earth, there had never been in oil . . . he climaxed and like shaking the last of a dream from his head, it streamed from him draining him of his stark loneliness . . . and they lay, compressed in the great All-gone . . .

"Who are?" he asked.

"My name is Julia."

"How did you get here?"



"The man who murdered you."

"I died of a heart attack."

"No. Poison. He was Katherine's accomplice. Her lover."

"Buttermilk," he said angrily.

"Oh yes, it's true. He murdered me too. I've seen pictures they sleep in your bed. The ways he's had her, every little fold, every little cranny."

He stamped his equine feet on the nothing, but it only frustrated him more.

"No. Katherine loved me."

"Loved your money. you know the truth."

He stamped harder, still to no satisfaction.

"That gold digging bitch."

"What are you going to do about it?"

He was in the form of a man now, punching wildly at the nothing, his fist caught a solid wall now. Julia grinned in the darkness.

"That's right, Cowboy. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to kill that whore."


"I said kill!"

He punched harder now, and with each swing the wall resisted more.

"What about her lover?"

"I'll kill him too!" he yelled.

Julia started pounding the wall too. Tex felt the sudden comfort of his favorite boots as they became real on his feet and began kicking wall, it cracked away spilling moist earth all around them.

"What are we going to do?" she asked.


They both clawed at the dirt now, digging upwards the oppressive earth no match for their grim determination. And they were out, under a cloudless sky, the moon full. Tex stood, spat maggots and rot to clear his throat. He looked to the moon, twisted his neck and his spine popped in the nearly silent night.

"Damned, trick back," he grumbled.

He offered his hand to Julia. She stood and pushed the plastic down around her like she was removing an elegant dress. She pulled the tape from her mouth and removed the ball gag, her teeth were only jagged shards now. The strain of helping her pushed some gray intestine out of Tex's stomach, he caught it in his hand and pushed it back in. He tied some of the plastic around his stomach to keep it from happening again.

"How do I look?" Julia asked, the moonlight illuminated her remaining teeth. A series of triangles were scalded into her torso where Terrence had done his work.

"Just fine," he said. "What about me?"

"Well, to be honest, you'd look a little better with a nose."

His hand went where his nose once was.

"Am I--am I still dead?"

"Look around, Cowboy," she spun around as if pointing out all the graves. "We are all dead here."

He reached back into the dirt of his grave, scrambled his hand into the damp mud and earth, found his hat and adjusted the brim, and slapped it on the top of his head. He checked his side for the sheath of his bone handled work knife. It was present and accounted for.

"You cold? You want my jacket?"

"No," she said, "I'm fine. I feel--I feel strangely numb."

He offered his hand, "Come on little filly, we've got a ways to go."

* * *

Julia stood on the side of the road, naked, her thumb out. It didn't take long before a van stopped. A college aged kid with a turned up pug nose, was driving. Two others were in the back getting high on marijuana.

"Holy shit, lady--" she grabbed him by the throat as Tex opened the back door to the van.

The moon gazed down on the scene below and like a single sentient eyeball it seemed to watch curiously, as the screams drifted up towards the darken sky and the stars twinkled over the Texas night.

Part 4: Best-laid Plans

Terrance and Katherine were in the jacuzzi when her cell phone rang. Katherine spoke quietly for a moment and set it back down on the table. Her face had been red from the heat and recent stimulation Terrence had graced her with, but now the blood was drawn away perhaps to the back of her skull where it began to throb.

"What's your problem?" he asked. "Who was that?"

"The police," she said.

"Oh shit. The police? What did they want?"

"They said, well they said Tex's grave was . . . was disturbed."

"Disturbed? They found Julia?"

"No," she replied. "They said it was empty."


"They said somebody might ransom the corpse. Or it might just have been a random act of--"

"We're caught," he said. "If not now, then later."

Despite the hot water of the jacuzzi he was shivering.

"I can't go back to jail," he said. "I'm too pretty, they like to do things to me."

"Shut up," she said, and picked up her cell phone.

"Who are you calling?"

"Howard, my lawyer," she said. "I think we need to take a vacation."

She called and calmly explained she needed to liquidate her new assets quickly, quietly and would happily make it worth Howard's time.

* * *

Dawn had come and they had parked the van the off the highway and rested while the sun was up. Now it was just setting, the heat of the spring day slowly faded.

"It's going to look silly," Julia said.

Tex put a second coat of super glue on the edges of the little lump of flesh in his hand and stuck it to his face. He had planted it crookedly and it looked absurd. She was dressed now in the loose fitting clothes of the original van driver: a thin blue T-shirt that declared 'I get more ass than a toilet seat', and pair of khaki shorts. The burns over her body were oozing rot causing the clothing to stick.

"I just can't wait to say hello," he said. "I'm going to tear that bitch's arms off and shove them straight up her lady-parts."

Julia laughed, "Oh yes, it's going to be a wonderful night of fun and games."

* * *

Katherine and Terrence were sleeping when they heard the pounding on the door. Terrence sat up, and reached for his gun on the nightstand.

"Oh no," Terrence said. "It's the cops."

"I'll go check," she said. "We've just got to stall them until tomorrow, and put that thing away."

Before she could even get out of bed a noise echoed off the marble floor, a noise that could not be mistaken--the front door had been kicked in.

"We are here you murdering dogs!"

Katherine breathed in, and seeming lost the ability to exhale . . . after what seemed like an eternity she spoke, her voice trembling in her throat, "That's Tex."

"Oh Terry! You here somewhere, too? I hope so."

"Oh my god," Terrence said.

Terrence was up, he slammed the door shut to the bedroom and locked it. It was only a moment later when the pounding on the door started. He fired all his rounds into the door. It only proved to weaken the wood, and seconds later their fists had penetrated. Julia stuck her head through the hole.

"Hello there lover, long time no see!"

Terrence threw the gun at them, grabbed Katherine's arm, and they fled to the next room, the attached study. Julia pulled her head out of the hole and Tex broke the door down.

"They went that way," Julia said, pointing to the closed door.

"Hehe, no lock on that one," Tex said. They opened it up in time to find both Katherine and Terrence trying to get out through the window. Tex grabbed them both by the ankles and pulled them in. Julia slammed the window down.

The walls were full of books, and a massive cherry wood desk dominated the floor.

"You ornery little cuss," Tex told Terrence as he grabbed him by the back of the neck. Katherine begged for Tex to let her go.

"I've always had a soft spot for you Katherine, I knew you were fucking this little piece of shit . . . and I let it go . . . but I don't think you'd go so far as to kill me---"

"It was all his idea," Katherine said.

"--a soft spot, that's why I can't hurt you."

She was smiling and nodding.

"Julia, will you hurt her for me?"

"With pleasure," she replied and grabbed her by the hair.

"You two took our lives," Tex said, "And there is no way to make it right."

He slammed Terrence's face into the desk.

Katherine was crying now, afraid to even move.

Julia pointed one gnarled finger at Katherine, and raised it to her eye.

"If we blind them first it won't be so easy for them to go running around."

"I like your thinking," replied Tex.

Julia pressed her finger into Katherine's eye, Katherine screamed, and Julia slapped her other hand over Katherine's mouth. As the scream was stifled the phone rang. Julia glanced over to it, not knowing what the sound was at first, then wondering if it was the alarm company, or perhaps the police. But no, it was the fax machine. It spat out half a dozen sheets of paper, one sheet slipped from the tray and floated towards Tex. He grabbed it with his free hand, and glanced at it.

"Son of a bitch! You're cashing out my fortune?" He said to Katherine.

She couldn't reply, her mouth still covered by Julia's hand.

"Says you're going to meet the lawyer at the bank and he's going make them transfer all the money to an account in the Bahamas, and he'll give you the airplane tickets."

Julia grabbed the rest of the paperwork and glanced at it.

"Says all she needs to do is sign that document there, and it's a done deal."

"Now," Tex said, rather calmly. "I'm pissed," he balled up his fist, and pulled it back, ready to turn Terrence's face into raw meat.

Julia said, "Hold on now, I've got an idea."

"What kind of idea?"

"Let's tie these two up and I'll tell you all about it."

Julia stood up on her tip toes and whispered the hole where the remainder of Tex's ear hung by a flap of skin.

"Now that suits me, just fine," Tex said.

* * *

Katherine signed the papers, though the signature was a bit shaky. Julia re-tied the rope around Katherine's hands and they pulled it tight over a beam in the ceiling.

"I don't understand," she said.

"You don't need to," Julia said and put fresh duct tape on her mouth.

"Which one first?" Tex asked pulling out his knife and testing the edge with his thumb.

"I say Terrence," she said.

"Ok. I haven't done this kind of work since I was young man, but they say you never forget."

Julia giggled, "Just like me, I never forget either. By the way, Terrence, our safe word is blueberry. Now Tex, rock that sadistic bastard's world."

* * *

Howard met Katherine and Terrence at the bank lobby. He was thin man with straight black hair. His suit was perhaps more fitting for a undertaker than a lawyer.

"You are looking well, Katherine. Although, a bit tired?"

"Haven't been sleeping well . . . you know. Bad dreams."

Terrence nodded, "Me too."

"Well," said Howard, "Let's do it. None of my business, but can I ask why?"

"Just not feeling safe here in Texas anymore," Katherine replied.

Howard shrugged, "Your money, your rules."

Terrence smiled, "Let's get moving."

Howard went ahead, and Terrence leaned over to whisper something to Katherine. She quickly pulled out a Kleenex from her purse and wiped away a drizzle of blood from coming down her neck.

* * *

In the airport lobby, they marveled at themselves in front of the mirrors.

"Nice nose," Julia said.

"You don't look so bad yourself," Tex replied, and patted his now flat stomach. "I've been wanting to lose some weight," he said.

"Simply dashing," she said. "But you know what they say about good looks--they only go skin deep."

"How long," Tex asked, as he put on a new hat, "do you think they could live with no hides?"

"A day or two? Let's go before we miss our flight. I want to work on my tan."

And they were off.




Bosley Gravel was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas
and southern New Mexico. He has worked numerous dead end jobs, and now makes a living working on computer networks and various related activities. He has been making up stories from an early age, and from time to time they end up on paper.

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