Rick Hollon is a sometime archaeologist and full-time stay at home dad in New York. He loves photography and building Lego spaceports.
He hit ’em hard. He hit ’em like hail on a tin roof, hit ’em like the words of the pastor afire after a Saturday night of booze and burned out women. He’d rolled in with his suitcase and his watch big and bright, smiling his way into a hundred parlors and a dozen bedrooms. He had a car, by God—a goddamn chariot, chrome and space-age fins and a backseat wide open like the highway. When he glided into those suckers’ driveways, it was like the Martians touching down. He brought them GE’s and RCA’s and Philcos, table TV’s with matching stands, wood and brass boxes with knobs the size of a child’s fist. They snapped it all up until their checkbooks were gutted and their wallets flaccid. Now the air in that town was hot with television waves, searing into him from every house, and their money burned deep in his pockets.
He grinned and stood with his hands flipping the tails of his new suit over his hips and felt the heat baking his face like the back of a cathode tube. He was king, and the king deserved some R and R after a campaign like this. He deserved a medal like goddamn Patton. The frequencies in the air hurt his teeth, but he slipped into the car and the engine roared to life and washed his mind clean. Time to get what was his.
His gleaming chariot slid down the street. To either side what had once been gingham-neat lawns grew abandoned now. Weeds twisted up along white picket fences. Cars rusted dusty in driveways, hoses and buckets discarded and sun-faded. As dark swallowed the town he could see the blue pallor in every window, like a hundred x-ray machines framing the marks’ lives onto the glass for him and him alone to enjoy. Every house, every family was outlined for him, transfixed in the frequency of their own radiation.
It was enough to make a man’s spit run dry. He popped the latch of the glove box. The thing had heft, real American manufacturing. It clapped down and there was the bottle. The salesman licked his lips and spun the cap away with his thumb. The car nosed across the white line but it didn’t matter, the road was his, the town was his, no one would get in the way of the king’s chariot. The whiskey filled him like amber blanketing a fly. Amber—that was goddamn good. Amber was elektron to the Greeks. The whiskey made him a conduit, an attractor, a node electric. The town flowed through his wires.
Her driveway was like any other in town, a pink tricycle crushed under the flat and crumbling tire of a derelict Pontiac. The mailbox gave way with a dull crack as the salesman’s car swooped across her lawn. He took the bottle with him, jumping the three steps to the door. He grinned and hollered, “Honey, I’m home!”
Such a nice neighborhood—the door opened at a touch, a yellow spark kissing his fingertips as they brushed the knob. Entering the house was like shutting himself into an oven. He found the family sitting in the living room as if at attention, hands prim in laps, feet flat on the floor. Their shadows did the moving for them, leaping in the light of the TV like a string of men drying beneath a gallows.
He slipped out of his new suit jacket and folded it over the fat plush back of a La-Z-Boy. The lady of the house noticed him then, her once starched dress faded and stained, her eyes feverish with TV light. He didn’t want to see what was in her eyes. The king hadn’t come for that.
He swung at once into his pitch. “Might I interest you in our fine selection of services?” He swept across the thick carpet to collar her wrists with one hand, her skin almost scalding his palm, and took a swig from the bottle in the other. “Special low rates for loyal customers. Repeat business lets us know we do our job well.” He pulled her to her feet like rolling a child’s red wagon, empty and easy and weightless, unresisting. Her eyes wouldn’t leave his face and he ground his teeth and turned away, yanking her along behind him. She vibrated at a frequency that stung his bones, but she came. They always came. His tongue felt burnt and hard and unresponsive. It hadn’t been his best pitch.
He pulled her upstairs and flung her onto the bed. His ears rang as if his fillings had caught the radio murmur of a hidden nest of Reds. After one last swallow he was careful to set the whiskey on the nightstand, clattering aside glass bottles half filled with pills. He undid his tie. His shirt still had the satisfying snap of fresh starch as he hauled it over his head. The woman of the house lay where she had been thrown, eyes fixed on him—eyes hot and blue as if the picture tube shone from them.
“Act now and receive our fast-acting solvent. A lady’s friend, indispensible around the home.” In spite of the heat his teeth chattered. He kicked off his shoes and stepped out of his trousers. Black socks fixed in place with suspenders—he left them on. No time for that.
He straightened and found himself staring into the black hole of her pocket revolver. Her hand trembled and he laughed as the gun spat two bullets, crack crack, the sound faint and far away. The air was thick with gunsmoke and vibrations. He grabbed the bottle by the neck and swung it sidearm into her face. She spilled off the side of the bed in a shower of glass and flint dust and didn’t move a muscle. He sat in the glass on the bed and touched the blood drooling down from the new holes in his chest, hissing like a downed wire in a storm.
“Customer service and money-back guarantee,” he said. His voice was like a broadcast out of tune. He was still gripping the neck of the bottle so he threw that against the wall but he didn’t hear it hit. The ringing in his ears filled his head and scattered the signal. It didn’t matter. He owned this town, he was the king and he would get what was his. There were other towns down the line, other marks, other sales to make. The ringing flowed from his head through his chest, down the nerves of his arms and knitted him into the hot wash of the television waves. He grinned, scarcely noticing the syrupy blood boiling up his throat and slopping between his teeth. None of it mattered.
The ringing filled him and then ceased. Static.