Southeast of Eden

CHAPTERS 1-3 | SOUTHEAST OF EDEN

PART 1

Blood Sport

(Aaron's Story)

 

"Love is just a game" she said,
and I said,
"You mean like badminton with
badminton birdies and racquets and
Gatsby summer afternoons
on the lawn?"
"No" she said, "more like a
blood sport
like bull fighting where
hearts get mangled and
bodies get trampled in the
streets of Pamplona and
OFF WITH HIS EARS!"
and I thought,
Oh,
THAT kind of game.

…the Author.

 

SOMEWHERE IN LA



"Just kissing you was like a telephone call from God!
Why then did you go away and ride to hounds?"

...Lawrence Durrell, "Quinx", Penguin Books, USA, 1985

 

 

After heading to the grocery store to pick up a quart of milk and a box of animal crackers, Jade must have had a little trouble navigating the three-block return trip to the little white house in Iowa City we shared, because it was a week later that she called me collect from Paris.

Three days later she waltzed through the door and collapsed in my arms without saying a word.   No hello, no excuses, no suitcase, nothing: Just a pile of obscure French novels in a blue violin case and a fake suntan.  When she kissed me, I tasted a sudden sweetness sticking to the roof of my mouth and my teeth rattled from just saying her name. But for the life of me, I couldn't recall her ever looking so frightened and lost before.  It was as if she'd spent the last few months in Tanzania looking for that Dr. Livingston guy.  Judging by the way she was clinging to me for dear life, I thought she just might die right there from loneliness, and sure enough, she wasted no time steering me into the bedroom, holding on to me so tenderly I thought if I so much as kissed her, I might break her.  And when she arched her back and collapsed in a quivering heap beside me, I thought maybe I had.  But by the time I realized how wrong I was, there was nothing much else for me to do but lay back and stare in rapt wonder as she began ripping my buttons off, one by one, with her teeth. Very impressive.

For Jade, making love had always seemed as natural as butterflies floating in the wind. She seemed born to it, a natural, her nakedness a gift or a sacrifice; it was hard to tell back then. It had always come so easily for her, even the first time. And her not fully understanding that she had that kind of sexual power only intensified the pleasure I took in getting sucked into the mystery of all that ferocious beauty.

Being cornered like that, my body staggered and strained against the inevitable chains that always seemed to come with that kind of seductive control, but I was no match for her. Even as I penetrated the deepest center of her I couldn't be sure I'd really moved her in any genuine way. It wasn't physical; it was darker than that, as if she'd risen above it all, looking down, as determined as a suicidal moth, diving towards the candlelight. Suddenly, she twisted her broiling body over on top of mine, her breath so hot it bleached my bones, and she drove me down into the soaked sheets, clawing her way through whatever token resistance I had left, taking anything she could find in me worth taking. And when she was done, she stopped dead, leaving me breathless, gagging for air, unsure if she'd even been there at all, or rather had been nothing but a sweet dream gone deliciously haywire, all that furious beauty wasted.

After surviving an hour of desperate, bone chilling "love making" (or whatever it is two over-sexed otters in heat do), I still wasn't entirely certain whether or not we'd actually been fucking or fighting for our lives. My lips had already turned blue and I'd begun to shudder in dread, knowing that for some reason I could never quite fathom, the perverse fiend hiding inside of her would soon be making its usual plans to rip my heart out. And as if on queue, with a slow agonizing moan, she folded herself up against me like a shattered accordion, the wind all knocked out of her, and she said, "I love the hole in your socks where your toe goes, I love the skeletons in your closet and the places inside your heart where you hide everything, and I'll even love your dry white bones when you're dead. Jesus, I'd even kill for you. I wouldn't even think twice about it. Why is it you can't love me like that, hmm?"

She had no idea what I'd do for her, or for that matter, what I'd already done for her. But what difference did it make really? She'd asked me that question a thousand times and I never could come up with an answer that seemed to satisfy her. Oh, I knew what she wanted to hear. The words were there, trapped like caged birds in my throat, but I knew damned well what would happen if I told her how much I needed her. Or loved her. Even the words seemed to know how manipulative a ghoul she'd become if I ever gave her that kind of control, and they stayed hidden like the shrewd little cowards they were. Then, aching inside her skin, she crawled up against my silence and whispered, "Fine. I get the picture."

But she didn't get the picture at all. Right from the start I'd known Jade was the kind of woman men killed each other over. But I didn't mind. I knew a lot of people that needed killing. It wouldn't be long before she'd find out just how far I'd go to keep her safe, but she wasn't listening back then. She had convinced her insecure little self that I didn't love her, that nobody loved her, believing instead she was doomed, about to keel over and die at any given second, deserted, stabbed seventy-two times and wrapped up neat and tidy in Saran wrap at the bottom of a polluted trash dump pond. I thought the least I could do was give her some hope. Make her feel special. So I said, "If you croak, and Brigitte Bardot takes off another ten pounds, dyes her hair purple, gets herself a farmer tan, and starts smoking weed and pouring cocaine on her Sugar Pops for breakfast, she can play you in the movie version of your misbegotten life."

That didn't exactly come out quite as special as I had planned, but I thought she might take it as a compliment. I should be so lucky. "Did you say misbegotten?" she snapped.

Too late for an official retraction I stood my shaky ground, "Yes I did, and I'm sticking with it."

"My Lord, what's become of you? You've been watching those artsy-fartsy, sob sister, Brit flicks behind my back again, haven't you? I wish you'd stop doing that."

And that's about how it usually went. Normally I had about a three-day window between her bouncing like an epileptic jackrabbit off the walls and my eating crow after she left town, so I had to get in whatever crack I could whenever I got the chance. Was it any wonder we spent half our time fucking each other's lights out? Nobody had to say anything. Even the snatches of conversation I could remember in my rare moments of sobriety were fractured and disconnected somehow, playing over and over in my head like old scratchy phonograph records. It was always like that. Talking nice to her never got me anywhere. So I thought I'd change my tact, throw her off a bit. Maybe tell her something profound. So I said, "I think you must have tried on sadness when you were a little kid, like it was a suit of armor or something, because it obviously melted to your bones when you weren't looking, and just look at you now, walking around like Don Quixote, swinging at windmills with a two hundred pound lead lance, and falling on your face all the time. Why is that?"

Apparently she didn't think that was very profound at all and shot back at me, "Don Quixote? Why can't you just read Playboy like all the other over-educated pecker heads in this trailer trash town? As if you could read a stop sign in your normal state of inebriation. I can think of a lot better things you could be doing with your time. Saving me from myself would be a good place to start."

"Are you kidding me? In my condition I couldn't save stamps."

"Well at least you could try to do something besides drinking yourself into oblivion and walking around angry at everybody all the time. Why are you so mad at me for anyway? What did I ever do to you?"

"You mean besides smashing my 'Hound Dog' 45?"

"You played that thing twenty six times in a row. And what's with that 'ain't nothin' but a hound dog' bullshit anyway? Jesus, what's that supposed to mean?"

"It's about a hound dog with rabbit issues, Jade."

"Never caught a rabbit, my ass! It's about a self-centered, limp-dicked misogynist who doesn't want to be friends with his girlfriend anymore because he thinks she doesn't have any class and won't chase rabbits for him and all she does is cry about it all the time. Who writes that crap?"

"It's only a rock and roll record, Jade."

"Not anymore it's not. It's a thousand pieces of black vinyl shit lying at the bottom of a garbage can where it belongs. That's what it is."

Sensing that our macabre conversation was headed nowhere, Jade made her first official declaration of the day: "Well, you're on your own tonight, Bubba. I just got a new job bar tendering at the Hawk in Coralville and I've gotta run. The pay sucks but the booze is free. What's not to like?" With a shrug she jumped into a pair of jeans and one of my T-shirts, flipped her purse across her shoulder, and as cool as a Siamese cat, wagged her pretty tail at me and slithered off into the treacherous night. Trying to hide my obviously transparent desperation, I shouted after her, "When will I see you again?"

"In your dreams, Slick, in your dreams."

And that was that. Not exactly Romeo and Juliet but one can always hope. I was too tired to hang myself so I just lay there on the porch, watching a star falling out of the black sky, wishing it would fall on me. It's no wonder I drank so much. Who wouldn't? I gave it all I had, trying to get through to her. Like the time, right before she'd gotten back from Paris, when I tiptoed over to the couch where was taking a nap, thinking I'd try to open her up to the possibility of there being a life out there for her somewhere, in spite of her having barely survived a childhood from hell. But even asleep she looked as uncomfortably unpredictable as a teething baby lion, and I should have known better, but I thought, unwisely, what the hell, why not give it a shot? So when she awoke, I said: "You must have dreams, Jade, something to hold on to. Something you believe in. God knows I dream about you all the time."

She replied sardonically, "Is there nothing you won't say to get laid? Even if I did ever have any dreams, they all died before I was six, so what's the point? Why bother?"

"Jade, I swear, you better track down that wounded beast you've got chained up inside your head and shoot the son-of-a-bitch before it breeds. Why is it that you choose to keep torturing that innocent little girl inside of you instead? What did she ever do to you?"

"She died. She was just another accident waiting to happen, lying around all the time like road kill. There were so many tire tracks across her body by the time she was twelve she just thought it was her job to get run over. So I ran her over."

I thought to myself about all the horrifying terror that hid inside the sweet child I'd once played "hide and seek" with in my father's haymow, and I just had to ask her, "How can you think so little of yourself to think like that? There isn't one boy in all of Johnson County who wouldn't cut his balls off for you."

"Then why the fuck don't they? It would sure save me a lot of trouble."

"They would. All of us would. Well, maybe my left one. But I'm serious Jade, there's still time to pull yourself out of that tar pit you've got yourself trapped in."

"I don’t think so," she uncharacteristically stammered. Time ran out on me the day I was born. What did I ever do to deserve a life like that?" And in a little girl's voice she mumbled, " I would have given up and cashed it in years ago, but I think I was just too far gone by then to go."

That was one of the few times Jade had ever alluded verbally to her wretched childhood and all that pain inflicted on her by her hog shit father, Oscar. I could see the narrow, salty river that wandered down through the black and blue makeup around her eyes. A lazy little river of tears. I couldn't stop them anymore. I could only hold on to her like she was a sandbag leaking all over my shoes and stick my finger in the dike, holding back a terrifying Mississippi flood. And just when I thought I had her calmed down, she shuddered and then whispered, "You know that light at the end of the tunnel that they always talk about? The one you're supposed to see when you die? Well, I see that light every night, right before I go to sleep."

Sure enough by morning Jade's Librium, or whatever her drug du jour was, must have worn off, because, after finding out one of the art galleries that sold my work in New York wanted me to come out for a one-man show and that I wasn't taking her with me due to her new job, she nearly blew a gasket. Holding back the fireworks, she said maybe it was time she shuffled off south and got away for awhile: Somewhere warm. You know, suck up a little sunshine and maybe teach me a lesson about my fear of commitment while she was at it.

So, after strapping herself into the brand new 1968 SS/Z28 Camaro that I'd just bought, she headed for Mexico. With a pathetic, last gasp goodbye I pleaded shamelessly with her, “What about your job? What about me? You can't go, I love you. I always will. I swear to Jesus, I’m a dead man without you!” Fortunately, I wasn't psychotic enough yet to actually say that out loud, and the words just lay there dying in my throat. It was about all I could bare, watching her wrap the orange scarf I'd given for Christmas around her neck like it was the Panamanian National Flag and sail away beneath the rotten-peach-colored sky.

Three weeks later I got a letter from somewhere in LA that she may as well have written in invisible ink for all I could make of it. Holding it out away from my nose like a dead stinking fish, I read all about her tango dancer from Argentina, her Spanish bullfighter from Pamplona, the two Brazilian lesbians she'd spent the weekend with seducing fourteen-year-old Mormon ballerinas from Salt Lake City, and how pretty LA is when you’re stoned on smack, until that is, the night comes down like a hop head house thief and knifes you in the eyes. In the dying twilight I shook myself awake, so sick at heart I had to gag down half a bottle Old Granddad to get to sleep, only to sink into an angry nightmare I didn’t wake up from for two days.

It was a long time before my little prodigal angel from Hell drifted back home. She stepped down from the train like Greta Garbo, and as steam nearly swallowed her whole, she glided into my arms so fast I thought it was myself I was holding. "Where you been?" she moaned, like it was me who'd gone missing. A golden swirl of starlight sat on her head like a French poet’s beret, cocked to the side, perching rusted and broken on her beautiful raven curls. And as she maneuvered me into the bedroom, she growled, "Fasten your seat belt, Bubba, this is going to be one hell of a bumpy ride."

Somewhere during our unexpectedly frenzied reverie, it suddenly came to me that Jade had always fallen for guys with records and tattoos and that dirty kind of down-in-the-mouth cowboy look. Criminals mostly. Safecrackers, grifters, car thieves, wife beaters, baby snatchers, you name it. Then there was me, no priors, no record, nothing, clean as a born-again Boy Scout. I never stole anything worth stealing. And after we'd spent the next six days mostly in bed, I woke up one blurry May morning to find Jade looking through my high school yearbook, reading what her best friend Gwendolyn Nesbitt had written under my class picture. Shit! I thought I'd burned that damned thing with all the others years ago, but I must have missed that one. Good ole Gwen had a way with words. She was positively gifted. I never knew there were so many words you could use to describe somebody's dick. After Jade finished her luridly graphic anatomy lesson, she quietly packed a grocery bag with Fruit Loops, bananas, a half eaten bag of Oreos, and all of my Dylan 8-tracks, climbed up behind a convicted arsonist driving a silver Suzuki crotch rocket, and yelled back over her shoulder, “Call me if you get arrested, sweetie.”

And that was all she wrote. Except for the fact her biker boy toy treated her like dirt. I mean, he treated her just like compost, and after awhile he ended up back in Attica, which is where he belonged in the first place as far as I was concerned.

Sure enough, about a month later, Jade stumbled back up the lane, all bandaged up and crying, looking like a snow white barn owl with two black eyes. As fed up as I've ever seen her, she whimpered forlornly, "Ok, you win. I give up. Take me back, I've had enough."

After screwing up my last remaining semblance of courage, I said, “Uh, sure, ok, no problem. But first, I've got this job to do for this guy I know downtown. This connected guy named Guido, and like, could I borrow a car, and a blowtorch, and some duct tape. And a gun. And maybe a pair of panty hose?”

"Well, screw me black and blue and kiss my butt too while you're at it" was all Jade had to say.

That very next morning I made the first unwise decision of the day and decided to tell her I was going to East Lansing to visit my buddy, Dallas Quick, who was on a full ride rodeo scholarship at Iowa State, the same one I should have been on if I hadn't gotten drunk one morning and got my leg chewed up by a pissed-off mama hog that I had accidentally cornered in the barn. And off Jade stomped in a furious huff and locked herself in a closet with a box of Frosted Flakes, a bottle of milk, a spoon, and the telephone. Needless to say, she wasn't exactly fond of most of my friends. She called them all redneck cow trash sheep fuckers and wouldn't get caught dead being seen with any one of them in the light of day. I had to admit, most of them were juicers to the core and they all hated dopers, and God knows Dallas was the worst of the lot. One morning he and I pounded down a six-pack of Schlitz before ninth grade civics class and after a month or two of that, the teacher kicked us both out school for a week.

Jade had heard about that sordid affair and once Dallas started preaching on and on one day about her little pharmaceutical problem, she called him a hypocritical asshole cracker lush bastard and then lit into him with her purse like he was a piñata. I don't know how Dallas took the beating she gave him. There ought to be some kind of law requiring a person to get a permit to carry a purse like that.

In about twenty minutes, right on queue, some sorry sack of shit, mobster wannabe numbers runner who was obviously wired so tight on black beauties that he was foaming at the mouth, came howling up the lane in a blood red, custom chopped Harley Softail Deuce, squishing half a flock of Guinea hens under his tires, and holding on to those handlebars like they were welded to his fingers. What it was about Jade and those virus incubators on wheels is beyond me. He must have thought he was Roy Rogers on Trigger saving Dale Evans from a prairie fire the way he grabbed Jade's arm, dragged her up behind him, and shot straight into the flat black April dawn faster than an out of control bottle rocket. I shouted at Jade through the half opened kitchen window, actually getting the words out this time, "I won't be here when you come back, Goddamnit."

And as she disappeared down the lane in a cloud of bloody gravel and bird feathers, cocky as a rooster she shouted back over her shoulder, "Yes you will!"

If she looked back again before she disappeared, I must have missed it. I was busy pouring gasoline on my wounds and burning every bridge she'd ever crossed.



Massacre in the Bitterroots

 

A few weeks later, after Jade had crawled out from under that leper colony reject biker she'd gone off with and returned home, we somehow managed to agree on a kind of warped truce. To celebrate I came up with a ludicrous plan to take her camping in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana. How I came up with such an ill-conceived idea is still somewhat of a mystery, but we had survived the last year with no visible scars, broken bones, or major felony arrests, and my inevitable draft notice hadn't arrived yet, so I thought, why not get away for awhile? Unfortunately, first thing in the morning, Jade declared that the trip was already an unmitigated disaster and that she loathed every second of it, and me, with equal disdain. And as Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" blared appropriately from our dime store transistor radio, she stood eerily erect, stripped down to nothing but cut-off Levis, a black silk brassiere, and cherry red high heels, and with a passion worthy of the finest Italian opera, began hurling a series of epithets at the indifferent rising sun, announcing that she had no intention of playing Betty Crockergoescountry for one more goddamned second. She was playing the part so convincingly that I thought it best to watch from a safe distance. But before I could find a place to hide, the bacon I'd been busy burning hissed like a pissed-off rattlesnake and spat grease on her bare legs. She howled like she'd been gut shot, her eyes turned red, and as her hair flamed up around her head like a Christmas wreath on fire, she snarled meaner than a cornered cougar on methamphetamine, her already bad mood morphing into a toxic cloud of bitter, inky blue smoke.

Ok, so maybe I shouldn't have told her we were going to a fancy schmansy European Spa in Jackson Hole instead of camping in the snow at eight thousand feet in the middle of an unseasonably chilly, late fall weekend. But I really thought a little fresh air would settle her nerves. Calm her down a little. What could it hurt? Maybe give her a new perspective on life. Keep her out of prison for indecent exposure for a day or two. But judging by the obscene insults she was chucking my way, I may as well have just shot her right between the eyes and been done with it. Love does that to sick people and I decided it might be smart to continue surveying the damage from the safety of a quarter inch of shatter proof glass and a half ton of American made steel. Peeking up through the window I watched her suck on a joint, inhale four eggs, wolf down a half pound filet mignon all by herself, and then wash it all down with my last bottle of 1978 St-Emillion, all the while daring me to so much as move.

Out of the corner of her eye, she shot me a look so ominous that I thought it must be an hallucination, but after wiping off what was left of her lipstick on one of my clean white Tshirts, her demeanor turned as coy as a fat tabby stoned on catnip. Slithering over to the car, she inched her fingers through the crack that I'd unwisely left in the window, and started cooing in my half-frozen ear like some exotic dove love machine. But she wasn't fooling anybody. I knew I had only begun to imagine the devastation she was about to unleash. Jade had always used her body like grave diggers use a spade, only she'd bury you quicker and nobody would be saying any Hail Mary's or tossing plastic pink roses on you when you hit bottom. And as if by the devil's own hand, the car door mysteriously opened and my little angel of death reached in and clinched my zipper in her icy, steel grip and she said, "Now I'll show you what camping is really all about!"

In the morning the sun struggled valiantly to rise in the blank slate sky but the freezing rain stopped it cold, and as mud squeezed up between our steaming bodies like syrupy, volcanic ooze, Jade crawled out from under me, looking for drier heat and a cup of coffee. Over her shoulder, she shot me that look schizophrenics get when they don't get their Thorazine on time, and like some primeval animal, she pawed the dirt and stared incredulously at the scattered shards of clothing that she'd fired through the open window the night before, and which now lay smoldering in the still warm embers and ash. She was not a happy camper, pardon the expression, and believe me, I knew I was about to pay dearly for this little turn of events.

Sure enough, after she'd changed clothes and put on a pair of my wool socks, my handmade Tony Llama boots, my Wranglers, my only pair of long underwear, and my last clean flannel shirt, I noticed a look in her eyes that was so cold I actually thought I saw icicles forming on her eyelashes. It was becoming very clear that she wasn't in the mood for doing dishes, so I cleaned up as best I could naked, trembling in the early morning frost, while Jade miraculously started a fire using soggy matches. But, much to her chagrin, she soon discovered that silk bras and panties don't burn worth a shit, so she skulked away to the car to warm up. Her pout was pure theater, but I had to admire the jaundiced deviousness in it. Apparently obsessed with the dramatic impact of her beauty, in spite of her total contempt for it, she's begun using it like a club lately, seducing anything that moved and reducing anything that couldn't be swayed into a whimpering mass of emotional Jell-O. She had never had a problem getting what she wanted from men, and apparently what she wanted that specific morning was for me to suffer a slow, tortuous, agonizing death. And like the suicidal masochist I'd become, I stumbled dumb as a box of pet rocks into the trap, unable to resist chirping:

"And isn't this a fine, glorious morning?"

That was not a good idea. She hated when I did that and shrieked, blowing a sleeping red tail hawk end over end right out of a live oak tree and half way to Texas. After that, the morning came alive with the skittering of a thousand squirrel feet leaving town. We all knew hell was coming, so I geared up fast for the inevitable massacre and bolted upright, taking my medicine like half a man, while bending myself into such a perverted, psychotic state that in my own mind's eye I had became so clinically disturbed, why even bother to fight it? Why not just lie back and stop crying about it since I could see I was dead meat anyway, especially if I so much as turned my back on her, which unfortunately, right about then, is exactly what I did.

Before I knew it, she started shoving fresh shells into a .357 Magnum that was bigger than she was and started picking off sparrows and crows, and blowing up cow shit and God knows what else. As the feathers flew, everything that could move ran for its life. And then, as the smoke drifted south and her long hair flailed away in the bitter wind, she jumped into my Camaro like a blind man at the Indianapolis 500, and drove off, kicking up mud, cinders, pigeon parts, a burned-up brassiere, and God knows what else, driving so fast she couldn't even take her hand off the wheel long enough to wave. And all I could do about anything was to stand there in my birthday suit, and watch her cowboy lips curl up at the edges while she smirked at me, having so successfully extracted her revenge. And as she shot past me, through the open window she screamed:

"I guess we know who wears the pants around here now, don't we, Bubba?"

 

Is Paris Burning?

 

When I finally hitchhiked half naked out of the Bitterroots and dragged my freezing butt back to our house in Iowa City, Jade was gone. But a few days later, I received a letter from Paris that may as well have been a coffin with dead leaves in it. The photograph I found inside looked nothing like Jade; it looked more like an old grainy black and white photo of a woman staring through a fence at Auschwitz. It could have been Jade, but the air had been sucked out of her cheeks and she looked lost inside a white lace dress that was at least a size too big for her. The solitary rings around her eyes seemed to melt into her face like candle wax, dripping wet streaks of hot, black charcoal into the soft, melancholy furrows around the tiny lines beneath her eyes. The heat rising from her body seemed to burn my fingers and I dropped the photo fast, looking for a way out of the house before the whole place went up in smoke.

Apparently, Jade had gotten married to some kind of plastic, ballet-dancing, wedding- cake doll boy in a bathhouse in front of a gay priest who looked suspiciously like the devil standing next to a smirking midget who held the ring. Standing next to him was a flower girl who was right straight out of the worst Fellini film ever made. It made me wonder what kind of heroin they must be pushing over there because Jade looked less than human, her once perfect skin turned moldy bread green and her Energizer Bunny smile gone missing, jolted flat and slack, her eyes as empty as a Civil War tomb. But what struck me dumb was how perfectly happy she looked.

After inhaling a half bottle of Jose Cuervo a week later, I gathered my emaciated body out of some muddy little nothing Mexican river of piss at dawn, and stared out a window that looked suspiciously like it had bars on it, trying to orient myself. I could have been in Kansas for all I cared but the calendar on the wall was in Spanish, so I guessed I'd missed the turn somewhere and had to figure out how to get back across the New Mexican border without a car or money or one rational thought to my name. I only got one phone call, and as hung over and generally demented as I was, of all people, I called Jade:

When she answered, she sounded as if she'd been sucking on a helium balloon, “Just kidding about the wedding thing," she giggled in a quivering falsetto, "I changed my mind and called it off. You know I'd never marry anybody but you. Oh, by the way, I've got a plane to Paris to catch, so I'd best be on my way.” Then, before she could hang up, having apparently been distracted by one of her many acid flashbacks, she dropped the phone on the floor and padded off barefoot down the Yellow Brick Road like she was late for a date with the Queen of Hearts.

Having just been arrested for vagrancy, public drunkenness, and assaulting a police officer with a tortilla, I didn’t find any of that particularly amusing. I had enough to worry about, although how tough could it be to get out a bum charge like that? Two months later I found out. Not so fucking easy.

On the plane to France, I began thinking up creative ways to strangle, mutilate, burn, and dispose of Jade's body once I got my hands on her. I had been enjoying that little daydream immensely when the nasty little French hooker from Marseilles sitting next to me shook me awake and said, "Fasten your seat belt, you leetle asshole, we’re landing at de Gaulle in ten mineets".

I walked the streets of Paris with not one sane thought running through my stewed brain, talking to myself. God help the other suckers in this world in love with a hedonistic, self-centered, sadistic deviant in high heels and pearls with a monkey on her back who sliced across the frozen October moon on a broom. The fact that it was raining big cats and dogs never even dawned on me, and the black cloud that hovered over me seemed perfectly capable of protecting me from World War Ten.

Stopping back at my hotel near the avenue de Friedland I slammed down a couple Pernods at the Le Petit Tambour bar and went looking for Jade. That part was easy. Soaked clear through I got half plastered, and after shaking myself awake by getting blasted on espresso, I tried to strangle an arrogant, puffed-up maître d at the snobby little café called Fouquet's near the Champs-Élysées after he wouldn’t let me in without a shirt and tie. Feeling by then like a thoroughly ticked-off Napoleon looking for his cheap little cheating tart of a wife Josephine, I crashed through the swinging door. Surprisingly, not one of the appropriately placid and existentially detached French diners found my behavior at all unusual and I got nearly to Jade’s table before being tackled by Conan the fucking frog Barbarian. He wore a sissy little black tie but good God, he had a grip of steel, and we hit the ground gauging and flailing and swimming around in the mussels and leeks and sturgeon grease, and if I could have gotten my hands on a steak knife, I swear to God I would have driven it into his Goddamned beefed-up cannibal neck. And then, when I looked up, there she was, little Miss Mother Superior Jade, lording over us all, thoroughly bemused, sipping champagne like the Queen of fucking England, and, as if making a pronouncement to Parliament she had the nerve to say, “Now boys, don’t you be fighting over little ole me."

If I could have right about then, I would have set Paris on fire and sung God Bless America as she burned to the ground, if that’s what it would have taken to wipe that smug grin off Jade’s perfect, bone china white face. By then, I couldn't decide for sure if I'd rather kill her or marry her, but then, in Jade's world, hate, love, and fucking each other half to death pretty much came with the territory. Sure enough, I soon found myself forgiven, lying in our bed at the Chamberlain Morgan Hotel on the rue Keppler, adrift in the fog of her sweet, cunning sex, tongue tied and snake bit in crazy love again. The harder and deeper we dug, the more desperately I looked for just one good reason why we shouldn't just end it all right then and there in an explosion of blood and guts and ludicrously expensive Bordeaux. We both knew that whatever could have kept us apart would have by then, so we just caved in and gave into the lunacy of it all, and in no time flat got our sorry selves sucked down even deeper in the muck and brine, and only the roar of the ocean could have drowned out the horror of a love gone so deadly dangerous and strange. We screamed and cried bloody murder and dropped right off the face of the earth into a hole so wet and dark and bewilderingly sweet that we could have gladly died like that, had not a metallic slice of moonlight stabbed us in the back and left us there breathless, scared half to death of each other. Jade lay beside me, languid and still as a stone, her skin too hot to touch, and with a breathless sigh, the sleepy little lost girl that she kept locked away inside her hundred pound elf of a self whispered in my ear, “Is Paris burning yet?"