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INDEPENDENCE DAY

RW Deutsch

From the corner of his eye he could see the blood starting to seep under the refrigerator door. It was the fourth of July. Eddie stood in the kitchen and could smell the meat sizzling on the neighbors' bar-b-que. He thought maybe he'd stop for a Jumbo Jack on the way back to the hotel. He better get moving, he thought. In his right hand was a 9mm Beretta which has an average muzzle velocity speed of 1,280 feet per second. The bullet, though, had about an inch to travel to reach Howard Spector's inner ear and from there not much farther to his brain. With his left hand, Eddie firmly held the soft, white tufts of Spector's hair. Eddie's right foot was firmly placed in the back of Spector's knee, making sure he would stay down. Spector, on the dark side of fifty wasn't up to much of a struggle and seemed resigned to his fate. Nevertheless, Eddie knew sometimes a sudden burst of adrenalin could make a person do some surprising and stupid things. There was once this guy whose named escaped Eddie, an old guy, in his eighties, from out of nowhere got the energy to leap almost halfway across a room, grab a chair and hit Eddie in the ribs with it. His gun fell, but the old guy wasn't fast enough for Eddie to get it back and finish the job. Sonofabitch still ached him sometimes.

It was Spector's wife, Eileen, whose blood was seeping from the refrigerator. Eddie had snuck up behind and slit her throat with one of her kitchen knives. He didn't get to see her eyes. Eddie liked to see their eyes. That was a lot of why he did what he did. He kept a mental scrapbook of all the eyes he'd killed and sometimes, when he was alone without a good book to read, he'd try to put all their eyes together and look for a commonality. How would you describe the look that everyone shared, he'd think. It was like it gave his work a higher purpose placing it in the realm of science or religion. Eddie liked to think it did, at least. What had Howard Spector done to merit Eddie's presence here didn't concern him. It was usually one of a few reasons -- taking money that wasn't theirs to take, borrowing money that was never repaid, telling a secret that was supposed to stay secret, or maybe just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That last reason always seemed a little unfair to Eddie, but, as he once told a secretary named Sheila Fornette before he shot her, "Think of it like you stepped on an elevator and the cable snapped. Boom, you die. You didn't mean to die, you just stepped in the wrong elevator at the wrong time. In this case, you walked into a room and saw two people together that didn't want to be seen together. You didn't mean to, but you did. And I'm the elevator cable. So... boom, you die." He looked into Howard Spector's eyes. Spector wanted to say something, but his lips were trembling so, he couldn't force them to function right. But Eddie understood, nodded at Spector, and pulled the trigger.

-----

The neon road sign burned like a branding iron through the windshield of the rented Ford Taurus. It was still the fourth of July. Eddie pulled into a spot, got out of the car, walked across the empty street and into The Feed Barn. It could have been a barn at one time or it was just built to look like one. It didn't matter so much but it did have a homey feel to it that Eddie was in the mood for. The interior of the restaurant was rustic red with sawdust on the floor and antique lanterns hanging from the cross-beams. The hostess, Charmaigne, whose billowy cloud of white hair reminded Eddie of Howard Spector's smiled and proudly displayed her new set of dentures to this new customer. Charmaigne firmly believed in the power of smiling. She had worked at the Feed Barn for close to twenty-five years and daily instructed the other girls on the importance of that first smile when a customer came through the door. It set the entire mood and tenor of the person's dining experience, she firmly believed. Charmaigne also believed that each of us in God's green earth is given one special talent they can call their own and whether they chose to use that talent for good or evil, depended solely on the person. In Charmaigne's case, it was her smile. When she was a young girl, she had used that smile for Satan. Tempting men on stages around the country as she shimmied and shaked and smiled. At that time she thought she was powerless over her circumstances, but as she laid on the floor of an old boxcar having sex with a security guard named Joseph Warchowski in May of 1957, she had a vision. Two days later, she took her first job as a hostess at an International House of Pancakes in Duluth. She still shimmied and shaked as she led Eddie to his table and handed him a menu, opening it as she did with twenty-five years of practice.

"Lucy will be right with you. Enjoy your meal." Charmaigne again gave Eddie her smile which though he'd only seen it twice in his entire life, had already started to annoy him.

A hunched over Mexican busboy, who was forty years too old be any kind of boy, appeared then and deposited a glass of water, managing only to spill about a quarter of it, then continued on his way. Eddie studied the menu with a minimal of interest. Eddie had already known what kind of food the Food Barn would serve and knew what he'd probably order. No matter where he traveled in the country, if he went into a particular kind of restaurant, he always ordered the same thing. In Chinese restaurants, it was sweet n' sour pork and fried rice. In a restaurant like the Food Barn, he would have the pea soup, if they had it, or the mushroom and barley, if they didn't, and a tuna melt. Both the tuna melt and the pea soup were present and accounted for, but he mused a moment over the club sandwich. He heard a pair of orthopedic loafers coming towards him and he looked up over the top of the menu.

Lucy hadn't started out life wanting to be a waitress at the Food Barn. When she was five years old she wanted to be a nurse. When she was seven years old she wanted to marry Robert Redford. When she was twelve years old she wanted her father to stop touching her before she went to bed. At fourteen, she ran away from home and only wanted a life. She had managed to make one here in this town and that was something she'd remind herself as she woke up every morning in her bed. As she approached the table, she wasn't thinking about anything in particular. Part of her was wondering what lonely person would have nowhere else to go on this holiday but here, and the other part was thinking about Melrose Place. She was seventeen, but told everyone she was twenty-one.

Her thoughts focused on the man who lowered the menu and looked up at her over it. He was kind of cute. Medium built. Dark hair. Kind of reminded her of Charlie Sheen or his brother, the one with the Spanish name. He smiled at her and said: "What time do the fireworks start?"

She had forgotten about the town fireworks display. If it started the same time as last year, it would be just past seven, and she told the man just that. The man ordered pea soup and a tuna melt and asked if she didn't have date and was getting off work would she like to watch the fireworks with him. The question stunned her a little as it came out so quickly and he said it so quietly that she thought maybe she had just hallucinated he said it. Afraid to answer and look stupid she just stared at him, hoping he would say something else and confirm that it wasn't just her ears playing tricks. It was like he read her mind, smiled and asked it again. "Now what?" she thought to herself. "What should I say?" She finally decided on "I'll see" and turned and headed into the kitchen to give the order to Jesus, the cook.

Eddie was quite surprised at himself for what had just transpired. He was always surprised at things he said or did sometimes and enjoyed this spontaneity when it happened. Now that she was gone, he pulled her back from his memory. Her name was Lucy. It said so on her nametag. She was a short brunette with bangs that gave her an early 1960's look. Her body was nicely curved which he could read even through the purposely frumpy skirt she was forced to wear. Her breasts were perky like a cheerleader's and she had a little mole just above her peach colored lips that he thought she probably couldn't stand but was very sexy. "She's probably eighteen and tells everyone she's twenty-two," he thought. It would be good if she could get off. A quick fuck as the fireworks exploded in the night sky. Eddie smiled to himself and waited with a different sense of anticipation for his soup to arrive now.

-----

"It's the fourth of July, ladies and gentleman," announced the man on the radio. "Independence day. But what is that? Independence. A good question, friends. You may often mistake it for freedom. But it's not. Take the word apart and what do you get? In,' as in not,' and dependence' as in being dependent on others.' So what we're really celebrating here is the fact that we, as a people, are not dependent on any one." Eddie shut the radio off and as he moved his wrist away from the dial, he purposely and casually caressed Lucy's exposed knee.

"Nice spot," he said, gazing down on the town below and over the cliff.

Lucy felt a tingle as Eddie touched her knee which rose up through her neural receptors to her chest to the back of her head and back to her cheeks which blushed red with excitement.

"It oughta start any minute now," she said trying to sound like she knew for sure.

Eddie unscrewed the top of the bottle of whiskey he'd picked up at the Happy Mart on their way to this location which Lucy had assured him was certain to be the best spot to witness the fireworks from. He took a swig from the bottle and announced, "I'm feeling some fireworks right now." He turned to her and gave her his smile which she took along with the whiskey bottle. She grimaced at the taste, but the liquid ran the other way than the tingle and she felt a warmth in her thighs which took the grimace away.

Eddie asked, feeling a normal amount of concern and suspicion, that if this was such a hot spot to watch the show from, how come they were the only ones there. Lucy shrugged, then giggled, then took another long sip from the bottle. Passing the bottle back to Eddie, she leaned in to him. He took the bottle and without taking his eyes off of her, he capped it and placed it down on the carpet. He pressed his lips against hers and they kissed mixing saliva and whiskey which was a real tasty treat, Eddie mused.

He unbuttoned her blouse. She, his shirt. She wasn't nearly as experienced as he was in the mechanics of making it within an automobile, but she followed his lead. He eased himself within her and began to thrust.

There was a noise, a pop, a sound which Eddie lifted his head to. "The fireworks," Lucy cooed and brought him back down on her. She didn't want him to stop. She didn't want him to ever stop. There was a second sound, a whistle. It was like some jungle creature calling, warning, staking out its territory. And then it came. The sky surrounding them exploded into a hundred colors. Lucy screamed. Eddie blinded by the lights, realized at once why no one else was parked here. They were at ground zero for the fireworks display. Another pop, whistle, and another huge explosion. Eddie was so stunned, so in awe, that he didn't even hear Lucy screaming.

"We're gonna die! We're gonna die!" she cried over and over again. She reached up and dug her nails into his face. "We're gonna die! We're gonna die!"

Eddie swung his head, then his fist at her as another explosion turned the sky a crimson red and green. She continued to fight against him. Bits of gold and silver bounced on the car top and hood. It was hailing orange and purple light on them.

"You fuckin' stupid cunt bitch!" he screamed at her. He hit her again and she was stunned enough to give him time to pull his pants back on and start the car. As he pulled the lever towards reverse, and slammed the gas pedal, she kicked her feet out. The lever spun and slipped and the car started flying forwards towards the cliff. Lucy squeezed her hands down on the handle and the door pitched open. Eddie turned to her with all the hate and anger he had as he attempted to hit the brakes and grab her leg at the same time. He wasn't going to take this trip alone. But he missed. On both counts. Lucy fell out of the falling car landing with a tumble on the ledge. Another pop, whistle, explosion. Eddie grabbed the rear view mirror and studied his own eyes in it. Trying to memorize what they looked like as red, white, and blue light twinkled all around him. Then there was another explosion, but no pop, no whistle.

Lucy got to her feet and screamed curses as the black smoke rose up from below her. She continued to scream until there was no sound left inside her. She stood there shivering in the heat. The fireworks were over. She couldn't stay there. They wouldn't understand. She couldn't explain. She knew she would lose her job if Charmaigne found out. That smiling, self-righteous bitch would can her ass for sure. And the police? For sure, they would send her home. Not to her real home. Her old home. No. She turned and started running. Running as fast as she could. She hid behind some bushes as a police car, siren calling, sped up the hill. She continued running down into the streets where the townspeople were heading back to their homes where they could turn on the news in the morning and hear about what that car flying down the hill at the end of the fireworks was all about. Hope they catch those damn kids was the collective thought. Lucy slowed her pace and blended as best she could, her blouse ripped, her face covered in dirt. She turned the corner of Chestnut and made it to Albermarble She fumbled for her keys and stumbled her way up to her apartment door. She pushed the door in and slammed it shut. To hell with Mrs. Grable. Let her bitch to Mr. Grable in the morning about the noise. She tore her clothes off and quickly slipped under the covers. She lay there staring at the ceiling. That poor man. She could still feel him inside her. "What have I done," she thought to herself over and over again. He was dead. Dead because of her. "No," she begged herself. It was just an accident. She didn't know. He tried to take her with him. He tried to kill her too. A tear swelled and ran down her cheek. She had to go to bed. She would be able to think more clearly in the morning. If she could just get to bed. She turned and looked at the little clock beside her bed. It was just past midnight. It was the fifth of July.

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