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Vicki Hendricks

It was a goddamned one-armed alligator put me over the line. After that I was looking for trouble. Carl and me had been married for two years, second marriage for both, and the situation was drastic—hateful most times—but I could tell he didn't realize there was anything better in the world. It made me feel bad that he never learned how to love—grew up with nothing but cruelty. I kept trying way too long to show him there was something else.

I was on my last straw when I suggested a road trip for Labor Day weekend—stupidly thinking that I could amuse him and wouldn't have to listen to his bitching about me and the vile universe on all my days off work. I figured at a motel he'd get that vacation feeling, lighten up, and stick me good, and I could get by for the few waking hours I had to see him the rest of the week.

We headed out to the Everglades for our little trip. Being recent transplants from Texas, we hadn't seen the natural wonders in Florida. Carl started griping by mid-afternoon about how I told him there were so many alligators and we couldn't find a fucking one. I didn't dare say that there would've been plenty if he hadn't taken two hours to read the paper and sit on the john. We could've made it before the usual thunderstorms and had time to take a tour. As it was, he didn't want to pay the bucks to ride the tram in the rain—even though the cars were covered. We were pretty much stuck with what we could see driving, billboards for Seminole gambling and airboats, and lots of soggy grassland under heavy black and blue-layered skies. True, it had a bleak, haunting kind of beauty.

Carl refused to put on the air conditioner because he said it sapped the power of the engine, so all day we suffocated. We could only crack the truck windows because of the rain. By late afternoon my back was soaked with sweat and I could smell my armpits. And, get this—he was smoking cigarettes. Like I said, I was plain stupid coming up with the idea—or maybe blinded by the fact that he had a nice piece of well-working equipment that seemed worth saving.

At that point, I started to wonder if I could make us swerve into a canal and end the suffering. I was studying the landscape, looking ahead for deep water, when I spotted a couple vehicles pulled off the road.

"Carl, look. I bet you they see gators."

"Fuckin A," he bellowed.

He was driving twenty over the limit, as always—in a hurry to get to hell—but he nailed the brakes and managed to turn onto a gravel road that ran a few hundred yards off the side of a small lake. One car pulled out past us, but a couple and a little girl were still standing near the edge of the water.

It was only drizzling by then, and Carl pulled next to their pickup and shut off the ignition. My side of the truck was over a puddle about four inches deep. I opened the door and plodded through in my sandals, while Carl stood grimacing at the horizon, rubbing his dark unshaved chin.

We walked towards the people. The woman was brown-haired, wearing a loose print dress—the kind my grandma would've called a house-dress—and I felt how sweet and old-fashioned she was next to me in short-shorts and halter top, with my white blonde hair and black roots haystack style. The man was a wiry, muscular type in tight jeans and a white t-shirt—tattoos on both biceps, like Carl, but arms half the size. He was bending down by some rocks a little farther along. The little girl, maybe four years old, and her mother were holding hands by the edge.

"That guy reminds me of my asshole brother-in-law," Carl said in a low tone, as we got closer. I nodded, thinking how true it was—the guy reminded me of Carl too, all the same kind of assholes. Carl boomed out "Hey, there, " in his usual megaphone, overly-friendly voice. The mother and child glanced up with a kind of mousy suspiciousness I sometimes felt in my own face. It was almost like they had him pegged instantly.

We stopped near them. The guy came walking over. He had his hands cupped together in front of him and motioned with his arms toward the water. I looked into the short water weeds and sticks and saw two small eyes and nose holes rising above the ripples a few yards out. It was a baby gator, maybe four feet long, judging by the closeness of his parts.

"There he is!" Carl yelled.

"Just you watch this," the guy said. He tossed something into the water in front of the nose and I caught the scrambling of tiny legs just before the gator lurched and snapped it up. "They just love them lizards," the man said.

Carl started laughing "Ho, ho, ho," like it was the funniest thing he ever seen, and the guy joined in because he'd made such a big hit.

Us women looked at each other and kind of smiled with our lips tight. The mother had her arm around the little girl's shoulder holding her against her hip. The girl squirmed away. "Daddy, can I help you catch another one?"

"Sure, darlin, come right over here." He led her towards the rocks and I saw the mother cast him a look as he went by. He laughed and took his daughter's hand.

The whole thing was plenty creepy, but Carl was still chuckling. It seemed like maybe he was having a good time for a change.

"Reptiles eating reptiles," he said. "Yup." He did that eh-eh-eh laugh in the back of his throat. It made me wince. He took my hand and leered toward my face. "It's a scrawny one, Virginia—not like a Texas gator—but I guess I have to say you weren't lyin. Florida has one." He put his arm across my shoulder and leaned on me, still laughing at his own sense of humor. I widened my legs, to keep from falling over, and chuckled so he wouldn't demand to know what was the matter, then insist I spoiled the day by telling him.

We stood there watching the gator float in place hoping for another snack, and in a few minutes, the squeals of the little girl told us that it wouldn't be long. They came shuffling over slowly, the father bent, cupping his hands over the girl's.

"This is the last one now, okay, sweetheart?" the mother said as they stopped beside her. She was talking to the little girl. "We need to get home in time to make supper." From her voice it sounded like they'd been sacrificing lizards for a while.

The two flung the prey into the water. It fell short, but there was no place for the lizard to go. It floundered in the direction it was pointed, the only high ground, the gator's waiting snout. He snapped it up. This time he'd pushed farther out of the water and I saw that he was missing one of his limbs.

"Look, Carl, the gator only has one arm. I wonder what got him?"

"Probably a Texas gator, " he said. "It figures, the one gator you find me is a cripple."

Carl had an answer for everything. "No," I said. "Why would one gator tear off another one's arm?"

"Leg. One big chomp without thinkin. Probably got his leg in between his mother and some tasty tidbit—a small dog or kid. Life is cruel, babycakes—survival of the fittest." He stopped talking to light a cigarette. He waved it near my face to make his point. "You gotta protect yourself—be cruel first. That's why you got me—to do it for you." He gave me one of his grins with all the teeth showing.

"Oh, is that why?" I laughed, like it was a joke. Yeah, Carl would take care of his own all right—it was like having a mad dog at my side, never knowing when he might turn. He wouldn't hesitate to rip anybody's arm off, mine included, if it got in his way.

The mother called to her husband, "Can we get going, honey? I have fish to clean."

The guy didn't look up. "Good job," he said to his daughter. He reached down and gave her a pat on the butt. "Let's get another one."

It started to rain a little harder, thank God, and Carl motioned with his head towards the car and started walking. I looked at the woman still standing there. "Bye," I called.

She nodded at me, her face empty of life. "Goodbye, honey." It was then she turned enough for me to see that the sleeve on the far side of the dress was empty, pinned up—her arm was gone. Jesus. I felt my eyes bulge. She couldn't have missed what I said. I burned through ten shades of red in a split second. I turned and sprinted to catch up with Carl.

He glanced at me. "What's your hurry, sugar? You ain't gonna melt. Think I'd leave without ya?"

"Nope," I said. I swallowed and tried to lighten up. I didn't want to share with him what I saw.

He looked at me odd and I knew he wasn't fooled. "What's with you?"

"Hungry," I said.

"I told you you should've had a ham sandwich before we left. You never listen to me. I won't be ready to eat for a couple more hours."

"I have to pee too. We passed a restaurant a quarter mile back."

He pointed to the other side of the road. "There's the bushes. I'm not stopping anywhere else till the motel."

We drove across the state and got a cheap room in Naples for the night. Carl ordered a pepperoni pizza from Domino's, no mushrooms for me. The room was clean and the air and remote worked, but it was far from the beach. We sat in bed and ate the pizza. I was trying to stick with the plan for having fun and I suggested we could get up early and drive to the beach to find shells.

"To look for fucking seashells? No."

His volume warned me. I decided to drop it. I gave him all my pepperonis and finished up my piece. I had a murder book to curl up with. He found a football game on TV.

I was in the midst of a scene when Carl started working his hands under the covers. It was half-time. He found my thigh and stroked inward. I read fast to get to the end of the chapter. He grabbed the book and flung it across the room onto the other bed.

"I'm tryin to make love to you, and you have your nose stuck in a book. What's the problem? You gettin it somewhere else and don't need it from me? Huh?"

I shook my head violently. His tone and volume had me scared. "No, for Chrissakes." His face was an inch from mine. Rather than say anything else, I took his shoulders and pulled myself to him for a kiss. He was stiff, so I started sucking his lower lip and moving my tongue around. His shoulders relaxed.

Pretty soon he yanked down the covers, pulled up my nighty and climbed on top. I couldn't feel him inside me—I was numb. Nothing new. I smelled his breath.

I moaned like he expected, and after a few long minutes of pumping and grabbing at my tits, he got that strained look on his face. "I love you to death," he rasped. "Love you to death." I felt him get rigid and come hard inside me, and a chill ran all the way from his cock to my head. He groaned deep and let himself down on my chest. "It's supernatural what you do to me, dollface, supernatural."


He lit up a cigarette and puffed a few breaths in my face. "I couldn't live without you. Know that? You know that, don't you? You ever left me, I'd have to kill myself."

"No. Don't say that."

"Why? You thinking of leaving? I would kill myself. I would. And knowin me, I'd take you along." He rolled on his side laughing "eh-eh-eh" to himself. My arm was pinned, and for a second I panicked. I yanked it out from under him. He shifted and in seconds started snoring. Son of a bitch. He had me afraid to speak.

The woman and the gator came into my head, and I knew her life without having to live it, the casual cruelty and a sudden swift slice that changed her whole future. I could land in her place easy, trapped with a kid, no job, and a bastard of a husband that thought he was God. Carl said he was God at least three times a week. I shuddered—more like he was the devil. First he'd take an arm, then go for my soul, just a matter of time. He'd rather see me dead than gone.

There was no thought of a roadtrip the next weekend, so we both slept late that Saturday. By then, the fear and hatred in my heart had taken over my brain. I was frying eggs, the bathroom door was open, and Carl was on the toilet—his place of serious thinking—when he used the words that struck me with the juicy, seedy, sweet fantasy of getting rid of him.

"I ought to kill my asshole brother-in-law, " he yelled. The words were followed by grunts of pleasure and plunking noises I could hear from the kitchen.

"Uh, huh," I said to myself. I pretended to be half-hearing—as if that were possible—and splashed the eggs with bacon grease like he wanted them. I didn't say anything. He was building up rage on the sound of his own voice.

"The fuck went out on Labor Day and left Penny and the kids home. She didn't say anything about him drinkin, but I could hear it in her voice when I called last night. I can't keep ignoring this. I oughta get a flight over there and take ol' Raymond out."

"How's he doing from his knife wound?"

"Son of a bitch is finally back to work. I should just take him out. Penny and the kids would be fine with the insurance she'd get from G.M."


"Those slimy titty bars he hangs out in—like Babydoe's—I could just fly into Dallas, do him, and fly back. Nobody would think a thing unusual."

I heard the flush and then his continued pulling of toilet paper. He always flushed before he wiped. I knew if I went in there after him I would see streaky wads of paper still floating. He came striding into the kitchen with a towel wrapped around him, his gut hanging over. He seemed to rock back as he walked to keep from falling forward. He turned and poured his eighth cup of coffee, added milk, held it over the sink and stirred wildly. Half of it slopped over the sides of the cup. His face was mottled with red and he growled to himself.

I looked away. I remembered that at seventeen he had thrown his father out of the house—for beating his mother. He found out later they snuck around for years to see each other behind his back—they were that scared of him.

I knew going opposite whatever he said would push him. I could barely hold myself back. I pointed to the phone. "Calm down and call your sister. Her and the kids might want to keep Ray around."

"Yeah? Uh, uh. She's too nice. She'll give that son of a bitch chance after chance while he spends all their money on ass and booze. If anybody's gonna take advantage of somebody, it's gonna be me."

I handed him his plate of eggs and went to take my shower and let him spew. I heard him pick up the paper again and start with how all the "assholes in the news" should be killed.

Before this, it didn't occur to me as an asset that he was always a hair's breath from violence. I'd tried for peace. I didn't want to know about the trouble he'd been in before we met, his being in jail for violating a restraining order. He'd broken down a door—I had that from his sister because she thought I should know. I figured he deserved another chance in life. He had a lousy childhood with the drunk old man and all. But now I realized how foolish I was to think that if I treated him nice enough—turned the other cheek—he would be nice back. Thought that was human nature. Wrong. I was a goddamned angelic savior for over a year and not a speck of it rubbed off. He took me for a sucker to use and abuse. It was a lesson I'd never forget, learned too late.

This sounds crazy—but something about the alligator incident made me know Carl's true capabilities, and I was fucking scared. That alligator told me that a ticket for Carl to Dallas was my only ticket out. It was a harsh thought, but Penny's husband wasn't God's gift either, and if Carl didn't get him, it was just a matter of time till some other motherfucker did.

At first, I felt scared of the wicked thoughts in my heart. But after a few days, each time Carl hawked up a big gob and spit it out the car window or screamed at me because the elevator at the apartment complex was too slow, the idea became less sinful. He was always saying how he used to break guys' legs for a living, collecting, and he might decide to find some employment of that kind in Florida since the pay was so lousy for construction. Besides that, there was his drunk driving—if I could get him behind bars, it would be an asset to the whole state. Or maybe I'd only have to threaten.

One morning he woke up and bit my nipple hard before I was even awake. "Ouch," I yelled. It drew blood and made my eyes fill up.

"The world's a hard place," he told me.

"You make it that way."

He laughed. "You lived your little pussy life long enough. It's time you find out what it's all about." He covered my mouth with his booze and cigarette breath, and I knew that was the day I'd make a call to his sister. He wasn't going to go away on his own.

Penny did mail-outs in the morning, so I called her from work. I could hear her stuffing envelopes while we talked. I asked about the kids and things. "So how's your husband?" I added. "Carl said he went back to work."

"Yeah. We're getting along much better. He's cut back on the drinking and brings home his paycheck. Doesn't go to the bar half as much."

"He's still going to that bar where he got hurt?"

"Oh, no, a new one, Cactus Jack's, a nicer place—no nude dancers, and it's only a couple miles from here, so he can take a cab if he needs to. He promised he wouldn't go back over to Babydoe's."

Done. It was smooth. I didn't even have to ask where he hung out. "Yeah," I said. "He gets to the job in the morning. That's what I keep telling Carl."

"He goes out Fridays and maybe one or two other days. I can handle that. I'm not complaining."

She was a good woman. I felt tears well in my eyes. "You're a saint, honey. I have to get back to work now—the truckers are coming in for their checks. Carl would like to hear from you one night soon. He worries."

I had all I needed to know—likely she'd wanted to tell somebody and didn't care to stir Carl up and listen to all his godly orders. She wasn't complaining—goddamn. It was amazing that her and my husband were of the same blood. And, yeah, she was being taken advantage of—I could hear it. Now I had to tell Carl when and where to go without him realizing it was my plan.

That night I started to move him along. "I talked to your sister Penny this morning," I told him at the dinner table.

"Oh, yeah?" He was shoveling in chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes with sawmill gravy, and corn, one of his favorite meals.

I ate with one hand behind my back, protecting my arm from any quick snaps. "She's a trooper," I said. "Wow."


"I never heard of anybody with such a big heart. You told me she adopted Ray's son, right?

"Yeah. Unbelievable." He chewed a mouthful. "Him and Penny already had one kid, and he was fuckin around on her. I'd've killed the motherfucker, if I'd known at the time. I was in Alaska—working the pipeline. Penny kept it all from me till after the adoption." He shook his head and wiped the last gravy from his plate with a roll. "Lumps in the mashed potatoes, hun."

"She works hard too—all those jobs—and doesn't say a thing about him having boys' night out at some new bar whenever he wants. I couldn't handle it." I paused and took a drink of my beer to let the thought sink in. "He's a damn good-looking guy. Bet he has no trouble screwing around on her."

Carl looked up and wiped his mouth on his hand. "You mean now? Where'd you get that idea?'

I shrugged. "Just her tone. Shit. If anybody's going to heaven, she will."

"You think he's hot, don't ya? I'll kill the son of a bitch. What new bar?"

"Cactus Jack's. I bet you he's doing it. She'd be the last to say anything. Why else would he stay out half the night?"

Carl threw his silverware on the plate. "I ought to kill the son of a bitch."

"I don't like to hear that stuff."

"It's the real world, and he's a fuckin asshole. He needs to be fucked."

"I hate to hear a woman being beat down, thinking she's doing the right thing for the kids. 'Course, you never know what's the glue between two people."

"My sister's done the right thing all her life, and it's never gotten her anywhere." He was seething.

"She's one of a kind, a saint really." I tucked my hand under my leg— feeling protective of my arm—took a bite of fried steak, and chewed.

Carl rocked back on the legs of the chair. His eyes were focused up near the ceiling. "Hmm," he said. "Hmm."

"Don't think about getting involved. We have enough problems."

"You don't have a thing to do with this. It's family."

I gathered up the dishes and went to the sink feeling smug, though I was a little freaked by the feeling that the plan might just work. I was wiping the stove when the phone rang.

"Got it," Carl yelled.

It was Penny. She'd followed my suggestion to call. I could hear him trying to draw her out. He went on and on, and it didn't sound like he made any progress. By the time he slammed down the receiver, he had himself more angry at her than he was at her husband. He went raging into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. It was so hard I was surprised the mirror didn't fall off.

I finished up in the kitchen and was watching "Wheel of Fortune" by the time he came out, their special Labor Week show.

He sat down on the couch next to me and put his hand on my thigh, squeezed it. "You got some room on your Visa, don't you? How 'bout makin me a reservation to Dallas? I'll pay you back. I need to talk to that asshole Raymond face to face."

I stared at the TV, trying to control my breathing. "He's not going to listen to you. He thinks you're a moron."

"A moron, huh? I think not. Make a reservation for me—"

I was shaking my head. "You can't go out there. What about work?"

"Do it—get me a flight after work on Friday, back home Saturday."

"Not much of a visit."

He squinted and ran his tongue from cheek to cheek inside his mouth. "I'm just gonna talk to the motherfucker."

I'd never seen murder in anybody's eyes, but it was hard to miss. I took a deep, rattling breath. It was too goddamned easy—blood-curdling easy. I reminded myself it was for my own survival. I needed both goddamned arms.

That night I called for a reservation. I had to make it three weeks in advance to get a decent fare. I'd saved up some Christmas money, so that way I didn't have to put the ticket on my charge. I could only hope nobody ripped Raymond before Carl got his chance. The guy that stuck Ray the first time was out on probation. It would be just my luck.

The days dragged. The hope that I would soon be free made Carl's behavior unbearable. I got myself a half-dozen detective novels and kept my nose stuck inside one when I could. I cooked the rest of the time, lots of his favorite foods, and pie, trying to keep his mouth full so I wouldn't have to listen to it—and throw him off if he was the least bit suspicious of what I had in mind. It was tough to put on the act in bed, but he was in a hurry most of the time, so he slathered on the aloe and poked me from behind. Tight and fast was fine with him. His ego made him blind—thinking he was smarter than everybody else, especially me, and that I could possibly still love him.

Thursday morning, the day before Carl was supposed to leave, he walked into the bedroom before work. I smelled his coffee breath and kept my eyes shut. A tap came on my shoulder. "I don't know where that new bar is, " he said. "What was it? Cactus Bob's? Near their place?"

"Jack's. Cactus Jack's. I'll get directions at work—off the computer. No problem—Mapquest."

"Get the shortest route from the airport to Babydoe's, and from there to the cactus place. He's probably lying to Penny, still goin back to Doe's for the tits and ass."

I printed out the route during lunch. It was a little complicated. When I came in the door that evening, I handed Carl three pages of directions and maps. He flipped through them. "Write these on one sheet—bigger. I can't be shuffling this shit in the dark while I'm driving a rental around Arlington."

"Sure," I said. A pain in the ass to the end, I thought. I reminded myself it was almost over. I copied the directions on a legal sheet and added "Love ya, Your babycakes." Between his ego and my eagerness to please, I hoped he didn't suspect a thing. I couldn't wait to show him the real world when I gave him my ultimatum.

I got up in the morning and packed him a few clothes and set the bag by the door. I called to him in the bathroom. "Your ticket receipt is in the side pocket. Don't forget to give Penny my love." I knew he really hadn't told her a thing.

He came out and took a hard look down my body. His eyes glinted and I could see satisfaction in the upturn of his lips, despite their being pressed together hard. I knew there was some macho thing mixed in with the caretaking for his sister. In a twisted way, he was doing this for me too, proving how he could protect a poor, weak woman from men like himself.

I thought he was going to kiss me, so I brought on a coughing fit and waved him away. He thumped me on the back a few times, gave up, and went on out. He paused a second at the bottom of the steps, turned back, and grinned, showing all those white teeth. For a second, I thought he was reading my mind. Instead he said softly, "You're my right arm, doll-face." He went on.

I shivered. I watched his car all the way down the street. I was scared, even though I was sure he had every intention of doing the deed, and I was betting on success. He was smarter and stronger than Ray, and had surprise on his side. Then I would hold the cards—with his record, a simple tip to the cops could put his ass in a sling.

I was tense all day at the office, wondering what he was thinking with that grin. Too, I hoped he'd remembered his knife. I went straight to his bureau when I got home and took everything out of the sock drawer. The boot knife was gone. I pictured him splashed with blood, standing over Ray's body in a dark alley. I felt relieved. He was set up good.

I went to the grocery and got myself a six-pack, a bag of mesquite-grilled potato chips, and a pint of fudge royale ice cream. I rented three videos so I wouldn't have to think. I started to crack up laughing in the car. I was between joy and hysteria. I couldn't stop worrying, but the thought of peace to come was delicious.

Carl was due home around noon on Saturday, and I realized I didn't want to be there. I got a few hours sleep and woke up early. I did his dirty laundry and packed all his clothes and personal stuff into garbage bags and set them by the door. I put his bicycle and tools there. I wrote a note on the legal pad and propped it against one of the bags. Basically it said to leave Fort Lauderdale that afternoon and never come back—if he did, I'd turn him in. I wrote that I didn't care if we ever got a divorce or not, and he could take the stereo and TV—everything. I just wanted to be left alone.

I packed a bathing suit, a book, and my overnight stuff and drove down to Key Largo. Carl was obsessed with me in his lurid, controlling way. The farther away I was when he read the note, the safer I'd feel.

I stayed at a little motel and read and swam most of Saturday, got a pizza with mushrooms, like Carl hated. On Sunday morning I went out by the pool and caught a few more rays before heading home. I stopped for a grouper sandwich on the drive back, to congratulate myself on how well I was doing, but I could barely eat it. Jesus, was I nervous. I got home around four, pulled into the parking lot and saw Carl's empty space. I sighed with relief. I looked up at the apartment window. I'd move out when the lease was up. I unlocked the door and stepped inside. The clothes and tools were gone. I shut the door behind me, locked it, and set down my bag.

The toilet flushed. "Eh-eh-eh-eh. "

I jumped. My chest turned to water.

The toilet paper rolled. Carl came swaggering out of the bathroom. "Eh-eh-eh-eh," he laughed. The sound was deafening.

"Where's your car?" I asked him. "What are you doing here?"

"Car's around back. I wanted to surprise my babycakes."

I looked around wildly. "Didn't you get my note? You're supposed to be gone—I'm calling—" I moved towards the phone.

He stepped in front of me. "No. You don't wanna make any calls—and I'm not going anywhere. I love you. We're a team. Two of a kind."

"You didn't do it." I spat the words in his face, " You chickened out."

He came closer, a cloud of alcohol seeping from his skin and breath, a sick, fermented odor mixed with the bite of cigarettes. "Oh, I did it, babe, right behind Doe's. Stuck that seven-inch blade below his rib cage and gave it a mighty twist. I left that bastard in a puddle of blood the size Texas could be proud of." He winked. "I let Ol' Ray know why he was gettin it too."

He took my hair and yanked me close against him. He stuck his tongue in my mouth. I gagged but he kept forcing it down my throat. Finally, he drew back and stared into my eyes. "I did some thinkin on the flight over," he said, "about you and me, and how your attitude isn't always the best. I figured I could use some insurance on our marriage. You know? Penny'll remember you asking her about the bars if she's questioned, and she wouldn't lie to the cops. Also, the directions are in your handwriting, hun. I rubbed the prints off against my stomach, balled up the sheet, and dropped it right between his legs. Cool, huh?" He licked his lower lip from one side to the other. "Oh, yeah, I found one of your hairs on my T-shirt and put that in for extra measure."

My skin went to ice and I froze clear through.

"A nice little threat in the works, if I needed it to keep you around. Guess I saved myself a lot of trouble at the same time." His eyebrows went up. " Where I go, you go, baby-girl. Together forever, sweetheart."

He grabbed my t-shirt and twisted it tight around the chest. All the air wheezed out of my lungs, and he rubbed his palm across my nipples till they burned. He lifted my hand to his mouth, kissed it, and grinned with all his teeth showing. He slobbered kisses along my arm, while I stood limp. "Eh-eh."

Like the snap of a bone, his laugh shot chills up my spine and the sorry truth to my brain. I was the same as Carl, only he'd been desperate all his life. My damned arm would be second to go—I'd already handed Satan my soul.


Vicki Hendricks is the author of Iguana Love, published by Serpent's Tail, 1999, and Miami Purity, her first novel, published by Pantheon in 1995, and now a Vintage Black Lizard paperback. Her short story "ReBecca," originally published on, has been selected for Best American Erotica 2000. Her novel Voluntary Madness will be published by Serpent's Tail in November. Hendricks lives in Hollywood, Florida, and teaches composition and creative writing at Broward Community College. Skydiving has become her most recent obsession, added to years of scuba diving and sailing, and she is currently working on a noir novel of skydiving, with plans for a non-fiction adventure book in the near future.


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