"It's not that I don't like peaches and cream," Shelly said, pushing the dish away. "I just don't want it right now. Make me some later, when I'm in the mood for it."
Henry bit the inside of his cheek.
She was still wearing her long white gloves, but not much else. Just the bodice from an old dress she'd torn up and the boy shorts from a tankini she'd found on the floor of the plane's bathroom. Her gown had been muddy from the rain when she'd boarded, and she'd ripped it on the tip of one of her shoes sometime during the night. Then, screaming and cursing, she'd torn the rest of the skirts off as well, climbing up the stairs and kicking her shoes off onto the slushy tarmac. Those shoes had been eighteen hundred dollars. Custom made by private designers from Roger Vivier. Now they were sitting on an airstrip filling up with rainwater.
She'd walked through the plane with the better part of her bottom hanging out of her torn dress, shouting to one of the in-flight mistresses to bring her something to snack on --"Get me something that tastes like the world isn't full of peons." she'd said, ripping a stray bit of fabric from the skirts around her bottom. Cellulite had set deeply into her legs and buttocks some time in her forty years. It was something she was going to have the doctors fix. She'd had liposuction eight times in the past decade, and already had not one, but two more appointments made with private physicians to have it done again.
She'd gone into the bedroom in the back of the plane to change her clothes and tear up the rest of her dress --a twenty-nine hundred dollarNeiman Marcus --and swore loudly at the pilots as the plane lurched forward. Then there had been a tense minute of quiet before the bedsprings squeaked and footsteps made their way to the door.
"Henry," she'd said, pushing her way out of the back room, door slamming against the wall, "would you like something to eat as well?"
"Yes, Ma'am." He'd said. It was what he always said. It was what Shelly wanted him to say --it was in the contract she'd given him to sign. But when the mistress had brought them both their snack, Shelly had regarded it with distaste. Now Henry was sitting with a bowl of peaches and cream that he didn't want, looking at a woman he didn't like, wondering if this was all worth it --which, of course, it was. Just about anything was worth it when Shelly was the one signing his paychecks.
She pushed her dish over to him, sliding it across the small table in the middle of the plane where they usually sat together. He made to grab it with his right hand --his left was handcuffed to the chair he sat on, as it had been for the last sixteen hours.
"Don't touch it." Shelly snapped. Henry froze. Her gloves were wet, and he could see the dark purple of her fingernails beneath them. She slowly pushed the dish farther and farther away from her side of the table, closer and closer to his own. She watched him, daring him to move, until her bowl was teetering on the edge of the table in front of him, orange peach slices sitting in a wobbling pool of thick cream. He sighed.
"Oops." She flicked her tongue around the side of her mouth and tipped the dish over onto his lap. It landed upside down on his thigh, cream pouring over his tailored Japanese-denim jeans (four hundred dollars --some Asian brand that Shelly liked). The cream was cold. He looked out the window next to him.
The rain was popping against the window like hot grease. They would be flying through this storm, just as they flew through all the storms they came across. Shelly paid her pilots extra to ignore dangerous storms. It seemed illegal to Henry, but he didn't know much about it, and if Shelly wanted to get away with something she usually could.
"Looks like someone is going to need to change." She said, looking him up and down. She'd hired him --or, bought him, if you asked her --to sit in her plane while she went around the world attending events and buying foreign cough syrup to see which one tasted best in a cocktail. A hundred thousand dollars every two weeks. Just to sit there. To be her eye candy.
Henry was attractive. He knew he was --he'd worked very hard to become so. He'd first met Shelly during a runway event for men's swimsuits where he'd been modeling. She'd contacted his agent and set up a meeting with him, then asked to see his body. He'd showed it to her. She'd given him a hundred dollars for his shirt, then, a week later, she'd wired him a thousand to visit a party with her. It had been in a poorly lit basement with hypodermic-needle dispensers on the walls and a kiddie pool full of play-dough sitting in the corner. It had been a terrifying, grungy thing, but it had been worth it in the end. The cost of living was high in California where he lived, and modeling wasn't always the most lucrative industry.
He'd done a lot of jobs for her --gone to some of the most unsettling places Orange County had to offer and worn some of the most expensive clothing he'd ever heard of. He'd seen a lot of expensive clothing in his line of work. Shelly operated on a completely different plain.
One thing had led to another, and now here he was. He'd made almost seventy thousand dollars on the trip so far, and if things went as planned he would be making another hundred and thirty before he got to go home again. But he didn't like it --no he didn't like it one bit. His skin had been crawling for hours, now. The small staff on the plane didn't even look at him when they walked by the table. If he was chained up they didn't let him get into one of the actual seats to buckle up during turbulence. He'd been sleeping in Shelly's bed while she was out during the day, and she'd been creeping in and slowly massaging his feet in the night. She pressed too hard. Her nails were too sharp. The sheets smelled like her.
"I don't think I need to get changed at all." He said, staring down at the peaches in his lap. She sometimes liked when he teased her like that. When he didn't give her what she wanted. She bit her lip, smiling at him.
He said nothing.
Suddenly she smacked him across the face, wet glove splattering against his face. He'd been expecting this. Sometimes it didn't pay off to tease her. It was all in the contract: he wasn't allowed to argue with or disobey her under any circumstances. Sometimes she let it slide. Sometimes she didn't want to.
She peeled the glove off of her hand slowly, tongue flicking in her mouth. She shook it off, then tossed it into the aisle of the plane. Someone would pick it up for her. They would probably throw it away. Water wasn't good for silk.
"How about now?"
Henry rolled his jaw around, rubbing the stinging patch on his face as he did so. She's made him shave his beard so that it would hurt more when she hit him. He picked the dish up off of his thigh, peach wedges slopping onto the floor, as he did so. She slowly peeled off the other glove. She was always trying to be seductive with him --it was disgusting. He would call the police on her after all of this. She needed medication and professional help. He needed to get his money first, though. He could go to school with that money. Start his own agency. He could make it if he had that money. This could be his last job.
So he played along.
"I think I should go find something to change into." He said. Outside there was a brief window in the clouds through which he could see a tall, gray giant. White light briefly illuminated its core. There was a deep-bellied crack of thunder.
"May I have both of my hands to do it?" He asked.
"You don't need both of your hands when you can have both of mine."she reached across the table, then gasped. Henry smacked her hard across the face, open palm slamming into her cheekbone with a dull clap. There were rules in the contract for her, as well. She wasn't allowed to touch him without negotiating a price first. Even the nightly foot rubs were costing her. She also wasn't allowed to ask him to hurt anyone, or to do anything that he was morally against. They were allowed to remind each other of the rules, but they had to use an open hand when they did so. Never a fist. Never a foot. Never a tool or a weapon. Henry had gotten good at using his open hand --he was strong. He worked out a lot. When he hit her, he hit her hard. He wanted to crack her jaw and loosen the teeth up in her gums. He liked doing it. He hated her.
But that was what she wanted --she wanted him to hit her. It was all part of her game. She liked it, sometimes. Even now as her head snapped to the side, short, heavily highlighted hair whipping around her face (she wore it in a bob), she was playing and winning the little game she'd made. When she turned back to him her mouth was open in a gaping, orgiastic smile. She ran a thumbnail across her forehead, guiding her bangs out of her face. There was already a red handprint. It would swell before it faded. She would have to cover it up with makeup until it was gone. Her tongue flicked in her mouth. He hated her.
She loved him.
"Well, now you've made my vision go all blurry." She blinked a few times, still smiling. "Asia!" She called. Asia was the servant she kept. She was a maid and a companion. Shelly made her wear a professional looking pencil skirt at all times, bought her clean, pressed white blouses, and required a red clown nose to be attached to her face from morning to night. Asia was in the same situation as Henry. She was miserable but willing to see it through for the money. Henry suspected her will was waning, however. Shelly had shaved Asia's head for fun the night before, and she had been walking around all day with a pale scalp. There were still patches of unshaved stubble on her head. She looked tortured and third-world, even in the professional attire.
"Asia, go get something Henry can change into. Throw those pants he's wearing away, when he's done."
"Now, Henry --correct me if I'm wrong, but to change your clothes you must first dress out of the ones you're wearing. Is that not true?"
Henry had already begun to peel off his shirt. He wasn't getting out of his cuffs now that he'd hit her. She wouldn't allow it. She'd want him to be uncomfortable. His shirt was easy to get off with one hand, but his pants had a button fly. She watched, slowly rubbing the handprint on her face with the tips of her fingers. Thunder boomed somewhere, though there was no flash of light in the windows. They were in the heart of a cloud, now. Deep enough into the mists that light couldn't reach them. Only the high, powerful scream of the engines and the wind could be heard with the lightning. The plane dipped and wiggled with turbulence as he undid his pants.
She said nothing. She smiled as he tried to get the cuff of his pants off of his ankle, but that was about it. Then he sat there looking her in the face, his body exposed in the dim yellow of the overhead lighting system. Lightning flashed and illuminated her. She liked how uncomfortable this made him feel. She liked that he wouldn't falter or be shy in front of her, too. That he resisted in the ways that he could, and that the ways that he could resist were so few and so insignificant. She liked that she had all the control she wanted and that what control she'd given him wasn't enough.
For a minute, they stared at each other. An onlooker might have mistaken the moment for an intimate one. They were both in states of undress, both listening to the same hammering of rain --a passionate, intense hammering. But the air between them couldn't have been icier.
She winked at him.
After a minute Asia came plodding up from behind. Henry could see her steal a glance at his exposed torso, her eyes shivering. He could have sworn that she was blushing, but her face betrayed no emotion. It never did. He'd never seen her smile, or heard her laugh. He'd never seen her face do anything but sit there, almost like it was pinned to her skull. She'd done a lot more jobs for Shelly than he had. He didn't know where she'd come from, or who she was, or anything about her, but he had the intimate knowledge of what she would look like as a corpse. She would look the same.
"Here you go." Asia tossed a pile of folded clothes into his lap, voice flat. It was a white button up t-shirt and a pair of brown slacks. The shirt was silk. The pants were a wool/cashmere blend. If he had to guess, neither of them cost less than two hundred dollars.
"These don't look like they're going to be very comfortable to sleep in." he said, picking up the shirt by its collar and holding it up in the light.
"They were the only things in your bag." Asia droned. Both of them looked at Shelly. She maintained her eye contact with Henry.
"Thank you, Asia."
Asia gave a small bow and left.
Henry held the shirt in his fist, staring at it. He hadn't slept the night before --she'd kept him up. He'd gotten a nap the previous afternoon, but it hadn't been very long. Three hours? Maybe four? It could have been more. It could have been less. He didn't know. There was no clock, and time was hard to tell on the plane when they kept jumping around from city to city, country to country. He'd been hoping to get some rest soon.
"Do you have plans for us tonight, Miss?" he asked. Her lipstick looked dark and shiny in this light. Like the shell of an armored spider, but wetter.
"Might you please tell me what they are?"
She stared at him. There was silence.
"I can't put this shirt on unless you unlock this." He said, wiggling his arm, jingling his little chain that his old shirt was hanging from. It was a padded cuff, so it hadn't hurt his skin, or rubbed him it raw. His arm was just stiff, and he felt a little claustrophobic and anxious with it on. He wasn't going to let her know that, though.
"The key is in the breast." She said. Henry checked the shirt.
He didn't rub his wrist or stretch his arm when the cuff came loose, though he wanted to. He just stood up from his seat, his knees popping, and balanced himself against the wall as the plane kicked and dipped through the night.
"I thought you'd be more excited to get out and stretch a little." She remarked, watching him get into his clothes.
"Yes, Ma'am." She mocked.
It was another two hours before they landed.
Shelly was right. He was eager to get outside, even if he was tired. The plane was a terrible place to be cooped up in. The plumbing and the air conditioning were both turned off while it was parked. There was no television to watch, no computer to use, not even a deck of cards to play solitaire with. Asia, though she had been hired to clean up and do chores on the plane, went with Shelly wherever she went, and wasn't there to talk to when Henry needed it. The rest of the staff left when it was parked as well, though he wasn't sure where they went. He'd spent all day alone and chained to his chair, bored to death, unable to sleep because of the heat and the restrictions on his movement. He was ready to walk around a little. He was quite ready indeed.
Air whooshed into the cabin as the plane door opened. It was hot, wet air --at least ninety degrees. There were a series of blinding flood lights pointed down at the landing strip and clean, bright pavement below. Asia walked in front of him, hand shielding her eyes. She stopped for a moment, clown nose silhouetted on her face, and let her hand fall to her side. He stepped out after her, breathing in the outside air twisting his back as he did so. It felt good to crack his spine. To tense his legs and stretch his fingers. He'd been able to do all of that on the plane, but there was something different about doing it out here. It was better. There was no ceiling. Growing up he'd always loved to go outside. He'd been on a soccer team, and he'd had friends that he went to the gym with. He'd go running without a shirt in the summer and do laps in the pool in the winter. That had been his life, once. Now...he was here.
"Welcome to the Dominican Republic." Shelly stepped out of the plane behind them.
She was wearing a black evening gown and a pair of onyx high heels, like she'd gotten ready for an event of some kind. She was always looking ready for an event of some kind. Though, as Henry had learned, she rarely went to the kind of events one would expect.
"Who wants to go boating?"
Asia raised her hand. Affirmation and encouragement were both parts of her contract.
"How about you, Henry? Want to go?"
Henry's eyes adjusted to the light. This was no ordinary airport. He knew that before he even had a look around. It was the smell that told him --there was a salty stink on the wind. A nose wrinkling, hair curling stench of open water and shoreline decay. The small crew of men in reflective safety vests who accepted the plane onto the strip had white crosses on their pants, like lifeguards.
"Yes, Ma'am." He followed Asia past the floodlights (she seems to know where she was going) and had himself a proper look around. They were surrounded by water, and the same storm they had flown in for the past few hours was churning in the sky above them. Light flashed in the distance, revealing a black, fitful sea. There was a dock that stretched out before them, high above the waves until the end, where a buoyed platform rose and fell in the tumult.
"Wonderful, then." Shelly stepped past him, heels clicking, leading the way. "We have some people to meet."
Henry watched the water for a moment. He'd seen the ocean many times, living in California, but he'd tried to only ever make the trip on sunny days. He'd never seen an angry ocean like this one. The storm was both above and beneath the sea. Wind screamed across its surface, chopping up the texture of the water, capping the waves. But that wasn't it. There was also a rise and fall to it that dwarfed the white caps, like something was trapped under the water and it couldn't break the surface --only bend it and pull on it. Henry suddenly understood something that he'd read when he was in high school --a poem he'd memorized. He'd been very interested in the works John Keats, once upon a time. He stared across the water and remembered. It keeps eternal whisperings around --desolate shores with its mighty swell --Gluts twice ten thousand caverns, till the spell --of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
He'd really loved Keats --the man was a genius of a poet. Henry watched the water, repeating parts of the poem in his head as he did. Desolate shores with its mighty swell --what a perfect way to put it. He'd never understood what a swell was before now. He'd thought he did, but what he'd been picturing this. But what was their old shadowy sound? Henry closed his eyes and listened for it. He heard the waves. He heard the wind. He heard the click of high heels on concrete. Nothing very shadowy. He tried again, breathing as he did, but he was never going to be able to decipher poetry out here. Not with Shelly around. He had to be alone --far away from her. And that wasn't going to happen.
He opened his eyes and watched the two women walk ahead of him along the dock, sighing as he did so. Shelly was looking over her shoulder at him, lips pursed. He wanted to go home. Every once and awhile he would get pangs in his chest like this --they would hit him hard and leave him ringing like a struck bell. But he was determined, and he was strong. He was going to make it to the end of this. He followed after them.
They were a good ten feet above the sea, but the spray still wafted over them in freshets. The air was hot, but the water was freezing. It was all stirred up from the storm so that the coldest stuff from the bottom mixed in with the warmer stuff on the top. But the chill was welcome --it shocked him. Kept him awake. He stared out across the sea --though, he wasn't really sure it was the sea. Were there seas in the Dominican Republic? Did it even touch the ocean? He didn't know. He might have been able to think of it if he'd had a little more sleep in him. He'd studied the Dominican Republic in school. He knew its shape on the map...
Shelly whipped her hand across his face again. She'd somehow snuck up on him while he was staring out into the sky. It seemed that she'd put a heavy, beveled ring on one of her fingers when she'd changed. She'd also had the space for a significant drawback. He stumbled to the side, dazed, a hot welt already stinging on his face. He slipped on the boardwalk and caught himself on the twine ropes that ran the sides of the dock. He stared down into the dark water, his balance almost betraying him, but managed to hold a foot on the floor. The waves pushed themselves against the shelf of concrete beneath, spraying cold salt water up into his eyes. He shouted, more in reaction to the cold than anything, and cringed as salt seeped into his tear ducts. He wiped madly at his eyes, gasping as he did. The cold had stolen the air from his lungs.
Shelly had her hand over her mouth when he looked back. She was jumping up and down, her eyebrows raised. Henry held up a hand. "I'm okay." He said. But she wasn't worried about him. She was squealing with laughter.
"Can you imagine if you fell off?" She said, pointing at him. "Oh, my heart." She put a hand over her chest. "That was a good one. That was a very good one."
Henry rubbed his face slowly and deliberately, salt water grinding into the swollen bags beneath his eyes. Asia was just staring at him, her clown nose bobbling in the wind, skirt snapping. She turned her gaze to Shelly, face expressionless, eyes narrowed against the wind. He knew that look. Hidden disdain. He appreciated that look. He appreciated Asia --perhaps he would keep in contact with her after this. Perhaps they could be friends --that was, if the shame wasn't too great. Could he look at her ever again without seeing that nose on her face? Could she ever look at him without seeing it on his?
He hated that woman. He really did.
"Oh, Lord!" Shelly waggled her hand in front of her. "That hurt! That was a very, very good one, Henry. You've got to keep up --that's what you get."
"I didn't do anything," Henry said, spitting to see if there was blood in his saliva. He knew there would be none, but he could hope for the melodrama to be on his side, for once. He examined the spit, but there was nothing in it but bubbles. There was, however, a tickle running slowly down the side of his face. He brushed his thumb over the spot where the ring had hit him and examined it. Crimson. He wiped it across his shirt.
"You weren't keeping up. You have to do everything I say. It's in your contract." She said, when he looked up at her. She was rubbing her hands together, grimacing.
"You didn't tell me to do anything." Henry didn't hide the anger in his voice. Shelly cocked her head.
"Well, you didn't do what I wanted." She said. "You knew you were supposed to follow me, didn't you?"
"I. was. Following you." He balled his fists at his side, fantasizing for a moment. What he wanted to do --what he wanted to say. But he let them go. She was baiting him.
"You're arguing!" She sang, stepping towards him. She glanced back at Asia, who was staring at Henry. He was being annoying, he knew. He was holding them up. He needed to just take it and go. He pinched his lips together, forcing himself to be quiet, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Shelly laughed. "Correct me if I'm wrong...but isn't there something in your contract about arguing?"
Henry nodded. He wasn't allowed to argue. He wasn't allowed to disobey. Just a few more weeks. That was all.
"Yes, Ma'am." He said, leaning his face forward. She patted his nose.
"That's a good boy." She said, winding up. He flinched, tensing his face. He didn't like that ring. He didn't like that ring at all. The spot where it had hit his cheek was already aching and sore. There was a drop of blood hanging from his chin, now. He could feel it wiggling there in his freshly shaven whiskers. She was going to hit him harder this time. He could feel it --he tensed his jaw, his forehead, his cheeks. But the blow didn't come. She was waiting for him to relax, or to peek through one of his squinted eyes. He wouldn't do it. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
"Oh, don't worry." She said, then gave him a firm pat on the cheek. "I like a little bit of spice every once and awhile. Let's go. We're trying to keep a schedule here."
She could hear her footsteps as she walked down the dock and away from him. She was tricking him, though. That was the kind of thing she did. She was going to hit him as soon as he opened his eyes. He wasn't going to let her get him that easily. He waved his arms out in front of him, but the air was hollow.
"Come!" She called from a distance. He opened his eyes. She was standing several yards away waving a beckoning hand, ocean spray blowing in the air between them. Henry stood up, releasing his face, blushing.
What had his life become, that he stood cowering like a child like that? What was he doing here with this woman? It wasn't the first time he'd asked those questions to himself, and it wouldn't be the last. The simple answer was that he wanted that money, and he was going to get it. That was all that mattered. Everything else was just an endurance test that he had somehow found himself in. He straightened himself, wiping the blood from his face with the sleeve of his shirt. Wherever they were going, and whomever they were meeting, he was going to see it through, and he was going to be a man about it.
"Coming, Ma'am." He said. Asia was standing next to him. She put a hand on his chest to stop him. Her hair was blowing across her eyes.
Asia cracked him hard across the face, this time on the other cheek. Water sprayed from her hand, and her thumb caught him in the eye. For the third time that day his head whipped to the side, and this time he cried out and held both of his hands to his face, palms pressing into his eye, swearing loudly.
Shelly howled with laughter.
He stood doubled over with his hands on his face, shivering now from the sea spray. "I got you!" Shelly jumped up and down again. Asia stood above him, face dead. Maybe they wouldn't be friends after all. It wasn't like they were in it together. They were both there for themselves.
"You got him in the eye, you little witch!" Shelly skipped over, lifting the skirts of her dress up as she did. Henry was almost insane with anger at her. He glared at her, but she wagged a finger "Don't blame me, Henry. Don't be mad at me. I'm not the one who did it." She cackled, turning to Asia. "You didn't have to do it that hard. I just barely got him a second ago. You could have gone a little easier." She flicked the clown nose with a rubbery pank.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," Asia whispered. She wasn't really saying it to her. She was looking Henry in the eye. He looked away.
"Don't be." Shelly dragged her words out. "Henry can take it. How's your eye, Henry? Just fine?"
Henry blinked a few times. She hadn't really hurt him, he didn't think. Nothing permanent. His eye was just a little swollen, now. It would probably be pink and puffy if he looked at it in a mirror.
"Don't worry about it." He said. He wasn't talking to Shelly either.
"But of course I'm going to worry about it, Henry! Asia here can't beat you around like that. Asia, I'll pay you a thousand dollars to take a hit from Henry. Would you like a thousand dollars, Asia?" She asked. "I hear that goes a long way in this place."
Asia said nothing.
"Henry, would you hit Asia so that she can have a thousand dollars? She's going to need it when we leave her here."
Henry stood up straight again. He had a hand over his eye.
"Yes. This is Asia's last stop. She lives here, don't you Asia?"
Asia said nothing.
"Her six weeks are up after tomorrow. It's a thousand extra dollars for her. Do you want it, Asia, or not?"
Asia said nothing. She was staring at Henry, measuring him. He wasn't angry at her. She could see that.
Asia slowly nodded.
"Yes please, Ma'am." She said. Shelly smiled.
"Okay. Then we'll all be even, won't we? And we can get on with things." She glanced at a watch on her wrist. "Hurry it up Henry. Make it hard, or it doesn't count."
Henry didn't hesitate too much. He knew that it was worth it for her --that a little slap wasn't the worst thing she would have been subjected to in the last six weeks. That anyone in their right mind would take a slap in the face for a thousand dollars. But there was something unsettling about hitting her. She was almost intimidating in her stoicism. He didn't want to slap that drooping, bald head. It was like slapping a gargoyle statue or a sad looking British guardsman.
He made it quick. He didn't allow for any anticipation. Just once, quickly, across her face. But it was hard, just as Shelly had said. The clown nose jumped off of Asia's nose and spun on it string around her neck. Her hair whipped out in a fan. Below them, a wave crashed against the shelf and sprayed them all with mist.
"Okay then --time for us all to-" Shelly began, but she didn't finish. Because all at once, Asia was on here.
The first snap of her hand caught Shelly by surprise. Shelly's head jerked to the side, a stunned look on her face. Asia grabbed the clown nose from around her neck and ripped it away, snapping the fishing line that held it on her face and tossing it over her shoulder. Then she hit her again. Again. Again. Shelly finally reacted, holding her arms up like a boxer to protect her face.
"Hey!" she took a step back, offended. She stared at Asia, but Asia's face betrayed no emotion. It was the same mask that it always was. Not stoic, really, now that Henry thought about it. Just completely indifferent. Asia gently put her hands over the tops of Shelly's fists and guided her lanky, bejeweled arms back down to her sides. Shelly, perplexed, allowed it to happen. She was more shocked than Henry was. She stared at Asia with a mixture of bewilderment and mounting outrage on her face. Then her head snapped to the side again. Three times, quickly --left-right-left --and she stumbled backward, arms flailing.
Asia was faster than her. She knew what she was doing. She had a plan.
Henry watched it with his hands over his mouth. Asia stuck a foot out and casually hooked it behind Shelly's ankle, tripping her. Shelly stumbled back with a scream, falling on a forearm and a wrist. Asia casually stepped over her and stood above her torso so that her back was to Henry. She swung her arm.
Shelly fell to her elbows and Asia sat down on her, knees into biceps, all struggles snuffed out. And then she was a windmill. Slow. Rhythmic. Right --left --right --left. It all happened in a stunning silence until Shelly's senses caught up with her and she began to scream. And even then, it was strangely silent. No hum of adrenaline. No music playing. Just Shelly.
"Get her off of me!" She shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Henry!" She called out. "Henry! She's killing me Henry!!"
It was a quiet sound next to the churning of the water.
Asia looked back at Henry, body bucking a little over Shelly's wild legs. She rolled her eyes. Henry almost laughed.
Henry had to give it to her --she was more restrained than he would have been. She only gave three more slaps. Hard ones. LEFT --RIGHT --a mighty wind up, and then --CLAP!
Shelly screamed at the top of her lungs. Even when Asia stood up and stepped away, she rolled over and screamed into the boardwalk, scrambling and clawing at the wood like something was after her, or crawling in her clothes. She was still wearing her boy shorts, Henry could see.
"Get her Henry! Stop her --!" She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Heeenrrry!" She stretched the word out, tearing into the night, though the threat of falling to her was long gone. Then, when she had the courage to peek out from under her disheveled hair. "Keep her away from me!"
Asia was now standing next to Henry. He stared at her, suddenly conscious of his hanging jaw. And then she did something that he had never seen her do. She smiled. It wasn't a toothy smile --just the ghost of a grin. A slight lift on the corners of her mouth. It wasn't a big one, but on her face, it looked huge. An enormous, grinchy smile. And Henry, despite the shock he felt and mounting fright in his stomach, felt something lift in his chest.
Asia had a pretty smile.
"That's not in your contract." He said to her. She shrugged. He had never noticed it before, but there was a distinct circular tan line around her nose. A pale patch in the middle of her face --she looked like a doughnut.
"Henry!" Shelly called out to him, still screaming, but sobbing now. She was scared. Henry felt bad for her --he had often felt sorry for her in the past. But not like this. "Henry --come here!"
He took a deep breath and walked over. She held her hand out for him to take, but he didn't touch it. It had a ring on it. But then he saw her face --scarlet and swollen. He looked away and took her hand, hoisting her up.
"Hold me --" she pulled herself up and hugged his chest, burying her face in the nook of his shoulder. He held his arms out to the sides, refusing to touch her.
"Are we going to get on the boat, Ma'am?" Asia's voice was strong and clear. She acted as though nothing had happened. It was too much. Henry's body betrayed him and he chuckled once. There was a certain dark humor to it all.
Shelly broke her embrace and glared over Henry's shoulder. He stepped away from her. She was sneering at Asia, a tear sliding down her face. Henry didn't like the way her eyes were twitching. There was something maniacal about it. Something hurt, and wrathful.
"You'd better believe we're getting on the boat." Her voice was small and shaking. "We're getting on the boat --now."
Asia nodded. "Yes, Ma'am." She said, and walked past them, her naked, patchy scalp glinting lightning. Shelly glared at her back, but did not follow as she walked on and on towards the buoyed section of the dock. They would be going to a party now, or a ceremony, or a ritual, or whatever Shelly had planned. Henry didn't want to go, though. He didn't want to see Shelly in public after this. She was going to be cruel. She was going to take her anger out on the bartender, or the rabbi, or the guests, or whomever they were meeting. Henry had seen her buy a two hundred dollar bottle of bourbon from an uptown bar just to pour it on the sidewalk by the front door and drop a match into it. She'd made complaints to waiters and had chefs fired from restaurants she ate at just to see if she could do it. But there had been darker things as well.
She'd pushed a pitcher of hot coffee over onto a barista and said it was an accident. She often slipped pills and powders into the food and drinks of the people around her and left without watching what would happen. He would report her on that, some day. That's how he would get her. He would testify and everything. He would find a way to prove what she did. But for now, he didn't want to see it.
"Are you sure you're okay to meet those people you were talking about?" he asked her. Her sneer twitched. She gasped and sniffled, breath heavy.
"I don't think they'll care if they're a few short tonight." She said.
Henry stared at her.
She stared at Asia's back.
"You're not going?" he asked.
"We might make an appearance later." She said. Her eyes grew dark. "We might not." Her face was hard and shadowy. She was a bad person. She wanted to do something bad."
Henry looked down at himself, and asked again --how had he come to this? How had he come here? Asia's clown nose was on the floor by his feet. He nudged it with his toe. The rubber was stiff with age. It was far more than six weeks old. How many people had worn it? Two, maybe? Five? A dozen? How many clown noses did Shelly have?
He bent over and picked it up, rolling it around in his fingers. Shelly glanced over at him, but didn't seem to care. She was developing a tunnel vision, he could see. Her focuses were narrowing to a point. Asia was that point. Fear subsiding, shock washing away, mind sharpening a little, Henry looked down at himself again and made a decision.
"How much do you owe me?" he asked her.
"How...much?" she repeated. Henry nodded at her. She stared at him
"Seventy-nine thousand, with the massages." She said quietly. And then, before he could say anything, "I'll double it, if you'd like."
Henry took a deep breath in through his nose. What had he become? What had he become?
The water was wretched to smell.
"Make it eighty." He said. "For the hug you just gave me."
Henry smiled. She knew what was coming. "Whatever you say, Ma'am." He shrugged. "I'd like to cancel my contract with you, if you don't mind."
Shelly's face sunk. He'd only agreed to go along with her on this trip if he could leave whenever he wanted to. It was in the contract --the only part he'd written. Shelly looked like she might begin crying again.
Henry couldn't have cared less.
"And if I want to keep it at seventy-nine? Will you hit me too?"
"It's the rule." Henry folded his arms over his chest. Shelly flinched, but said nothing. She just stared at him, eyes slowly narrowing, face slowly softening. He pitied her --he really did. She was such a terrible person, and yet --how had she become so? He didn't know her story. He didn't even know her last name. All he knew was what she was, and what she was was putrid. He reached out and put a hand on her cheek where a tear was sliding, wiping it away. He slapped her lightly. She gasped.
She shook her head slowly, then let it hang. When she looked back up again her depression had changed. Her features were now screwed up in hate. Henry was almost afraid of her. Almost.
"Fine." She spat, pulling a checkbook from the purse that had somehow remain hung around her shoulder. She scribbled across it with a Mont Blanc, then tossed the pen over her shoulder and into the water. She dropped the check to the floor where the wind almost snatched it, but it stuck to the moisture of the boardwalk. Henry didn't look away from her. She didn't look away from him.
"If you're on the plane when I get back I'm going to have you arrested." She turned from him. "Don't ever ask me for work again."
Asia was now disappearing into the distance, her head sinking below the line of the dock as she descended towards the boats. Shelly stormed after her, hands balled up at her sides. She was furious. It would probably be a very long, very memorable night for both Asia and her. But not for Henry.
Henry was free.
He picked up the check on the floor and examined it. She hadn't written it for seventy-nine thousand dollars. She'd written it out for one hundred and fifty thousand. He breathed in through his nose again, then crumpled the check up in his fist. At the same time, he squeezed the clown nose in his other and stared up into the sky. The clouds were moving quickly, now. The rain would soon fall. The worst was still to come.
Lord Almighty he thought. This storm is going to be terrible. Absolutely terrible.
He stood there for a long time staring into the sky, watching the lightning boom. He stared long after Shelly was gone. Long after the boat had gone jumping and screaming off into the white caps.
"It keeps eternal whisperings around --" he said. "desolate shores with its mighty swell --Gluts twice ten thousand caverns, till the spell --of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound."
What a perfect way to put it.
He closed his eyes and stood there for a few minutes. He could hear the boat's motor. The mechanical blare. He could hear it fading away with both women on board. Hear it fading away...fading away...fading away...
There it was. That old shadowy sound. A mixture both of what was there, and what wasn't. What was yet to come, and what had already past. He said it again before he left. Just one more time, slowly, boldly into the night.
"Leaves them their old shadowy sound."
Leaves them their old shadowy sound.
The waves crashed and frothed below.