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Articles: PULP

Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 05:21 PM, (2414 Reads)

A clairvoyant prostitute, a psychotic soldier, a broke newspaper writer, and a dismembered body; what could go wrong? Chapter 1

“Spirits…” Tina said, one night while we were in bed together and after I’d noticed the small bottle of Prozac she kept on the bureau still contained all its pills. “Are starved for information about the living. That’s why they talk to me. Not to tell me things about the afterlife but for me to tell them things about mortal life. They miss it, as you can imagine. Death is quite boring compared to the stimuli of existence.”
I laid there staring at the ceiling wondering how I ever got involved with a woman like her. How much my life had changed since we’d met.
Tina had a tough life. When she was eleven, she and her brother Ritchie watched her dad strangled her mom while arguing over who answered first to one of the game show, Jeopardy’s questions. Her dad then got his pistol and put a bullet through his head.
For months after, she and Ritchie bounced around different state orphanages, finally ending up in foster care. Her foster parents had problems of their own, alcohol and all kinds of the craziness associated with heavy drinking. They were poor and strict, and mainly housed Tina and Ritchie because the state paid $335 a month in support for each of them.
By age fifteen, Tina had developed a nasty drug habit and ran away to live on the street. Prostitution, stripping, dealing drugs, it was the only way she could afford her daily bag of heroin. Eventually, she was arrested and brought back to her foster parents who quickly shuffled her away to a mental institution because the state wouldn’t pay for rehab.
Ritchie left the foster house the day he turned eighteen and joined the marines. He returned home after three years of intense fighting in Iraq; being dishonorably discharged for allegedly killing and mutilating a family of Kurds. He quickly became the neighborhood drug kingpin. The times Tina and I visited him he talked how the war was his life and when he got back his life became the war. It still raged within him.
When I met Tina she’d been off drugs for nearly three months. She was living in a dingy hotel room above a Chinese restaurant and dancing topless at a local dive called Double Visions. I’d just published my first novel and had used the entire advance on a down payment for a small rancher in the suburbs with nearly three acres of heavily wooded land. I was celebrating the purchase with a night out at a strip club and had paid Tina for a lap dance. It was an unconventional way to meet but the attraction between us was mutual and electrifying. That night I had the best sex of my life in my new house. The next day I asked her to move in with me.
I was in love.
A month into our relationship, Tina got a call from social services that her foster parents had been killed in horrible automobile accident and that she and Ritchie were the sole beneficiaries of their small estate. Tina took her share of the money, moved out of my place, and bought a duplex in a semi-upscale neighborhood a few miles outside of Philadelphia. She told me she wanted to live on her own for a while even if we did end up moving back in together. I hated the thought of her not being with me but accepted the fact that she wanted her own space.
Ritchie took up residence in their foster parent’s house and turned it into Grand Central Station for his drug dealing empire.
Four months into our relationship is when I noticed Tina had stopped taking her medication. Her body was in picturesque health but her mind was a shattered mess. Her mental illness was frightening. I’d wake up at her house in the middle of the night to the sound of her blabbering incoherently to the ceiling with drool leaking from the side of her mouth and her eyes wrapped up in her sockets like a woman possessed.
She told me two spirits lived through her, burlesque dancers from the 1920’s who were raped and killed by a serial murderer. These spirits wanted her to go back to stripping at the club so they could re-experience the excitement that was taken from them. I forbade it, though my novel had flopped terribly, barely earning back its advance, and my financial situation was in no state to support two households. The tiny articles I wrote in the garden section of the local newspaper for $125 bucks a week paid my basics. But that’s it.
A few nights later, I discovered to my horror that Tina had begun hooking again and one of her clients was the principle of a local high school. She and I had a tremendous fight and said horrible things to each other; words once spoken that we could never take back. And just like that our golden balloon of love popped.
We talked one more time on the telephone after that heart-wrenching night. I warned her that she was heading for trouble screwing around with prominent, married men, but she’d brushed off my concerns, chiding; “You’re just jealous.”
I assured her I was not, wished her well, and said goodbye. It was painful, but in my mind she was out of my life forever. Deleted from the contacts list in my cell phone.
Then tonight’s frantic call. “Lance Starkey’s dead! Lance Starkey’s dead! Please come over!”
The sheer unexpectedness of Tina’s shrill, near hysterical voice rattled me into action. Without thinking about what I was doing, I left Jen asleep in my bed, threw on my jacket, hopped into my 1997 Nissan Sentra, and cruised down I-95 toward the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. Something I had sworn I would never do again.
Concern. Hope. Dread. Guilt. Love?
Emotions poured through me as I pulled off the interstate, turned onto POLK STREET, and headed into Tina’s development. I spotted a blue Jaguar XJS parked alongside the alley. I stopped in front of her house, shut off the ignition, and listened to the plinking of the cooling engine. The September night was black and moonless and tinged with a winter-like chill.
I sighed deeply and stared at her front door.
Do I really need another complication in my life?
I was already having an affair with the married, bi-sexual spouse of the gay woman who signed my meager paycheck. My sixth credit card had hit its limit. I received word that my eight-month wait for my second advance check was being withheld by Gotham Publishing until I made the absurd changes they wanted in my second manuscript. And I’d just discovered my recently deceased father owed ten grand from an internet gambling debt, which I’d now have to figure a way to pay.
Craving for a cigarette prickled through me. I reached into the ashtray and fished an old butt from the disgusting mishmash of filters, chewed nicotine gum, and ashes. The butt looked like a twisted worm. I lit the frayed end and dragged deep; my first drag in a week. I held in the smoke and felt a dizzying rush of nicotine jet through my system and relax my state of mind.
“Kevin!” a voice called.
I turned my head.
It took a moment for my eyes to grow accustom to the glow of the porch light, but when they did, I saw Tina’s slender figure wearing just her underwear. Her hourglass hips curved underneath the fabric of her white panties. Her breasts swelled against her bra. Corkscrews of golden hair rippled in disarray down her shoulders and over her petite, seraphic face.
My stomach somersaulted. I’d forgotten how beautiful she was.
She stepped toward me.
She looked worried.
She looked vulnerable.
She looked like a toy built for sex.
Do I really need another complication in my life?
I crushed the butt, opened the door, and unfolded from my car; feeling as if I were about to get involved in something that could possibly ruin me.

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