The Long Last Callby John Skipp
It was closing time at the strip club. The bartender was cleaning up, and the girls were looking forward to calling it a night. Then he came in, a well-dressed stranger with a lot of cash to spend. A briefcase full, in fact. But this is no normal customer, and his money is a bit unusual too. Every dollar he spends stirs up a bit more hatred, a little more repressed rage in whoever he gives it to. As the night passes, the pressure builds…and builds, and the stranger just smiles. He knows what will come. He knows he only has to wait to see all of his blood-drenched plans fulfilled.
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The Long Last Call
By John Skipp
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2006 John Skipp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe road to hell was badly paved, a godforsaken pothole paradise near America's ass end.
One o'clock in the a.m., and no one but Hank to care.
"Ow!" he said, in the driver's seat, as the pickup truck's wheels clocked another harsh bounce. Green beer bottle glass clacked against tooth enamel, and a spritz of golden Rolling Rock splashed against his bristled cheek, dribbled down toward his denim jacket collar, the flannel shirt beneath it.
"Fuck!" he continued, wiping his face with his sleeve: a country boy, fair-skinned and good-looking, but troubled with a capital T. Deep blue eyes and short dark hair flying in the wind from the open window.
He drank as he drove, one bottle after another. Had been doing so for hours. Was as high as he could be, and still feel this goddam low.
He was no longer sure which state his vehicle occupied, nor did he really care. Hank didn't trust much in maps anymore.
Truth to tell, he couldn't even trust himself.
Indifferent cornstalks swayed in the breeze, to either side of the darkened road. Nothin' but nothin' for miles around, and Hank was fine with that. The country music was sweet and slow as it poured from the dashboard radio: liquid bell-like pedal steel, floating andsoaring, reverberating ghostlike over a boom-chik-chik groove as plain and pedestrian as life.
And, of course, the music made him think about Pamela. Of course it goddam did. It was beautiful, just for starters. And tragic. And sweet. And besides that, she was all he could think about anymore, no matter WHAT else was going on.
Which was why he had her picture on his lap; or, more precisely, tucked between his thighs. So he could pick it up, from time to time, and take a good hard look at what he'd lost.
He did so, now, tucking the beer between his knees just before he did so, freeing up his right hand to pick her up and hold her in front of his face. In the dark, he could see the outline pretty well, but all of the details were lost.
Right now, all he wanted was to look her in the eyes. And since, in real life, that was no longer possible, he figured he'd do the next best thing.
So he shifted his grip on the steering wheel-pinkie to middle finger, freeing up index and thumb-then pinched her photo between the spares. Pulled out a smoke. Lit it up. And held the lighter to Pamela's face.
She flickered, there, frozen in time: the red hair, the green eyes, the lioness face. It reopened all his buried caverns of desire. He wanted his fingertips to stroll through her lush mane, slide down to the cheekbones, pull her close for one more kiss.
But that was never gonna fucking happen. Never gonna fucking happen again.
His madness had seen to that.
And it was the madness that brought the lighter close, as he stroked the fleshless photo with the knuckles of his hand. Feeling the paper, instead of the skin. Stoking his hopelessness, hard.
On the radio, a mournful voice sang:
"When she left me, I was poor. Didn't know what love was for. But she left me in the fields Of pain ..."
In the distance, a car was approaching. He could swimmingly see the headlights through his suddenly rushing tears. His face, as he choked, was a rictus of emotion-he didn't need to check himself in the rearview mirror to know it-and the thought of being seen like that was almost more than he could bear.
Anger flared up, then, like the high beams coming closer; and it was directed at nobody but himself. He was the asshole, knew that all too well. Not Pam. Not this driver. Not anybody else.
So why did he set her pretty picture on fire?
He didn't even know. He really didn't have an answer. He just did it, the way he did everything else, now. On impulse. Bringing the lighter right up to her eyes. So that they glowed, for one last moment.
Before blackening, then bursting into flames.
The car was closing in on him, now: between them, they had to be clocking fifty mph apiece. He could see that it was a convertible coupe, and that the driver had-god help him-a stormcloud of billowing red hair.
In fact-in the split-second before the driver's head ignited-he would have sworn that it was Pam ...
... but then he was looking at a thunderball of pluming heat, skull like a ten-pound charcoal briquette in action, atop her elegant neck, fuming yellow-black smoke that the wind hurled toward him ...
... just as his fingers started to burn ...
... and he went, "YOW! FUCK! OW!" Distracted from the vision by the hurt in his hand. Tossing the flaming memorabilia out the goddam window ...
... just in time to watch the car go past him.
With no discernible flame action whatsoever.
And then, as if to punctuate the moment, the vocals kicked back in; and he realized how short time was, as compared to the distentions his mind provided.
Because the song was wrapping up-had, indeed, been wrapping up, the whole time-and this is what it said:
"So I ask you: was I wrong? Was I the bad guy, all along? And do you think I might be going insane?"
The timing of the universe-God's wacky joke on us-was enough to make him laugh and shake his head, through his tears. Bringing him back to himself, if only for a moment.
In the distance, Hank saw an ugly yellow glowing sign. He couldn't be sure if it was real; but when he blinked, it was still there, and that had to count for something.
The closer he got, the clearer the words got.
Hot diggity dog.
It also had a picture of a lady. The lady sported a sizable rack. Titty bar, he thought to himself. How fucking perfect is that?
The parking lot was wide, and made of gravel, off on the right hand side of the road. Less than a dozen cars and trucks were parked there, pretty much evenly spread out. Either this place did shit for business, or the night was winding down.
Hank wasn't sure, till the moment he did it, whether he would pull in or not. But then the driveway was upon him, and he braked, then skidded in hard, fishtailing on the gravel before righting himself.
There was a Chevy pickup just as shitty as his own, parked close to the road. He pulled up next to it, and stopped. It had a gun rack on the back, but no guns were strapped upon it.
Hank had that beat all to hell.
There was a Smith & Wesson in his glove compartment.
He cut the engine, pocketed the keys, and listened to the music from the club for a minute. It was the shit they used to call "techno/industrial": all bass throb, chopped power chords, and Tinkertoy roar. He hated that music; but it, too, seemed kind of right.
"Let's get it over with," he said to himself.
And popped the glove compartment.
It was no surprise that the song was still going when he hopped out of the truck, and staggered toward the door of the shithole bar. That kind of music was interminable, at best.
He hoped the woman who was dancing was worthy.
When he threw the door open, the sound tripled in magnitude. Evidently, the soundproofing was good. That, put together with the flashing lights against the fishbowl dark, practically took the top of his head off.
He didn't even see the bouncer until the sonofabitch was right up in his face.
"Five dollar cover," said the gap-toothed mouth in the big hard head that looked down at him now. The eyes were both large and unkind, unblinking in their sockets, more than six feet off the floor.
Hank fished out a twenty-one of the last that he had-and got change.
Only then could he scope out the joint.
It was dark and smoky, except for the stage, which was massively mirrored and brightly lit. The bar was long, with an aging stripper and an old drunk seated down toward the end. They were carrying on, cackling like hammered hyenas, while the bartender hovered behind.
The joint had something like a dozen tables, but only one was occupied. It had three redneck good ol' boys-probably 25-30 years old-getting played by a pink-haired stripper, who was working them up good.
As he sidled past the bouncer, the old drunk and the strippers all smiled up at him as one, like they were hoping for something.
Hank ignored them, casting only a fleeting glance at the sultry Amazon woman flinging her goodies around the stage. Her goodies were WAY good, that much was clear-the woman was built like Satan's own hourglass-but he needed a drink, before he could even think about it.
He headed toward the bar.
The guy behind it was tall, ruddy and worn, with a flint-and-leather face that had seen way too much. He had a black Hank Williams III T-shirt with the sleeves torn off, and his tattoos were fading: arms still muscled and wiry, but fighting off fifty-year-old flab.
"What're ya havin'?" the barkeep asked. He sounded like he grew up chompin' gravel for breakfast.
Hank tried to act normal, wasn't sure if it worked. His own voice, by comparison, sounded jittery, near falsetto. "Double shot o' Jack, with a Rolling Rock chaser?"
The bartender shook his head, tilted it back over his shoulder, indicating the line of beer bottles on display behind him. "If you don't see it, we ain't got it."
Hank squinted at the row of bottles, distracted by the reflection of the dancer on the stage. She was boner-inducing, and that was a fact. It made him itchy and queasy, all at once.
"Then Heineken. Fuck it. And ..." Rifling out his little wad of bills. "... I need twenty in ones."
The guy took the money and turned away. Hank turned as well, fully facing the stage.
And that was when the madness kicked in, hard.
Suddenly, it was all about her nipples, and the gun. The whole world had funneled down to those two things. Her nipples were large and full, only barely concealed by her bra, waggling around on breasts that were the size of casaba melons. The gun was like a second pecker: rock-hard, and wanting nothing more than to unload.
He was dimly aware of the drinks set down behind him, but the flutter of bills got his attention. He reached back without looking, eyes locked on the dancer, and came up with the wad of ones.
And that was his ticket-money ALWAYS was the ticket-and after tonight, he wouldn't need it any more. He knew that like he knew his own heartbeat, his own face, the smell of his own doom.
It was time to face the music.
Too bad the music sucked.
Hank felt himself move toward the stage, getting closer and closer to the woman and her heat. With every step, he felt her more, as his eyes took in the details.
She was a stunning, bronzed brunette with an animalistic, killer body: reduced now to her bra and thong, dancing with her muscled back and swaying ass to the audience.
Meanwhile, she watched herself in the mirrors-clearly turning herself on-as she stripped and teased the somnambulant crowd.
Hank found himself torn between laughing and crying, once again. The come-on was so stupid that he hated himself for responding, but she was SO fucking hot and scary: somewhere between Vanessa Del Rio, Tura Satana, and Rosario Dawson, on the bodacious alpha female scale ...
... and for a moment, she locked eyes with Hank in the mirror, before turning to blow herself a kiss ...
... as the rednecks suddenly got wind of her, turning their attention from the pale, pink-haired hottie to the force of nature on the stage. Hank felt their surge, as he felt his own. It was as if they'd conjoined, into a tribe of lemmings, or a flurry of moths to the flame ...
... but there was no fire. At least not in this moment. Just the woman, doing an unbelievable spin on the metal pole. Gravity-defying.
And then whipping off her bra ...
... and CRAWLING toward the rednecks, who were whoopin' up a storm as they brandished their ones, watching this goddess slither toward them ...
... while Hank jittered his way to the front of the stage, sitting down directly before the pole ...
... waving the fan of one-dollar bills before him ...
... and that got her attention. Of course it did. Like a magical perfume from an old Popeye cartoon, she practically levitated her way back toward center stage ...
... looking Hank in the eye, as if he were the only man in her world ...
... and as he savored that pointless moment, she brought herself full-up in front of him: thighs positioned to either side of his face, pantied crotch and perfect belly leading up to perfect breasts ...
... as he TOSSED THE MONEY up in the air, so that it showered over her in something like slo-mo, strobing in the titty-bar lights ...
... then pulled the Smith & Wesson from his jacket ...
... put it to his temple ...
... and blew his brains out the left side of his head ...
... and that was when the bartender tapped him on the shoulder. Snapping him out of his own madness.
And back to the madness around him.
Excerpted from The Long Last Call by John Skipp Copyright © 2006 by John Skipp. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
John Skipp is a bestselling author and screenwriter whose eleven books have sold millions of copies and are reprinted in nine languages. As co-author with Craig Spector, he wrote six novels from 1986 to 1993 that completely re-invented horror. Of their first three novels, The Light at the End, The Cleanup and The Scream, each sold over a million copies and two made the New York Times bestseller list. Together they provided the story for the 1989 film A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child. Other books by Cody Goodfellow include Radiant Dawn (Perilous Press, 2000) and Ravenous Dusk (Perilous Press, 2003).
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