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Archive for August, 2014

Finale, Part II – 24 August 2014

This is the second part of the finale to “Matchstick.”


The cop stood up and faced Linwood. “I want you to know that there’s no hard feelings here. You just chose to enter the wrong profession, is all.” He stuck the syringe into the vial and drew up a bit of the liquid inside, removing the air after he had done so.

He moved in front of Linwood and pushed a foot into his chest, pinning him to the loveseat. The first injection the cop had given him was wearing off and Linwood tried to squirm out from underneath his shoe, groaning with the effort.

The cop frowned at Linwood’s feeble attempt to escape. He took his foot away, and when Linwood reflexively sprang forward to take a breath he caught his throat in a vice grip. Holding Linwood’s head back he injected a bit of the drug into his chest, just below the skin. He waited until he felt Linwood’s tensed body relax, before placing the syringe back on the table and straddling Linwood’s lap.

“This,” the cop said, showing the syringe to Linwood, “is lidocaine. The magic of this stuff is it keeps you from feeling pain, but won’t knock you out. A demonstration.” The cop drew a finger across Linwood’s chest with a light touch, then raked the scalpel blade across the same place. Almost at once blood beaded along the cut and began to run down his torso. Linwood looked down, panicked, but just as the cop had said he felt nothing.

Arlotta handed over the threaded needle, and the cop proceeded to sew the slice closed. “This is how it’s going to be, until you slowly bleed to death or I get bored and kill you, whichever comes first,” he said as he worked. “After that we’ll work on your friend over there, and then the troublemaker in the trunk’ll be next. This’ll be an interesting few days, won’t it, baby?” Arlotta smiled in response. “Get another one ready,” he told her. Jamieson groaned loudly just then, catching the cop’s attention.

“And you,” the cop said to Jamieson. He cut the thread with the scalpel, and rose from Linwood’s lap to walk around the table. “I have to say, you’re tougher than you look, Mister Hippie,” the cop taunted. Jamieson lay on his back on the floor where the cop had dropped him. His right hand was balled into a fist.

“It’s always like this with the younger ones,” the cop said to the room. “The drive to live is still strong by this point, so you fight, and fight, and fight. Right up until the bitter end. It’s all very romantic, but…” He stooped over Jamieson’s face, and pulled his head up off the floor. “Everybody breaks.” He dropped his head to the floor with a thump, and stood to retrieve the bloody scalpel. In doing so he shifted the pile of items on the small coffee table, and moved the gun closer to the edge.

“I wonder…” the cop trailed off as he wiped the blood off the blade and onto Jamieson’s shirt. “I wonder how much pain you can take before you pass out. 

“T… try me a—an’ see, motherfucker,” Jamieson hissed back.

“That’s the plan, granola man.” The cop laughed out loud, then stooped again to cut Jamieson’s shirt free. He gave him three deep slices, on his chest. He drew the scalpel blade across his skin slowly, made sure that the blade passed through the skin, into the muscle. Jamieson grunted and hyperventilated in trying to handle the pain.

Though Linwood’s vision was obscured by the stuff on the table and the drugs in his system he knew at once Jamieson hadn’t been anesthetized. He could feel the first drug the cop injected him with being overtaken by adrenaline, still pumping through his veins.

The cop stood again, swapping the scalpel for the bottle of rum from the table. He went over to Jamieson’s body and poured out half of what was in the bottle over Jamieson’s cuts, and onto the carpet beside him. He groaned at first, but it soon gave way to wailing. After swallowing what remained the cop walked into the kitchen and came back with a salt shaker.

“You know that adage about rubbing salt into wounds?” the cop said to Jamieson as he uncapped the shaker and poured a pile of salt into his hand. “I wonder how true it is. Maybe you should test it out for me.” He knelt over Jamieson’s body, poured the salt over his cuts, and rubbed it into them with a palm and lots of pressure.

Jamieson turned white in trying to swallow the pain this time. It wasn’t long before he began to sweat and his body began to convulse, and soon after that he screamed as loudly as he dared. The cop smiled. “A myth confirmed, perhaps.” He stood and wiped the sweat from his face with the back of a blood-stained hand.

Linwood listened to Jamieson’s agonized cries slowly fade as his muscles tried to obey his brain’s commands. He watched as the cop and Arlotta made preparations for the next round to torture.

“Interesting, isn’t it?” the cop asked him, rising from the chair. “seeing how a serial killer operates. But it’s so much more than simply taking a life. There’s the ritual, the preparation, the hunt—many, many parts to a most glorious whole.” He picked up the syringe again.

Fu—fuck that,” Linwood whispered. He furrowed his brow in trying to get his larynx to work properly. “You c—can say what… ever you want, but—” His sentence was cut off as the cop punched him across the jaw again.

“Why do you insist on contradicting me at every turn?” the cop asked as he sat on Linwood’s lap again. “Chalk it up to the recklessness of youth, I suppose.” He put four fingers underneath Linwood’s head and jerked it upward. He forced himself to stay still as the cop injected more of the local anesthetic midway between his chin and throat.

“Yes, that’ll do. Maybe afterward I’ll rip these stitches out and take your tongue. It’s been entertaining me all night. And I’m sure Arlotta enjoyed it, too,” he added, smirking at her. “Come here baby, and hold his head back.”

Arlotta rose from the loveseat and did what she was asked without a word, wrapping her forearm around Linwood’s forehead and eyes. Sweat beaded on his torso and face, anticipating the attack to come.

“Number thirty-six,” the cop said, slowly drawing a finger along the underside of Linwood’s chin. He found a spot just under his chin and touched the tip of the blade to it. “You got him, Arlotta?” When she nodded he pushed the scalpel trough Linwood’s skin. Blood leached out over his hand, and the blade in it, as a grin of satisfaction spread across his face. By reflex Linwood thrashed his arms to get free and connected with the side of the cop’s head.

“You… m—motherfucker!!” the cop screamed. He yanked the scalpel from Linwood’s chin and Arlotta let his head go. his eyes widened, his face turned beet-red, and his smile became a grimace. He raised the scalpel to slice Linwood across the face, just as the smell of sulfur and the hiss of a match head filled the living room. The cop whipped around to spot the source, and a beat later four loud pops echoed through the apartment.

The cop bellowed in anger, pain, and surprise as he moved toward Jamieson. As he fell across the table Linwood saw empty bullet casings through the cop’s feet, lying on a scorched section of carpet. Blood pooled between the cop’s shoes.

As he puzzled over the sight Jamieson, beaten, bloodied, and in considerable pain, slowly rose to his feet and picked up the empty Saturday night special. He didn’t say a word as he chambered a bullet, the last one.

“What the—” A fifth explosion burst through the apartment as he shot the cop in the forehead from point-blank range. 

For a beat Arlotta and Linwood stared at Jamieson, unable to process the previous ten seconds. Linwood recovered from the shock first, and after springing forward and snatching the scalpel from the cop’s hand threw his arm behind him, blindly slashing at Arlotta. He wobbled out of the chair, and turned to find her clutching at her stomach. A bloodstain grew out from under her palms, spreading across the T-shirt.

“You… y—you…” Linwood watched as Arlotta’s gaze shifted from her wound to his face, and back again. After a few seconds she fell on the loveseat, unconscious from heavy blood loss.

Linwood turned back to Jamieson. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute, before he spoke.

“You—you let ’em take your hat, man.”

Jamieson laughed painfully. “Nah. It’s in that room back there.” He chuckled again as Linwood cleaned and taped a wad of gauze to the wound beneath his chin.

“Ricky killed Dennis last night,” Linwood told him after he’d finished. 

“Yeah, that motherfucker told me already. He told me a lot of crazy shit tonight I didn’t know about.” Jamieson winced, and fell to his knees in pain.

“Jamieson!” Linwood rushed over to him. “Don’t worry, I gotcha.” He threw one of Jamieson’s arms over his shoulder, stood, and walked him over to the blood-free sofa. He took a look at the salted wound on his chest, then shuffled through the stuff on the table as Jamieson thanked him.

“That chick, she told me ’bout how you two met,” Jamieson told him. “How her husband was gonna kill you, an’ why he decided’ta track you instead. Given all that’s happened, I think a seven-point-five was more than generous for that bitch.”

Linwood laughed as he came back with gauze, tape, several rubbing-alcohol pads, a bottle of water, and a syringe full of something. “I—I’m sorry,” he told Jamieson as he knelt in front of the sofa.

“What for?”

“For noticin’ that your shitty hat was gone before thankin’ you for savin’ my life. Twice, now.” He opened the bottle of water and pored a bit of it over the raw wounds on Jamieson’s chest before giving him the rest of it. He laughed as Linwood held the gauze in place and taped it. “I can’t help but notice they took your fuckin’ hoodie too, jerk,” Jamieson said.

“Yeah, but still. The Islanders, man?” Linwood opened one of the pads and rubbed it near the wound on Jamieson’s chest. “It’s okay,” Linwood said as he flinched. “It’s only an antibiotic. I checked.” He gave Jamieson the injection.

“So, what’s the verdict?” Jamieson asked as he rose from the couch. “Should we go to the hospital, or what?”

“I’m pretty sure at least three bones in my face’re broken, so yeah, we better. We’ll tell them we got jumped.” He stood and walked over to his vomit-stained hoodie lying rumpled on the floor.

“I guess that’s that. Let’s get the fuck outta here, man.” Jamieson walked to the back of the apartment.

Linwood put the hoodie on, wincing with the pain. He looked around the living room again, and at the two bodies. His eyes lit upon the frogman watch. He hesitated, before giving into the urge to take it off the dead man’s wrist and pocket it.


Five minutes later the pair stood on the sidewalk, Jamieson in a freshly-pilfered T-shirt and leather jacket, and the Islanders cap. He studied his twisted eyeglass frames, deciding if they were worth salvaging, as Linwood searched his backpack for a cigarette. Their battered faces drew puzzling stares from passersby.

“Come on, man,” Jamieson said. He lit a bent cigarette and exhaled the smoke in irritation.

“Yeah, alright,” Linwood agreed, finding one and lighting it. He inhaled deeply, and exhaled in absolute relief. The pair started toward Penn Station, but after a half-dozen steps Linwood stopped. Between the now-empty tenement and the building next to it the turd-colored beat-up sedan was parked. Now, though, there were no sounds coming from the trunk.

“What?” Jamieson turned to find Linwood staring at the car.

“Nothin’,” Linwood answered. He looked at the trunk for a beat, then continued with Jamieson toward the station.



Finale, Part I – 20 August 2014

This is it—the finale, part one. It’s the thrilling (I think) ending to “Matchstick.” It’s been complete for nearly three weeks now, but it’s been put through it’s paces and, for the foreseeable future, is done. I thought that I’d be able to mass the ending together in a final post but… that’s not going to happen. I’ll split it into three parts—the first half of the final chapter, the second half, and the epilogue. 

One note, though. I retconned into the plot that the apartment is the only one in a tenement under renovation. Thus screaming is of no consequence.



Ten minutes later Linwood stood gasping for breath in front of Arlotta’s door, sweaty and afraid. It was locked. He called out for her as he pounded on the door, alternating between shoulder and fist. He heard the building’s front door open and close, then footsteps, slow and heavy, coming up the empty staircase toward the apartment.

“Come on, kid,” the cop taunted from below. “You didn’t really think you’d be able to outrun me. Oh, you did? Well, you were wrong. I’ve invested far too much to let you escape now.”

“Fuck you, prick!” Linwood yelled down to the cop still climbing the stairs. “Where’s Arlotta? And Jamieson?”

“What did I say about asking stupid questions? A better one might be how do I get this door to open up? Or, can I kill this guy before he kills me? Or even, do I have any hope at all? Any of those would be of more use at the moment than where are they. You already know they’re in there. Go in and get them.”

Linwood heard the footsteps pause on the landing below, and desperately began ramming his shoulder into the door again. He cried out in pain as his left shoulder separated, and in despair as the door held fast. He slid to the floor, defeated.

The cop came to the door and towered over him, Linwood’s backpack in hand. “You tried, kid. I’ll give you that much.” The cop nudged Linwood’s dislocated shoulder with a foot, smiling as he grimaced in pain. Then he reached down and effortlessly yanked him to his feet, wrenching Linwood’s left arm against the small of his back and pinning his body against Arlotta’s door with his own.

“Hmmm,” the cop said, taking in the scent of Linwood’s sweaty hair. “You smell so good, you know that? Like fear and defeat. People think you can’t sense an emotion without seeing it on someone’s face or in their body language, but they’re dead wrong. The nose does a much better job of picking up on pheromones in body sweat than the eyes ever will in deciphering a glance or a gesture. And the nose never lies.” He tightened his grip on Linwood’s forearm and popped his shoulder back into place, making him gasp in pain. “Do you know why I didn’t take you that night?”

Linwood said nothing.

“It’s because of that hippie. The second I heard his voice, I knew. I knew you and he had made that kind of connection I was interested in, and I wanted to see how deep it went. So I left. But I didn’t let you go, not by a ling shot.”

He reached into his left pocket, and produced a key which he slid into the lock. He reached into the pocket again, and this time fished out a capped syringe. The cop pulled it off with his teeth and spat it onto the floor, and inserted the needle into a vein bulging out of Linwood’s neck. He fell against the closed door, and as he slid to the floor again the cop turned the key and opened it. Linwood’s unconscious body fell inside.

“It’s about time you got here.” Arlotta emerged from the apartment, barefoot and dressed in an oversized T-shirt.


5:10 a.m.

Linwood came to with a gasp, in a shower of ice water on the love seat in Arlotta’s apartment. He had been stripped to the waist and placed in handcuffs. He tried to sit up, but was unable to move.

The cop was standing there, holding a bucket, jamming his tongue in Arlotta’s mouth as far as it would go—so much so that, when they separated, she had to wipe her chin with the back of a hand. Linwood tried not to arouse himself in groggily trying to find Arlotta’s curves hidden beneath the shirt.

“You thought I’d killed you?” the cop asked. “No, not yet. I only gave you a bit of mivacurium, a quick-acting anesthetic. It knocks you out, it paralyzes you. Too much would kill you, for sure. But that would be too easy. I diluted it in saline solution, gave you fifteen milligrams at a concentration of point-two-five parts per million. Just enough so you’d feel it.” 

A thud came from the back of the apartment. “I guess the hippie’s awake. Arlotta, keep the kid comfortable.” He left the room with a chuckle.

Carefully Linwood scanned the apartment again, this time with benefit of light. Two of the picture frames on the wall held larger reproductions of illustrations from Gray’s Anatomy—the brain and the heart—and the third contained a degree. The overstuffed bookcase was full of medical textbooks and manuals. Piles of gauze and bandages, vials of drugs, several unopened bottles of water, and sterile syringes now covered the coffee table. The ceramic elephant that was on the table beside the door lay on the floor in no less than five pieces. Arlotta watched him ponder over it.

“You know there’s no running from us, don’t you,” she said. “You’ve come to the realization that my husband isn’t just talking to hear himself talk. This is the third time I’ve seen it and it’s always happened this way.” She moved to sit next to him on the wet loveseat.

“Karayan is an amazing being, so much more than a mere man,” she began. “He really knows everything. I gotta tell you, I believe him.” She turned to study Linwood like she’d done in the cab, and moved to pull a wet lock of hair from his face. Linwood gurgled in protest and pulled back from her, but the anesthetic’s dulling after-effects caught him. He swung like a pendulum and landed face-down in her lap.

Arlotta laughed. “I really do like you, Linwood. That’s why I’ll level with you. Everything we did to you today was planned. We watched you for weeks, learning your routine, and that’s how he came up with the plan to capture you.

“I was planted on that train. Really. I missed the Q train this morning and Karayan told me he paid a bunch of kids to keep you on the platform until the next train came. He said you’d be there, and you were. He told me to set up a phony business dinner, and you overheard it. Everything that he says will happen always happens.

“The only reason I exist is for him. As long as I do what he tells me to do, we’re golden.” She ran a hand through his hair, then sat him upright again.

“My husband does something to me, Linwood. I feel it burn within me every time he speaks. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I’ve spent the last year and a half tryingto figure out what it was he saw in me. I still can’t find it, Linwood.” She began stroking his chest. Linwood could only roll his eyes in resisting the erection threatening to erupt from his pants.

“You know how I met him? As a client. The client. At first it was just business, but not long afterward it for to be pretty 9 1/2 Weeks-ish—you know that movie? That first time we fucked in the space between the last two cars of a 1 train. During rush hour. That’s how the lessons began.

“He told me what it was he did, taught me how to keep his secret safe. Three months after we met he gave me the keys to this place, with one caveat—that I assist him. My first was number thirty-four.” Her fingers steadily moved down Linwood’s torso, lingering at the button on the waistband of his jeans.

“When he told me to find you, I wasn’t expecting much. I mean, a cabbie… But you, you were everything Karayan said you would be.” She began unzipping his fly. Linwood stopped resisting and turned his clouded attention to her hand at his crotch. Another thud came from the recesses of the apartment. She snatched her hand away.

The cop came back, with Linwood’s backpack in one hand and Jamieson’s bloody collar in the other. His nose was broken, a gash on his head shined in the light overhead,and his shirt was splashed with blood and soaked with sweat. His glasses were missing and fresh rope burns wound around his wrists. The cop let go and his head hit the carpet.

Jamieson moaned softly in pain. Adrenaline surged through Linwood’s body at the sight.

“This one,” the cop said, pointing at the broken statuette. “He gave us some problems.”He gave us some problems.” Linwood tried to stand but both the injection and Arlotta had him dead to rights. She shoved him into the bookcase and he fell to the floor, along with a few upset books.

“Don’t do that, baby. It’s in bad taste.” The cop held out the handcuff keys to her. “In fact, apologize to the kid. Take his cuffs off.” He wore a smile as Arlotta straddled his back and did what she was told. As soon as she was free Linwood reached for the waistband at the small of his back.

“No, no, no.” The cop taunted him with the Saturday night special he had taken from the fare on the Williamsburg Bridge. He opened the cylinder and the bullets fell out onto the carpet. “It… What’s this, Arlotta?” He motioned at Linwood’s unzipped pants. “We were having a little too much fun with the kid, weren’t we?” He threw the backpack at her.

“Just givin’ him a little background, Karayan, that’s all. He should know why this is happening to him. Right, lover?” she added to Linwood. She began pulling items from the backpack—the match case, the notebook, the fare log. Before Arlotta set the bottle of rum on the table she shoved other items out of the way to make space, and accidentally knocked the matched to the floor next to Jamieson.

The cop put the empty revolver on the table and picked up the bottle. “Not a bad choice, kid,” he said after taking a long pull. He walked over to the bookcase. “So. You know my name now. You know what ‘Karayan’ means in Armenian? Dark. I suppose it fits.” He ran a hand over the volumes and, finding the appropriate place in the stacks, probed for something between two books with a thumb and forefinger.

Linwood watched the pair, Arlotta rifling his possessions and the calm cabbie-killer caressing his books. He tried moving again but when the cop came toward him with a scalpel in his hand he gave up.

The cop placed it on the table. “You keep trying to get up, kid. I’ve already told you, you aren’t running from this.” He stood over the hyperventilating Linwood, and struck him across the jaw without warning. “I… told you”—punctuating words with wallops—“I control this show. You… don’t get any say in this, get me?” The cop took a deep breath and shook the pain out of his hand. “Find anything, baby?” he asked Arlotta as he sat on the other side of Linwood. Blood dripped from his broken nose onto his chest as the cop put an arm around his shoulders.

“Nah, just stuff we knew already.” She dropped the empty backpack to the floor and reclined back onto the chair. Arlotta began stroking Linwood’s chest again, drawing her fingers through rivulets of his blood. Jamieson’s labored breathing rattled through the living room.

“Remember the lady boy I told you about?” the cop asked Linwood. “That’s the scalpel I killed him with. What do you think? It’s been a decade but I still keep it sharpened.” He moved the blade into Linwood’s face. The flash from it glinted into his eyes.

“This is going to hurt, and you’re going to bleed. A lot. But we can’t have you passing out from the pain, or blood loss.” he sat up again, and put the blade on the table. He picked up a vial and a syringe, and showed them to Linwood. “It’s time, Arlotta.” At the command she searched the table, and found surgical thread and a sterile needle.