“Hello Joe,” she said as he entered the grubby little apartment.
Closing the door behind him, Joe stood in front of the flimsy folding table. Silently, he watched as she flipped another card from the tarot deck, studied it, and then played it like solitaire.
Contemplating the line of cards on the table, she lit a cigarette and took a long, slow, drag. Raising a cartoon character glass filled with ice and cheap red wine that she bought by the gallon and then spritzed with 7-up, she patiently waited until all the smoke had been expelled from her lungs before taking a long, slow, sip.
Placidly unzipping his black leather jacket, Joe looked around the windowless apartment. The bulky color TV in the corner was playing muted re-runs of the Vietnam War, and the floor lamp that illuminated her card game gave off just enough light for her.
“What’s your problem?” she said as she rested her cigarette in the notch of the bulky glass ashtray. Flipping another card, her face went cold.
Joe smiled as she raised her terror filled eyes from the tarot to the barrel of his snub-nosed revolver. The sudden flash and loud bang from the handgun overpowered his senses. Looking at her limp body, Joe bent at the waist and peered through the strands of stringy grey-black hair to her face. Convinced that she was indeed dead, he was disappointed that the discharge from the handgun had robbed him of the exact moment of her death.
Curios as to whether or not the bullet had passed completely through her body, he set the gun on the table next to the line of cards and delicately stepped around the table. Not seeing any blood coming from her back, or a hole in the chair or the wall, he sat down on the second hand couch and picked at the flea that jumped onto his naked hand.
He liked seeing her slumped over in her chair and hoped that the occasional spasm wouldn’t cause her to fall into the growing pool of blood beneath her chair.
Hearing the muffled sounds of screeching tires, police sirens, and gunshots coming from the neighbor’s TV, he realized that it wasn’t the noise from the revolver that would be his undoing, but blood seeping through the worn, shag, carpet and into the apartment below.
Looking to the kitchen, the half used roll of paper towels seemed insufficient. Springing to his feet, Joe snatched a cushion from the couch. Gently, he worked the cushion under the chair to catch the steady stream of blood that flowed from the hole in the top of her left breast, down her torso, and onto the carpet. Since a leaky milk carton only leaks the milk from above the hole, Joe figured the same should be true for a corpse and decided a second cushion wouldn’t be necessary.
The card in her warm dead hand grabbed Joe’s attention. He wondered what she had seen in that final Tarot. Reaching for the card, he paused. He was done with her and whatever she had seen in that last tarot card belonged in the grave with her. Placing his ear to the floor, Joe listed and waited. Except for the sounds of the cockroaches as they scurried from apartment to apartment, it was deathy quite. “No one’s home,” he said out loud.
His heart raced from the possibility that he might actually get away with it. Grabbing the gun from the table, Joe burst from the apartment, ran down the stairs and on to street lined with Christmas decorations.
Leaning against the rail of the Tower Bridge, Joe slid the revolver from the waistband of his button fly jeans and cradled it in his cupped hands. Letting the gun fall, he watched it splash into the murky brown water of the Sacramento River.
Lifting his gaze to the night sky, Joe smiled. “I’m free,” he said and then he was bathed in white light.
“Sheriffs department! What are you doing there?”
“Star gazing,” replied Joe.
“Sure you’re not going to jump?”
“I’m sure,” replied Joe.
“Turn and face me,” commanded the deputy. “And keep your hands where I can see them.”
Shielding his eyes from the spotlight of the sheriff’s cruiser, Joe hesitantly obeyed.
“I think you’re a jumper. Turn and walk to the end of the bridge.”
Illuminated by the spotlight on the sheriff’s cruiser, Joe made the long, slow, walk to the intersection at the end of the bridge.
“Hold it right there,” said the deputy and then he stepped out of the car. “Have you been drinking?”
“No,” replied Joe with a smile.
“Any drug use?”
“Let me see your eyes,” ordered the deputy as he shined his flashlight into Joe’s eyes. “How about medical marijuana?”
“No,” replied Joe with a smug grin.
“Anyone who smiles in my face is high on something—now what are you on?” Demanded the Deputy.
“I’m free,” said Joe.
“So, you are a jumper.”
“No. You don’t understand—I’m free.”
“Hands against the car and spread ’em.”
“But I’m free,” said Joe.
“I understand completely,” said the deputy as he cuffed Joe. “Now let’s go see a doctor who can help you with that.”
Jack Ratliff is a Sacramento native where he lives with his wife and two dogs. You can find Jack’s novel, Jack Jones and the Ghosts of Tamana on Amazon.