INSEPARABLE - COPPER SMITH
I didn’t ask for any of this.
The paparazzi, the book deal, the Barbara Walters interview. These things fell into my lap in the most innocuous way imaginable. All I had to do was witness the savage stabbing death of a beloved Hollywood starlet.
There are days when the last six months have felt like a breathless romp through a cotton field, and others when I wish I had just closed my eyes and walked away when I heard that startled screech, that frenzied cry that pierced into the night like a stiletto.
Maybe you remember Tiffany O’Roarke from her scintillating performance in She-Wolf Cheerleaders Two. Or perhaps she captured your imagination in Ilsa The Zombie Killer. An actress in the most generous sense of the word, she flirted and smiled and frowned on cue and seemed to remember her dialogue properly, but good luck finding glamour in that zombie killer’s eyes. Give me Bacall and that simpering pout, that invitation to danger. Give me Barbara Stanwyck as a slowly melting ice queen or the wise-cracking jailbait of Rita Hayworth. Still O’Roarke at least had the good sense to die a legend’s death. Violent, desperate, murky in its details. The Black Dahlia herself would have envied her panache.
I’m no starlet, but thanks to that nasty detour of fate six months ago, I’ve learned a thing or two about living under the glare of fame’s spotlight. Mainly this: when the whole world is watching things can get scary. And if fame can be a hair-raising ride for an accidental C-list celebrity like myself just imagine the world through Tiffany O’Roarke’s peepers as she steps into The Donkey Punch, a dust-ridden dive bar I've had the misfortune of waiting tables at for the last eleven years. On a good night, we get bikers, hookers, pickpockets, panhandlers, meth-heads and hustlers just out on bail. It almost makes sense that a slumming Hollywood starlet would be hacked to pieces there. There might as well have been a warning to that effect at the bottom of the No Shoes No Shirt No Service sign.
The third shift at The Donkey Punch is the place where dreams go to be shot twice in the abdomen and left for dead. Hourly knife fights, cheap upholstery, the smell of fresh vomit rising from the bathroom stalls. A real dream come true.
But the Donkey Punch’s true appeal is in the crowd it attracts. If it’s danger this pampered diva seeks she couldn’t have found a more potent mix than our late-night cast of miscreants:
There’s Andy, the bartender, a reed-thin heroin addict and bass playing poet. He means well, but when the powder-fueled dragon takes hold of his soul, he’ll send a razor to your jugular for seventy-five cents.
There’s Caren with a ‘C,’ a standard-issue California blonde and aspiring starlet twenty years too late. All tits and teeth, but nary an ounce of talent unless you count fellatio. And when the jaw gives out, she winds up waiting tables at The Donkey Punch for shitty tips and unwanted pats on the ass. Maybe that’s a grimace on her face or maybe a painted-on smile. Even Caren doesn’t know the difference anymore.
There’s Kandy, a cross-dressing, part-time house painter and full-time drinker.
And Pepper, her Argentine lover, who brags of having once punched Cher in the throat.
There’s Evan, a stone-faced bouncer built like a triceratops. Doesn’t talk – ever, but has a burn behind his eyes that makes the toughest talk unnecessary.
And there’s me, a career waitress going nowhere and in no hurry to get there.
Tiffany skipped inside The Donkey Punch a little past midnight, eyes dancing from too much coke and not enough attention. Her people picked a booth in the corner and obediently melted into the backdrop. She was the star of this show, the headliner looking for the spotlight.
“Anybody know where I can score some E?” she offered, like she was asking somebody to pass the saltshaker.
In the haunting still that followed, every eye landed someplace on Tiffany’s body – each with its own agenda:
Andy – fighting off a junkie’s restless itch – wondered how much her purse held and how easy it would be to slip into the alley with it before the hunt would begin.
Caren envied those golden pigtails and the blemish-free face they framed.
Evan’s jaw tightened at the prospect of a drug bust. As always, he was holding, which could mean big trouble for a man on strike two.
Pepper’s eyes followed the curves of Tiffany’s well-toned slopes... as Kandy simmered with jealousy and rage.
With so many unhappy eyes stabbing away, you’d think this diva would feel the heat and eagerly race from the kitchen. But no...
Tiffany O’Roarke would live her last hour alive like a toddler dog paddling around an Olympic-sized root beer float. She giggled, she squealed, she drank, she ingested, she flirted, she peed. I was in the hallway mopping up when the curtain finally fell.
Innocently enough, it began this way:
No politeness here. This was an indignant demand from a sheltered star.
“Did I or did I not ask for a new glass for my rum and coke?”
And this wasn’t really about hygiene. It was the opening verse to a heated celebrity tirade.
“Hello? I really didn’t think I was asking for too much. Do you people even know who I am? Hello!”
Her words ricocheted down the hallway, finding the softest spot of my inner ear and pricking at it. She was not pleasant.
And she was just getting warmed up.
“Seriously, people, this is the lousiest service I’ve ever gotten anywhere! I’ve been to dirty third world counties where they don’t even speak English! I’ve been to some starving place in Bolivia or South America or somewhere! I’ve been in New York taxi cabs and Mississippi diners! And I’ve never found a place that smells shittier or moves slower or serves stupider than this place! Never!”
With that, she stomped down the hallway to the bathroom...
Followed shortly by a second pair of footsteps clicking in double time.
She turned, her face frozen like a twelve point buck in a rifle scope. And with a single scream, the evening blurred into a nightmare.
Caren leapt from the shadows, knife in hand, hacking away.
She caught Tiffany halfway in the bathroom door, finding ample flesh to bury her rage in again and again. I tried to yank Caren away, but there was no stopping this cyclone.
In the splattered bathroom mirror, I could see the widened eyes of a tigress. Eyes that grew more alive, more animalistic with every angry stab.
She stabbed at Tiffany’s privilege, her status, her fame.
She stabbed at her crappy job, her empty life.
She stabbed at every asshole drinker demanding more, every married manager hitting on her, every failed audition, every lonely night, every bad tipper, every spilled gin and tonic ever.
She sliced, ripped, kicked, shrieked, shredded, spat, grunted, wheezed, gouged, grabbed. And she cried.
Then the onslaught faded to black. With no closing credits.
The people here are nice. They protect me from the tsunami of media intrusion that screams for me outside the building every morning and I can feel that underneath it all, they truly want to help me back to a place that's kind of stable.
I’ve made friends here – some enemies, too – and learned a few new phrases like ‘multiple personality disorder’ and ‘Alter integration.’ It’s not easy to make sense of things, but these nice people are easing me into some kind of understanding. They’re trying. And we’re trying, too, Caren and I.
I miss my freedom. I miss my old life, my old friends. But as much as I’d love to get on my bike and race along the creek, listening to the whistle of those waist-high weeds like I used to, in the end, I’m here because Caren and I are inseparable. She needs me.
Because there’s no telling what kind of trouble she could get into without me.
BIO: Copper Smith lives in Minneapolis where he writes the blog Uppercut Avenue and plays the mandolin, like that makes him badass or something.
The Irish Times’ Crime Fiction ‘Best Of’ 2018
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