Friday, September 25, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 178 - Kevin Brown


Originally published in Space & Time #103 last year andreprinted in Sex and Murder Issue 1

The stars are wonderful tonight. I want to reach out and trace Orion with my finger, but my arms are pinned down above my head, and this one is taking twice as long as the others.

I measure the time it takes by the number of stars I count. I’m at one hundred and sixty-six, now.

It doesn’t really matter. The result is the same.

After two years, you’re not even bothered by the process anymore. When the really violent ones bash your face in, or use rusted knife blades to mark you up, you harden. You have gun barrels jammed so far down your throat it takes days to get the copper taste off the back of your tongue. You accept it, because you have your purpose. And you have your stars.

I’m Angela Shepherd. I’ve been raped twenty-four times, not counting this one. I’ve been cut eleven times, stabbed twice, and beaten more times than I can remember. I was shot in the stomach near the mouth of Devil’s Tunnel a year ago. The only one that ever hurt, though—really hurt—was the first one, the one that gave me AIDS the same year I learned long division.


This one finally finishes. He breaks a beer bottle against the alley wall and presses a sharp piece of glass to my cheek. He says he’ll take my tongue if I run to the cops. “Anyway,” he says, “you fucking liked it.”

I’m not really listening, though. My hands are free now, and I’m tracing Orion’s bow drawn wide at Taurus. Blood slides over my cheek where the glass is digging in and I start to laugh.

“Stupid cunt,” he says. Then he’s off me and into the shadows up the alley.

With AIDS, you get open lesions. You get ballooning lymph nodes.

Lying in broken glass and maggot-covered garbage, it starts to rain in pucker marks on the alley floor. I can still smell him—all sour beer and mildewed cigarettes, on my torn clothes. According to our information, I’m the fourth girl he’s raped.

Walking up the alley, I’m holding my clothes together in fistfuls, and Brandon comes to me out of the darkness like an illusion. His police issue Baretta Elite is drawn and he’s carrying my first-aid bag. “Jesus,” he says, “Christ. Nine and a half minutes.”

“The rule’s ten, Brandon. You know that,” I say, and suddenly I’m on my elbows and knees coughing dry, hot air.

You get weak breath.

The rain comes harder. Brandon helps me up and drapes his coat over my shoulders. “What’d he cut you with?” he says, wiping the blood with a towel from the bag.

“Bottle,” I tell him. “I counted two hundred and twelve.”

And he says, “I told you, you’re his fourth. He’s comfortable.”

“He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it.” I hold the end of an adhesive bandage to my cheek, and Brandon pulls the other end tight and thumbs it down. “Probably wouldn’t give a shit, anyway,” I say.

“Don’t know,” Brandon says. “Balls are just balls until you’re kicked there. Then, they’re your whole goddamn world.”


How I met Brandon was, he was an assisting officer in the investigation the first time I was raped. He’s who found me. He always stood away from the other cops, watching me. Just being around, he seemed to take some of the hurt away, to hoist it onto his shoulders. He rarely spoke except with his eyes, looking out from under his dark hair. What they said was: I’m sorry this had to happen. They said: I’m sorry this happened to you.

Someone who’s raped, they’re raped again every time they’re asked about it.

Tell us again exactly what happened.

Give us the details.

What I remember was the man’s rotted teeth smiling, saying, “You’re my little pussycat, ain’t cha?” I remember the large, bruise-colored birthmark around his colorless right eye. “Here kitty, kitty. Here kitty,” he said, his spit stringing into my face. The sores around his nose and mouth. His breath on my neck.


I passed out under a monster and woke up with Brandon holding me.

My attacker, police found him three weeks later in the basement of an abandoned house on Lampkin Lane. What the AIDS left, the rats mostly took.

After the rape, Brandon's eyes said he was hurting. After I was diagnosed positive, they said he’s pissed.

The doctors tell you all about HIV. They tell you about rapid weight loss and chronic fatigue. Fever and night-sweats. You learn about venereal diseases.

The details.

You’re put on a drug treatment called Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy. Called HAART. This is a combination of three HIV drugs: NRTIs, PIs, and NNRTIs. This is what you will feed your body the rest of your life.

Words you can’t spell. Words you can’t even say.

In the hospital, Brandon never left my side. Even after visiting hours, he was never asked to leave. In that room, in the burning hours of the early mornings, something was growing.

One afternoon, a Social Services agent tells you, all smiles, about a family that will take care of you. Your first one. This is where you will go to die until Brandon takes your hand, his eyes telling you: I’ve lost faith in the Justice System. They tell you: It’s a bed and three hot meals a day. A color TV. Weight room and recreational yard. It’s state-funded programs for better prison libraries and improved inmate education.

At the age most girls have first dates, I ran away from my first family. Brandon and I, we had a plan.


At the car, I change clothes. I always have extra clothes in the trunk: underwear, shirts, pants, and socks. Even an extra pair of shoes. I put on a hooded jacket, zip it to my chin, and pull the hood over my head. I can’t stop my hands from shaking.

You get chills.

My fingers on the heater vents, Brandon puts the car into drive. His eyes say: I’m so tired. Rain shadows pelt his cheek and slide down in black streaks.

“Look,” he says, “you done one. Let’s call it a night.”

I knew this was coming.

I tell him, “We planned two.”

“It’s so cold,” he says. He rubs his eyes and sees my hands rattling against the heater vents. “You’ll get pneumonia again—”


“—your body won’t hold up this time.” He looks out his window. “We could take some time off.”

“I told you I’m fine. This isn't seasonal,” I say. “Just drive.”

“I know what this is, better than anyone.” He rubs his eyes again, shakes his head, and laughs. “Why’s it thinking about living makes some want to die, and thinking about dying makes others want to live.”

I laugh the kind of laugh when you don’t feel like laughing and say, “Confusion.”

We turn left on Pilate Street and a black Sedan whips in behind us. Brandon adjusts the rearview mirror, squinting from the glare of the headlights.

In my mirror, I open my mouth.

You get a thick, yellow tongue.

Still looking in the rearview, he tells me we’re all on our way out. That the key is to dance a little before the song’s over. “Husbands, mothers, children—me,” he says and runs a hand through his hair. “Look in that mirror. With or without AIDS, it’s the reflection of someone doomed.”

I roll my tongue around my pale reflection and cough into the glare from the headlights. “Objects,” I say, “may be closer than they appear.”


Our plan, it consists of an active phase and a preventive phase. First, Brandon and I scout the worst areas in the city, the sections overrun with gangs, drug dealers and addicts, the districts scarred by derelict houses hiding known felons. We take notes.

Now, imagine a young girl in one of these areas late at night. Imagine her alone except for her stars and an angry cop parked two blocks down, counting the seconds off ten minutes. Imagine her held face down over a gutted sofa littered with syringes and used needles, head pulled back by the hair, a knife to her throat.

Imagine a worm on a hook.

And they share their needles and spread themselves around. This is how the disease is injected. The active phase.

In the preventive phase, Brandon heads a strike unit called A.R.E.A., the Anti-Rape Enforcement Agency. It consists of four eight-man teams, each assigned to an area we’ve infected. The teams are divided into four pairs on rotating six-hour shifts.

Some are undercover. Others work surveillance—over two hundred and fifteen strategically placed mini-cameras, from vans parked at nearby locations.

A.R.E.A. quarantines the infected sections by any means necessary. Think of them as angels protecting you while you live. No potential victims are allowed within a three hundred-foot radius of the areas. None of the infected are allowed out, no questions asked. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week for fifty-two weeks.

See you on Christmas.

See you on the Fourth of July.

If you are in one of the areas, we see you now.

And rapists are not confined to any certain social class. They’re not all junkies in wrecked out heroin houses, or gutter-rats living like zombies in back alleys. Many of them are doctors and bankers, athletes and CEOs.

We have a division of A.R.E.A. that collects intelligence. If you’re a sex offender—a date rapist, sodomist, if you’ve insisted upon intercourse when your partner was not in the mood—this division knows.

Number four on my list of twenty-five was a family doctor who sometimes gave sedated female patients a little “extra” check-up.

Number nine was a high school history teacher who gave A’s for more than hard study.

Number twenty, a preacher, a husband and father of four, had a thing for young Asian boys.

And these people are easiest to infect. You find their hangouts or where they work. You’re young and attractive. An easy worm on a poisoned hook.

After they finish with you in some rent-by-hour hotel, you trail them to their home. Late at night, you slip a 4”x 6” index card into their mailbox. Written on it in careful print is this:


Since we began two years ago, six of the twenty-five have died—two from the disease and four suicides. At the bone, this is how our world operates. Do unto others what they’ve done unto you.

Bomb us, we bomb you. Attack. Counterattack.

Turn the other cheek when you get tired of watching.


I look back at the headlights of the Sedan. They’ve been in our mirror for six miles.

“I’m serious,” Brandon says, “we need a few months, just till the weather eases.”

“That car’s still behind us,” I say.

He glances in the rearview. He says, “I just don’t think I can keep going.”

“Then stop, but this was your plan, too.”

“That we started two years ago. We’re even now. And things,” he says, “are different.”

“Different? The people we deal with? I say things are worse.”

“Maybe we’re helping out with that.”

“I’m sacrificing myself for people I don’t know—who wouldn’t look twice at me on the street—so no other kids’ll have to grow up knowing they were murdered.”

“You’re sacrificing us. I know the shit holes you disappear into every night. How you might not walk out.” He rubs his eyes and looks back out the window. “It’s killing me, too.”

We’re near our location and I tell him to pull over. The Sedan passes us. Down the road it U-turns and pulls to the opposite curb.

“Look,” I say, “what we do works. We're saving lives every night.”

“But we're giving every bit of ours.”

“Like you said,” I tell him, starting to cough. “We all get the gate.” I cough until I’m dry heaving into my jacket sleeve. I wipe my mouth, open the door, and he takes my arm.

“Please,” he says.

“Just promise,” I say, “when I die, you’ll be two blocks away, watching the clock.”

He lays his head back and says, “Be careful.”

“See you in ten or less.”

He knows it’s useless. This is who we are. This is why we are. You could not have kept Christ from His cross. And when the nails are in the wrists, you just have to hang.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a girl walks into an alley and three guys are hovered around a barrel-fire near the end. The alley’s lit red like the sunset of a bad love poem, and these three guys, they see this girl coming toward them through the filmy heat rising off the fire, her jacket hood slipped over her head. She’s a sickly looking bitch, but ass is ass, right?

They step around the barrel-fire and are backlit into silhouettes: Two short ones. One Goliath fucker. They surround me, and I’m snatched and lifted like an offering and carried toward the end of the alley. Their hands are tearing at the sores on my back and shoulders, and for a second, I see the handle of a dipper between a break in the rain clouds. Then, I’m flipped face-first into a pile of half-opened garbage bags. Rats scatter beneath me.

“Get her legs open. I want in her asshole,” one says, Goliath, I see by his flickering shadow on the wall. My pants are skinned off in a hard jerk, and my knees drop to the concrete. Silhouettes one and two each grab a leg and spread me open.

“If she shits on me,” Goliath says, over the sound of his zipper, “kill her.”

This is where you close your eyes and wait. Try to imagine Orion reaching down and lifting you away.

“Get down!” I hear from behind. “The fuck down, now!”

My legs are dropped to the concrete again, and there is a flurry of shadows on the wall. A hand takes my elbow.

“Careful, her knees are bleeding,” a voice says.

Turning around, I see the three silhouettes face down, their hands behind their heads. Three cops are standing above them with their guns pointed.

The one holding my elbow says, “Ma’am,” and hands me my pants.

To the right of the men is Brandon, standing in an entryway, his hands in his pockets. His head is lowered but his eyes are looking at me. They say: I’m sorry.

“Angela Shepherd,” the cop with my elbow says, “you have the—”

“Brandon?” I say.

“—right to remain silent—”

“Brandon, what’s this?”

The cop stops and looks over at the entryway. Brandon rubs his eyes.

“—anything you say,” the cop says, looking back at me, “can and will be held against you in a court of law.”

“I’m with Brandon,” I say. “Tell him.”

The cop looks back at the entryway, then back at me. “Miss Shepherd,” he says, “who are you talking to?”

“Brandon, tell him to let go of me.”

The cop looks over again. “Miss Shepherd, you see someone there?”

The other three cops look toward the entryway, then at each other.

“Brandon fucking Hooper!” I say, pointing. “Sergeant Brandon Hooper, who runs the A.R.E.A. Strike Team.” Brandon looks at me and lowers his head.

The cop holding me looks at the other cops. “Miss Shepherd, we don’t have a Sergeant Brandon Hooper,” he says. “There’s no unit called A.R.E.A. I’m aware of.” He pulls my elbow. “Come on.”

“Brandon, please!”

Looking down, he rubs his eyes and looks away.

“Come on, now, Miss Shepherd. There’s no one there.”


They tell you your name is Angela Shepherd and you’re in the Raining Hills Sanitarium. You’re in the advanced stages of the AIDS virus.

Brandon Hooper, they tell you, is a delusion, a part of you. The part that wanted to stop.

They also tell you A.R.E.A. does not exist, either. Like Brandon, it’s your creation. “The part that wanted to protect.”

You hear about tertiary syphilis. According to lab tests, this is what you contracted approximately two years ago. The AIDS virus is feeding off the syphilitic infection, as the syphilis feeds off your dilapidated immune system caused by the AIDS. The result of this is what we call paresis, they say. “You call it insanity.”

The night you were arrested, they tell you with needles and cups of pills, four off-duty officers saw a young woman driving alone in a bad neighborhood at a late hour. They thought you were after drugs.

Then you parked and got out.

One of the officers recognized you as Angela Shepherd, a missing case from two years ago. Based on similarities in some of your older handwriting samples and that of several handwritten index cards, the Angela Shepherd wanted by authorities for intentionally spreading the AIDS virus.

They tell you about some of the men you infected, and their families. Since A.R.E.A. isn’t real, the intelligence you claim to possess isn’t real, either. Most of the men you infected were ordinary, hard working citizens who met the wrong girl. Only one has a police record. “These men were adulterers, not sex offenders.”

The index cards, police initially suspected they were being given to random families as a form of psychological terrorism, because the people you gave the cards to were not in any way related to the men you infected.

So, what you have is families who think they have AIDS but don’t. You have families who have AIDS and don’t know it. You have the most dangerous men in the city possibly carrying this disease, and no one to stop them.

This is what they tell you. What they want you to hear. What they don’t tell you is thank you. Thank you for doing for the world things that create religion. Thank you for the love and the blood.

For being the shepherd and the lamb.

For fighting the Beasts.

Because these Beasts, these days, they’re everywhere.

BIO: Kevin won the Permafrost Literary Journal's Midnight Sun Fiction Contest, theTouchstone Fiction Competition, and placed third in the Cadenza FictionContest. He was nominated for a 2007 Journey Award, and has published inGUD, Space & Time, Murky Depths, Neonbeam, Morpheus Tales, sub-TERRAIN,Rosebud, and Underground Voices.


Joyce said...

Oh my. What to say about this one. So desparately dark and incredibly sad. Extremely well written piece.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Kevin!!