by Paul de Denus


Through a rusted hole in the floorboard, I can see the icy blacktop running away beneath us. It looks alive; passing headlights reflect the surface, an oily black serpent sliding quickly past while we sit frozen, speeding toward the border. Seth, the driver, a sometimes acquaintance, has coaxed me to come along; these other two passengers are strangers to me. The antsy one, Cal, rocks nervously, arms encircled around his raised knees as he moves back and forth, back and forth blathering childish nonsense about what awaits us down south. JT, intelligent, cocky - - I can tell - - sits stone still in the front passenger seat; he's the kind that women like, chiseled looks and a killer black beard that shrouds his entire face. He will later claim he knows nothing of the girl's disappearance and that I was the last one seen with her, which will unfortunately be true but not the real story…


the car sped through the night,

snow falling weightless

like ticker tape confetti.

we sat in silence drifting to the crackle

of FM radio, around midnight,

pulling into a roadside motel.


the EL RIO, it said on half-lit neon,

the ‘VACANCY' sign reading, VAC - - C -

vac-c-nation, Seth said, parking the beater.

got your vac-c-nations ‘- gonna' need ‘em!

Cal whooped with childish excitement

like we'd just arrived at the circus.


a tattered bar hung on

the west corner of the motel,

a few cars parked in front.

its sign winked ‘Open' and JT headed for it.

Cal loped after him like a lost pup

skidding across the snow.


we'll get a couple of rooms, Seth called

but they didn't look back.

the snow had let up

but not the arctic wind

and we hustled inside

to register.


JT and Cal sat near the door,

a couple of beers already

half empty in front of them.

I pulled up a chair, Seth looked for the john.

there ‘aint no waitress, JT said,

nodding toward the bar.


two men hunched separate

on barstools

staring into the back-bar mirror of bottle

and glass oblivion.

they looked the usual types

found in dives - - drunks, truckers

sales men in crumpled suits running

from crumpled lives.

I grabbed a couple of beers

from the lone bartender.


two women sat slouched in the corner,

one looking as old as the beaten bar

the other maybe high school age

and they giggled and whispered and eyed us

as they pulled long draws

from their tall bottles.


did you see the sluts at that table? Cal said.

young one's mine.

reminds me of that ex-girlfriend of yours, JT said,

the one who laid those charges on you.

fuck that, Cal said, rocking in his chair,

fists nervously pounding his knees.


what was this? Seth asked.

bullshit court charge

they threw out.

what kind of charge?

cunt said I beat on her.

diiiiiiiid yoooooou? JT said, his voice a ghost smile.


he glared at the bartender.

four beers,

index finger twirling in a circle

and them in the corner too, his dark eyes burning

intense, causing the bartender to take

a long step back.


he and Cal joined the women without invitation

and the giggling increased two fold.

they'll end up like my sister

Seth said, watching the foursome over the tilt of his bottle.

she took off at fifteen

and never came back.


she'd call sometimes to lie…

about her life.

said she worked in a bar.

she worked the bar alright.

I know what she was.

it destroyed our mother.

I watched his face change.

you haven't heard from her recently?

she's dead, murdered,

in a shithole like this.


a worn-out pool table

waited for someone to roll on it.

Seth picked up the cue,

and slammed balls into the pockets.

I do play hardball, he sneered, eyeing the bartender.

anyone want some?


not me, I said.

the place was empty now,

save the seven of us.

I took a seat along the battered bar.

got anything to eat?

just chips and peanuts, the bartender said.


you all from around here?

up north, I said.

never been, too cold.

yeah, well we're just warming up.

I'm Ben.

pleasure's mine… I'm Andy.


the cackling grew louder from the corner table

accompanied by the occasional thunder-smack of

angry stripes and solids rolling.

Seth glowered at us in a half-light

as I leaned in and bent Andy's ear.

in the corner, JT and Cal slowly took down their prey.


I don't remember much of the rest.

I was the last one out,

stumbling back to the room, hot, drunk,


JT, Cal and Seth had disappeared hours before

with the two girls.


I then remember Seth knocking

past me as I opened the door

of our room, mumbling

he'd be right back.

I do remember washing up,

cold water

on my face cooling me down.

after that it's blank.

I must have

passed out.


the police stand as bookends

next to the bed

one tall, one taller.

my head is pounding

and I want to puke.



tell us what happened

to the girl, the taller cop says.

yes, what can you tell us about the girl,

from the shorter cop.

anything you tell us will be helpful.

I need to vomit.


my guts want to spill.

the door is open

out to the hallway.

I can hear soft crying, loud voices

and hard words like blood

and slaughter.


the two women,

JT and Cal,


my stomach churns

I can taste the bile



did you ask my friends?

my stomach lurches.

we've talked to them, the tall cop says.

they told us

to talk

to you.


the short cop — seems you were last seen with her.

the tall cop— yes, according to your friend JT.

the short cop - tell us what happened between

you and the girl?

the tall cop— yes, this girl… Andrea Shepard.

I don't know any…

the short cop — yes, Andrea Shepard,

the bartender

in little pieces

next door.