The Return of Richard Widmark

“This is where he brought her,” Bez says, surveying the room. “They traveled light, no luggage. They weren’t here on a trip, after all.”

She is dressed up tonight, tight black dress, low-cut, made up like a movie queen. She had made me do the same before we left, and I feel overdressed, but it’s Bez’s night tonight, so I do as I am told. We have dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio–lamb souvlaki for me, feta-stuffed quail for her. It is delicious, and a nice change. I’ve been eating at home a lot recently, so having something cooked for me is lovely.

“They had drinks here at the table,” she says, sitting at it herself. It wobbles dangerously as she sets her elbows on it, and the harsh light from the hanging lamp above it throws deep shadows across her face. “He brought it, the cheapest whiskey he could find. He didn’t care about the taste, just the effect.”

After dinner, Bez tells me she wants to stay out all night, to stay at some murder motel somewhere, just to do something different for the night. We end up in Redwood City, at some horrible motel made of rust and stucco and dirt, and Bez talks to a man with missing teeth through a window made of bullet proof glass in order to get our key. It’s an actual key he gives us, not a plastic swipe card, made of scratched brass and hanging on a key fob the size of a tangerine.

“After the drinks, they go to the bed,” Bez says, “taking off their clothes as they go.” She doesn’t take off her dress, but she does collapse on the bed, and the springs squeak like an old car under her weight. “It takes him forever to get his mojo working. Too much cheap booze.”

There are no lights in the parking lot, so Bez leaves the car beside the office, where it will hopefully be less likely to be broken into during the night. I’m not even sure whose car it is, because it’s certainly not hers, but I don’t ask. We walk quickly to our room, our heels echoing across the lot, and unlock the door.

“Later, they have a fight,” she says. “They’re both drunk, so whatever it’s about, it’s something petty and stupid. He gets pushy, knocks her back against the wall. She grabs the phone off the table, not to call anybody, the police or maybe her husband, but to smash him against the side of his head, which she does. He’s enraged, knocks the phone out of her hand, pushes her to the floor, puts his hands around her neck…”

The room is clean, at least, though the carpet is stained and the ceiling has brown circles from water spots in every corner. It’s nicer than the last murder motel she made me stay at, but it’s still no place I’d want to stay longer than I had to.

“Does he hear the snap of her neck when he clenches and twists? I think he does. I think he hears it, and for one moment he feels triumphant, like he just won the lottery.” Bez kicks off her shoes, letting them fall to the thin brown carpet. “I think he’s even so drunk and full of his own power that he doesn’t even think about what he’s just done, what it means. I think he drops down on this bed here and passes out, doesn’t come out of it until the maid service is knocking on the door in the morning.”

This is one of Bez’s things, the murder motels. I don’t know if anybody ever has been murdered in them, but she likes to think they were. When she’s in a mood like this, she’ll come get me and we’ll go for a trip around the Bay, just driving until we find a particularly seedy place somewhere, and then we’ll spend the night. She’ll spend the next week or two making paintings which remind me of the pulp covers of old crime novels, with loose women in black widow dresses being held at gunpoint by men who look like Richard Widmark.

“He yells for the maid to go away, to come back in an hour. Then he sees her, dead on the floor, her head at an impossible angle, black bruises in a ring around her neck where he strangled her, and he panics. He thinks about running, but knows that he won’t get far. You don’t strangle the wife of a prominent physician and get away with it. So he does the only thing he can think of, which is to take off his belt, knot it first around the shower rod, then around his neck, and to let gravity do the rest.”

“If we don’t get killed tonight,” I say, laying on the bed beside her, “we are doing something normal tomorrow.”

“This is normal,” Bez says.

“No, this is the opposite of normal.”

She thinks a moment, then says, “Yeah, you’re right. But it’s a lot of fun though. Plus we look amazing.”

“We’re going to a movie tomorrow. The Castro is showing Lost In Translation. You are buying me popcorn.”

“Got this all planned out, have you?” she asks.

“It gives me something to think about while you’re looking for bloodstains on the carpet.”

“I should have brought a black light,” she says.

“Popcorn and jujubes.”

“If we survive the night.”

“Yes,” I say. “If.”

She is asleep ten minutes after we put the light out.

It’s 4am and I am huddled under the blanket, listening for footsteps walking outside out window.

I don’t know why I let her do things like this with me.

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