This Is Where You're Supposed to Say Okay
I always had a thing for fun-sized Puerto Ricans, so I clicked on Rosita’s photos, watched the short video of her twerking. Before she even flipped her hair over her shoulder and looked back at the camera I was punching her number on my track phone.
Usually they want to meet you in the lobby, make sure you’re not the kind of creep who’s likely to skin them and wear them as a human suit. I’m not a fan of meeting these women in public, but it’s a scary business they’re in, so I get it. When they see me—tall, trim, practiced smile, somewhat handsome—they relax, follow me to the elevator. When Rosita said she’d come directly to my room and knock, I should’ve seen the red flag, but my guard was down, relieved I wouldn’t have to put up with the hotel personnel’s hairy eyeball for once.
Before she arrived I showered, then pulled on a pair of expensive jeans I had hanging in the closet. I struggled choosing a shirt—go with the plaid button-up or the white one with the embroidered design at the bottom that retired MMA fighters tend to favor? I went with the plaid. The way they undress me, slow and deliberate, is one of my favorite parts, and it’s one my wife skips over on the rare occasion I catch her feeling amorous.
When Rosita knocked, I sized her up through the spyhole, making sure I wasn’t getting the bait and switch. The fisheye did its funhouse tricks, curving her, making her appear even shorter than in the ad. I had that giddy, fluttery feeling in my bowels, and when I opened the door she was more delicious than anything I had ever paid for. Her tight black dress laced up the front, crisscrossing against her breasts, exposing a black widow tattoo at the mouth of her cleavage. Distracted by her curves, her perfume, her smile, I was baffled why the door wouldn’t close until I looked down and saw a white Air Jordan wedged against the frame. The door flung open, racking me in the nose.
Through bleary eyes, I caught a view of a man pointing something dangerous my way. “Your wallet motherfucker.”
I alternated between grabbing my nose and swiping the tears gathered in my eyes. I looked on the desk but it wasn’t there. Then I saw Rosita already had it, rifling through it, yanking the three hundred we had agreed upon earlier from the billfold. But she didn’t stop there.
“Ah, come on. Not the plastic.”
Her friend proved he wasn’t a supporter of interjections by pistol whipping me, sending me into the desk. As I righted myself against it I noticed the lamp, a modern looking thing made of steel with a sharp rectangular base.
“Ain’t your rules, bitch. We playin’ by mine.” When he stepped towards me I snatched the lamp and swung it with everything I had, catching him right on the temple. The way he dropped, one leg folded beneath him, I knew threatening me had been his swan song.
Rosita opened her mouth, trying to dislodge a scream, but I was quick, clamping my hand over her lips. Being twice her size, it didn’t take much to subdue her. Removing my hand from her mouth, I was alarmed how her face had colored. She coughed and gasped and slobbered. “Jesus,” I said, realizing the size of my hands, that I had almost killed her.
I looked down at her friend, his eyes rolled back. A lanky, light-skinned black guy with one of those close-cropped beards you associate with hustlers pawning fake Rolexes on the street. His hairline made me envious, and I may have unconsciously touched my own. I bent forward to get a better look where I struck him, appalled how such a small cut could inflict that kind of damage. I was suddenly outraged by the inconvenience of the situation.
“You did this,” I hissed, jabbing my finger at her. “All I wanted were the terms we had agreed upon, but you had to bring your friend into the equation. Now we’ve got a new equation, goddamnit, and don’t think you’re going to skip out on me.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, clasping her face in her hands. Her body spasmed as tears streaked her mascara. I knelt to pick up my wallet, cash and credit cards, noticing her feet, how her heels squeezed the top of her foot, like maybe she had bought a size too small just because they were on sale. There was also a butterfly tattoo on her ankle and a spot on her knee she had missed shaving. My wife often missed the same spot. As I was down there, repacking the cards in my wallet, the gun lying on the carpet made me shuffle my priorities. I picked the thing up by the grip, careful to keep my finger away from the trigger.
“It’s an airsoft,” she said in a tiny voice. “It can’t kill you.”
“Like I can believe anything you say.” I stepped over the guy, searching for someplace out of reach I could stash it. This room was identical to most rooms I’ve stayed where the sink and vanity were outside the bathroom door, a rectangular track of lights above the mirror. I figured if I had to stretch to place the gun on the track lights, no way Rosita would be able to pull anything funny. Even in her heels, she barely reached my shoulder.
With my wallet restored and the gun business settled, my attention reconvened at the guy sprawled on the floor. This was as close as I’d been to a guy this dead not wearing a casket. I couldn’t stop staring. Whatever spell the deceased had on me caused nonsense to spill from my mouth. “Maybe he’s just knocked out.”
Rosita was still crying, although its production value had declined. I was torn: on the one hand I wanted her to stop crying, yet I was turned on by how it had transformed her face. During my pre-coitus ritual of removing my wife’s flannel pajamas and hoodie—her customary wardrobe around the house—I’ve made requests to smear her makeup, but she has yet to oblige. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve quit asking because it makes things weird between us. Yet the girls I pay don’t seem to mind. Only two have failed to cooperate.
“There, there,” I said, taking a seat next to her. She flinched when I put my arm around her. I thought about sprinkling her with some more fairy dust about her friend’s state of being but decided I needed her—I needed us—to come to grips with the difficult choices we would soon make. While I waited for her tears to halt, I reflected on the brilliance of their scheme. Nobody has the gall to report such a crime. And Rosita never has to take her cookie out of the jar to get her cut.
I removed my arm from her shoulder because it was getting numb. “Was he your boyfriend?”
She shook her head no, then shrugged her shoulders. At that moment, she was so fucked up and small, I couldn’t look at her without feeling regret for the kind of person I was, so I stared at the wall, which was covered in textured beige wallpaper you couldn’t tell apart from paint unless you touched it. I looked down at the guy, hoping to catch a rise and fall in his chest, a whisper of breath being inhaled, exhaled. I deliberated praying but recoiled, remembering all those times God answered me with a smirk.
“I know you don’t want to hear this. But you’re better off without him. Robbing people is a dangerous line of work. People of his kind, my kind, we’re unpredictable.” I glanced down at her sculpted thighs. “You’re too pretty, too delicate, to be exposing yourself this way. Why, you’ve got the face of a baby. How old are you?”
After a few beats, she pushed through the silence. “Twenty-two.”
“Twenty-two—shit, you are a baby! Got your whole life in front of you.” A fly circled, landing on my hand. I watched him crawl around, rub his front legs together, get comfortable. Then I snuffed him out. My sudden movement startled Rosita, and seeing the bloody remnant didn’t make her feel any better. I wiped the back of my hand on the bedspread, below our line of sight. “Someone with your looks should enroll in nursing school, marry a doctor. You’d find a handsome one, like the ones on TV, not some hairy-knuckled stubby old porker who compensates by double-parking his Maserati.”
The bed crunched when I rose. I walked over to the mirror to see what kind of shape I was in. Red nose, but it wasn’t bleeding. Another mark on my cheek from the pistol whipping. I pushed around on my face but nothing felt broken. These blemishes would soon fade. A button on my shirt was undone, and it would stay this way for it must’ve popped off during the scuffle. I tucked the side of my shirt that had come loose back into my pants.
“Come on,” I motioned her up.
“Where are we going?”
“To the store.”
“What about him?”
“He’s not going anywhere. We’ll come back for him.” I glanced at the goosebumps on her skin. I kept my room on the cool side to help me sleep at night but, still, it was a lot warmer than what awaited us. “Don’t you have a coat or something?”
“No,” she said.
“Well, I wish you would’ve brought a coat. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s go.”
The wind worked us over in the parking lot. I decided it’d be better if we took the car they came in. “Where’d you park?”
“Park what?” she said, holding her hands out, as if to say where would I put the keys.
“How’d you get here?”
“You took an Uber to a robbery? A robbery!” I guffawed, but she didn’t find the humor in it. I glanced around nervously, noticing how much my voice carried. The only thing making one shape distinguishable from another was the security lights, and their effect was minimal. My car was parked along the outer perimeter of the lot. I unlocked the doors with my remote starter. I would’ve preferred not to use the company car for this kind of personal excursion, but what choice did I have?
“Hop in and warm up. I’ve got to think for a minute.”
I grabbed the EZ pass Velcroed to the windshield, marched it to the dumpster and chucked it in. If I had to go through tolls I didn’t want my movements traced back to me. But what about my license plate?
There was a mulched area outside the parking lot where the grass was edged around some boxwoods. The ground was still moist from an afternoon shower and it didn’t take much for me to dig my hand into the earth and extract a wet clump of dirt. I walked to the car and crouched by the bumper, smashing the mud onto the license plate, partially concealing the numbers. There had to be a thousand blue Ford Edges cruising the DC suburbs just like mine. I pursed my lips and nodded my head as I stood back and looked at it.
Seeing Rosita’s naked thighs in the dome light as I pressed the ignition created a natural stir, but I knew this was just a stress reaction. Whenever I needed a place to feel safe, sex offered me shelter. For decades I’d frustrated myself, trying to correct this behavior before deciding it was hopeless. Somewhere in my development the wires in my brain got crossed and soldered together. With a wan smile I said, “Look, your goosebumps are gone.”
When we arrived at Home Depot, I turned to her, placing my hand on her knee.
“So far, you’ve proven you can’t be trusted. I need that to change, okay?” I waited. Nothing. “This is where you’re supposed to say okay.”
“Okay,” she said.
“I really need to trust you.” I paused, gazing into her brilliant green eyes. “Can I trust you?”
“Good. Because I want you to live. And you want that too, right?” I coached her by shaking my head up and down. Slowly, she did the same, her eyes welling with tears again.
“Nope, we’re not going to do that. Crying is over. We’re investing our energy in something else now. We’re investing it in survival.” I turned away from her so she could gather herself. A bald guy, close to my age, crossed the parking lot carrying two plastic bags. He wore pajamas and a sports jersey. It repulsed me how slovenly people had become in public. I watched him drop a bag while fumbling with the keys to his minivan. The exterior lighting burnished the plastic hoods of the lawnmowers lined along the sidewalk. Pretty soon I’d need a new one myself. Sometimes my daughter likes to sit on my lap as I cut the grass. I wish I had parents growing up so I could’ve done the same.
I turned back to her, seeing she had gained some semblance of composure. “You’ve got one rule and one rule only. Don’t do anything stupid.” I opened the glovebox and handed her a napkin. “Here, fix your face. You’re smudged all over.”
I had her push the shopping cart down the wide aisles. Cleaning supplies was our first stop. We needed something with more substance than the white gloves that came in boxes. I picked up a couple pair of yellow ones, the kind housewives wear when scrubbing toilets. I found bleach right across from the gloves, grabbed two jumbo bottles of off-brand. A wheel on the cart was loose, catching and dragging against the polished cement floor, grating my nerves. I studied the black garbage bags, knowing I couldn’t skimp on this. I lifted a box of black drum liners with the thickest mil plastic I could find.
When we got to the tool section I looked at the hacksaws and said, “What do you think?”
Her face took on that vacant, slack look preceding panic, that twilight zone of emotion where you delude yourself about what’s happening. I went back to surveying the hacksaws, settling on a big commercial grade number, snagging an extra pack of blades to go with it. As I stared into the cart, I knew something was missing. I snapped my fingers, “Rags.” I grabbed five packs of the terrycloth variety from the paint aisle, figuring they were more absorbent, less smeary.
All those items huddled together looked suspicious, like we were people capable of no good. Then it dawned on me, I didn’t have to buy any of this. Send Rosita through the line, let her face be the one recalled by the cashier if something were to go awry. I pulled my wallet from my back pocket and removed five twenties. I grabbed her hand and slapped the money into her palm, then closed her fingers around it.
“We’re good here. Go ahead and check out, I’ll be waiting in the car. You can keep whatever change is left.” I smiled, hoping my generosity might lighten the mood. “Remember what I said about being stupid?”
“Good girl.” With my hand on the small of her back, I directed her to checkout and headed to the exit.
Waiting in the car, I tuned the radio to an oldies station. I was a bit of an odd duck in school, preferring Elvis, Smoky Robinson, The Supremes while my peers listened to grunge. I would close my bedroom door and power up my radio, adjusting the coat hanger antenna until something came in good enough where I could hum along. Staring at the paneled walls, I’d imagine the parents I never met. Were they tall like me? Did my father have my square chin? I bet my mother was pretty, envisioning her as slender with long blonde hair, green eyes, a button nose. Most often when I played this game she was an eighth grader, the same songs warbling through my speakers warbled through hers. She lay on her stomach on her twin-sized bed, feet crossed at the ankle. When Hound Dog shot through my speakers I’d laugh, thinking how it must’ve been a real hoot the first time she saw The King gyrating on national television. But I never laughed too hard because Earnest didn’t like me having fun.
Of all the foster parents, Earnest was the worst. His shirts were yellowed at the pit and he stunk like onions whenever he’d sweat. He’d ball his dirty sock and stuff it in my mouth, run duct tape around my head so I couldn’t spit it out. He’d beat me with a rubber hose for no good reason, leaving welts where no one could see. He’d do other things as well. I never had a TV in my room to distract me on those nights. And sometimes the radio wouldn’t cut it.
When I bought a gag last year I figured not all the girls would play along. The ones who do make you pay extra. I don’t mind; I think it’s worth it. Rosita said she did that kind of work, but I now believe that was just another one of her put-ons.
I popped the trunk when I saw her pushing the cart across the parking lot. I even got out and loaded the bags for her.
I realized my oversight as soon as I turned on Randolph Road. Luckily there happened to be a Target across the street at the next light. “Need to make one more stop.”
We walked through a labyrinth of greeting cards, storage bins and bathroom accessories to get to the luggage.
“What’s this for?” She scratched at some bumps on her hand I took to be hives.
“What it’s always for. Packing.” I picked the biggest, cheapest luggage I could find. I unzipped it, stuck my forearm inside. It was pretty deep, but no way did I think it would be enough. I decided to get two of them. I used up almost the rest of my cash at the register.
In the elevator she stood away from me, leaning against the faux wood panels. Our waxy reflections against the elevator door made the two of us impressionist paintings, hiding our flaws: my thinning hairline, the mole under her left eye. She started crying again, and this time I let her. At our hotel door, I pressed my plastic key against the sensor until I heard it click.
The whites of his eyes creeped me out, so I shut them with my finger before hooking him under his arms and dragging him to the bathroom. “This sonofabitch is heavier than he looks. Help me lift him into the tub. Get his feet.”
Dead weight is tricky because the body works against you, slumping and slouching, doing all sorts of zig when you want it to zag. We hoisted and rolled him over the lip of the tub, his head smacking against the faucet. He was too long, so I propped him up against the curved part to make him fit. Rosita’s last crying jag had washed away her foundation, revealing a dusting of freckles. Those freckles, they reminded me of innocence, and how desecrated my own had become.
“I’m going to need something before we do this. You want a bump?”
“No,” she said.
“I don’t party like that.”
“I wouldn’t call this a party, but alright. To each their own.” I pulled out a baggie I kept in the drawer with my underwear and made a line bigger than a goddamn elephant dick on the desk using one of my client’s business cards. I should’ve saved some of this for the morning, a little pick me up to start the day, but I couldn’t help myself. My nose hadn’t been feeling too keen lately, and my wife had been nagging me to see an allergist for my sniffles.
After the line, I grabbed the lamp from the floor and scratched a speck of blood from the base with my fingernail before placing it on the desk exactly as it was before. I had to crawl underneath to plug it in, looking over my shoulder as I did so to make sure Rosita wasn’t climbing onto the vanity to reach the gun. I turned the lamp on, surprised it still worked, then turned it back off. I grabbed the two remaining beers I had stashed in the micro-fridge, popped the tab on both and handed her one.
I removed the beige Home Depot bags we had zipped inside the luggage. I found the hacksaw, tore the protective cardboard sleeve from the blade. “We need to strip his clothes,” I said, finishing the last sip of beer.
It would’ve been easier if we had done this before lugging him into the tub, but that’s hindsight. Although killing a stranger hadn’t been an intimate act, undressing one was. I’m grateful Rosita took charge, starting with his shoes and socks. I held onto his shoulders so she could wriggle his pants and boxers free. I lifted his back away from the tub and, together, we removed his tee-shirt and hoodie. She folded his clothes as she packed them in the suitcase.
Neither one of us wanted to look at him, but occasionally we bounced glances off each other. “Now it’s our turn.”
“Turn for what,” she said.
“To strip. We can’t do this clothed.”
Apprehension stiffened her body.
“Just down to our underwear,” I said, trying to calm her.
“I’m not wearing a bra,” she said.
“I’ve seen thousands of them over the years, no need to be bashful.”
She walked out of the bathroom, just around the corner. She had her back to me, and I could only see her shoulder. Usually I’d want to see more but, honestly, it wasn’t on my radar at that moment; I was one hundred percent task focused.
Until she stepped back into the bathroom wearing a pink lace thong, shielding her breasts from my prying eyes with her hand and forearm. There it was again, that insatiable need to ram, suck, pinch, kiss, dominate, submit. Every aspect of fucking beckoned me, insulating me from all the hostility and rage that made me want to stab myself in the head. She must’ve seen the rise in my boxers, because the panic in her eyes intensified.
“Don’t worry. It’ll go away.” I looked her up and down. With her arm covering herself, I found it more erotic than if she were standing there completely nude. I couldn’t concentrate like this, so I went to the drawer and pulled out a white tee shirt. “Here, put this on, for christsakes.” I tossed it to her. “We’ll just throw it away with everything else when done.”
I handed her the hacksaw. “You have to make the first cut.”
She looked at me, lip trembling. “I can’t.”
“You don’t have a choice. We’re in this together. It’s you and your buddy’s shenanigans that put us in this predicament.”
I suggested we dive right in, starting at the head. But she couldn’t, simply couldn’t get her arm to carry out my command, choosing to cut along the shoulder where the arm tied into the torso. After a few saws, the teeth had barely scratched the skin. I yanked the saw from her. “You’re about worthless, you know that?”
I dismembered the body where it made sense: head, arms, legs. I wouldn’t let Rosita leave the bathroom. She vomited on two separate occasions, missing the toilet once. I made her clean it up with a few rags and some bleach. “Just throw your puke rags into the suitcase.”
I loaded the parts into the black plastic drum liners and tied them off. She loaded the lightest of the bags into the suitcases. I loaded the rest. I ran the shower, washing the blood down the drain, but there were still slugs of flesh clinging to the tub that needed coaxing. I took a bunch of rags and stuck them beneath the showerhead and soaked them. Then I doused them with bleach, handing her a few.
“We need to wipe this tub down really good. Like, really good.”
“Like our life depends on it,” she said.
Although we had been careful to confine most of the mess inside the shower, it proved impossible to keep some blood from splashing onto the floor tiles. I used my toothbrush to work on a few grout joints. When we finished we threw the rags on top of the plastic bags, pulled off our gloves, threw them into the luggage as well. The zipper got caught on one of the bags and I had to back it out and try again. We washed our hands and arms in scalding water, using the slim rectangle of soap provided by the hotel.
I had splatters of blood elsewhere—on my chest, the hairs of my stomach and legs—but these would soon be covered up with clothing. Rosita was mostly clear of biological fluid since she was too prissy to get her hands dirty. We got dressed with our backs to each other.
Out in the parking lot, the temperature continued to plummet and a light mist coated us. Was it one a.m.? Three a.m.? I hadn’t a clue as we rolled the suitcases to my car. Like a dummy, I forgot to lift with my legs when loading the luggage and strained my lower back.
I pulled out of the parking lot, told her to put her seatbelt on. The dinging stopped. I then gave her a choice. “You can either close your eyes or I can tie something around them.”
“I’ll close my eyes.”
“No peeking, alright? We’re so close to being done. Now wouldn’t be a good time to piss me off.” Whenever I looked over she had her eyes squeezed so tightly the skin bunched around them, indicating what she might look like in another twenty years.
I did my best to avoid the beltway, to stay away from tolls, settling on a small river town not too far, maybe half-an-hour away. I stopped at the foot of the bridge and waited a few minutes but no headlights came. Satisfied, I drove to the apex, which wasn’t but a few hundred feet, then parked the car. We scampered to the back like cockroaches exposed by light. We hefted each suitcase onto the rail and gave it a shove. They didn’t splash as loud as expected. The moonlight was slight, and we lost track of the luggage within seconds. Water lapped against the shore, reminding me of a lullaby.
I made Rosita close her eyes all the way back to Rockville. She lacked some of the gusto she exhibited before, although she got it back once I threatened her with the blindfold. What would I have even used if it came to that? Tear the sleeve off my shirt? Ha! I let her out at a bus stop a few miles from the hotel. It was nearly five a.m. Something was bound to come along shortly.
“You still have the change, right?”
She patted her dress near the left breast where she kept it.
“That should be enough to get you where you need to go.” I almost felt bad for her standing there, coatless, shivering like a dog rescued from the rooftop of a flooded neighborhood. Her lipstick smudged, her face still streaked with whatever mascara her tears hadn’t washed off. In the back of the car I kept a blanket with a few other emergency items—jumper cable, flashlight, flare, water. I toyed with giving it to her but, ultimately, decided it wasn’t in my best interest.
I rolled the window down the rest of the way. “Remember…
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she answered.
“That’s right. I wouldn’t want to have to see you again.”
I lay on my hotel bed even though there was no sleep to be had; I was meeting an important client in less than three hours. But it felt good resting there, knowing it was over.
Later, I’d think about my last words to Rosita, how they’d been a lie. How many times my mind has drifted as I’ve sat next to my wife in the living room, watching our daughter make jewelry with string and plastic gems. Rosita and I coasting from city to city, hotel to hotel, earning our money like Bonnie and Clyde. I’d clothe her in different dresses, just as tight but louder, a lime green, perhaps a red. There’d always be a place for me in the shadows as I direct her towards the peephole, my hand cued up against the cold steel tucked inside my waistband.