She always told me red was my color, and now, as I cradled her body, I was covered in it. She lay limp in my lap, my grip leaving purple blemishes on blue skin, but I couldn’t hold her close enough. I couldn’t get her warm enough either, as chills dug into my back and ascended my spine. In this back alley, her lips were busted and cut, one of her eyes caved in, the other, blank as it stares off into nothing. Her hair was bloodstained dark ruby, and dents like craters on the moon were scattered across her head. Several deep dragging slashes started at the base of her neck and ran along her breast. The gruesome scene was such opposition to her usual grandeur. She always filled the bar with Chanel No.5 and balanced on pumps the cost of rent in Venice. She was high society, and though she often smiled, it seldom reached her eyes. Her name was Gin.
The hole in the wall bar I worked at didn’t typically cater to people of her status. Our patrons were more likely to wear Forever 21 rompers, not Haute Couture. The name of the bar was No Chaser, and it lived up to that in every way located in Downtown Los Angeles. My nights frequently spent making drinks and ordering Ubers for young adults who didn’t know their limits—not holding the cold, lifeless body of my best customer and most thrilling lover.
Gin was particular about how she liked her drinks. I watched her come in, order a gin and tonic, take one sip, leave cash, and walk out without a second thought. She stared through bartenders like she didn’t even see them, and if their drink didn’t suffice, they might as well have disappeared. Quality was everything to her, so when she graced my barstool, I made sure I was prepared.
Every Thursday nights, the point of her heels glided through the entrance just as the clock hit eleven, her witching hour. On this particular night, I started chilling a glass hours earlier in anticipation of her arrival. Maybe that’s cheating, I figured she wouldn’t mind, and it wasn’t like I was breaking any laws, yet. She always paid cash, pulling it from her Chanel clutch as if it was old receipts or used napkins to dispose of. She didn’t fraternize with the other bar-goers; she had no interest in anything but her desires, and it seemed she desired nothing more than a drink. When she perched upon my barstool, I had already rinsed the frozen glass with vermouth.
She sat gingerly like she wasn’t planning to stay long, and I noticed she was in a silk all-white dress, tight up top but flowing at her waist, stopping mid-thigh and backless. The dress would have seemed innocent if on anyone else. Gold bangles clung to her wrist with rubies patterned around them in the shape of flowers. A gold ruby neckless the size of a small tennis ball rested between her voluminous breasts, full but not obscene. She was one of the few gorgeous girls in the city that didn’t have some type of work done. How could you not try to get this woman to stay past one drink, she was a vision. Her golden hair was up like a crown and exposed her long and delicate neck and smooth sun-kissed skin. The only things on her that were a little offbeat was a silver ring that looked too big for her index finger and an industrial bar through her left ear, but she was not meant to be cookie-cutter or understood. I wanted to stand out to her the way she did to me, but there were millions of other bartenders to compete with. The other bartenders here in Los Angeles tend to be generally lazy, my best friend Whisk included.
Whisk was my best friend and roommate, the only person here that new about my life back in Texas. We shared a modest apartment that overlooked most of LA. He was a family friend, we grew up together, and he moved out to Los Angeles a year before I had. He knew about my complicated relationship with my rich right-wing father and my disdain for my complacent socialite mother. I didn’t want to be just like my father, someone who thought everything and everyone had a price tag, even his own son. I had to get as far away as possible without taking any of my father’s money. Owing my family was enslavement. Whisk offered me a sanctuary to lose myself in a city where everyone was a little lost, most Californians enjoyed it. Whisk got me the bartender job, and even he was a culprit of throwing the most expensive liquor at a customer he considered wealthy and pompous.
Nevertheless, I took pride in bartending and knowing the quality of a bottle instead of just the price. I filled the glass with 2/3 Treaty Oak Waterloo Gin, a hometown Texas favorite of mine. Gin was much more polished even than the southern bells I grew up around. Her eyes cut through me as she waited for the drink she knew I was preparing her without it being requested. I cut a twist of lemon, squeezed it on the top of the glass, then danced it around the rim. In some of her past arrivals, I had seen a bartender put ice in her drink and couldn’t help but cringe. This woman didn’t want ice in her way, wasting her time, and watering down her solace.
With the last drink, Whisk made her, she grabbed the glass off the counter with a light grip as if hoping it would slip and crash on the bar. Any excuse not to force down a labored sip. When she got her hands around the drink I made her, she pressed her red lips against the glass with a smirk. I remember her crystal blue eyes cutting through me as she took her first sip, and instead of looking through me, I felt like I was being seen for the first time. I could tell she enjoyed it, even worshipped it, though she never said so, and she never would. She seemed like the kinda woman who knew compliments were power, and she would never hand that over.
The night I first made her a drink, she sipped as her off-hand toyed with her ruby necklace. Now in its place were several deep dragging slashes through the base of her neck and along her breast. The red of her blood darker than the ruby necklace I recalled. This Thursday was particularly busy, so I had to leave Gin unattended for some time. When things finally cleared up, she was gone, but her glass was empty, and underneath it amongst the cash was a note. I unfolded the note after putting the excessive cash away and clearing the glass. She wrote in cursive, and the artistry of the letters seemed like hieroglyphs. Like the women herself, the note was straightforward and confidant.
“Meet me in the back alley no later than 12:45, Gin.”
Though I didn’t speak to my family anymore, my father was a watch collector. I checked my watch, an old Patek that had been in my family for generations, the only reminder of home, and it read 12:40. I informed the other bartenders I was taking a smoke break now that the rush had calmed down. No one realized that they’d never seen me smoke before, but the excuse always worked, and Whisk always had my back. I rushed from behind the bar and attempted to navigate a crowded dance floor. Several drunk flailing bodies bumped up against me, and at one point, I had to actually catch a young woman who had stumbled. Though I enjoyed the curvature of most women, she didn’t fit quite right in my arms. Eventually, I pushed through the back door beside the DJ booth on the opposite end of the bar. I was out of breath, but there she was, the only light amongst the back alley shined on her.
She didn’t want to stay in the light though, her strides closed the distance between us, and I noticed she was quite tall for a woman. She had cheekbones of a statue, and I smoothed my thumb across them as she crashed her lips against mine. She tasted of my favorite hometown liquor, and pride swelled knowing my skills pleased her, in now more ways than one. She kissed me chaotically, almost as if she couldn’t breathe. Her hands were clawing at me like my skin was in the way. My eyes were sealed shut the whole time because I was terrified of waking from this dream-like experience. I wasn’t sure if she wanted to lose control with me or control me. My body was still as stone, so to not make the wrong move and send her running. The kiss seemed to be a dance between temptations and mystery, but I was okay with either, and she was okay leading. I wasn’t sure if we had been making out for ten seconds or ten lifetimes, but nevertheless, it came to an end too soon. Maybe if she had stayed around for a second drink, we would have had more fun, but Gin didn’t seem like the type to stay anywhere too long.
As quickly as she ignited this flame, she swiftly dowsed it and removed her lips from mine. She reapplied her red lipstick flawlessly without a mirror, turned on her heels, and glided out of the cramp dark back alley right to the main road. There a black Lincoln town car pulled up just as she hit the sidewalk, and a man came around to open her door. She gracefully got inside, and the vehicle sped off before I could even get my barrings. I stood there and touched my lips smeared with red lipstick and tried to wrap my mind around what had just happened. Gin was my first California earthquake because she left me shaken and confused. The only clear thought that came to my mind was that the weight of my hand seemed different. My family heirloom, the Patek watch, was no longer on my wrist. Maybe rushing through the crowded dance floor, a thief grabbed it right off of me. As a matter of fact, after that night, I never saw the watch again. That was until tonight when I noticed my watch on the wrist of the dead women, whose blood I was covered in, and whose corpse I was cradling.
Copyright © 2020 by Rkrelentless.com and R.K. Russell