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Bleeders
 


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Bleeders


  Bleeders

  Anthony Bruno

  Copyright

  Diversion Books

  A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004

  New York, NY 10016

  www.DiversionBooks.com

  Copyright © 2012 by Anthony Bruno

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For more information, email [email protected]

  First Diversion Books edition March 2014

  ISBN: 978-1-62681-235-2

  More from Anthony Bruno

  Gibbons & Tozzi Novels

  Bad Guys

  Bad Blood

  Bad Luck

  Bad Business

  Bad Moon

  Bad Apple

  Loretta Kovacs Novels

  Devil’s Food

  Double Espresso

  Hot Fudge

  The Temptations of St. Frank

  Bleeders

  Prologue

  Gene Lassiter could pinpoint the day he became a monster. May 28, 1989—a magical day for him.

  He had been 19—skinny and scruffy with hair down over his collar and a sparse but mangy beard that looked like reddish-brown puffs glued to his face. The disparity between the dark brown on his head and the reddish beard disturbed him whenever he saw it, but he didn’t have to look at it that day while he was hiking. He had three weeks to kill before his summer job and he’d decided to walk the Appalachian Trail from Tannersville, his tiny hometown in eastern Pennsylvania, to as far as he could go in a week and a half. But in the back of his mind he held onto the possibility of continuing on, forgetting about college and seeing what life brought him.

  It was hot as he trudged along the dirt path in the shade of tall maples. His skin was dotted with mosquito bites because he’d never thought to bring bug repellant, and his feet ached even though he had good hiking boots, which his parents had bought him when he was in junior high and were a half size too small. He regretted not letting his mother buy him a new pair, but he was determined to be independent and stop sponging off his parents. He didn’t like his life. He wanted something else. He just didn’t know what.

  The sun peeked through the branches as he walked. The soil at the edges of the trail was soft, and whenever he noticed an ant hill, he went out of his way to step on it. One summer when he was little, he’d found a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid in the garage. He went into the woods behind his house and squirted it into an ant hill just to watch the ants run out. The next day he went back with a book of matches and lit the fluid after he’d poured it in, but the ants didn’t run out with fire on their backs the way he’d hoped. They stayed inside and probably burned to death. He was disappointed. He’d wanted to see them die.

  He’d stomped out the burning ant hill and wandered into the woods until he found a box turtle trudging through the moss. He picked it up, but it pulled its head and legs into the shell. He set the turtle down and knelt over it, and without giving it any thought, squirted lighter fluid into the shell where its head was. It pulled in tighter. He squirted the leg holes, wanting the turtle to come out, but it didn’t. He doused the shell and threw a lit match on it. A crown of flames licked the air, but the turtle didn’t come out, and it didn’t run off with fire trailing behind the way turtles in cartoons did. Again he was disappointed.

  He tried cats next. They were better.

  As he walked the trail, Lassiter noticed the sun getting lower. He figured it was between four and five o’clock, and since it was June, he still had a few hours of light, but eventually he’d have to find a place for the night. This was his eighth day on the trail. Tomorrow he’d have to head back so he’d be home in time to start his job at the bank. If he decided to go back. He was feeling antsy. He was at a crossroads. He wanted to do something daring, something big, something unique—he just wasn’t sure what.

  He’d just finished his freshman year at Georgetown, but he was bored with school. He was good at math and had thought about making that as his major, but the courses were too easy. He’d briefly considered physics, then philosophy—maybe just to piss off his father who wanted him to be a business major, which didn’t appeal to him at all. His father had gotten him the summer job—his dad and the bank branch manager were golfing buddies. Gene had agreed to take it only because he didn’t have anything else to do and he was saving up for a car. He had thought about staying in Washington, looking for a job on campus, but there was this girl, Steph.

  They’d gone out a few times. She was more handsome than pretty—tall and bony with a long horsy face—but to him she was exotic, never without her signature swipe of Cleopatra eyeliner. Steph was smart and hip, and she was from New York. She’d grown up in Greenwich Village and had babysat the kids of movie stars. He’d met her in a film appreciation class, “German Film from Murnau to Fassbinder.” He’d picked it because it was easier to watch movies than read and it fit into his schedule. Steph had already seen most of the movies and was pretty knowledgeable about film. She seemed knowledgeable about a lot of things.

  He’d watched her from afar, attracted but intimidated. She was too sophisticated for him. He’d pass her dorm at night and look through the windows, hoping to see her. He saw other girls but not her. Then one day after a screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, she just started talking to him. No “hello my name is,” nothing like that. She just launched right into a diatribe on camera angles and set design, technical stuff. He was thrilled that she’d chosen him over the guys in class who wore all black and spouted artsy-fartsy theories in discussion group. She said they were all “pretentious ass-holes.” She said she liked him because he was “real.”

  They dated from October into November, and two days before they each left for home for Thanksgiving break, they had sex right after seeing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. She didn’t seem that into it because she had talked the whole time, and that bothered him. He worried that he was below average as a lover, that he had done something wrong.

  When they got back to school, they made love a lot, almost every night and always in her dorm room. Her roommate had dropped out and she had a single by default. Every time she talked a blue streak, but when it was over, she became sullen and quiet. He was sure he was doing something wrong, but he didn’t know how to ask her. For someone who talked so much, she didn’t talk about that. They kept having sex, but it was always the same—he enjoyed it while it was happening but afterward he felt inadequate. Many nights he lay awake, staring at her, watching her sleep.

  Then on the Thursday night before Christmas break, she said she wanted to try something new. She went to her bureau and pulled out a fistful of colorful silk scarves. She told him to lie down on the bed with his arms and legs stretched out. He refused. He didn’t want to be tied up. The thought of not being in control scared him.

  “Come on,” she said. “It’ll be fun.” She looped a red scarf around his wrist as he sat on the edge of the bed, and he immediately pulled his hand away.

  “Come on. Don’t be a wuss.” She tried to get it around his wrist again.

  “No,” he said.

  She shoved him onto his back and leaped on top of him, straddling his chest and kneeling on his shoulders. She was stronger than he’d thought.

  She grinned down at him. “I am going to tie you up… bitch.”

  “Get off.”
<
br />   “Bitch.” She laughed as she grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the bed. “I’m going to tie you up, bitch—”

  His free hand struck like a cobra, punching her face closed fist. He hit her so hard they were both shocked. Her face turned red, her Cleopatra eyeliner smudged up to her hairline. He stared at what he’d done, then did it again. He didn’t know why, he just did it. She jumped off him and retreated to the other side of the bed, sitting with her back to him. He knew he should have felt bad, but he felt nothing.

  “Get out,” she said in a moody growl. “Just get out.”

  He stared at her profile. A line of blood ran from the corner of her mouth to her chin. He looked at his hand, his knuckles smeared with blood.

  “I said, get out!” she screeched.

  And he did. He left and never talked to her again. He avoided her for the rest of the school year, terrified that she would tell her R.A. or a dean or call the cops and then he would be in real trouble. All through spring semester he waited for something to happen, expecting a phone call, a letter, a knock on his door. But nothing happened. He and Steph weren’t in any other classes together, and he saw her only a few times from a distance. She avoided him as much as he avoided her, and gradually his fear turned into a guilty little satisfaction. She’d been so bossy and confident that she could do anything she wanted with him, but he’d changed all that with two quick punches.

  Still, when he heard from a mutual friend that she was going to be working on campus in the library that summer, he decided it might not be a good idea for him to stick around. There wouldn’t be enough students to hide in the crowd. She apparently hadn’t told on him, but that didn’t mean she still couldn’t.

  He’d thought about her a lot as he hiked the trail. Not so much about her as about hitting her. He ran though the incident, analyzing every part of it, walking miles without realizing. He was still thinking about it.

  Swatting mosquitoes as big as daddy long legs, he guessed he was somewhere in Sullivan County in lower New York state. He had crossed from New Jersey into New York about three hours ago and was heading toward the Catskills. He could just keep going, he thought. Keep going and never go back. A tempting idea.

  He spotted a pair of hikers rounding the bend up ahead, coming toward him. He’d passed only a few hikers on this trip. As they got closer, he saw that they were women, older than him, mid-twenties. A pretty blue-eyed blonde and a brunette with a long face like Steph’s. He heard them talking in some language he didn’t understand. They might have been Scandinavians, but he wasn’t sure. As they were about to pass, they smiled and said some sort of greeting, but they didn’t slow down and neither did he. He just raised his hand to say hi and kept walking. But his eye went to the edges of the trail, looking for a rock small enough to hold in his hand but heavy, like a brick. He imagined bashing the long-faced girl over the head. Pounding her repeatedly, making her bleed. The blonde, too. But he didn’t see any good rocks so he kept walking. Thoughts like that flew into his head every so often.

  The trail hugged a ridge at the base of a hill, a steep upward slope on his left, a gentler downward slope on his right. The forest floor was covered with the previous fall’s leaves, and as he walked, he could see the edge of a grassy pasture through the trees. The green of the pasture was brilliant in the light of the setting sun and contrasted sharply with the browns and drab greens of the canopied forest. Golden light shone through the leaves and dappled the ground. He figured it was time to start looking for a place to set up his tent for the night.

  As the trail rounded the hill, he heard something odd and out of place. Music. Rock music. First, drums and a heavy bass line, then wailing electric guitars and male voices added to the mix. It grew louder as he walked. He’d thought it was a boombox, but the closer he got, the more it sounded like a live performance. He glanced down the slope to his right. The landscape was changing. The pasture gave way to some kind of compound.

  Curious, Lassiter got off the trail and trudged through the dry leaves to get a better look. He saw a large lemon-yellow house with gables and a mansard roof. A red barn as big as the house sat across the courtyard. The rock band played on a stage between the two structures. As he got closer, he saw that despite their old-fashioned design, the house and barn were in good shape, as if they had been recently built or renovated.

  The leaves crunched under his boots as he walked closer. The place was mobbed, well over a hundred, maybe two hundred people. They were gathered around the stage or seated at tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths on the lawn and around a kidney-shaped swimming pool. He smelled the smoky sweet aroma of barbecue and saw drifting smoke moving through the sunlight. All of a sudden he was hungry.

  Two men in knee-length aprons tended four large grills near the edge of the woods, brushing sauce on whatever they were cooking. People lined up at a nearby serving table to fill their plates. He imagined all kinds of meats on those grills, particularly ribs. He loved ribs. The guests seemed to be having a good time. They were mostly older but seemed friendly. If any of them had noticed him coming out of the woods, no one attempted to chase him off. He shrugged out of his backpack and set it down behind a tree with a wide trunk so it couldn’t be seen from the compound. He wandered onto the lawn where a cluster of people sat on the ground in a circle—three men and two women. They were in their forties, he guessed, and two of the men had full bushy beards. One of the women had light brown hair down to her waist and wore a white peasant blouse with colorful embroidery across the front. Old hippies.

  “Hey, want some,” one of the bearded men said, holding out a joint. Lassiter could smell it.

  “Ah… no thanks.” He’d never tried marijuana. He was curious, but he felt like an intruder here. This wasn’t the place to have his first experience.

  “Get yourself something to eat,” the woman with the long hair said.

  Lassiter shrugged. “I wasn’t invited.”

  “Don’t worry about it. Eat.”

  He looked over at the food tables. Chrome serving trays loaded with cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, and health salad. Wooden bowls full of green salad. A pyramid of corn-bread squares. The two barbecue guys were taking orders for burgers, chicken, steaks, sausage, and ribs.

  “Go.” The woman brushed him toward the food with her fingers. “Eat. Have fun.”

  Seeing the ribs, he didn’t have to be told twice. He wandered toward the serving tables, took a paper plate, and got in line behind a young guy with a ponytail. Lassiter kept his head down as he helped himself to a few ribs, a sausage, some cole slaw and macaroni salad, and two pieces of corn bread. He picked up one of his ribs and bit into it, tearing meat off the bone. It was the best rib he’d ever tasted. Moist, tender, not too sweet.

  “Beer’s over there.” The guy with the ponytail pointed with his beer bottle to a bar under a tent near the barn. He guzzled what was left in the bottle. “C’mon, I’ll go with you. I need another one.” Lassiter could see that the guy already had a pretty good buzz going. He nodded as he gnawed on the rib. He was under age, but he’d been to plenty of keggers at school, and it didn’t look like he’d get carded here. Mr. Ponytail jabbered away as they walked.

  “Can’t wait for Michael to come on. It’s gonna be freakin’ great. I mean the other bands are great, too, don’t get me wrong. But where you gonna find people like this all playing in the same place, just jamming with each other? Eric, Keith, Bob, Joni, Emmy Lou, Carlos, Neil. It’s like a freakin’ little Woodstock over here.”

  Lassiter listened but was more interested in eating.

  Mr. Ponytail talked nonstop as they weaved their way through the crowd. Well-off types mingled with the old hippies—middle-aged women with poufy hair that didn’t move and balding sixty-ish men in light-colored blazers. Clusters of college-age kids congregated at the edges of the crowd, passing joints and sluggin
g from beer bottles. Everyone was having a great time, and most were high, drunk, or both.

  Two bartenders worked the bar, affable biker chicks with tattooed arms and bandanas on their heads. A rowboat full of ice held a shit-load of beer and at least thirty bottles of white wine and champagne. Bottles of hard liquor—lots of them—stood at attention on a table behind the bar, each one fitted with a jigger spout.

  “What can I get you?” the skinnier of the two biker chicks said.

  “Two brews,” Mr. Ponytail said.

  “Bud? Heineken? Sam Adams? Bass?”

  “Heinie for me.” Ponytail turned to Lassiter. “How about you?”

  Lassiter nodded, his mouth full of corn bread. “Heineken.”

  “Two Heinies,” he said to the woman.

  “You got it.’

  Lassiter expected her to ask for an I.D., but she didn’t seem to care.

  “Here you go.” Ponytail handed him a beer. “Man, look at that.” He pointed with his new bottle at the stage where another band was setting up—two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer. “That’s the Blackstone Brothers, man. They haven’t played together since ‘81, ‘82, something like that.”

  Lassiter nodded as he sipped. He had no idea who the Blackstone Brothers were.

  “They are freakin’ great, man. But you know what I’m waiting for? Michael, man. He’s supposed to be playing soon. He is so unbelievable, especially when he plays at home for his friends. Can’t wait to see what he does.”

  Lassiter took another sip, wondering who the hell this Michael was. This was his house so Lassiter figured he had to be the one throwing this bash.

  Ponytail took a slug off his bottle. “Hey, I’ll catch you later, man.” He walked off toward the stage.

  Lassiter drifted back through the crowd and found a shady spot under a stand of white birches where he sat and ate as the band launched into their set. Twangy southern rock with tight vocal harmonies. Hard-driving blues interspersed with soulful ballads. The band wasn’t bad, but they were another generation from Lassiter’s.

 
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