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b-sides & rarities (the past sinners, last winners extended edition)

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» Out of Control
(freeze frame screen kiss)

There's a girl he meets at a club in Tucson who carries a gun in her back pocket. "On account of those rattlesnakes," she says, and he laughs, but she stares at him in all seriousness until he stops, unsure if the punchline is yet to come. He never gets her name, but she scrawls her number in the palm of his hand in glittery black ink; it will refuse to come off until he calls her, and then the number's disconnected.

"I'm a travelling salesman," he tells her, and she asks him if those even exist anymore, so he shrugs and says, "The cover's wearing thin, but I still have a few years left of use, I feel."

This time they're in a bar in Georgia, straight whiskey and her, starkly out of place at the polished-wood bar with her high-heeled boots and torn fishnet stockings. The bartender speaks warmly to her though, as if they're friends, and her lips are a perfect shade of red around the O her mouth makes when she laughs. "Drinks are on me," she says, "Mysterious Travelling Salesman friend of mine."

"Are we friends now?" But he accepts the drink, and then another, and then another still, and when he wakes up he's slumped in the front seat of his car and she's scribbled, on his palm, Maybe you're a tornado chaser.

"But there are no tornados in some of the places I've been," he tells her, and this time. This time, like the next two or three times, he can't remember where he is, except that it's somewhere in the Midwest. Her hair is black now, cut straight across her forehead and above her shoulders. He compliments her on it and she shrugs and shakes her head, and her earrings rustle like music.

"Give me your palm," she says, "I'll read your fortune." His fortune says he has no future, and she frowns studiously at it and he thinks she gets it, but then she only pushes him away and laughs, and offers him another drink, and a secluded booth in the corner.

Once, she comes close, her handwriting is straight and narrow and not curved at all, FBI agent! Who are you looking for? In a different marker that he can't get out for days, so he wears gloves and thinks of her whenever he looks at his hands. Taps them on the steering wheel and listens to Dylan through rough roads and scattered tumbleweeds, getting all the lyrics wrong but singing along nonetheless.

"CIA is more glamorous. Don't you think?" She doesn't look good today. Her brows are kohled and her skin is its usual dark sheen of lovely, but her eyes are red and faintly bruised under the brilliant blue of her eyeshadow.

"Spooks haven't been in since the nineties. But if that's what you'd like." He buys the drinks this time, the fruity umbrella kind that she enjoys so much. He offers to drive her home, afterwards, but she shakes her head and kisses him on the cheek, and her breath is Singapore Sling and licorice. "You're sweet," she says, and stumbles out into the night.

The next time he sees her she's platinum blonde, Marilyn Monroe reincarnated in high gloves and a V-necked dress. Her perfume is heady and her smile is infectious, and he doesn't dance but he watches her, all night.

"I bet you're a doctor with the Red Cross," she tells him sadly, and he takes both her wrists in his hands and kisses each silk covered palm in turn. "Are you going to save me. You can't, you know."

He knows, but he buys her a drink anyway, a Martini this time, shaken or stirred, she doesn't care, and they slowdance at some point and her sigh against his collar is delicate and broken, and when she slips away he's not ready to let her go. Next time, he thinks, but there's no next time, not this month, not the next, and not the next, and autumn turns to winter and the nights get longer and colder and darker, and he thinks, when he's dropping into yet another bar after another long, long drive, perhaps the rattlesnakes got to her after all.


» Sister
(your favourite darkness)

She was pretty once. Or so he imagines. They were always pretty once. Now she's just dead. Her body suspended by one leg from the rafters of her loft apartment, wrapped in gauze and lace, blood pooled on the floor from the knife slash across her jugular. The ME's come and gone, so he lets the squints cut her down, wanders out onto the balcony. Truth be told he just wants a fucking cigarette, wants out of this fucking oppressive heat. No-one bothered to turn the AC on so it stinks of blood and decaying flesh. The balcony is cooler, or marginally so at least.

"Do you think we have a serial?" his partner says. She's fresh meat, been in Homicide for about two weeks, his partner for less than that, so her face is pale and her voice is shaky and she still thinks the possibility of another serial killer in town is a Terrible Thing, in comparison to all the other terrible things that happen on a daily basis.

"Too early to tell. Besides, we already have The Boxer and Shiva roaming the streets. Think serials come in threes like luck?"

"Evil is infectious."

He laughs, and it's the first genuine laugh he's had in days, at least. "Oh, sweetheart. It's not evil. It's just this city. It's just us. The end of the fucking world, or so they say."

"I told you not to call me that. And the world's not ended yet. Not on my shift, in any case."


» Killing Time
(i will always love you)

Then there was the time that she threw all his clothes into the river. It wasn't an entirely spontaneous act either, the river was a mile away, and he followed the trail she left behind best he could. Like Hansel and his breadcrumbs, a boot tossed cheerfully into a tree, followed by a beloved pair of jeans left in the middle of the road for a bus to run over, followed by a forlorn hoodie torn in two and chewed on by dogs, followed by his Ramones t-shirt randomly thrown over a fence.

He thought she'd leave the clothes by the shore at least, but no, in they'd gone, and only a few weren't swept away by the current, caught on stray tree branches and whatever garbage had been left behind by others.

By the time he got home, he was soaking wet and bedraggled, what was left of his wardrobe stuffed into a garbage bag that he dumped on the floor of the living room. On the way to the river, and all the way back, he'd practiced his speech, how he would tell her in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable behavior. That he'd not forgive, not now, not for a long time at least. How utterly hurt he was that she'd destroy so much, on a whim.

But the lights were off, and when he went upstairs the bedroom was empty, as was the closet, usually bursting with her clothes.

He didn't discover the message she'd scribbled in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror until the next morning, when he stumbled in, hung over and wanting nothing more but to die.

I never wanted a rose garden.

For years afterwards, he'd tell all his girlfriends, straight off the bat, that she was the one that got away, that his heart still belonged to her, wherever she was. He never realized he was waiting for the one girl that would stay, despite being made aware of this, until he met the girl that did.


» Red Flags and Long Nights
(routine bites hard)

He calls her cherry pie, even though she says her name is Star, and when she leans over him and he whispers into her ear, "Like the Warrant song, you know," she just stares blankly and has absolutely no idea what he's talking about. "It's okay, darling, it's fine."

He's careful not to touch, but when no-one's looking she sometimes grabs his hand and lets him slide his fingers up into her, rides them for a while. She's always wet, K-Y jelly or her he's not sure, but he likes to pretend it's all him, that he's special somehow. That her eyes on the stage as she dances are focused entirely on him. That she dances for him alone.

Under the harsh glare of the spotlights her hair is the color of the earth set on fire, and he wonders what shade of red it will burn under the sun. The freckles are real and so are the breasts, and he tells her, everytime he slips ten dollars under the strings, "You're so beautiful. You should let me take you out. I know a place we can have dinner." But he's not a creep and so he doesn't press when she just turns her head to brush her long tresses across his face.

Once, he catches her on her break, in the alley behind the club. Bundled up in a coat against the cold, cigarette gripped tightly in her hand. She eyes him nervously, looks around for the muscle that's always hovering nearby. "Don't be afraid," he says. "I won't hurt you."

But she only laughs, and she almost sounds sad when she says, "Oh, honey, there's no-where you can even hope to touch."


» These Things
(everytime i see you falling)

He fell in love with the girl who lived three doors down from him. She borrowed sugar from him one morning, and paid it back the next day with pie. He offered her to share, and she said, "No, I don't eat sugar, but thank you, you're sweet."

They bumped into each other at the elevator, or when she went to check her mail. He didn't plan to have his schedule mirror hers, it just happened gradually, so he could meet her when she pulled envelopes out of the mailbox and frowned at them.

"That bad, huh?"

"Just bills," she said. "Can't get away from them, eh?"

She was dating a cop, which he only knew because said cop showed up one time, all too cheap suit and overcoat and badge, bright gold devotion on his belt. His only remarkable feature were his big blue eyes, and the way they never missed a single thing.

"He's a good man," she said musingly, once, and he stared, pointedly, at the bruises on her face. "Oh no," she shook her head. "He doesn't hit me. It's complicated." He had no good reason to believe her, except that he did.

"Sugar-free brownies," he said, and tried to look pathetic. "Plus I have milk."

"Hey, how can I resist that?" Her smile lit up the whole world. She told him, almost tiredly, "I came to the city to get away from a man," after she'd taken two bites and declared herself too full to finish.

"Bad relationship, huh."

"No, not really." She paused. "He wanted more than I could give. Not everyone is looking for the white picket fence, you know."

"Sure, sure," he said, but he didn't understand, not quite. He'd want the white picket fence with her, he thought. Beautiful caramel-colored children with big brown eyes, not quite as sad as hers, the dog and the family car and the house outside the city with the patio and the sun shining on a lawn that he'd keep neatly trimmed during the summer while she made lemonade and told him to wear sunscreen before his skin turned lobster pink. "You should eat more," he said, and she turned her head away from him so he could see the delicate line of her neck. He had to stop himself from reaching out to tuck a strand of hair back behind her ear.

One day the cop showed to ask him questions, eyes red-rimmed with grief, and he felt guilty even though he'd done nothing wrong, even though he'd thought she was safe. The cop gave him a number, told him to call if he remembered anything, anything at all.

She sent him a postcard a month later, from a city three thousand miles away, with a picture of a pink house and a white picket fence, the ocean glistening blue in the faint distance. Thanks for the sugar-free rush, it said, and nothing more. He stuck it on his refrigerator door, the side with the words facing up.