“Crossie’s Mettle”
Donald L. Vasicek

Bush Bundi flinched every time he strangled someone. It wasn’t because the act was heinous to him. Actually, the act of strangling someone was pleasurable, particularly when he watched the terror-stricken eyes of his victim, not to mention the surge of power that pulsed throughout his body and mind.

The Rose Strangler, they called him in the media. Females. 40’s. Five to date. Said he pasted a rose petal right in the quarter-sized bowl at the base of their necks, that little indentation there. Bundi raped them. Wrapped their bra straps around their throats and pulled them tightly until he saw the skin redden on their necks, then turn purple. Bruising and all, like short circuiting the air to their brains. He was that motivated. Compression of the carotid arteries on one or both sides of the neck restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, a Judo practice he knew. And top it off with the rose petal, why not? It added a nice touch, he rationalized, sort of balanced things out, and besides, the petal fit in the victim’s neck bowl, every time.

In their blood, he clearly and neatly wrote across their breasts, “I had no other choice but to kill you.” This choice, something sick and skewed by his mean mother, who whipped him with a bamboo cane she’d specially bought to punish him to make certain he understood she was the boss, made him a conqueror of females. Old man Bundi was weak, alcoholic, someone who flinched when Bush’s mother wrecked her anger and hate on Bush. He always turned the other way, didn’t say a word, just went outside to chop some wood for the fireplace. He was master over females this way, you know, like “f***, you Mother”, but here’s a rose petal to show you how much I love you.

Crossie Bannister, a frail woman of 40 out of south Denver nipped at a glass of wine, with a predisposition for allowing the slightest thing to gnaw at her like a chunk of cancer. “Sure, you won’t be going that way, will you?” she asked, a sickly looking man next to her. A news clip on a tv in the neighborhood restaurant caught their eyes, his, you’d have to say, bulging out and red-rimmed like something was squeezing them out from inside of him. A thyroid condition, he claimed.

A morose-looking tv anchor with a twitch said, “The Rose Strangler’s due to strike again. Seems he’s taken
some time off since he murdered Josie Kalamath last month.”

Crossie’s look drifted to a mammoth of a man, a stranger in the friendly place. The man adjusted a sable
Fedora on his head like he’d just stepped out of “GQ”. He hovered at the far end of the bar. A corner there, dark, and unexpressive. He threw down a shot of tequila and made sure he kept his eyes down.

Gottleib Croaker, Crossie’s lawyer friend, a stick of a guy with an Adam’s apple that bobbed like a piece of wood
in a stream, when he talked, bit down on a lump of chewing
tobacco. “You’ve been going that way every since law school, Crossie. Something wrong, sweetie?”

“I don’t know, you know, when you get a funny feeling, you should pay attention to it. It’s nature’s way of stirring you up. You should do something about it.” Croaker pushed the carafe of wine closer to Crossie.
“Yeah, it gives you power. You’re just going over to the courthouse to file the brief on the Cheney case. I’ve got a contract to finish. You’ll be back in no time. We can slip over to the mall, have some tacoritos and go see “The Screaming Church” at the Denver Metroplex. Huh, huh? What do you think?” He patted Crossie’s hand.

Crossie looked down at her hand. Veins in it throbbed in an about-to-explode look. She was buff. Her skin was that tight. It was the diet, the elliptical machine, curls, things like that. But she was too thin. Probably not an mini-pound of body fat on her. That was Crossie Bannister, a woman who took care of her father’s law firm he left her. Johnny Bannister, a rat-tat man, who spoke very rapidly. Actually he picked up the nickname, the rat-tat man, because he was fast-minded, and could lay a line of wordson you faster than firing a Bushmaster ACR, an adaptive combat rifle that could fire 30 rounds out of its PMAG magazine more rapidly that chopping carrots with a food chopper. He got his sleeve caught in the auger of his corn picker that was jammed. The 160-acre farm was his baby, his love, since Crossie’s mother died unexpectedly nearly four years ago now, victim of a vehicle collision that decapitated her. The machine pulled him in there and chewed him up like a school of piranhas.

As Crossie left the restaurant, she melted under Croaker’s fading, but warm touch. His gaunt look, always a diversion for her, smoothed a layer of love on her. She knew he was sick, very sick. Not much time left. 60 plus years of tobacco had sentenced him to death, she knew. But he was a good contract lawyer, and he was nice to her.
Crossie felt the first tug of her premonition when she felt something behind her. The movie, a parody of conservatives, and their penchant to bitch about the economy, taxes favoring the upper crust of American society, and the religious leanings that spewed fire and brimstone, but left the parishioners so confused they couldn’t come up with any solutions. Generalizing about some very definitive issues. That was about it. But Croaker liked documentary films and Crossie wanted to placate him, so she told him she’d meet him at the MoviePlex. Crossie shot a glance over shoulder. A black Lexus SUV with tinted windows chugged at her back.

The parking garage had its own little annoyance. Dark corners. Ear-splitting solitude. Silent. Lingering carbon monoxide. The reeking smell of gasoline squeezed out any fresh air there. The trek to the courthouse to file the brief failed to penetrate the inner and hidden parts of anyone, let alone Crossie. Quiet hung in the air like a thick wall. The hum of the SUV melded with it, like the engine was no longer running.

It was still, the eeriness of the air just before a tornado dropped down from the belly of an angry, black cloud. “Ugly looking things, SUV’s,” Crossie said. Her way of giving the driver of the SUV the finger for following her too closely. The immense man in the sable Fedora from the restaurant stepped out from behind a cement pillar as the SUV rushed up a ramp and disappeared on the next floor.

Crossie began to cross over to the other side of the garage to put some space between them. The man tipped his hat at her, sort of matter-of-factly like a saluting soldier. He presented her a rose. Crossie stepped up her pace, about ready to sprint. Like a cheetah, he shot across the space between them. Crossie took the full force of him. It slammed her smack down on the pavement. Her breath flew from her. The man tore at her clothing like a wild animal.

Crossie swung a free hand. It landed at the edge of the brim of the Fedora. The Fedora set sail for other destinations. The man’s face glared at Crossie. A pissed off gorilla. A jagged scar cornrowed his face from cheek-to-cheek, and up over the nose to boot. A stream of past pain. His nose, a beak like a bald eagle’s. His teeth yellowed, but very straight. The skin, his skin, harbored ruddiness. Crossie wrestled with a pepper spray receptacle wedged in her handbag as the man hit her in the face with a fist.

Grimacing, Crossie felt the cold barrel of a stranded Colt .44 magnum next to her face. “Best damn purchase I ever made. Can stop an armored truck on a dime.” The man laughed like a medieval executioner with a beveled bladed ax, and huge, just he watched someone’s head spurt blood and crash into a basket with eyes wide open.

Crossie clenched the pepper spray cylinder. The pepper spray grabbed Crossie fingers. She pushed it up. She aimed it at the man’s glazed, watery eyes. She pressed it. Spray shot out. It blasted one of the man’s eyes.
He screamed. She blasted him again and again. He stumbled. She kneed him. Then pushed him. He impacted into iron rebar protruding out of a concrete pillar. It exploded through his forehead. Crossie followed the rod to where it exited out of the back of his head.

The man hung there, dead.

Ben Smiles, a security guard in a spotless white shirt and navy blue trousers, raced up. Crossie blew the hair from her face. “I had no other choice but to kill him.”

The End

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