Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Or just leave the chaos for another to clean.
Our art, is in the frailty of life.
And our backdrop is your future crime scene.
Painted in the thoughts of the twisted, scared in the souls of the self righteous.
Giving voice to the predator and nightmares to the prey.
An artist knows his methods well and we carve them with surgical precision into the soul.
It's only just begun.
The night hides many, as masks shield few.
We are your friends, lovers and enemies all wrapped into one wicked mystery.
Pay close attention, there soon will be a test.
And the stakes are so very high.
Don't look to embittered strangers for the devils of consequence, already whisper gentle as lovers within your ear.
And so the knife sinks in.
Murders Row are a group of artists who choose to remain anonymous.
Their art is dark as so often is life.
That is all that needs to be said.
Monday, July 26, 2021
have lived back then
when severed heads,
limbs, rent bodies,
littered the battlefield
when blood pooled
scarlet and blackening
in the heat of the day
when faces and bellies
when moans, screams,
war crimes and agony
made one pity the very
concept of a soul
and the human
awakening to the love of Christ
and huge draughts
of Communion wine.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
A conversation with the Devil.
We talked about my life,
My untimely death,
Mostly just for laughs.
He particularly liked
My booze binges and
Wild sex in Amsterdam.
As time went by,
He began to speak
Of his problems
In his difficult job,
Doing his work with
“There, there,” I said,
“Now, Chuck, if I may
Call you ‘Chuck’,
You’re doing a great job
In the real of misery.
Everything’s going to crap.
People are unhappy.
You’re still regarded
As quite the asshole.”
He offered me a job
Which I told him
I would have to refuse
As true to his
He would later
Withdraw the offer
And I would be
Filleted, burnt on a spit,
And have several ‘Bubba’s
Waiting in line to make me
Squeal like a pig.
He laughed at that.
Then, that asshole, Chuck,
Inflicted grievous harm upon me
(Literary for ‘done me dirt’).
I woke from a dream
And cheated from clearing
The last hurdle of life,
Had to face seemingly
Never ending toil
At least another day.
“Damn you, Chuck!
No wonder the song says
Fire is the Devil’s only friend”.
Thursday, May 6, 2021
He is left to dry washes
Wandering desperate in the dust.
He has lost his mind.
An imposter, he cannot find it
In the arroyos of deceit.
No, though he clambers on cliffs
Reflecting in glow of setting light,
He cannot see any blessing for him,
Alone, desert rats frighten him.
The table is laid bare for his friends.
He has nothing to share. He is
Forsaken; his canteen empty.
Surely despair and neglect
Cannot follow him always.
Will he dwell on the street forever?
My lord, he is supposed to have a shepherd;
To not want.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Monday, April 19, 2021
April 1st, 2021.
Stark City, Oregon.
It’s been a while, Adam Nicholas Dorn thought as he pushed through the hotel gym’s glass doors. And indeed, it had. Almost six years, in fact. Not that he didn’t enjoy exercise, but the demands of daily life—wife, kids, career—had taken their toll.
No more excuses. Time to get my butt back in gear.
Adam’s sneakers squeaked against the hard rubber mats covering the floor. He stopped in the middle of the room, sighed, and took a weary look around. Pretty standard hotel gym, he decided. A row of exercise bikes, treadmills, and elliptical machines to his right, nautilus machines and a large rack of dumbbells to his left. And, of course, mirrors lining the walls—just in case he wanted to gawk at himself whilst in the throes of agony.
Sure, why not?
Well, at least Adam had the place all to himself. No one around to witness his first foray back into fitness—and, thank God, no women! That’d be the ultimate embarrassment!
Not gonna push it, though. Nice and easy for my first time back…
Another sigh as Adam gazed at himself in the mirror. He didn’t look bad for forty-three-years-old…but he didn’t look good, either. Five feet, ten inches tall, and about twenty-five pounds overweight. Gray hair creeping in around the temples. Crow’s feet creeping in around the eyes. Bit of a beer-belly, bit of a saggy ass. But not quite over-the-hill; not unsalvageable.
Not yet, anyway.
Well, at least not according to the wife.
Ah, yes. The wife. Noelle. He’d promised her after his last checkup that he’d get back to living somewhat healthy. His cholesterol had been a bit high, and the prospect of dying from a heart attack like his old man scared the hell out of him. So he’d promised Noelle and their two boys, Timmy and Tommy, that he’d make his health a priority. Lay off the soda, lay off the beer, lay off the greasy, fatty food…and get his saggy ass back in the gym.
But, man, where do I start?
The last time Adam had tried to get in shape had been five years ago. He’d signed up at one of those trendy gyms that cajole their clientele into hiring a personal trainer, and—despite his being a savvy salesman himself—he’d caved and given it a shot. Big mistake. His first and last session with a metrosexual bodybuilder named Drake had resulted in him feeling as if he’d aged ten years overnight. Every muscle in his body had ached like never before, and he sure as hell didn’t want to relive the experience.
Adam glanced to his left. The prospect of nautilus and free weights filled him with dread, so he turned to the cardio equipment and headed toward one of the treadmills.
I’ll start with a brisk walk, then move into a light jog. Nothing crazy. Just get the heart beating.
Clad in a baggy white tank top, blue basketball shorts, and gray sneakers, Adam looked like an overgrown middle-school kid, but he didn’t care. He felt comfortable and confident; ready to make good on his promise.
Yep. Here goes…
Adam stepped onto the treadmill. He took a sip from his water bottle, then set it into the cup holder next to the console. Relishing the cool water in his throat, he dug his earbuds out of his pocket and placed them in his ears. Then he plugged the cord into his phone and brought up his new workout playlist.
Yep. A little sonic motivation.
Adam took a deep breath, then pushed the power button on the console. The display lit up, showing a prominent red zero. He pushed the speed dial and the machine lurched to life beneath his feet.
Here I go!
Adam tapped his phone, then slipped it into his pocket. His sneakers slapped against the conveyer belt on which he now stood as Audioslave coursed through his earbuds. First, a mellow guitar strumming a bluesy rhythm, then Chris Cornell’s angsty voice singing about things that didn’t remind him of anything.
Easy does it, Dorn. You got the next four days…
Indeed. Four more days of vapid insurance seminars at the behest of his employer. Four more days of three-star luxury at the Stark Towers Hotel in seedy, crime-ridden Stark City. And, of course, four more days of sweat and strain in this cramped hotel gym.
What more could anyone ask?
Well…how about some decent room service, for starters?
The night before, after the mandatory meet and greet, Adam had retreated to his room and ordered a feast of comfort food. His last meal, so to speak. But the food had taken over an hour to reach him. The double cheeseburger he’d ordered had morphed into a single—and an overcooked one at that. The fries had gone soggy, and the chili atop them had tasted like ketchup. Not exactly Four Seasons quality, but he’d savored each bite. The chocolate shake and the strawberry tiramisu, however, had made up for the lackluster dinner with a decent sugar high, which he’d enjoyed all the way until bedtime. Then, he’d capped the night with a stiff snort of bourbon.
Toasting the new Adam Dorn.
After that excessive display of gluttony, Adam vowed that he’d stick to salads, plain burgers, chicken breasts, and lots of ice water for the rest of the trip.
Gotta show the wife I mean business this time.
Adam had been on the treadmill for a full minute. He’d gotten his speed up to four miles-per-hour; a nice, brisk pace. His pulse had begun to pick up with the beat of the music and the rhythm of his feet. It felt good to be moving, but he knew that wouldn’t last.
Maybe five minutes. Then I’ll do some pushups and crunches.
Sighing, Adam reached for his water bottle. Behind him, the glass doors swung open and a large figure walked in.
Two minutes down. Tiny beads of sweat had appeared on Adam’s forehead. So far, he’d avoided looking at himself in the mirror, but happened to glance up right as the dark figure passed behind him—
Adam jerked, looked over his left shoulder, then smirked at his own skittishness. His heart, already working hard, hiccupped inside his chest. A man, he now saw, had joined him in the small gym. Facing forward again, Adam watched this new arrival in the mirror.
The man stood over six feet tall, and had to weigh over two hundred pounds. Cleanshaven, with a shiny bald head, and dressed in black. But not in workout clothes. No, more like a uniform. Polo shirt, cargo pants, and boots.
Must be security.
The man moved with a stiff, deliberate, confidence. He seemed to ignore Adam’s presence as he swept his intense gaze around the room—which suited Adam just fine. Distracting himself from the stress on his lungs and legs, Adam watched the security guard make a slow circle around the gym before disappearing from view.
Three minutes down. Adam now felt beads of sweat forming on his chest, on his shoulders, trickling down the crevice in his back. Determined to make these five minutes count, he raised the speed dial and broke into a light jog to keep up. It still felt good. Audioslave still sounded good. He grinned, closing his eyes as he reached for the padded handgrips.
That’s it…stay in the groove but don’t get carried away. Do a little bit more tomorrow, and a little bit more the next day. Get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. Gotta set up a routine when I get back home. Maybe some crunches every morning before work…some pushups every night when I get home. Start hitting the gym seriously on Saturdays. Maybe Ellie and I can start going for walks on Sundays. Maybe that’d even help rekindle some of the ol’ romance…
Four minutes down. Audioslave faded into silence as Adam jogged. Raising his chin, the sweaty insurance salesman opened his eyes to check the timer on the digital display.
Shouldn’t have too much longer to—
Mid-thought, Adam jerked to his right.
Adam gasped, almost tripping over his own feet but somehow managing to keep stride. He’d caught something from the corner of his eye; something which shouldn’t have been there.
A large, imposing figure, dressed in black.
What the hell?
Now more annoyed than startled, Adam looked over. The security guard stood about two feet away, staring at him. Intent. Intense. Eyes narrowed, jaw set. Hands on his hips as if expecting some sort of confrontation.
Frowning, jogging, Adam reached for his phone.
Am I doing something wrong here? Is the gym closed?
Another song began to play right as Adam paused the playlist.
“Hi, there.” Huffing and puffing, trying to mask his annoyance. “Everything alright, Officer?”
Not quite sneering, the security guard cocked his head, eyeing Adam with obvious—what? Dislike? Contempt? Something Adam couldn’t quite identify, but something he didn’t like, regardless.
“Havin’ yourself a little workout tonight, huh?”
Adam blinked. What’s it look like I’m doing, playing cards? he almost replied. Instead, Adam took a deep breath. High on the right side of the man’s chest, he saw a bronze name tag which read New Employee in black letters.
“Yeah, I’m just, uh, you know. Is, uh, the gym closing early or something?”
New Employee flicked his eyes up and down, still not sneering but edging ever closer. Then he shook his head.
Must be the strong, silent type. Or maybe he’s just an asshole.
Adam blinked. “Uh…is something wrong, then?”
“Oh.” Adam didn’t know what to say or ask now; he just knew that he wanted the security guard to back off so that he could finish his workout in peace.
But New Employee showed no sign of backing off. He just stood there; a little too close, with that odd, almost-sneer on his hard face.
What the hell’s going on here?
“Well, would you mind?”
Still running, still puffing, Adam let out a loud sigh of exasperation.
Mind what? You gotta be kidding. Why is this neanderthal harassing me?
But, angry or not, Adam didn’t want to start any trouble with security. So he took another deep breath and forced himself to smile as if about to launch into his Deluxe Life and Wellbeing Policy pitch:
“Would you mind, Officer, letting me concentrate? I mean, you’re in my personal space, you know?”
New Employee stiffened. For a moment, he stood there in what seemed like stubborn and angry defiance. Then—to Adam’s relief—his expression softened and he began to back away.
“No problem, sir. Didn’t mean to startle ya.”
Now get lost, weirdo.
Another deep breath as Adam turned back to the treadmill’s console. To his surprise and dismay, he saw that he’d now been on that machine for almost six minutes.
Screwed up my routine, damnit!
Annoyed all over again, Adam scowled. His lungs had begun to ache, his legs had begun to burn, but, overall, he felt better than he thought he would after five minutes on the treadmill. In fact, though beginning to tire, Adam found himself looking forward to the rest of his workout. Thus, his scowl became a grin as he reached for his water bottle.
And why the hell am I still running?
Damn, that water tasted good! Adam smacked his lips as he set the bottle back in the cup holder, then hit the power button. The console went blank. The machinery let out a soft whine as it began to slow. Adam took a few more strides for good measure, then the treadmill stopped. He turned, then stepped down. Reaching for his phone, the sweaty insurance salesman jerked and did a quick doubletake.
The security guard hadn’t left. He stood several feet away, staring right through Adam with that stern, expectant look on his hard face.
Even in his own thoughts, Adam didn’t like taking the Lord’s name in vain. Ever since the birth of his first son, Timothy, he’d made it a point to take the family to church on either the first or last Sunday of every month. Just to give thanks for everything he had; the happiness he’d found. But this time, he couldn’t help it. This time, he’d felt a cold stab of fear in his heart at the sight of that galling and menacing man.
New Employee smirked when he saw that Adam had noticed him. Neither comforting nor appropriate, given the circumstances.
“Hello again,” Adam said, giving a halfhearted wave, trying his best to look nonchalant. “Still hanging out, eh?”
Adam grinned at New Employee in disbelief. Affirmative? You can’t be serious! This guy just get out of the army or something?
“Well, I’m glad you’re here. I feel much safer now.”
If New Employee caught the sarcasm, he showed no sign. He continued to stand and stare in his relentless, unnerving way.
Well, now what? Should I get the hell out of here and go back to my room? It doesn’t look like Rambo’s gonna leave…
Trying to hide his growing nervousness—not quite fear yet—Adam turned toward the weight rack, glancing around as if trying to decide how to torture himself next.
That’s when he glimpsed himself in the mirror.
Adam stood there, looking into the polished glass. An average, forty-three-year-old man. Five feet, ten inches tall. Twenty-five pounds overweight. Gray hair around the temples. Crow’s feet around the eyes. Beer-belly, saggy ass. Sweaty. Nervous. An overgrown middle-school kid trying to duck the school Disciplinarian Officer.
No, damnit. I promised Ellie that I’d start getting back in shape, and I’m not leaving until I do what I came here to do.
Adam took a deep breath and sighed. His pulse had slowed but he still felt amped from the run. And now the nervousness had given way to determination. He reached into his pocket, found his phone, and hit the play button.
The deep, resonant notes of The White Stripes’ “7 Nation Army” began to thump through his earbuds.
Adam walked over to an empty space between one of the bench presses and the dumbbell rack. He sank to one knee, then all fours. His legs still burned, but his lungs felt better. He recalled how all of his P.E. teachers had tortured him with pushups in high school as Jack White began to croon about God knew what.
And here I am, torturing myself now.
Straightening, the rubber mat felt hard and unforgiving beneath Adam’s moist palms. The immediate strain on his shoulders and arms made him grit his teeth; his own weight bearing down upon him.
Adam glanced to his left. Sure enough, the security guard still stood there, watching like a drill sergeant. With a slight shake of his head, Adam sucked in a lungful of air and lowered himself to the floor.
Guy must be deranged…
Or maybe he’s got a crush on me.
Just my luck. Someone besides my wife gets the hots for me and it’s a dude.
Despite the strain, Adam smirked as Jack White continued to croon.
Definitely gotta talk to the Hotel Manager, though. This guy’s ridiculous.
Okay, one more!
Adam’s shoulders began to burn as he lowered himself, then pushed back up. His chest hadn’t quite touched the floor on the last two reps, but he didn’t care. He hadn’t done any pushups in years, much less five in a row. It felt good. And it felt even better knowing that Ellie would be proud of him for setting a goal and accomplishing it.
Got it, honey!
Now for some crunches to finish up.
Grinning despite the pain, Adam rose up on his knees and stretched his flabby arms wide. Blood pounded through his veins. Jack White’s guitar screeched in his ears. He glanced to his left and, of course, the security guard still stood there...staring with that, odd, stern expression.
What a creep.
Adam rolled onto his back and raised his knees. Ankles crossed, hands behind his head. He remembered what he’d been taught by the sadistic coaches in high school and commenced with his goal of ten strict form repetitions.
Breathe in. Contract. Breathe out. Touch the elbows to the kneecaps. Flex the abdomen. Repeat.
He did ten reps. No problem. Much easier than Adam had thought, so he did five more.
Alright! Not bad for forty-three. Tomorrow, I’ll do twenty of ’em.
Adam rolled back onto his knees. His pulse still kept time with the music. Sweat still ran down his back. His lungs felt a bit achy, but other than that, the aging salesman’s entire body had come to life in a way which both surprised and pleased him. In fact, the urge to keep going came on strong and he had to remind himself of how he’d overdone it in the past.
No, no. Can’t get carried away. We’ll see how sore I am tomorrow and figure it out from there.
And, truth be told, Adam would’ve stayed and exercised longer had it not been for this bald ogre’s presence.
“7 Nation Army” built to a crescendo, then ended. Then, silence. Adam took a deep breath. Doing his best to ignore the security guard, he kept his eyes focused straight ahead and fought the urge to sprint out of the gym. Something about that strange stare had begun to freak him out.
Yep. Gonna call the manager as soon as I get to my room. This is bullshit. I don’t care if he’s gay or what, I’m a guest here and I don’t have to put up with any of th—
New Employee stepped in front of Adam. Chin lowered, he stared out from under his brow like a criminal in a mug shot. Hands on his hips. Legs wide in an attempt to take up as much space as possible. His thin lips curled into a snarl.
Adam stopped dead in his tracks.
Great. Now what?
Adam looked at New Employee. New Employee glared back. Adam smiled, masking his irritation as he’d done thousands of times throughout his career. A salesman’s façade, asking that age-old question: why can’t we be friends?
The first few thumping bass notes of Tom Waits’ “Hoist That Rag” pulsed through Adam’s earbuds right as New Employee began to speak.
Adam reached down and tapped his phone.
New Employee raised his chin; looking down his nose instead of from under his brow. “I said, is that it?”
“Is what it?”
Adam blinked in surprise. “Uh…yeah. You know, just a quick session before dinner.”
“You barely broke a sweat.”
“You can do more.”
Adam chuckled. “Yep, you’re right. But it’s been a while. I’m taking it slow.”
“Yeah. Your kind always does.”
“I’m sorry—my kind?”
“Oh, and what kind would that be?”
“Bridge-and-tunnel. Soft. Civilized.”
Okay, now I’m getting pissed!
“Say, what’s your deal? I wasn’t bothering you or anyone else. I was minding my own business when you decided to stroll in here and start harassing me, I guess because I look like a suburbanite. Well, I am a suburbanite. So what? Are you some psycho Viet Nam vet or something?”
“Do I look seventy years old to you?”
Adam flapped his arms in exasperation. “Gulf War, then? Shock and Awe? Battle of Endor? Point is, you got a screw loose, pal. You need some help.”
“I’m not your pal.”
Another chuckle. “Obviously. Now, are we done? I’d like to go to my room. I’m a guest here, remember?”
Hands still on his hips, New Employee shook his head. “You’re not done.”
Unable to believe what he’d heard, Adam stiffened. The guy had to be a nutcase, plain and simple. God, what had he done to deserve crossing paths with this freak?
Steady now, Adam. Just be firm and leave. No more war of words with Rambo here.
“Look, sir. Officer. Mr. Security. I apologize for offending you, or for any trouble I’ve caused. I’ve had a long day. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m irritated. And now I just wanna go to my room. Okay?”
New Employee glared at him. Didn’t move. Didn’t blink. Didn’t even breathe.
Jesus. The man’s out of his mind.
Adam shook his head. “This is ridiculous. That’s it, I’m leaving.”
Eyes locked on the neon green EXIT sign, Adam began to walk toward the glass doors. In one smooth motion, New Employee stepped forward, reached out, and planted his hand square on Adam’s chest. Adam cried out in utter shock. The security guard’s arm felt like coiled steel, and even as he felt himself stumbling backward, Adam knew that New Employee could’ve shoved him much, much harder.
And that scared him far worse that the shove itself.
Adam took a moment to steady himself. His face twisted with confusion as he stared down the silent monolith before him. Had anyone else shoved him like that, he would’ve retaliated in kind. But this man looked downright dangerous; as if he’d been trained to kill with his bare hands. And the look in his eye said he had no compunctions about do so.
This is beyond bad.
Adam plucked the earbuds from his ears, stuffed them in his pocket. “Listen, I don’t understand what’s happening here, but it’s gone far enough. Let’s just calm down.”
“I’m perfectly calm.”
Okay, good. He’s talking. Now just keep him talking.
“My name is Adam Dorn. What’s yours?”
“You can call me, Officer.”
“Okay. Well, Officer, I’m from Denver. Where are you from?”
“None of your business.”
Adam paused, glancing around the room for security cameras. His heart sank when he didn’t see any.
Okay. All I can hope for is a distraction.
“Well, would you by any chance be interested in a really sweet life insurance package? That’s my trade, see, and I could set you up with a premium deal. I know that most jobs don’t offer much in the way of cover—”
“Did you come here to talk, or workout?”
“You know what, Officer? You’re right. I mean, this was my first workout in years, so I was taking it easy. But I could do more. Sure, why not?”
“Yeah, why not.”
“Well, I guess, uh…” Adam looked around as if trying to decide what to do next. His gaze flicked from a nearby bench, to the dumbbell rack, to his pale reflection in the mirror, to the black mat beneath his feet. In that moment, he came to a frightful, adrenaline-fueled realization, and hoped to God that, just this once, worse wouldn’t come to worst.
“How about a few more pushups? That’d probably be the best thing, right?”
Adam looked at New Employee as if expecting an answer. New Employee just glowered back; angry for some reason which Adam couldn’t even begin to fathom.
If he wasn’t so damn big, I’d punch him in the mouth and get going…but that’d be suicide with this guy.
Trying to keep his pulse under control, Adam took another deep breath and realized that his mouth had gone bone dry. He looked for his water bottle, then remembered that he’d left it on the treadmill. He started toward it, saw New Employee shift in the same direction, then hesitated.
“Mind if I grab my water, Chief?”
“It’s Officer, not Chief.”
“And you’ve barely done any work. You don’t need water.”
What a bastard.
“Well, maybe you’re right. Don’t wanna get a side ache.”
Adam laughed, sank to one knee, then all fours. Again, the hard mat beneath his hands.
Again, the strain of his own weight bearing down. His arms began to shake as more sweat appeared on his forehead. The burn leapt back into his taxed shoulders.
Okay, that’s enough!
The final rep took real effort, but Adam had managed. Grunting, he sat back on his haunches and turned to see New Employee striding toward him with an intimidating frown. Adam blinked. His breath felt rusty in his chest. Despite the fear that this lunatic had invoked, he now felt a rush of sheer loathing.
Oh, God—now what?
“You call those pushups?” New Employee demanded, halting beside the frightened salesman. “Your chest didn’t touch the floor!”
Is he actually yelling at me now?
“I told you, I’m out of shape.”
“Well, you ain’t near done yet, so get back to work!”
Yes, sir, Sergeant Hartman, sir!
“Sure. How about some more crunches?”
Adam flopped onto his back. New Employee loomed over him like a giant statue; still sneering, but not deigning to respond.
“Okay, ten more…”
Knees raised, ankles crossed, hands behind his head. Breathe in. Contract. Breathe out. Touch the elbows to the kneecaps. Flex the abdomen. Repeat.
Grunting with effort, Adam shifted his gaze to the ceiling. Concentrating. Ignoring both the pervasive fatigue and the dawning realization that his anger had begun to eclipse his fear.
A dangerous proposition, indeed.
…seven, eight, nine, TEN!
With a sigh of relief, Adam lowered his sneakers to the mat and relaxed his torso. Sweat glistened on his neck and throat. His mouth had become a furnace, fueled by the hot, dry breath flowing from his lungs. He shifted his gaze back to his tormentor, and saw New Employee stiffen with an air of disapproval.
Not impressed, huh?
Adam rolled onto his knees, then stood.
“Listen, I’ve got an early day tomorrow, so I better get back to my room now. I appreciate the motivation. It was a big help.”
Teeth grit behind an insincere smile, Adam turned toward the door and took a step. Again, New Employee moved to block him. Again, Adam stopped. He sighed, struggling not to explode.
Arms crossed, New Employee glared at Adam as if he wanted to strangle him.
“You’re not done.”
Adam stepped back before he got shoved again. He glanced at the glass doors and cursed his rotten luck. No one else had come in. If someone had, it could’ve diffused the whole situation and allowed him to escape.
But, no. Somehow, he’d have to deal with this psycho all on his own.
Please, God…be with me.
“Now this has gone far enough. You can’t hold me hostage here.”
No change in New Employee’s demeanor. He just stood and stared; a human roadblock with bad intent.
Damnit, I can’t let this guy bully me anymore!
“Okay, look…” Adam pointed toward the door. “I’m leaving now, and if you put your hands on me again, not only will I press charges, but I’ll sue you and the hotel. By the time I’m done, you’ll be lucky to ever get another job. Get me?”
“You’re not done.”
New Employee’s tone had deepened to a low growl. Looking into his eyes, reading his body language, Adam saw that the man didn’t care about being sued. Didn’t care about losing his job, either. He’d zeroed in on him for whatever reason; almost like some sort of mission. And he meant to see that mission carried out…whatever it might be.
For a moment, Adam considered bolting around the lunatic. Running for his life the way a small child runs from an angry adult. Just run, and worry about his wounded pride later.
But, no. The fear wouldn’t allow that. He saw himself trying, and saw the security guard ramming him into the wall for his efforts.
Just gotta be smart, Dorn. That’s all. Keep stalling. Someone’s gotta come in sooner or later.
That’s when it hit him. An idea so simple, yet so brilliant that he almost facepalmed.
“Okay, Mr. Officer,” Adam said, backing away, reaching into his pocket. “You leave me no choice. “If you don’t get out of my way, I’m gonna call the cops. You already put your hands on me, so you’ll be facing an assault charge.”
Again, no response except that maddening thousand-yard glare.
“Have it your way, man.”
Before Adam could even unlock his phone, New Employee sprang forward, knocked it from his hand—“Hey!”—and grabbed him by the nape of his neck—“Ow!”
New Employee’s calloused hand felt like a metal clamp. Shoulders scrunched against the pain, Adam’s left arm twitched with the urge to elbow the lunatic right in his sternum. But he didn’t. His flimsy elbow would just bounce off of New Employee’s gorilla chest like bullets bouncing off of Superman. Instead, Adam raised his hands as an act of contrition.
“Please…don’t hurt me, Officer!”
Growling, New Employee leant in so close that his nose almost touched Adam’s cheek. “You’re not done, I said. Get me?”
The feel of New Employee’s hot breath made Adam’s skin crawl, but he refused to show his revulsion. “Got it,” he replied in a tone which he hoped sounded calm.
“Good. Now, you will give me a set of strict form squats—do you understand me?”
With that, New Employee shoved Adam forward. The scared and sweaty salesman stumbled, then caught himself.
Shit! Gotta think of something…
Adam now faced the gym doors, but no sooner than the thought of sprinting toward them occurred to him, New Employee stalked past and turned; again, blocking the path to safety.
Turning away from New Employee’s mad glare, Adam faced the row of cardio machines. From the corner of his eye, he saw his phone lying on the mat beneath the dumbbell rack. The sight of it filled him with hope.
Just what he needed.
“Man, I hate doing squats.”
“That’s why you’re gonna do ’em, boy.”
Jaw clenched behind a fresh surge of rage, Adam readied himself. His legs already felt like rubber from the treadmill, but he didn’t care. He needed some time to think. Again, he remembered his sadistic high school coach’s instructions:
Arms folded over the chest. Feet shoulder-width apart. Bend. Rise. Repeat.
You wanna play, huh?
Alright, we’ll play.
You’re messing with wrong guy!
Adam winced as his neglected inner thigh muscles began to cramp. Still, he persisted, refusing to show weakness.
Cheeks ballooning to near Dizzy Gillespie proportions, Adam exhaled breath that felt as hot as flames. His crossed arms flopped to his sides. He stood there, eyes closed, letting the pain in his legs pass and the adrenaline wash over him. Fresh sweat dripped from his forehead.
Okay…one last chance.
Hands now on his hips, Adam turned to face his tormentor.
“I’d like to go now, Officer.”
Still glaring, New Employee shook his head.
Right. Game on, dude.
“Still not done, huh?” Adam turned in the direction of his phone, pointed at the dumbbell rack. “Well, how about some curls, then? You know, hit the ol’ biceps.”
“Be my guest.”
Nodding to himself, Adam walked to the metal rack. Pair after pair of pain solidified into iron shapes lay before him. He hadn’t wanted to lift any weight except his own today, but the glowering maniac who’d trapped him here had other ideas.
Thus, the choice would be pain—and plenty of it.
Let’s see…don’t wanna go too light…don’t wanna go too heavy…
Adam’s weary gaze passed over the two, four, six, and eight-pound pairs. Tens, then? Twelves? Lips pursed, Adam considered his options while marshalling whatever energy remained. After a moment, he reached for the twenties, wincing as the textured grips bit into his soft, salesman’s palms. Then he turned to once again face his tormentor.
“Okay. Going with a pair of twenty-pounders today. Probably heavier than I should, but what the hell. No pain, no gain, right?”
“What the fuck would a bridge-and-tunnel like you know about pain?”
Adam smirked. It felt great to be turning the tables on this bastard.
Okay, Dorn. Gotta do this right. Shoulders back. Chest out. Chin up. Deep breath…
“So, has anyone ever told you that you’re a real asshole?”
New Employee jerked as if he’d been poked with a cattle prod. His dark eyes beamed hatred.
Adam curled the weight in his right fist, feeling the strain in his forearm and bicep.
“Well, in case no one ever has, take my word for it, pal.”
“You’d best shut your mouth, punk.”
Punk, eh? Well, I did listen to The Ramones when I was younger.
Adam couldn’t resist another slight smirk as he lowered his right fist, then raised his left one.
“It’s funny…I’ve met a lot of assholes in all my years of selling insurance, but you’ve gotta be about the biggest asshole I’ve ever met.”
New Employee raised his right forefinger and thrust it toward Adam. “Last warning.”
Adam lowered his left fist. His smirk disappeared as he locked eyes with his tormentor.
New Employee’s chest rose and fell with a deep, sinister breath. His hands curled into tight fists at his sides.
“I been teachin’ punks like you about pain all my life, boy!”
God, help me…
“I’m sure you have. You look like you were in the military. So let me guess…you were kicked out for violating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, right?”
“That’s it, boy!” New Employee barked. “Gonna fix your smart mouth for good!” Then he lurched forward. Marching, as off to war. Boots stomping toward the hapless insurance salesman.
Okay, Dorn—moment of truth!
Adam tensed, gripping the iron weight at his sides. His heart began to thump as blood raced from his biceps to his brain.
“No wonder you hang around gyms, you bald jock-sniffer.”
New Employee’s eyes bulged, spittle flew from his cheeks as he screamed, “YOU’RE DEAD MEAT, PUNK!”
Adam took a shaky breath, shifted his left foot back in preparation.
New Employee looked crazed as he drew near; teeth bared, jaw clenched, fists cocked and ready to swing. Doing his damnedest not to pussy out, Adam willed himself to curl the weight in his left hand—outward this time instead of upward, as if tossing a bowling ball—Thunk!
The iron dumbbell struck New Employee’s right shin just below the knee. The charging behemoth tripped and stumbled forward, arms now flailing for balance. Again, Adam curled the weight in his right hand—straight up this time, ramming the hexagonal end right into New Employee’s face—Thunk!
New Employee’s head snapped up, revealing shock and blood as he swiped at the air. Then his momentum shifted and he collapsed, doing a slow barrel-roll.
New Employee now lay on his back in a space between two bench presses. His long legs flopped across the padded bench furthest from Adam, as if he meant to commence doing sit-ups at any moment. But he didn’t move at all. His glazed eyes narrowed. His jaw went slack. Blood spewed from his nostrils. A low groan escaped his lips. His breath sounded shallow and labored.
Standing there, still clutching the dumbbell in his right fist, Adam gazed down at New Employee with neither pity nor mercy.
No pain, no gain, eh?
With no thought, no feeling, Adam raised the dumbbell with both hands to shoulder height, then released it over the supine form before him.
Twenty pounds of cold iron plopped onto New Employee’s sternum. He convulsed, almost sitting upright as bloody spittle flew from his lips. A long wheeze of agony followed the spittle. Sudden pain and fear twisted his features into a grimace; a silent scream of outrage. Then the injured man flopped onto his right side, almost fetal, cradling the dumbbell like a child with a teddy bear.
But for the shallow, intermittent breaths, Adam would’ve thought him dead.
Gazing down at his tormentor, the hairs on the back of Adam’s neck stood on end as a current of sheer horror pulsed through him. A lump formed in the back of his throat. The sweat streaming down his body turned to ice, and his hands began to shake.
Oh, Christ…what have I done?
Indeed. What had he done? He’d been stalked and cornered—like an animal—and responded as any cornered animal would: with violence. Pure, self-serving, violence. And now his tormentor lay bleeding to death on the floor.
What about the man’s wife?
What about his kids?
Blinking hard now, fighting back the tears welling up in his eyes.
“Why’d you do it, huh? Why me? I was minding my own damn business!”
No reply. New Employee hadn’t moved since the weight fell on him.
“Serves you right, though, man. Serves you right.”
Shaking his head, Adam turned from the awful sight. His phone still lay beneath the dumbbell rack. He bent, grabbed it, and disconnected the tangled earbuds. The display lit up, and he saw that Noelle had texted him.
“Minding my own business…”
Hope you’re enjoying the seminar.
Call me. We miss you!
A fleeting grin crossed Adam’s quivering lips. He’d have to text back when he had the time, but right now he couldn’t even think straight, much less will his fingers to tap out a coherent response. So he slipped the phone into his left pocket, the tangled earbuds into his right pocket, and turned toward the cardio machines; toward the holy grail of his water bottle.
“Not bothering anyone…”
Adam walked toward the treadmill. He spared a glance at his fallen tormentor as he passed, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that New Employee still hadn’t moved. The big man still lay on his side, bleeding, taking shallow breaths.
“Just wanted to have a little workout…”
Still blinking back tears, Adam reached the treadmill. He reached for his water bottle and drank from it as if he’d just walked through ten miles of scorching desert.
Damn, that water tasted good!
“Minding my own business…”
Eyes closed, right hand clutching the water bottle, left hand clenched into a fist, Adam took a ragged breath. He felt as if he’d turned into a giant Gumby doll, and he knew that tomorrow would be filled with pain. And though he planned to take it easy on the room service tonight, he also decided that he’d earned at least two scotch and sodas from the hotel bar after a nice, hot shower.
“Not bothering anyone…”
Another long gulp.
Gonna have to call an ambulance. Gonna have to call the manager. Gonna have to call Ellie and the kids.
Adam shook his head.
Christ, what am I gonna tell the cops?
The thought brought on a fresh wave of dread.
Maybe…maybe I should just leave now. Just get the hell out of here and not say a word to anyone—not even Ellie. Forget that any of this shit ever happen—
Adam jerked. His eyes snapped open. The water bottle slipped from his sweaty grasp—Thunk!
It looked like something straight out of a nightmare. The twenty-pound dumbbell—the same one Adam had used to cripple New Employee—had just smashed into the treadmill’s console, and now fell as if in slow motion to the running track—Thud!
Adam stared down in horror. Jagged pieces of plastic lay all around the dull iron.
Adam’s gaze flicked up to the broken console. The display had been obliterated. He stiffened, then forced himself to turn and face the monster which had just come back to life.
Sure enough, there he stood. New Employee. Hunched, swaying on his feet. Eyes narrow and glassy. His thick arms hung apelike at his sides. Fresh blood still trickled from his busted nose, covering the blood which had already dried.
He looks like a demented circus clown…
Adam’s breath caught in his throat. New Employee’s words sounded as if they’d been jerked from his mouth; his voice thick with pain and blood. By the looks of him, it hurt to breathe—much less stand and walk and talk. But what about his strength? What about the raw power in the man’s chest and shoulders? How much of that remained?
“Yes, I am, Officer.”
More tears now; dripping from the harrowed insurance salesman’s eyes before he even had a chance to fight them back. Adam sniffed, shifted his feet.
“You need to go to a hospital, man.”
Adam took a deep breath. He had two choices: either make a break for the exit and hope that he didn’t get tackled, or pick up the dumbbell and finish his workout.
New Employee lurched forward with a limp so severe that he made Captain Ahab look like Fred Astaire.
Right. No end to the pain. Shaking his head, Adam reached down and picked up the dumbbell.
Guess I’m not done, after all.
Clutching the iron with both hands, Adam moved to his left, trying to get as close to the exit as he could before he had no choice but to swing. Ever the tactician, New Employee moved to cut Adam off while laboring toward him.
Steady now, Dorn.
Adam hadn’t been in very many fights in his life, and didn’t know much about violence except that he hated it. He’d been very lucky with suckering New Employee in before, but he no longer had the element of surprise.
Maybe his luck had run out.
Adam glanced at the glass doors. Still no one in sight.
Of course, not.
“Stay back, man!”
New Employee grinned. “Shove that…thing…up your…ass!”
New Employee had closed the gap to about eight feet; way too close for comfort. Adam, meanwhile, now stood about thirty feet from the doors. So close, yet so far away. Still, he inched to his left, back facing the wall, counting each awful second.
Desperate, Adam stepped forward and raised his arms as if to hurl the dumbbell at New Employee’s head. New Employee didn’t even flinch.
“BRING IT, PUNK!”
Five feet, and closing.
Struggling not to panic, Adam began to tremble. His knees wanted to buckle but he willed them in place. Through a film of tears, he stared into New Employee’s bloodshot eyes, felt the white-hot hostility searing through him. He didn’t, couldn’t, understand—but the time for trying to rationalize the motives of this madman had reached an end.
God help me!
Straining, shoulders burning, Adam swung the iron at New Employee’s bloody face. New Employee ducked, and Adam felt the weight jerk him off balance. He stumbled, then felt a mountain of angry muscle ram into his sternum. New Employee’s arms clamped around his ribcage as he felt himself being driven back, and—to his utter horror—lifted off his feet.
Adam grimaced as he slammed into—Thud!—then slid down the gritty wall. Most of the wind had been knocked from him as he took a shallow, reflexive breath. New Employee’s injured right leg buckled from the impact, causing him to howl in pain and sink to one knee. Adam’s arms sprang free and in a pure frenzy of survival he threw two wild, downward punches. His right fist bounced off of New Employee’s forehead and an explosion flared in his hand. But his left fist, the weaker of the two, caught the bridge of New Employee’s nose with a satisfying crunch. New Employee grunted behind a fresh wave of blood, then responded with an almost professional right-hook to Adam’s lower abdomen—
Adam doubled over in agony. Struggling to breathe, he stumbled forward and past New Employee, who turned and clutched at him with desperate rage. And while Adam’s body knew only pain, his mind knew only escape. The gym’s glass doors loomed before him like the gates of heaven, and with all the strength he could muster, the battered insurance salesman broke into a full run.
But he didn’t get far.
Adam’s wind returned just as he felt New Employee’s hand snatch his right ankle and yank him backward. He tripped, then fell to one knee, his right leg extended back like a runner in starting position. Then he felt New Employee’s other hand close around his ankle; not pulling, but holding him in place.
The pain in Adam’s back had numbed over, but his stomach still hurt like hell. Straining to pull his ankle free, he glanced over his right shoulder and saw New Employee, bloody and furious, crouched over his trembling leg. Then the sadistic bastard yanked with both hands and sprang with both feet.
Leaping like an enraged tiger.
Adam screamed. Instinct kicked in and he rolled to his left so that he wouldn’t be pinned beneath this maniac. Flopping onto his back, New Employee landed on all fours next to him. New Employee’s thick arms shook, and a grimace crossed his face as if the fall had jarred a deeper wound. He glared at Adam, then his jaw fell, and a thick glob of blood followed.
Now’s my chance!
Sitting up, Adam forgot his broken knuckle and threw a sloppy right punch at New Employee’s jaw. New Employee ducked, letting the swollen fist sail over his bald head. Turning with the motion, Adam rolled to his knees, then stood on unsure legs.
Following Adam with wide eyes, New Employee pushed himself up, now standing on his knees.
Adam didn’t hesitate. Snarling, he lunged and planted the sole of his right sneaker square into New Employee’s chest—Thwack!
New Employee’s face went slack as he tumbled backward. The force of the kick shoved Adam back just as hard. Stumbling, he regained his balance after three quick steps, then almost tripped over something behind him.
Adam looked down…and there it lay. The dumbbell. Twenty pounds of cold, unforgiving iron.
A chunk of solid pain…
Adam glanced up at the doors, then down at the dumbbell.
“I was minding my own business…”
A low, wet groan issued from New Employee as he began to stir.
Adam sighed. His right hand throbbed and his pinky finger had swollen to twice its normal size.
“Not bothering anyone…”
Palming sweat and tears from his eyes with his left hand, Adam again glanced at New Employee. The big man lay there, struggling to breathe, but also struggling to roll over. Struggling to get back up. Because, for whatever reason, he refused to stop.
“Just wanted to work out…”
Adam turned back to the dumbbell.
“And I guess I’m still not done!”
Jaw set, frowning, Adam picked up the dumbbell with both hands. It now felt much heavier than twenty pounds, but he told himself that it didn’t matter. This would be the last time that he’d have to lift anything this heavy for a long time.
Besides—no pain, no gain!
Adam took three big steps, found himself standing over New Employee’s wounded and writhing form. He glared down into New Employee’s glassy eyes, smirking as the security guard coughed up more blood. A sure sign of internal injuries, Adam knew, which made his next move a no-brainer.
“Hey, guy…” Adam said, stepping over New Employee. “Mind if I have a seat?”
New Employee’s eyes grew very wide as Adam sank down, planting his saggy, forty-three-year-old ass onto New Employee’s belly; pinning the man with perhaps the oldest wrestling move in history. Gasping, New Employee tried to sit up, tried push Adam off.
All to no avail.
Staring at New Employee’s shocked, bloody face, Adam used every ounce of remaining strength to hoist the cold iron above his head. There, he held it aloft with both hands, knuckles white, arms twitching from exertion.
“Am I done, asshole?”
New Employee’s eyes flicked from Adam’s gaze to the dumbbell, then back to Adam. Fear gave way to utter disdain as he clutched at Adam’s shirt.
Adam smiled. “One last rep, then? Is that what you want?”
A moment passed. Neither man looked away, and a current of hatred passed between them. Adam shook from exhaustion. He didn’t want to bash New Employee’s face in, but he’d been pushed far past the point of reason. New Employee also shook from a toxic mix of pain and fury, and the look in his eyes said he’d rather die than give in.
Don’t make me do it, man!
Adam never knew why New Employee gave in. Perhaps because he believed the glint of murder in Adam’s gaze. Perhaps because he knew Adam couldn’t hold the weight up much longer. Perhaps because his life flashed before his eyes. Either way, all of the fury drained from the big man’s face, then his thick arms plopped to the mat in a gesture of surrender. Now looking at the ceiling, he answered behind a wet rasp of breath:
Nodding, panting, Adam set the dumbbell down next to New Employee’s left ear—Thump! New Employee didn’t flinch, but closed his eyes. For once, he seemed at peace with the world.
“Can’t believe this.”
With a groan, Adam slid off of New Employee and sat cross-legged on the floor. Cradling his head, he lent forward, now facing the dumbbell rack across the gym. His mouth felt drier than the rubber mat beneath him. His right hand throbbed. Again, he turned to the glass doors, then froze, glimpsing himself in the far mirror.
Man, I look like shit.
Adam Nicholas Dorn. A forty-three-year-old insurance salesman. Twenty-five pounds overweight. Grey hair around the temples. Crow’s feet around the eyes. Beer-belly, saggy ass. Broken pinky finger on his right hand. White tank top stained dark gray from sweat. An overgrown middle-school kid who’d just faced the biggest, baddest, bully on the playground, and won.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Margie, I just can’t wait to come up and visit this summer!”
Adam jerked as the gym doors swung open and an attractive woman in her mid-fifties came striding in. She wore her graying hair in a ponytail beneath a pink Breast Cancer Awareness ballcap, with a matching pink shirt, hot pink spandex pants, and hot pink running shoes.
“Oh, it’s gonna be fabulous! I haven’t seen you and the kids in for…ev…er…”
The woman stood there as if she’d just walked into a brick wall. The grin on her face melted into a concerned frown. Her left hand reached up to mute the earpiece in her left ear. Her polished nails glistened in the light. Her diamond rings sparkled.
“Excuse me! What on earth’s going on here?”
Lady, you’d never believe it if I told you.
Sniffing, Adam glanced at the body lying next to him, and gave the woman his most flattering salesman’s smile; the one he always reserved for uppity, high maintenance clients. Then he held out his palms and shrugged.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Adam said, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m just…uh…finishing up my workout.”
—April 10th, 2021