The twenties were fresh from the ATM, crisp, like they’d been printed that day — they barely fluttered in the night breeze as he thrust them through the open car window, fanned out like he was asking her to pick a card. But this was no trick. This was a transaction. Just two hundred dollars and he could buy a person. A woman.
Bought and paid for.
Two more twenties got him a motel room. Cheap. Sleazy. In the back, away from the neon sign by the road, pink and blue and flashing yellow. No place to take a woman he was trying to impress, but he had no desire to impress this girl. There was no need. This was a transaction, not a relationship.
The girl barely glanced at the room, sat on the bed, lit a cigarette. Asked if he was ready, or would he need a little help? He slapped the cigarette out of her mouth, ground it beneath a heel; a small, burnt hole, black against the blue indoor-outdoor carpeting.
“You don’t ask questions,” he says. “I bought you. You just do as you’re told.”
She starts up off the bed, her hard, used-up face filled with indignation. Her mouth filled with angry words. His balled fist smashes into her open mouth, stopping the words. She falls back across the bed, eyes rolling up in her head, cheap skirt flipping up to expose white cotton panties, disappointing, considering her work.
If he’d known about the panties, he might have bargained harder.
Her face is blank, expressionless as a store mannequin, or a sleeping child. He wonders where the indignation went. Wonders if it was in that tooth that flew out to skitter across the cheap carpeting, leaving a blood trail across the blue fibers, black as the burn-hole in the dim light.
She still wears that childlike expression when he returns from the car. He had to fetch his toys from the trunk: he’s learned from experience, girls stop being for sale if they catch sight of his kit in the backseat. He puts the kit down to rearrange her upon the coverlet. Puts her head on the pillow. Straightens and spreads her limbs; a pale, $200 starfish.
The money is in her purse. He could easily take it back. She won’t be needing it. But that would not be right. It was a business transaction. She may wish to renege, once she wakes up, but it’s too late for that. She was bought and paid for. Done and done.
He reaches into his kit. Brings out the duct tape. A thousand and one uses. Maybe more. He’s never seen the official list, but he’s willing to bet “restraints” isn’t on there. Neither is “gag”. That’s a thousand and three. She starts to come around as he carefully winds the tape around her head, covering her mouth while leaving her nose unobstructed. Her eyes open. Grow round. Start from their sockets.
She may have realized who he is. He’s been in the papers. Who knows? This one might even be able to read.
Sounds come from behind the tape. Wild grunts. Muffled screams. Her head thrashes from side-to-side until he runs a strip of tape from wrist-to-wrist and across her forehead. That’s a thousand and four. He can see she wants to go, wants to give him his money back and disappear into the night. He leans down to look right into her round eyes.
“No refunds, no returns.”
She’s his now. He can do whatever he likes, whatever he wants. Whatever strikes his fancy. He could fuck her. He’s fucked them in the past. More than once. He could beat her — same story. But not this one. He’s become curious. Her indignation. He wants to know where it went. The tooth theory is silly — it must be in there somewhere. He wants to go looking for it.
He draws fillet knife from the kit, long and thin and sharp as a straight razor. Her hard, used-looking face has lost the little bit of pretty it had left, eyes red and bulging, cry-snot running down over the silver tape wound about her head. At the sight of the knife, unable to turn her head away, she simply closes her eyes, one long, sustained note fighting its way through the gag.
This will never do. With her words stopped, the only way he’ll see her indignation, should it resurface, is by reading it in her expression, and he cannot read closed eyes. He asks her to open her eyes. She refuses. He commands. She ignores him, holding that one, shrill note for longer than should be possible. The silver roll comes out and he tapes her lids back.
One thousand and five. Perhaps he should write the duct tape people a letter?
He begins his hunt for her indignation as his newest purchase screams its sanity away.
He wakes to flashing blue lights. Blue uniforms. Shouting. His purchase is cold on the bed. Fully explored. Broken open like a Christmas cracker. His purchase was not the only one to recognize him. Someone called the authorities while he slept. He tries to explain that they had a transaction. She belonged to him. Bought and paid for.
They won’t listen.
His lawyers talk and talk. But they don’t listen. They don’t understand.
The judge listens, but doesn’t understand.
The jury listens, but doesn’t understand.
Death row is full, they say, so he enters the general population. He doesn’t mind. He likes company.
His first night inside, his new cellmate meets another inmate by the cell door. A huge, muscular man. Muscles on muscles. Something changes hands; a carton of cigarettes. New Cellmate walks away, talking over his shoulder.
“You got an hour.”
Muscles on muscles surges into the cell, eyes alight.
“Okay, new bitch. Your ass is mine — bought and paid for.”
“Finally,” he says, smiling. “Someone understands!”
A balled fist smashes his open mouth.