This story is by Marjory Harris and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The man who called himself Clark peered into the bathroom mirror and examined the scratch marks on his left cheek. He covered them with his left hand and studied his image.
He had a tanned and handsome face, boyish but not pudgy, incised but not sharp-featured. Much to his satisfaction, people told him he looked like the late President Kennedy. His hair was darker, etched silver at the temples. He didn’t share Kennedy’s political views, but like Kennedy, he’d inherited wealth and status.
He smiled at the face in the mirror. “Not bad for forty-six,” he gloated. He had good genes — no baldness or obesity in the family. He sucked in his gut, turned to the side, and examined his lean torso. Not quite as muscled as in his football years at Harvard, but not larded with fat like many of his contemporaries.
He turned full face to the mirror. His gaze settled on the fresh scratches and his self-satisfaction turned sour. The girl had gone crazy and spoiled his fun.
Last night he’d been heading home from his club, intending to turn in early. He wanted to sail his yacht out the Golden Gate at first light and head south to Mexico. But when he stopped at a red light, he saw the girl and changed his plans.
She was leaving McDonald’s. The night manager was holding the door open and leering at her. She wore a red satin miniskirt and a black lace body stocking. The low-cut top glittered with rhinestones. Her earrings were like miniature chandeliers, spinning off light from tiny mirrors.
Clark pulled over, his gaze followed her out the front door. Spotlighted under the street lamp, she shivered in the night air. She tried to rub warmth into her arms with delicate white hands, fingers curved up so her long, red nails wouldn’t catch in her lace body stocking.
The night manager was watching her through the plate-glass window as she glided to the pay phone and made a call. Then she spotted Clark in his Mercedes, the driver’s window down, saw his eyes stripping her naked. She wiggled toward him, a glittery blonde Slinky, spike heels tapping on the sidewalk, red plastic purse swinging from her shoulder. As the girl got close, she enveloped Clark in her musky fragrance.
As he looked at his scratched cheek in the bathroom mirror, Clark remembered how the streetlight danced in her blue eyes and the mirrors of her earrings. He recalled how she swept her tongue around her lips as she lowered her eyes to his.
“Hi, I’m Clark,” he said, as she sank into the plush leather seat.
“Like Clark Kent, Superman?” She asked.
“Even better,” he said, as he locked the doors. Driving off, he noticed the night manager was no longer staring through the window. He was on the phone, maybe responding to a nagging wife whose long-distance radar read his adulterous thoughts from miles away.
Clark parked in a deserted lot at the end of a nearby alley. The girl seemed fresh and wholesome. She threw him off guard when she took out a crack pipe and lit up. He grabbed the pipe from her hand. He didn’t want his car smelling of burning chemicals.
“It makes me feel good,” she said, reaching for his hand to retrieve the pipe. He smacked her hard. She scratched at him with her long nails. A familiar feeling welled up, a rage he couldn’t control. His hands encircled her neck. She screamed, “You’re hurting me, stop it!” She banged on the window, tried to open the door, but he kept squeezing and wouldn’t let go. Her terror was no match for his rage.
Clark frowned as he buzzed the electric razor across his chin. Last night his old demons stirred. He didn’t argue with them, he let them take over. He turned off the razor and listened to the sad honking of the foghorns and the screeching gulls. The sounds reminded him of Hong Kong, where he first found out what money could buy if the urge was strong enough. He’d spent two decades pursuing his dark desires. The rules did not apply to him, he never followed them. Except for one, to cover his tracks.
But this time he’d screwed up. The girl had made a call, and the night manager saw her at the pay phone. He’d remembered to get rid of the little glass pipe. He’d wrapped it in toilet paper, crushed it with his heel, then flushed it down the toilet. But he hadn’t retrieved the money she had pushed into her bra. He could explain away any fingerprints or DNA. Money changed hands many times.
“What the hell,” he said to the face in the mirror, dismissing the remnants of his debauchery. “What’s five hundred bucks? It’s nothing to you. You’ve got plenty of cash for fun and games in Cabo.” Then the frown returned. He remembered her long red nails scratching at his face.
Clark looked out the bathroom window at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor, enshrouded in the gray mist of dawn. The sea air he’d soon be inhaling would dispel last night’s miasma. But a memory intruded. Clark had seen a man he knew when he was in the alley, disposing of the evidence. He’d recognized Jack O’Hara, a lawyer known for his televised rants more than for victories in court. O’Hara was running for mayor on an anti-vice platform and got in front of a camera whenever he could. The two had met at charity events but ran in different social circles.
Clark had seen O’Hara peering from an office window. A door opened. Clark held his breath as he watched O’Hara stumbling down the narrow sidewalk, clutching the lapels of his wrinkled jacket to his throat against the cold night air.
“Shit,” O’Hara screamed, as he collided with the trash container Clark had just visited. O’Hara pitched forward and fell to the sidewalk. Clark watched from the shadows as O’Hara gripped the side of the container and pulled himself up. O’Hara steadied himself, then reached into his pocket and withdrew a flask, swigged a mouthful of whiskey, and tottered back into the stairwell of his office building.
As the door closed behind O’Hara, Clark let out his breath. He needed to get home and finish packing, then head to the marina. He heard sirens, loud wailing sounds reverberating in the night, coming closer. City sounds, nothing to worry about.
As light filled the morning sky and seeped through the bathroom window, Clark stared at the shadows under his eyes. A doubt gnawed. Not moral conscience. He didn’t have one. Not remorse or regret. He wasn’t sorry for the girl, she’d been asking for it. Not given to self-reflection, but to self-satisfaction, he never considered how his selfishness hurt others.
What worried him was getting sloppy. But it was a fleeting worry — he’d always been good at rationalizing any faults, casting blame on others, reframing his misdeeds as virtues. He had rid himself of his critics in his last divorce, his wife and her mother were out of his life. He was free to live life on his terms.
He smiled at his smug reflection in the mirror. No one would find anything. No one would give a damn about a runaway girl working the streets. The night manager hadn’t got much of a look at him, he had focused on the girl. And everyone knew that windbag O’Hara was a falling-down drunk. No one would connect Clark to the scene, and if anyone tried, he had an alibi. He was on his way home from his club, had seen nothing, heard nothing.
Clark spoke to his reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Nothing you do is wrong, not if you enjoy it,” he said. “Still, you can’t afford to be careless. You need to focus on the details. You don’t have to stop having fun, you have to stop leaving traces.” He nodded with approval at his image in the mirror.
Clark sucked in his gut and squared his shoulders. He turned from side to side, admiring what he saw, imagining others admiring him, wanting to be like him, free to pursue desires without restrictions. He winked at himself in the mirror.
He would not hold back from his pleasures. He wasn’t going to let anything restrain him from the adventures awaiting. He was owed it after last night’s disappointment. He would be a good boy in Cabo, he would cover his tracks.
As Clark envisaged what lay ahead, last night’s memories faded. The girl, the night manager, O’Hara were stick figures dissolving into the fog rolling over the water. Clark switched off the bathroom light. The mirror went dark.