Preexisting Conditions – by Richard Larson

by TBLM

“Are you ready to go?” Kristine asks, unballing a pair of her pantyhose. Jack shakes his dreadlocked head and scrabbles around in the ashtray. He comes up with a nug of weed between his fingers. He carries it like a saint’s toenail over to the table, to the improvised bong. Last night, after they fought, he sawed off a pop bottle and smoked too much.

“Give me some,” Kristine says, as he takes a rattling pull. He shakes his head, eyes narrowed, and points at her stomach. Then he leans back, cheeks sunken, lungs full.

“Fuck, do you think what we do is good for it?” she asks. “Our, um, profession?”

Jack gives a stony shrug. Either he’s deep in character or he’s still angry, or both. He exhales and only the slightest wisp escapes.

“Ghosted it,” he finally says, triumphant. “It’s a good sign. Means a clean get-away.”

Kristine hands him one of the pantyhose and it goes over his head shiny, like burn-victim skin.

*

She’s walking where he said she would be walking, dressed up too nice for this side of town, heels clapping the asphalt like a nail-gun. She’s been jumping at shadows for the past ten minutes. Kristine pulls up to the curb and Jack leaps out of the passenger door. The woman shrieks once, and then he’s sealing up her red lips with Scotch tape and securing her hands with a non-latex rubber band. He’s really good at it; sort of makes Kristine wonder.

It would be quicker to toss her in the backseat, but Jack says no, it has to be the trunk, so Kristine hops out and they haul her squirming into the boot. They forgot to clean up first, so she’s crunching old Doritos with her pale elbow. Jack slams the trunk shut with a flourish and they race around to the front again, like when they used to play Chinese fire drill at stoplights.

“Go, go, go!” Jack hollers, which is his favorite part.

“Jesus, calm down,” Kristine says, leadfooting the gas. She’s shaky, out of breath, and the way that woman was wriggling and kicking in the trunk makes her think about grayscale ultrasounds.

*

One block on, a Lexus starts to follow them. Kristine doesn’t try to shake it. Jack is opening a portfolio stuffed with sticky notes and verifying the address. They’re taking her to an old warehouse by the docks, which Kristine thinks is just, you know, typical. Her She and Jack used to come here to the harbor some nights, back when they could both get sloshed drunk and their big stupid dreams seemed close enough to taste the jet fuel. It’s been months now.

The loading bay doors are conveniently open, hazard tape flapping in the wind, and Kristine drives right in, gently over the grates, and pulls to a stop. Jack reaches over and undoes the seatbelt for meher, the one that always disappears in the crack, and she knows he is apologizing. He grins, teeth not quite whitened enough for Hollywood.

“Let’s break a leg,” he says.

“For realism?”

He sticks his tongue out and they march around, putting their backs to the open loading bay. They , and open the trunk. The woman’s still wriggling around, looking up at them with huge terrified eyes she must have practiced in the mirror.

“Now we’re going to have some fun,” Jack growls. “Don’t scream. Bitch.” He peels the tape off a little too gently. There are scuffling footsteps from behind them and it’s time to act surprised.

“Stop right there!”

They spin around, almost perfectly synchronized, and there’s a balding middle-aged executive pointing a Taser at them. His pit-stains are visible even in the shit lighting. Kristine thinks he looks like the most boring man on Earth, but those are usually the most crazycraziest ones.

“Shit,” Jack says, a little flat on the delivery. “He’s got a gun.”

“Get away from my wife,” the man snaps. “Now!”

Kristine takes a deep breath, because she’s sure this is going to hurt, and steps forward with her hands out to my her sides. And, as specified after checking the box that says No Pre-Existing Heart Condition, the man Tasers her right in the gut. It feels like a million fish hooks all at once, all vibrating, all punishing her for the prostaglandin abortion pills she swallows secretly in the bathroom, and she crashes hard. Above her Jack’s face changes, from scared criminal to furious bit-part actor.

He surges. “Hey! You said she wouldn’t get—

He drops, limbs locked. It hurts, but for ten grand a piece, Kristine thinks, it’s nothing. They lie on the warehouse floor together, cheeks scraping the concrete, while the hero rescues his wife from old candy wrappers. She goes crazy as soon as her hands are untied and it sounds like the wettest thank-you on record. Kristine thinks that there must be easier ways to get off, but if you’re rich she supposes you can jump straight to the faux-kidnap fantasy.

The couple leave in the Lexus, marriage thoroughly electrified., and Jack is staring at her with dark worried eyes. A piss spot is blooming warm on his trousers. They lie there in the cold dust and Kristine thinks how the silence is sort of nice, not an angry silence, and how when the doctor tells them what’s happened she will cry and cry and act so surprised.

***