A psychotic young woman's obsession with the song 'Cell Block Tango' leads her to murder.
|word count: 3,719
From the time they put me in this room, I haven’t said anything. The square grey room reflected its dull and flat emotions onto me. It didn’t matter what would happen here, this will just be the start of the show. Most of the setting for ‘Chicago’ was in a jail and I just had to finish this act to get there. I was sitting in a cold, metal chair waiting for someone to come in the room. It was tiring staring at myself in the big one-way window. So I closed my eyes and I could feel myself drifting off to sleep. Who could blame me? It had to have been at least two hours since they put me in here…
Suddenly a folder was slammed down on the table.
“Excuse me.” The man actually sounded a bit apologetic. He sat in the seat across from me, his back to the one-way window. “I am Detective Harring, state your name, age, and occupation for the record.”
“Kirsten Gaertner, twenty-three years old, and I work at a convenience store.”
“They are all the same, it doesn’t matter, Harring.” He eyed me suspiciously and flipped a page in the folder.
“You were born here in New York City, to Dillon and Sharilyn Gaertner. One sibling, Casey. Various domestic disputes through out the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Then in ’98 Dillon went upstate to do life for vehicular manslaughter.” Good old dad. I would say I hate him but without him I would have never scene ‘Chicago’.
* * * * * *
I remember the first time I saw ‘Chicago’ on Broadway. It was January of 1997 and I had gotten out of the house one evening. Father accused Mother of talking to some man on the street as she walked me to elementary school that day. He got angry every time she talked to a man, he was the jealous type. My father started beating Mother again, then started reciting lines from the Bible to me about ‘moral righteousness’ or some bullshit like that. It wasn’t hard to get away. At least he wasn’t beating me.
Somehow I made it to Times Square and saw a billboard with flashing lights. The word ‘Chicago’ was flashing and blinking in mesmerizing dances. Above it were two beautiful women dressed in tight shimmering dresses with their hair cut short and red lipstick- it was ruby red, the kind father said only hookers wore, but it was so damn beautiful on the women’s white skin. The names said ‘Roxie Hart’ and ‘Velma Kelly’. So I snuck in with the crowd and followed a couple up to the balcony. None of the employees noticed me, and I was lucky. There were a few empty seats right up front.
The show was enthralling. The actors’ only props were a hat and a chair- nothing else. I learned many things that night. Women are not powerless. Women can wear sexy clothes and makeup. Most importantly, women can kill- and get away with it. I picked up ticket stubs I found on the floor after the show and some fliers I found on the ground outside.
When I returned home, there were flashing cop cars everywhere. It was very confusing since we never had any crime in our apartment building. As I got closer a police officer noticed me and came over to me. He began explaining something about an incident and I would have to stay with my older sister in Queens. I didn’t hear much else of what he was saying because a gurney with a body covered in a white sheet was taken out of the apartment. A man pulled back the white sheet just before it was put in the van. There she was, bloodied and beaten. Mother looked as weak as ever. She couldn’t defend herself against a man like my father. She was weak and powerless, something I never will be.
From then on I cut my hair like the women in the show. I kept it short and wavy like Roxie, and raven-colored like Velma’s. I stopped going outside to keep my skin pale and just sat in my room everyday reading books on crime. Whenever I could, I bought red lipstick that I thought matched the shade I remember the women wearing. I would dream, and I still do, that Roxie and Velma came to me telling me that I was the one who could stand up for women against the men who wronged them.
* * * * * *
“Miss Gaertner did you know Tom Pruneda?” Detective Harring started asking questions. About time
“No, I’ve never heard that name before.”
“That was the man you found dead in his apartment.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“If you didn’t know this man, why did you kill him?” I wasn’t expecting him to figure that out yet.
* * * * * *
I was sitting on the couch in the apartment of ‘Bernie’ waiting for him to come home. He stocked the shelves at the convenience store I work at. Thirty-seven and still stocking shelves, I’m not much better but then again I’m only twenty-three. Every day except Fridays’, I’d watch him steal gum, sometimes Stride or Orbits (which are actually good for your teeth) but mostly random brands with different flavors. So this one day he takes a pack of gum straight from the stock box and starts chewing a piece. Jaw wide open, and when he sees an attractive girl walk by his aisle he smacks his gum, like she’s on display just for him. It was just so annoying. That’s when Roxie and Velma brought the song Cell Block Tango into my head: He had it coming, He only had himself to blame. If you'd have been there, if you'd have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same! I was there, I had seen it, and I did do the same. He just needed to hurry up and get home.
The sound of a key in the door lock excited me. The door creaked open, I moved so I could see the door. He walked across the room and dropped his keys on the counter, chewing his gum as usual, taking off his jacket then turning towards the couch. I picked up the shotgun that has lying in my lap.
“Who the hell are you?!” He was shocked.
“I’m very annoyed with you Bernie.” And there's Bernie layin' on the couch, drinkin' a beer and chewin'. No, not chewin'. Poppin'.
“Bernie? I’m not Bern-” I stood and raised the shotgun up so it was level with his head.
“Shh, now Bernie, make a bubble and pop it.” I wanted to sound cool and calm like Liz was when she killed Bernie. He popped the gum without saying anything else. So, I said to him, I said, ‘you pop that gum one more time...’ and he did.
“You pop that gum one more time.” And he did. Now Liz’s words were so loud in my head I just had to say it with her. “So I took the shotgun off the wall and I fired two warning shots…” I fired, cocked the gun again, and fired again. “…into his head.”
With one hand I ripped open his bloody shirt, took out my red lipstick and drew a big ‘POP’ on his chest. I left the gun on the floor and walked out his apartment. There was nobody in the hallway, only the sound of a dog barking upstairs. So I followed the sound up two flights of stairs. It was a tan and white pitbull puppy tied to the railing. As I bent down to pet it a man came out of the apartment door across from the puppy.
“Hey, what you doin’?” I didn’t care to see what the man looked like, he wasn’t important.
“What a cute puppy.” I took the elevator down and hailed a taxi.
* * * * * *
“What makes you think I did it?” I tried not to sound completely emotionless.
Harring leaned back, looked at me, and then picked up the folder. One by one, he put down photos of four dead men. My dead men.
“Now what do the words mean? ‘POP’, ‘SIX’, ‘SQUISH’, and ‘LIPSCHITZ’? And don’t try to say you didn’t do it, because the lipstick we found on you, matches exactly the lipstick shade that was used to write the words, down to the blood residue still on the lipstick.”
“Now that’s a nasty tone.” In the mirror’s reflection I saw Velma Kelly standing behind me.
“That is a nasty tone.” I agreed with her.
“What?” He looked at me funny- he wouldn’t understand, he is a man after all.
“Nothing, who did you say these men were?” I leaned in to get a closer look at the photos.
“This one,” he pointed to Bernie, ‘POP’, “is Joel Whiddon. He was a store clerk.” He pointed to the Mormon’s photo, ‘SIX’, “Samuel Mormon, an accountant.” Next, was ‘SQUISH’, Wilbur, “And Kurt Gather, unemployed.” Ha, unemployed my ass.
“Nope, sorry. I don’t recognize any of those names.”
* * * * * *
“Its’ been six days, six days since Bernie, Kirsten.” I opened my eyes to see her there. Velma Kelly, in her short black dress and grey fir-trimmed coat, sitting on my desk. “It’s been six days, you know.” She began filing her nails as I sat up in bed. “How long are you gonna lay around?”
“Well, I just got the blood out of everything.”
“It only took me an hour to wash blood off my hands. Then do you know what I did?” I knew what she did, but I didn’t want to make her angry by saying so. “I got right back on the stage and did the whole dance that was meant for two people all by myself. And they loved me.”
“Yes, but where am I suppose to find a man who has six wives? The only Mormons’ these days live in Utah or somewhere around there.”
“Hun, it’s as easy as looking in the phonebook.” She pointed to an open phonebook. When I got closer to it, I saw the page was open to ‘M’ and a name was circled. S. W. Mormon. I started to laugh. I grabbed the small green bottle next to her and walked out.
It wasn’t a far walk to the Mormon’s place. Only seven blocks. The sun was starting to set, so it must be around 4pm. I hate this time of year, it’s too cold and the sun sets to early. The time also meant that rush hour was starting soon. He'd go to work, he'd come home, it starts again. Breaking into places is too easy, especially when the locks are outdated. Inside his place, I went straight for the liquor cabinet. Single he told me? Single, my ass. There was only one bottle in there. An expensive-looking bottle of single malt whisky, “Caol Ila”. I took it out, placed it on the counter, uncapped it, and poured white powder into it. Not only was he married... oh, no, he had six wives. After I put the cap back on, I went outside the apartment and stood a few feet away from the door.
It seemed to take forever for the Mormon to return home. His clothes were wrinkled and there were dark circles under his eyes. He didn’t even notice me standing there, it must be exhausting keeping up with six wives. He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open, but he didn’t need his key since the door was already unlocked. So that night, when he came home, I fixed him his drink as usual. I waited another ten minutes or so, listening intently near the door. Then I heard a thud. My cue to go back in. I saw him laying on the floor in front of the counter with the whiskey on it. Vomit was all over the floor, he was convulsing, and grabbing his stomach. I put my foot on his shoulder to turn him on his back. Reaching down, ripping open his already mostly unbuttoned shirt and I wrote ‘SIX’ on his sweaty chest. I looked at his face, “You know, some guys just can't hold their arsenic.”
I was about to leave when I heard a man yelling outside the window in the kitchen. The song started again in my head. Now, I'm standing in the kitchen carvin' up the chicken for dinner, minding my own business. Carefully stepping around the vomit, I went to the half-opened window. There was a rather buff looking man screaming at a thin, scantly-dressed woman in the alley. He raised his hands a few times like he was going to hit her, but he never did. And in storms my husband Wilbur, in a jealous rage. Right next to the sink was a knife holder. I grabbed a carving knife and the bottle of scotch and quickly walked outside. I didn’t want to give ‘Wilber’ a chance to get away.
As I turned the corner to the alleyway they were in, I could still hear him yelling at her. ‘You been screwin' the milkman,’ he says, he was crazy. This is exactly why I was doing this, to protect women who couldn’t protect themselves against men like him.
“Hey there.” I called to him. He turned and glared at me. He definitely wasn’t happy to see me, but I knew how to play at his weaknesses. I am a woman after all. “Now I got $500 and this bottle of whiskey just for you, want to party?” That instantly softened his face.
“With an offer like that, how can I refuse? ‘Specially with a tight ass like that.” He looked me up and down and then turned to the woman behind him, “You’re lucky bitch, and this is a private party, now get lost.” And he kept screamin', ‘you been screwin the milkman’.
After she left I handed him the bottle.
“Now I bet a tough guy like yourself can drink this whole bottle all at once.” He laughed and snatched it from my hand. I watched as he began chugging the whisky. Oh, this is too perfect. Just as he finished, he started gagging and staggered backwards groaning.
“And then he ran into my knife.” I said as I stabbed him. “He ran into my knife ten times.” There wasn’t a place on his chest left for me to write on, so instead I wrote ‘SQUISH’ on his forehead.
* * * * * *
“Is this some kind of sick game? ‘Cause these murders seem vaguely familiar.” He was staring at me now. “Kind of like from the Broadway show ‘Chicago’?” I couldn’t help but smile a little. “Ah, so it is the show.”
That’s when it hit me, he asked a question he already knew the answer to! That arrogant, corrupt cop, trying to trick women.
“Go ahead, tell him why. That’ll sure send shivers down his spine.” Now Roxie Hart was standing beside Velma Kelly. But there was a knock on the door before I could say anything. The door opened and someone beckoned him out. The only ones left in the room were Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly, and me.
“Now why’d you go and tell her confess? She has to keep him here longer so he gets tired. Then when he’s tired, it’ll be easier to get him!” Velma Kelly yelled at Roxie Hart.
“Like that matters! He already knows, so why not tell it all? Then it can be all over the papers by morning.” Roxie Hart shot back.
“Stop it! I’ve got it under control. Just stop it.” I finally got them to shut up. Just in time too, because the cop came back in with a new folder.
“Miss Gaertner, it seems you had a plan all along.”
* * * * * *
Day after day had gone by and I hadn’t left my apartment. After I killed Wilbur, I began to think that I wasn’t doing any good. Men would never get the fact that us women need to be treated with respect. And women, like the one from the alley, will never stand up for themselves and kill the men who abuse us. I mean, if women really wanted to be respected and loved, we need to give the men what they deserve. Wives should kill their cheating husbands, hookers should castrate the ‘johns’ who treat them like objects, and women everywhere should shoot the men who think they should stay at home. After all, it’s only fair.
“You know, sitting here feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to get your work done.” I sat up in surprise. It had been nearly two weeks since I seen either of them, even longer since I’d seen Roxie Hart.
“But how will it get done? No one seems to get it.”
“They will, and the best way to get it done, is to let them come to you.” She was starting to confuse me. “Trust me, I got you something.” She motioned toward the closet. I opened it and the only thing hanging in there was the most beautiful red dress I had ever seen. It looked like a modern-day flapper dress. It didn’t have any beads and it did have a higher waist line, but the style did remind me of something Roxie Hart or Velma Kelly would wear. And I knew exactly what to do with it. I slipped into it, put on my red lipstick, and put part of my hair up with a small letter opener.
I went to the club district and settled on a club that didn’t have a long line. After entering, it didn’t take long before men came up to me, but I hadn’t found the right one. I loved Al Lipschitz more than I can possibly say. Sipping on a Bloody Scotsman, a middle-aged man caught my eye. He was a real artistic guy, sensitive, a painter. It had been at least ten minutes since his company had left and he was throwing glances my way. He had arrived with one lady, then she left and another lady came in and joined him, then after she left he sat with a man. He’d go out every night looking for himself, and on the way he found Ruth, Gladys, Rosemary and Irving. So, I got up and walked over to him, trying to swing my hips the way Roxie Hart does.
“You finally alone?”
“Completely, sit down with me.” The smell of alcohol on his breath was noticeable.
I looked around and acted a bit restless. “How about we go back to your place instead?” He looked surprise by this, then smiled like he’d hit the jackpot.
“Sure, I don’t live that far.” We hailed a taxi and I helped him in. While driving for about fifteen minutes uptown, he made a little small talk, but I really wasn’t interested in talking. Everything he said just annoyed me but I tried not to show it. I guess you can say we broke up because of artistic differences. When we got to his place he tried to act like it was the Ritz by pointing out every small detail about the paint, the molding, and other features in the lobby. But it was nothing more than average, like he was. An average man, thinking he could use women, abuse women. He unlocked the door and led the way in. By this point I had taken off my necklace which was made of black rope strung with beads.
“So this is my-” I wrapped my necklace around his throat. He saw himself as alive…
“And I saw him dead.” This one was harder to do than the rest, but he proved weaker than I thought. Proving that this is what was supposed to happen. Across his chest I wrote ‘LIPSCHITZ’. Then I walked to the phone and dialed 911. All I said was, “There is a dead man here” and I hung up and waited for the police to arrive.
Only one more to go.
* * * * * *
“The murders coincide with the show ‘Chicago’- more specifically, the song ‘Cell Block Tango’. And in that song there are five murderers.” He finally caught on.
“But aren’t there six singers?” I responded.
“Uh… maybe.” He didn’t know as much as he thought he did. “So, in the song six murders are committed, but in the past few months, you only killed four.”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this.”
“I’ll get there. When you turned 18, Casey and her boyfriend, Darryl Bristle, went missing, only to be found three months later dead of gun shot wounds. Now doesn’t that sound familiar? That was also one of the murders in the song Cell Block Tango.”
He stood up and placed his hands on my chair, “I don’t think so, there are no coincidences in my line of work. But I guess you can feel proud of yourself, it took this long to catch you.” Catch me? I called the police. He was really starting to piss me off. “Now that you have finished all the murders in the song, what next? Maxwell’s Silver Hammer? Or some other Broadway show?”
I turned sideways in the chair, “You know, there was a sixth singer in Cell Block Tango. Hunyak was her name. She was actually innocent, but ‘Uncle Sam’ wrongly convicted her and she was the only inmate to die in the show.”
“So do you think your Hun-Ya or something?” I put my right hand on the back of my hair like I was scratching my head.
“No, but she is the one who should be avenged the most against the men who executed her!” I pulled the letter opener out of my hair and stabbed the cop in the throat.
He had it coming, he only had himself to blame. If you'd have been there, if you'd have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same!