Home > Thorn in My Side

Thorn in My Side
Author: Karin Slaughter



I chewed back the nasty taste in my mouth as ABBA filled the air. For the last two hours, the chest-thumping bass of Britney Spears and Beyoncé club mixes had been just shy of tolerable, but the brash introduction of the Swedish supergroup was a bridge too far. “Dancing Queen” spun into my good ear like cotton candy at the state fair. Sticky. Sweet. Conjuring the animalistic desire to defecate in public just to stop the insanity.

Kirk was oblivious—moving to the beat, arm occasionally extending into the air in what was clearly a John Travolta move. I have to admit that my brother is an amazing dancer. Somehow, he manages to become one with the music, so that you start to wonder if he’s plugged into a separate jack on the back of the DJ’s table. The way he takes over a song and makes it his own pales in comparison to the look of unadulterated bliss on his face when he’s under the mirrored lights. You can tell he loves what he’s doing. Not many people can say that about anything—their jobs, their families, their lives. But Kirk loves dancing. And people love watching him. And he loves being watched.

Over the last fifteen years, Kirk has graced every nightclub in Atlanta with his dance moves. No matter how many times people see him, it’s always the same. They stop. They stare. Their lips part in surprise. He’s not just the center of attention. He’s the eye of the needle. Even tonight, within seconds of entering the Pink Pony, he’d managed to take over the floor, hips gyrating, foot moving in double time. Women smiled openly, clapping their hands with delight. Men stared in wonder. And then came the inevitable glances at me: Puzzlement. Pity. Disgust.

Such was the curse of being a twin: the younger brother, the less dominant brother, the brother whose hairline receded earliest and whose neck most resembled something a farmer’s ax would bisect any Thanksgiving morn, was always the odd man out. At thirty-eight years old, I’ve come to accept this as my lot in life. Kirk has always been the exciting one. The energetic one. The funny one. The one all the girls wanted to be with. Even as the grating harmonies of “Fernando” filled the smoky nightclub, moving everyone to their feet, I could only stand there with my hand in my pocket, head down, the occasional twitch of my shoulder the only indication that I hadn’t slipped into an irreversible coma.

Delicate fingers traced along the back of Kirk’s shoulder. I felt a shudder come on—a weird tightening in my stomach and groin. I closed my eyes and tried not to hear anything but the beating of my own heart under the sacchariney sweet Swedes telling me that there was something in the air tonight. I had watched this scene play out so many times before that I could guess the conversation:

Woman: “Let’s get out of here.”

Kirk: “How much?”

There was a little back and forth negotiation—Kirk never paid retail—and then I felt a tug like a kickball attached to a tether. Here we go around the pole again. Kirk headed toward the rear exit, pushing past anyone who got in his way. I didn’t have a choice. I followed him.

The air slapped my face with a cold hand. I checked out Kirk. The change had come on as quickly as the drop in temperature. Gone was the beatific smile from the dance floor. His jaw was set. His eyes had narrowed into their more natural beadiness. This was the Kirk that only a handful of people had ever seen. It was the Kirk I knew all too well.

I tried, “We should—”

“This way.” He nodded his head toward our Chrysler Town and Country. The minivan was top-of-the-line. Metallic silver paint. Chrome running boards. Leather seating. Full entertainment system in the back.

Kirk beeped the key fob, and the side door slid open. Suddenly, the woman seemed to lose her nerve.

“What’s the holdup?” Kirk snapped, no longer the charming pseudo-Travolta of the Pink Pony.

The woman swallowed. “Don’t you want to know my name?”

Kirk opened his mouth to tell her that, no, he didn’t give a shit, but I spoke first. “I’m Wayne. This is my brother, Kirk.” I fumbled nervously for words. “Of course, I guess you already know that we’re brothers.”

Her eyes darted back and forth between us. Her pupils were blown wide as saucers. She was either stoned out of her mind or had recently suffered a stroke. Maybe it was both. In the bright xenon lights of the parking lot, I could see she wasn’t as young or attractive as the disco lighting would lead one to believe. The black slinky dress looked worn and ill-fitting. A Pepé Le Pew part in her hair showed she was a couple of weeks late for her dye job. Her skinny arms were more like sticks. Sticks with scabs. I glanced at Kirk. She’d obviously been on the needle at some point. Of course, you didn’t often find a drug-free lady who was willing to go to a stranger’s car outside a run-down club.

“Let’s go.” Kirk got into the van. I nearly whacked my head on the roof as I followed. He was moving fast, anxious to get this over with. He pulled the latch and swiveled the club seat around to face the woman. She hadn’t moved except to start nervously rubbing her arms. Kirk pulled out his wallet and counted out two twenties and a five. “Are we doing this or not?”

She glanced inside the van as if she expected to find plastic and duct tape.

Finally, she looked at me. “It’s extra if he watches.”

“He won’t watch.” Kirk gave me a sideways glance. “Beat it, kiddo.”

I took the headphones out of the console and plugged in the jack to the entertainment system. Kirk waved the money in the air. He didn’t even bother to fan the bills. They were limp and moist from being in his pocket. They lolled over the back of his hand like a Labrador’s tongue.

He said, “Let’s go, sweetheart. Either you want the money or not.”

She looked back and forth between us, weighing the dangers, the odds. Common sense lost out to the lure of cash. The girl climbed up into the van. She stood in the open doorway staring at us both. “This is some freaky shit.”

“Let’s just get on with it.” Kirk waited for her to take another step inside, and then he key-fobbed the van door closed.

The interior lights faded to a soft glow. We’d paid extra to have mood lighting installed, which I’d thought was for ambience, but Kirk had wanted it because it made the women he picked up look much less pitiful and grotesque. At least this one was thin. The big girls made it impossible for all three of us to safely maneuver around. I’d nearly gotten a concussion three weeks ago from slamming my head into the roof of the car.

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