Death Should Always Be Played Loudly
Late-afternoon light poured in from the tall windows of Amsterdam Centraal Station’s main hall, buzzing like a beehive in the busy rush hour traffic. Penetrating the din, however, was Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 4. Walter only knew that prelude by name because he had borrowed from it to create his prelude for “Bowie’s Nocturne”, the last song he ever performed onstage.
He followed the playing to a black grand piano tucked into a back corner of the hall with the words BESPEEL MIJ - PLAY ME stickered on it. Behind it was a short-haired brunette in a black formal dress, whacking into the keys. As she neared the end of the short piece, as if to spite the clatter of rolling suitcase wheels and indeterminate chatter droning past her, unlike any other interpretation he had heard, she insolently increased the intensity beyond even the volume of the climax, punching the final chord in so hard it brought her to her feet.
Her head stayed bowed after, while fine plumes of dust her performance disturbed spangled in the golden-hour sunlight as they fell back to Earth. She then brought her face up to Walter’s eyes as only he was applauding. It was a face he’d seen before, the foxlike face of the hostess from La Lune Rouge. As he drew closer to leave a tip on the hood of the piano, however, although similar and again of about the same age, the face changed into a stranger.
“Dank u,” she said.
“Mooi... uh, bespeel mij,” Walter said reading the Dutch on the piano. He had learned the word for beautiful from Shiva after she had complimented his “mooi dansen”.
The girl laughed. “Mijn excuses meneer Chopin. Ik hou er niet van om de dood mooi te spelen.”
“I’m sorry, what? That’s the only Dutch I know.”
She laughed again. “Yes...” she said in a strong accent, but not a Dutch accent, something more Eastern European. “...that is very obvious. You say ‘play me beautifully’, so I say, ‘I don’t like to play you beautifully Mister Chopin.’”
“Oh, I see,” Walter said smiling. “But actually, I thought your un-beautiful playing was the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. It’s like you opened up a new dimension of the song I didn’t know was there.”
“Dimension?” she said. “What do you mean?”
“Um… it’s like you found a new meaning to the song, a new world no one knew was there. And it’s beautiful. I almost can’t imagine the song or the world any other way now. I guess you could say your performance was life changing.”
She smiled bashfully. “Dank u,” she said again. “You are very kind. Not many people like the way I play your death. But I’m glad you like your death played loudly.”
She laughed again. “This was the song you chose to have played at your funeral, Mister Chopin.”
“Oh, that’s right.” He had forgotten that fact. “And yes, death should always be played loudly.”
Outside the train station in the brick-faced canyons of Amsterdam’s downtown area, bike paths crisscrossed the city like tracks on a circuit board, encircling Walter’s ears with trickling bicycle gears and bells. Everyone from businessmen with briefcases to mothers with children rode about in a more tranquil demeanor when compared to car commuters back home.
After consuming a quick dinner from FEBO, a Dutch fast food chain made entirely of self-serve vending machines with the exception of the beverages ironically, he found a cheap hostel for the night that had two guest computers in the lobby. Using one of them, he looked up directions to the nearest police station and Maloe Melo, but had no luck finding anything for “La Lune Rouge Amsterdam”, “Dug DeMargo Amsterdam”, or “Kali and The Easy Wind Grateful Dead Tribute Amsterdam”. He then tried “Lady Duc de Glace dominatrix Amsterdam”, and at last found something, a personal website advertising her services.
After checking over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking and clicking the agreement he was over eighteen, he was taken to a homepage with an image of the Golden Ass he’d heard so much about, and no doubt, it was the best ass he’d ever seen, forming a perfect heart in the center of his screen as its owner was fully bent over, bound in rich olive skin and black sheer lingerie, supported by two long, muscular legs on a base of double platform fuck-me pumps. ENTER was written across the heart.
Walter clicked and was taken to another page with a black and white side profile of a naked man on his knees in a latex gimp mask and a spiked leather dog collar attached to a leash held by a woman who towered over him with short, black, swooped-back hair in fishnet pantyhose wearing a white business shirt and a black fitted vest. In her other hand was a metallic device that made Walter’s rectum pulse with phantom pangs. It looked like a C-clamp with a surgical rib spreader attached to the opening end, the prongs dripping in a translucent viscous fluid. Over the device was written EET FUK.
Walter clicked and was taken to a calendar which was booked solidly until the fall. Other than an inquiry form to make a reservation, which required a fifty-euro deposit, there was no other contact information, and nothing else to click except for a photo gallery. After looking over his shoulder again, he clicked.
Scrolling through, although her face was partially obscured in every photo either by angle or mask, his mind was able to cobble together a face of extraordinary splendor, and not a sweet splendor, but a splendor that left him in throbbing knots because the fantasy of fucking her with the ferocity of mating baboons refused to leave his head. No wonder there was a long waiting list to be brutalized by her. Even Walter felt himself tempted as blood began boiling and swelling into his bellbottoms.
Reaching the end of the gallery, he was again treated to her rear-end, a gif this time that made the Golden Ass shake to and fro. It lulled him into a tonic state by its perfect applebottomness. All he wanted was to grasp at it and could think of nothing else.
Two teenage girls then entered the lobby and sat down at the computer beside him before he had time to hide the Golden Ass. They giggled as he quickly closed the page, then giggled even harder when he stood up.
Going first to the police station, he found no one under the name Shiva (Walter never did get her last name or verify if Shiva was indeed her real first name) had been booked in the last week. He tried describing her, but the receptionist could offer no further help as she had a line of people behind him to deal with.
At Maloe Melo, Shiva’s amps and cabs she had stored there were gone, but the staff, who only spoke broken English, seemed to have no clue who he was talking about, and they said Patrick retired a year earlier. However, since he was the former owner, he did come in on special occasions to work, so maybe Walter wasn’t completely crazy. But when he asked if they could tell him where Patrick lived, they then thought he was and politely asked him to leave.
Still too restless to call it a day, he continued searching into evening, walking down streets at random, hoping to find something that could help him, and eventually that something came: his urinal. From there, he found Dug’s apartment complex rather easily, and at the entrance was a callbox with a directory, and listed in apartment 622 sure enough was Dug DeMargo.
Walter jabbed the digits, but it only rang endlessly, then cut off after a minute. He tried again, and again, but nothing. After loitering around the entrance for twenty minutes, finding no one who would let him in, he then began calling again, and on the third attempt, finally the call was picked up.
“Fuck off ya cunt!” the callbox shouted then clicked off. Walter dialed again. “Listen, if you don’t leave—”
“Dug it’s Walter. Don’t hang up.”
“What? Walty? What the fuck do you want?”
“It’s a long story, but I need your help. Please.”
“Sorry mate, but can’t help ya. Got me own hands full right now.”
“Can I help you then?”
“Fuck off. I know who you are.”
“Who’s that? Your other fake cop name? By the way, Walter Huxley, terrible fake name mate.”
“You think I’m a cop?”
“That’s the only explanation. Where else would you have gotten that shirt? No way you could’ve found it in that box because I burned them all. I destroyed everything luna hunny. And if there was anything left, it would’ve only been from what was confiscated by the cops in Paris. What, was that your way of trying to intimidate me, to let me know you were onto me? Then... then that whole act in front of Maloe Melo, what was that about? That’s when I realized you must be some batshit crazy undercover motherfucker.”
“Dug, I’m not a cop.”
“You can stop bullshitting me Walter. You got a fake-sounding name. You wouldn’t do coke with me. You can’t handle your weed. You also just look like a cop. You’re a fucking cop!”
“Look up Walter Huxley or Quinn Quark on your phone and tell me after if you still think I’m a cop. If you’re going to pretend to own a music label, maybe you should pay attention more to what’s happening in music. Also, maybe take it easy on the coke. It’s making you paranoid and sloppy.”
The callbox groaned, followed by a long pause. “No shit mate,” Dug then said after presumably taking out his phone. “Why didn’t you tell me? But if you’re not a cop, then... then... No. You have to be a cop. The shirt, the bar. There’s no way.”
“Dug, for the last time, I am not a cop! How I ended up in that bar with that shirt on on that particular night is just as much a mysterious coincidence to me, and it was just the beginning of a long strange trip since that I will explain once I’m up there. But right now I need your help and my trip is telling me you’re the only person who can help me, just like before when you found me in the urinal. How could I be a cop conning you when you were the person who found me? Don’t you remember?”
“You’re still tripping? And no, not until you just told me. I was facking hammered when I found you, remember? I forgot that’s how we met . . . Maybe I have been doing too much coke lately. Ugh, just did two big rippers before you rang, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping this heroin any. This is some nasty shit mate.”
“Yeah... Ugh. Fack mate. I’m really tweaked. I’m really freaked too. I don’t want her to die. I hate her, but I also love her. I’ll never find another like her. She’s my kind of woman for a man who has no kind. Don’t let her die...”
Dug made a series of garbles before answering. “Um… never mind. But… fack. I do need your help—we need your help. But you gotta promise to keep it to yourself if you value your life, and I sincerely mean that. I’m not somebody to fuck with. And you better not be a coppa.”
“Dug, I swear if I have to tell you one more time—”
The callbox clicked off and the front door buzzed open.
“Come in. It’s unlocked,” Dug said from the other side of his apartment door after Walter knocked. He pushed it open and found her, lying on the floor with her head propped on pillows propped on Dug’s lap. Her eyes were closed and she was a pale shadow of her former self, looking at least fifteen pounds lighter. Her skin had lost all color except for isolated pools of sickly yellow and brown up and down her arms and legs. Walter had seen the same rotted banana peel stains on Squids’s corpse.
“Mags?” Walter gasped.
“You two know each other?” Dug said without looking in his direction. He was running a wet rag up and down Mags’s naked body. He was also naked and had stains on the undersides of his arms too. “Nobody calls her Mags unless they know her personally.”
“Not exactly,” Walter said. “But I’ve gotten to know Shiva personally, and something tells me you know where I can find her.”
Dug sluggishly pushed aside one of the pillows and in his hand was a nine millimeter handgun. With much effort, he then lifted it and pointed to where Walter had been standing, but at that point Walter had ducked behind Dug’s kitchen island counter.
“What the fuck Dug?!” Walter shouted.
“Fuggin coppa!” Dug shouted back. “I fuggin knew it.”
“I’m not a fucking cop! What else do I have to do to prove it?”
“Then... then... who are you working for if you’re not a cop? How do you know Shiva? From back in the States?”
“I met her at Maloe Melo right after I left you.”
Dug gave a weak chuckle. “Sure you did. Well, got news for ya mate. She’s gone. Left Amsterdam long before you got here.”
“Where’d she go?”
“Dug, I know about the cocaine operation. I know the label is just a front for it. I know you ripped off Shiva. And I know you and Mags were together before Shiva. But I don’t care. I only came back to Amsterdam from Switzerland today to find Shiva, because truthfully, I’m in love with her. But also, I think she might be in trouble. I’ve gone to Maloe Melo, the police, but I can’t find her.”
“You really are a nutcase, aren’t you? I told you, she’s gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“No, no. You want my help, you gotta help me first. Go get Mags’s Suboxone, then we’ll talk.”
“Suboxone. She was clean from heroin for over two years before this and has a prescription at her place. It will reverse the effects. Maybe save her. I think she’s OD-ing. She showed up high about a week ago and sucked me right back in. Smack and sex were all we used to do back in Paris. But faaaack. This smack is something else.”
Walter then heard a thud. He peaked from behind the island and noticed Dug had fallen over beside Mags. Stuck in his ass was “the device”. Walter gagged.
“Dug,” he said, “I’m going to stand up. Please don’t shoot me.”
“Ugh...” was Dug’s reply.
Walter stood cautiously, then went over to him. His eyes were glazed, pupils constricted and circling in his sunken sockets.
“Should I call the actual police?” Walter asked. “You both should probably go to a hospital.”
“Fuck the police if you ain’t them. Just go get the Suboxone at her place.”
“Where’s her place?”
Dug hesitated. “If you know Shiva… you should know.”
“La Lune Rouge?” Walter said.
Dug closed his eyes and shook his head yes. “But us locals just call it Hell. It’s not far from here, but you’ll have to take the bike.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a key fob, and tossed it to Walter. “Here’s my fob to get the bike out of the garage. It will also get you in and out of the building.” Dug then crawled to a purse near Mags and began rummaging through it. “Here,” he said extracting another key fob and tossing it to Walter. “Tell them EET FUK at the door and when they ask for your name, tell them Vernon. They’ll take you to a special elevator that will take you to the top floor, and that fob will get you the rest of the way. Not sure where she keeps it, but the loo would be my guess. Do that for me and… and then we’ll talk about Shiva. But first I got to get me head straight . . . And I swear to God, if you ain’t a cop, then you must be His reckoning.”
Dug only managed to slur out half the directions to “Hell” before the coke wore off and the heroin took over, making him completely intelligible before eventually very sleepy. Remembering how Amber first died, Walter rolled Dug and Mags on their sides before leaving.
Although nearby by bike, left to rely on memory and clues from the locals, all of whom were timid about giving out its exact location, finding Hell wasn’t easy. “If you don’t know where ‘Hell’ is,” one local warned him, “you probably don’t belong there.” But finally after passing down an alley he thought he’d been down three times before, he located the nondescript red door, and rang the bell fleshed into the doorframe. Two minutes later the foxlike face of the piano player from earlier greeted him.
“Hello again, Mister Chopin,” she said. “I was not expecting you tonight.”
“Neither was I—well, not exactly . . . Do you have a sister that also works here?”
The hostess sighed. “I did. Did you know her?”
“No. But I saw her here last week.”
The hostess laughed. “Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s impossible. I was the only person here last week. My sister died almost a year ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize . . . Do you remember me then? I came here with Shiva.”
“With who? And no. Hundreds of people come through these doors every week.”
“But you—or whoever was here last week—seemed to know her. Tall, redhead. Plays in a Grateful Dead tribute.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are talking about.”
“Am I at the right place?” Walter said checking his surroundings.
“I don’t know,” the hostess said, “but if you came here on that bicycle, you came at the right time. The Lady always gets her delivery at eleven.”
“You must be new. Yes. The one inside your basket I hope. The Lady will be very hungry. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this bicycle.” Walter opened a compartment hidden in the basket stereo and found a paper bag filled with filled coke vials rubber-banded into bunches like packs of pre-rolled joints.
“Let’s not keep the Lady waiting,” the hostess said. “Password?”
“And here I was expecting you to say Frédéric,” the hostess said smiling. “Yes, Mister Smith. Right on time. Follow me. The Lady will EET you now.”
She opened a door to her right and Walter followed her into a small corridor with another door with a keypad and phone next to it. She picked up the phone and pressed in a passcode, then hung up. Soon after from above, he heard a loud clunk then the whirling of moving chains. About forty-five seconds later he heard another clunk behind the door followed by a loud buzz. The hostess then opened the door and pulled apart manual, antique, elevator doors. Blood-red light came pouring out along with “Station to Station” by David Bowie from a coffin-box-sized lift.
“Your elevator to Hell, Mister Smith,” the hostess said.
“Shouldn’t I be going the other direction?” Walter quipped as he loaded himself into the tiny cage which felt and looked more like an old carnival ride than an elevator.
“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” she said and shut him in.
She closed the door and soon the machinery whirled up again, and after a jerky ride to the top, the elevator opened onto a red-flushed foyer where the music was playing louder. In the foyer were two plush leather armchairs and a couch with a table, and directly across from the elevator, two double doors with a fob sensor next to them. Walter waved the fob Dug had given him over the sensor, and hearing the lock unlatch, he pushed the doors open.
On the other side was a spacious and octagonal bedroom cascaded in gentle blue light with black crush velvet walls. Ringing the room were a myriad of mirrors, each getting a different angle on the elevated stage dead center of the room, throning an oversized bed, low to the ground and wrapped in black satin. In one corner behind the bed stood a half-open wardrobe closet, exhibiting presumably Mags’s tools of the trade: whips, paddles, leather masks, and an assortment of other stainless steel devices similar to the one in Dug’s ass, and in the other corner, a liquor cabinet with two backed barstool chairs.
Closing the doors behind him, Walter found they sealed tightly and the room became dead silent. “Hello?” he said just to affirm he was alone. The velvet walls sopped up his voice. “Hello!” he said louder, but it made no difference.
He then went to the bedroom bathroom, combing every corner and drawer for Mags’s prescription, but he only found condoms and lubes along with what looked to be toiletry supplies for one female person. The only other door in the bedroom went into a large, walk-in closet. Turning on the light and walking inside, he picked up the faint scent of Shiva, and found the source to be a white nightgown. He took it off its hanger and clutched it to his face. A thousand excited memories lit up behind his eyes.
“Where are you?!” he screamed into it.
He then hung the gown back up, and as he did, something fell out of its pocket. He knelt down and found an Ace of Cups tarot card, and after checking his wallet, he realized it was the same tarot card Shiva had given him, or it must’ve been because the Ace of Cups that was in his wallet was now missing.
Adding it to the growing list of strange and unexplainable things, he put the card in his wallet, then returned his attention to a minor separation he noticed at the back of the closet when he was kneeling. Upon further investigation, he discovered the separation was actually part of a crude door cut into the drywall. He pressed it open, but only found an empty crawlspace, the walls of which were riddled with pinholes from décor that must’ve once been tacked to them. Crawling into the crawlspace, the scent became stronger. Shiva must’ve been here at one time.
Continuing to search the bedroom, he at last found the prescription in a drawer of the liquor cabinet along with several empty coke vials. Seeing as he was there to deliver them anyway, he restocked the drawer, emptying the entire paper bag.
“Good,” a voice then said from across the room. Walter looked up frightened, but it was just the hostess.
“Oh, it’s just you,” he said. “How’d you get in here? I didn’t hear the elevator.”
“You can’t hear anything outside this room, and nothing inside this room can be heard outside. But also, there is a secret stair behind the fetish cabinet to the cabaret’s backstage. Not many people know but me. It was sealed in the walls when they put a garbage shoot in . . . I want you to follow me downstairs, then I want you to leave out the backstage exit. Leave the bike here.”
“Dug would kill me. And I didn’t come here just to make a delivery. I also had a pickup.”
“They are already dead. The Suboxone won’t help them now.”
“W-what? How did you know—how do you know?”
“Believe me, I know dead.”
The hostess stepped forward from her shadowy corner near the “fetish cabinet”. As she came closer, however, Walter began to see it wasn’t her. It was the hostess he saw last week, her supposedly dead sister.
“Okay, what is going on?” he said. “Is someone fucking with me? Seriously, what is this? This isn’t funny anymore.”
“Calm down. I’m not the first dead person you have seen, not by far. But don’t bother telling anyone. They won’t believe you. Now let’s go. You need to leave for Paris as soon as possible.”
“Yes. That is where you told Shiva to meet you, isn’t it?”
“Yes of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because I needed you here first. But you must go now. You don’t want to be tangled up in what will follow.”
“What will follow?”
“Right now, you. You will follow me downstairs and get the hell out of Hell. After that, it’s Fate’s decision.”
“You mean Beatrice?”
The ghost hostess smirked. “Who’s Beatrice?” she said still smiling.
“I don’t know. Who are you? Really, who are you? And don’t give me the ‘I am no one because I am not one’ spiel.”
“Fine. My name is Maria. But if you really want to know who I am, look behind you.”
Walter turned around and only saw his reflection in a large mirror behind him.
He followed Maria behind the fetish cabinet into the secret door which then led to a spiraled stairwell drilled through eight floors of darkness. Fortunately her voice and a handrail were there to guide him, and the deeper they went, the louder the stage music grew, a strange, organ-grinder-like tune she began singing along to.
Welcome my friend to a place with no life
Where time flays itself out in such vibrant rhyme
The music you hear is your helping guide
Sundered seconds so hard to define
Not of birth or death but of some grand unfolding of time
Hold onto that tether, you don’t want to lose your mind
Scripture becomes universal truth
Perverted and diluted as it flows through the mazes of you
Carving out canyons now crystallized in time
Hold on baby, hold onto that mind
The music then passed overhead right before they hit bottom. It was then Walter realized he wasn’t backstage, but below stage, and Maria was no longer with him.
Feeling his way along the wall for a light switch, he came across a door instead leading to a ramped tunnel at the end of which was the dim outline of a door. He opened it and found two dumpsters in a back alley. Coming out from the alley, he came upon the urinal again, and from there he headed to Dug’s, Suboxone still in his pocket just in case Maria was lying. But when he arrived at the apartment complex, it was surrounded by police tape and onlookers.
“What happened?” Walter asked one of them.
“They say a boyfriend and girlfriend who were running a drug operation were found dead. They think the boyfriend choked after a heroin overdose, and when the girlfriend woke up and found him, she shot herself. The gunshot was what made the neighbors call the police. Crazy world.”
“Yes, crazy world.”