Beat to a Pulp: Round Two

I’ve been waiting for this for months: Beat to a Pulp’s second short story collection is now on sale! The editors, David Cranmer and Matthew Mayo, rounded up many of the usual suspects — Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, Chris F. Holm, Sean Chercover, Jake Hinkson, Patti Abbott, Glenn Gray, Matthew McBride, Steve Weddle, Keith Rawson, Charles Ardai and Vicki Hendricks, to name a few — and put together a knockout of an anthology. They’ve also included an awesome intro by Sophie Littlefield and a terrific essay on pulp art by Cullen Gallagher. Since James O’Barr did such a phenomenal job on the cover of Round One, it’s great to have him back for Round Two.

It’s an honor to be able to say that my short story “A Special Kind of Hell” is in BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND TWO. This is a new story that I wrote specifically for the collection. Sophie, in her intro, says, “Hilary Davidson’s prose burns so clean you barely notice until it’s too late in ‘A Special Kind of Hell.'” (Given how much I love Sophie’s prose, I take that as a huge compliment.) Here’s the opening of the story:


“You understand this isn’t about sex, don’t you, honey?”

Paige hated it when her husband called her honey. It sounded so insincere as it rolled off his tongue. She bit the soft tissue of the wall of her cheek to tamp down her anger. “Yes,” she muttered.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this?”

“I’ve told you a hundred times. What more do you want from me, Derek?”

Her husband sighed and glanced around the bistro. It was late Tuesday afternoon and the place was empty except for the staff. Paige wondered what they thought of the fortyish couple refusing to relinquish their corner table. She caught their loaded looks as they set tables for the dinner crowd, murmuring subversively in Spanish.

“Dr. Shapiro says it’s a bad idea for me to go through with it if you’re not okay with it,” Derek said.

She gulped her third glass of chardonnay. It was an amazing trick Derek had pulled on her, really. He was forcing her to give him permission to indulge a twisted fantasy. If she didn’t do it, she was a bad wife. A fetish needs an outlet, Dr. Shapiro had told them when they’d gone for counseling. You can’t think them away. They need a channel so that you can have a satisfying life as a couple.

Bullshit, Paige had thought at the time. She hadn’t changed her mind about that. “I don’t understand why you want a dominatrix to torture you.” Her face flushed as the words gushed out.

“Dr. Shapiro explained it to you, didn’t he, Paige?” He took a sip of club soda, then steepled his fingers, taking on the serious, steady demeanor he assumed in front of juries when speaking on behalf of his shady clients. “Every day, literally hundreds of people look to me to take care of them. My employees, my clients. Charities I support…”

“I’m the one who helps charities,” Paige said.

“With my money.” Derek’s voice was even. “Our money, of course. But I’m the one who has to go out and earn it. I have so many people depending on me. Think of what the kids’ schools cost.”

That jolted Paige. Everything had seemed fine between her and Derek when the kids were at home. But then Derek had insisted on shipping them off to Swiss academies. Once it was just the two of them at home, minus the sunshine and cover the kids provided, Derek’s darker desires had flourished like poisonous plants. “But you’re the one who insisted…”

“I’m in control twenty-four seven, and it’s exhausting. I’m not complaining about how I live my life, but I need a release,” Derek went on. “You understand the dominatrix and I aren’t going to have sex, right? That’s why the dungeons are legal, by the way. No sex. You can legally hire someone to beat you with a whip, so long as there’s no sexual contact.”

Paige hated the way he slithered behind lawyerly arguments when discussing something personal. Did he really think that highlighting the technicalities of a morals law was going to make her comfortable with the fact her husband was going to go into a dark room with some leather-clad woman with a whip? Paige couldn’t put her finger on the part that bothered her the most. Her personal trainer liked to talk about trigger points in the body, and Paige felt that a bunch of hers were being hammered at the same time.

“I just don’t understand…” Paige started to say, but Derek had already opened his wallet and dropped several bills on the table.

“This doesn’t have to be a big deal, Paige, unless you make it one. This is about satisfying my needs.”

“But what about my needs?”

He stood without answering that. “Look, my appointment’s at three. I want to be on time.”

He meant his session at the dungeon, of course. It didn’t matter how she felt; he was going no matter what she said.

“Let me put you in the car.” Derek took her elbow. That made her feel older suddenly, like someone’s maiden auntie. “You’ve had a lot to drink.”

“I can get to the car.” She pushed him away.

Derek called his driver. Finally, the black town car turned the corner and double-parked in front of the bistro. Derek stepped off the curb and opened the door for her.

Paige started to get in. “Why did you tell me, Derek? Why didn’t you just do it quietly? I probably never would’ve known.”

Derek gave her that flat, broad smile that worked on juries. “I couldn’t keep secrets from you, honey.” He nudged her into the car and shut the door. When she turned to look at him, he was already on the sidewalk, his shoulders squared and his step swift, as if he couldn’t wait to get where he was headed.

“Home, ma’am?” the driver asked.

“Yes, please.” Paige sat back and rubbed her eyes. Had it really come to this? Seventeen years of marriage to a man who secretly craved dungeon paddlings? Whips and chains? A ball gag? Paige wasn’t even completely certain of the nature of his cravings. A couple of sessions at Dr. Shapiro’s townhouse hadn’t enlightened her about that. The doctor talked mostly about how trust is the most important thing in a relationship and how you have a responsibility to satisfy your partner, even if their desires don’t match up with yours.

I’ve been doing that for years, Paige had said.

I’m sure you think you have, the shrink told her.

*          *          *

BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND TWO is available from Amazon. If you’ve read “A Special Kind of Hell” and want to see the paintings by John Waterhouse that are mentioned in the story, I’ve created a Pinterest board about them, with links to the museums for more information. Happy reading!

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