This excerpt is reprinted by permission from The Baltimore Atrocities (Coffee House Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by John Dermot Woods.
FIRST IN LINE AT THE PEEPSHOW
Down on Baltimore Street, after spending several daylight hours at a bar, two college friends, who had attended the University of Maryland in their younger years, entered an adult entertainment arcade and stood before a live peepshow booth. Despite being slightly embarrassed, they both agreed that the women available were remarkably beautiful, and they assured each other that sensuality this rare was worth paying for. They both chose the same small dark-haired woman to watch, and, so as not to seem overly eager or perverse, they also both insisted that the other go first. At last they agreed that the married man, who, as such, was the more desperate of the two, should enter the private booth first. He was astounded by what the woman showed him when they were behind the curtain. He stumbled from the booth delirious with pleasure. But his bachelor friend began to sob once he himself was behind the curtain, a sob that slowly became a violent choking sound. The married man threw open the curtain to find his friend’s lifeless body before him, while the naked woman still performed, her eyes closed, unaware of what had happened on the other side of the glass. The man who survived, and whom we met one late night at a bar, said he still often thinks about this moment and wonders what his friend saw in the woman’s dance that he himself did not.
As Christmas approached during our year in Baltimore, our neighbor said she hoped it wouldn’t be as horrifying as last year’s holiday, when a particular party ended in tragedy. Apparently, the aging daughter of one of the oldest and richest families in Baltimore had spent most of her adult life as a total recluse, but decided that particular Christmas Eve she would host a gala celebration at the family estate. The night would include cocktails, a seven-course dinner, and dancing to music performed by a chamber group made up of members of the Peabody Concert Orchestra. Whether it was due to anxiety or a desire for control, the hostess positioned herself on a balcony above the drawing room and watched the party from there for almost one hour before entering. When she did come down, she revealed a stun gun, which she used to shock any partygoers who, in her estimation, were either boring, haughty, or sullen. Unlike a normal stun gun, it was later revealed that hers had been modified to deliver a lethal shock. When midnight came and the holiday party was over, the only guests remaining were those whom she had shocked, and therefore lay dead on the ballroom floor or upright at the dining table. Perhaps the most unsettling, yet impressive, reality of the evening was the fact that the chamber group and the waitstaff refused to allow the misfortune to distract them and remained dedicated to their duties, playing every piece until the last and serving every single one of the seven delicious courses.