We were at the special point in our relationship: We'd just dropped the L-bombs, and in the aftermath, we wanted only to stay in bed and screw ourselves raw. Problem was, we were sleeping in the spare room at my parents' house for the holidays. We wanted to mate like chimps, howling and shrieking, busting the bedsprings and knocking holes in the wall with the top of our heads. Instead, each time we made love, it was a muted affair, like a teenager miming a Keith Moon solo on a pillow-stuffed snare-drum.
So, I planned the nearly perfect getaway. Vicky's British, and this was her first trip to the States. (New York City doesn't count.) She wanted the real, beef-jerky America. If Phoenix is its sprawling consumerist facade, then Tucson is its gritty, roadside heart.
The plan: the Hotel Congress, where they arrested Dillinger, on Psychobilly Night. While the pompadours leathered it up in the Tap Room, we'd be upstairs having kinky sex to the thumping rhythm of a stand-up bass.
I said nearly perfect. I had an ulterior motive for the trip: In the morning, I'd be attending a court hearing for Scott Nordstrom, a convicted killer sentenced to death no less than six times.
After a half-dozen U-turns thanks to the joggers, we abandoned plans for an authentic Mexican lunch in Casa Grande for Tokyo Express in Scottsdale. An hour later, we rolled up to Cinderella's dildo palace. After another hour, we'd picked out a 10-foot red silk rope and a blindfold. We screeched on to Interstate 10.
I'm making a short documentary film about Scott Nordstrom's mitigation investigator, Mary Durand. Along with partner Robert Jones, Nordstrom was convicted of six counts of first-degree murder for the highly publicized Moon Smoke Shop/Firefighters Union Hall killings in the summer of '96. Mary's job: to dig up reasons the jury should be merciful.
According to Department of Corrections records, the motive was money. The two men burst into the Moon Smoke Shop, and Jones immediately blew away a customer. Nordstrom then shot an employee in the head. Two weeks later, the men attacked the Firefighters Union Hall, executing three customers and then the bartender, when he couldn't unlock the safe.
A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, had to pass sentences in capital cases. For Nordstrom, a new sentence from a new jury meant a new chance to save his life.
The hearing would decide whether the jury could consider "residual doubt"--whether the defense could question his guilt during sentencing. The twist is, many believe the state prosecuted the wrong man. Even his mother says his younger brother David, the police's informant, was the true gunman.
That's what I should've been thinking about. But it's hard to stay focused when your girlfriend has promised you can do anything to her once she's blindfolded and knotted up.
And so, as we pass Casa Grande, I asked, "Are you sure you mean anything?"
She thought on it for a moment and clarified that humiliation and debasement could be sexy, but defilement was not.
A rock-star parking space waited for us by the back doors of the Hotel Congress. It was early evening, two hours after we'd meant to roll in. The Lurch-type concierge was hiding behind a stack of CDs.
But we couldn't screw ("skin up," as Vicky says) until I'd talked with Mary.
While I paced around our room arranging a red-eyed rendezvous in the morning, Vicky inspected the old radio that served for entertainment in lieu of a TV. She sighed to inform me she was jealous of the other woman in my life, despite the fact that Mary is a 60-year-old triple widow who curses, to be frank, like a motherfucker. Vicky hardly cusses at all, and when she does, it's some adorable Anglicism about her "fanny" or how she "can't be arsed to go out tonight."
Which was exactly what she said once we'd smoked a spliff and had a springy appetizer romp. We were too high and too impatient to bother with bondage.
"I'm knackered, David," she explained.
It was both a compliment and a disappointment. This was how it supposed to work: Next, we'd sample vodka tonics and 7&7s up and down Congress. We'd knock elbows with rockabillies, smug with the fact we were on a mission straight out of a pulp novel. Finally, I'd lead her by the hand up the carpeted stairs, throw her onto the bed, bind her wrists and ankles and do anything (but defilement).
Instead, I stormed off to the Internet cafe. An hour later, the Weekly asked me photograph a gig at the Red Room.
Campo Bravo's music was soft and mournful--No-where. No air ... No air. No-where--perfect for the moment, especially since for him, like me, the performance was a last-minute thing. The audience of four lonely men was forgiving if he wasn't in top form, and he was forgiving when we forgot to clap.
Victoria, sleepy-eyed, arrived at the end of the set. We walked back to the hotel, hardly speaking. Then we slept, back to back, with a foot of blank sheet between us where the wet spot should've been.
The Pima County Courthouse is a brick's throw from Hotel Congress. The winter morning was as bright and warm as an English summer afternoon, and Victoria was loving it.
Ten minutes later, we were sitting next to Scott Nordstrom's mother and grandmother. I balanced my digital camcorder on my knee, while Victoria wondered whether her Salvation Army cowboy boots were too casual for court.
It was a crucial day for Wendy Wasserburger's son. The jury passing the new sentence wouldn't be the same jury that convicted him. Unless the judge approved Nordstrom's motion, they'd have no idea about the grey areas in the case.
"His brother's the one who put him here, my other son," Wendy told my lens. "Scotty's innocent."
This wasn't easy for Wendy to say, nor was it easy for his grandmother to hear. She's not built for this kind of stress. She'd mounted an oxygen tank on her back and strapped the feed to her nostrils. All she could do to cope was wipe her eyes, massage her cheeks and try not to talk.
A moment later, Mary rode into the court hallway, gripping a brand-new attaché case. Wendy beamed at her presence. For the next five minutes, the conversation revolved around the bag, not because it was interesting, but because it was easy.
Judge Michael Cruikshank had Nordstrom brought into the courtroom and asked whether he minded my camera. He didn't, and I mouthed, "thank you." I thought to myself: Dave, you've just communicated with a man facing the death sentence, a convicted killer.
I was looking through the zoom lens at this point, watching Nordstrom's practiced poker face. He listened passively and calmly, with a hint of smug cynicism.
Meanwhile, Mary was hunched over a notepad in the front row. Nordstrom's family was watching Scotty from the second. Vicky was in the back row, trying her best to follow the legal dialogue. Suddenly, I was thinking about sex again, that all I wanted to do was tie her to the court pews and make her beg for her life.
And then, Judge Cruikshank blankly rejected Nordstrom's motion.
In the lobby, Nordstrom's family avoided me. But they politely came to say goodbye, and I used the opportunity to capture my reaction shot. They would only talk about his beardless face.
"In there, he can't get his hair cut--" Wendy said.
"--no access to a razor," his grandmother added.
"--he just lets it grow. Evidently he found a razor somewhere--"
"He looked so much better without it--"
"David, it was so very nice meeting you."
"God bless you and yours, honey."
They hugged me and left.
On the trip home, I took Vicky to Rooster Cogburn's, where an ostrich tried to eat her hand. She threw her cup of trail mix in its face, igniting a feeding frenzy. Back in the car, we gobbled ostrich jerky as revenge.
We used the ropes that night. Afterwards, she said the ice cubes were predictable, but the digital camera wasn't. I'd figured that out, especially when she shrieked at the flash and chomped viciously at anything that touched her lips.
But the special moment had passed. A few days later, we were back in England, and we reached that comfortable point in our relationship when she knew she could fart while I was spooning her.