I was in my office picking some leftover lunch from my grill with a .38 casing, wondering where my next case was gonna come from, when the door swung open and a familiar story waltzed in.
Bartleby? she asked.
It’s on the door, ain’t it. I said. And who’s askin’?
Madison, she said.
Nice town, I said.
I wouldn’t know, she said, nearing my desk with sharp stiletto snaps on cold linoleum. I need your help, she whispered.
Don’t they all, I said.
Heard you were the kind of man to heed the call, she said, lowering herself onto my desk like two heaps of the finest vanilla ice cream onto a plate.
Already this smelled of a case I took last year when a similar femme séduisanteinterrupted a high-stakes game of solitaire.
I was keen to her type’s ancient racket of rotten tricks; and not the Halloween kind of Tomfoolery that’ll get your yard cloaked in Quilted Northern, but the Siren kind that’ll turn a wholesome life into a den of regrets. Turns out the Priest was right: I’m no saint. Beside, I prefer leaving any restraint to the fuzz.
The semblance between the two gave me vertigo as this fresh one neared my desk.
What’s that fragrance, doll? I asked.
Lavender and lust, she said.
Convenient, I thought.
She propped herself up with arms bare and white as Spring poplars. The dark bolt of her cleavage turned into the wet macadam avenue I’d watched my wife split down last year, divorce papers swirling into lawns and open garages. Neighbors, like blood-hungry spectators at a Gladiatorial duel, watched as my life was torn apart. I’d be a dope not to admit I envy the way they’ve swaddled themselves in ritual and faith. Then I laughed at the image of the two of us, my wife and I, careening down that same avenue, only the other way, in the same car a few months earlier with cans and ribbons dangling off the trunk, Just Hitched smeared in polish on every window; it was a grand sight.
Now, with that bosomy avenue pinching my face, I couldn’t hear or think. My heart had gone all pugilistic on me, pounding my plexus with a fury only matched by the likes of Pacquiao.
No, sugar. I ain’t returning to Egypt, I said.
She wasn’t backing down. I didn’t expect her to, but God as my witness, I felt hell’s fire under my feet.
He’ll only know if you leak it, she said.
Yeah? I said, I’m not in the racket of taking risks without something to cover the fallout.
She pulled a worn out C-note from her purse and spread it on the desk, keeping the edges taut and firm between her pink fingers. Heat again, this time in my billfold. A dollop of lipstick in the shape of two of the finest smackers I’ve ever seen was fiercely emblazoned over a dead man’s face. It was a good look for ole Benny.
I shot a glare into her bright lights. Hazel with a tinge of chestnut. Christ, I thought, I’m done for.
My ticker slowed into heavier, somber thuds.
This ain’t right, I said.
I poured myself a slug of apple juice, gestured a lick to the trick.
She looked at me and shriveled her plum lips.
Helps the gout, I said.
She obliged, then threw it back like she’d done all this before.
Who cares anyway, Barty? she said. Ain’t life short?