When she walked through the door I saw she was armed with dangerous legs holstered in her 38 caliber hips, aimed at the floor with four inch spiked red menace looking for a target, oozing trouble like a jelly-filled donut.

I looked at her while the cigarette ash fell silently down my shirt front.  I hadn’t had a client since the bodyguard job for the celebrity skank who had fallen beneath a mob of prepubescent girls with more allowance than was good for them.  I had warned her she really needed an entire team of beefy gladiators.  They could at least draw fire from some of the autograph seekers.  But she wanted to get up close and personal with her pursuers, press the flesh with her fans.  They pressed her into a closed casket and an early grave, what was left of her.  Them and her unquenchable thirst for fame and the affection she never received as a child.  Not my fault, really, but I could still kick myself.  At least I could if my legs weren’t pinned inside the kneehole of my battered desk.  The papers called it a tragic case of teen frenzy, too real for reality TV.  I called it a fragile skank destroyed by her own neediness, and a paycheck that ended too soon.

I put my cigarette out in my coffee cup and chased it with the last shot of cheap tequila.  I watched the worm thrash violently in the instant coffee and then go belly up.  Like I would soon if I didn’t stop feeling sorry for myself and get back to work.

She sat down in the client chair in front of the desk and worked on her gum for a minute, looking around the drab fixtures of my office like she had expected worse and was disappointed.

“It says on your door you’re a private dick,” she said.  “Just how private are you?”

Her voice sounded like a squeaky front porch swing played through a kazoo, which ends up sounding like a tranquilized duck, but her dress and breasts looked expensive.  I decided to show her just how private I could be, and said nothing.

“So what,” she said, “you charge to talk?”

I’ve been in this business too long to rise to a cheap shot like that.  I’ve probably heard worse insults from cab drivers who didn’t speak English.  I leered at her.  “You talk,” I said, “I’ll listen.”

She leveled a four inch red heel menacingly at me.  “Ok, but you better keep what I tell you to yourself.  I’ve got friends downtown you know.”

“That’s all right,” I said. “I’ve got enemies downtown.  Maybe they’re the same people.”

“It don’t matter,” she said in her kazoo voice, “just hear me out and tell me if you think you can help me or not.  Don’t try to string me along, I know about men.”

I believed her.  I believed she knew things about men I would never know.  How their lips felt nuzzling your ear.  How their aftershave filled your head when you breathed in deep with your face buried in their neck.  Other stuff.

“You’re right,” I said, shaking off thoughts of aftershave and old enemies downtown. “It doesn’t matter.  Why don’t you just tell me about your problem?”

It had to be a problem of course, some bad thing that had happened, and now she wanted it fixed.  No one ever came to me before the bad thing happened… before their accountant took the money or their husband cheated on them or their prize show dog was kidnapped or the Jackson Pollock original had been mysteriously replaced with a forgery.  Except for the one I was trying to forget, except for the celebrity skank.  I clenched my teeth and tossed off the rest of the roadkill coffee.  It was a nasty business I was in, but someone had to do it.

“Spill it, sister,” I growled.  “I never betray anyone before six o’clock and it’s only half past two.”

At least that’s what the clock on the wall said.  It had been saying it for weeks now, but would anyone listen?  Not a chance.  Not in this town.  Not in a place where Jackson Pollock forgers could run free and show dogs could be abducted by waiters in ski masks and even celebrity skanks could be crushed by success in the glare of rented floodlights and where everybody had friends downtown.  Because here, downtown was everywhere.  It wasn’t a place, it was a state of mind.  If it was a place there would have to be another place, a very different kind of place, a place called uptown.  And there wasn’t.  Not here.  Not in sin city.  That was back in New York.

I wondered if the woman with the dangerous legs and 38 caliber hips knew that… knew that nothing was safe and no one could be trusted, and that what she knew about men would not save her, knew that uptown was nowhere to be found.  Except New York.

“The thing is,” she said, “I just rented the office down the hall and the super forgot to give me a key to the bathroom and I wondered if I could borrow yours because he left already and sort of watch the door while I’m in there.  I mean if you think you’re up to it, because you look kinda drunk or something and you just drank a cigarette butt and I don’t want no funny business but I really gotta go.”

Twelve year old girls ripping the piercings right out of her body and fighting over her cell phone and carving her tattoos off with their fingernails while I watched helplessly.

“Sorry,” I said, “I can’t help you.  The men’s room is out of order.  Try the third floor.  My key won’t work up there.  I go to the bar down the street.  They know me in there.”


Comments are closed.