ROSE PETAL HARD - ALBERT TUCHER
“You’re in for a treat,” said the client. “This is the hottest thing ever.”
Diana looked up at him from the bathtub. Long experience kept her smile bright, even as she groaned inwardly. This situation was her own fault. She had told him a thousand dollars, five times her hourly rate. but he had agreed to it without blinking.
He tipped the plastic bottle, and the stream of baby oil started toward her. It landed on her chest just below her throat and trickled between her breasts, down her abdomen, and into her landing strip. At least the oil was warm. It reminded her of a massage that she had once bought in Atlantic City.
She told herself to hold that thought, and worry about the mess later.
“Now for the piece de resistance,” he said.
She wasn’t sure of the correct pronunciation, but he didn’t have it.
The client reached down for the Shop Rite bag next to his feet. He held it open with left hand, while his right rummaged inside and came out with a handful of rose petals. He started sprinkling them over her.
“Yes, yes,” she said. “Do it! Do it!”
She writhed in simulated ecstasy. Some of the oil had spread under her ass, which made it easier for her to slide around. Most of the petals pasted themselves to her skin. Those that stuck to the tub or the floor would make a nasty job for the maid.
He went into the bag for another handful. This time some of the petals landed on her head. She wondered how to get rid of them without rubbing oil into her hair.
But soon she had another problem. She could feel it building like a rumbling oil gusher in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. A moment later she wanted nothing more than to claw her skin off. Nothing in her experience had ever itched like this combination of baby oil and rose petals.
The client stopped to admire his work.
“If you want to come, that would be fantastic,” he said.
“Yes! Yes!” she moaned as she pretended to masturbate.
What was so arousing about this scenario? In her line of work she often had to play along without getting the idea, but the clients never seemed to notice.
Soon he would want her to stand up and bend over while he entered her from behind. She wondered how to brace herself and avoid slipping in the oil.
The phone rang.
“Fuck,” he said. “I have to take this.”
She kept an agreeable expression on her face. After ten years of hooking it no longer surprised her when a man turned away from her to handle business. Money beat sex every time.
She kept squirming. It helped distract her from the itching.
He went through the door to the living room of the suite, where she could see the phone on the desk. A few petals came loose from his hands and fluttered their way to the floor.
“You’re early,” he said, “Yeah, I’m here, but I’m busy.”
“What can’t wait a few fucking minutes?”
“Okay, okay. You stay there, and I’ll bring it. Just be ready with the money. The meter is running up here.”
It wasn’t running fast enough for Diana. Not only was the itch becoming unbearable, but her muscles were screaming for relief. She was supporting herself on her elbows to avoid lying flat in the puddle of baby oil. Her back would be especially hard to wash off .
He came back into the bathroom wearing the dark gray trousers to his suit and his white shirt, unbuttoned.
“Hold that thought,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
“We did say an hour,” she reminded him.
He had forty-two minutes left. It wasn’t her style to watch the clock that strictly, but she didn’t usually want to gouge her skin off, either.
He left the bathroom again, and she heard his feet swishing on the carpet. The bed creaked slightly as he sat to tie his shoes. Then the door to the hall opened and closed, leaving her in silence.
Her bag sat on the lid of the toilet tank, where she could keep an eye on it. It held the white envelope with her money. She looked again at her watch, and told herself to stop checking the time so often. She started to clench and unclench her fists to distract her fingers from what they wanted to do to her skin. Her next client wouldn’t appreciate it if she showed up looking as if she had crawled through a sticker bush.
But it was impossible to keep her eyes off her watch, as the hands crept around. Finally she was counting the last seconds until four. By four o’clock and eight seconds she had stood upright, which nearly made her feet shoot out from under her.
Careful, she thought. It’s slippery down there.
Diana didn’t like to shower on the client’s premises, but this time she couldn’t dress until she had scrubbed herself. It would be awkward if the client came back right now, but she knew how to be blunt. This date was over.
It took her ten minutes and three soap and rinse cycles to feel ready to dry off and dress. Once she had her stilettos on, she felt almost human.
She made sure she had everything and left the room. The door closed behind her, and the lock clicked.
The twin elevators were at the other end of the hall. In a recess to the right of them was the door to the stairwell. Diana looked both ways but saw no one. She went down the hall and pressed the call button, but as the bell signaled the arrival of the car, she changed her mind and made for the stairs. It would be awkward if the elevator doors opened on the client.
When she reached the ground floor, she pushed the door open a crack and looked around. She saw quite a few people, but no one she wanted to avoid.
Something was happening. Tension jangled in the air, as Diana crossed the lobby and left the hotel through the revolving front door.
The commotion outside confused her for a moment. An ambulance and several police cars had parked at various angles. All of the vehicles flashed their lights for maximum drama. Uniformed police officers waited for orders or strode around looking important.
Two men formed the centerpiece of the action. One wore a suit. He stood as if he had done a lot of standing and waiting. The other man lay flat on the pavement of the curved driveway.
The man on the ground was Diana’s client. He didn’t look good. In fact, he looked dead. A body with life in it couldn’t surrender so completely to gravity.
The man in the suit her spotted her. She looked back. They had never met, but they needed no introduction. She recognized him as a cop, and he took in her business attire and oversized bag and knew what she did in hotels.
At the moment Diana didn’t care. He had more important things to worry about than her. But as she turned right and headed for the parking deck, something tickled the back of her neck. Absentmindedly she inserted her hand under her hair and flicked the annoyance away. It fluttered to the ground.
“Hold it,” said the detective.
At first she didn’t realize he meant her.
“I said, stop.”
She stopped. He pointed at the ground. A rose petal that she had missed in the shower had chosen this moment to complicate her life.
“ID,” said the detective.
“In my bag.”
He nodded. She dug for her wallet and extracted her license.
“How many arrests?”
“Sure about that?”
“I think I’d remember.”
“What's in New Brunswick that you couldn't get in Sussex County? It must be eighty miles.”
“A big payday.”
“What do you drive?”
“Ninety-seven Maxima. Here’s the reg.”
He read it pocketed both documents. “Stay there. And I mean right there.”
She waited, and waited some more. He gave instructions to the uniformed officers, who started canvassing onlookers and hotel employees who might have witnessed something. A van arrived, carrying a man and a woman in identical white coveralls. The detective conferred with the newcomers.
Finally an aging Camry brought a middle-aged man, who crouched over the body, looked up, and said, “He’s dead.”
“Okay,” said the detective, “let’s go see if that Maxima is what you’re driving today.”
Full cooperation was the only way to get her license and registration back. She led him to the parking deck and up the stairs to the second level. She had backed into the space, in case she needed to make a quick getaway.
The detective examined her front bumper and fenders, which were still showroom-perfect.
“Wish I could afford a Maxima,” he said.
“A client brought it for me. He gets three years of free dates.”
She hadn’t told him anything that he couldn’t find out.
“Does it look like I ran anybody over?” she said.
He didn’t seem ready to give up on such a convenient suspect. She decided to nudge him a little.
“So I guess I drove across half the state, got hold of another car, waited for an opportunity that might or not come, and then just hung around?”
“That rose petal places you with him.”
“I take it he had some on him?”
The detective said nothing.
“I was with him, but I got paid, and I left,” she said.
“What’s with the flower show?”
She shrugged and explained the client’s fetish. The detective grinned suddenly.
“Shit. That’s hot.”
“What, you too?”
She shook her head.
“Every time I think I understand the male of the species, something like this comes up.”
“Anything else happen up there? What room, by the way?”
“Six-thirteen. He got a phone call and left in the middle.”
“What was it about?”
“Some kind of deal. I guess the other guy didn’t like the way it went.”
“You sure it was a man he was talking to?”
“Definitely. I know guys like him. They only do business with men. Other than my kind of business, that is.”
The detective took her through it several times and then seemed to lose interest.
“You can go. If you think of anything, call me.”
He handed her his card with her documents. She noted his name, Paulsen, and stowed the card in her suit coat pocket.
Now Diana wondered what to do with the rest of her day. She put off the decision by going back to the hotel and using the restroom in the lobby. As she washed her hands, she decided on a modest splurge in the hotel bar. Closer to home she wouldn’t have risked encountering a man she had just been naked with, but her entire New Brunswick client list had just been hit by a car.
In the bar the single woman’s dilemma confronted her. She almost turned around and left, because only two adjacent stools were free. She could sit next to a forty-something blonde, leaving her left flank exposed to any man who was feeling lucky, or she could move one place to the left and tempt a thirty-ish man in a Brooks Brothers suit. She chose the woman.
The bar had Newcastle Brown ale on tap. It made her glad she had stayed, but only for a moment.
“What do you charge for the rose petal thing?” said the woman on her right.
“That’s it,” Diana said. “I quit. I hope I remember how to wait tables, because that’s what I’m going to have to do.”
The bartender looked at her the way he would eye two men in an escalating argument.
“I’m supposed to be the pro here, and I’m the last person on earth to hear about this thing. And I still don’t get it.”
“I don’t get it either,” said the woman. “I just know he wanted it.”
Diana turned and looked. The woman had a few extra pounds, but all in the right places. She would turn her share of heads.
“You’re his wife,” said Diana. “You knew about that little kink of his.”
“I would have done it for him, but he wasn’t interested.”
“You know,” said Diana, “I used to worry that wives could put me out of business. Just play along and do the stuff I do. But I found out that it doesn’t work that way.”
The woman nodded. “It doesn’t count if it’s your wife.”
“I could have sworn he was talking to a man up there,” Diana said.
“He was. I paid a bellhop to make the call.”
“What was your husband up to?”
“Corporate espionage, I guess you’d call it. He was selling his company out.”
“How do you know that?”
“Please. What kind of wife doesn’t know her husband’s passwords?”
“Were you planning to run him over?”
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. It came as kind of a surprise.”
Diana almost said that a cheater and thief didn’t sound like much of a bargain, but she stopped herself. Some women stood by their men no matter what.
Until one day they didn’t anymore.
“I’ve just been sitting here waiting for the police,” said the wife. “I guess they can’t believe whoever hit him didn’t try to get away.”
“They’re not the only ones.”
The woman shrugged.
“So what’s the plan?” said Diana.
“Finish my drink. Then I’ll go home and wait for them there.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of (now) nineteen published stories and four unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. Like most authors of hardboiled crime fiction, he is a librarian in his day job.