Monday, March 2, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 049 - Al Tucher


Originally published in a different form in Crime Zine (Australia, mate!)

“Take the money out and toss it on the bed.”

Diana looked at the client. He was the same man who had met her at the mall and passed her inspection.

The same, only different. If he had revealed this hatred of everything female earlier, they wouldn’t be together in a cheap motel room now.

She didn’t need to check behind her. The door was too far away. He would have her by the throat before she made it outside.

I blew this one big time, she thought.

He still looked average. He didn’t have the kind of ugliness that made her think it had started on the inside and worked its way out. He wasn’t handsome enough to make her suspect corruption at his core. He looked dangerous. Maybe that was what made him average.

Jim. That was his name.

She scolded herself for wasting time. Why did she care what his name was?

“I earned that money,” she said.

“Shut up,” he said. “Open the bag and get my two hundred. Do it, and you walk out of here.”


Her bag rested on the bed. She reached into it and felt around. There was one of the items she needed. The problem was, she needed both hands in the bag, and he might wonder what she was doing.

“How do you know I don’t have a gun in here?” she said.

He smirked.

“You don’t. You’re not the type.”

“You’re right.”

She smiled agreeably as she stuck her other hand into the bag. She could see him relax a little. That was his problem.

In the bag was a used condom from a morning date. For years she had been carrying these little trophies away and laughing at herself as she did it. She had always considered it some kind of childish revenge on the male of the species. Who knew she might be glad to have a bag of semen handy?

She held the condom still with her left hand. With her right she searched for her nail scissor. It had a habit of jabbing her when she looked for something else. So where was it now? In a moment Jim would wonder what was so hard about finding an envelope with ten twenty-dollar bills.

There was the scissor, and she hadn‘t even stabbed herself with it. She cut the condom just under the knot she had tied.

“Here,” said Diana.

She cocked her arm and threw the condom into his face. Her weekend softball experience paid off. He saw it coming and started to duck, but too late. He gasped and clawed at his face as semen ran down his cheek.

She turned to go, but at the door she changed her mind. Some insurance would be a good idea, and what the hell. It would also make her feel better. She walked back to him. With her stiletto heel she kicked the fat part of his left calf. He screamed as his leg buckled and dumped him on the floor. He rubbed his face with one hand and his leg with the other.

“Stings like a bitch, doesn’t it?” she said. “I found that out early on, before I got smart about facials. I don’t do them.”

Semen in the eyes did sting, but she also understood that her real weapon was his gay terror. He was that kind of man. She decided to make things worse for him.

“You know, I’ve been wondering about him for a while--the guy I got that condom from. I think he might have AIDS. You should get tested. You know how you can get a cold by rubbing your eyes? Just imagine what HIV can do.”

She turned and let herself out of the room.

She walked. She didn’t need the attention that running would attract, and he was unlikely to come after her. He would stand under the shower for an hour, and it would take him even longer to stop panicking and start thinking. Then he would still have to get dressed.

So she walked around the corner of the building and stopped to look at her new Maxima. It was the gift of a client who got to see her once a week for the next three years. The car had been hers for only a few days but the pleasure of seeing it would take longer to wear off. So would the comfort of the driver’s seat and the excitement she felt when the engine caught and roared softly.

The road back to her home in Driscoll was an old rural highway. It had become inadequate twenty years earlier, and now it was a major bottleneck during the rush hour. Property owners were still fighting the state of New Jersey over public domain. Nobody expected the promised straightening and widening to happen soon.

Ahead of her the road curved several times to evade phantom obstacles. No one could remember what had once been in the way. Oncoming vehicles often strayed over the center line, but today the danger came from the rear. One moment Diana was alone in the dark. The next she had someone’s high beams in her mirror. She would have moved to the right, but the road had no shoulder. She hoped the other driver wouldn’t try to pass.

You‘re just going to have to wait, she thought.

Instead, the driver closed the gap and tapped the Maxima’s rear bumper. Diana felt a moment of panic that she decided to put off for later. She turned the wheel left and then right. The car responded precisely.

Good thing, she thought.

Some of the junkers she had driven would already have gone off the road.

The other car had fallen back a little, but it came at her again. This time the impact was more than a tap. Before Diana could compensate for the jolt, her right wheels were bouncing on the uneven ground at the edge of the blacktop. She turned hard, but not too hard. The wheels found the road. She gave the car more gas and again won some distance.

The road curved to the left. The other car accelerated. Diana waited until the last moment before the impact. Her timing was perfect. The road made a such a sharp angle to the right that the posted speed limit was only twenty miles per hour. Diana stepped hard on the gas and wrenched the wheel. Her car bounced across the grass in the angle. The other driver also accelerated, expecting to knock her off the road. But Diana wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

She regained the road. She spared a moment to watch in her mirror, as the other car shot off the highway to the left. The headlights bounced as the car covered the rough ground beside the road. Diana told herself to relax, but adrenaline kept her right leg rigid. The gas pedal stayed mashed against the floor.

A different kind of light appeared in her mirror--the red and blue flashing kind.

Of course, she thought. What else?

Then she was telling her story to a uniformed officer. He listened respectfully enough. She couldn’t tell whether he recognized her name and knew what she did for a living.

“Okay, ma’am,” he said. “All I saw was you speeding. I’ll have to write you the ticket, but I will include your statement in the report.”

He drove off without asking her who the other driver might be. That was good. If the topic of Jim didn’t come up, she wouldn’t have to talk about her business with him.

But when she reached her rented house in Driscoll, she saw that the officer hadn’t neglected the question. He had kicked it upstairs.

As usual, she had parked several blocks from her home. If a client recognized her car, he still wouldn’t know exactly where she lived. That left the curb in front of her house free for Detective Tillotson. He climbed out of his car and let her come to him.

“I didn’t know that was Lakeview,” she said.

“Just for a quarter mile or so. We like to sit there and pick on people from Witherspoon.”

He was trying to be agreeable. He knew she had problems with the Witherspoon police.

They stood and looked at each other for a moment.

“Aren’t you cold?” he said.

She was, but she shrugged. She didn’t want to invite him in tonight.

He shrugged back.

She expected him to ask her directly about her assailant. Then she would have to lie to him and say she had no idea who it was. If she accused Jim, he might retaliate by helping the cops build a prostitution case against her. She had helped Tillotson in the past. He would prefer to leave her alone, but if a case came looking for him, he would have to follow it up.

But he surprised her.

“Got a call from the Witherspoon cops. They told me a story about one James Scourby, hourly guest at the Royal Motel. Seems he stayed past checkout and wouldn’t vacate or pay up.”

They looked at each other some more, until he decided to go on.

“Okay, first the uniforms find him lying on the bed and moaning about AIDS. Then you get a ticket on the route back from the Royal. Anything you want to tell me?”

So Jim couldn’t have been the driver of the other car. Diana felt so surprised that she almost answered the question.

“I know the Royal,” she said.

“I know you know it. That’s why I’m asking about this evening.”

She shrugged. He looked annoyed.

“I’m trying to help you out here,” he said.

“I’m okay.”

It was exhausting. She hadn’t asked for his help, or for an opportunity to make him angry with her.

“Your friend Jim is a bad boy,” he said. “We think he’s beaten up a couple of other girls. They wouldn’t cooperate, though. You I figured for smarter.”

“He didn’t beat me up. I mean, take a look.”

Damn, she thought.

She had just admitted that she had been with Jim.

Tillotson waved her concern away.

“You know me,” he said. “I’m a realist. I just want to keep things low-key. But I thought you were a realist, too. If you start thinking you can cooperate when you feel like it and blow me off the rest of the time, well, then you’re just another perp. Well?”

She said nothing.

“Okay. Next time, just eat the ticket and don’t try to talk your way out of it.”

She had already reached that conclusion.

He turned away from her. A moment later, he drove off.

Diana knew what to do next, but it would have to wait until the next day.

She left the house before seven o’clock the next morning. It didn’t bother her. In spite of her line of work, she was a morning person. Partying with clients until dawn took much more out of her than getting up early.

She knew where to go. She had clients who paid their two hundred dollars and then spent most of the hour talking about their wives. Sometimes she felt like telling them that a marriage counselor would be more effective and cheaper in the long run. A good bartender would pour advice for free. In this case, she had even seen a photo of the wife. The client had cornered her with it. She also knew that the woman’s name was Jessica.

Diana parked in front of Witherspoon High School and waited. Soon, she saw Jessica emerge from another Maxima. Diana winced. The wife’s car looked about ten years old.

Jessica was an attractive brunette in her forties. Diana wondered about clients married to women like this one, but she didn’t wonder too hard. It might jinx her business.

She climbed out of her car and timed her progress to meet the other woman on the sidewalk. She saw that Jessica recognized her.

“Did you come to give me my car?”

“I came for two things,” said Diana. “Number one, to tell you it’s my car, and I plan to keep it. I made a business deal, and I’m living up to my part of it.”

She saw the other woman deflate.

“Number two, your issue is with your husband, not me. If it helps, you could just look at me as somebody he does business with.”

“Oddly enough,” said Jessica, “that doesn’t help at all.”

She studied Diana.

“I don’t get it. He pays you to put his thing where all those other men have put theirs. Why is that worth money to him?”

“For starters, you could learn to call it something other than his ‘thing.’”

“I doubt that will solve it.”

“Why are we talking about this?”

“Because I need to know. I need to understand my husband before I lose my marriage. What I know about men you could fit in your eye, so help me out here.”

An image of Jim rubbing his eyes came to Diana. She stifled a laugh.

“What’s funny?” said Jessica.

Diana groped for something to say.

“That was some pretty impressive driving last night.”

Jessica smiled, surprising both of them.

“Thanks. It was kind of a rush.”

“How did you find me?”

“You’re easy to follow.”

Then Jessica remembered who this other woman was and dropped the sisterhood.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Okay. They pay me for the same reason I plan to buy my next car myself. It keeps things simple. Does that help?”

She doubted it. What Diana knew about marriage she could fit in her eye, but she didn’t think you could keep it simple.

“No,” said Jessica. “It doesn’t.”

Diana decided she was tired of the topic.

“Don’t come after me again. Or I won’t let it go.”

“Next time maybe you won’t see me coming,” said Jessica. “Think about that.”

She maneuvered around Diana on the sidewalk and started up the walkway to the school.

Damn, Diana thought. And I was worried about some john.

BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of over twenty 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.


sandra seamans said...

Good one, Al! Diana has more trouble with wives than johns.

Mike Wilkerson said...

The story, coupled with your sentence structure/style- it burns the house down!

Paul Brazill said...

Another cracking story Al.