LITTLE MISS PERFECT - AL TUCHER
“You’re about the last person I expected to hear from.”
Mary Alice studied the man across the table from her. She knew it wasn’t a friendly look that she was giving him.
“I can’t say it’s a pleasure,” she said. “But you have something I need.”
Romero nodded. The flesh under his jaw shook, and the edge of their table in Keenan’s bar cut into his gut. His huge, hairy forearms looked like two pieces of road kill on the shoulder of a highway.
She remembered that he smelled of sweat and stale tobacco. As she watched, he lit a cigarette. The cloud that he blew toward the ceiling clung to the No Smoking sign above their table. Other patrons looked sideways at him, but no one said anything.
“You know Diana Andrews?” she said.
“Heard a lot about her.”
“That’s the problem.”
“That you’ve only heard of her. She’s never had to put up with the Romero treatment. I think she should get a taste.”
“I wouldn’t mind, hot blonde like her. But the word is she’s smart.”
Mary Alice sat for a moment and savored her hatred of this man. He knew what he had just said--she wasn’t as hot or smart as Diana.
Mary Alice wasn’t a blonde, either, and it rankled. Some men told her that they loved her black hair and dark complexion, but that only made her wonder what was wrong with them.
“Maybe I can help you get next to her,” she said.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I’m sick and tired of the Little Miss Perfect act. She never gets arrested. She never gets involved with clients. They never try her once and then go to somebody else. They don’t even cancel or no-show on her.”
Mary Alice wasn’t sure about that last part, but she was enjoying her grievance too much to care about the truth.
“Okay,” he said, “you want to put her where you were last week.”
“Flat on her back under you.”
“And paying me for the privilege.”
His grin did it. Mary Alice couldn’t contain her anger.
“That was my rent, you asshole. Eight hundred dollars that I made fucking guys almost as disgusting as you. And you just put it in your fucking pocket.”
“You didn’t have to pay up. You could have taken the bust and gone to jail.”
“That’s some fucking choice.”
“You run a business. Every business has expenses.”
Mary Alice clamped down on her anger. She wasn’t going to get to him, no matter what she did. Diana would have to do.
“So what’s the plan?” he said.
Mary Alice gave him her ugliest smile.
“I’ll give you a referral.”
“But I want some payback. Half of what you get from her.”
“Then you get nothing. Nothing from me and nothing from her. No pussy, no cash.”
“I’ll give you half, up to four hundred.”
“How do I know what you get from her?”
“Guess you’ll just have to trust me.”
Two days later, Mary Alice sat scrunched low in Romero’s car at the same motel where she had met him. Morristown lay twenty-five miles south of her home base in Driscoll, New Jersey, which meant that she had made a special trip to get shaken down.
The new entry-level Lexus wasn’t a typical domestic cop-mobile. Romero had bought it for this sideline business of his.
At three minutes to four, Diana’s Maxima appeared in the courtyard parking lot. The driver’s door opened. Mary Alice had a perfect view, as Diana swung her legs out of the car. They were excellent legs. Diana didn’t do women, or Mary Alice would have made a move on her years ago.
And hated herself for it afterwards, but wasn’t that her life?
Diana walked to room 167 and knocked. Romero opened the door. His smile made him even more repulsive. Diana shrugged as if apologizing for something. She turned and went back to her car. The Maxima drove out of the parking lot.
The driver’s door of the Lexus opened, and Romero climbed in. He settled himself behind the wheel.
“You fucked it up,” said Mary Alice. “How could you fuck this up?”
“Don’t look at me. She made me for a cop in a second.”
“Beats me. I told you. We never met.”
His expression turned nasty, and she knew what was coming. She inched her right hand toward her coat pocket.
“Seems to me you owe me for this,” he said.
“Forget it, asshole. One bite of me is all you get.”
Mary Alice started to get out of the car. Romero grabbed for her left elbow. With her other hand she jabbed at his face. Her keys protruding through her knuckles just missed his eye. She did manage to scratch his cheek. He let go of her, and she used the moment to push the door open.
She half-fell out of the car, righted herself, and started running across the parking lot. After a moment she realized that it was wasted effort. Where could she go? She had come in Romero’s car, because Diana knew her Lumina.
Mary Alice stopped, and Romero caught her. He dragged her back to his car and slung her over the hood. She kicked at his shins, but he moved closer and pinned her legs against the fender. He wrenched her right arm behind her back and slapped a handcuff on her wrist. He grabbed her left wrist and twisted it.
“I guess I was right about you,” said a familiar voice.
Romero froze. “I thought you were looking for your boyfriend.”
“What would it take to cut her loose?” said Diana.
Mary Alice looked to her right. Diana stood in the doorway of the motel’s office. The clerk, Sean, must have let her use the private door that led from the sidewalk to his apartment. How had she sweet-talked him into that? It was one more thing to make Mary Alice seethe.
“What do you mean, cut her loose?”
“It’s not a hard question,” said Diana.
“There’s only one way that plays. We pick up where we left off. And this time, no bullshit.”
“Are you always this slow on the uptake?”
“Okay, let’s get down to it. When I think you did your job, I’ll cut her loose.”
“No. The cuffs come off now.”
“Don’t push your luck.”
“I’m not the one who’s pushing it,” said Diana. “I know you. Must have been about three years ago, because that‘s the last time I came down this way for business. There was a sobriety checkpoint, and you were working it. In uniform, but I’m good with faces. I have to be.”
Diana looked at Mary Alice.
“I guess he forced you into this. Why didn’t you tell me? We could have figured something out.”
“You just shut your fucking mouth,” said Romero.
“I don’t feel like it,” said Diana. “You make it worth my while, and I’ll burn a favor or two. Some cops know how to get along with the working girls. And I even know a few down here.”
Mary Alice listened to Romero’s angry breathing. Then he unlocked the cuffs and pushed her toward Diana.
“You sure about this?” said Mary Alice.
“It’s just another dick.”
No, Mary Alice thought. It’s not.
This was their livelihood. It was going to cost Diana her take for the day.
Diana started to walk back toward 167. Romero followed. As he bent to unlock the door, Diana winked at Mary Alice and nodded toward the office. After a moment Mary Alice understood. Diana had probably kept a couple hundred in her bag for Romero to take, but she had given most of her payday to Sean. And if he was like every other desk clerk in New Jersey, Sean had already developed a crush on her. He would hold her money for her.
Diana wouldn’t even mention the two hundred that Romero would take from her, which meant that Mary Alice would have to offer, and insist, that Diana take it.
Romero got the door open, and Diana went to work.
Little Miss Perfect, Mary Alice thought. How am I supposed to hate you now?
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.