Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 214 - Al Tucher

GENEROUS GENTLEMEN - AL TUCHER

Originally published in Crooked #1, January 2009

“I guess I should call you Dick,” said Diana. “Mr. Leavitt.”

“Go ahead. It might help me believe this is really happening.”

“You’ll know when you pay me.” She smiled to take the sting of the words away. “Just a reminder.”

“I didn’t forget.” He smiled back, maybe for the same reason. “Which reminds me. If you plan to make a career of this, you might want to get your money up front. And have them put it in an envelope and then just leave it where you can pick it up without asking for it. It’s a little less... it shows more class.”

She turned on her left side, facing him.

“I thought you hadn’t done this before.”

“It’s true. But I read books. It’s amazing, what you can get from books.”

“You never had us read anything like that. Maybe I would have paid more attention.”

She smiled again. He didn’t.

“Right. I’m going to give books about prostitutes to high school girls. That would be a great career move.”

“Relax,” she said. “I’m not a high school girl. I graduated, remember? A whole week ago. Nobody can touch us.”

“Careful. Once we agree on the money and what it’s for, that’s a crime. The cops can definitely make an issue of it.”

“They’d have to have proof. I’m not going to tell, and why would you?”

He looked up at the ceiling and brooded as if she hadn’t spoken. Diana stretched her right leg across his thighs and levered herself upright. She sat straddling him.

“What else should I know?”

When he said nothing, she leaned forward and moved her head from side to side, letting her dark blond hair brush his chest. Her boyfriend, make that ex-boyfriend now, had always responded, and so did Dick. She felt him stiffen under her, and she shifted her posture to let him enter her. He started to thrust and lasted several minutes this time, before he bucked and groaned and closed his eyes and filled her with wet heat.

His breathing slowed, and he opened his eyes. She let him slip out of her and stretched out on her side again.

“That’s another thing. You should use condoms. Always.”

“I’ve been on the pill for two years.”

“That’s not the only reason. You’ve heard of AIDS?”

“I know you. You don’t have it. Neither do I.”

“That’s my point. You don’t know me, not that well. There probably won’t be three people in your life you know that well.”

“Message received.”

“Sorry to preach.”

She smiled. It took a little more effort this time. “What else don’t I know? Tell me something about you.”

“I’m not very interesting.”

“Okay.”

He touched her shoulder.

“Sorry. I’m not being very good company.”

“No, you’re right. Guys might not feel talkative. I should leave it up to them.”

She made an effort to smooth her resentment. It would be a useful skill to have.

“Okay, last thing. You might want to set a time limit, like an hour. More time, more money. Guys who do this will prefer it that way. They’ll like a woman who knows when to go.”

She looked at him without the smile. “Do you want me to go?”

He hesitated an instant before saying, “No, of course not.”

She rolled to the edge of the bed, sat up, and let her feet find the floor. Her clothes were piled on the wooden chair next to his bed. As she hooked her bra and stepped into her panties, her T-shirt and jeans started looking inadequate. Some men might expect more of an effort from her in the wardrobe department.

“You want to take a shower?” he said.

She pictured herself in his bathroom and realized that she would be vulnerable with soap in her eyes. He didn’t scare her, but she was also practicing for the future. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.

“No, thanks. I’m a one-bathroom girl. After gym class, I always waited until I got home to shower.”

As she watched, his penis stood straight up again.

“That’s me remembering,” he said. “One time you walked past me after gym class. I smelled you--nothing bad, just a healthy odor of a healthy young woman. And I got a case of this in about a tenth of a second.”

He nodded toward his erection.

Talk about mixed messages, she thought. Does he want me to go or not?

“Hold that thought until next time” she said.

His smile vanished, and she understood. There wouldn’t be a next time with this man. She wondered why, but it was his business.

He stood up and went to his dresser, where his wallet lay. He thumbed out five twenties and handed them to her.

“I was wrong,” he said. “There is one more thing. Try to find out the going rate. I have a feeling you could get more than this.”

Diana had parked her aging Cutlass in front of Dick’s house. She sat behind the wheel and looked at her money. She must have carried it in her hand for anyone to see. She would have to get smarter than that.

And she would have to start over on her client list. She had hoped to finish her first day with one regular, who might even give her more leads. Other than Dick, she didn’t know a man who would be open to a knock on the door and a straightforward business proposition.

She sat for a moment more, trying to feel like a whore. Nothing came. Either she was one already, or it wasn’t that big a deal. Was it even important to know which?

The next morning, Diana boarded the ten-o’clock New York bus. In the Port Authority terminal she found a newsstand and selected a half dozen skin magazines and sex tabloids. She flipped to the back of each publication and verified that it ran classifieds.

The young man behind the counter leered. She glared back, until he decided to concentrate on the kids shoplifting in the back.

But he retaliated by slapping her purchases down on the counter and turning away. On the way to the bus, she plucked a plastic shopping bag from a trash can. It looked clean enough to handle, and it held everything.

The return trip became boring. She should have bought something to read.

Back home, she found Grandmom and Bea Wynn, her friend of forty years, in the kitchen. Diana looked at her grandmother and knew immediately. Mrs. Wynn shook her head.

“Not a good day. Not the worst, but not good.”

Diana nodded and kissed her grandmother, who seemed to wonder what had just happened. Diana started up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Who was that?” Grandmom said.

“Tell you later,” said Mrs. Wynn. “When you feel better.”

“I feel fine now.”

“Later.”

It was the only thing that could make Diana want to cry. Her grandmother was going away. She came back now and then, but it happened less and less.

Diana opened a magazine and studied the ads. When she had the idea, she wrote on a legal pad:

Single white female, 18, dark blond hair, cheerleader figure, elegant cheekbones and a touch of the Orient around the eyes, seeks generous gentlemen who love to be pampered. 201 area code only.

Her grandmother had told her that the Asian cast of her eyes came from their Hungarian ancestry. Diana hadn’t mentioned her strong nose in her ad. It was part of the package, and men would have to get used to it. Dick Leavitt certainly had.

From each publication, she clipped the form for submitting a classified ad. In neat capital letters she printed the text she had composed and added the address of the mailbox she had rented.

On the way to work at Denny’s, she stopped at the post office and bought money orders to cover the fees for her ads. She dropped a handful of envelopes into the letter slot.

She worked and waited. She talked with Grandmom when the opportunities came. There wouldn’t be many more. When Grandmom’s mind went away, Diana fed her and bathed her and took her to the toilet.

Her first ad appeared five weeks later, and the first reply landed in her post office box only days after that. She opened the envelope and read that her correspondent wanted to choke her repeatedly and then use her dead body.

Points for honesty, she thought.

Other men with similar tastes might be less easy to spot.

The next letter came from a man who said that she sounded lovely. Would she like to meet? He gave a name and phone number. She called him from a pay phone in the only luncheonette left in downtown Driscoll. The phone was near the entrance to the kitchen. As a male voice sounded in her ear, the busboy emptied a plastic tray of dishes into the sink.

“I’m sorry,” said Diana. “I didn’t catch that.”

“I said, ‘Hello.’” The voice sounded amused.

“Oh. Hi. This is Diana. You wrote?”

Everything she had planned to ask him fled her mind.

“I’m Don Prendergast. I’m forty-eight and I have my own business, called Prendergast Associates. If you’d like to check me out, you can ask Tiffany, Lulu, or Jennifer. They’re all local.”

“You mean, like references?”

The thought had never occurred to her.

“You really are new at this, aren’t you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Don’t worry. It’s charming.”

At least she knew where to suggest meeting him. Everyone in Sussex County knew what the Savoy Motel. He would get the room, but when he asked how he could tell her where to go, she was stuck.

“You should get a pager,” he said.

“That’s a good idea.”

“It’s how most of the girls do it.”

He sounded amused again. He told her to look for his Volvo and said he would try to park in front of the right room. In any case, he would watch for someone who seemed to be looking for something.

The parking scheme worked, and her envelope lay on the counter just inside the room. She probably could have grabbed it and run, but that was no way to build a business.

And it wasn’t her style.

The sex went. The new man was a good fifteen years older than Dick Leavitt, who was fifteen years older than Diana, but she found that his age didn’t bother her. Don had a paunch that threatened to squash her, but he didn’t last long enough for her to get really worried.

I can do this, she thought.

She stayed the full hour, because that was what he had bought. Still naked, he handed her a business card. She took it while wondering what he meant by it.

“I’m a tax accountant. You need someone like me.”

“I do?”

“Definitely. Suppose you get busted for prostitution. It’s just a misdemeanor. But tax evasion, that’s years of federal time. I can find you deductions until you hardly owe anything, but you’ll be covered.”

His seriousness impressed her.

“I’ll think about it,” she said, but she knew she would call.

A few weeks later, she sat at the kitchen table counting twenty-dollar bills.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Diana closed her eyes until her heartbeat returned to normal.

“I didn’t know you were here,” she said.

“You haven’t been around much,” said Mrs. Wynn. “Somebody needs to be here for her.”

“And somebody needs to bring the money in.”

“You have a job. You had one, anyway.”

“Yeah, Denny’s would support us in style.”

“You could do it for longer.”

“And I’d have to.”

“You could have gotten a scholarship. The guidance counselors all said so.”

“And who would be here then?”

“I would, if you did something with a future.”

“How did you know, anyway?”

“Oh, please. You haven’t gone to work in weeks, and you’ve always got these piles of twenties in front of you.”

Mrs. Wynn studied her.

“Did you think about this at all?”

“What’s to think about? There’s one thing men want from me. I can give it away, or I can get paid for it.”

“You’re probably ruling out getting married.”

“Talk about something with no future.”

“Okay, your parents didn’t make it, but I still don’t think they’d go for this.”

“If you see them, ask them about it.”

“I guess you’re going to do what you want to do,” said Mrs. Wynn.

“And pay the bills while I do it.”

“Until something happens.”

Something happened, but not to Diana. On a late August morning she opened the Newark Star-Ledger and read about the murder of a local high school teacher. Dick Leavitt had been shot in his home. Police were ‘following several promising leads’.

In other words, Diana thought, they don’t have a clue.

Dick Leavitt’s house sat on Route 206 in neighboring Jefferson Township. She passed the house frequently on her way to dates in the towns to the south. She tried to summon a little grief, but nothing came.

A week after his death, she saw a Honda Civic parked in front of the house. The hatchback gaped. As Diana drove by, a woman carrying a cardboard box came out of the front door.

Diana swerved to the shoulder and stopped. She climbed out of the car and crossed the highway. The traffic was light. She approached the woman, who dropped the box into the cargo space, turned, and gave her an unwelcoming look.

Diana didn’t smile.

“Are you Mr. Leavitt’s wife?”

“I’m Deborah Leavitt. Who are you?”

“I’m Diana Andrews. I graduated in June.”

“Oh, you’re his little bit on the side.”

“Very little. Once, as a matter of fact. How did you know?”

“I lived with him for ten years. I heard your name way too many times.”

“He never touched me as long as I was in school.”

“How much difference does that make?”

“If you’re divorced, he can do what he wants.”

Could, she corrected herself.

“We were separated. And it’s definitely my business if I gave that much of my life to a pedophile.”

“Nothing happened until I was eighteen.”

The woman studied her from head to foot. Diana had already become used to clients who stared. They had bought the right to look, but this woman came close to making her uncomfortable.

“I knew I was losing his attention. I just didn’t know he had you.”

“He didn’t have me. He bought an hour.”

Diana wondered why she had confessed.

The woman stared for another long moment.

“This may sound weird, but that makes me feel better, sort of. Like he turned into some kind of loser without me.”

“Thanks.”

“Well, that’s what you do, isn’t it? Make a living off losers?”

Diana opened her mouth to defend her clients, but she stopped herself. It didn’t matter what this woman thought.

“Why did you stop, anyway?” said Deborah. “Did you think I’d want to meet you for some reason?”

“I’m asking myself the same thing.”

“Since you’re obviously new at this, let me give you some advice. Don’t get involved. I doubt the losers will appreciate it, and their loved ones definitely won’t.”

“Loved ones,” said Diana.

“That was irony. He was supposed to be an English teacher. I guess he didn’t do that very well, either.”

Deborah glared. Diana looked back.

“Didn’t you just hear me? Do I need to spell it out? Go. Get lost.”

“Thanks for the advice,” said Diana. “Not that you know much about it, but it’s the thought that counts. That’s what they say, anyway.”

She turned and almost forgot to check for traffic before crossing the highway.

That’s one way to spoil a good exit line, she thought. Get flattened by a truck.

She was ten minutes late for her date, and of course the client was one of those men who did everything by the clock.

That night, Diana sat with her grandmother in their living room. A Mets game occupied the television screen. Keith Hernandez hit a hard liner, but right at Ozzie Smith.

“Shit!” Grandmom yelled.

She had never cursed or shouted before her mind started to fail. As Diana wondered whether to say something, the doorbell rang. She went to the front door and pulled it open. Two forty-ish men stood on the top step.

“Yes, officers.”

“Detectives,” said one.

He gave her the impression that she could spend an hour trying to memorize his face and still not recognize him the next time she saw him.

“I’m Rostow, Driscoll police. This is Detective Tillotson from Lakeview.”

She thought and decided that she had no choice. A law-abiding citizen wouldn’t slam the door on them. She stepped back, and they took it for an invitation. She led them to the kitchen. Grandmom should be okay for a while.

The three of them took seats around the kitchen table.

“Were you thinking they were going to repeat this season?” said Tillotson. “I was.”

“Who?”

“The Mets.”

The sound of the television set carried easily to them. Grandmom’s hearing had also declined. Diana shrugged.

“I gave up on them, but my grandmother is still into it.”

“Not your average grandmother.”

She studied him for signs of mockery but saw none. His graying hair went well with his youthful face. She liked that look on men.

“She never was.”

“You knew Richard Leavitt, am I right?”

“He was my English teacher.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

As soon as the words came out, she knew they were a mistake.

“That’s not what Mrs. Leavitt told us.”

Diana decided that the best thing to say was nothing.

“She told us about your little date with her husband. She thinks you killed him.”

Again, she didn’t answer.

“You want to tell us what happened? Did you go to see him again and he got rough?”

“I only saw him the once. And he didn’t get rough, and I don’t have a gun.”

“I believe you don’t have one now.”

Diana sat perfectly still and looked at the ruins of her life. She had considered the possibility of an arrest for prostitution, but this could put her in prison until she was forty.

Then she looked at Tillotson’s face. Something about his expression didn’t match his words. He didn’t want her.

“She didn’t do it,” she said.

“Who?”

“The widow. That’s what you want, isn’t it? You want me to tell you she did it.”

“Only if she did.”

He waited. She waited longer. Finally, he nodded.

“You’re right. The plan was to scare you or piss you off enough to dish dirt about the widow. But never mind that. Why don’t you think she did it?”

She told him about her encounter with Deborah Leavitt.

“She’d have to be a really good actress. I don’t think she is. And she’d have to care what I thought enough to try and fool me. She didn’t.”

“What else do you know about her?” said Tillotson.

“Not much. I didn’t know she existed. He never mentioned her.”

Tillotson sat thinking.

“So,” she said, “am I out of business? I’ll need to write that bitch a thank you note for outing me.”

“Give us some credit,” said Rostow. “We knew about you the second time a uniform saw your car at the Savoy.”

“Oh.”

“So what you need to do,” said Tillotson, “is follow a few rules. You use drugs?”

“No.”

“That’s a good start. Rule number one, don’t make us look bad. Drugs make us look bad. Neighbors who complain about you make us look bad.”

She nodded.

“But bear in mind,” he said, “that’s most jurisdictions. There are exceptions. Witherspoon cops, for instance. They’ve got it bad for hookers. You might want to stay out of there.”

She didn’t tell him that she had some lucrative clients in nearby Witherspoon Township. Tillotson studied her.

“Your parents know what you’re doing?”

“If you see them, ask.”

“They’re not in the picture?”

“Not since I was five. They both disappeared a couple of weeks apart.”

“So it’s you and your grandmother?”

“That’s right.”

The two detectives started to get up.

“I’ll need you to come to Jefferson,” said Tillotson. “We’ll take your fingerprints for elimination.”

“I was in his house once, weeks ago.”

“Your prints could still be there.”

She definitely didn’t need her fingerprints on file.

“Don’t you want to know who did kill him?”

They settled back in their chairs. For the first time, Tillotson looked annoyed.

“What have we been talking about all this time?”

“Me, I thought. Do you want to know, or don’t you?”

“I guess I should have mentioned rule number two--tell us when you know something. Don’t make us wait for it.”

“Okay. It was his girlfriend.”

Tillotson shook his head. “He didn’t have one.”

“Yeah, he did. Have you asked around?”

Rostow looked angry with her, but Tillotson smiled and said, “That did occur to us.”

“Ask some more,” she said.

“Okay, who is she?”

She told him about her hour with Dick.

“I was sure I would get a regular client out of it, but it was strictly a one-time thing, like he was crossing something off his list of things to do. He was starting to get another hard-on when I left, but he didn’t want to another date. What does that say to you?”

“Tell me.”

“To me it says he took a big chance seeing me even once, and he didn’t want to push his luck with somebody. He didn’t care what his wife thought, so it had to be a girlfriend. And what kind of girlfriend would nobody know about?”

Tillotson nodded. “Somebody underage.”

“And still in high school.”

“I thought he never made a move while you were in school.”

“He never crossed the line with me until I let him. Men generally behave themselves with me.”

“I’ll bet they do.”

She decided to ignore his grin.

“But you can bet some other girl did let him.”

Tillotson nodded. “And if she’s the possessive type, he’s got a problem. He’s her trophy man, and she’s going to keep him.”

He and Rostow stood up.

“We’ll look at it.”

Two nights later, the bell rang again. Diana turned the volume of the Mets game down a little and went to the door. As she pulled it open, she turned to make sure that Grandmom looked settled for a few minutes. Diana turned back and met a fist coming in the opposite direction.

She felt more shock than pain. It wasn’t much of a punch, and she was already throwing one of her own. But she stopped her fist in mid-flight when she saw the gun.

“Surprised you, didn’t I?”

Behind the gun stood a teenage girl. Her straight, brown hair and long, pale face looked familiar, but Diana couldn’t come up with a name.

“You could say that,” said Diana. “What’s this about?”

“Don’t try that shit on me.”

The girl started forward. Diana backed away from the gun. She kept backing up all the way to the kitchen. The girl pursued her, leading with the gun. Diana felt something meet the backs of her thighs. It was the kitchen table. She edged around it. Finally she ran out of room to retreat. She stopped against the counter, with the sink to her right.

“What shit is that?” she said.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know me.”

“Okay, high school,” said Diana. “I’ve got that much.”

“You made my life hell for three years.”

“So you’re a senior now?”

“I said, don’t try it!”

Diana still couldn’t think of a name, but a mental picture had come to her. She saw this girl sitting alone in the cafeteria. It could have been any day, because the girl always sat alone.

“Anything I wanted to do, you got there first," said the girl. “Any boy I liked, you had to have him.”

“Wait a minute. That’s just too weird. I had exactly one boyfriend. And I wasn’t a cheerleader or class president or anything like that.”

“All the boys wanted you.”

“News to me.”

“And you still can’t leave me alone. You sent the cops after me.”

“You’re Dick Leavitt’s girlfriend.”

“Mr. Leavitt to you. I get to call him Dick.”

“Why did you kill him?”

“Because he was a creep. He never brought me to his house, but he let you just waltz right in.”

“You were watching?”

“His ex told me.”

“Why would she tell you anything?”

“I helped her clean the house out,” said the girl.

“Did you kill her, too? If you didn’t, I will.”

“You won’t get the chance.”

For a moment Diana ran out of words. She groped for something to say before the girl remembered to shoot her.

“What makes you think I sent the cops after you?”

“They came to my house. They talked to my parents.”

“They must be talking to everybody.”

“Oh, now you’re saying Dick couldn’t possibly want me.”

There was no way to win with this girl. The gun in her hand seemed to grow until it filled the room.

Diana knew that her small cast iron skillet sat in the sink, out of the girl’s line of sight. Mrs. Wynn sometimes scolded Diana for not washing up promptly, but tonight her laziness might save her life.

“Say goodbye, bitch.”

“Shit!” Grandmom yelled.

The girl whirled toward the sudden noise. Diana lunged for the sink. She grabbed the skillet and sidearmed it toward the girl, who was turning back again. The pan spun like a lopsided discus and struck the girl in the face. Her nose gushed blood. Diana rushed around the table. She grabbed the girl’s wrist and twisted it. She twisted again, harder, and the girl screamed and dropped the gun.

The girl wouldn’t stop fighting. With her left hand she jabbed her fingers at Diana’s eyes. Diana jerked her head away and then lunged forward. Her forehead mashed the girl’s already bloody nose. The girl clutched her face with both hands. Diana punched her hard in the solar plexus. The girl slid down the wall and sat on the floor, hugging her knees.

“You know how I met my boyfriend?” said Diana. She paused for breath. “Kurt, the one you wanted? It’s a cute story. We had a fight in the eighth grade. I don’t mean an argument. I mean a punching fight. You should have tried that. Maybe he’d have gone for you instead of me.”

The wall phone was right there where she needed it. Diana dialed nine-one-one and watched the girl as she waited for the cops to arrive.

Detective Rostow still didn’t like her. She talked to Tillotson instead.

“Would you please tell me her name? I can’t come up with it to save my life.”

“You didn’t know her?” said Tillotson.

“I don’t think anybody did.”

“It’s Anne-Marie Kuhlbacher.”

“Still doesn’t ring a bell. Why did you go to her house?”

“Just to touch all the bases. We didn’t have a clue it was her.”

“Just like I told her, only I thought I was blowing smoke.”

“I think we can pretty much expect a diminished capacity defense,” he said. He studied Diana for a while. “Blow enough smoke, and sometimes it turns real. Happens all the time in my line of work.”

“Mine, too, I guess.”

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.

4 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

This is one of Mr Tucher's best stories. And that says a lot! Brilliant.

Glenn Gray said...

Good one , Al!

Al Tucher said...

Gentlemen, thanks!

Cormac Brown said...

I love your Diana Andrews stories, she is the most unconventional detective, ever.