THE DAMAGE DONE: A CHARLIE BYRNE SHORT - KIERAN J. SHEA
Shelia Hanson wrapped the gray percale sheets around her tiny frame and drifted toward the bathroom on refreshed but uneasy legs. The sudden coolness surrounding my naked flesh made me tug up the thick, red comforter.
The tap ran. I heard a plastic cup being slipped under a column of rushing water. One drink then another slip of the cup under the column. Swallows and a splash. The plastic cup slipped into a metal holster.
“How did you end up like this, Charlie?”
I looked at the stark, white ceiling thinking of the question and formulating a pat answer. There was a ceiling fan above me, still as a star.
“End up like what?”
“This. The way you are. What you do.”
Heck of question. Morning light softly hazed the bedroom’s minimalistic features. A mirror trimmed in gold. An original blue-green abstract painting of God knows what. Aquarium gravel? Bubblegum? Who knew?
I was in New York City’s Upper East Side canyons. A spacious luxury apartment that had a doorman dressed for regimental review, a concierge with Rivers Cuomo glasses, and a dog-walking service for the types who couldn’t be bothered with scooping up the poop from the sidewalks. Traffic thirty stories below sounded like ships drifting at sea.
More staring at the ceiling. More bathroom sounds. A brush whispering through vast Mahogany-colored hair. I checked my Timex Ironman. 10:37? Jesus.
I leaned over the bed and found my NJ Devils logoed boxer shorts on top of my heavy canvas work pants. I tugged both of them on, fastened my belt, and felt Shelia’s green eyes on my back as she came back into the bedroom. I didn’t turn around and kept looking around the room. Yoo-hoo, t-shirt? Where are you, t-shirt? She whipped you off here somewhere last night in the middle of this big mistake.
I hedged and scratched my amazing bed head. Meet Colin Farell on a bad hair day by way of a hung over Tom Waits scrounging for the first smoke of the day.
“Let’s just say it’s a long story.”
Shelia padded over and flounced down on the bed behind me, head propped on a hand that still dangled jewelry that surely cost more than my car. I swept two ripped condom wrappers off the bedside table and stuffed their frayed foil into the front pocket of my pants. The used condoms themselves, well, I figured I’d leave that for the building’s Hazmat team.
I stood and saw my black t-shirt crumpled like a sleeping cat in the corner. It made me wonder about my own one-eyed, three-legged cat back home down on the Jersey shore. Poor Chomsky. I never let the monster out last night to do his daily prowl beneath the boardwalk. Man, that feline was going to be pissed.
Shelia purred, “A long story? Ooo, I don’t like long stories. I like short ones. After Vassar I did go to law school, you know. Never practiced after I met my husband but I am a lawyer by training so humor me. Do a synopsis. A brief.”
“What? You can fuck me like a champ but you can’t tell me about your life?”
I crossed the room and picked up my t-shirt. Tugging it on, I turned and finally met her gaze. She was beautiful. Tussled, but still unconquerably beautiful from a world I could only imagine burning money in.
It would be so easy to fall back in bed with her, take another ride in the tumble and quick forget. I cursed myself for being such a dope. Broke the cardinal rule again. Never, ever get involved with a client. But, hey, a couple of Bombay Sapphire martinis and some carefully nurtured hydroponic weed...it kind of has a way of chucking the cardinal rules straight out the window.
I plucked my leather jacket from an arm chair. Shucked it on.
“Last night was great,” I said, “Really. And I really do appreciate the Cuban dinner and all the dancing and everything, but I think I really should, you know, be going. This is not—”
“Not good. I mean, I think you’re great. Your husband is a shit. Yes, he was stealing from you and fooling around and that’s tragic, but you now have enough to take him to court and end your nightmare marriage. But I really can’t stay, Shelia. I shouldn’t. I really think I’ve overstepped some ethical lines here.”
“Was that before or after you agreed to tie me to my bed with my stockings?”
“Don’t wind this up.”
“Wind what up? I’m not holding you to some kind of moral standard, mister big-shot private eye, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“God. Look, I’m not some big-shot private eye, OK?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Investigative consultant. Isn’t that what you call yourself?”
“Yeah, actually I do. I think it has a ring to it.”
Shelia flopped back. “Oh please...”
With my fingers, I shoehorned my right boot on the hop and felt the weight of my gun bump heavily in my jacket pocket. With the left boot, I felt much less of a bump with my cell phone and fixed blade hunting knife. An overhead street maze-map of New York City scrambled in my head. The location of the parking garage where I stowed my car ten blocks away focused past the fuzz in my brain.
Then came the muffled metallic scratch of a key in the lock across the apartment. Shelia bolted upright in the sheets and me, I wondered where I could hide like a coward. Fucking marvelous. Now what?
“I thought you said he was in Chicago on business.”
The front door opened.
“Shelia? You here? I’m home.”
Frantic, Shelia shushed me under the bed and I dove like a missile for sanctuary. I could feel the vibrations above the box-spring and mattress as she quickly untied her stockings from the headboard.
Hiding for an hour until her husband decided he was going into the office was humiliating. But my guardian angels must’ve been working overtime. I had an image of Shelia’s husband slipping on one of the spent condoms like a banana peel as he moved about the bedroom, but as luck would have it he just breezed in oblivious, grabbed some clothes and popped into the shower. Shelia tried to egg me into leaving as the shower hissed but I told her I wanted to stay put under the bed. After they shared some coffee and some small talk off in the kitchen her husband left. Ten minutes after that I left too via the building stairwell, kicking out the alley door with anger and tripping the house alarm.
Anyway, the check cleared. Three weeks later I was shooting pool in a seaside bar in Atlantic City when Shelia called me on my cell.
“A close shave there, huh, shamus? Want to come up for another taste of the good life? I can make us reservations at Babbo.”
I looked out the bar’s window at the cold, ticking rain. The ocean beyond the boardwalk was a wide, slate canvas of oblivion. I chalked my cue.
“I wish you everything,” was all I said.
BIO: Kieran is haunted by this P.I. and wants him to straighten his act out but doesn’t think it’s possible. Oh well. Kieran blogs at Black Irish Blarney.
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