THE BAIT - CHRIS RHATIGAN
Usually I don’t like my job. But the money is good. And it lets me keep acting.
That’s become my mantra lately: The money is good. It lets me keep acting.
That night started as many others did, with Lou and me sitting in his Chevy Citation. The neon sign on the bar across looked like it was from Wheel of Fortune, ST_ _ GG_ER_.
“All right, sugar.” Six months on the job and he still couldn’t remember my name. “Guy at the far end of the bar in the backwards baseball cap. The one with the wad of chew in his bottom lip.” He pointed to the motel on the corner and handed me a key. “You’re gonna take him over there to room 27. You know what to do from there.”
Lou only tells me what I need to know to do my job which lets him do his job. I like it better that way.
I flipped down the vanity mirror, applied a thick coat of dark eyeliner and popped in sea green color contacts. I readjusted my strapless top to show an inch more cleavage and slid on a white blond wig I had swiped earlier that night from the prop room.
They always want me to use a different costume. One time I’m wearing sunglasses, a leather skirt and fuck-me boots, the next time I’m a Marilyn Monroe knockoff complete with a mole and double Ds. This time I made myself look like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner—a strange, forbidden wind-up toy.
“Keep it simple,” Lou said. “Ten minutes, tops.”
“That won’t be a problem.”
“All right. I’ll be waiting.”
I hopped out of the car. The bar was illuminated by two TVs and a few beer signs. My four-inch heels announced my entrance on the concrete floor. His eyes were fixed on the baseball game until he turned around and looked. It didn’t take much effort for him to mentally undress me.
He wavered back and forth on his stool and tried to take a sip from an empty glass.
“Barkeep,” he said. “I’ll have another.”
I took the stool next to him. “You’re not going to buy me a drink?”
He laughed and a dribble of tobacco juice slid down the corner of his mouth. “All right. What you drinking?”
“Vodka and tonic.”
Though the bartender was only five feet away, he still shouted at him. “And a vodka and tonic for, uh, this pretty lady.”
“My name’s Veronica.”
“Really? I thought I knew you from somewhere, or something, but I don’t know any Veronicas.” He paused. “My name’s Randy.”
I swiveled my stool to face him and crossed my legs. “Randy. That’s a good, strong name.”
“Yup, that’s what my mom thought, I guess.”
I pressed my fingertips against his shoulder like my hand was claw and felt him shudder. “I’ve been looking for someone like you. You work with your hands, don’t you?”
“Sure do. I’m a mason.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Listen, Randy, how about we get out of here?”
Sometimes I feel sorry for them. Sometimes I can actually see the internal war—they know I’m not real, but they can’t help themselves.
Not this time, of course. Randy had the mental agility of a trilobite.
He was so drunk he could barely walk, and I had to prop him up the three blocks to the motel. I fit the key into the lock and opened room 27. Usually at this point my guts start to churn. I know what’s coming and— though most of them probably deserve it for owing money to the wrong people—I still don’t want to think about it. So I run over my lines for whatever off-off-off Broadway production I’m playing a marginal role in.
But on this night, my mind was clear.
As soon as I closed the door, he slid a hand up the back of my skirt and started grabbing. For some reason, I didn’t expect this. I giggled in what I hoped sounded like delight.
He spun me around and shoved his tongue down my throat. The dingy sting of chewing tobacco swam around in my mouth.
I gently pushed him away and placed a finger on his slobbery lips. “Hold on a second there, cowboy. I need to freshen up first.”
I led him by the hand to the bed. Then I kicked off my high heels and scampered to the bathroom.
I sat down on the sink and visualized the whole thing as I rubbed the bottoms of my feet. Randy waiting paitently, a hard-on pressing against his jeans. The suppressor on Lou’s handgun emerging from the crack in the closet door.
When I heard the familiar pop-pop-pop, I saw, in my mind, the brief burst of recognition on Randy's face as he realized what a sucker he was.
It was like eating a soft chocolate chip cookie still warm from the oven.
I left the bathroom seconds later. Randy’s body was splayed across the bed, his eyes blank, three bullet holes across his chest. Lou was checking for a pulse.
“What’s going on?” Lou said. “I thought you hated blood. You usually stay in there until I’m gone.”
“Randy’s an ex,” I said. “And he finally got what he deserved for fucking my sister.”
BIO: Chris Rhatigan is a student and freelance journalist living in Iowa City, Iowa. He has worked as a reporter for the New Haven Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. He always appreciates feedback, and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago