THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD - ALBERT TUCHER
“It could be worse,” said Mary Alice.
“How?” said Diana.
“Instead of a hooker, you could be a kindergarten teacher and feel like this all the time. Six-year-olds spread even more germs than clients.”
“At the moment that doesn’t help much.”
Diana reclined against the three pillows that her friend had arranged behind her. Mary Alice sat beside the bed on a wooden chair from Diana’s kitchen.
“Think you could eat some chicken soup?”
“I know I should, but my head hurts too much.”
It was the worst cold of her life. She couldn’t remember feeling this bad even as a child.
“Speaking of teachers, I hear you’re a good one,” said Mary Alice. “Very strict. And you look hot in glasses.”
“I know the guy you mean. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who gave me this cold.”
“So much for trying to distract you.”
“I know. I appreciate the effort.”
Diana turned her head from side to side on the pillow and felt the pressure in her skull relent for the moment. She knew the virus was only faking mercy, but right now she was grateful for anything.
“Thanks for all your help,” she said. “You must have things to do.”
“No, it’s okay.”
“Really. I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t look fine. I can stay.”
Diana studied her friend, who usually had a shorter attention span than this. The scrutiny made Mary Alice squirm.
“I guess there are some things I could take care of.”
Mary Alice got up from the chair and dawdled her way out of the bedroom. Her footsteps slowed even more as she neared the front door of Diana’s rented Cape Cod.
This was getting weirder and weirder. What did Mary Alice think was outside?
Diana listened, but she didn’t hear the door open. A long moment later, Mary Alice’s footsteps reversed themselves, and she and appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“I did a bad thing.”
The forty-ish brunette in her skirt and heels looked like a little girl waiting for a scolding. Some clients would pay a lot to see that.
“What?” said Diana.
“I have a stalker.”
“Tell me about it,” said Mary Alice. “You know how a guy can act like a normal client for months and then get all weird on you?”
“Unfortunately, I do. So how is that your fault?”
“That part isn’t.” Mary Alice took a deep breath to prepare her confession. “I came here to hide out. And I thought I managed to shake him off, but he’s out there sitting in his car.”
“Fantastic,” said Diana. “So now he also knows where I live.”
“Are you mad?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, with you it’s hard to tell.”
Mary Alice had a point. Clients never knew what Diana was thinking. Her poker face helped in her business, but it spilled over into the rest of her life.
“Do I know him?”
“Macho Leon,” said Mary Alice. “With the guns.”
“Great. Just the guy I want following me around.”
Diana sat up and swung her feet over the side of the bed. A moment ago the exertion would have set her head pounding again, but a surge of adrenaline prevented that for now. She thought about Leon. In her mental filing cabinet his name appeared under two headings: Possibly Scary, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Unfortunately, Mary Alice had moved him into the Active Threat column.
She replayed some of the conversations she had survived with him. They were hard work. Pretending to agree with a client’s opinions was basic business smarts, but with Leon it made her want to take a Lysol shower. One of his views in particular stuck out.
“I have an idea,” she said.
“I hoped you would,” said Mary Alice.
“What’s the worst thing in the world to Leon?”
“I give up.”
“Oh, come on. You know him. Lesbians.”
“Oh. Well, that’s second, really. Gay guys are first on his hate list.”
“That doesn’t help us. But the first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I hope you’re not some rug-munching lesbian.’”
“What did you say?”
“I always tell the client what he wants to hear, but this time it was even the truth.”
“Why you don’t do women?” said Mary Alice “I always wondered. There’s good money in threesomes.”
“I just don’t. Or at least, I won’t until I have to. Which might be now, because we know how to make him run to his mommy.”
A smile spread across Mary Alice’s face.
“You know what that means,” said Diana. “No more of his paydays for either of us. But he’ll be off your back. And mine.”
“That’s if he doesn’t shoot us. He loves his guns.”
“Or he’ll just disappear. I guess we need to find out.”
Diana got out of bed and went to her robe where it hung on the back of the bedroom door. She put the robe on over the T-shirt that she wore for sleeping, which was soaked with the sweat of illness. Before she could change her mind, she took Mary Alice by the hand and led her down the hall. She opened the front door. Hand in hand, she and Mary Alice descended the four steps and turned toward each other.
“Make it look good,” said Diana.
Diana was out of practice. Clients got a peck on the cheek, but she evaded their lips. With no boyfriend since high school, and few dates that weren’t business-related, she didn’t do much kissing.
She tilted her head to the side. Mary Alice did the same. They stepped in close, and their lips met.
Come on, Diana told herself. You’re supposed to be a professional.
She tried to remember what actors did on TV, but her imagination failed her. Mary Alice put her arms around Diana’s neck. As Diana wondered what she thought about that, Mary Alice snuck her tongue through Diana’s lips. Diana almost pulled away, but she caught herself.
Mary Alice hummed softly as her tongue did some exploring. Diana counted to ten, and then made it twelve just to prove she could. Then she pulled away. She had a vague feeling that she should make some parting gesture to make it look good, and damn, there was her right hand rising to stroke Mary Alice’s cheek.
Mary Alice smiled. She put her hand over Diana’s and held it against her face.
On the street an engine roared, and tires squealed.
“There he goes,” said Mary Alice.
“Now you go,” said Diana. “Or I’ll sneeze on you.”
Mary Alice smiled indulgently.
“And if you catch my cold, don’t complain.”
“I won’t. I’ll deserve it.”
“Yes, you will.”
BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of over thirty published hardboiled crime stories and five unpublished novels about suburban prostitute Diana Andrews. His latest Diana story Value For The Money (and when it’s Al and Diana, it’s always value for your money) can be had at Untreed Reads.