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Prepare to meet ...
Prepare to meet the most seductively female and the most shockingly fatal of femmes fatales, presented by 17 of today's finest authors of mystery and suspense fiction, including Jay McInerney, Nelson DeMille, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Ed McBain, Thomas H. Cook, Jeffery Deaver, and Elmore Leonard.
Why don't we kill somebody?" she suggested. She was a blonde, of course, tall and willowy and wearing a sleek black cocktail dress cut high on the leg and low at the neckline.
"Been there," Will told her. "Done that."
Her eyes opened wide, a sharp blue in startling contrast to the black of the dress.
"The Gulf War," he explained.
"Not the same thing at all," she said, and plucked the olive from her martini and popped it into her mouth. "I'm talking about murder."
"Murder, uh-huh," Will said. "Who'd you have in mind?"
"How about the girl sitting across the bar there?"
"Ah, a random victim," he said. "But how's that any different from combat?"
"A specific random victim," she said. "Shall we kill her or not?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Why not?" she said.
Will had known the woman for perhaps twenty minutes at most. In fact, he didn't even know her name. Her suggestion that they kill someone had come in response to a standard pickup line he'd used to good effect many times before, to wit: "So what do we do for a little excitement tonight?"
To which the blonde had replied, "Why don't we kill somebody?"
Hadn't whispered the words, hadn't even lowered her voice. Just smiled over the rim of her martiniglass, and said in her normal speaking voice, "Why don't we kill somebody?"
The specific random victim she had in mind was a plain-looking woman wearing a plain brown jacket over a brown silk blouse and a darker brown skirt. There was about her the look of a harried file clerk or lower-level secretary, the mousy brown hair, the unblinking eyes behind what one had to call spectacles rather than eyeglasses, the thin-lipped mouth and slight overbite. A totally unremarkable woman. Small wonder she was sitting alone nursing a glass of white wine.
"Let's say we do actually kill her," Will said. "What'll we do for a little excitement afterward?"
The blonde smiled.
And crossed her legs.
"My name is Jessica," she said.
She extended her hand.
He took it.
"I'm Will," he said.
He assumed her palm was cold from the iced drink she'd been holding.
* * *
On this chilly December evening three days before Christmas, Will had no intention whatever of killing the mousy little file clerk at the end of the bar, or anyone else for that matter. He had killed his fair share of people a long time ago, thank you, all of them specific random victims in that they had been wearing the uniform of the Iraqi Army, which made them the enemy. That was as specific as you could get in wartime, he supposed. That was what made it okay to bulldoze them in their trenches. That was what made it okay to murder them, whatever fine distinction Jessica was now making between murder and combat.
Anyway, Will knew this was merely a game, a variation on the mating ritual that took place in every singles bar in Manhattan on any given night of the year. You came up with a clever approach, you got a response that indicated interest, and you took it from there. In fact, he wondered how many times, in how many bars before tonight, Jessica had used her "Why don't we kill somebody?" line. The approach was admittedly an adventurous one, possibly even a dangerous one-suppose she flashed those splendid legs at someone who turned out to be Jack the Ripper? Suppose she picked up a guy who really believed it might be fun to kill that girl sitting alone at the other end of the bar? Hey, great idea, Jess, let's do it! Which, in effect, was what he'd tacitly indicated, but of course she knew they were just playing a game here, didn't she? She certainly had to realize they weren't planning an actual murder here.
"Who'll make the approach?" she asked.
"I suppose I should," Will said.
"Please don't use your 'What'll we do for a little excitement tonight?' line."
"Gee, I thought you liked that."
"Yes, the first time I heard it. Five or six years ago."
"I thought I was being entirely original."
"Try to be more original with little Alice there, okay?"
"Is that what you think her name is?"
"What do you think it is?"
"Okay, I'll be Patricia," she said. "Let me hear it."
"Excuse me, Miss," Will said.
"Great start," Jessica said.
"My friend and I happened to notice you sitting all alone here, and we thought you might care to join us."
Jessica looked around as if trying to locate the friend he was telling Patricia about.
"Who do you mean?" she asked, all wide-eyed and wondering.
"The beautiful blonde sitting right there," Will said. "Her name is Jessica."
"Beautiful blonde, huh?" she said.
"Gorgeous blonde," he said.
"Sweet talker," she said, and covered his hand with her own on the bar top. "So let's say little Patty Cake decides to join us. Then what?"
"We ply her with compliments and alcohol."
"And then what?"
"We take her to some dark alley and bludgeon her to death."
"I have a small bottle of poison in my handbag," Jessica said. "Wouldn't that be better?"
Will narrowed his eyes like a gangster.
"Perfect," he said. "We'll take her to some dark alley and poison her to death."
"Wouldn't an apartment someplace be a better venue?" Jessica asked.
And it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps they weren't discussing murder at all, jokingly or otherwise. Was it possible that what Jessica had in mind was a three-way?
"Go talk to the lady," she said. "After that, we'll improvise."
* * *
Will wasn't very good at picking up girls in bars.
In fact, aside from his "What'll we do for a little excitement tonight?" line, he didn't have many other approaches in his repertoire. He was emboldened somewhat by Jessica's encouraging nod from where she sat at the opposite end of the bar, but he still felt somewhat timid about taking the empty stool alongside Alice or Patricia or whatever her name was.
It had been his experience that plain girls were less responsive to flattery than were truly knockout beauties. He guessed that was because they were expecting to be lied to, and were wary of being duped and disappointed yet another time. Alice or Patricia or Whoever proved to be no exception to this general Plain-Jane observation. Will took the stool next to hers, turned to her, and said, "Excuse me, Miss," exactly as he'd rehearsed it with Jessica, but before he could utter another word, she recoiled as if he'd slapped her. Eyes wide, seemingly surprised, she said, "What? What is it?"
"I'm sorry if I startled you ..."
"No, that's all right," she said. "What is it?"
Her voice was high and whiney, with an accent he couldn't quite place. Her eyes behind their thick round lenses were a very dark brown, still wide now with either fright or suspicion, or both. Staring at him unblinkingly, she waited.
"I don't want to bother you," he said, "but ..."
"That's all right, really," she said. "What is it?"
"My friend and I couldn't help noticing ..."
"The lady sitting just opposite us. The blonde lady at the other end of the bar?" Will said, and pointed to Jessica, who obligingly raised her hand in greeting.
"Oh. Yes," she said. "I see."
"We couldn't help notice that you were sitting here, drinking alone," he said. "We thought you might care to join us."
"Oh," she said.
"Do you think you might care to? Join us?"
There was a moment's hesitation. The brown eyes blinked, softened. The slightest smile formed on her thin-lipped mouth.
"I think I would like to, yes," she said. "I'd like to."
* * *
They sat at a small table some distance from the bar, in a dimly lighted corner of the room. Susan-and not Patricia or Alice, as it turned out-ordered another Chardonnay. Jessica stuck to her martinis. Will ordered another bourbon on the rocks.
"No one should sit drinking alone three days before Christmas," Jessica said.
"Oh, I agree, I agree," Susan said.
She had an annoying habit of saying everything twice. Made it sound as if there were an echo in the place.
"But this bar is on my way home," she said, "and I thought I'd stop in for a quick glass of wine."
"Take the chill off," Jessica agreed, nodding.
"Yes, exactly. Take the chill off."
She also repeated other people's words, Will noticed.
"Do you live near here?" Jessica asked.
"Yes. Just around the corner."
"Where are you from originally?"
"Oh dear, can you still tell?"
"Tell what?" Will asked.
"The accent. Oh dear, does it still show? After all those lessons? Oh my."
"What accent would that be?" Jessica asked.
"Alabama. Montgomery, Alabama," she said, making it sound like "Mun'gummy, Alabama."
"I don't hear any accent at all," Jessica said. "Do you detect an accent, Will?"
"Well, it's a regional dialect, actually," Susan said.
"You sound like you were born right here in New York," Will said, lying in his teeth.
"That's so kind of you, really," she said. "Really, it's so very kind."
"How long have you been up here?" Jessica asked.
"Six months now. I came up at the end of June. I'm an actress."
An actress, Will thought.
"I'm a nurse," Jessica said.
An actress and a nurse, Will thought.
"No kidding?" Susan said. "Do you work at some hospital?"
"Beth Israel," Jessica said.
"I thought that was a synagogue," Will said.
"A hospital, too," Jessica said, nodding, and turned back to Susan again. "Would we have seen you in anything?" she asked.
"Well, not unless you've been to Montgomery," Susan said, and smiled. "The Glass Menagerie? Do you know The Glass Menagerie? Tennessee Williams? The play by Tennessee Williams? I played Laura Wingate in the Paper Players' production down there. I haven't been in anything up here yet. I've been waitressing, in fact."
A waitress, Will thought.
The nurse and I are about to kill the plainest waitress in the city of New York.
Or worse, we're going to take her to bed.
* * *
Afterward, he thought it might have been Jessica who suggested that they buy a bottle of Moët Chandon and take it up to Susan's apartment for a nightcap, the apartment being so close and all, just around the corner, in fact, as Susan herself had earlier pointed out. Or perhaps it was Will himself who'd made the suggestion, having consumed by then four hefty shots of Jack Daniels, and being somewhat bolder than he might ordinarily have been. Or perhaps it was Susan who invited them up to her place, which was in the heart of the theatrical district, right around the corner from Flanagan's, where she herself had consumed three or four glasses of Chardonnay and had begun performing for them the entire scene in which the Gentleman Caller breaks the little glass unicorn and Laura pretends it's no great tragedy, acting both parts for them, which Will felt certain caused the bartender to announce last call a full ten minutes earlier than he should have.
She was some terrible actress.
But oh so inspired!
The minute they hit the street outside, she raised her arms to the heavens above, her fingers widespread, and shouted in her dreadful Southern accent, "Just look at it! Broadway! The Great White Way!" and then did a little sort of pirouette, twirling and dancing up the street, her arms still high over her head.
"My God, let's kill her quick!" Jessica whispered to Will.
They both burst out laughing.
Susan must have thought they were sharing her exuberance.
Will guessed she didn't know what lay just ahead.
Or maybe she did.
At this hour of the night, the hookers had already begun their stroll up Eighth Avenue, but none of them so much as lifted an eyebrow to Will, probably figuring he was a John already occupied twice over, one on each arm. In an open liquor store, he bought a bottle of not Moët Chandon but Veuve Clicquot, and they went walking up the avenue together again, arm in arm.
Susan's apartment was a studio flat on the third floor of a walk-up on Forty-ninth and Ninth. They climbed the steps behind her, and she stopped outside apartment 3A, fiddled for her keys in her handbag, found them at last, and unlocked the door. The place was furnished in what Will called Struggling Young Actress Thrift. A tiny kitchen to the left of the entrance. A double bed against the far wall, a door alongside it leading to what Will supposed was a bathroom. A sofa and two easy chairs and a dresser with a mirror over it. There was a door on the entrance wall, and it opened onto a closet. Susan took their coats and hung them up.
"Mind if I make myself comfortable?" she asked, and went into the bathroom.
Jessica waggled her eyebrows.
Will went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and emptied two of the ice cube trays into a bowl he found in the overhead cabinets. He also found three juice glasses he supposed would have to serve. Jessica sat on the sofa watching him while he started opening the champagne. A loud pop exploded just as another blonde stepped out of the bathroom.
* * *
It took him a moment to realize this was Susan.
"Makeup and costume go a long way toward realizing a character," she said.
She was now a slender young woman with short straight blonde hair, a nice set of jugs showing in the swooping neckline of a red blouse, a short tight black skirt, good legs in very high-heeled black pumps. She held dangling from her right hand the mousy brown wig she'd been wearing in the bar, and when she opened her left hand and held it out to him, palm flat, he saw the dental prosthesis that had given her the overbite. Through the open bathroom door, he could see her frowzy brown suit hanging on the shower rod. Her spectacles were resting on the bathroom sink.
"Little padding around the waist thickened me out," she said. "We have all these useful props in class."
No Southern accent anymore, he noticed. No brown eyes, either.
"But your eyes ..." he said.
"Contact lenses," Susan said.
Her real eyes were as blue as ... well, Jessica's.
In fact, they could pass for sisters.
He said this out loud.
"You could pass for sisters," he said.
"Maybe 'cause we are," Jessica said. "Sure had you going, though, didn't we?"
"I'll be damned," he said.
"Let's try that champagne," Susan said, and swiveled into the kitchen where the bottle was now resting in the bowl of ice. She lifted it, poured into the juice glasses, and carried back into the other room the three glasses in a cradle of fingers and thumbs. Jessica plucked one of the glasses free. Susan handed one to Will.
"Here's to the three of us," Jessica toasted.
"And improvisation," Susan added.
They all drank.
Will figured this was going to turn into one hell of a night.
* * *
"We're in the same acting class," Jessica told him.
She was still sitting on the sofa, legs crossed.
Excerpted from Dangerous Women by Otto Penzler Copyright © 2005 by Otto Penzler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Give me your heart||45|
|Dear Penthouse forum (a first draft)||109|
|What she offered||153|
|Her lord and master||171|
|Mr. Gray's folly||183|
|A thousand miles from nowhere||201|
|The last kiss||281|
|Louly and pretty boy||321|
Posted December 9, 2008
Only January and this may be the suspense anthology of the year. All seventeen contributions are top rate, but that should be expected by a virtual genre hall of fame. The title is the theme and these women are dangerous in different ways. Most interesting the tales seem to fit what one would expect by that particular contributor. This is a great collection as the all star list contains names that speak of quality much more reliable than a third party review, enough said. Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Nelson Demille, Thomas H. Cook, Andrew Klavan, John Connolly, Lorenzo Carcateera, J. A. Jance, Ian Rankin, Jay McInerney, S.J. Rozan, Anne Perry, Elmore Leonard, and Jeffrey Deaver........... Harriet Klausner
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Posted March 8, 2011
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