- Village East Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.66(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.71(d)
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THE man lay on his stomach. Snoring. Both arms raised above his head wrapped around the pillow. The hairy, trim body now dressed only in blue boxer shorts.
Judy came back out from the bathroom, wrapped herself in a fluffy gold-trimmed China red hotel robe and sat in a chair near the bed. She lit up a cigarette and observed him. His snoring grew louder. Almost rhythmic. He had been good in bed. One of the best. She should know. Since she'd first experienced sex with two brothers from Bayou Cane at 15 and taken home the dirty ten dollar bill one of them had tucked into her bra, she'd learned how to make money when she needed it.
She exhaled swirls of blue smoke and thought of the men she'd had. Only one had ever made her feel anything special and that one had even been better than this. Chinaman. Well, not better exactly. But Chinaman had a sense of humor and this one didn't. Sometimes in bed Chinaman made her laugh so much she couldn't perform. He had to get her horny all over again. But that was different. That wasn't business. Besides, Chinaman was sexy; this guy wasn't -- just good in bed. Good in a technical way -- like most Germans. A little rough, maybe. But that might have been the whiskey. Whatever, it hadn't affected his performance. She only hoped he'd stay asleep a while longer; she had a job to do.
She checked his shirt pocket. Even the cuffs. Nothing. In the pockets of his neatly pressed suit trousers she found six twenty-dollar bills and two fives; three quarters and a dime; and a set of keys with a round piece of plastic attached. Inside the plastic was a condom. The plastic read: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS. Male humor. And that was it.
She could hear a bellboy passing by in the hallway whistling "Summertime." She knew who it was because that's what he always whistled whenever she and a client took a room. Wasn't that just like a New Yorker. Whistling "Summertime" in the icy grip of winter in mid-town Manhattan. Then again maybe he'd come from some spot on the globe where it really was summertime. Judy put out her cigarette and stared at the man on the bed. He was lost in the depths of post-sexual slumber. She reflected that she was getting good sex in a perfectly appointed room of the New York Palace hotel. And getting paid for it. Not bad. She'd come a long way from her Louisiana days as the daughter of a dirt-poor sweet potato farmer.
She reached for the suit jacket. Midnight blue. Pinstripe. Silk-and-wool blend. "F. Tripler." Nice. The breast pocket was empty. One pocket held a neatly folded tissue and a comb with a tooth missing. The other held a Waterman pen. She found a glass case in the inside pocket. Reading glasses. When she tried them on the room blurred only slightly: The gold crowns on the China red wallpaper looked more like McDonald's arches.
She took the glasses off and then hesitated while the man's snoring stopped then started again. In the pocket with the glasses was a nearly empty pack of Lucky Strike filters and a matchbook printed "Cafe Des Artistes" in gold letters. She used one of his matches to light up one of his cigarettes. Then she lay the cigarette across the hotel ashtray and lifted his leather card holder from his other inside pocket. She glanced again at the sleeping man, his form lit only by the light from the bathroom, and then silently began shuffling the plastic: Deutsche Bank A.G., American Express gold and a personal banking card from Dresdner A.G. All made out to one "Hans Schrieber."
Now the paper: A Berlin health club card. A London video club card. An international driver's license. In eight languages, no less. The man looked younger in the picture: shorter hair. No mustache. Two genuine forty-five dollar apiece tickets to "Phantom of the Opera"; Orchestra. Center. Row six.
A folded hundred dollar bill. And that was it. No photos of the little woman, the kids, the dog, the vacation house, nothing. She picked up his silk Paul Stuart power necktie with the little yellow diamonds against a blue background and checked the lining. Nothing. She even looked into his black oxfords. Still nothing. She carefully put everything back in place and walked silently on bare feet to the chair near the door.
Judy slid the man's kidskin gloves over her hands. Made her think of O.J. Anyway, no secret compartments there. She removed the gloves and turned her attention to his topcoat. Town coat, really. Navy blue, wool, double-breasted. Her search of inner and outer pockets yielded a complimentary guide to Midtown theaters, a handkerchief, a small tin of Anacin, a box of throat lozenges and a roll-on stick for chapped lips. If nothing else, Hans Schrieber was well prepared for the winter weather. But if he was worried about the freezing temperatures, he certainly wasn't worried about money: He hadn't raised an eyebrow at paying $235 plus tax for a double room for a few relaxing hours with a woman he'd just met in the hotel bar. What was it he had said: His place would be "inconvenient." Probably married. What the hell. Luxury hotel rooms were fine with her.
Judy lay the coat neatly across the chair, went into the bathroom and quietly closed the door. She stared back at the face in the mirror. She observed the lines about her mouth and eyes as she grinned. The crow's feet were definitely there but not too deep and not particularly noticeable. Not bad. Anyway, they could still be called "smile" lines, couldn't they?
Damn! Her mascara had streaked. She'd have to reapply it. She dipped a Kleenex into a jar of cleansing cream, then wiped off the makeup under her eyes. She tried to concentrate on what her contact in the bar had said: Hans Schrieber would have some documents on him. Three, maybe four. All they needed to know were the dates at the top of each one. For this they had paid her money. A lot of money. Up front. Industrial espionage for fun and profit. As American as Apple pie. Just check the documents. But there were no documents. Which meant that something had gone wrong. Or something was already wrong. If there had been a foul-up and the man had stashed the documents somewhere, then it was all right. She would simply let them know and part company. Bad luck for them. She did all she could. They'd used her services before; they knew how good she was. If he'd had any documents she would have found them. But if they had known all along that there were no documents, then why had they paid her to sleep with him?
She turned on the cold water, and began to dab anti-wrinkle cream around her eyes. Something Chinaman had always kidded her about. Said too much of that stuff would make her frigid. What was it he had said the Chinese call 'crow's feet'?
Oh, yeah, 'fish tails.' Sounded a hell of a lot better than 'crow's feet.' Chinaman. God, she missed him. She'd already made up her mind that the time had come to let him in on her clandestine activities over a drink. What was it he liked? Black Russian. A mean drink if ever there was one. He'd make jokes about the Yellow Peril consuming Black Russians. And he could handle no more than two without getting talkative. Well, not talkative really. Just not so damned tight-lipped. How many months since she'd seen him? Months, hell, a year. That's New Yorkers for you. They live in the same city and can't bother to call each other. Well, all right, Chinaman. Prepare for a call from yours truly before the week is out.
She reapplied mascara and inspected the face in the mirror. It wouldn't launch a thousand ships but it could still get attention. That and her well exercised body was still worth $235 plus New York City and state tax plus her own tip to men like Hans Schrieber.
A noise in the bedroom. Two noises really. Like a door closing and a kind of whoosh. Or maybe a thump. Hans was up and about. Maybe even horny again. She could fix that. She'd been good at fixing that kind of thing for years. She often wondered if she was so good at turning men on precisely because she herself almost never got turned on.
She turned off the water. She drew the robe around her and retied the sash, then opened the door and stepped into the bedroom. At the sight of the two men, she probably let out a small scream. She wasn't sure because, at first, it was more confusing than frightening. It was almost like observing a carefully staged studio setting of two doctors looking upon their bed-ridden patient with concern and distress. Like somebody was shooting a photograph for a doctor's calendar maybe. Or a Norman Rockwell illustration of two caring rural doctors and their patient. A sure bet for the next Saturday Evening Post cover. One man -- wavy white hair over a well-sculpted, craggy face -- standing beside the bed and one -- a crescent of hair away from total baldness -- at the foot of the bed. Both well-dressed. Suit-and-tie. Respectable. Professional bedside manner.
They moved only their heads to stare at her. Body posture still suggesting deep concern for the patient. The man on the bed -- the second greatest lay of her life - no longer snoring but still asleep. No, not asleep. Not with that ugly, unauthorized opening at the back of the head and the red mess splattered across the pillow. Soaking it, really. Good thing for them Leona Helmsley had sold the damn hotel to Arabs or somebody. Would she have been pissed.
The man nearest her, at the foot of the bed, raised his eyebrows and gave her a kind of apologetic shrug, then raised his arm. Which brought the barrel of his silencer-equipped semi-automatic pistol in line with her smile lines. As she threw herself behind the chair she heard another strange sound. Not unlike the one she'd heard when she was in the bathroom. And now she knew. The sound of a gun's discharge when dampened by a silencer. Whatdayaknow. Live and learn. Another sound. Something forcefully smashing into the chair, grazing her ear. All right, then. The chair. Throw it at the balding man, then rush him quickly enough to grab his wrist before he can fire again. And, whatdayaknow? It worked. Well, her robe fell open revealing far too much but she let it go. With the other hand she even managed to rake his face with her nails.
While she grappled with one man, the man beside the bed lifted his own gun and pointed it at her. No shrug this time. No apology. But no anger either. Just business. She twisted behind the man with the bleeding face and began screaming. She was about to take a breath to scream again when the man closest to her brought the gun down hard, cutting her nose and smashing her collarbone. Blood spurted onto her China red robe. She felt his wrist slip from her grasp. The room slipping from her vision. Legs buckling. Cheek colliding against carpet. Now both men had a clear shot. She'd been with two men at the same time before. Lots of times. But never like this. She couldn't seem to lift her head so she rolled her body ever-so-slowly backward until the men appeared in her line of vision. They didn't look like doctors anymore.
The body doesn't suddenly shut down. No way. That's what a second year med student she'd gone to bed with once told her. He liked to talk shop even in bed. Even while he was doing the nasty. That's what he'd called lovemaking: 'the nasty'. You'd have to blow your brains out for the body to shut down suddenly, he'd said. Or get shot right in the head. Even then, the heart would most likely keep pumping for a few minutes. Problem is, it's pumping the blood out of the system. Like, the plug's been pulled, and the heart's now working against itself. A brainless muscle if ever there was one. Then the body temperature falls and the system begins shutting down. Clinical death. Biological death. End of Story.
Judy had asked why some people die with their eyes open and some die with their eyes shut. He had said either was acceptable. God didn't care one way or the other. But then he'd added that the guy with his eyes open was probably more dead than the guy with his eyes shut. "More dead?" Judy had asked. The guy had just thrust his tongue into her ear farther than Judy had thought humanly possible, then laughed.
Judy died with her eyes open.
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