Read an Excerpt
By Donald E. Westlake
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Donald E. Westlake
All rights reserved.
It all began innocently enough; I wanted to get laid. So when Candy and Ralph said we were invited to a party over in Dunewood I said fine, wait while I change. Ralph said, "There'll be some singles there," and Candy stuck her tongue out at me behind Ralph's back.
I put on white slacks and a pink shirt and we headed barefoot down Central Walk toward Dunewood. Fire Island, two P.M., Sunday, August fourth. Sun straight up in a cloudless sky, air hot and smelling of ocean, rows of little houses lined up along the boardwalks stretching across the island from bay to beach. Children were everywhere, on bicycles and on foot, running wild because Fire Island doesn't permit any automobiles.
All the houses in Dunewood look alike, except for the colors. The one we wanted was up near the beach, and the music could be heard three blocks away. The owner had built an extralarge deck on the back of his place so he could tell it from all the others, and it was full of people dancing and drinking and shouting at each other over the music. Suntanned women in bikinis and big dark glasses dancing to rock music; how they moved it all around. "I guess I'll go get acquainted," I said.
"Do have a wonderful time," Candy said. Couldn't Ralph hear the spite in her voice, couldn't he figure out what was going on? (Or what had been going on, until he'd stopped going to the office.)
Apparently not. His face stayed as open and unsuspecting as a girls' choir in bandit territory. Giving me a grin and a friendly poke in the arm, he said, "Go get 'em, Art." He envied me my bachelor's access to women, the poor schnook; I wondered if he'd still envy me if he knew my main access the last six months had been to his wife.
What Ralph didn't know couldn't hurt me. "Bye-bye," I said, and drifted away from the happy couple, off to find a substitute for Candy. I do have a sweet tooth.
The place to meet women is by the liquor. Whoever my host might be, he was no piker; gin, vodka, rum, and enough tonic to float a loan. The table was already a sticky mass of mangled lemon parts, but who cared? Not me. "Thank God," I said to the big-titted brunette beside me. "No sangria."
Her sunglasses left just enough of her face exposed to show me she was grinning. "Picky, aren't you?" she said.
"Absolutely. And I pick you. Let's dance."
So we danced for a while. Her bikini was dark blue and her flesh was tanned the color of brandy. Perspiration trickled down from her throat, sun-glistening lines leading down into the soft cleft between her breasts, and I wanted to taste her. Salt is always welcome after too many sweets.
There were brief pauses between tunes, longer pauses between LPs. In one of those longer waits she put a warm damp hand on my forearm and said, "Listen, man, why don't we lie this one out?"
"Sure," I said. "You had enough?"
"I haven't had this much exercise," she said, "since my pony ran away."
So we walked over to the railing as the music started again, and she said, "Be a hero, will you? Get us a couple drinks."
"Sure. What's yours?"
"Vodka," she said.
"Ice and a glass and a big wet kiss," she said.
I went away to the liquor and almost didn't go back, because women who talk that strong in front almost never follow through; it's the quiet ones that mean business. On the other hand, a girl drinking vodka straight was a very hopeful sign. Also, nobody really appealing was at the bar when I got there, so I made myself a rum and tonic, and filled another plastic glass with vodka and ice, and went back to the girl in the dark blue bikini. How different things would have been if some other piece had attracted my attention right then.
But none did, and my first choice was still alone at the rail. I gave her the glass and stood picking at my wet shirt. Now that I wasn't dancing, I could feel how moist I was.
She gave me a critical look and said, "You're overdressed."
"I noticed Walk with me, I'll go back and put on a bathing suit"
She hesitated, looking around at the deck heaving with people, and then she shrugged and said, "Why not?"
We carried our drinks. Candy gave me a savage look on the way by, but I pretended I didn't see it.
We walked a couple blocks, not saying much except stuff about the weather, and then she said, "How far we going, anyway?"
"Fair Harbor," I said. "Six or seven blocks, that's all."
She looked in her glass as though worried the supplies wouldn't hold out, and said, "You got anything to drink at your place?"
"We had an underground tank put in last fall," I said. "Smirnoff makes weekly deliveries."
"Good," she said.
We kept walking, and I thought it was time for introductions, so I said, "My name's Art. Art Dodge."
"Hello," she said. She pointed at herself with her free thumb and said, "Liz Kerner."
"You staying in Dunewood?"
"No. We have a house in Point O' Woods."
I looked at her with suddenly increased interest. Point O' Woods? Most of Fire Island is middle-class money, but Point O' Woods is money money. They've built a fence across the island at their border to keep the riffraff out That's the kind of money I like, snotty money; I've always meant to go get some of it. "It's nice in Point O' Woods," I said, as though I'd been there often.
"It's dull," she said.
She looked at me, and I got the impression there was a frown down in behind those sunglasses. "What?"
"You said we have a house in Point O' Woods."
"Oh." She faced front again. "My sister," she said, as someone might have said, "Yes, that's my newspaper."
"Ah," I said. "She as good-looking as you?"
"Probably," she said. "We're identical twins."
"Twins!" I was thrown off stride by that. It was one of my basic questions, and it had never collected that answer before.
She glanced at me this time as though she might be thinking of getting annoyed. "Something wrong with that?"
"Not at all." I needed something to say, something to make the transition. "It's just a coincidence, that's all."
"What kind of coincidence?" She was still almost hostile.
"I'm twins, too," I said. It came out of nowhere, just words to fill a gap and smooth things over. I had no idea then where it would lead me, no plot in my mind at all. Not that it would have been possible anyway; nobody could have schemed out in advance everything that would follow from that one innocent remark. I have a natural glibness, that's all, and I'd merely chosen a statement intended to heal a potential rupture and give us a small something extra in common. A little white lie, nothing more.
It did its job. She gave me a surprised look and said, "You are?"
"Absolutely. I have a brother Bart, identical." The name was a logical follow-through; Art and Bart, just the tacky kind of thing done by the parents of twins.
She said, "Is he here?"
"No," I said. But then I had to explain his absence, and once again I simply fell into it. The scheme built itself, with only the most minimal help from me. "We split the week," I said.
"Split the week?"
"One of us always has to be in the office. So I'm here the first part of the week, and then we switch."
"Complicated," she said, meaning she'd lost interest.
So I dropped the subject, permanently, so far as I knew. "You live in Manhattan?"
"Sometimes," she said. She brooded at her glass, which was empty, and frowned out ahead of her at Central Walk, stretching away on a straight line in the shimmering heat all the way through Fair Harbor and as far as Saltaire. "It's hot out here," she said. "Bad as dancing. How much farther is this place?"
"Two blocks." I pointed, saying, "See the house with the American flag? We turn there."
"So that's what that is," she said.
We kept walking, elbow-deep in running children, and when we got to the house with the flag I saw the patriot himself out on his front deck, glowering at the world. He was wearing Bermuda shorts and an undershirt, and his snow-white hair made a nice contrast with his lobster-red skin. "Howdy," I called, and gestured at his flag. "I'm from the States myself," I said.
His mouth moved but he didn't actually say anything, maybe because he didn't have his teeth in.
We made our turn onto the boardwalk and I led the way to Ralph and Candy's house. The kids, happily, were away. We stepped into the cooler dimmer interior and Liz handed me her glass. "Don't mind if I do," she said.
I handed it back. "That's the refrigerator," I told her, "and that bottle has something in it you'll like." I gave her my own empty glass and said, "And I'm drinking rum and tonic."
She shrugged and went behind the counter to make the drinks. The left side of this house was living room and dining room and kitchen combined in one open area, with a counter separating the kitchen work space. A doorway led to the two bedrooms and bath, and a ladder next to the doorway led up to the sleeping loft, which at this time of day would be as hot as a stolen nymphomaniac. In theory, that was my place up there, though of course I'd been planning to spend most of my time in the master's bedroom. With Ralph in residence, however, I'd taken to sleeping on the living room sofa, where the three children could rollick me awake every morning.
My wet shirt was sticking to me like an airmail stamp. Standing in the living room, waiting for my drink, I unbuttoned it and peeled it off and threw it away in a corner. I slid my palm down my slippery chest and dried it on my pants, and Liz brought me my drink. "You're wet," she said.
"I thought I was." I sipped at my glass and said, "The tonic gets here later?"
"Too strong?" She reached for my drink, saying, 'Here, I'll fix it.
"No, it's fine," I said, and as long as her hand was extended toward me I took her by the wrist and brought her in close. She gave me a quizzical look, and when we kissed she had exactly the salt and musk and sex taste I'd been looking for. "You're overdressed, too," I told her.CHAPTER 2
Candy, her eyes blazing and her voice an angry half-whisper, said, "Did you have to use our bed?"
A very ambivalent pronoun. "I was so used to it," I said. I spoke in a normal tone of voice. We were both in the kitchen, me making drinks and Candy making hamburgers. The kids were out someplace beneath the setting sun, and Ralph had taken Newsweek into the bathroom.
Candy was so enraged already she paid no attention to what I'd said. "What if Ralph notices something?" she demanded.
"That's not the kind of Ralph-noticing you have to worry about," I told her. "You keep making faces at me in front of him, even Ralph is going to tip wise."
"I could smell her on my pillow last night, I couldn't sleep."
"I slept like a top," I said. "Until seven-thirty, of course, when the kids came in and did their reenactment of the Battle of Blenheim."
She suddenly dissolved into cunning little tears. "Why are you so mean? It isn't my fault Ralph is here. Don't you see how jealous I am? I wanted that to be me in bed with you." She waved the spatula in distraction.
"I know, Candy," I said gently. She was after all my hostess, and I had after all sublet my apartment. I rested my hand on her shoulder; the flesh was warm from either sun or passion. "This is hard on both of us," I said.
She put the spatula down and folded herself in against me. Her bathing suit top and cut-down blue jean shorts left a lot of skin available to my soothing hands. I kissed the side of her neck, and found it less interesting. She kissed my mouth, hungrily, and whispered, "Maybe later tonight, when Ralph starts on his paper work, we'll say we're going to Hommel's for a drink."
"And screw in the poison ivy?"
"Well find a place!" she whispered shrilly, and the phone rang. She gave it a look of fury, then glanced with sudden caution over toward the doorway leading to the bathroom. Backing away from me, she whispered more calmly, "We've found places before, Art, and we can do it again." Then she hurried around the end of the counter and picked up the phone on the second ring. "Hello?" Her face became angry again; she seemed about to hang up, or say something loud, but then she took a deep breath and said, "Yes, he is." She extended the phone toward me, saying coldly, "It's her."
"Her?" Surprised and intrigued, I walked around and picked up the phone, saying to Candy, "Make my drink for me, will you? My usual."
She went back to the kitchen area, but then she stood there and watched me and listened. I put the phone to my face and said hello, and Liz's well-remembered voice said, "Who was that?"
"My hostess," I said, with a sweet smile toward Candy.
"She sounds like a bitch."
"I'm calling to invite you to a little party," she said.
"Oh?" Looking at Candy, I knew I didn't dare ask for a rain check on tonight's philander. "When?" I said.
"Tomorrow, around eight."
"That's fine," I said. "I'd like that." Candy glowered.
There were pencil and a note pad on the telephone table, and I took down the directions to Liz Kerner's house. There was no fence on the beach itself, so I should walk along there and turn inland only after I'd breached the Point O' Woods border. "I'll be there," I said.
"Don't overdress," she said, and we both hung up.
Candy suddenly started making my drink. "She sounded like a bitch," she said.
"That's funny," I said. "She remarked how sweet your voice was."
"Oh, I'm sure. Now look what you did, I'm burning the hamburgers."
Mend your fences while you still have some left. "After dinner," I said, "you and I, we'll go to Hommel's."
She flashed me a quick, lasciviously grateful smile, and went back to turning hamburgers.CHAPTER 3
When she opened her front door to me, Liz was wearing a white dress with a fitted bodice and pleated skirt and a narrow white patent-leather belt around the waist. I'd heard the fifties were coming back, and here they were. "This time," I said, "you really are overdressed."
"I beg your pardon?" Her frown seemed equal parts puzzlement and disapproval. Somewhere behind her a piano discreetly tinkled "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
"What's under that, I wonder," I said, and then Liz appeared all over again, behind this one, wearing a purple T-shirt dress with no bra. "Oh," I said.
"So there you are," Liz said, the Liz in purple. To the non-Liz in white she said, "This is the riffraff I told you about."
"You're the sister," I said.
Liz said, "They can't get them past you, can they? Come on in, before we fill up with mosquitoes."
And so I entered the Kerner household. Too late, they closed the door.
We were together in a small vestibule, the three of us. Through an arched doorway was a section of party scene painted by a member of the Royal Academy; the accompanying sound effects were polite conversational murmurs, unobtrusive ice cube clinking, and the modest piano segueing into "My Funny Valentine." Our three heads were close together, the double Liz and me, and looking from one to the other I said, "That's truly amazing." Except for differences of expression and hairdo the faces were absolutely identical.
The non-Liz said, "But I thought you had a twin brother."
How our thoughtless fibs return to plague us. "Oh, of course," I said. "But I've never met any other twins before. Not as identical as you two." To get us away from that subject, I thrust my hand out to the non-Liz and said, "I'm Art Dodge, by the way."
She smiled, in the bland way that one does at parties, and said, "I'm Betty Kerner." Her hand was cool and dry.
Then they brought me through into the next room, and what a collection of store-window mannequins they'd assembled for their party. There were men present in cummerbunds, I swear to God. Most of the men appeared to be named Frazier and most of the women Grahame. The piano was being played by a hireling, a lanky black youth with Belafonte good looks and a totally untrustworthy smile; he was probably saving his money to buy a machine gun. Two automaton black girls in black uniforms and small white aprons circulated with trays of hors d'oeuvres, while the bartender blockaded behind his white-cloaked table was a beefy Irishman of about fifty who laughed heartily at all the drink orders, as though phrases like "dry vermouth on the rocks" or "two rye and ginger ale, please" were both witty and profound.
Excerpted from Two Much! by Donald E. Westlake. Copyright © 1975 Donald E. Westlake. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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