BY S.E. GRECO
Copyright is held by the author.
I COULD think of at least at five reasons why she wanted me dead, and maybe only one or two why she’d prefer that I keep on breathing.
So of course, I took my gun.
Sheila would know I was carrying it. Back when we were married, she said that she could smell it on me. It was the machine oil, I suppose. I’ve always cleaned and oiled the gun about once a month. Or maybe she could pick up the scent of the boot crème I used on the leather shoulder holster. I carried a .38 snub nose Colt Cobra, small but deadly, and the holster was trim enough to keep the piece neatly tucked under my arm, with no bulge at all. But still, she knew. She always knew. That woman had the nose of a bloodhound. And she hated guns. Ever since I’d shot her.
I pulled up to her place, and parked my battered, pea green ’44 DeSoto by the curb, wondering if the neighbours might take offence at the sight of rusted hulk. I could never figure how Sheila had ended up being able to buy such a nice place on a swank suburban street in West Hollywood, while I lived in a dump the size of a shoebox, with a bathroom I shared with three families, and a kitchen I shared with three hundred roaches. The divorce was a fairly even split, with no alimony because at the time I had no job. Not that we had a lot to split. But she’d never remarried, so where’d she get the money for these fancy digs? Maybe she’d screwed the mortgage loan officer. I didn’t know, but I was no saint either when we were married, and in fact I vaguely recalled screwing a loan officer by the name of Brenda who cleared the way for me to get some cash for the first month’s rent on a dumpy little apartment that Sheila and I took long ago in a lousy part of the city, where we had to step over winos to get to our front door.
So now I was gainfully employed as a private eye. I loved the work, and I was good at it. I didn’t make much, so maybe the “gainfully” thing was arguable. I survived on my own, single and without many friends, and I preferred it that way, because sooner or later most of them wanted something. Except for my friends George and Gracie. Those were my two lock picks, and we had fun together almost every day. They never asked for anything. They were just silent helpers.
I gave three hard raps on the door and then stood to the side out of old habits. Someone once took a shot at me through a door, although Sheila’s looked like solid oak and unless she owned a bazooka I was probably safe enough. We hadn’t seen each other in some time, and even though we’d talked on the phone a few days ago, I didn’t trust her. I was slightly concerned that at the sight of my handsome face she’d pull out a hairpin and go for my balls. Even without the hairpin, her fingernails were probably still the ten deadly weapons I remembered well. Long, red, and razor sharp. She could run them soothingly through your hair one moment and in the next press them against your jugular and threaten to poke a hole that would let the life drain out of you.
As I saw the door knob begin to turn, I said in a voice that was loud but friendly enough, “Hey Sheila, don’t scream or anything. It’s just me.”
“Who the hell is me?” she bellowed from behind the door.
“Oh, c’mon, I can’t believe you’ve forgotten the sound of my voice through a closed door. We did plenty of talking through closed doors those last few weeks of our marriage.”
It opened and she stood there in front of me, in a silky pink bathrobe of course, even though it was two in the afternoon. And damn, she looked good with her raven hair spilling down over her shoulders. And that killer body. She was taking care of herself because the bumps and the flat parts were still in all the right places. Candy apple red lipstick, but no smile for me today, just her pissed off look. The exact same look she’d given me when I’d turned and walked away five years ago. Maybe it had never left her face.
Sheila had cheated on me with at least a few guys back then, and looking at her now reminded me of why men were continually hitting on her. But I sure deserved equal blame for the marriage crashing and burning. It started out as a sham and ended up in a shamble. We had no business hooking our chains together ten years ago when we were so young, just kids really. I suppose I knew it was truly over about a week after I walked out, when I saw the necklace I’d given her for her birthday before we were married, sitting in the window of a grimy downtown pawn shop. After that, I thought I’d never see her again, but now here I was, trying not to stare at that body, which the skimpy robe did a piss poor job of hiding.
She eyed me suspiciously and said, “Mr. Axel Riggs, private eye. Hmmm, I wasn’t even sure you’d come.”
I gave her a look like she’d hurt my feelings and said, “Hey, we made a deal on the phone. I give you something you want, you give me something I want. It’s the simple basis of any deal. I treat people right if they treat me right. And if they treat me poorly, I don’t forget.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got what you want,” she said casually, as if washing away my concerns.
“Well, let me say first that you look great, Sheila. It’s been how long since we’ve seen each other?”
“Definitely not long enough. And you’re damn right, I do look great.” She gave me a suspicious look, and said in an accusing tone, “You’re carrying your gun, aren’t you? I don’t like guns in my house.”
That beautiful nose was still as sharp as ever.
“I always carry it these days Sheila. In my line of work, things can get…dangerous.”
“Oh yeah? Have you accidentally shot yourself in the prick yet? As I see it, that’s the biggest danger you’re facing.”
“I’ve had one or two unavoidable accidents, but fortunately I missed that vital organ each time by a wide margin.”
“Is that right? Well, it wasn’t all that vital when I needed it.”
She paused as she fished a cigarette out of the pocket of her robe. “You know why I don’t like guns in my house,” she huffed.
I gave her a half smile to try and lighten the mood, and said, “Okay, so I shot you in the ass once when we were married. Get over it. For the twelve thousandth time, I dropped the gun, it was an accident, you know it was.”
“I couldn’t get a job as a dancer because of that scar you left on my ass. Did I ever tell you that?”
“Yeah, 12,000 times. And what kind of dancing job has your ass showing anyway?”
“Chorus line dancing, like the Rockettes do. Those leotards are cut pretty high.”
“Look, stop your worrying about my gun,” I chided. “It’ll stay safely where it is. Are you going to invite me in, so we can conduct our business? I don’t think you really want to do this on the front walkway, do you?”
Sheila took a few reluctant steps back, and waved me inside. She raised the cigarette and my hand went for my lighter out of habit, but then I remembered I’d lost it last week, and the thought made me cringe for the 100th time, because it was the lighter that my father had given me. The only material possession that mattered more to me than my dead father’s lighter was my dead mother’s wedding ring, and that had to do with why I was visiting Sheila today. Anyway, before I could order my hand to stop reaching for the lighter, Sheila produced one of her own from her other pocket. It was a nice little feminine thing, all golden with a row of diamond chips around the cap, and I thought that maybe she pulled it out just to impress me. I waited while she lit up and then she slowly took a deep drag. She used to do that all the time when we were married. Sheila just loved to make me wait.
She put the lighter back in her pocket, and her sarcastic answer finally came after she blew a smoke ring in my face. “Oh yes, let’s do that, shall we? Our business. Did you get the pictures?”
“Of course, I did. Don’t you have faith in me?” I asked her.
She smirked, and said, “Faith? I don’t have faith in anybody anymore. But when I needed some breaking, entering, and larceny done, of course I thought of you because you’re one of maybe only three guys in the city who could pull this job without getting caught. The other two weren’t available, and I needed the merchandise right away. And anyway, you’ve already seen me naked.”
I almost made a snide remark about being in a club that must be getting a pretty big membership by now, but I thought better of it. I reached inside my sport coat and pulled the envelope out from behind me, where I’d had it safely tucked inside the waistband of my pants, and I handed it to her.
“I suppose you’ve taken a look at them?” she asked.
“Well, I tried to avert my eyes at all times, but I may have had a purely accidental glance. Very nice. You could still be in Playboy.”
She opened the envelope, took out the eight by ten photos, and with a bored look on her face she flipped through the nude pictures of herself and a fat city councilman with a back as hairy as an ape’s, the two of them tumbling around together like acrobats on satin sheets. Some had Sheila looking longingly at the councilman, others had her purring at the camera lens like a hungry kitten. Various poses, various angles, but there was absolutely nothing left to the imagination. When she seemed satisfied that they were all there, she threw them onto a side table.
“So, who is this guy?” I asked. “I mean, I know you said he’s a city councilman, and I also know his house has a great alarm system, and his doors and even his desk have great locks, although none of that greatness was enough to defeat me. Oh, and I also know he’s got a pint-sized pecker between his legs. But that’s about it. So, what’s your connection to him?”
She shrugged. “Just a former lover. No scandal in that.”
“But I bet there’s some scandal in the fact that he’s a former. Especially if there’s a current.”
She gave me a snooty look, and said, “Yeah, there’s a current. If you must know, I’m engaged to a judge now.”
“A judge?” I exclaimed with a congratulatory smile. “You’re setting your sights higher and higher, Sheila. And this councilman has threatened you with blackmail, is that it? He wants you back as his mistress?”
“He hasn’t threatened me with anything yet, but I don’t trust him with these pictures. Never should have let him take them. Too risky. But he insisted that I give him something to jack off to, when I can’t be there.”
I nodded. “Okay, well this is all very interesting and wonderful, hearing about your wanker of a former boyfriend. But where’s my end of this deal?”
She took the time to take one more puff, probably to make it clear that she wasn’t inclined to jump at my orders. Then she opened the small drawer in the foyer table, took out the ring, and handed it to me. I examined it and nodded my head.
I asked, “It just turned up recently, huh? Like magic? Found it in the bottom of a box, isn’t that what you told me on the phone the other day? Real funny how my dead mother’s wedding ring just disappeared a week before we broke up. Disappeared from the bureau drawer where I kept my few personal things.”
“Well, you should really take better care of your things.”
“I will from now on.”
“Goodbye Axel. I don’t expect we’ll be seeing each other again. Too bad. You’re still pretty good looking.”
“Ah, but you’re getting married now. You’re not supposed to be noticing other men.”
“Yeah, well, the judge I’m marrying is even fatter than the city councilman, and 15 years older. But much richer. Getting married just means that I need to be extra careful, doesn’t it?” she smirked.
“Whatever you say, Sheila. But I want something else before I leave, just in case you’re right and we never see each other again.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“A kiss. And not just a peck on the cheek. A real kiss.”
She paused, tilted her head to one side, and cooed, “Well, that’s so sweet, Axel. You miss me?”
I sighed and said, “Maybe I never got over you.”
She smiled, and it was one of those sweet come-hither ones that she used to lay on me all the time when we first met. She waited for me to make the move. I grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her toward me, wrapped my arms around her, and squeezed until I could feel every part of her pressing against every part of me, and then I gave her a long slow one, and she gave back, with as much warmth and feeling as I remembered from those wonderful times so long ago, when things between us were fresh and exciting. Sheila always was a damn good kisser.
I released her and took a step back, far enough away so that I could focus on her lovely eyes, but still close enough to take in the inebriating scent of her perfumed hair.
“Sheila, it was a pleasure doing business with you. And that kiss was the most pleasurable part, by far. Maybe . . . you know . . . maybe things could have worked out differently for us.”
“Maybe. But we’re not the same people now that we were way back then. Those two crazy kids . . . they don’t exist anymore. Goodbye, Axel.”
I gave her a little smile and said, “There’s still a bond between us Sheila. So anytime you need me, call.” I gave her a wave, turned and started walking. The door shut behind me.
When I got back in my car, I pulled the real ring out of my pocket, held it up and compared it to the copy that Sheila had just given me. And the copy wasn’t a bad job at all. Sheila’s memory was pretty sharp. It was a simple gold wedding band, not hard to duplicate, and she’d gotten the thickness and shape of the band correct, and even the size. But the lettering on the inside was just a tiny bit off. Sheila had chosen a script style for my parents’ names, Fred and Doris, that had the letters slanted just a little bit too much to the right. And it was probably an inferior grade of gold, but I couldn’t tell by just looking at it. I didn’t know what she’d paid to get it made, but it couldn’t have been too much. Even so, her effort in forging the ring showed initiative. She needed my services because I was the best and she knew exactly what to offer me in order to get me to say yes.
As for the real ring . . . well, that necklace wasn’t the only thing she had unloaded in that pawnshop five years ago.
I opened my hand and examined her gold lighter. It was a sweet little piece, worth enough to make up for my trouble. Of course, she’d be pissed as hell when she realized that I’d taken it. But not nearly as pissed as when the copies I’d made of those pictures of her and the councilman reached the judge. I’d be mailing them this afternoon. It had taken me all of thirty minutes of digging to find out about the judge after Sheila had called me.
Like I said, I’m good at what I do. And I don’t forget when someone treats me poorly.
Not even when that someone is Sheila.
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