Authors: Block, Lawrence
Copyright © 2013, Lawrence Block
All Rights Reserved
Cover Design: Jayne E. Smith
A bus, a plane, another bus. A Rust Belt city in east-central Ohio, immune to economic cycles because it had been in its own permanent recession ever since the end of the Second World War. A dingy SRO hotel, her drab room so small that the initials might as easily have stood for Standing Room Only as Single Room Occupancy.
And a minimum-wage job two blocks away, in a shop that sold rolling papers and recycled jeans. She wore the same basic outfit every day, loose jeans and a bulky sweater, and she didn’t put on makeup or lipstick, or do anything with her hair. She kept herself as unattractive as possible short of putting on weight or breaking out in pimples, but a certain number of guys hit on her anyway. Some guys were like that; the mere possibility that you might be the possessor of a vagina was all it took to arouse their interest.
She deflected any attention that came her way, meeting their gaze with a slack-jawed, bovine stare, missing the point of their innuendo. Some of them probably thought she was retarded. One way or the other, they all lost what minimal interest she’d inspired.
After work she’d pick up half a barbecued chicken or some Chinese take-out and eat in her room; when that got old she’d stop at a diner and sit in a rear booth reading the paper while she ate. Back in her room she read library books until it was bedtime. She went to bed early and didn’t get up until she had to. If this city was a place to hide, well, so was sleep.
It was strange. She’d felt uplifted after she left Hedgemont, felt she’d done something good, something transcendent. She’d given Alvin Kirkaby something he longed for, and something no one else could or would have given him—the liberation of a peaceful death.
And that made her feel good, in an unfamiliar way, and she enjoyed the feeling while it lasted.
But it didn’t last very long, and when it passed it gave way to a feeling of emptiness. Her life stretched out in front of her, and she saw herself going on like this forever, hooking up with men, sleeping with them, killing them, and moving on. What she had always enjoyed, what had indeed never failed to thrill her, all at once seemed unendurable.
So she worked in the daytime and read in the evenings and slept at night. And put everything on hold, waiting.
One afternoon she bought a phone. Prepaid, good for a couple of hours of calls. You could trace it back to the store where she bought it, but no further than that. They didn’t make her give a name, let alone show ID.
She took it back to her room, put it in a drawer. Three nights later she picked it up and made a call.
“I was wondering if I’d ever hear from you again.”
“Oh, I’m harder to shake than a summer cold.”
“It’s so good to hear your voice. Only the thing is—”
“You’ve got company.”
“How’d you know?”
“Is he cute? Has he got a nice cock?”
Kimmie . . .
“You want to call me back when you’re done? I’ll give you my number.”
There’d been no calls, to Rita or to anyone else, since she left Hedgemont. There’d been no phone—she’d left the battery in one trash receptacle and the phone in another, and hadn’t bothered to get a new phone until just the other day, when a store she’d passed every day suddenly drew her in.
And then, the new phone in her possession, she’d left it alone until tonight. She’d bought it for one reason and one reason only, to call Rita. So why did it take her three days to get around to making the call?
“So did you fuck him?”
“Kimmie! Suppose it was somebody else calling?”
“Not much chance of that. Nobody else has the number. Anyway, I know the answer. Either you fucked him or there was something really good on TV, because I was just about ready to give up on you and go to sleep.”
“What, at nine-thirty? Oh, you must be in one of those weird eastern time zones.”
“Central. It’s eleven-thirty here.”
Talking, back and forth. She found herself talking a little about her job, about the place where she was staying. And realized how she’d missed this contact, this connection.
“Such an exciting life,” Rita was saying. “A new job, a new address . . .”
“Feeding a Xerox machine. Picking up General Tso’s chicken on my way home. I don’t know if my heart can stand the excitement.”
“I guess you don’t want to hear how I spent the evening.”
“By the fireside, knitting sweaters for our troops in Siberia.”
“We have troops in Siberia?”
“Not yet. Well? Let’s hear it.”
“Let’s see, you called me when, two hours ago?”
“More like two and a half.”
“How time flies. Well, in those two and a half hours I slept with over a hundred and fifty men.”
“One hundred and fifty-two, to be precise. You don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“Not a clue.”
“He was a Mormon, Kimmie.”
“So he had what, five or ten wives? How does that put you in bed with a hundred and fifty guys?”
“A hundred fifty-two.”
“And he’s not polygamous. He’s not even married. He’s engaged to be married, but the wedding’s not until sometime next year.”
“I’ll clear my calendar. I still don’t get it.”
“Okay, I’ll explain. There were two of them, and they came to my door and rang the bell.”
“Him and his fiancée?”
“No, she’s back in Utah. Him and another guy. What happened, I was online a month or two ago, I can’t even remember, and I guess I checked something about wanting information on the Mormon faith. I thought they were going to send me a book.”