The Culture Alliance and the American Culture present original fiction by W. S. Moore, III, who “write[s] stories about people who do unpleasant things. Some of these people use the sort of language you might use if you drop something heavy on your foot. You’ve been warned.”
When I picked her up at the club, I knew it was going to be fun. She was from out of town, she said. I asked her what her name was. She said it was Susan. I told her mine was Mike. She told me hers was Marie. I told her mine was Carl. She told me hers was Lisa, I told her to call me Ishmael, and we laughed and talked about books for a minute or two and I told her I worked at a bookstore. She said she was a graphic designer in town for a convention. I saw the wedding ring scar on her left hand, but I knew that if she was at Cat’s, it didn’t matter. Nobody went to Cat’s to be married – just to pretend for a little while.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I had gone there for another reason. I had gone to exercise my gift. Some people go to different bars to hustle pool or darts. Hell, I even knew one guy who hustled at those electronic trivia games. I play a different game, but like the rest of the hustlers, I have to move around a lot.
And I had, from city to city, from straight bars to gay bars, although I liked the straight ones more. But when you have talent, it just seems like a shame not to use it when you can, and practice had refined mine from city to city. I’m sure someone noticed my game a few times – afterwards. I guess it’s inevitable, since I don’t see much point in putting the pieces away when I’m finished playing. But I don’t know, because I try not to stick around that long. Like I said, I have a gift.
So we finished our drinks and we went out onto the floor and danced a little. She danced well, even in the heat – I could see beads of sweat on her neck, one slipping into the V of her shiny, black silk blouse. And I could feel the heat as well, which made the thought of the game that much more pleasant.
I can dance, but not enough really to stand out. That’s true about me in lots of ways. I’m nice-looking in a forgettable sort of way, like the actor listed as Third Bystander when the movie’s credits roll. I’m smart, but not intimidating; big but not imposing. But I danced well enough to let her show off. A few people looked at us, but I wasn’t worried. I’d be out of town tomorrow, and she would be eventually.
In a way, it would almost be a shame. She and I seemed to click, but if Willie Moscone saw a pool table, he’d have to shoot a few racks, and I bet Bobby Fisher doesn’t walk past too many chessboards without playing the game out, at least in his head. And I had to play my game – it had been too long since I had played it back in Cincinnati, and someone had probably already found the pieces.
So we danced a little longer, breaking the touch barrier on a slow song. The heat felt dirty on my skin. I didn’t like that, but it was part of the game, and there are touches and touches. She’d see.
We went to a booth in the corner and sat, and that’s when I felt her hand on my thigh. I wondered what the man who gave her the ring she wasn’t wearing would think afterwards. But that’s what he gets for marrying the wrong woman. And that’s what she gets for cheating. It’s only fair – it wouldn’t be a game unless something was lost, right? And cheaters never prosper.
So we sat there for a couple of minutes, until I asked her if she wanted a ride home instead of paying for the taxi. She knew exactly what I was offering, or at least I did. So she said yes. It was an adventure in a town she’d never visit again, and she’d never have to tell the man with the ring. Hell, she probably even figured she’d list the taxi on the expense report anyway.
She stumbled a little bit in the parking lot on the way to my car, and I caught her, and we kissed for the first time. She tasted like lipstick and sweat, and her hair smelled like the cigarette smoke in the bar. I opened the car door for her – the perfect gentleman.
She directed me to a hotel downtown. I parked in a lot up the street and put the $4.00 maximum in the cash box. It’s nice to take your time. We walked into the hotel and took the elevator to her room.
I barely had the door closed when she was pressed against me. We clawed at each others’ clothes as we fell onto her bed. I slipped my right hand under her skirt and was slipping my left hand into my pants leg for the butterfly knife when his arm slipped under my chin from behind. There was a wrench and I suddenly looked over my right shoulder, maybe getting a look at him, and then there was a pop and a burning in my neck and that was all I could feel. That and not being able to catch my breath.
I never did get a good look at him, but I could see her for a few more seconds as she wiggled out from under me. They didn’t take my wallet or my money. They didn’t even take the butterfly knife. They just began to pack their things as she slipped her ring back on.
It figures. Just when you get good at something, you have to meet a better player.
W.S. Moore III is an Associate Professor of English at Newberry College. He’s “been putting the Evil in Medieval since 1998.” This story copyrighted and shared with TAC readers with permission of the author.