Story by Jay Seate / Illustration by Bradley K. McDevitt
My name is Sam Mackintosh. I was a pretty good cop once. After that, I was a decent PI, but I’m not sure what I’m best at these days. There’s an old saying, misery loves company, so I agreed to meet Charlie at O’Toole’s, a little dive that smelled like a century of cigarettes and beer and was dark enough to fit my mood. The barkeep’s smile had all the warmth of a hacksaw, but anything to get out of the sleazy room where I always seemed to end up between wives.
Charlie was a fast talker with brisk gestures. “Sam-O, you’ve got to quit hooking up with women whose names start with M,” he advised.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“What? Marsha, Martha, Myrtle, how many has it been?”
“Luck of the draw,” I told Charlie.
“What was this last one’s name?”
“She shoved you out the door with nothing but an empty wallet, right? Probably got the keys to your beloved ’47 Buick, too?”
I didn’t dignify the questions with an answer.
“Sure she did. Dames always leave a guy high and dry. At first, they act like your Errol Flynn. They light up like a jukebox, but the light always dims, doesn’t it, pal?” Charlie was having a good time. “They laugh at all your jokes and, in the end, the joke is on you. Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. That’s love for you.”
More like a flood for me, but I still had my trusty friend that promised to never let me down in a pinch. She was strapped to my right ankle.
Charlie continued. “My old lady was a doozey. I cut her loose. Kissed her fanny goodbye on the Fourth of July. Independence Day all year round. I’ve sworn off broads like an alcoholic taking the pledge, brother. You should try it.”
Charlie was beginning to get on my nerves. I shot back, “So to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“This is your lucky day, old stick. I can give you a sweet payday if you’ll follow a broad for one of my clients.”
I tossed down the contents of a shot glass. “If you expect me to wear out shoe leather on some skirt, you’re thinking of some other chump. I’ve got a couple of bail-skips to track down.”
“You’re developing a nice pain-in-the-ass attitude, partner.” He waved his empty glass at the bartender.
“But it comes from the heart.”
“Since when did you get one of those?”
“Why don’t you tail her?”
“I’m snowed under. Thought I’d toss you a bone, try to help out an old buddy.” His grin reminded me of a snake-oil salesman. “At least it’s better than bail-skips, or getting a snapshot of some schlemiel wallowing his wife’s best friend.”
I figured this “help” was something more dangerous than he wanted.
When I said as much, Charlie replied, “Naw, a piece of cake for an old shamus like you. A woman is supposed to meet some pug down by the waterfront tomorrow. Her old man got wind of it and figures she might have a thing going. You got some other big deal at present?”
He had me there. My last job concluded abruptly when the guy I was tracking ended up face down sprawled in a mess of blood, mustard, and pickle relish on the sidewalk in front of a hotdog stand. He’d taken a bullet from a passing car. Apparently I hadn’t been the only one on his trail, but it didn’t help my reputation for a mark to wind up in the city morgue wearing a toe tag.
It was also true beggars couldn’t be choosers, so in the end, money spoke louder than doubt. “She got a name?”
“Maggie,” he said.
Sweet Jesus. “Swell,” I said and took the donation.
— ♦♦♦ —
I was a Depression-era kid who thought he had it made as a cop, but an indiscretion moved me along to my current métier. Would’ve been fine if I had shown more sense when it came to the opposite sex. I once thought love happened in capital letters, but my marriages taught me it was mostly fine print. Thought I’d learned to read my latest wife like a Superman comic book, thought we were working it out, until I caught her with another guy. Apparently, we were reading different kinds of literature.
Why was I the one who got the boot from our love cottage? Maxine spent money like a cotton-picker on payday, and I’d never been a guy who could afford ten-dollar ties made in China, or imported cigars, or fancy restaurants with one-word names, but I managed to keep a roof over our heads. This weasel had been grazing in her pasture while yours truly had been beating the bushes as a private snoop. The two of them were probably drinking wine and carving me up like a roast. Still, I had to smile when I thought about this little creep getting involved with Maxine. It made about as much sense as hijacking a rollercoaster.
The two-timing dame was taking me for everything but my PI identification. My blue-worsted pinstripe suit was tossed out with the cat litter. Would she try for alimony? Hell yes, she would. She’d sink her fangs in as deeply as possible.
I happened to run across my 1933 high school yearbook among the items Maxine was trashing. I came to the page with hearts drawn around a picture and signed by Marsha. She’d been the first M girl to sugar me up, the beginning of my misfortunes. Certain women had the ability to reach down inside you and twist something. My M’s had been like that. Charming fellow though I was, the Raymond Chandler baloney only held its glamour for so long. Not Marsha, nor those who followed, chose to be a permanent passenger aboard the SS Mackintosh as it sailed across the sea of life, swimming away instead to calmer seas.
My reverie about the past, along with Charlie’s fresh cash injection, kept me in O’Toole’s far too long. After he left, I reminisced with some rummy about the war.
“The barrel of a gun is the blackest hole you can look into,” he slurred in the course of our shared, sluggish conversation.
I wasn’t so sure considering all the rabbit holes I’d fallen into chasing dames. I drank until the rummy staggered out of the place, and still I stayed until hacksaw-face turned off the lights.
— ♦♦♦ —
The physicality of my liaisons varied in size and shape from the petite to medium, from button noses to veritable ski slopes, but my passion was ankles, the kind Maggie Dunwich possessed.
She appeared mid-afternoon, and some dame she was. Eye-balling her from across the street, I could tell she was well-tended and had developed some class. The luscious ankles turned into good-looking gams. Her ensemble clung snuggly enough to highlight an hour-glass figure. My gaze eased over her frame like a long caress as she walked along the street in a swaying, four-alarm glide. Her look screamed Femme Fatale, high-octane all the way. Why the hell did her name to be Maggie?
I trailed her in a cab and then on foot to a salty district along the waterfront. It was one hell of a place for a classy trick to be meeting whoever she was meeting, but nothing could truly surprise me after years of digging up dirt on people who preferred to keep their secrets buried. She knocked on the door of what looked like an office next to a warehouse. A man’s hand and arm appeared, pushing the door open. Normally, I heeded the adage of two being company and three being you-know-what. I hid nearby and waited, planning to brace her when she came out. Catching her off-guard might uncover the particulars for the lowbrow slumming. That was the plan, until I heard a scream.
There was nothing I hated worse than complications on a “piece of cake” job. I trotted to a greasy window next to the office door and tried to see in. A man stood with his back to the door. Maggie sat in a chair in front of him. The man’s trousers were around his ankles. As a rule, I didn’t trust men with their pants down.
I heard the man utter the distinctly unfriendly phrase. “Cooperate or I’ll knock your teeth out.”
Maggie shook her head. The fear on her face sent a rush of blood speeding through my arteries. In spite of my shortcomings, I didn’t approve of violence toward women. As an ex-cop, I’d seen every kind of sadism from beatings with leather gloves so as not to cut flesh, to a woman hung from a hook and tortured mercilessly. But this scene proved to be something different.
On this occasion, I was packing my trusty .32 underneath my only good coat. I stormed into the room, weapon drawn. The man in front of Maggie turned abruptly. The venom in his ice cold stare threatened to peel away my skin. Since I was as gun-shy as a traveling salesman who had known too many farmers’ daughters, I was glad the scoundrel wasn’t packing heat at least. I lifted my gaze back to the tormentor’s face. He was an ugly cuss with a shaved head, beady eyes, and an aggressive nose. If he showed up in a dream, it would be a nightmare. His angry countenance held all the elements of a guy who’d done some time in the stir. He leered at me with white-hot anger set in his scarred face.
“What the hell?” he asked in a steely voice that matched his appearance.
“Sounds like the lady would prefer some other form of recreation,” I offered.
“Lady?” he said with a snarl and started toward me.
“My weapon’s not friendly,” I said, referring to my pistol. “Another step and you’re Swiss Cheese.”
Maggie remained seated, not sure what to do.
“Get up and stand in the corner,” I told her.
“That bimbo thinks she’s something special now.” He spat the words, “but she’s no different than all the other broads that troll the coast.”
“You’re going to shut your yap while the lady and I walk out of here,” I told the man I believed to be a merchant sailor along with being a thug. “I’ll be contacting the cops about an attempted rape, so maybe you want to sail off into the sunset.”
He looked at Maggie. Her eyes were as blue and wild as a Siamese cat’s. “I’ll catch up with you, bitch.” He looked at me. “And you, too, good buddy.”
His comments tweaked the funny monkey in my brain. My cop side kicked in. I took a step forward and landed a hard pistol whip against the brute’s temple. He went down like a pile of fresh mush.
“You best take your ship out to sea and keep it there,” I said. “Hasta la cucaracha, hombre.”
“Who are you?” Maggie managed to squeak out.
“For now, your white knight in shining armor,” I said.
I loaded Maggie into a cab. Her only reaction to her near-miss was a tilt of her head to one side so she could massage the back of her neck. I would have bet my last clean pair of skivvies that baldy had a record. Some hard cases found Jesus inside the clink, but I would have laid odds he hadn’t looked for Him, let alone found Him.
We saved our conversation until we found a coffee shop back on her end of town. Maggie sat primly on a stool next to me while we sipped java that wasn’t warm enough. Then those blue eyes looked at me, now resembling storm clouds over the ocean. I told myself to demonstrate medieval stoicism and remain emotionally detached as I looked at her, trying not to get carried away by her pouting mouth red with lipstick and practically begging to be kissed. I wondered how many schleps had been up close and personal with those lips.
To look at her was to be swept onto a current of desire. Her profile was classic, feminine, and bosomy, a C cup at least. She might have modeled for the prow of a ship back in the day when seafarers believed such a sculpture had the power to ward off the sea’s whims of fate. When she crossed her legs, I took notice of the ankle nearest my pant leg. It twisted tantalizingly. She probably knew I was aching to put a lip-lock on her ruby-reds. The smell of her expensive perfume hit me like a punch in the nose. It was the kind of bug juice out of my price range. My nostrils flared as I sniffed.
Most all women with a checkered past knew their drill, but Maggie had perfected hers. Images of us in sexual scenarios flitted through my mind, making my body restless. It hadn’t taken much time alone to crave a woman’s touch. That was me, ole cravin’ Sam who wouldn’t mind getting jake with Mrs. Dunwich. I wanted to touch as much as to be touched. I could imagine spending a torrid week on some island next to this package of delights. She generated the kind of primal urges that kept reproduction in vogue. Would’ve been better off to play Russian roulette than to let another skirt play games with my head, and yet, I wanted to kiss her like some kid panting over a dime lollypop.
It finally occurred to her to thank me. “You’re not a cop.”
“Used to be. Not anymore.”
“Peeked through one keyhole too many,” she said with the slightest of smiles as her dangling leg swung to and fro.
She wasn’t far off base. There had been a little issue between me and the chief’s wife. Her name was Mary Jo, and it hastened my fall from grace and sudden career change.
“So, now you’re a private dick.”
I didn’t like to be interrogated. “Your friend on the waterfront’s the kinda guy who gives crime a bad name. Life has enough excitement without a pig like him adding to the drama,” I said, volleying back into her court. In spite of her classy calm, I figured it was a cover. She had to be a little shaken and maybe even feeling fragile from her near miss. I tried to remain detached. “So, give me the story. It’s bound to be better than what I’m thinking.”
“Can I bum a cigarette?” If aged whiskey could generate sound, it would have sounded like her voice.
I asked the waitress for a fresh pack of Luckies, tapped one out, and lit it for her. She took a long drag and let the smoke slip out of her nostrils and one side of her mouth, making somewhat of a performance of it. The interlude was followed by a heavy sigh. As if summoning strength to continue, a second cloud of languid smoke escaped sensually from Maggie’s near flawless lips.
“I used to work at a dockside drinking joint called Davy Jones’s Locker. A woman named Lillian McConnell owns it. After being there a while, I was as close to some security as I’d ever been, and my job was respectable. I was Lil’s bookkeeper and a part-time waitress, the latter only when one of the regular girls didn’t show.” Maggie cleared her throat like she had a piece of rust caught in it. “Doing the bar-shift could be rough in The Locker. I hated cocktailing the floor.”
Bad choices in wives notwithstanding, I wasn’t carved out of a wet mouse turd yesterday. “Don’t red-apple me, blue eyes.” I sounded like a PI in a detective story. “I know the place. The barmaids wear G-strings and bras to keep them out of trouble with the law. But, for a price, a little action can be found around the fringes of the barroom. You play that game?”
“We all do what we must to survive.” She took another long drag. Her bosom heaved admirably. “Then one day Lil sets me up with this high-roller.”
“Mr. Dunwich, I presume.” I heard the sarcasm in my voice and wished it wasn’t there.
Maggie looked at me, her suspicions about her husband putting the tail on her confirmed. “Yeah, Mr. Dunwich. You can probably figure it. We have a date. He tells me I’m the most wonderful woman in the world. I see my chance to get away from the life once and for all, and I take it.”
“Rags to riches. How’s it working out?”
“Fine, until this creep who knew me before chases me down. I didn’t strip or hook, but Jerome could say I did and he wanted money to keep quiet.”
“Jerome? That slick-headed so-and-so’s name is Jerome?”
Maggie shrugged. “A name’s a name. What’s yours?”
“Sam,” she repeated, tasting it.
I’d known my share of women like Maggie, ones without the luxury of being born uptown; ones who had to struggle. Sometimes their only chance was to take advantage of their looks and hook up with some swell. I could picture the tawdry life Maggie lived before she got lucky. The cheap boarding-house rooms, adrift slobs coming and going on ancient staircases. I knew this because I’d lived in several of those places.
“I’m not passing judgment, Maggie, but I have to report to the guy who hired me. How did Jerome hook up with you?”
“I told Lil I wanted to be the place’s bookkeeper, nothing more. She balked. ‘You’re sassy, girl. Your street-wise-smarts brings in customers,’ she says to me, so I work the floor. Jerome sees me at The Locker. He makes a few passes, doesn’t like me turning him down. Soon afterward, I get the rock on my finger and quit once and for all. Then one day, Jerome spots me, says he wants fifty Gs to keep quiet. I didn’t think he knew about me, but there he was. You know the rest.”
I whistled at the amount. The ostentatious rock on her finger could have been a nice down payment. Most of my exes liked their rocks, so I knew my way around carets. “Surely Dunwich knew your past.”
“Only part of it. Not about me moonlighting while working for Lil. Only she knows about that…and Jerome.”
“What about today?”
“We were going to arrange the pay-off. I’d met with him once before, but this was the first time he tried to take advantage. You’d think the money would be enough.” She stubbed her cigarette butt into a glass ashtray. “So, what happens now? I guess you’ll tell my husband I’m still held hostage by the life I’ve tried to escape?”
Ugly wouldn’t let his fish off the hook just because I happened to inconveniently show up. Next time it would take more than knocking Jerome’s face into the following week. It was only a matter of time before he either exposed her, or harmed her, and I didn’t expect him to be patient. “There are other solutions, Maggie,” I said with a slight smile.
“You mean you’ll help me out of this?”
The lingering smoke cloud from our cigarettes had created a cocoon-like veil around us. She took an inflating breath and leaned forward, placing her hand upon mine. Her blouse was straining to contain its cargo. I didn’t know if her hopeful look was sincere or not, and I didn’t much care. Okay, so maybe I was more interested in helping the damsel in distress who looked like Maggie Dunwich than reporting the setup back to Charlie, at least for the time being.
“Nice little scar through your right eyebrow. Adds character,” she told me. “The war?”
“You have one of those?”
Maggie couldn’t squelch a laugh. Any ice between the two of us had melted. There was a woman for you. One minute they were helpless and the next, they were psychologically bending you to their will like a piece of sheet metal being riveted onto the belly of a B-29.
“Most men are asses,” she offered, “but fortunately, not all.”
I took a final gander at Maggie’s breastworks before carefully sliding off the counter stool. “Some days you get up in the morning and say, ‘screw it,’ and start from scratch,” I said. “I have several ideas.”
And our dance with the devil began.
— ♦♦♦ —
Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of retribution, dig two graves,” or something similar. Davy Jones’s Locker was in a part of town that came alive when darkness descended, ready to savor the promise of the night like some great beast. The following Friday night, I told Maggie to do something with her hubby to provide both of them with an alibi. I planned to go to the Locker myself.
A cloud of blue smoke already hung suspended just above the milling throng by the time I arrived. The joint was jumping with swearing sailors, Marines, and dockworkers with pockets full of singles and full of juice. From behind the Locker’s bar, Harvey, the barkeep, held his own against the drunker-by-the-minute crowd, and Lillian was somewhere in the back room probably helping one of her girls into a skimpy outfit. Waitresses wound their way around the boisterous tables ignoring the cat-calls and fanny-feelers. It was payday for the motley crew of servicemen and Lillian had installed custom-made foam-rubber beer taps in the shape of breasts. Five kegs bore the creative spouts. For a buck, customers could nurse on beer straight from the tap for fifteen seconds; a unique gimmick and quite popular.
Around ten o’clock, the bar’s secondary attraction appeared to a cacophony of shouts and applause. She was called China Doll and emerged from a back room wearing a bright red, dragon-embroidered Kimono. She mingled with the rowdy crowd on her perilous way to the small stage tucked in the corner of the smoke-filled room. China Doll stood five-feet nothing, even in high-heels. When she ascended the platform, a boozy cheer went up from the drunks and soon-to-be-drunk.
Everyone admired China Doll’s petite figure and exquisitely proportioned body as she slipped out of her Kimono. Music blasted from a bad sound system. As her body turned, her devotion for the men in bell-bottoms was evident. She’d dedicated her derriere to the cause. Ship anchors were tattooed on each diminutive buttock. China Doll shimmied and shook. The anchors danced.
“You’re an angel,” a sailor called out as the crowd wolf-whistled and pounded on tables.
“You’re breakin’ my heart,” another shouted.
“Lemme kiss those anchors, sweetie,” a third voice bellowed through the dense, blue fog of dust and smoke.
As a second tune exploded above the den of voices, China Doll removed her flimsy top and wiggled her perky breasts toward her inebriated audience. Foot-stomping had the floor shaking.
Then the inevitable happened. A sailor, not much bigger than China Doll, leaped onto the stage and bit her on the butt. She yelped. She tried to shake free of the land-shark, but the little guy’s choppers hung on like a dog to a trouser leg.
Another swabbie jumped onstage in a rescue attempt. He pounded his fist into the offender’s right ear until China Doll was free. A blood-red circle now surrounded the anchor on her left cheek. She grabbed her Kimono, clutched it between her breasts, and headed for the relative security of the back room.
“Let’s tear up that swabbie,” someone suggested concerning the sailor who had disrupted the party.
“Can’t even act civilized,” a marine hollered from the bar. “Screw all you anchor-clankers!”
The slight wasn’t about to go unnoticed. As jarheads and sailors positioned themselves for impending combat, Harvey stood on the bar and shouted, “Free beer for one minute,” as loud as he could.
There was a hesitation and then everyone in the room tore toward one of the five beckoning foam-rubber attachments, exchanging one kind of free-for-all for another. The onslaught on the kegs was so great the bartender was knocked off balance and fell into the rampaging herd. The crush of bodies caused one of the tap handles to break off its keg. Beer blew the rubber breast aside and gushed in a white cascade, washing over a dozen sailors who began to batter one another into insensibility. I knew Harvey wouldn’t keep his cool if the free-for-all went on for very long. Maggie had told me old Harv had pulled a Section Eight in the service for nearly beating the brains out of a barracks-mate with a chair leg.
As the battle for beer raged, I saw what I’d been hoping for. Maggie said Jerome usually dropped in on Friday nights. And there he was, eye-balling the battle, but staying out of its center, throwing a random punch at anyone who ventured within his reach.
Several sailors were on their hands and knees either looking for an available nozzle or trying to crawl their way out of the growing fray. The vastly outnumbered Marines had formed a flying wedge to break through the sailors who were grappling around the beer kegs. When they charged, the room became a patchwork of blue-jackets and bell-bottoms against a smaller contingent of olive-drab uniforms. Sixty some-odd bodies kicked, clawed, and bellowed loudly. All five taps now shot out cold liquid geysers soaking everyone with the frothy brew.
Outside, sirens approached the Locker. “The cops are here, you assholes!” Harvey wailed, knocking bodies aside so he could get to his feet.
The Shore Patrol and local police burst into the dive. With the help of their night sticks, they restored some semblance of order. Jerome had quietly disappeared into the back where the girls were. I slipped out the front door and moved to the alleyway leading to the side of the building where I believed Maggie’s blackmailer would eventually exit.
Before long, the side door swung open. Jerome’s shape filled the doorway. He was yelling at one of the girls, calling her names, demonstrating his low opinion of women in general. This time, I carried a sap in my pocket to go along with my hardware, but before I could get as close as I wanted, he spotted me. His face seemed to transcend anger and his reactions were quicker than I’d anticipated. He flew from the threshold of the door, knocked me down, and loomed over me close enough to pick up an almost feral smell. His chin jutted forward, his eyes fiercely cold below his Neanderthal brow, his ugly, vengeful mug set in Gestapo stone except for a mocking grin.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he said with a world of insolence. “So you want to play again.”
He pulled a hunting knife from his jacket, a vengeful man about to launch his rage with extreme prejudice. The knife glinted in his hand like a silver tooth. As I tried to reach for my .32, his grin widened victoriously, planning to gut me.
The next thing I saw was the silver flash of a bracelet and a baseball bat swinging through space. It crashed into the side of Jerome’s head. The knife flew from his hand, but the blow didn’t bring him down. He staggered sideways.
Standing defiantly behind my assailant was China Doll, now covered by a short robe. With the fury of a Samurai warrior, she raised one foot and planted it squarely into the offender’s groin. That brought him to his knees, pronto.
“You little piece of—”
With a look that would curdle milk, China Doll spun around and delivered another swift kick to Jerome’s face. His words became gobbledy-gook as he pitched to one side and toppled over. There was someone else with her. It was Lillian. Maggie’s tormentor lay on the dirty pavement, too out of it to cradle his wounded face or kicked crotch.
“Not a copper in sight,” Lillian said. “All of ’em busy with our juice-headed service boys inside.”
I got to my feet. It wasn’t until then I noticed China’s Doll’s quick actions had caused her robe to pull up to her waist, allowing a private viewing of those charming little anchors. I could picture the doll married to a marine and kicking the stuffing out of him regularly.
Jerome moaned unintelligibly. China Doll looked down at her prey. “You were born a bad guy, and you go out same way,” she said.
“I’ll kill all you bitches,” the man spat through a mouthful of blood.
China Doll lifted the bat and brought it crashing down on the man’s skull. He jerked and popped a few red spit-bubbles. She cracked the bat against his head once more. He twitched again, but didn’t move after that. Then he stopped breathing. Nothing but the fresh stench of soiled trousers remained. China Doll was one hard-boiled little dame. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d reached in Jerome’s pants, sliced off his privates, and kept it as a souvenir.
“What would have happened after the police took him?” Lil asked me, her eyes implacable. “He would get out of jail and come after us, and you, and Maggie. Now you won’t have to worry about him. I’ll say someone from the fight inside bashed his brains out and took a powder.”
The script played like a cheap novel.
China Doll chimed in. “Now this peckerwood is smacked and going to be dead long time. Harv will be happy how I use his prize possession.”
“Thank you for saving my ass. I owe both of you one,” I offered.”
Lillian spoke up again, “Won’t be no mourning over this scumbag. The Chamber of Commerce would be proud of us.”
I agreed that a cold slab in the morgue was a righteous ending for Jerome. The little three-way love-fest we were having was grand, but the need to get my tail out of the alley and back to my low-rent Shangra-La got me moving.
— ♦♦♦ —
Since the Bogart movie called The Big Sleep, street cops and private dicks liked to use the phrase when referring to the fate of corpus delicti. Jerome’s big sleep led me to a big awakening—women were inherently dangerous. They could change the truth quicker than I could change expressions. Maggie’s new lease on life went as follows:
She wanted out from under her husband’s thumb. When she saw how simple it was to remove hubby’s money from the bank to pay off Jerome, she went back for more, a whole lot more. I explained that theft was a serious crime, even if it was taken from a spouse. Getting caught could lead to a prison full of bull-guards and half-crazed females. I came on as the gallant hero offering to protect a helpless female against the hands of justice, all the while knowing Maggie was anything but helpless.
I chose to go for a better deal than Charlie had offered. I told Maggie, “You can take all your dough and go wherever you choose on one condition. You take me with you.” I paused a moment for drama. “You and me to the end of the line.”
Her eyelids fluttered. She claimed she’d had an epiphany after I’d been instrumental in getting Jerome out of the picture, so she agreed. Our unholy alliance was sealed when I pulled Maggie against me. Then I kissed her. A surge of triumph rushed through me like it was D-Day. A person is lucky to experience such a kiss once in a lifetime, the kind that makes you feel both alive and ultimately doomed at the same time. We broke apart long enough to tear at each other’s clothes and wound up writhing on the floor.
Ahhh, the rotten sweetness of corruption.
Maggie’s body was a snowy delight. My reaction must have been something akin to Captain Ahab’s first sighting of the great white whale. When the event reached its zenith, she nearly swooned like a dewy heroine in a romance novel. Maybe she thought she owed me, but if Maggie’s proclamation of pleasure was an act, her performance achieved award-winning status.
“‘Of all the lives in all the towns in the entire world, you walk into mine,’ ” she murmured.
I appreciated the film reference, but I would rather have had Maggie Dunwich than any of Bogey’s brooding dames. She was sexy, she was there, and she’d just come into a nice piece of change.
Truth isn’t absolute. It’s a wardrobe to be changed as we see fit. But there were things that could eat at a man’s integrity. This deal with the devil would remain lodged into my psyche like an impacted wisdom tooth. Yeah, I got a nasty feeling about turning Charlie and Mr. Dunwich into chumps…for a while, but the swindle appealed to some devil on my shoulder. Ingratiating myself with both loot and a new squeeze could have gotten me in more hot water than used tea bags for this complicit and consensual extortion, but I was willing to take the chance.
The two of us skipped town. Maggie had given Dunwich the gate, hinges and all, and bounced back like a rubber ball. And my alimony payments had become a thing of the past.
“It’s not like we’re bank robbers or politicians,” she said. Somewhere, Sherlock Holmes must have been rolling over in his grave.
We are currently on the lam in a place where I have turquoise seas, dancing, drinking, and Mrs. Dunwich. Maggie likes to dance the Tango. So we dance. When she puts her mind to it, she can out-dance and out-love all my former M’s. I can almost hear Charlie crying in his beer about the private dick for which he’d done a favor taking off with a client’s dame and his bank account. I actually called Charlie once to tell him what a grand time I was having. He began ranting about my ethics. I hung up softly hoping he might bellow for several minutes before he realized he was raving into a dead line.
Back in the States, we could wind up in the slammer, but here, our love nest is warm and safe, set to the music of the islands, at least until the money runs out.
— ♦♦♦ —
All good things must come to an end, another old saw. One thing you can’t buy is time, and I sometimes wonder how much of it Maggie and I have before we start to look askance at one another, suspicious of motives lying beneath the surface of our capriciousness. Maggie isn’t only the most recent specimen bearing the initial M, she is also the most mysterious. Did I really save her? Might I merely be the latest in a string of lovers, the newest piece in a chess game she’s playing until she can figure how to make a better move? Suppose the con is on me. Suppose the whole thing was orchestrated, Jerome first, the husband second, and me third.
Do I expect a dish like Maggie to stay with a slug like me forever? The odds are against it. There are a thousand ways to end a relationship. The possibilities gnaw at my gut, trying to figure out what such an elaborate charade might accomplish.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.
Our affair is like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing. I hope Maggie doesn’t turn out to be yet another wrong woman who soon tires of the game like a cat with a mouse. Some men stick to a dame like gum on the bottom of a movie seat. I can’t swear off of them either, but if there is another one after Maggie, I’ll ask her name before I even say, “Hello.”
“Ghost Boss” by Jamie Mason
Illustration by Luke Spooner