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Archive for July 19th, 2010

I said in my introduction that I’m not a fiction writer, and though that’s generally true I’d be lying if I told you I don’t make the odd attempt from time to time.  So, when Sailor Barsoom made the comment (on my July 11th column) that he would like to see a prostitute as adventure heroine, I couldn’t stop thinking about it; the idea was so compulsively interesting that I eventually decided that I had to try my hand at it.  So, here’s my humble effort at a short story about a heroic harlot; I hope you like it, and I promise that tomorrow I’ll be back to the nonfiction.

The Trick

“Almost ready?” asked Van, sticking his head into the bathroom where Bella was checking her makeup.

“Just about,” she replied, “I had to make sure I had enough supplies in my purse.”

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

“Not sure.  He sounded promising.”

Van nodded.  “Well, the car’s ready when you are.  Where are we going?”

“The Downtown Hilton,” she said, picking up her purse and gesturing him to move back from the doorway.  “Let’s go.”

She relaxed and collected herself while Van drove her to the hotel; it made her job so much easier to know that she had a partner in whom she could completely rely.  His mere presence was reassuring, and he had never failed to be exactly where she needed him to be exactly when she needed it; having him as a partner made an impossible job merely difficult.  As if he could hear her thoughts, he reached over and gently patted her leg, giving her thigh a reassuring squeeze.

They soon arrived at the hotel, and she gave him a quick peck on the cheek before getting out.  The autumn night had turned unexpectedly chilly, and she clutched her filmy shawl a little more tightly about her shoulders as she hastened into the big revolving door.  In a few moments she was through, and with practiced nonchalance walked over to the bank of elevators and chose an empty car in which to ascend to the 23rd floor.  She consulted her notebook to be sure of the room number, checked her face and hair in the elevator’s mirror and stepped out into the quiet hall as soon as the doors opened.  The numbering system in this hotel was pretty straightforward, and before long she found the room and knocked on the door.

When she had first started this job three months ago, the interval between her knocking and the answer seemed interminable; she had always felt exposed and obvious in the hall for an impossible length of time before the door was opened and she could begin the process of feeling the individual customer out.  But within a week her confidence had increased, and now it always seemed as though the client was literally waiting at the door; this time was no exception.

“Byron,” as he had called himself on the phone, was a striking man, proverbially tall, dark and handsome and endowed with a magnetism Bella could almost feel.  She remembered how she used to believe that all of a hooker’s clients were fat, old, ugly or otherwise unable to pick up women, but it had not taken her long to discover how mistaken that notion was; in her experience there were just as many attractive men among her clientele as in the general population.  In any case, it was neither here nor there; she had a job to do, and had schooled herself to be immune to the charms of those with whom she did it.  So she smiled her prettiest smile, introduced herself, and stepped into the room.

While he closed the hall door, she walked down the narrow little hall past the closed bathroom door and made a quick appraisal of the room; she was struck by its sheer messiness.  Not filth, mind; there were no pizza boxes or beer cans or overflowing garbage or any of the other typical rubbish one sometimes encountered in clients’ rooms.  No, this was just clutter, a sheer volume of luggage and clothes which told her that Byron could not have come by air unless he owned the plane.  Several large suitcases stood in the space between the bed and the curtained window, while garment bags and loose clothing draped every available hook and fixture.  “Goodness, what a mess!” Bella exclaimed; she had discovered that plain honest conversation usually made a better impression than pretense or flattery.

Byron laughed.  “Sorry about this,” he said; “I’m going to be in town for a while and I like to be comfortable.  Please don’t be put off by it.”

“Not at all,” said Bella with a smile, but inside she was keyed up; she had noticed a telling detail, and knew that she must be on her guard at all costs.  But he hadn’t done anything really unusual yet, and she had to be absolutely sure.  So she continued with, “I like to get the formalities out of the way first, so I can check in with the agency and then we can relax.”  As he pulled out his wallet, he reminded her that she had agreed to stay the full hour, and she nodded and assured him that she always took as much time with her customers as was needed.

He handed over the cash, and she thanked him sweetly and put it into her purse, then picked up the phone to call the agency.  After noting the time and checking in, she turned again to Byron and said “So, what did you have in mind tonight?”

“Oh, I just thought we’d chat for a few minutes first; there’s no need to rush things.”  He said.  “How long have you been doing this?”

“I’m pretty new at it,” she said, “only three months now.”  She had discovered that an honest response to that question generally got a good reaction, and this time was no exception.

“Three months!  Why, that practically makes you a virgin!”  This was said with a sort of condescending undertone that Bella did not at all like, but she was here to do her job and so pretended to laugh at his “joke”.  He continued, “Aren’t you ever scared?”

This wasn’t an unusual question, but the mockery in his voice drove her to a higher state of alarm which she nevertheless kept from her face.  “Sure, sometimes,” she said.  “But the agency knows exactly where I am, so if I don’t call out on time they can call my driver downstairs.”

As she expected, he was unfazed.  “That didn’t help those other girls, though.  How many now, eight in the past few months?”

“Nine,” she answered, unable to keep the choke out of her voice.  The sick bastard was enjoying this; he wanted to terrify her before having his way with her, but she fought down the fear and continued to watch him with poorly-feigned nonchalance.

“Haven’t the police any leads?” he continued, attempting to meet her gaze.

She turned the slightly to the right and squeaked, “No, none of the bodies have been found, and he keeps changing hotels.  And besides, the cops never try very hard when it’s whores who are vanishing.”  Then, abruptly, “Look, do we really need to talk about this?  Wouldn’t you prefer to do what you hired me for?”

Then he laughed, and in an instant Bella erupted into action.  In one smooth motion she drew the pistol from her purse and swept the obscuring clothing from the bureau mirror, ascertaining in an instant that she was the only person reflected in it before turning to fire three perfect shots straight into the rapidly-approaching Byron’s heart.  He clutched his chest with a look of complete astonishment, then collapsed onto the floor at her feet.

She did not hesitate for a moment, but put three more shots into his back, confident that the sharp “Thwip! Thwip! Thwip!” of the silenced weapon would not be audible in the next room above the sound of the television set.  Her hands shaking, she dropped again into the chair and called Van.  “It’s done,” she sighed.

“So it was him!  I’ll be right up!”  While she waited, she opened the largest of the suitcases; as she expected, it was empty but for bloodstains.  She showed Van when he arrived, and with carefully-controlled anger he said “This time it’s his turn to be carried out in it.”  Then he unshouldered his bag and she turned away; no matter how many times they did this, she would never be able to watch Van decapitate them.  She knew that Byron had been dead for a long time, decades maybe, and that he was no longer human but a hellish monster who preyed on unsuspecting women.  But try as she might she just couldn’t handle the sight or sound of the head coming off, and Van understood; as usual, he waited until she left the room.

She felt stronger as she walked out into the cold night air and went to the car to wait for Van to arrive with the loaded suitcase; as usual, they would torch its contents on their way out of town.  As she waited, looking up at the moon, she felt her face creep into a smile; she was going to miss being a call girl.  Her cover for this mission had been a lot more interesting than posing as a coed, a barfly or any of the other kinds of women their quarries usually preyed on, and it had been even more lucrative than the time she had played the part of a stripper.  One thing was for certain; the money she had made in the past few months would not only support them for quite a while between hunts, but also purchase quite a number of silver bullets.

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