We had just finished making love and were sharing a smoke when she nudged my shoulder and said, “There’s something I haven’t told you.”
Turning my head, I blew a long stream toward the ceiling. I placed the Chesterfield between her pouty lips and watched the tip glow like a beacon in the shadows. Dawn crept through the curtains of the huge bay window facing the lake. Tentacles of gray light inched across the hardwood floor. In a few minutes they would join us on Monica’s big four-poster bed. There was plenty of room.
She exhaled and drew on the cigarette again. When I kept my silence she adjusted her pillows and scooted up to rest against the headboard. The curves of her full, beautiful breasts were silhouetted against the pale light. “Did you hear me, Dinger?” she said, the cigarette dancing in her lips. “There’s something I haven’t told you. Something very impor—”
Pulling the Chesterfield from between her lips silenced her for the moment. I joined her against the headboard, took a drag, and handed it back. “So, what’s this ‘something’ you haven’t told me?”
Monica took a final puff and leaned over to the nightstand and crushed out the smoke in the fancy mother-of-pearl ashtray. Its identical twin sat on the matching nightstand by my side of the bed. The damn things were too fancy for my taste. But what the hell, this doll ate her everyday meals on real bone china. I sat admiring the view of the sleek tanned back and the not-so-tanned ass she’d been blessed with—make that—I had been blessed with, for the past three-plus weeks. Monica Archer was one helluva fine package, all tucked, trimmed, and wrapped to perfection.
Leaning back against the pillows, Monica crossed her arms, spoiling my view, and gave me a quick sidelong glance. “There’s a Mister Archer, Dinger. I know I led you to believe I was single, but I . . . I had my reasons. Believe me, if you’ll just listen to. . . .”
The words sounded distant and hollow, and then faded away completely somewhere . . . to a past life, maybe, or another world. I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything right then except that I’d been sucker-punched in the gut and all the air had deserted me. I had trusted the dame, trusted her from the time she walked into my office a month ago.
* * *
There was a muffled rapping on the window of my office/domicile door. I offered a half-hearted “Come in,” and the handle turned, the hinges creaked, and a reddish-haired goddess wearing a flowing light blue chiffon dress with white and maroon flowers swirled through the door, into my office, and into my life. “What can I do for you?” I said next, more a stammer as I sat stunned by the auburn-haired beauty who sashayed across the room and sat in one of the two ratty chairs fronting my worn and scarred desk.
She smiled, straightened the hem of her dress over her crossed legs, and laid her small handbag on the desktop. “Mr. Dinger,” she said, snapping open the handbag and retrieving a pack of Lucky Strikes, “I believe I could use your services.”
I grabbed the fake hand grenade lighter, a mainstay on my desktop since the war, and held the flame out to her. She leaned in with the Lucky centered between a pair of luscious lips and lit up her smoke. “I’m all ears, Mrs. . . .?”
“Archer,” she said, astutely turning her pretty little neck barely enough to exhale the stream of smoke away from me. “Miss Monica Archer.” She offered a white-gloved hand to seal the introduction.
I took the gloved hand in mine, wondering vaguely with my lower class Southern upbringing what to do with it. “My pleasure, Miss Archer,” I said in return, after giving the hand a gentle squeeze. “Now, how can I be of service?”
Twenty minutes later, after listening to the spiel pouring through those plump and inviting lips, and those imploring brown eyes, I had the story damn near down pat:
“Mr. Dinger, my cousin Ronald—Ronnie, if you will—has absconded with nearly a quarter-million dollars that belongs to me. Well,” she continued, sniffling and with tears welling in those pretty pecan-colored eyes, “money that belongs to me and my darling young nephew and nieces. I need for you to track Ronnie down and make him agree to give back our money! I don’t know how much you charge, but . . . I’ll be willing to pay you well. As much as I can afford under the circumstances, you understand.” She said this with an impish smile.
It was my second or third case since I’d drifted into Vegas after serving with the Marines during the war, and putting down roots as a struggling private investigator. “Don’t you worry none, Miss Archer. I’ll do my best to get your money back.” And I’d done just that, by hook and by crook. An alluring woman, a jackpot of a promised recovery reward—what the hell more could a young PI just starting out ask for?
Sure, I had to lay the hammer on cousin Ronnie pretty hard, more than I’d wanted to. But he would live. Most importantly, he’d handed over the bank book Monica had insisted I bring back. And she paid me well. Oh, the cash would come in a few more weeks when she’d gotten all the finalities worked out with the bank. Not to worry, there would be bonuses galore waiting if I played my cards right. Meanwhile, who the hell could argue with the fringe benefits? Living in a castle on Lake Mead. Sleeping with a dame whose body most men can only dream about in their wildest imaginations. Eating first class chow on bone china, three times a day or more if I wanted it. What more could a young turk want?
But it all turned sour, swirled rancid in my gut, when Monica Archer admitted that “cousin” Ronnie was in fact, Mister Ronald Archer, husband of Monica Jones Archer, the young bride who whored her way out of the slums of Ft. Worth, Texas. The same Miss Monica Archer who had hoped I would go the extra step and snuff out the life of her beloved husband, the same husband who had agreed to give his precocious young bride all the time and space she needed to work out her misgivings of a possibly premature marriage. This was the guy whose nose and jaw I had broken, whose teeth I had knocked down his throat, whose life I had threatened if he ever came near his dear, sweet, innocent “cousin” again.
I finished getting dressed. Monica threw herself at me, begging me to stay, promising that Ronnie would give her the divorce she wanted, and that “we could be together forever, darling.” For the first time in my life I smacked a broad. Monica fell to the floor, clutching her cheek which should show no more than a slight bruise after a few days.
“Dinger!” she shouted as I grabbed my coat and approached the door. “Dinger, we can have it all! Ronnie told me he no longer cares, that he won’t stand in our way!”
Standing in the doorway I turned and laughed in her spiteful face. And then I mustered up the words and said, “You poor, pitiful bitch.”