The Night of the Lover
He knew he shouldn't bring her into it. The problem was, she was just so damn impressed. She’d never known a real, live private eye before. Martin was sitting there on a corner stool at Louie’s, buzzing with the warmth of the cheap beer, feeling the possibilities, and he couldn’t shut up. He couldn’t just say he was a P.I. and give a wink. No, that would have been too easy. He had to have stories. So he told stories – straight out of Ross MacDonald novels he’d read. When the moment of truth came, when he’d needed to really think, he had nothing. He found himself saying yes without even realizing it.
So Angela – that was her name – would be his assistant on the Barker case. Sit in the car with him for hours. Watch him go through Barker’s garbage. Help him steal Barker’s mail. Yeah, she was going to stay impressed, wasn’t she?
That’s when he came up with an idea. They’d go undercover. He had to do something exciting, right? Well, role-playing would be exciting. Maybe it would even lead to them doing more of the same in the sack. He could picture her in a nurse’s outfit. And, as a bonus, he’d get to know David Barker and Lisa Danzinger, see them up close. That way, it’d be easy to find out the truth.
Not a bad idea, he thought. Martin had already spent a week on the case and had nothing worthwhile to report to Franklin Danzinger. Maybe Angela could seal the deal. This was no ordinary client, he reminded himself. Franklin Danzinger was the kind of man who could provide years of well-paying referrals.
“If he loves her, fine,” Danzinger had told him, standing in the center of Martin’s office, his expertly buffed Bruno Maglis unaccustomed to such threadbare carpeting.
“Lisa loves him; I’m convinced of that,” he’d said. “But she’s too trusting. That’s my fault. She’s led a sheltered life. Listen, Mr. Schlott, let me be clear here: I don’t care that he’s not in the social registry. I don’t care that he’s not a Harvard man. I’ll give him a job. He’s not a moron; he’ll do fine. But I want to know that he truly loves her. That he would do anything to make her happy. That he’s not just playing her. I will not allow my baby to marry a man who’s just after her money. My money, that is.”
It was clear Franklin Danzinger didn’t believe there was much chance Barker truly loved his daughter. Otherwise he’d be sitting at the tennis club sipping a daiquiri, not looking out at a squirrelly part of town from Martin’s subbasement window. Danzinger looked around Martin Schlott’s tiny office and shook his head. He pursed his lips as if trying to kiss the inner child he’d long ago sent off to play in the middle of the road. “Baylor said you were the perfect man for this job – your specialty,” he said. He resigned himself to believing it and pulled out a checkbook.
Martin offered a silent thank you to Tom Baylor, an old drinking buddy who’d beaten the booze and landed a spot with a high-end investigation firm that guys like Danzinger used in their divorce cases. Baylor wouldn’t put a word in to get Martin a job at the firm, but, out of guilt, he’d throw the occasional nickel-and-dime case his way. Baylor clearly saw little upside to getting between a father and his daughter. Martin saw nothing but.
Despite what he’d said at Louie’s, Martin didn’t let Angela in on the case right off. He took her to dinner and a movie first. Made sure there was a real connection. By the third date – two days after the first one – he knew he was in trouble. He really liked this girl. He could see himself marrying Angela Scalroni. He was almost forty, after all. He had to get with it before all his hair was gone.
Now he just had to convince her he was worth marrying. The key difficulty: She thought his days were filled with adventures and derring-do, that he was chasing down low-life killers and corrupt politicians. She surely didn’t close her eyes at night and picture him frantically ducking under his desk whenever he heard the landlord’s voice down the hall. The problem wasn’t going to go away on its own – she kept asking him about the cases he was working on. Kept looking for ways in. “What can I do for you, Honeybunch?” she asked that third night, for the millionth time, when she found him hunched over the meaningless photos of Barker he’d taken that day. He couldn’t take it anymore.
“Okay, okay, Angela, you can help out on this case,” he snapped.
He looked up and found Angela standing in the doorway, twirling a dishtowel. She’d just made him dinner for the first time. Spaghetti and meatballs. Rolled the meatballs herself. She flicked the towel over her shoulder and gave him a bemused smile. “I was thinking coffee or a back rub, Sweetums. But I’d be happy to help you with your work if I can.” With that, she turned and strode back into the kitchen.
The next day, Martin swallowed hard and put his plan into action. Excitement required risk, right? Lisa Danzinger had a hair appointment in the city – one of the chi-chi places, of course – and he palmed a hundred to the fairy at the front to get Angela into the chair next to her. Sitting down, Angela turned and gave Martin a sly thumb’s up. Her chuffed grin unnerved him. She could blow the whole thing so easily. He could still put a stop to the whole thing, he told himself. He could pull her aside and tell her it wasn’t safe for her, that she should just get her hair trimmed – his treat – and keep her mouth shut. But instead he sat there and watched the two women strike up a conversation.
Sitting there in the waiting area, watching Angela and Lisa Danzinger chatting away, he realized he had become obsessed. He wanted to crack this case to prove something to Angela – but also to prove something to himself, too. That he was the man she thought he was. The man he’d always wanted to be. Something like that.
More important, he was beginning to realize, Angela had some useful skills. By the end of that hair appointment, she was Lisa Danzinger’s life-long friend. She had that way with people. Why not take advantage of it?
The next two weeks were a spasm of activity – for Angela. Lisa called her almost every day. The two of them chatted on the phone for hours; they went to lunch and took shopping excursions. Sure enough, Lisa told her all about Barker: his kindness (he rescued a dog from an animal shelter), his selflessness (he worked at a nonprofit), his prowess in bed (Martin asked Angela to spare him the details). “And on top of all that, he’s really good looking,” Angela told him, jabbing him with a smile and an elbow in the ribs. “Yummy as a Crunch bar. But you already knew that. You’ve got a whole scrapbook.” Angela even had the chance to meet him – the first time when he picked Lisa up from lunch at the Plaza one day; then the next afternoon, on her own initiative, she “bumped into him” when he was coming out of the gym.
“You’re going to have to tell Mr. Danzinger that he should be proud to call David Barker his son-in-law,” she said. “If anything, it’s David’s family that should need convincing the marriage is a good idea.”
Martin looked up from another series of useless pictures: Barker at the grocery, Barker leaving his apartment building, Barker eating a bagel at a coffee shop. “Oh?” he said.
“Yeah. I think she’s trying too hard to break away from Daddy’s orbit, marrying outside the community.”
“I thought you liked her.”
“Oh, I do, I do. She’s great. But she should still get married for the right reasons. Don’t you think?”
Okay, maybe that was Lisa Danzinger’s reason, consciously or not. But they still had to find out what David Barker’s reasons were. That was when Martin decided it was time to move the plan to Phase Two. Angela suggested that the four of them get together. Lisa was all for it; she wanted to meet Martin – he would pose as a lawyer, he and Angela had agreed. So now here he and Angela were, heading out to his client’s Oyster Bay summer place for a weekend with David Barker and Lisa Danzinger, the backseat of his ’74 Monte Carlo stuffed with cookies, jam, wine and bread. His undercover experiment was going better than he possibly could have imagined.
First, though, they would try something with which Martin was far more comfortable than acting: breaking and entering. Barker and Danzinger used the summer house a couple times a month during the summer; Lisa had even given Barker a key, for times when they headed up there in separate cars. There might just be some incriminating evidence, Martin thought. Maybe David Barker – or Lisa Danzinger – had gone up to the house with someone else. Maybe Barker was stealing the silverware. Who knows? Martin had already combed through Barker’s messy studio flat in Washington Heights and found nothing, so he figured he might as well check any other place he hung his hat. Besides, Angela would surely get a thrill from an illicit house search.
Traffic almost wrecked the whole plan. It was dusk by the time they had gotten over the Williamsburg Bridge and wound their way up the Long Island Expressway to the house. It wasn’t much by Danzinger family standards, Martin noted. Better than anyplace he’d ever lived, to be sure, but it was no mansion. A two-story clapboard house, nothing more or less, though it was right on the beach. Martin knocked on the door. The porch light and the interior remained dark. He rapped again, harder this time. Feeling Angela fidgeting behind him, he jiggled the doorknob... and the door opened, retracting with a sigh. Martin grimaced. He wanted to show off his lock-picking skills.
“Don’t go in,” Angela said.
Angela peeked through the slit between the door and the frame. “They could show up any minute. It took us so long to get here.”
Martin checked his watch. We’ve got at least a half hour. That’s if they’re on time – and we’ve established that Lisa is never on time for anything.”
Angela wrung her hands and peered over his shoulder.
“If you’re nervous, stay here,” Martin said, surprised by her reluctance. He entered the house, eased the door closed behind him, and stood still for a moment to help the gloom come to terms with him. He felt his way to a looming shape – a coat rack – and continued to the next shape – bingo, a lamp. It didn’t work.
Martin bumped unsteadily into the doorframe connected to the entrance hall. In the dark, the house felt cramped, the ceiling low, halls narrow. He found himself in the living room. There was a leather sofa, a widescreen TV, what looked like a bar, and rows of books lining the walls. Martin ran his finger along the shelving and picked up a coat of fluffy dust. He smirked. Franklin Danzinger probably told his guests he read all these books, but Martin would know the truth.
He continued to circle the room. On top of the television were a series of family photos, including a snap of David Barker and Lisa Danzinger. They were standing on a beach, the sun bleaching the scene in angelic sparkles. They were the American Dream right there for the world to see. The beautiful young blonde, loose-limbed, relaxed, without a care. Her straight-backed beau with the six-pack abs and the future as limitless as the shimmering sea behind them. Martin examined the photo up close. Danzinger wore a demure one-piece swimsuit and was smiling broadly into the camera. Barker, wearing tight trunks that showed off his hipbones and too much else, had his arms around Lisa and was squeezing as if he were about to lift her up and haul her away. Something about the guy – the easy confidence, the body-proud pose – turned Martin’s stomach. He set the picture down, pivoted – and caught a glimpse of someone moving past the doorway in the hall. He froze, his heart suddenly crashing in his chest. He dropped into a squat, listening. Whoever it was had sensible shoes. Martin inched toward the hall, holding his breath, and thought about making a dash for the door. He crouched further and squinted. The movement flitted just beyond his vision.
He breathed out. Angela. “Yes. Here.”
“Why are you prowling around in the dark?” She materialized as she spoke, an oil slick coagulating into human form.
“I thought you were going to stay outside,” Martin said.
“Right. That wouldn’t look suspicious, some stranger standing on a doorstep whistling a happy tune.”
“Okay, it doesn’t matter. I don’t see anything right off that’s helpful.”
“Cute place, though. Maybe we should move to Long Island. We could afford to buy way out here.”
She smirked at him. “I know I am but what are you?”
The heater kicked on, and Martin put a hand on Angela’s arm. “I think we should probably get out of here.” He caught himself – the concern in his voice – and eased it down. Smiled. “Before you call a realtor. I’m going to take a quick look in the back and that’s it. Wait for me in the car, okay?”
“How long are you going to be?”
“Just a minute.”
They headed off in opposite directions as if counting paces for a duel. Now somewhat comfortable with the darkness, Martin found his way to the back of the house and peeked into the first bedroom: a pink explosion, a room for a fairy-tale princess. Across the hall was the master bedroom, more simply decorated. A four-poster bed, sheets akimbo. A dresser. A steel desk sporting a laptop. Framed prints on the wall: Monet, Picasso, Dali. He moved closer. No, not prints. The real thing.
Martin began to re-evaluate the house. It wasn’t large, but it was rather nice. Crown moldings. Perfect oak floors. Frank Lloyd Wright-style built-in furnishings. Maybe it wasn’t just Frank Lloyd Wright-style, he mused. He pulled open drawers and rummaged through closets. He booted up the computer but was stymied by password protection.
Giving up, Martin stepped back into the hallway. It led on to the kitchen, where Martin pulled two beers out of the refrigerator, one for him and one for Angela. He noticed a wood cutting board on the counter flecked with onion and parsley, and wondered if it was difficult to get good housecleaning service way out here in Long Island. He flipped open a sliding-glass door and stepped into the back yard. It wasn’t much, maybe fifty feet from the deck to the little wooden fence, which led down to the beach. A gate was off to the right, leading to a storage area along the side of the house. Beyond it, the tops of neighboring houses blurred into the dark. He was about to head back into the kitchen when a face flashed in front of him. Startled, Martin dropped the bottles, which squashed against the ground and fell apart.
The face came into focus. Thin and pale, with bony cheeks, the woman looked foreign. Swedish. No, German, Martin thought. Except too skinny. A sickly German girl.
“Who are you?” she snapped. He’d pegged her nationality, Martin thought, proud of himself. The woman cocked her head at him. There was an odd heaviness to her face, a slowness, like the stare of an overbred dog. But her body made up for it.
“You the gardener?” she asked.
That one hurt. He’d dressed up for this outing.
The woman stepped toward him, heels crunching the broken glass. She was wearing a black Lycra top and a black miniskirt. Martin’s mind ran through the possibilities and settled quickly – she had to be another rich girl Barker had on the line. A back up. She had that fragile, massage-and-martini look about her, skin-hugging garb showing off every bony bump. A Paris Hilton-wannabe. Barker must have gotten his weekends mixed up. It was perfect! That’s when he noticed what was in her hand – a six-inch kitchen knife.
The rich girl saw the spasm of fear in his eyes, looked down and flinched, as if she hadn’t realized what she was holding. She recovered quickly, though, and put on a tough-girl pose. She motioned Martin’s hands up in the air.
“You’re not going to tell Lisa I was here, right?” She meant it to sound like an order, Martin noted, but it came out as pleading. Desperate.
“No reason for me to do that,” he said, trying to calm her, feeling stupid with his hands in the air. “I’m only here to collect. He owes me money.”
She took a moment to process that response. “Who owes you money?” She sounded flabbergasted. “Okay, who the hell are you?”
Martin was surprised his gambit didn’t work. Didn’t leeches like David Barker always owe people money? He stepped toward her. Maybe he saw something in her eyes and believed she was freaked out enough to actually use the knife on him. Maybe he had an impulse to kiss her: she was beautiful. Even later he wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the reason he did it. All he knew was that panic had washed up his throat and he found himself on the move, jerking the knife toward the sky and jacking a knee into her stomach. The rich girl’s eyes bulged and the pupils waved and shrank. Martin felt her belly contract against his knee. She doubled over, knife clattering to the ground, and Martin stepped back, amazed and horrified. He’d hit a girl! He looked around to make sure Angela hadn’t seen that. Keeping an eye on the woman as she groaned and heaved, her hands on her knees, he scuffed with his foot until he found the knife and bent down. He smelled onion on it.
The rich girl must have heard him pick up the knife: she looked up all at once, and for a moment they just stared at each other. Then she clocked him.
The impact of her fist toppled Martin backward in one grand motion, his elbows and shoulder blades taking the brunt of the ground’s force. His vision went black and then popped into brilliant white as the breath whooshed out of his chest. A skydiver hurtled toward him, down through the heavens, arms outstretched, mouth open, hand on the ripcord but unwilling to pull until the very last moment.
When Martin got to his feet, the rich girl and the knife were gone. Blood oozed around his mouth and nose. Too shamed to be afraid, he fished a Kleenex out of his pocket and jammed it into the offended nostril. He passed back through the house and out into the driveway. Swiveling his head around, he saw no one on the street and started to move toward the car. Angela waved cheerfully from the passenger seat.
“What happened to you?” she asked when he dropped down behind the wheel.
“I tripped.” He held a fresh tissue to his nose, then started the car and gunned the engine.
“You’re a klutz,” she said, smiling. “Maybe you should leave this detecting business to me.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said.
Just as he was about to pull out of the driveway so they could drive around the back roads long enough for Barker and Lisa Danzinger to arrive at the house first, headlights lit up the car’s back window. A silver BMW, Lisa Danzinger’s, eased to a stop behind them. The driver’s side door opened.
David Barker, dressed in a button-down shirt and beige slacks, waved and stepped toward them. Martin had to admit that he didn’t look like he needed to marry Lisa Danzinger for her money. Either that or Lisa had already started using her father’s cash to clean him up.
Martin met him in the beam of the headlights, introduced himself and launched into an explanation of his disheveled condition. “Some woman just went running off down the side street,” he said.
From behind Barker, a voice peeped: “That would be Dad’s mistress. He zoomed by us five minutes ago. I’d just called to remind him we were using the house this weekend. He’d forgotten, of course.”
Lisa Danzinger padded up behind Barker.
“Your father has a mistress?” Martin asked.
“Oh, yeah. This one used to be his chef. Just off the boat from France. Dad can be pretty sneaky. It makes him suspicious – because he thinks everyone else is just like him. I’m Lisa.” She reached out and shook Martin’s hand. “You must be Martin.”
By the time Martin woke it was eight in the morning. He brushed his teeth, put on a T-shirt and khakis, and staggered down the stairs. Angela and Lisa had already set up the kitchen and slapped together a stack of ham sandwiches. David wanted to get going, so Martin hurried through a shower and collected his fishing gear.
When Lisa good-naturedly stomped out of the room to help David find her father’s waders, Martin leaned in to Angela and gave her a peck.
“Be careful today,’ he told her.
“Me?” She giggled. “I’m just hanging out with my rich friend. You’re the one who’s wandering into the woods with a psycho killer.” She tapped his nose with her finger and kissed him.
Heading out the door, David took the lead. Munching contentedly on a sandwich as he waved back to Lisa, he blazed a new path – through a small wooded area that fronted an abandoned shooting range. Within ten minutes, they reached the little inland lake that was still largely untouched by tourists. They had forgotten the bait but not the beer, so they fished with little bits of ham on the hooks.
Barker did seem to be a nice guy, and he was clean when it came to all the obvious vices. He didn’t pick up prostitutes or have money troubles. He didn’t even cheat the IRS. But Martin was confident he’d find something. There was always something. Nobody was perfect. And he knew Franklin Danzinger didn’t require much. Did Barker ever lie to get a job? Did he throw rocks at pigeons? Did he ever forget his mama’s birthday? He just had to dig enough dirt to earn Franklin Danzinger’s gratitude and all that could come with it. After some sports talk – Barker was a Yankees fan, it turned out, surely a sign he was an elitist prick – Martin tried to get down to it. “So have you set a date yet?”
Barker gave a slow sigh and leaned back on an arm. “Lisa’s working that out. It’s all happened so fast. I wasn’t thinking about marriage yet, but when she asked, I blurted out a yes. It just felt right.”
“She asked you?”
“Yeah. Pretty funny, eh? She’s not really one for tradition.” David stared at his sandwich, his third, and took a bite. “I probably shouldn’t eat this; Lisa’s preparing lasagna for us. She’s very proud of her lasagna.”
“Maybe we’ll catch some fish. We just have to concentrate.”
“I’m strictly a catch-and-release fisher. It’s just an excuse to sit here by the water.” He turned to Martin and smiled. “You’re probably wondering why we’re here rather than the shore. Well, all the tourists are on the beach. And this reminds me of a little pond near where I grew up. We’d go swimming there. And fishing, of course. I had my first kiss there. Janice Dawson. She was very cute. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing now. Probably married and toting around three kids.”
“Sounds like you had an idyllic childhood.”
Barker was gazing down at his pole, his long, nervous fingers tapping on the reel. “Looking back on it, yeah, it was pretty special,” he said. “Special times.”
Martin thought about that for minute. An innocuous statement, surely. From what he could discover, Barker’d had a normal, middle-class suburban upbringing. Nothing special about it. Especially compared to his current situation.
“Aren’t these times special too?” he asked, hoping to draw him out more. “Right now?”
Barker didn’t respond right away. At least not out loud. Maybe he didn’t want to rub it in. Martin considered it. Yeah, he’d told Barker he was Yale Law, but the kid wasn’t stupid. Martin looked like what he was: a failure.
Well, so what if he was, Martin thought bitterly. At least he was an honorable failure. At least he wasn’t trying to marry rich so he could sit by the water all day dreaming of childhood adventures. Martin looked out at the crisp, blue sky, and at the ocean beyond bumping up against the shore like soft butter. It made a calming sound from this distance. Even in the worst storm it was surely calming for David Barker, inside the big, perfect house, snuggled up with the soft, voluptuous, very rich girl.
Barker turned to Martin then. “You’re a good guy, Martin,” he said. “I’m glad you came up here. My life’s really changing right now. It’s good to have someone like you to talk to.”
David gazed at the water, then changed the subject. “Angela’s something else. Lisa’s really taken to her.”
She was something else, he thought. Martin closed his eyes and saw her: Angela Scalroni – not a runway model by any stretch, not like Lisa Danzinger, but Angela was beautiful. There was no arguing with that.
It hadn’t always been so. He’d seen the pictures. She’d been a gawky, self-conscious adolescent, with thick glasses, a beak nose, and a body tending to fat. That pudginess was her own fault, or so she thought. A few years ago, sick of herself and her Saturday nights spent in front of the TV, she’d punished herself running on the roads and through the alleys of her Queens neighborhood until she was nothing but bone and gristle – a hundred and ten glorious pounds. Inevitably, the glasses were discarded for lenses, and, after untold hours in the library reading Vogue and Mademoiselle, she gained a sense of style: how to dress, how to move, how to gesture. All that shit.
“Now it was just the nose,” he said. He glanced up and found David gazing at him. He hadn’t meant to say it aloud.
That nose, he thought. To her credit, she never went under the knife like Lisa Danzinger probably had to her pert little nose. What she’d done for herself she’d done on her own, and so that nose was her screw-you to the world, her screw-you-and-go-to-hell-if-you-don’t-mind. She even cut her hair to accentuate it, to draw attention to it.
And she pulled it off, God bless her. That nose was her best feature. It set her apart from all the perky, cute-dimpled, backstabbing wannabe models she went to beauty school with, and it was damn sexy. Martin loved that nose.
“Well,” David said, “she’s got Old World beauty. Like Sophia Loren. Very raw. Very natural.”
“Lisa’s more refined, I guess.”
“Oh, don’t tell her that. She’s embarrassed by her father’s wealth. He wanted me to sign a prenup, and she told him it wasn’t necessary because she doesn’t want any of his money. Told him not to give her any – to give it away to charity. She means it too.” He looked off into the faraway nothingness. “I’ve got a good-hearted lass,” he said, his voice falling.
Martin was dubious. Privileged girls talk big sometimes – until Daddy takes away the credit cards.
Leaning back on his elbows, David Barker gazed at the sky, which had a blueness that looked like it would blow away if he so much as exhaled. Martin was looking up, too. The colors of the sky and the woods and the water were almost unbearably bright and undiluted, like they were sitting in a cartoon.
“I love Angela,” Martin said, hoping to draw him out, “but I’m not sure we have a lot in common. She’s younger, of course. Different backgrounds, too.”
“I noticed the accent,” he said. “It’s charming. Brooklyn?”
David was giving him a knowing, understanding look. It made Martin want to puke. He was starting to think Old Man Danzinger was wrong – this guy was a moron. He’d picked up on Angela’s working class accent but bought wholesale Martin’s story about being Yale Law?
“Yeah,” he said, staying professional. “I get tired of people telling us how well-matched we are.”
David sat up and readjusted his fishing rod. “You’re not well-matched at all,” he said. “Do you feel better now?”
By 10 p.m., Lisa’s lasagna was gone and their heads were sloshing with wine. Martin had worked hard – and not very successfully – to keep himself and Angela sober, doling out sips here and there, as their hosts tipped back their glasses time and again. They were in the living room now, the stereo was on, the bay windows open to let in the breeze, and Angela had begun to dance, sleepily, turning round and round, a flash of thigh glinting off the light as each exaggerated pirouette parted the pleat in her dress. David joined her after a few minutes and they lurched into something resembling slow dancing, David holding on to her waist to keep from falling.
“Better her than me,” Lisa whispered to Martin. “He always jerks me around till I’m just about ready to fly apart.” A spattering of spit flew out of her mouth.
“Angela’s made of sturdier stock,” he offered.
“Hell, I can handle this lug,” Angela said. She dropped David into a mock dip.
Lisa smiled at the sight, beads of sweat rolling down her face. The room really packed in the heat. Lisa turned to him, her eyes translucent slits, her nose shiny. “I’d ask you to dance, sailor,” she said, “but I’m drunk as a skunk and I’d just end up hitting my head on the floor.”
Martin patted her on the knee, but the heat was suddenly too much. He got up, steadying himself with a hand on Lisa’s head.
“I’m going to get some air,” he announced, though he had a feeling his voice box didn’t actually elicit any noise. David whirled Angela, and they bounced as Cole Porter gave way to be-bop. Lisa’s eyes whirled and bounced after them.
“I’m going to go for a walk,” Martin said again.
David stopped abruptly, leaving Angela to bop on by herself. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“Why don’t you stick around. I don’t want to lead a search party for you in an hour.”
“I’m okay. The fresh air will do me good.”
“You want to dance with Angela?”
“No. Really. I just need to get out in the night air.”
“Should we all go?” he asked the walls, pivoting slightly. He looked as if a calculus problem had him stumped.
Martin headed for the door.
“The dummy likes to walk,” Angela said. “Let him go.”
“Thanks, hon.” Martin flipped the doorknob and stepped into the night without looking back.
“Elvis has left the building!” Lisa called out as the door closed behind him. Stepping into the night, Martin felt so liberated he was dizzy. Three steps from the door, he leaned on the porch railing, cradling himself on his forearms. He watched the ocean move in front of him, a slick, abstract sheet in the distance. If he was quiet, he could hear it boil and rumble out there, and he almost felt he was churning along with it, twisting and turning until, suddenly, she was there with it, and he stood, awed.
She was rising out of the water, ocean spray rolling off her like she was shedding, skin as dark as chocolate. Martin’s head cleared with a blink and his senses caught the tiniest sound and movement. He noticed the sun high overhead, making the sand sparkle and jump like fireflies. Moving up the beach, she was strutting in a bright-white bikini, powerful thighs carrying the longest torso you ever have seen. A tiny smile skidded across her face: she knew everything was on display and she knew Martin was watching. She began to run now, and as she loped toward him she did this strange, unbelievable thing – she threw her head back, as casually as if she were flipping away a wayward strand of hair, and she gulped down the heat.
Martin woke with a wad of drool cushioning his cheek. Pulling himself upright in the middle of the porch, he tasted vomit in his mouth and spat. He oozed into the house and bumped into the dining table. Plates rattled, but the dried lasagna scraps were stuck so hard the flies didn’t have a prayer at dislodging them. A couple of chairs were turned over, and in the living room, the record player hummed dumbly.
As Martin neared the back of the house, he realized the door to the master bedroom was partially open, so he tried his best to tiptoe up the stairs. As he crested the landing, the door to the guest room opened.
David stepped out and quietly closed it behind him. When he turned and saw Martin, he jerked to a stop, his eyes snapping wide. Wearing nothing but a pair of socks, he clutched his Bermuda shorts, underwear and shirt in his hands. Martin’s first thought was to ask why he and Lisa had retired to the guest room – to his and Angela’s room – but then David’s gaze moved from him to the main room below, and Martin turned and followed David’s eyes over the railing and down to Lisa, flat on her back on the couch, out cold.
Martin’s stomach plummeted. He had gotten the goods on David Barker after all.
-- © Douglas Perry, 2011