Dames and Dimes
It was a shortcut that I would regret for the rest of my life.
It was another rain-soaked night in the big city. The slick pavement shined like obsidian under my headlights. The rain stopped, but it had long ago driven everyone inside for the night. That's why I was surprised to see a blonde struggling to get a cream colored convertible started.
I pulled my car in front of hers, got out, and walked over to the door. She looked up at me and rolled down the window. She looked like Lana Turner in Slightly Dangerous. "It won't start."
"Let me take a look."
"All right." She slid over to the passenger seat and I opened the door.
"Yeah, some night."
"I was surprised to find anyone else out," I said.
"I was visiting a friend."
"Must be some friend. That's quite a dress you're wearing."
"We were going to go out. She wasn't home."
"If you came calling on me looking like that, I'd make sure I was home."
She smiled and I felt like somebody had kicked me in the head.
"Let's see if I can get this started." I turned the key and the engine sputtered like a nun after hearing you take the Lord's name in vain. "It's not flooded. Let me take a look under the hood."
I got out and popped the hood. She turned the car over with the same result. I closed the hood and walked back over to her door. "Looks like you're not getting any spark."
She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips and said, "No?"
"I hate to leave you all alone on a night like this. How about I take you back to your place? Of, if you want, we could go to my place and try to call some garages."
She got out of the car and said, "Surprise me."
In the days that followed, we saw a lot of each other. Most nights she'd come to my place, have a few drinks and listen to the radio. She'd curl up into my arms on my sofa and I'd enjoy the soft warmth of her body.
I mumbled something and nuzzled her hair. She turned and looked at me with her sparkling blue eyes.
"Kurt. There's something I've been meaning to tell you. Something that's hard to talk about, but we have to. You see, I had a boyfriend when we met."
I stood up and walked over to the bar. She looked so small, sitting there on the sofa. So alone.
"I tried to tell you so many times," she said. "But it was never the right time. That night we first met, we had a quarrel. It was the last straw. I was going to leave him. But Mike...."
She stood up and walked over to me. "Mike's a bad man. He robs banks and I'm sure he's killed people. I'm afraid of what he'd do to me if I broke things off with him."
She threw her arms around my neck and laid her head on my chest. The scent of wild orchids filled my nose. "I'm so afraid, Kurt. Please, please forgive me."
"If he's such a bad man," I said, "why don't you go to the cops?"
She sobbed. "Oh, I can't. I can't. You see, everything I have, he bought me. These clothes. My car. The lease on my apartment. They're all paid for with his dirty money. If I go to the cops, they'll take everything away and I'll have nothing."
"You'll have me."
"Oh, Kurt." She looked up at me with tears in her eyes. "Mike's coming to my apartment tomorrow night for me to run away with him. The papers say he stole two hundred thousand dollars during his last job. If we can get that money, you and I can run away together. Start somewhere new. Think of it, Kurt. A new beginning for us in a new town with more money than we'd know what to do with."
I put my arms around her and squeezed her tight.
Ann lived in apartment 402 at the Lexington Arms. The place made my flop look like two steps up from a hobo camp. The carpet in the lobby was slate gray and deep enough to lose change in. Leading to the elevators was a dark red runner that looked so expensive that I wiped my feet before I stepped on it. A bell chimed the elevator's arrival and I stepped aside to let a middle aged woman by. She eyed me with acute disgust.
I took the elevator up to Ann's floor and leaned on her buzzer. She opened the door and flung herself into my arms. "Oh, darling. I'm so glad you're here. I've been getting worried."
I closed the door behind us and we walked as one to the window. She had a view overlooking Grant Park.
"What's the plan?" I said.
"Mike is going to call me some time tonight," she said. "If all is clear, I'm to say the phrase 'I don't have the radio on right now' and he'll show up within 15 minutes. If I say anything else, anything at all, he won't show."
"And what are we going to do when he gets here?"
"After he calls, you hide in the closet over there." She pointed a long, slender arm toward a door by the entrance. "When he comes in, you can surprise him and take the money. Did you bring your gun?"
"Yeah," I said and patted my coat pocket. "What if he doesn't scare easy? I don't want to have to kill him."
The phone rang. She said, "That has to be him. Hello? I'm sorry, I don't have the radio on right now."
She hung up and looked at me. "That was Mike. He has to be on his way. Quick, get into the closet."
The closet was small and cramped. The cold steel of the gun was heavy in my hand. I left the door open a crack so I could see and hear what was going on. Ann sat on the sofa in the middle of the room smoking a cigarette and looking as cool as a creek on a hot summer day.
The doorbell rang and she answered it. A gruff voice said, "Hiya, doll. You ready to go?"
"One second," said Ann. "Come in out of the doorway. I just need to get my suitcase from the bedroom."
Mike stepped into view and I knew he wasn't going to scare easy. The guy had a couple inches on me and his back was as wide as a streetcar. I saw Ann shoot a frightened look over her shoulder. She wanted me to act now.
I stepped out of the closet and said, "Hand over the money."
Mike dropped the bag and turned around. His face was hard and mean. "What is this? Some kind of a setup?"
He pulled a gun and fired. The vase to my right shattered sending flowers to the floor and shards of china flying into the air. I fired my gun three times into his heart and the big man fell.
I kept my eyes glued on him and took a step forward. Ann said, "Is he...is he dead?"
I nodded and turned my eyes to the bag of money now on the floor. I heard a gunshot and felt a warm explosion in my gut. I staggered back toward the wall and collapsed in a heap. Ann stood in the middle of the room with a smoking gun in her hand. Her blue eyes were now cold and distant.
She took a few steps forward and picked up the large leather bag Mike had been carrying. "Thank you, sweetheart."
She put on her fur coat and leaned down next to me. Her breath was warm and tickled my ear. "We sure had some fun together."
I stared at Ann's back as she slinked out of the apartment. Mustering all the strength I could, I raised my gun and fired a shot right between her shoulder blades. Ann crumpled to a heap in the middle of the hallway like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
We sat there on the floor like a grotesque dinner party: two dead bodies, a bag of money, and me with a growing red stain on the front of my shirt. A siren wailed in the distance, letting us know the cops would be here soon to brake up our little trio.