Amber withdrew her body, and what began as an invasion of his space now felt like abandonment. The prostitute threw her long legs over the side of the bed to orient her heels in the floor. She stood up to squeeze toes down into one. It was only with the restoration of distance the painter was able to take in her full magnitude.
She straightened her tight, clingy skirt. “You see, Aloysius, I too am a kind of daddy’s girl. I too want to be a better person.”
His voice lifted. “Yes?”
“I want to redeem something of myself. Make up for a sin.”
Amber swept the edge of the bed with her thigh, staying close while her words wandered. “I dream a lot about a little girl I lost.”
“Are you speaking of a lost childhood? Of your childhood?”
“In a larger sense—yes.”
“If you feel that way, I’m sure you can get something of it back.”
Her smile lightened the dark. “I believe you’re right.”
The heel of her shoe struck crumpled paper in the floor, prompting her to bend down and fetch it.
He recalled the torn-up poem. It must have fallen out of his jacket when he took it off. He was vague. “An expression of love.”
“A love poem? A thrown-away love poem?”
“Written but not given.”
“For a daddy’s girl?”
The beautiful woman smoothed the paper to fold it, and on placing it in her purse leaned over with a wet kiss. The cochineal dye of her lips pierced the dim veil through which they had been speaking. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” she whispered.
Aloysius roused under her spell. “Who are you?”
The man was doubly confused.
Amber scribbled on a pad sitting on the night table. “If you ever want a free model, call.”
“You live so far away.”
“I have an apartment in Stonesthrow.”
“I’m on retainer with several fraternity houses at the college, so I sometimes spend weekends down there. It’s a cheap efficiency apartment, mind you. Big enough to sleep in—and only sleep in.”
Aloysius did not respond.
“So you’ll call?”
He acknowledged her offer with a nod mercifully muddied in shadow.
There was a wink, and her most indelible smile yet. The click of her pointy heels in the hallway was the last of her he would willingly relinquish.
He tried to settle back into a faint-hearted sleep, but found himself stroking the concave space in the pillow beside him for a strand or two of her hair.
He was emotionally conflicted, and perhaps his ability to be easily conflicted was his protective shield in these matters. To give his heart to more than one woman was hedging his bets, and softening any potential pain by dividing its source. He wanted to be undivided in his affections, but could never trust a woman not to hurt him. Still, it was historically a losing strategy. Instead of agonizing about not choosing one woman, he would more comfortably not choose between two.
His mind drifted off in a long torturous moment, yet found no way through the new complication. In his ambling, a flicker from the covered window brought him to his senses. Detective Harrod Pincher was peeking out through a crack at the street below. The coruscant satin lining of his cape gave him away, even as its black mantle concealed his presence in the room for some unknown time. Turning from the window, he inquired, “I pray you had a good night’s sleep, Mr. Gauge?”
Jarringly awake, the hotel guest shot up to flip on the bed lamp. Amber’s side of the bed was cool; more time passed than he realized. “I came to see my lawyer,” he rasped.
The detective stepped forward stiffly with the borrowed videocassette in hand, and proclaimed, “We no longer require this.”
Aloysius did not reach out to take the offered tape. “I should go get my lawyer if you’re going to interrogate me.”
Detective Pincher dropped the cassette on the foot of the bed. “That will not be needed at this stage, sir. My turning up here is to demonstrate to you that I know what you are about. You have casually disregarded my request to stay put to come here and cavort with God-knows-who.”
Not knowing what was on the recording, the painter repeated his defense feebly. “I came to see my lawyer. He lives in this building.”
“Yes, yes. So you say.” The detective let the man wriggle for a second or two longer. “As for the tape,”he confessed, “the room was too dark to illuminate anything of use. The camera was turned off before sunrise, which does not aid your account.
”Aloysius was about to protest when the man turned in a half-circle to the door.
“I will not keep you any longer, sir,”he said. “I pray you will return to town directly?”
The cornered man shook his head compliantly.
“I bid you good day, then.”A cautious smile returned to the inspector’s face on his disappearing into the hallway. “Good day, Mr. Gauge!”
Aloysius laced his shoes with a headache throbbing in his temples. He tore the prostitute’s phone number off the notepad and placed it in his coat pocket, along with a strand of her hair twisted absently around his finger. In haste, the videocassette was forgotten.
The hotel guest limped past the stairs that earlier foiled him. He eyed the decrepit elevator fearfully, yet knew no way down other than a window ledge. The carriage fingered the black shaft tentatively in its descent, and in being liberated in body (if not mind), the visitor stumbled out to find the grey film of predawn on the lobby windows. None of the dark monitors winked in passing, although the disgruntled concierge peeked out from the curtain.
Before leaving the city, Aloysius drove by the old tenant house on the off chance he might find his box fan still on the premises; it was nowhere in the unlocked apartment.
Pulling his keys from his jacket, something hard struck the linoleum floor. A delayed moment of recognition put him frantically on his knees looking for the one of the two souvenir wedding bands from his outing with Emma. Like the strand of hair in the same pocket, it was an intended keepsake; and Aloysius took the loss of personal effects like the rupture in a friendship.
Discouraged, he eventually surrendered the search and set out for the car. A disturbance in the new tenant’s window curtains held him up at the curb. Only a fan could kick up such a fuss.
He was glad to see his fan found its way into the Hispanic woman’s hands, and not those of the evil neighbor.
The traveler nearly beat the Sun back to Stonesthrow. He left the prostitute’s number on the dashboard, feeling the vehicle was a kind of purgatory halfway between enshrinement and an undefined course of action. Daybreak warmed his dingy sofa, although the empty beer bottle on the coffee table tugged like dead weight in the middle of his memory. Resigned to leave it, he lumbered upstairs to his bedroom.
Aloysius stripped off his clothes to discover the unexpected smell of perfume on his skin. The fragrance had him trying to piece together Amber’s face in another blank place, as well as the alleged attempt at intimacy Omar put her up to. His thoughts of the woman were troubling, if only because he continued to have them.
He chanced to glimpse his grey body in the dresser mirror in passing. As a boy, it had been too close to see—too painful to endure. Now, with age, it was too far away to relate to as belonging to him. Shamed by its company, he went into the bathroom to shower. A more composed man returned downstairs to throw away the beer bottle.
Amber had used the word ‘whore,” and whether in relationship to herself or her profession, he could not say. He only knew she had been paid by his friend to like him.
PART III: Chapter Fifteen/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.