“Not tonight. Sometime last month, it must have been, in a French restaurant called—”
“L’Aiglon d’Or. You were with Maury Winters.”
“You know Maury? He’s a dear man.”
“Good lawyer, too.”
“And you remember me from just seeing me that night?”
“I couldn’t take my eyes off you. Except for when you weren’t there to be seen.”
“I dropped my earring.”
“It took me a while to find it. Of course it was dark there.”
“It must have been.”
“And there were diversions. You’re a very attractive man.”
“You’re a beautiful woman.”
“Thank you, Fran. Do they ever call you Franny?”
“I might. Would that upset you?”
“Turn toward me more. And stand closer. Now put your hand under my dress. Go ahead, nobody can see. Yes, that’s right. What are you thinking?”
“That your barber’s a lucky man.”
“Oh, thank God. You’re witty. I’d fuck you even if you weren’t, but this way it’s so much nicer.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“First make me come.”
“I’ll make you come later.”
“You’ll make me come all night long, but I don’t want to wait.
Do me now, with your fingers. That’s right.” She sat perfectly still, she didn’t move, and her face didn’t change expression. Her eyes held his, and when he felt a trembling in her loins she caught her breath almost imperceptibly, and something changed in her eyes.
After a moment she said, “That was lovely. Franny? You were the police commissioner. You’re used to being in charge, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t been commissioner in a long time.”
“But you’re still used to being in charge.”
“I guess so.”
“Tonight,” she said, “I’m in charge.”
“No,” she said firmly, “I’m in charge. We do what I say. If you want to come home with me, those are the rules.”
“You have to promise.”
She looked at him as if to determine what his word was worth, and nodded shortly.
“Wait for me outside.”
“I have to take care of the check.”
“Go ahead, and then wait for me outside.”
Back at the table, he palmed two fifties to Jim Galvin and asked him to take care of the check. Galvin was saying something, but he acted as if he hadn’t heard, clapped the man on the shoulder, and headed for the door. Stelli caught him on the way out, told him not to be a stranger, presented her fleshy face for a kiss.
He turned at the door, and saw her walking toward his table.
Had Galvin called her over? But no, Galvin didn’t even see her, he was holding his glass of whiskey and looking into it as if it were a crystal ball. And Susan Pomerance wasn’t going to that table anyway, she was going toward John Creighton’s.
Or for all he knew she was looking for the ladies’ room, because someone stood and blocked his view, and what was he standing there for, anyway?
He went outside and stood on the sidewalk in front of a shop that sold mineral specimens and semiprecious stones. He wondered if she’d come out, wondered if he’d get to go home with her.
Wondered what in the hell he was getting himself into.
I don’t want to wait. Do me now, with your fingers.
Wherever it went, he thought, it had to be more fun than running for mayor.
R O Z W A S S A Y I N G T H A T she’d felt all along they were better off with Crown. “Now we don’t have to fight with them over those two backlist titles. As a matter of fact, they’re going back to press on both of them. They’ll be back in print by September. By John Blair Creighton, this time around.”
“If they promote the new book right—”
“Honey,” she said, “they’ll have no choice, not with what they’re spending already. And it’s gonna be easier to sell than umbrellas in a shit storm. Oh, I was shameless hustling this one, John, but it’s easy when you’ve got something good to sell. Imagine if OJ could write like Faulkner, I told them.”
“I don’t write like Faulkner.”
“No, and neither does OJ. Imagine if Mailer hit an artery the night he stabbed his wife.”
“Imagine if Nabokov did Jon-Benet Ramsey.”
“God, you’re worse than I am. Imagine if he caught her in a net and mounted her like a butterfly. And speaking of lepidoptera, here comes yet another moth drawn to the lamp of your genius.” A woman in a black dress, whom he’d noticed earlier at the bar.
She rested a hand on his shoulder, leaned in toward him. She said,
“Mr. Creighton? It’s awful to intrude, but I can’t help myself. My name’s Susan Pomerance, and I’m a very big fan of yours.”
“Huge,” she said. “And I heard your good news, and I couldn’t be happier for you.” She slipped a business card into his hand. “I hope you’ll call me,” she said, and smiled gently at Roz. “I’m sorry,” she said, and turned from them.
“‘The Susan Pomerance Gallery,’ ” he read aloud. “‘Folk and Outsider Art.’ With an address in Chelsea and a phone number, and the URL for a website.”
“Everybody’s got a website. Except you, now that I think of it.
Don’t worry, they’ll have one built for you. There’s something on the back.”
He turned the card over, shook his head, passed it to Roz.
“‘I’d love to get to know you better.’ Yes, dear, I’m sure you would. Signed Susan. And there’s another number, no doubt for the phone on her bedside table.”
“Amazing,” he said. “What was that all about? I figured she had to be a reporter, but not many of them own art galleries. Well, she did say she was a fan.”
“And she wants to discuss the color symbolism of the stories in Edged Weapons. Why do writers turn into morons when you get them away from their keyboards?” She leaned forward. “John, wake up and smell the champagne. She wants to fuck you.”
“I thought of that, obviously, but . . .”
“But what? You couldn’t believe your good luck?”
“Roz, I can’t believe any of my good luck.” She sighed and patted his hand. “It’s a lot to take in,” she said.
“Don’t try to make sense out of it right now. Just relax and enjoy it.
Meanwhile, do you want me to get rid of this for you?”
“No,” he said, reaching to take the card from her. “No, I might as well keep it.”
THESE ARE THErules. You do what I say. You speak only to answer questions.”
“What’s your side of the bargain?”
“I won’t shed any of your blood. I won’t do any lasting damage.
And I guarantee this is going to be the best night of your life.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve had some pretty good nights.”
“Not like this one.”
There was a moment when he might have decided this was all too weird for him. Maybe she shouldn’t have said anything about blood, maybe the phrase lasting damage might have an anaphro-disiacal effect on a man who’d seen a lot of permanent damage in the course of his professional career. But she’d wanted to give him an idea in front just what he was letting himself in for.
Still, she really didn’t want to lose him now . . .
He took a moment to think about it. Then, slowly, he nodded.
“Take off your clothes.”
They were in the living room of her London Towers apartment.
She made herself comfortable on the sofa while he undressed, folding his clothes and placing them on the chair. His body, she was pleased to note, was trim and athletic, with good muscle tone.
He had a little hair on his chest, none on his back. His penis was small, but it was flaccid; you couldn’t really tell what you had until it was erect.
“You’re circumcised,” she said. “You can’t be Jewish. No, don’t say anything, that wasn’t a question.”
She touched the tip of her index finger to the tip of his penis.
“So I guess I won’t need the pinking shears this time,” she said, and watched his expression until he realized she was kidding.
“This way,” she said, and led him into the bedroom.
J U S T T W O B L O C K S E A S T of London Towers, on Twenty-third Street a few doors west of Seventh Avenue, the man who had most recently been calling himself Herbert Asbury was sitting in the window of a coffee shop, watching the establishment across the street. It was a bar called Harrigan’s, housed in a four-story indus-trial building that, like its neighbors on either side, had been converted to residential lofts.
This was not the first time he’d watched it.
He’d ordered a cup of coffee, and he’d only drunk a third of it when it seemed to him to be time to leave. He set a quarter beside his saucer, paid his check at the register, walked to the corner and waited for the light to change before he crossed the wide street.
He hadn’t actually been inside Harrigan’s, and he wanted to get the feel of the place.
Because this was a Friday, there was live music in Harrigan’s, with four tables in the rear occupied by people listening to the jazz duo of piano and amplified guitar. Up front, four men and two women sat at the bar. There were three empty stools in a row not far from the entrance, and he took the middle of the three stools and ordered a beer. The bartender, a rawboned girl with her light brown hair bound up in a kerchief, asked him what brand he wanted. When he looked blank she named several brands, and he nodded when she said Heineken. She said, “Is that a yes? You want a Heineken?” and he nodded again and she brought him one.
She brought a glass, too, but left him to pour the beer for himself. He sat there for what must have been twenty minutes, although he hadn’t checked the time when he came in and had no sense of its passage. At some point he put a ten-dollar bill on the bar, and at some point she took it away and brought back change.
Then he left, scooping up all of his change but a dollar, and leaving the untouched beer on the bar.
T H E H A N D C U F F S W E R E T H E standard police type of stainless steel. She cuffed Buckram’s hands behind his back, then had him lie faceup on the bed with his bound hands in the small of his back. After she’d anchored his feet to lower corners of the bed frame, she ran silk ties under his arms and secured them to the frame’s upper corners. He remained calm throughout, and she noted with interest that his penis had grown to a respectable size during the course of this procedure.
In one fluid motion she drew the black dress up over her head and tossed it aside. She watched his eyes as they studied her, the breasts with gold-studded nipples, the hairless loins he’d touched but hadn’t seen.