I was putting up the outside Christmas lights, and before you know it I was washing windows, me on the ladder outside and Helen on the inside, pointing out the spots I missed. Then she called me in to dinner. "The windows look so clean and sparkling," she said.
She looked so sparkling. So pleased with me. "And this is a good dinner, too," I said.
Afterwards I helped with the dishes, pressing up behind her, and one thing led to another.
Helen sighed. "We should do chores together more often," she said. "I'm still trembling. Here, feel."
I felt, and one thing led to another.
The next day the ladder was gone. I didn't notice until I was pulling into the garage after work. I remembered that I hadn't put the ladder away, and that's when I noticed.
"Do you know what happened to the ladder?" I asked Helen over dinner.
"No. What do you mean?"
"It's missing. I thought you might have noticed something."
"Do you think someone took it?"
"It looks that way."
"Maybe it was only borrowed."
"I don't think so. I think it was stolen. I should have put it away the other night."
"Oh, honey," Helen said, and she came around the table and hugged me.
"It's only a ladder," I said, "but still, it makes me mad. I mean, who would steal a ladder?"
"A second story man?" Helen said, and then she giggled.
"I'll second story man you," I said, and I squeezed her, and pretty soon we were on the floor and the dinner dishes didn't get done that night.
"Do you think you should call the police?" Helen asked me the next morning while we were finishing breakfast.
"Because of the ladder?" I said.
"Don't you think?"
"Why don't you call them?"
"Me?" Helen said.
"Sure, why not?"
"Because I wouldn't know what to say."
"Just say our ladder was stolen."
"Yeah, but suppose they ask me what kind of ladder it was. I don't know stuff like that."
"It was an aluminum step ladder. Six feet."
"Suppose they ask what it was worth, or... "
"Call them," I said. "I'll tell you what to say."
She dialed the number. "No, she said, "it's not an emergency. Okay."
She looked at me. "I'm on hold," she said.
I moved around behind her and held her. She was good to hold. Her robe came open.
"Still on hold?" I whispered into her ear before kissing it.
"Mmm," she said.
Still kissing her, I sat her down upon me and moved her panties out of the way.
"Mmm," I said.
Her hips begin making little motions.
"Honey," she said, "Honey, you're making me... Hello? Um, yes, I'd like to... um... um..."
I fluttered my tongue in her ear and pinched her nipples.
"To... um... call you back."
She hung up and for a moment when she took one of my hands from her breast I thought she was angry at me, but she moved my hand down to her mound and it didn't take long.
"That was mean," she said afterwards. "Don't you want to get your ladder back?"
"It's not likely they'll be able to find it," I said.
"Well then for insurance or something?"
"Good thought," I said. "Why don't you call the police back?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I'm not falling for that again. You call."
"Well, it's your ladder. You were the one who left it out."
"Okay, okay," I said.
No sooner had I dialed the number than Helen was at my zipper.
"Fair is fair," Helen said.
"Hello, I'd like to report..."
Helen had me out. I was still small, and Helen's mouth had me all.
"A ladder," I said. "A stolen ladder."
Helen sucked loud and hard, her lips making slurpy kissing noises, her tongue wiggling.
"It was," I said. "It was."
I could feel Helen's hand behind. Her finger probing.
Working its way in.
"Taken," I gasped, trying to hang up the phone. I missed. The handset dangled down. Helen's finger popped out. Her mouth left me.
"No fair," I said.
She smiled. "Did you make your report to the police?" she said, replacing the handset. "Did you give them all the pertinent details?"
"No," I said. "How could I with..."
"With what?" Helen asked, looking up at me past the bob of my erection.
I took a deep breath.
"Don't you want the ladder thief caught and punished?"
"I don't know. I guess so."
"Then don't you think you'd better make the call?"
"Are you going to... do what you were doing again?"
"Do you want me to?"
I wasn't sure.
"What's a matter?" Helen said. "Can't you come and think at the same time?"
"I don't know," I said.
"Dial the number," Helen said. "Let's find out."
"It's me again," I said. "About the ladder that was stolen. We were cut off. We..."
Helen stroked and sucked, slow and steady, and I gave the information as best I could. I kept waiting for Helen's finger. She teased me that way, touching there and then retreating, and I grew stiffer and stiffer, stumbling through the recital, until at last I was finished, and I cradled the phone.
"All done?" Helen said, her mouth for a moment releasing me, her hand stopping, the air shimmery and chilled.
"Yes," I blurted.
"Good boy," she said, "good, good boy!" Then she recaptured me, stroked harder, and that sly finger wiggled in. Staggering with pleasure, I shot.
"That is a good boy," she said, dripping, milking, squeezing out the last drops. She wiped her face with the side of her hand. "How come you had so much left?"
"I don't know," I mumbled.
"What did they say?"
"I love you."
"The police said 'I love you'?"
"I love you," I said. "They said they'd see what they could do but don't expect anything."
"So it looks like the ladder thief will get away clean?" Helen said, standing up.
"Clean," I said, kissing her.
"The thing is we still have a couple of windows left. The ones in the kitchen," Helen said.
"I guess I'd better get a new ladder," I said.
Minutes after Jerry leaves for work the police arrive. Not the police, exactly. One policeman, with a shiny brim to his cap and sharp creases on his trousers and a bulky gun buckled to his belt. I am still in my robe when he rings the bell, when I cautiously open the door.
"Ma'am," he says. "You reported your ladder stolen?"
"Right," I answer, holding the robe closed at the throat. It is chilly out. Snow not too far off. "Jerry. My husband. He reported it."
The policeman nods and smiles. Nice blue eyes. A boyish face. He looks to be about my age. Approaching thirty. "Um, do you want to come in," I say. "It's cold out here."
I lead him through the hall and into the living room. "Have a seat." I gesture to the couch. "Would you like some coffee?"
"No, that's all right," he says.
"You sure? It's all made. Decaf, but it's good decaf. Or are you not supposed to?"
"Okay," he agrees. "A cup would be fine."
While I am pouring the coffee into my new Peter Rabbit mug, I wonder about the police car in the driveway. His cruiser, I think they call them. What might the neighbors think? I shrug it off. In the year we've been here we've hardly been social with the neighbors. Except for nosy old Mrs. Dole across the road, the nearest house is almost half a mile down Bluebird Lane.
"I'm sorry about the mug," I say, handing it to the officer. "We didn't quite get the dishes done last night. This was an early Christmas gift from my little niece."
"It's very nice," the policeman says. He smiles at me. "About your ladder... ?"
"It was taken," I say. "Sometime yesterday or maybe the night before. What do you need to know?"
"We have the information from the report." He clears his throat. "I just dropped by to see if there was anything new. And to tell you we'd keep an eye out. I'll go to the neighbors, see if they saw anything. But in cases like these..." He shrugs and smiles.
I want to close my robe a little tighter, but I'm afraid how that might look.
"Ladders are unusual," he adds. "It's usually tools or bicycles. Sometimes toys."
"Yeah," he says. "Stuffed animals left out on the lawn. In a way those are the saddest. Carried off by a stray dog for all we know. But scooters or tricycles--no way a dog could be blamed for that. Once even a green worm."
"A green worm?"
"A kid's ride-on toy. Kind of a caterpillar. Taking something like that is really low."
The policeman takes a sip of the coffee then sets the cup on the end table.
"You don't like it?" I ask. "My coffee?"
"No, it's good," he says. "I'm not really much of a coffee man. Or when I do, with lots of milk and sugar."
"Oh," I say. "I'm sorry. I didn't even think. I guess I'm not used to having cops, I mean the police, in the house."
"Cops is okay," he says. He stands up. His creases are still sharp. My eyes move from his gun to his groin. I can't help it. Those blue eyes. I hurry to say something.
"I could get you some milk and sugar. Or a Coke? I guess I must have thought all cops liked black coffee."
"Most of them do," he says. His smile is so persistent. "But that's okay. I have to be going. I just wanted to let you know that I was going to check with your neighbors. About the ladder. If you do think of anything more, just call the station. They can patch you straight through to me."
"Thanks," I say. "I will." I walk the man to the front door. "My husband says he can't understand why anyone would take a step ladder. He says they're not that expensive."
"It's a mystery," the man says. "Maybe it was Santa Claus. Maybe Santa took your ladder to help him get down your chimney." He grins. I'm not sure if his grin is boyish or lewd.
"Right," I say at the open doorway. "Santa Claus." The wintry air is causing goosebumps on my skin. "Well, thanks for coming over, Officer... Detective... ?"
"Harper," he says. "Patrolman Harper. No problem." He smiles. "I didn't think you'd remember me. Steve Harper."
"Steve Harper," I say, trying to connect him to something. Steve Harper. A blank.
"Junior high," he says. "We weren't in the same classes. You were in honors. We had just moved into town. But I danced with you at the last eighth grade dance. Neptune's Cove. Remember that?"
"Oh," I say. "Barely. Maybe. Neptune's cove."
"It was just for one dance," Steve says. "Near the end of the night. But it was the best dance I ever had."
"Oh," I say, trying to remember.
"Yeah." Steve chuckles. A mirthful, boyish laugh. "I thought about it all that summer. I thought maybe in high school... But then we moved away."
He looks at me for a moment. Right into my eyes. I shiver. "Cold," I say. "Snow soon."
He looks up at the sky, then back at me. "I've seen you a couple of times at the health club, too," he adds. "Working out."
"Yeah, I go there sometimes." What a foolish thing to say. Of course I go there.
Steve nods. Then he turns and strides briskly down the steps and onto the walk. When he gets to the cruiser he turns, and seeing me still at the door, he waves. I wave back. Just a friendly little wave, and my robe almost falls open.
All morning I think about the junior high dance. Neptune's Cove. Vaguely I remember blue and green streamers. Cutouts of giant fish and squid and starfish dangling from the gym ceiling. Shimmery blue cellophane and dim blue lights. But I can't remember the songs. I can't remember the dances. I can't remember Steve.
The morning passes. I shower and dress. I make tea. I rearrange a few ornaments on the tree. I reheat noodles from the other day. I wait for the mail, the last Christmas cards before Christmas. Not having pre-school gives me too much time. It's barely noon. I pack my workout bag and head for the gym.
The place isn't crowded. Usually I go with Jerry two or three times a week after he gets home from work, and it's packed then.
Steve Harper isn't there, of course. I didn't think he would be. I do some stairs, some rowing. I go more than usual, until my arms ache. Then back to the stairs. I want to feel it on the inside of my thighs and all the way up. The music pounds. Feel your love, feel your love. Feel your love, love, love. I look in the mirror. My hair is wild. My face is red. I can see the runners doing their laps. I wonder if Steve runs. I imagine him lifting weights. His muscles smooth and big as he strains. Would he smile then? Shelves of muscle. Sheaves of muscle. Tight little nipples. Haunches hard as hams as he squats, the rigid slab of lift, and then the bar above his head, his torso agleam with sweat, rivulets rushing down. Don't drop it. What if I touched him then? Tickled him lightly under the arm? Kutchie, kutchie. How long could he hold it up? Maybe he has no hair there. Jerry's pits are full of dark curls. His chest is like a field of wool. My fingers snag in it. The mat below his belly is even thicker. Steve might be smooth. A hand might slide unimpeded all the way to his root. To paydirt. That makes me chuckle. Paydirt. On the exercise floor upstairs I stretch out. Do a few tummy clenches. Then more stretches. It feels so good to stretch. That infomercial of the elephant stepping on the model's belly. I wish I could remember him. Steve Harper. The dance at Neptune's Cove.
Still no snow, though the sky looks swollen with it. Jerry gets home early and I hug him at the door. The kisses turn serious, and soon his hands are on my ass. "Can we go dancing?" I ask.
"Dancing?" he says. "We haven't danced in..."
"I know," I say. "Let's, okay? It's been much too long."
"It's Christmas Eve," he says. "No place will be open. Those that are will be too jammed."
"Jammed is what I want," I say, pressing close. Wiggling my front against his. "Please?"
"The thing is I have to get something," he says.
"A new ladder."
"A new ladder? Why? I mean why tonight? Couldn't you get a ladder tomorrow?"
"Then the next day. Why didn't you pick one up on the way home?"
"I need the van, and I only thought of it at work," he says. "I got this idea. I want to do it while it's fresh. Come on. It will be fun."
"I'd rather go dancing."
"We will, honey. Soon. I promise."
Jerry loves hardware stores. He loves hardware. I can't get too excited about it. A shiny crescent wrench doesn't make my heart start hammering. A pneumatic screwdriver doesn't thrill me to the core. Home Depot is huge and hugely empty. No one but us in aisle after aisle of drills and nails, pipes and lumber, routers and sump pumps and roofing tar--not my idea of Eden.
"The police came over today," I mention to Jerry while he's inspecting the step ladders.
"Oh?" he says. "About the ladder? What'd they want?"
"Nothing much," I answer. "They just said they'd be looking into it."
"Fat chance," Jerry says. "Here. What do you think of this baby? Climb on up."
"I don't want to."
"Come on. Climb up. I want to see you up there?"
Dutifully I climb.
Jerry is smiling. "Higher," he says.
I take another step. "This is as far as I go," I tell him.
"One more," he says.
"Why? You want to see up my skirt?"
"Maybe," Jerry admits.
"Oh, Jerry," I say. But I climb up another step. "There. That's as high as I go." I start to climb down.
"Wait," says Jerry.
"Spread your legs a little."
"No way," I say.
"Come on, just a little. The store is empty. No one will see."
"I'll fall off."
"I'll hold it. Just a little."
I start to do it. The ladder wobbles when I move.
"Don't worry," Jerry says. "I've got you. Just a little more, okay?"
"This is crazy."
I spread my legs a little. Jerry has a hold of the ladder. He's looking up.
"Now move your panties out of the way," he says.
"No," I answer. "I'm coming down."
"Just for a tiny second," Jerry says.
"Maybe at home," I say.
"Here," he says. "Do it here."
"And then can we go dancing?" I ask.
"Maybe," he says. "If there's time."
I look around. No one near. "What if someone comes?" I say.
"Do it quick," he says.
I do it. I bunch the skirt from the front, ease the material of my panties aside. Just for the briefest instant. Then I hurry down the ladder. I'm trembling when I reach the floor.
"How was that?" I say, out of breath.
"Too quick," Jerry says. "I couldn't see enough."
"Too bad," I tell him. "You said a tiny second."
"That was a micro second. A micro mini second. I wanted you to put your finger in. But I'm proud of you. You're so brave."
"I don't feel brave," I say. "I feel like I'm wetting my pants. What if someone... ?"
"You could pretend you were falling. You could fall and I could catch you."
He hugs me. I can feel how hard he is. "Hardware," I say, rubbing up against him. "Time for dancing now, my Mister Hardware man." We sway together. The cavernous silence of Home Depot surrounds our dance.
At home Jerry brings the shiny new step ladder inside the house. "How come?" I ask. "Shouldn't it go in the garage?"
"Open the basement stairs, would you?" Jerry says. "I have a few modifications to make."
"What kind of modifications?"
"A little customization job. You'll see."
"I thought we were going dancing."
"If there's time," Jerry says. "I have to do this first. It shouldn't take long. It should be done before dinner's ready. Just sandwiches if we're going to go dancing, okay?"
I feel so pleased as I make the sandwiches. We're going to go dancing after all. While the bacon sizzles on the stove, I slice tomatoes and slather mayo on Jerry's toast and think of what I'm going to wear.
After supper Jerry takes me downstairs.
"See?" he says, pointing to the ladder.
"It looks the same."
"I know. That's the point."
"So what did you do?"
"Aha," he says. "See this step here, two from the top?" Jerry runs his hand over it.
"I unbolted it. Sliced the bolts. And soldered them back."
"I don't get it."
"It looks the same," Jerry says. "No way to tell it's not. And it'll hold up fine, until about twenty pounds or more steps on it. Then--kaboom!" Jerry claps his hands.
"It gives way. Whoever's on it falls off. Brilliant, eh?"
"I don't understand."
"The thief," Jerry explains. "We're going to leave this ladder out, just like the last one. And if it's stolen, the thief is going to get a big surprise."
"I don't know," I say. "That sounds... I don't know... dangerous... and illegal."
"It is dangerous," Jerry says. "That's the point. Dangerous for the thief."
"But what if it's some kid. What if some kid from the neighborhood comes by and climbs up just for the fun of it?"
"Okay," Jerry says.
"Okay, I see your point. I'll only put it out at night. No kid would be out playing at night, right?"
"I don't know," I say. "I mean even if a thief does take it, it might be someone else who climbs it, someone else who ends up getting hurt. They could get killed. I was up that high. That's pretty high. I think you should fix it back."
Jerry looks crestfallen.
"It is very clever," I tell him.
"You think so?"
"Yeah. Now let's go dancing."
"You really want to?"
"I do. I want to dance and dance. And then we can come home and open Christmas presents."
"The thing is, I'm not sure if I know of a place."
I get out the phone book.
"What, are you going to look up under 'dance'?"
"Why not?" I say.
I find the page.
"See? Look, there are several of them."
I read down the list. Neptune's Cove is near the bottom.
"Neptune's Cove," I say to Jerry. "Have you ever heard of that?"
"I don't think so," he says. "Does it say where it is?"
I read him the address.
"Pretty seedy part of town," he says.
"Let's try it," I say. "If we don't like it, we can always leave."
Neptune's Cove is in old warehouse on Pike Street just across the river. It stands isolated and dark and cold, but there are several cars in the parking lot, and we see a couple stepping through the dark doorway.
"This is going to be exciting," I say to Jerry, taking his hand.
"I don't know," he says. "Maybe we should have called first. Maybe we need reservations."
"Come on," I say, leading him along the brick sidewalk. The first snowflakes begin to fall.
We check our coats and pay the cover and enter the inner area. The ceilings and walls have disappeared into darkness, and yet the space seems small and snug. Little tables surround the sunken dance floor. Couples sway in shifting beams of blue and gold. Soft electric music ebbs and flows. A waitress wearing mostly tights takes us to a table.
"Drinks?" she says, and as she bends to light the candle her bare breast grazes my shoulder.
Jerry looks at me.
"Red wine," I say.
"Make that two," Jerry tells her.
"Merlot okay?" she asks, and her fat nipples seem to smile at us.
"Fine," Jerry says. He watches her bottom as she walks off. You can see almost everything.
"Fine place you've gotten us into," he tells me. "I can't believe they have something like this in our town."
"Yeah, well, as long as we're here we might as well dance," I tell him. We step up onto the dance floor.
The music shimmers. Jerry puts his arms around me, and I allow myself to drift. We glide about. I feel safe and aimless. I don't think of anything. I just dance. It's almost as if Jerry isn't there. Oh, this is nice.
"This is nice," Jerry says.
"Mm-hm," I agree. I look up. Pinpricks of light. Jerry's hands drift lower. The small of my back. The top of my bottom. He pulls me against him. I can feel his fattened prick through his pants. Something in my center catches.
"Mm-hm," Jerry says, his hand circling the small of my back, the swell of my bottom. We sway together. "Mm-hm."
"You're naughty," I say. I look up and see the excitement in his eyes. "You're a naughty boy."
"You're nice," he says. I can almost feel the throb of him when I move my middle. "Nice and naughty."
"I ought to get even," I tell him. "For what you did in the ladder store. I really ought to."
We keep dancing.
"How?" Jerry says. "How would you get even?"
"I'd unzip you," I tell him. My hand moves between us, down to his middle. I feel the bulge against the back of my hand. "I'd unzip you right here in front of everyone, right in the middle of everything." I let my hand stroke slowly upwards. "I'd unzip you and your big fat cock would spring out like an old fishing pole--wouldn't that be fun?"
"Mm," he says, bringing me closer, my hand trapped now.
"You think you could catch something with that big ol' fishin' pole?" I say. "What do you think you'd catch? Huh?" I turn my hand and give him the briefest squeeze and then slip my hand out and we're just dancing again.
"Shall we check on how the wine is coming?" Jerry asks me after a while. We wend our way back to the table.
Sure enough the wine is there. Steve Harper is there, too, standing beside our table, but he's not in uniform now.
"officer Harper?" I say in surprise.
"Hey, Helen," he says, beaming, "I thought that was you. What do you know!"
"Hi," I say. "Um, Jerry, this is Officer Harper. I mean Patrolman Harper. He was investigating our ladder."
"Still am," Harper says.
"Oh?" Jerry says. "Any fresh clues?"
"And this is my husband Jerry," I tell Steve.
"No clues," Steve says to Jerry.
"So is this part of the investigation?" Jerry says.
"This?" Steve says, spreading his hands.
"Yeah," Jerry says. "Why are you here?"
"Oh, I get it," Steve says. "No, this isn't part of the investigation. This is my place. Me and a couple of buddies. Pretty nice, eh? Is this the first time you've been here?"
"First time," Jerry says. "I'd never even heard of it before tonight."
"Well, there's always a first time," Steve says. "Enjoy yourselves. You guys looked awfully good out there on the dance floor." He winks. "And the wine's on me," he continues. "Enjoy!" He nods at Jerry, smiles at me, and strides off.
But after two steps he stops, turns around, and comes back. He's still smiling. "Say, if it's okay with you," he says to Jerry just as he's sitting down, "if you don't mind, could I have a dance with your lovely wife?"