This is an entry in the SweetWitch-Marsh Alien Feud Settlement Short Story Writing contest. As a courtesy to me, if you cast a vote on this story, please also read SweetWitch's "Forget the Bitch, Gimme a Drink." Besides, her story has catfighting and voyeurism.
With fourteen months still to go until I hit the big Five-O, I had pretty much worked my way through the world of wine, women, and song, and ended up settling on Scotch. At least for a permanent relationship.
I had never really liked songs, at least not in the popular sense. I was more of a classical music guy. Brahms — that's who I liked. Brahms the broody. Brahms, the guy who couldn't bring himself to write a symphony for decades because of the enormous shadow cast by Beethoven, who had been dead for nearly half a century by that point.
Wine I could take or leave. I'd had some nice wines in my life, although normally I associated them with nice meals. But all that crap about delightful chocolate overtones and piquant aftertastes just goes right over my head. And reminds me of my third wife.
Which brings us to women. It's not that I don't enjoy the company of women. I do. But after three marriages, I don't want to be accused of taking some other guy's turn. My first only lasted a few years, until Betsy learned that she'd rather be spending her forever with her thesis adviser than with me. My second actually should have lasted forever, but apparently God had other plans. Instead, after five wonderful years, Catherine was killed in a car accident.
And then there was the third, the only one that I really consider to have been a mistake. I probably married too soon, and definitely not too well. Samantha was interested in spending more money than we made, and figured that my inability to make a career as a writer was simply the result of laziness on my part. It turned out to be more of an antipathy to the sort of nagging pressure that she and her mother were expert at. Once I was on my own, I got good enough to quit my other job and start writing full-time. I've now published four books, the last three on the New York Times bestseller list.
I am a real estate novelist. That's right. Just like the line from "The Piano Man." It's an odd occupation for somebody who doesn't like popular music, but Catherine loved Billy Joel, and it was while we were listening to one of his tapes in the car that I heard the phrase. It stuck with me for years, and when I finally sat down to write, out came this book about Roger Carter and Lizzie Perkins, real estate agents whose open house is ruined by the discovery of a dead body in the basement. With an out-of-town owner and no other prospects of immediate sales, they decide to clear up the mystery themselves in order to remove the cloud over the house. You laugh, but I've done three sequels now, each more successful than the last.
"Andy, you want another?"
I looked down at my empty glass and then at my watch. Eleven-thirty. Probably a little late. I was just about to decline when Pablo spoke again.
"On the house," he said.
I looked up suspiciously. Nobody pours Timdrogglan on the house. Not at a hundred and thirty bucks a bottle. Not when you can charge twenty bucks a glass.
"What's the catch?"
"Girl in the office," he said with a nod toward the back. "Needs a ride home."
"So why me?"
"Even with another Scotch in you, you're a safer driver than any of these meatheads. Besides, she's, uh..."
"She's..." I tried to prompt him.
He glanced at the other guys. This place had attracted its share of seedy Southern rednecks when it had been Murphy's Irish Bar. Whatever prejudice those guys felt hadn't kept them away from Pablo's Irish Bar (a free basket of nachos with every Guinness) for more than a few days.
"Too classy?" I asked. I knew who he was talking about now, simply because you didn't see that many African-Americans at Pablo's. An attractive black woman, sitting at the bar and knocking back glasses of white wine, tends to stand out a little bit.
"Exactly," Pablo grinned.
"All right," I sighed as I stood up. "She's in the office?"
"On the couch. What about the drink?"
"Forget the drink. Just give me the bitch."
His eyebrows shot up.
"For tonight, Pablo. Just forget the drink for tonight. I'll be back here tomorrow."
He smiled. When I was writing, I came in for inspiration. When I was rewriting, I came in for consolation. Particularly these past few weeks, since I had inherited William Tecumseh Sherman as my editor. Not really, of course. The real General Sherman has been dead for a century or so, God be praised. But his modern counterpart, a New York editor whose name I didn't actually know," was busy leaving his own trail of scorched earth in the form of bloody red marks across each chapter of mine as he blithely and inexorably marched to the end of my novel.
In truth, he was very good, certainly better than the previous two editors I'd been assigned. But the comments he made in the drafts, each one tagged with his little "WTS," often came across as arrogant and high-handed. It was a good thing that I had to go through the filter of his employer's e-mail system to correspond with him. He was probably afraid to give me his own e-mail address. Probably with good reason. At that moment, I was awaiting his first cut at Chapter Five, much as General Slocum must have waited for the Northern artillery shells.
Pablo and I walked into the office and found her sleeping on his couch. I pulled the earbuds of her iPod out of her ears, and tried to rouse her. I am a grumpy drunk. This woman was apparently a sleepy drunk. I gave her a quick assessment: five-nine, one-thirty or one-thirty-five, late twenties, silky dark hair, mocha-colored skin, a generous chest that did an excellent job filling out an elegant yellow blouse, and a cute butt packed into a pair of designer blue jeans. My conclusion: I could probably get her into my car in the parking lot of Pablo's, but I hoped to hell she didn't live on the fourth floor of some walk-up.
"Name? Address?" I turned to Pablo. He gave me a piece of paper and jammed a set of keys in my pocket. I hoisted her over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and headed for the door. On the way out, I heard something fall to the ground.
"Wait a minute," Pablo said, "her iPod."
"Keep it," I grumbled, trying to keep my breath even. "I can't stop. I'll leave her a note after I drop her off."
I managed to pour her into my car and yanked out the paper out with her address. Fortunately, it proved to be a single-family home in a quiet neighborhood, so I had little trouble getting her inside onto her couch. There was a blanket at the end of the couch, and I pulled it over her.
I was back in my usual spot the next evening when she returned. She was even harder to miss this time. She banged the door open and strode in, standing there with her hands on her hips like she just dared those rednecks to say anything to her. This time, she wore a red checked blouse and a jeans skirt that showed off a very shapely pair of legs. It was hard to focus on that, though, because the glare she was casting around the room was sufficient to prevent even the sleaziest of men from staring at her for too long.
"Which one of you assholes stole my iPod?" she demanded.
Pablo, in true step-up-to-the-plate fashion, turned around to glare at me, followed by the rest of the guys at the counter and, a few seconds later, the young lady.
Oh, yeah, the note.
I smiled at her as she marched over to tower above me.
"I think that Pablo there has your iPod behind the bar." I directed her attention back to the bar.
He held it up and she marched over to retrieve it. I buried my nose back in the book I was reading. It was a few minutes later that I became conscious that she was once again looming over me at the table.
"Pablo says you carried me home last night," she said apologetically. "I'm sorry I yelled."
"No problem." I gave her my most facile smile and looked back down at where my finger had marked my place in the text.
I looked up to see her hand thrust toward me.
"Andrew Cavanaugh," I said and smiled again, a little more sincerely, giving her a hearty handshake.
"Whatcha reading?" she asked as she sat down across the booth from me.
"Actually," I said, "the Iliad."
"By Homer?" she raised an eyebrow.
I nearly always have a smartass retort, but I managed to bite this one off just before it pushed past my lips.
"Don't say it," she held up a hand. "Ask a stupid question... So what were you going to say?"
"You were going to tell me you were reading the Iliad by... ?"
My smile was very genuine now. Hers was slightly twisted, as if I'd said something very distasteful.
"I was at least hoping for somebody like Carl Hiaasen," she said.
"I'm sure Carl Hiaasen would have done a very good Iliad," I nodded. I'd actually met Carl at a couple of conventions, and it would have been a hysterical book.
"You know, in some cultures, if you save someone's life, you become responsible for it." She flashed me a big grin.
"I really don't think you were in any danger on Pablo's couch," I demurred. "At the worst you might have gotten a couple of fleabites from that mangy hound of his."
Her eyes widened as she absently began scratching at her side.
"Bastard." Her eyes laughed with her.
.... There is more of this story ...