Chris took the girl's wrist in her hand and gently moved the arm that had been flung across her chest. She sat up then, careful not to wake the girl, and slid to the edge of the bed. With her toes she groped for the sandals, found one and wiggled a foot into it. Then the other. She braced her feet against the floor.
Now, she knew, she would have to open her eyes.
It wasn't easy, that bit. The lids came up slowly, painfully, grating inside her skull like two rusty, ponderous dungeon gates. The eyes came slowly down from somewhere at the back of her head.
"Focus, damn you."
The eyes swam for a moment, then settled. They stared blindly away from the bed, across the room, through a door. There they found an object, caught and held it, and sent back a message.
Chris got it. And moved. She was across the room, through the door and hanging breathless over the John before she had time to realize she couldn't make it.
Then the ugly business of sobering up and getting the hell out of there. Water on the face. Half a dozen aspirin from the medicine cabinet. Into the shower to stand under the freezing needle spray. A brisk rub with a rough towel.
Chris ran through her routine in ten minutes flat. She had it down to a science by now. Every Saturday night for four years, while Dizz went home to be company to her folks, Chris had gone out to a Village bar, gotten stoned and picked up the first girl who came along. When you look like Chris, it's not hard. And every Sunday morning she came to in the dame's apartment, made a bolt for the John; and stepped into the shower. Once there'd been a blonde with a bathtub. Chris had been hung over for three days.
She picked up a comb from the back of the hopper and turned to the mirror. It had seen better days. But then, so had Chris. The business of looking in the mirror was the worst part. Not just the searching for tell-tale signs, the bruises and hickeys of drunken passion, but having to look herself square in the eye and admit: "You damned jerk. You've done it again."
She looked now, at the too good-looking face, the perfect head with its perfectly waved black hair, the long neck. There was an ugly reddish bruise just under the left ear. Dizz would see it. She wouldn't say anything--she never did. But she would see it and she would suffer.
And the eyes. A dark green. Deep, deep eyes that looked down into the soul of the woman. But such was the nature of the beast that even the soul appeared beautiful. No one but Chris had ever known the depravity of the mind and soul behind those eyes. And Chris found it to her advantage not to tell.
She ran the comb quickly through her hair, took a long drink of water, and walked back to the other room. She did not glance at the bed. Her slacks, shirt and jacket were hung on the back of a chair, neatly, and her underwear on the end of the bed. She hadn't been that careful, she knew. But she appreciated the creases in her slacks.
She stood dressed in front of a full-length mirror and liked what she saw. Lean and firm, built like a young boy, she did not look like a thirty-year-old woman.
She was all things beautiful, graceful and desirable. A pet to be doted upon and spoiled. The thought amused her and she smiled. "Chris?"
She turned toward the bed and realized that the girl had been watching her. She had forgotten the girl already, as she forgot them all. She had never known her name. That helped.
Chris walked over to the bed and stood beside it, looking down at the girl. She saw that the girl was extremely attractive, a dark brunette with a pert nose and sleepy eyes. Last night she had had two heads and not much of a face.
"Chris, may I see you again?" The voice was soft, wispy. It could make a person feel loved, that voice. So could the hands. One of them reached out to Chris and she took it and pressed her lips to the palm.
"No," Chris said. "I'm afraid that's not possible. I've got a girl. I live with her."
"I blow. Or at least I guessed. You kept calling me Dizz last night." The girl smiled at Chris, her eyes tender. "Did you two have a fight or how come she let you out of her sight?"
Chris hesitated. The truth was nobody's business. "No. No fight." She did not know how to explain without telling her everything.
"Look, Chris," the girl said. "I don't mean to be nosey. But I like you enough to care." She withdrew her hand from Chris' fingers, pulled herself up in the bed and leaned back against the pillows. "I would like to see you again. I know you're in love with somebody. But I thought maybe, since you were out last night, you could get out again." She grinned at her own
thoughts. "And as far as having a girl is concerned, we could just be pals, if you'd like."
Chris wrinkled her nose, then laughed quietly. "Honey, I might just do that. As a matter of fact, I'm free every Saturday night."
"Good," the girl said. "Now do me a favor. There's paper and a pencil on the desk. Copy down my phone number." She pointed to the desk.
Chris walked to the desk, picked up a pencil and tore a sheet from a small dime store pad. She glanced for a second at the telephone, then scribbled down a Yukon number. She turned and looked at the girl.
"Honey," Chris said. "Just one more thing."
"Yes, what is it?"
"Honey, I'm embarrassed." She wasn't. She never was. But the girl saw embarrassment on her face. "But tell me, what's your name?"
The girl tossed her hair back from her shoulders and a laugh sounded deep in her throat. "Carol," she said. "Carol Martin."
Chris came to the bed, leaned one knee on it and cupped Carol's chin in her hands. "Pleased to meet you, darling." She smiled and bent her head to meet the girl's lips. It was a long kiss, full of the promise of many to come. "I'm Chris Hamilton. Christopher, that is."
"Yes, I know," Carol said. "Prophetic, wasn't it?"
Chris liked this girl. Somehow, she knew, they spoke the same language. A civilized patter just padded enough to hide the rusty razor underneath. They would both wield that razor to cut the legs off anybody in reach. But not each other. They wouldn't hurt each other. They might very well destroy each other completely, but it wouldn't hurt.
Carol continued. "I also know you're a writer. Articles. And that you're a top conchologist, an amateur marine biologist and an expert swimmer. I know when, and where you were born and where you went to school. And, as of last night, I even know you have a large mole on your rear end."
Chris felt vaguely uncomfortable. She preferred to be one up on the world. She did not behave well when backed into a corner. Sometimes she kicked. More often she simply slithered away.
"I also have a diamond-shaped birthmark on the back of my right hand and a cavity in a back molar," Chris said. She paused to take a pack of cigarettes from her jacket pocket. "Or did you notice?"
She shook the pack and flipped up a cigarette. "Want one?" she asked, extending it toward Carol.
"No thanks," Carol said. "Not before breakfast."
Chris picked the cigarette from the pack with her lips and brought the small gold lighter from her pocket She inhaled deeply and blew a puff of smoke toward the ceiling.
"I always have aspirin for breakfast," Chris said. "But please explain yourself. How come you know these little tidbits about me? I think I was much too high to tell you myself^' She never told the facts anyhow, drunk or not. But it sounded better this way.
She knew Carol was aware of her discomfort. And obviously she enjoyed it. There was something infinitely satisfying about this game. The business of watching Chris squirm, her whole being searching into corners for a way out while that beautiful face remained a mask, the placid surface of a silent pool.
"Simple," Carol said, splaying her fingers on the sheet. "I'm Dr. Brandt's new assistant. I saw you down at
the museum one day and he told me who you were. So I looked up the file they've got on you, It didn't mention the mole. That I saw for myself." She winked at Chris. "Like I said, simple."
Chris took time to breath. "Okay, I'll buy that." She took a deep drag on the cigarette. "How come Brandt's got a woman assistant, though? I thought he specialized in precious young men."
"So I've heard," Carol said. "I just happened to be on the loose when this job opened up. I know my business. He hired me." She yawned and slid down further beneath the blankets. "My first assignment is to sort out and classify that batch of stuff you brought back from Key West." She grinned impishly. "And frankly, if I hadn't found you in the bar last night, I had planned to use that as an in."
Chris meticulously snubbed out the cigarette in a tiny copper tray. She took two steps and slowly set the tray on the bookcase beside the bed. She took two steps back to face the girl. Then she said, with studied nonchalance, "Oh?"
Carol pushed back the covers, sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "Chris," she said in that I-can-make-you-happy voice, "I don't know how to be coy. I quit trying when I was twelve and broke a little boy's nose because he tried to kiss me. When I want something, I make no bones. And I want you." "You like the mole."
"Hmm. Partially that," Carol said. "And partially because I like your work. I've been reading your stuff for years, you know. At first because it was my field. Then just because it appealed to me." She was warming to her topic, speaking earnestly. "You write about the sea like others write about a first love, with the same tenderness and doting devotion. What anybody else would make a dull, dry treatise, you render into an elegy." She paused for just a second. "Not that I don't know better than to judge you by what you write."
"I hope so," Chris said. "I'm a disagreeable bitch. I'm snide and sarcastic and sometimes cruel. A lecher and a drunkard to boot."
Chris knew these things were true. But before Dizz happened, they hadn't been like that. She used to pet dogs and help old ladies across the street. But that was four years ago. And in those four years, every decent instinct she'd ever had had been strangled in the unrelenting grip of frustration and self-pity.
"Chris," a tiny voice cut. into her reverie. "Chris, listen to me and stop looking at shadows. I know what you think of yourself and I imagine there are probably good reasons for it. Most of the time I might even agree, since you work so hard at creating that impression."
Chris fumbled for another cigarette. She could not look into the affectionately accusing eyes. She fished one out of the pack and lit it.
"But, darling," Carol continued, her voice low. "I know a couple of things you don't. I know that you write like an angel. And I know you can be a tender lover even when you're drunk." She laughed with delight. "And that at the moment you've got shiny pink earlobes."
Chris abruptly turned her back and walked to the window. She hadn't realized where she was but she looked down now to the street and recognized First Avenue. Probably the Seventies. Dirty, ugly neighborhood. Across the street a box of twenty-five cent books
sat in front of an antique shop. A mongrel with yellow splotches stopped to sniff and lift a leg. A fat guy in an undershirt came out of the shop and yelled. The dog raised his head and then, with infinite boredom, he turned away to finish his business in peace. The fat guy just stood there, his hands on his hips, too exasperated to find the words.
Dizz would have laughed. She would have laughed harder if he'd turned around and aimed at the guy.
Chris flipped the cigarette into the street.
She heard Carol patter barefoot across the room behind her. She turned and looked down at the girl. She was naked and she was tiny and she looked soft and like it would feel good to hold her.
"Chris," she said, "don't be angry. Please." She pouted, but playfully. She reached up and touched the bruise and let her fingers trail lightly down Chris's neck and under the collar. "Darling, kiss me."
Chris put her arms around the girl and let her hands trace the curve of her back. She put one hand on Carol's back and pulled her tight. Her lips sought Carol's ear and she nipped at the lobe. Her tongue probed into the ear, touched lightly the downy hairs on the neck.
"Darling," Carol breathed. "Oh please, darling."
Chris carried the girl to the bed and put her down gently on the sheet. She bent across her and met the girl's hungry lips with her own. "Baby, I can't," she whispered. "I've got to leave. Now."
Dizz will be waiting. Dizz will be waiting.
But Chris felt the flame of desire quiver up her spine. Her hand moved over the girl's flesh and she heard the moan of mounting ecstasy. Her ears were pounding and her heart. Her mouth closed on Carol's and her tongue dug deep.
Dizz is waiting. Dizz is waiting.
"I love you. I love you," Carol crooned. "Darling, take me. Please take me."
All sense of time and of guilt faded before that plea. Chris could not stop now. She was caught in the web of her passion and she took the girl eagerly. She wanted her, wanted her as she had never wanted anything.
Carol sighed and leaned back against the pillows. Her eyes were soft with fulfillment. "Ill take that cigarette now," she said.
Chris lit one and handed it to her. "I've got to go, honey. But I'll be back. We've got a lot of things to talk about."
She left then. Quickly. It was late. Dizz would be waiting. Time enough later to think about Carol. And Chris knew Carol would take thinking about.