For a long moment, she clung to me, whispering, her lips soft against my throat. They were not words of love, but obscenities, for she was not much given to words of love.
Then the last ripple of emotion shuddered through her flesh and she relaxed, moved away from me and lay quietly with her dark hair tangled against the pillow, her long body nearly as pale as the white sheet beneath it.
She lay on her back without the slightest trace of modesty or shame in her nakedness and stared at me from dark eyes. She didn't speak. We rarely had much to say. Her eyes closed, and in a few moments she was asleep.
A week ago we had met in a bar on Wilshire Boulevard here in Los Angeles. After the first intimate glances and tentative words, all of them charged with meaning as pointed and naked as an unsheathed sword, we had talked for a while. Then, almost automatically, we had come here to my apartment. That was the first time -- it was afternoon then, too -- and now, a week later, I still knew almost nothing about her.
Her name was Gladys, she was about thirty years old, and she was a married woman. That was nearly all of it -- except that from the very beginning she had seemed not quite a stranger to me, as if I had known her or seen her before. She wouldn't talk about her home, her family, her life. It sometimes seemed that there was only one thing she wanted to talk about.
It was another late afternoon, and yellow sunlight slanted through the venetian blinds in the bedroom of my Wilshire Boulevard apartment, splashing alternate fuzzy bands of yellow and warm shadow across her full woman's body. I looked at her nakedness almost with disinterest, and with the slight distaste one sometimes feels for the object of passion when the passion has been satisfied. Perhaps it was more than that, because I didn't like her. She stirred and excited me, but I didn't really like her.
She lay quietly now, her only movement the regular breathing that stirred the lush, heavy curves of maturity, the warm yielding breasts barely moving and the gentle female roundness of her stomach rising and falling slightly with each slow breath. Gladys seemed voracious and predatory even in sleep; she made me think of those cannibal plants that capture live things and devour them.
I had showered and was almost dressed when she awakened. She stretched languorously, catlike.
"Mark," she said, "I die every time. I can't help it."
"You've told me. You'd better get dressed."
She laughed softly. "What a waste of time. Come here."
"Not that late."
I looped the knot in my tie and slid it up under my collar, then strapped on my gun harness and the Magnum and shrugged into my coat.
"What's the matter, Mark?"
"I told you. It's late." I looked at my watch. "It's after six. You've never stayed this late before."
"There has to be a first time."
"No, there doesn't." I walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Listen, Gladys, you know what's the matter. I don't like this. I don't like it at all."
She raised her left hand and slowly traced a line down between her breasts and over the white mound of her stomach. Smiling, she said, "You don't?"
"I don't like this sneaking around, hiding, not knowing who you are or where you live. I've told you before, I feel ... I don't feel right about it."
She laughed. "We're adults. We're not in love with each other, and we both know it. But we -- we like each other."
"I'm not sure, Gladys. I'm not sure I like you at all."
It didn't bother her. She laughed again, propped herself up on one elbow and looked at me. "You don't have to like me." Her eyes swept down the length of my body, then back to my face. "I don't even know for sure what I see in you," she said. "Six feet of something. Black curly hair, brown eyes, a very nice nose, even a Cary Grant dimple in that square chin. You should be handsome, Mark, but you're not. I don't even think you're good-looking." She put her hand on my knee, then grinned and said through her teeth, "I just don't know what I see in you."
I grinned back at her. "I know damned well what you see in me. Now get up, baby, and put on your pants." She got up, but slid over and sat on my lap. I shook my head. "I mean it, Gladys. It's time you got out."
"I think I'll stay."
"Let me ask you something just once more. You've got a husband, maybe nine kids for all I know. Isn't your husband in love with you? Don't you feel a little rotten sometimes?"
"Good God, Mark. Can't you forget the old goat for an hour? For a private detective, and a bachelor, you lug around some damned infantile notions. Can't you drop that silly Victorian conscience somewhere? We'll go to church on Sunday, if it'll make you feel better." She paused, a small smile on her lips, her arms going around my neck. "Now, Mark, let's not talk any more."
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Gladys." I pushed her away from me.
She was quiet for a few seconds, then she asked softly, "Tomorrow, Mark?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. Even private detectives have to work some time."
"Tomorrow night." It was a whisper. "I can get away."
"You mean you can sneak out."
She moved closer to me, lifted my hand and brushed it over her breast. "Tomorrow night, Mark?"
I hesitated, felt her move against me.
"We'll have the night, and the darkness, Mark," she said.
And finally, as she undoubtedly felt sure I would, I told her yes.
After she had gone I got the bottle of light Bacardi from the kitchen, poured a healthy splash into a tall glass and filled the glass with soda. Then I sat in the living room and thought about Gladys.
She was lovely enough, with a ripe and exciting dark beauty, but I'd have felt fewer twinges of what Gladys called a Victorian conscience if there'd been more honesty between us, less secrecy. And it was a one-sided secrecy. Gladys knew almost all there was to know about me. She knew I was Mark Logan, twenty-nine years old, a private detective, an ex-G.I. who had once worked up to sergeant but was three times a private. She knew I liked pork chops and Southern fried chicken, rum and soda, red lips and rumba music. And I didn't even know her last name. It was difficult to tell what she did or didn't like -- except in one thing. The hell with it; she was an expert in that.
I tossed off the last of my drink and said the hell with it again. Tomorrow was another day and I had an appointment at my one-room office in the Farnsworth Building on Spring Street in downtown L.A. An old friend, Jay Weather, was in some kind of trouble.
I didn't know it yet, but so was I -- at least it was starting.
Copyright © 1956 by Richard S. Prather