Older women pull my trigger.
I mean that metaphorically, of course. It’s just plain true that I have always gone for women who have a few years on me. A friend told me it was my Oedipal complex. That’s where you kill your father and marry your mother and end up ripping your eyeballs out. What a load of Times Square Rolexes that is. I was never attracted to my mother. She was a narcissistic drunk with a fully-loaded subconscious. No way was I ripping my eyes out over her. The whole idea was getting away from her before she got her own long-nailed thumbs in my sockets.
Frankly, it’s probably a case of too rich a fantasy life mixed with too much modern media. Most guys want Hillary Duff. I want Julie Andrews. Forget Alicia Keyes. Where’s Phylicia Rashad? I dream about all the moms on all the sitcoms. And no, don’t go back to that Oedipus thing. I just think women are more interesting when they’ve had enough time to do some interesting things. If some guy would rather be on a desert island with Jessica Simpson than with Glenn Close, he oughta have his eyes poked out. Jessica’s immature self-absorbtion would drive him to self-mutilation within a month. Glenn, on the other hand, is smart, attractive and knows how to kill wildlife; like rabbits, for instance. It’s not a tough call in my book.
Mattie Robinson was an older woman. And she was very attractive. Especially after she put her miniature gun away. “Have you had lunch, dear?” Her voice was all velvet again.
“Why, no, and I am famished. What’s your pleasure?” Do I remind you of Dustin Hoffman? I hoped I had only thought that last part.
“Let’s just stick to lunch, dear.”
She walked into the lot. I followed. We reached a Jaguar sedan. It matched her. She beeped the lock, and I opened the door for her. She slid in behind the wheel. I walked around and settled into the white leather seat.
“Seat belt, dear.”
“Of course. Do you mind telling me what that was all about?” I usually avoid prying, but I was getting into prying mode anyway, so what the hell.
She maneuvered us smoothly onto the parkway. She sure was a better driver than Valerie. And she didn’t have a little “Calvin” pissing decal in the back window like the one on the Neon.
“Darling.” It almost sounded like she meant it. “That son-of-a-bitch left me for a 23-year-old equestrian science major.”
“That’s hard to believe,” I said.
“Don’t try to flatter me.”
“I’m not. It is hard to believe there’s actually such a thing as equestrian science.” I mean a horse is a horse of course, of course. No doubt about it, I watched way too much TV as a child.
“Watching you so charmingly destroy his manhood was the singularly most wonderful piece of street theater I’ve seen since the sixties.”
“Glad I could be of service.”
“Now you tell me,” — this was a command coming from her — “why you did it. You certainly weren’t trying to impress little old me, were you?”
“I’m always trying to impress women,” I said. Then, because it was a command, I told her the relevant parts of my story. I told the whole truth, just like I’m telling you, with a few omissions, of course.
“So, you want to get arrested? Let me see what I can do.”
She stopped the car. The door was opened by a valet. This was going to be a good lunch. She took my arm on the way in. It was a French joint. The foreign name escapes me now. My high school French was mediocre, but it translated into something like “The Dreamy Fish.” I think that’s a piece by some French composer. You know how the French are.
I had some pate, some escargot, a nice trout, and a bottle of wine that would have paid my rent for two months. I was in heaven. This was where I belonged. O.K., this is where I was headed before that bit of trouble when I was twenty-one. Mattie was charming. We talked about food. We explored poetry and music. Yes, we flirted a bit, and she was very good at it. We laughed a while.
Restaurants like “The Dreamy Fish” are places to see and be seen. There was a steady flow of well-dressed customers. One, a nattily attired distinguished man, walked by our table. Close enough to give me a whiff of his cologne. He was soaked in the stuff – fresh cookies in the oven. That night at St. Philomena’s. Ding-ding. “Kensington,” I said.
He stopped and turned to face me. “I beg your pardon?” He gave me a quick, reflexive, dead fish handshake. There was no stregth at all in his fat fingers, but he had a large purple stone ring that dug into my knuckle. I winced. “Oh, sorry,” he said. Then holding up his hand to display the jewelry, he went on, “The pope gave it to me. Quite an honor.”
“Jewelry from the Pope, eh? Does he have an account at Wal-Mart?”
“Beg your pardon?” Kensington didn’t get the joke. He looked at his flashy jewel, and satisfied it was indeed classy, turned back to humble ol’ me.
Kensington did a quick scan. He had that look of, “Who are you? Do I know you? Are you important?” The evaluation didn’t take long. Despite the fact that I had stood not six feet away from him while he plied my beloved with wine just the night before, despite the fact that we were both Assumption boys, he no more recognized my face than he could differentiate one grain of plebian sand from another. I could almost hear the switch click to “No” to all of the above. In the same instant that he dismissed me, Kensington locked onto Mattie. “Mattie. Mattie, my dear. How are you?” He beamed his best smile at her. Kensington’s teeth were whiter than the tablecloths.
“Hello, Joseph.” Mattie’s voice dripped with fake pleasure. I can always tell when a woman is faking.
“I’ve meant to call. Terrible thing that divorce. We were so sad to hear of your troubles.” Kensington was not as good as Mattie in the faking department.
“Thank you for your concern.” Mattie dropped the “good to see you” facade.
“Have you met the Monsignor?” Kensington was oblivious to her mood. They don’t call him “Slow Joe” for nothing. “Let me introduce you.” A Marine in a Roman collar stepped out from behind Kensington. He was vaguely familiar. Salt and pepper hair, maybe I’d seen him in the newspaper. His scent was different. I couldn’t place it. But, God’s truth, it made me salivate.
Kensington turned on his courtly manners. “This is Monsignor Leo Shuldik, Chancellor of the Archdiocese. Leo, all his friends call him Leo.” Kensington revealed this as a testament to his own importance and the Monsignor’s humility. “Leo, this is Mattie Robinson. She’s quite rich.”
I almost laughed until I realized that Kensington’s little “rich” joke wasn’t a joke.
“Pleased to meet you, Mattie.” The Monsignor extended his hand, as it turned out, not to take hers in greeting. He held his hand right in front of Mattie’s mouth. Shuldik was wearing a big gold ring with a huge square cut ruby. His hand and the ring, emblazoned with two ornate Maltese crosses, hovered a foot from Mattie’s lips. There was an awkward pause.
Mattie sucked a wayward piece of fish that had become lodged in her dainty teeth. She never took her eyes off Shuldik’s thick athletic fingers and the ecclesiastic jewel. Finally she spoke. “You expect me to kiss that? My dear Monsignor, Jewish girls don’t like men dangling strange things anywhere near their mouths.”
I think I may have giggled a bit at that point. Luckily, no one was paying attention to me.
Shuldik pulled his hand back like he’d been burned.
“Oh,” Kensington stammered. “Ah…” His hand shook — social Parkinson’s had kicked in as the awkward moment stretched out. Kensington fidgeted and then suddenly grabbed Mattie’s wine glass. He tossed it down like a shot of Old Crow, and almost broke the stem when he slammed it down, empty, in front of her. “Well, so nice to see you, Mattie.” The two men skittered off to the V.I.P. tables in the back of the restaurant. I’ve never seen men move so fast without running.
“Old friends?” I laughed. “Funny.”
“Funny?” Mattie had not cracked a smile.
“Yeah. Funny. You don’t look Jewish.” Mattie laughed. I laughed. Perhaps we were a bit too loud. Everyone had turned to look at us, everyone except Kensington and Shuldik. It took a minute, but we regained our composure.
I refilled her glass. “Maybe you’d like a clean one.”
“Germs don’t scare me. Kensington does that all the time. It’s like a nervous tick. When he feels the slightest bit of unease his brain shorts out and he grabs the nearest drink. I’ve seen it happen far too many times to be surprised.” Mattie checked the rim of the glass. Turned it ninety degrees in her hand and took a sip.
“I thought rich people had good manners.”
“Darling, if that were true, what would be the use of being rich?” Mattie smiled.
“So Kensington is a friend of the family?” I held out my pinky finger as I took another gulp of vino.
“Kensington is an old chum of my ex-husband’s. Birds of a feather.” Mattie polished off her wine. I poured her more. “Ladies’ men and dolts, both of them are putzes on a cosmic scale.”
“Bitterness becomes you, Mattie.” I raised my glass to her.
“You have no idea.” She took a sip of wine. “Kensington is more than an ass. He’s a certifiable sociopath.”
“That explains his career choice as a prosecutor.” I have my own resentments.
“He got that job because of his family. Old money and political power can turn out some twisted spawn.”
“And free rings from the Pope.”
“Yes, Kensington is a Defender of the Faith or some such title. Basically, that means he gives the Church tons of cash and, of couse, political support.”
“Hence his buddy the auxilliary bishop, Monsignor Shuldik.”
“Precisely. Real pillars of the community. Assholes.” It sounded sophisticated when Mattie said the word. “Assholes.”
“There’s more to your resentment than Kensington hanging out with your husband me thinks. What is it, Mattie?” I was on my sixth glass of wine, and I can get nosy.
“Yeah, they trolled for unfortunate girls together. At least that’s what I think they did. I became used to that. A woman makes bad bargains sometimes. Besides, I never was able to prove anything.” Mattie held out her wine glass. I refilled it.
“Bad private detective?”
“Good help is so hard to find.” Mattie laughed and gave me a look that… well, nevermind. Did I mention how attractive she was? Anyway, Mattie dropped the come-hither look preety quickly. “I guess I decided to accept any daliances as part of the deal. What really pissed me off was when I found out that my husband was dipping into the clinic’s drug supply. We barely managed to keep it out of court. I think dear Doctor Robinson was selling a few of the more commonly abused liitle relaxers.”
“Stupid ass. Anyway, I was not about to end up with a convict for a husband.”
“There goes my chance, huh?”
“Maybe.” That look again – and again, it was gone. Women are so fickle. “The last straw was when one night, hubby dear and Kensington showed up at our door with an unconscious girl. Some model Kensington had used for one of his excreble paintings. At least that was the story they gave me.”
“Kensington is an artist?”
“Bullshit only, darling. But he does have a studio. And he does dab paint on canvas. Kensington uses it as a pick-up line. Come over and I’ll paint you — nude, of course.”
“And women fall for this?”
“Never. Usually he finds a professional model.”
“A hooker.” I was catching on.
“Precisely.” Mattie went on. From her voice and her face, it was clear that this was not a pleasant memory. “He brought this poor girl to our house. My husband is a doctor, after all. He has his medical bag here. She was in terrible condition. I think Kensington had hit her. God knows why. He’d given her drugs. I know that. My dear husband told me that later. She was nearly dead. But those two pillars of the community revived her. I’m sure she was sent off with some extra money. I heard that Kensington set her up with some kind of regular job, too. The girl seemed lost. I should have done something but I… Kensington, my husband… Sickening.” Mattie went back to her wine.
“Awful.” I wasn’t surprised. People’s sins never surprise me. I had an inspiration. “Maybe the press should hear about this.”
Mattie laughed. “The press? You dear naïve boy. Kennsington’s wife runs the press. She’s the publisher of the Tirawa Star-Register.”
“I see. So his wife, the publisher, knows.”
“She knows he’s an ass. Listen, their’s is a political marriage. Two old wealthy families in alliance.”
“The Medici and the Borgias?”
“Funny. Very funny. I doubt if Mrs. Kensington knows the depths of his vices. I doubt she cares.” Mattie went on. “Anyway, the worst of it was, a month or two later when we were at a party at Kensington’s house, he pulled me upstairs to show me something, Right on the wall in his bedroom, there it was.”
“Let me guess.”
Mattie didn’t let me guess. “A painting of a nude girl. The same girl he’d nearly killed.”
“Disgusting.” She finished off another glass. The memory had put a strain on her. “A painting of a naked girl holding a book. And Kensington thought it was art. He was so proud of himself. God, put a book in her hand, and softcore gets culture.”
“What was the book?” I don’t know why I asked the question. But I did.
“Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” Mattie held out her empty glass.
I spilled some wine as I poured. My hands were unsteady. “Terri,” I said.
“Nothing. Nothing.” I might have taken a swig straight from the bottle right then. I can’t be sure.
“I really must go now, Mr. Hutchence.” Mattie looked all of fifty. That’s what happens when you think back too much.
“Of course. Thank you, Mattie.”
For a second she looked younger again. “My pleasure.” She paid the check, made a call on the smallest cell phone I’ve ever seen, stood, kissed me lightly on the cheek, and left. Her perfume, as they say, lingered. I figured six months rent for a bottle of that.
I sat alone at the table for five minutes. My mind was trying to coil around Kensington and his painting of Terri. I was trying to squeeze the thoughts so they’d be quiet. Then the cops came and arrested me. Just that simple.
It was all very courteous and high class — like the joint. Mattie had asked the owner of the joint to press charges against me for skipping out on the tab. Of course I hadn’t. More important, Mattie had him throw in a complaint about a threat of some kind. Do that in a ritzy neighborhood still on-edge because of September 11 and facing the terrifying prospect that some Massachusetts liberal would stifle the next round of tax cuts, you become an A-list bust. Finally, one of my great ideas had worked out, sort of. My original plan would have put me in the old part of the Dick with the riff raff, the minor criminals. Mikey was in the high rent district. Hey, murderers have a lot of status in municipal lockups. I hadn’t considered that. But Mattie did. The best women always have criminal minds.
I was heading for the new wing. I’d gotten a preview on the tube a month or so before. Channel Six’s own Liz Nice had been covering the “Grand Opening” of the new wing on the city jail, located down the hill near the airport. It was a gala event. Local swells paid $250 each to be “booked.” It included mug shots and a Jim Morrison sound-alike band, “The Back Doors.” The “inmates” got drunk on box wine, then were locked in a shiny new cell until the next morning. I’m sure they were all hot to have a little prison sex. That’s really funny. Especially if you’ve ever had any of the real stuff yourself, but I don’t want to talk about that. After the jail staff hosed out the new facility the next morning, the new routine promised to be a little less festive.
My “great” plan would have ended up, like I said earlier, ”idiotic.” Mattie had been at the fund raiser, the Grand Opening blowout. She knew. They were putting the important social deviates, like murderers, on the new side of the Dick. Mikey was in the new wing, and I wasn’t getting in there for busting a few Hummer windows or skipping out on a restaurant check. You needed reservations. My elegant sweetheart got ‘em for me.
Mattie made sure that the proprietor threw in that little “threat” charge. The power structure took it very seriously when low-lifes like me presume to even think of harming one of the “quality”people. It was the next best thing to murder. Besides, Mattie had told me that her friend would drop the charges first thing in the morning. It was almost perfect. I’d get my one night in jail. Thanks to my new rich lady friend, I’d spend it with Mikey. Even better, on the ride down, the Crown Vic was brand new. I love the smell of a new cop car.
The jail was brand new, too. Nonetheless, it already smelled like a jail. My new friend had pull. After they booked me, I was escorted to my pod. Pod? What will they think of next? This was a new concept to me. I’d never been in a “pod” before. All I knew or cared about was that it was Pod #12. Amazing what the right connections could do. I thought it could take me a couple of days, even weeks, to finagle this.
A big room with a balcony of cells wrapping around on three sides, and the front of the pod was all plexiglass, floor to ceiling. The cells didn’t have the traditional bars. They were doors like you’d see in a school, where they really need security. They were steel, with thick windows. There were twenty cells to a pod.
The main floor was all bolted down metal tables and benches. A little semi-circle of chairs, also bolted down, faced a TV. “Sponge Bob Square Pants” was on.
was in the front row.