Her gait was predatory, her frame undeniably well shaped, her dress provocative but not all that revealing. She slowly advanced on the bar, the airs of elegance and ire all wrapped up in one pretty package. She had the look of a woman who had lost a whole lot, and all of it in a short space of time. She hadn’t slept when she walked in around eight in the morning, I could tell by the heavy coat and high heels it was the morning after the night before, and hers was not over. Her hair was perfect, her make-up was perfect, but her face was tired.
“We’re not open for another half hour,” I said to her as I reached for yet another glass that needed drying. She sat down at the bar anyway. Her eyes were a black as hard as steel, shiny and tense, but the allure that hid behind them was that of a women used to cat and mouse. Her eyes were half hidden by a red fringe that was too shiny to be of real hair. She pulled out thin stack of money and set it on the table. Big bills.
“Get me a bottle of whatever’s closest,” she mumbled. I was about to try send her off again, when she pulled another stack of bills from a matte black purse. “Please,” she said. I set a bottle of Beluga and glass onto the table.
“You alright?” I asked her -she was growing on me- and she shook her head. Her heavy eyes looked fit to explode under some kind of pressure behind them, her mind too full of thoughts or emotion, it was anyone’s guess.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked me. “Have you seen me before?” I shook my head.
“Of course you haven’t. No one ever has.” She wiggled gloved fingers through the air. “I am a ghost.”
She took a heavy swig from the glass, refilled it, and took another.
“D’you want me to dash that with anything, or…”
“Ask me about my count. Go on, ask me what my body count is.”
“Your count, miss?”
“Uhm. What is your, er, body count?”
“Forty-five,” she said. She spat the word like poison, then waited for me to react. I could only think that she would be a hard ghost to forget an encounter with.
“Forty-five,” she said again, for effect. She stared at the leather gloves as though she couldn’t believe they fit her fingers, and frowned. “I had sex with half of them – you know, before. That’s what you have to do when you’re a woman. Those are the jobs you get. No one ever calls me to work a rifle or stage something magnificent” – her fingers form air quotes above her face – “an ‘accident’. They want me to be the mistress, to be Miss Argentina, to burn men in their beds at night and ‘vanish’ with their memories. I have twenty guns turned to rust under my floorboards, but three knives growing blunt from the bones of so many men, not to mention all other manner of weapons simply wasting away from disuse.”
I tried not to make a face at her. I had the sense she was a hooker, but wasn’t so sure anymore. She was appealing as all hell, and was sharp as a razor blade. She was also, definitely, crazy. “Ask me how many women I’ve killed.”
She was on her fourth drink, and still clear as the morning sky. Her hard eyes barely softened. Maybe she was a seasoned drunk, maybe soft in the head from years of mornings like this. Didn’t have the droopy face for it though. I slung my towelette over my shoulder, slowly being sucked in.
I humoured her. “How many?”
“Six,” she whispered. “Of all of them, six. I was always someone’s secretary, or someone’s daughter’s friend, or fucking someone’s husband,or selling fucking cookies. I had to sell a woman cookies once. She let me into her big house, the hapless, rich idiot, without even a question as to what for, and I had to cartwheel her down the stairs. It was like clubbing a baby seal. Repeatedly.” She sighed. “These are the jobs you get.”
“Oh,” I said, for there was nothing else to be added… I had begun to regret letting her in so early. She probably did some dirty dealing for the kind of money she was pushing across my counter. I glanced at her, hers was fiery scarlet hair; a wig, hidden under a fluffy winter hat. Good, real fur. Perhaps she was a madam with a few screws missing. Perhaps she was a kept woman. She leaned towards me with eyes like slits and I took an instinctive step backwards. She smelled like vanilla. Fading, but not cheap.
“Do you know what I did last night?” she whispered. She was on her seventh glass and still as sharp as a needle, discounting of course her jumbled head.
“Come on, please ask me what I did last night…”
I was getting into the game a little. “What, miss, did you do last night?”
“I killed a man.”
“Of course you did.”
She sat back and put her head into both hands, a universal sign of crippling discontent. “Ask me how I killed him.”
“How did you kill him?”
“I gave him a heart attack.” She looked down, her hands no longer covering her eyes.
“And how did you do that?” I asked, unprompted. She steepled her fingers.
“I touched him,” she said, staring at her hands again, “in the right places. In just the right ways, at the right pressures. I trained three years, but I guess so did every other girl in this god forsaken business. These are the jobs we get. He was going to be mayor; they knew he’d be great or they’d have let him live. I mean, I’m guilty of the crime but I don’t feel guilty –I get paid either way- but just once. Just once, could I get called on to work a sniper rifle or a bomb, maybe something with some combat, maybe fly a helicopter. Just once, be something else, not the floozy they have to edit out of the press.”
She got up to walk away then hesitated, she’d left all the bills on the table. “Keep it,” she said with a wink and a nod in my direction. “I should bump you too, for all the things you’ve heard, but I guess that’d be no fun…” She leaned across the bar and whispered in my ear “Remember this as the day I let you live, the day I walked away.”
I held my chuckle until the door had shut behind her. What a nutcase. But part of me was unsure. She’d left enough money for my month’s rent, at least. I stuffed the money into my pockets before anyone could walk in and wonder where it came from, I found the remote to the television, and sat back for the end of the morning news.