Friday, July 13, 2007

BIG MONEY, Prologue

Maybe it’s only a ghost.

The lady’s two-story house ranks as ancient, so it’s no surprise the pine floorboards creak. But do I detect a certain in footsteps? Hope I didn’t make too much noise going through her dirty laundry.

I lean back on the blood red living-room sofa and hold my breath to listen. A grandfather clock tick-tocks in the foyer. The oil-burning basement heater pops and rumbles. And yes, there...bare or stocking feet pad quickly toward me down the hall. My heart rate ratchets up to match the hurried footfalls.

I stuff the DVD under my laptop and work hard to put on my three-o’clock-in-the-morning, full-boat Carr grin. Not exactly a simple trick. And definitely not sincere. I mean, how am I supposed to be calm and forthright when this DVD suggests last night’s love interest may not be the innocent beauty I imagined?

In truth, the lady headed this way could be a killer.

Clever of me to wake her up.

I don’t mention her name because...well, gentlemen do not identify their secret lovers, not even by pet handles. And seeing her march out of the murky hall into the living area’s yellowish lamplight strongly suggests the need for a new nickname anyway.

I gasp when I see her. Oh, my. And oops. Oh my because she’s wearing nothing but white athletic socks. And oops because she’s using both hands and all ten red-nailed fingers to grasp a pump-action, single-barrel shotgun.

“You found the DVD, didn’t you?” Ms. Shotgun says.

“DVD?” If it wasn’t for rhyming consonants, I’d be pretty much speechless. My gaze is tightly focused on her bare breasts and that shotgun in the same close-up. Visually and emotionally, it’s a lot to absorb.

Her right foot slides back, toes out. Improving her balance.

“I know you found it,” she says. “Wrapped in my black beach dress.”

My lips move without sound. I suppose my throat might be choked with fear, but I’d rather think I’m distracted by the long curve of Ms. Shotgun’s hip, the loose weight of her breasts swinging below the carved gun stock.

Watch me get a boner.

“I just checked the bathroom,” Ms. Shotgun says. “You rifled the hamper, found the black dress.’ve got my DVD.”

I try taking a deep breath. On tough stock and bond clients, this often works as a show of calm sincerity. “I swear I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She racks a shell into the shotgun’s firing chamber.

My pledge of innocence must have lacked conviction.

I lift my iBook and offer her the DVD. My heart ticks to an even quicker time. My ego slips a notch. Time was, the full-boat Carr grin and a reasonable lie got me through bumpy spots with naked women.

My heart’s really thumping now, but I probably don’t have to worry anymore about that potential erection.

“Play it,” she says. “We’ll solve the murder together.”

I slide the silver disk into my Mac and wonder if I’m really going to view what the Branchtown Sun calls the “MISSING HOTEL MURDER VIDEO.” Like smoking, this feels very unhealthy.

The DVD’s first images show a thirty-ish woman primping her hair before a gilded oval mirror. Oh, my. I recognize her all right. The happy smile fooled me.

“Don’t you want to fast-forward?” Ms. Shotgun says. “Get right to the choking and burning?”

On screen, the doomed victim cracks open her hotel-room door. Until tonight, I would have been surprised by what I see next: Ms. Shotgun’s digital image rushes inside, pushing violently into the startled hotel guest and knocking her onto the carpet.

I turn from the laptop. “So it was you.”

Ms. Shotgun raises the pump-action level with my nose.

And I thought my future looked shitty last month.

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