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18

VIRGIL OPENED THE DOOR. He stared solemnly at the look on Ryans face.

You the one been calling?

Ryan came in past him. Where is she?

I believe she making wee-wee. Virgil closed the door and watched Ryan as he looked toward the hallway at the bathroom door and back to the low table where the two glasses and the half-gallon bottle, almost empty, stood among the paint tubes and pots. A cigarette burned in the ashtray, its smoke rising in the light from the chrome lamp. There were no other lights; the kitchen and hall were dark.

How much has she had?

That one, one before it, Virgil said. He put a leg over one of the bar stools and leaned against the counter. She likes the sauce, dont she?

The inscription on the wall had been finished. No More Bullshit. It seemed to be little more than a design of thin, curving lines, without meaning. Ryan looked at Virgil. You know what youre doing to her?

We talking, Virgil said. Taking turns. I tell her something, she tell me something. You havent talked to her like that, have you? Shit, she so surprised, I dont believe you told her nothing.

The toilet flushed.

What I like to know, Virgil said, how much is it the man wants to give her and where the man lives. This Mr. Per-ez? He the one you work for, huh?

Denise came in from the hall. She looked at Ryan and past him to her glass on the low table and picked it up as she sat down. She looked at nothing then, at the wall opposite her that was stark white, bare.

I called you, Ryan said. Ive been calling since about five.

Denise took a drink. She said, Big fucking deal. You go to a meeting?

At Saint Joes.

Howre the bleeding hearts?

Why dont you go to bed, okay? Get some sleep and then well talk.

Why dont you fuck off? Denise said.

A low sound, a laugh, came from Virgil. Soon as she start drinking. I remember that from before. She used to sit still, not say anything. Then the sauce start working in her, man, she dont shut up.

But why dont you? Ryan said. Why dont you get out of here? It was an effort to say it quietly.

Man, you the one crashing the party, Virgil said. We having a nice time.

Ryan walked over to him. Virgil didnt move, leaning with his arm on the counter, his hand hanging limp.

I dont want to hit you, Ryan said.

Shit-

I mean it. Theres no sense in us breaking up the place and making a lot of noise, maybe get her kicked out. But thats what I feel like doing, Ryan said, holding on to the quiet tone. I feel like punching the shit out of you. Maybe you got something on you, a gun, something, I dont know. Id be willing to take a chance. Thats how strongly I feel about it. But if we get into that, what good would it do us? We got enough problems. Right?

Virgil shook his head, grinning. You go waaaay out and then come back around and all youve said to me is nothing.

No, I said you better get out of here, Ryan said. What youre doing, maybe you dont know it, youre killing somebody. I cant, Im not gonna stand here and see it happen. I cant do it.

Wheres the man live? Mr. Per-ez.

How about if we talk tomorrow? Ryan said. Im not kidding you, if you dont get out of here were gonna be bouncing off the walls and somebodys gonna go through the window. Okay?

You dont do nothing else without me, Virgil said.

Ryan shook his head. Right, Ill call you, get your permission. Now leave, okay?

Virgil came off the stool slowly. Ryan let him take his time.

Is there any more wine?

Thats it. What shes got, Virgil said.

Okay, Ill see you. He wanted to push him, run him through the door, but he stepped away and let Virgil take his hat from the counter and put it on, holding the crown lightly with one hand and setting it on his head at the right angle with an easy motion, where it belonged, and not having to adjust it.

Thats a good hat, Ryan said.

Virgil gave him a mild look. His eyes moved to Denise. He said, Take it easy, now, and walked out.

Ryan closed the door. Denise was pouring the last of the wine into the ten-ounce glass, filling it more than half. She put the bottle on the floor next to her. Ryan waited in the silence. She wasnt going to look his way. She was Lee again, but with short hair and clean slacks and the navy-blue sweater. Her glasses were on the drawing table. She seemed determined not to look this way. She was getting ready for him now, waiting for her cue.

Ryan walked over and sat down in the chair facing her. She was drunk but she didnt look bad: a little glassy-eyed. Her hair was combed. She seemed at ease, looking past him in thought, calmly ignoring him. Inside she was crouched, waiting.

Ryan said, Well, here we are. You having a nice time?

She didnt answer him.

Im gonna get the silent treatment, huh?

Fuck you, Denise said.

Fuck you, too, Ryan said. You dumb broad. He waited, watching her take a drink. Can you hardly waitll tomorrow, when you wake up? Be fun, uh? Listen, if you want, Ill tell them over at the A&P youre sick. They might want to know how long youll be out. What do you think, a week? A month?

Jesus, Denise said, is that how you do it? What do you call it? Twelfth Step work.

To tell you the truth, Ryan said, Ive never done it before. Youre my first one.

You want to help me? Really?

Sure I do.

Go across the street and get another one of these. She kicked at the empty bottle with her bare foot and missed and kicked at it again. Get a couple.

Why dont you go? You can walk.

Oh, youd let me? She put on a slightly prissy tone.

If I didnt, Ryan said, then youd have all the more reason to feel sorry for yourself. You already think its my fault. If I dont let you out, then youd know for sure Im a heartless bastard, I dont care anything about you, Im in this only for myself.

Youre a prick, Denise said. Like all the rest.

All the rest of what? Men? Jesus, you gonna give me that one? You poor little thing. Suck on your bottle.

Asshole.

What am I, parts of the anatomy? Prick, asshole. What else? How about knee? You fucking knee. Or shoulder. You rotten, miserable shoulder.

Youre really funny.

Im literal, if thats the word, Ryan said. I dont have much imagination. I see something, I say what it is. I see you sitting there drinking wine. Maybe you think youve been getting a rotten deal and you want to pay me back, or you want to pay back your husband or your mother, I dont know. I dont know why you drink, but what I see, I see you killing yourself.

And you dont want that to happen till I get the money. How much you gonna make, anyway?

Ryan didnt say anything.

Then you work on me some more, Denise said. What do you have in mind? I mean, how do you get any of it out of me? Unless maybe we got married. Jesus, there must be an awful lot in this.

A hundred and fifty thousand, Ryan said. You were going to get half, but the way theyre thinking now, you dont get anything. As he said it, he felt better. But it was a little late and not doing much for Denise at all.

She was saying, A hundred and fifty thousand dollars? Bobby owned something worth that much?

Its stock, Ryan said. I dont know what kind, though. His dad put it in his name when he was born and its been going up ever since. He watched her thinking about it. Thats a few bottles of wine, isnt it?

She looked at him. You really AA, or is that part of your bullshit?

I wasnt looking for you when I went to that meeting, Ryan said. I needed to go. You said your name, I still wasnt sure. You remember talking to me in the bar?

Virgil mentioned it. Im not sure. She started to rise, then sat back again and put her hands on the wooden chair arms to pull herself up. She went into the hallway and came out again, looking at the floor.

I cant find my goddamn shoes.

Where you going?

Out.

Why dont you go to bed? I mean it.

You mean shit. Denise went into the kitchen then and turned on the light. There you are, she said to her sandals.

Ryan went over to the door and put on the chain lock. She came out, taking her purse from the counter, and stopped, looking at the door and then at Ryan. When she moved toward the door, Ryan stepped in front of her.

Come on, whatre you going to do, tie me up?

Think about tomorrow, Ryan said.

Think about tomorrow. It sounds like a fucking soap opera. Get out of the way.

If you go to bed now, Ryan said, not have any more, youll be in pretty good shape.

Maybe. She was having trouble with her balance. Her eyes, narrowed at him, were glazed. She was past thinking or listening or reasoning. If she told him she hated him or wanted to kill him, hed believe it.

Im going out, Denise said. You stop me and Ill have all the more reason. You said it, I didnt. All the more reason to feel sorry for myself. Right? Youll be responsible for it, you sneaky son of a bitch.

Ive changed my mind, Ryan said. I dont give a shit what you feel, youre going to bed.

He grabbed her, pinning her arms to her body, and dragged her, twisting against him, into the bedroom.

Denise stopped fighting. She said, All right, leave me alone. She stood by the double bed, weaving slightly.

Get undressed, Ryan said.

Denise looked at him, closing one eye. Now were horny, huh? Ive been wondering when it was coming. All the times youve been here, I was thinking, I dont know, maybe he doesnt have any balls. Is that your problem, Ryan? No balls, huh?

He left the room as she spoke, crossed the small hallway to the bathroom, and looked in the medicine cabinet for aspirin. There was a small bottle of Excedrin. He had to go to the kitchen for a glass of water. When he came back to the bedroom, Denise had her slacks off and was pulling the navy-blue sweater over her head. Ryan looked at her compact little can in the white panties. Good thighs, slender; but very pale. She needed sunlight on her and clean air. Ryan thought of Florida again, the second time that day, this time seeing the two of them, tan, walking along a sundown empty beach.

Fucking sweater, Denise said, inside the navy-blue folds. It was caught on her bracelet. She pulled the sweater free, dropping it, and was looking at him again. Ryan handed her two Excedrin tablets and the glass of water. She took them without a word and handed the glass back to him, staring again with her glazed expression.

Im gonna stay here tonight, Ryan said.

Uh-huh. She was unbuttoning her blouse now, working down from the top.

Ill be in the other room.

Youre not going to sleep with me?

He moved to the bed and pulled the madras spread and sheet from the pillows. No, but Ill tuck you in, Ryan said.

Was that tuck you said?

Be nice, okay? Get in bed.

How nice? Hey, Ryan

When he looked at her she opened her blouse to show her breasts for a moment and let the blouse fall closed again. They were small breasts, but good ones.

What do you say, Ryan, you want to fuck?

He walked around the foot of the bed to the door.

Hey, I thought you were gonna tuck me in. She pulled the blouse off, hooked her thumbs in the waist of the panties, and pushed them down. When she tried to step out, she stumbled against the bed. Ryan watched her from the doorway.

Denise rolled onto the bed. She settled on her back, on top of the madras cover, her legs apart, the panties caught on one ankle. As she looked at him now, with a contrived expression, eyes half-closed, she raised up on her elbows and spread her legs a little more.

Come on, Ryan honey. You and God Honey, you know everything, dont you? You prick. Come on, you sneaky little prick, lets see if youre any good. She moved her hips up and down, twice.

Ryan moved to the side of the bed. Lift up your can.

Like this? She arched her back, raising her pelvis toward him. You want some of that?

Ryan pulled the spread and sheet to the foot of the bed and brought them back, letting the covers settle over her. He went out, closing the door. In the living room, as he sat down and reached for a cigarette, he heard her call him. Hey, Ryan, repeating it several times. He heard her call him a rotten motherfucker and heard her voice, sounds, but not the words clearly. Finally there was silence.

During the night he thought about Denise and would see her body again, the way she had showed it to him, her private nakedness that he had had to imagine before. He wasnt worried about Denise now. That was a funny thing; he had a good feeling about her. She wasnt down in a hole, depressed; she was mad, and that was something he felt he could handle. What he thought about most of the night, when hed wake up sitting in the canvas chair with his feet on the edge of the low table, was Mr. Perez. Mr. Perez in his hotel suite. Mr. Perez speaking in his quiet, deceptive tone. Mr. Perez, shit, standing on this thing immobile, like a dead weight, and the bayou hillbilly helping him hold it down.

How did you go about pushing Mr. Perez, or faking him out? Leave him standing there with nothing.

In the morning, he heard Denise get up and go into the bathroom. She came out and went back to the bedroom. When she appeared she was wearing a raincoat, barefoot, her hands deep in the pockets of the coat.

Its cold in here. Her voice was subdued: someone who had come out of a sickroom.

Ryan looked over. Howre you doing?

I cant find the Excedrin.

Oh, its in the kitchen. Ill get it.

He rose, pushing out of the chair and arching the stiffness from his neck. She was already in the kitchen, standing at the sink with the water running, her back to him as he came in.

Im sorry, she said.

You mean, for trying to seduce me?

I remembered-when I woke up I remembered things I said what I did. Im very sorry.

How do you feel otherwise?

Otherwise, shitty. Ill thank you for one thing, Denise said, not letting me have any more last night. Beyond that, Im not sure we have anything to talk about.

Ryan turned her around by the shoulders, seeing her eyes briefly, before she looked away.

We have quite a bit to talk about, after you have some breakfast.

Just coffee.

All right, just coffee, Ryan said. Im not going to argue with you. Im not going to try and force you to believe or do anything I say. But Im going to ask you to listen to me. After that, if you want us to be friends again, fine. If you dont, okay, thats that. But youre not allowed to think of something else while Im talking, or what youd like to say, or interrupt with some smartass remark. All right?

Denise shrugged. She didnt seem to care.

She didnt want Ryan to look at her. She was tired and felt sick. She stood at the counter smoking cigarettes and sipped the coffee getting cold, staring at it while he talked to her in a quiet tone. She liked the sound of his voice and at another time would want to believe him, but right now it didnt matter. She looked awful and felt awful and didnt want to be here.

Not today but tomorrow she could walk in her mothers house with a happy-daughter smile and say, Hi, Mom, Im home. Her mother would let Denise kiss her cheek. They would sit down in the kitchen to have a nice cup of coffee with real cream. She would think of all the things she could tell her mother to try to be close to her as a person and not simply a daughter. She could say, Mom, Ive been drunk for three years, saving Bobby Lear till later, and for a moment her mother would stare at her. Then her mother would say, How could you do that to me? Or she might say it was impossible because no one in the family drank. Or she might pretend not to have heard. Or she would be saved and protected by an act of God: the telephone or a neighbor at the door, and her mother would come back in the kitchen with a letter from Denises brother, Don, who worked for National Cash Register in Dayton, and show her Polaroids of Don and Joanne and their three boys, Scott, Skip, and June Bug doing soooo big with his arms raised over his head.

She could give up and let herself melt into her mothers life and wear a dress on Sunday and sit with her mothers friends in the maple living room and compare Edison bills and watch TV, the new Oral Roberts who no longer healed people, and, in the evenings, watch Name That Tune and Lets Make a Deal. She would run into boys on the street she had known in high school. Her mother would say all the nice boys were married and had good positions with State Farm and John Deere and the bank or mixing prescriptions. Two of them would be on the County Board of Commissioners. Her mother would find one, though, who had not married. Harold something, a long German name that was on the Edison Company centennial farm plaque hanging in the new annex of the courthouse.

She could live with her mother and listen to her complaints and make molded salads and never have to think again.

Are you all right? Ryan said.

Fine.

You dont look fine. You listening or trying to hide?

She stood with her head down, staring at the counter. I think Ill go back to bed, Denise said.

Ill tell you something. This is the hardest thing Ive ever done in my life, Ryan said. Im telling you everything, but I could be losing something I want very much. He waited.

She was aware of the silence and felt him watching her.

What? The money?

Shit. Youre not listening. Ryan waited again. Well, its up to you. Either youre not listening or you dont believe me.

She did believe him, because she wanted to believe him, but she needed assurance and protection and time; so she said, Why should I?

You know why? Ryan said. Because Im all youve got. You want the money, then youve got to trust somebody.

She looked up at him now. I havent said I want it.

As she started to look away Ryan reached across the counter and raised her face with his hand and held it a moment.

And you havent said you dont want it. Goddamn it, wake up and listen to me!

He saw her eyes come alive. When he took his hand away she continued to stare at him. Good. He held her gaze and told her quietly she had three ways to go. She could trust Mr. Perez. She could believe him and sign his papers and end up with nothing. And if she gave him any trouble, it was very likely he would have her killed. Mr. Perez wanted it all. Or she could trust Virgil Royal and ask him to help her, believing Virgil only wanted what was owed him. But if she got past Mr. Perez, Virgil would kill her for the whole prize. Either way, Mr. Perez or Virgil. They killed people or had them killed and didnt think much of it.

Or you can trust me, Ryan said. I want to help you get it, the whole hundred and fifty thousand if thats possible, because I owe you something. Look at it another way, I think I owe them something, too.

And what would I owe you? Denise said. Staring at him was not hard now. She was getting back her confidence.

You dont owe me anything.

Why not?

He was uncomfortable again and it made him mad.

Im not looking for anything, Ryan said, or trying to make a deal with you. Ive been playing enough games, I want to get this thing done and feel good about it, about myself. You understand? Youve been to enough meetings, you ought to know what Im talking about.

Her eyes were watery, red-looking. He knew she was aware of herself, and the way she kept staring at him, not letting go, surprised him.

She said, How would we do it?

I call Perez, tell him youre in the bag, Ryan said. If he comes over with the papers, I can probably get them signed.

Yeah, then what?

You cant even hold on to the pen. I tell him, leave the papers, Ill get you to sign when you start to come out of it.

Denise waited.

If hes made out the power of attorney paper, that he sends to the company, then well know the name of the stock.

He doesnt seem dumb, Denise said, somebody thatd make a mistake.

Ryan shook his head. No, he isnt dumb, but maybe hes overanxious.

Mr. Perez sounded calm on the phone, though, the son of a bitch. Polite and in control. He said he and Raymond would be right out.

Raymond was there with him in the hotel suite. Mr. Perez hung up the phone. He said, You heard the saying, Dont ever shit a shitter?

Raymond nodded. I know it well.

I dont believe our friend does, Mr. Perez said.

Ryan came back from the A&P with two half gallons and a fifth of Gallo Rhine. He put the fifth on the counter, opened the two half gallons and poured them into the sink.

Dont look, Ryan said.

Denise didnt say anything. She turned to the paint table, picked up the full ashtray, and reached down for the empty wine jug on the floor.

No, leave those, Ryan said. He put the two empty half gallons on the counter. Dirty dishes, everything. Youre not getting ready for company, youre on a drunk.

Denise watched him, holding her arms, cold. Will I be in bed?

Not in it, on top of the covers, with the raincoat, and barefoot. Thats a good touch, the raincoat.

Its what I wear, Denise said.

Ryan smiled at her. So it wont be too hard to fake, will it? Your eyes are great.

Thanks, Denise said.

Ryan opened the door. Mr. Perez came in, followed by Raymond Gidre, who was wearing only a suit coat, his shoulders tightly hunched.

Cold enough for you? Ryan said.

Jes-us, Raymond said.

Mr. Perez walked over to the counter, laid his attach case down flat, and snapped it open.

She called me this morning about five, Ryan said. You can see what shes had.

Like a couple of gallons, Raymond said. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, little skinny thing.

Where is she? Mr. Perez said. He had typewritten papers in his hand and was taking a pen out of his inside pocket, his gloves still on. He was wearing a gray hat, a gray herringbone topcoat with a black velvet collar, and the thin, tight-fitting gray gloves that looked like suede.

Shes in the bedroom, Ryan said. You want to take your coat off?

Guess not. Mr. Perez didnt bother to answer. He took the papers and pen and went through the hall area into the bedroom. Ryan followed him, seeing Denise lying on her side in the raincoat, her white feet drawn up, her eyes closed. Mr. Perez sat on the edge of the bed looking down at her.

Miz Leary, Mr. Perez said, how you feeling, dear?

Denise made a sound or mumbled something, burrowing into the pillow, that Ryan couldnt hear.

Thats a shame, little girl taking sick. Honey, look at me. I got something for you.

Go fuck yourself, Denise said, barely moving her mouth, eyes still closed.

Mr. Perez said, Is that nice?

I guess she talks like that, Ryan said, when shes been drinking. You shouldve heard her before.

Mr. Perez nudged her gently. Id just like you to sign these papers, little girl, then you can sleep long as you want.

Denise asked him, slurring the words just right, why he didnt fuck off and leave her alone and get his ass off the bed. Mr. Perez looked over his shoulder. As Raymond came in, Mr. Perez said, Sit her up, losing some of his sweetness.

Between them they got her upright, leaning heavily against Raymond, her legs doubled under her beneath the raincoat. Raymond pulled the collar of the raincoat out a little, trying to look inside. Mr. Perez put the pen in her hand.

Pull the table over.

Raymond grabbed the night table with one hand and gave it a jerk to bring it over in front of them, letting the lamp with the glass chimney fall and shatter to the floor. Denise opened her eyes.

Whatre you doing? Hey, for Christs sake-

There she is, Mr. Perez said. Got your little eyes open?

Ryan went over and began picking up the pieces of broken glass, listening to Mr. Perezs sweet words.

Thats a good girl, hold the pen. There. Now, see those papers? Right in front of you on the table. All you got to do is sign your name where you see the little Xs. Precious, you see them? Down there at the bottom. Write Denise L. Leary. You dont have to worry having it notarized, Ill get that done for you. To Raymond he said, Take her hand and put it there.

Raymond tried to. Denise pulled her hand away and let the pen drop to the floor.

Get it, Raymond.

Ryan stood up, carefully holding the pieces of broken glass. As he started out, Mr. Perez was saying, Now, lets try it again. Come on, sugar, you can do it. Hold the pen. Thats it.

In the kitchen Ryan opened the cupboard beneath the sink and dropped the glass fragments into the trash basket.

Goddamn it, sign the goddamn thing! Now!

Ryan tensed. In the silence that followed, he let himself relax. He lit a cigarette, then took the tin paper and screw-top off the fifth of Gallo on the counter. He was in the living room when Mr. Perez and Raymond came out. Ryan looked at the papers in Mr. Perezs hand.

She sign them?

She cant see to pee straight, Mr. Perez said.

Goddamn drunken woman. Theres nothing worse than a drunk woman.

Ryan stepped aside to let Mr. Perez walk over to his attach case on the counter.

Maybe when she sobers up a little, Ryan said.

I swear, all I been doing on this one is waiting. Waiting to find her, waiting for her to make up her mind, waiting for her to sober up. He dropped the papers into the open case.

I was thinking, Ryan said, she starts to come around shes gonna want a drink, glass of wine. So lets say I give her about a half a glass. Then when she wants some more, dying for it, I say, Okay, but you got to sign some papers first. I think, the condition shes in, itll work.

Mr. Perez turned a little to look at Ryan. Youre betting thirty thousand dollars it works. If it doesnt, I dont see Ill need you anymore.

Ryan shrugged, showing he was at ease. Its okay with me. I never intended making a career out of this. Give me till about noon and Ill call you.

Maybe it wont take that long, Mr. Perez said. Maybe, but I think a couple of hours the way shes sleeping, Ryan said. Let her dry out a little, shell wake up dying of thirst.

Well, Raymond and I could wait around for that matter. Mr. Perez was playing with him now.

Ryan shrugged again, as though it didnt matter. Its up to you, he said, you want to sit around.

Or I could leave Raymond.

You decide what youre going to do, Ryan said. He was tense and had to move. He walked around into the kitchen and turned the burner on under the kettle. You want some coffee?

No, I guess well leave it in your hands, Mr. Perez said, taking the papers out of the attach case and laying them on the counter. Two copies of the agreement, two giving us power of attorney. It wont hurt to get them both signed, and the copies. Mr. Perez picked up his case and started out. Youll be sure and call me, now.

The minute she signs, Ryan said. You got my word.

Denise sat up as she heard the door close. She was scuffing her feet into her sandals when Ryan came in, looking at the papers.

What does it say?

Wait-We believe you are the legal owner of assets you are entitled to receive. He paused. No, this is the agreement. He looked at the other typewritten form. I, Denise L. Leary, hereby appoint Francis X. Perez-I love that, named after Saint Francis Xavier, the son of a bitch. This is it. Ryan looked through the form quickly, then read it slowly, every word, before shaking his head.

What? Denise said.

No company or stock name. The spaces are blank. He dropped the papers on the bed. Denise didnt pick them up or even look at them.

Ryan walked over to the window. He looked out at the wet asphalt of the parking area that was empty except for a few cars. His light-blue Catalina stood alone near the entrance. It was quiet in the bedroom.

They didnt have to break my lamp.

Ryan was thinking, Get in the car and go.

There was silence.

Look, I dont care, Denise said. If I dont sign, then he doesnt get anything either, does he? So why dont we let it go at that? Im tired and I really dont care one way or the other. Really. Id just as soon forget the whole thing. Shit, everything.

There was silence again for at least a minute, maybe a little longer.

Ryan turned from the window. He said, Pack a bag, a suitcase.

Denise looked up at him. Why?

Come on, pack something and lets get out of here.


| Unknown Man #89 | c