Authors: Lawrence Block
(dedication) This is for Loretta
The lobby was air-conditioned and the rug was the kind you sink down into and disappear in without leaving a trace. The bellhops moved silently and instantly and efficiently. The elevators started silently and stopped as silently, and the pretty girls who jockeyed them up and down did not chew gum until they were through working for the day. The ceilings were high and the chandeliers that drooped from them were ornate.
And the manager’s voice was pitched very low, his tone apologetic. But this didn’t change what he had to say. He wanted the same thing they want in every stinking dive from Hackensack to Hong Kong. He wanted money.
“I don’t want to bother you, Mr. Gavilan,” he was saying. “But it is the policy of the hotel to request payment once every two weeks. And, since you’ve been here slightly in excess of three weeks—”
He left that one hanging in the middle of the air, smiling and extending his hands palms-up to show me that he didn’t like to talk about money. He liked to receive it, but he didn’t like to talk about it.
I matched his smile with one of my own. “Wish you’d told me sooner,” I said. “Time flies so fast a man can’t keep up with it. Look, I want to get upstairs and change now. Suppose you have the bill ready for me when I come back downstairs. I have to go to the bank anyway. Might as well kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Pick up some money and settle my tab for the moment.”
His smile was wider than mine. “Of course, we’ll be happy to take your check, Mr. Gavilan. That is—”
“No point to it,” I said. “My account’s with a Denver bank. It’d take weeks before the check would clear. But I’ve got a draft on a bank in town. So just have the bill ready when I get downstairs and I’ll pay you in cash later this afternoon. Good enough?”
It was definitely good enough. I walked over to the elevator and settled myself in it without calling out my floor. When you stay at the Benjamin Franklin for a day or two, the operator remembers where you live.
I got off at the seventh floor and found my room. The chambermaid hadn’t gotten around to it yet and it was the same mess I had left behind me when I went down for breakfast. I sat on the unmade bed for a minute or two, wondering just how much the tab was going to come to at Philadelphia’s finest hotel. One hell of a lot, no matter how I figured it. Better than three weeks at ten dollars a day. And better than three weeks of signing for meals, signing for the liquor room service sent up, signing for laundry service and dry cleaning and every other service Philadelphia’s leading hotel had to offer.
An impressive sum.
Maybe five hundred dollars. Maybe less, maybe more. One hell of an impressive sum.
I reached into my pocket and found my wallet. I took out my money and counted it. It came to a little over a hundred bucks. And, needless to say, there was no draft on a Philly bank, no account with a Denver bank, no stocks, no bonds, no nothing. There was a hundred bucks plus, and that was all there was in the world.
I found a cigarette and lit it, thinking how lucky I was that they’d carried me for almost a month without hinting for money. Most people get picked up on less than that. Fortunately, I was cagy and I had been playing it cool. I didn’t just come on like a deadbeat. That’s important.
For instance, I never signed for tips. Two reasons for that. For one thing, I didn’t see any percentage in conning bellhops and waitresses who were probably as broke as I was. And when people sign for tips they get watched closely. Everybody watched them.
So I tipped in cash and I tipped heavy—a buck to a bellhop, a straight twenty percent to a waitress. It was expensive, but it was worth it. It had paid off.
I got out of my clothes and went into the can for a shower. I took the hot spray first, then the cold. I like showers. They make me feel human.
While I toweled off I looked at myself in the mirror. The front was still there—the hard body, the sloping shoulders, the suntan, the narrow waist, the muscle. I looked solid and I looked prosperous. My luggage was top-grain cowhide and my shoes were expensive. So were my suits.
I was going to miss them.
I got dressed in a hurry and I put everything on my back that I could. I wore plaid bathing trunks under my slacks and a knit shirt under the silk one. I stuck cashmere socks—two pairs of them—between my feet and my shoes. I wore my best tie and stuck my second best tie in my pocket. I used all four tie clips on it—the jacket covered them up.
And that did it. Anything else would have made me bulge like a potato sack, and I did not want to bulge. I stuck the wallet in my pocket, left the room a little messier than it had been, and rang for the elevator.
The manager had my tab ready for me when I hit the lobby again. It was a big one. It came to a resounding total of six hundred and seventeen dollars and forty-three cents, a little more than I had figured. I smiled at him and thanked him and left, mulling over the bill as I walked.
The bill, of course, was made out to David Gavilan.
David Gavilan, of course, is not my name.
I needed two things—money to spend and a new town to spend it in. Philly had been kicks, but things just hadn’t panned out for me there. I’d spent a week looking for the right angle, another week working it, and the third week finding out that it was a mistake to begin with.
There was a girl in it, naturally. There always is.
Her name was Linda Jamison and she smelled like money. She had short black hair and wild eyes and pretty breasts. Her speech sounded like finishing school. She looked well and dressed well and talked well, and I figured her for Main Line or something damned close to it.
But she wasn’t Main Line. She was just sniffing around.
It was a panic, in its own quiet way. I picked her up in a good bar on Sansom Street where the upper crust hobnob. We drank gibsons together and ate dinner together and caught a show together, and we used her car, which was an expensive one.
Things looked fine.
I dated her three days straight before I even kissed her. I was setting this one up slowly, building it right. I am twenty-eight already, too old to be fooling around. If I was going to score I wanted to do it up brown. Maybe even marry her. What the hell—she wasn’t bad to look at and she looked as though she might even be fun in the sack. And she smelled like money. I liked money; you can buy nice things with it.
So I kissed her a little on the fourth date, and kissed her a little more on the fifth date, and got her damned bra off on the sixth date and played games with her breasts. They were nice breasts. Firm, sweet, big. I stroked them and fondled them and she seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.
Between the sixth date and the seventh date I used my head for something more than a hat rack. I ran a Dun & Bradstreet on her at a cost of ten whole dollars, and I discovered that the Main Line routine was as queer as a square grape. She was a gold-digger, and the silly little bitch was wasting her time digging me. Clever little moron that I am, I was wasting time and money digging her. It would have been funny except that it wasn’t.
So the seventh date was the payoff all across the board. I took her out again, and in her car, and I managed to drive around for three hours without spending a penny on her. Then I drove the car to her apartment—a sharp little pad that was evidently her investment in the future, just as the room at the Franklin was mine. We went into her apartment and wound up in the bedroom after not too long.
This time I was not playing games. I got the dress off, and I got the bra off, and I buried my face in bosom-flesh. I got the slip off and I got the garter belt off and I rolled down the stockings. I got the panties off and there was nothing on the bed but little Linda Jamison, the girl of my dreams.
The battle was won, but I was still damned determined to play it to the hilt. I ran a hand over her, starting at the neck and winding up at the Promised Land. She moaned happily, and I don’t think that moan was an act. She was hot as a sunburn.
“Linda,” I said softly, “I love you. Will you marry me?”
Which made her ecstatic.
From there on in, it was heaven and a half. I came at her like a bull at a matador and wrapped myself up in velvety skin. She made love with the freshness of an impatient virgin and the ingenuity of a sex-scarred whore. Her nails poked holes in my back and her thighs almost choked me.
It took a long time. There was the first time, wild and free, and it was very good. There was in-between, with two heads sharing a pillow and wild sweet talk in whispers. The sour note was the fact that we were both lying like rugs. But it was fun just the same. Don’t misunderstand me.
And then there was the second time—controlled now, but still more passionate. If that is possible. It was, underneath it all, a very strange sort of lovemaking. We were playing games, and I knew what the score was and she only knew half of it. It was hysterical.
Maybe it would have been worth it to string her along for a little while. She was good, damned good, in case I haven’t managed to make that point yet. I could have gone on dating her, gone on sleeping with her for a week or so. But the game had already been won and the sport was losing its excitement. I decided to get it over with.
We were lying on the bed. I had one hand on her breast. It felt nice.
“Linda,” I said, “I … I lied to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know it won’t matter to you,” I said. “If I didn’t know you so well, I probably wouldn’t be able to risk telling you. But I do know you, my darling, and there’s no room for secrets between us. I have to tell you.”
Now she was getting interested.
“Linda,” I said, “I am not rich.”
She tried not to do a take, God bless her. But I had a handful of breast and I could feel her stiffen when the words reached her. I almost felt sorry for her.
“I put on an act,” I said. “I met you, you see, and I fell for you right off the bat. But there was such a gulf between us. You were rich and I was churchmouse-poor. I didn’t figure I had a chance with you. Of course, that was before I knew you. Now I realize that money doesn’t matter to you. You love me and I love you and nothing else is the least bit important. Right?”
“Right.” She did not sound very convincing.
“But now,” I said, “I had to tell you. You see, I had no idea things would progress that fast. I mean, here we are, and we’re going to be married. So I had to let you know that I had … well, misrepresented myself, so to speak. I know it won’t make any difference to you, but I wanted to tell you.”
And from that point on it was no contest. When I called her the next day, nobody answered her phone. I went to her building, checked with the landlord. She had moved out, bag and baggage, and she had left no forwarding address. She was two months behind rentwise. It was hysterical.
So now it wasn’t quite as funny as it had been. Now I was on the street myself, close to broke, with no discernible prospects. It was summer and it was hot and I was bored. I needed a change of scene, a new place to operate. It had to be a town close by but out of the state, a town I knew and a town that wouldn’t remember me.
Too many towns remembered me. The list grew every few months.
Then I had a thought. Atlantic City. Three years ago, a Mrs. Ida Lister, pushing forty but still shapely, still hungry, still a tiger in the hay. She had reimbursed me quite amply for two weeks’ worth of stud services. She had picked up all the tabs, popped for a new wardrobe, and hit me with around five hundred bucks in cash. The jewels I stole from her set me up for another three thousand bucks.
A cruddy little town. A three-way combination of Times Square, Coney Island and Miami Beach. It was hardly the most exciting place in the world.