Read Punish Me with Kisses Online

Authors: William Bayer

Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers

Punish Me with Kisses (6 page)

And they had stuck to their respective views. Since her father believed Jared was guilty, she assumed he blamed her for everything. But he never said that, never told her she was deluded, never tried to persuade her to change her testimony. He only smiled and offered strange compliments.

When, finally, they heard the jury was coming in, more than eleven hours had passed. She sat still, rigid, her hands sweating, her pulse racing, waiting for the words which would stigmatize her for life. "Innocent on all counts." Even Schrader looked stunned, and there were sighs, some moans, then an undercurrent of angry whispers while the jurors were polled. She couldn't believe it, nor, she could see, could anyone else. Her father's expression never changed.

Afterwards there was a strange sort of dance enacted on the courthouse lawn. A pile of leaves was smoldering in one corner; the aroma wafted back and forth as the principals strolled from interview to interview, trying to avoid each other, pausing longer where the network camera crews were set. Robinson announced that the system had broken down, that if the judge had allowed him to show Jared's films there'd have been a different verdict and right would have prevailed. The chief of the Bar Harbor police scoffed when asked if he'd reopen the case. "This verdict doesn't change anything," he said. "It doesn't create an intruder who was never there."

Schrader held forth from the steps, forcing the cameras to come to him. Since he was short, he stood a step higher than Jared, laying one hand upon his client's shoulder, resting the other on his hip. "A dicey case," he said, "but I took it anyway. Don't like to see guys go to the slammer for stuff they didn't do." Jared said he wasn't bitter. Did he have any plans? "Yes. Grow a beard," he said. Everybody laughed.

Her father was grave. No, he wasn't disappointed. Yes, he believed his surviving daughter. Yes, he found the verdict fair. If it was true that the police were no longer interested in looking for the intruder, he'd hire private detectives and pursue the investigation on his own.

Then, it seemed, they all turned suddenly to her, began asking their questions all at once. "What are you going to do now, Penny?"

"Where are you going to go?"

"Back to college?"

"Back to Wellesley?"

"Have you spoken to Jared?"

"Will you pose with him on the steps?" She shook her head, was about to turn, when a woman with crazed blue eyes and wild gray hair ran up, and planted herself a foot away. Penny, surprised, started to ask her what she wanted. "Liar! Slut!" the woman hissed, then spat ferociously in her face.

It was six months after that, after she'd left Wellesley and secluded herself in Greenwich for a while, then moved to New York, changed her name, found a job, and began taking college courses at night—it was then, that spring, that she first began to run.

 

W
eekend in Greenwich. Child comes down from Wellesley, tight-lipped as usual, tight-
pussied
no doubt, too. I want to grab her by her ears and shake her till she pees. "Let it flow, Child," I want to tell her, "let Thy Juices Flow." Dear Mother (or should I say Mother Dear?) looks me over like I'm a tainted fish. Her nostrils quiver. She smells naughtiness, decay. Not my
bod
, I know—my epidermis is immaculate. I use feminine hygiene spray, keep my underarms pristine, rinse out my mouth with pucker-power. No—what she smells is deep inside—my unhappy putrefying soul. But when I check myself out in the mirror, I can't imagine how she knows. I'm gorgeous, stunning My face alone could raise ten thousand cocks.

Daddy-O, on the other hand, reveals nothing. He, on the other hand, pretends we're all just happy WASPs. I'm sure he has a mistress, some dusky lady stashed away in town someplace, in a little tax deduction of a penthouse he rents for her on the sly, a pied-a -
terre
near Sutton Place filled with shiny plants, sexy jungle plants with oily leaves, and there, on a tiger-skin rug, they fuck away in time with drums. It's all very Afro, very outré. He pinions her hands above her head, lowers himself slowly, taunting her, making her strain upwards to flick her tongue against the steel-hardness of his shaft. It grows. At every lick it grows. She strains. He smiles. And then the sweet cream cascades upon her face, a river of perfect foam spreading slowly upon her dusty skin. Afterward—off to the Racquet Club for thirty minutes of squash with the hardball boys, then a long hot shower—wash away all the sweat and sex—and back to Chapman
Int
to gobble up some little company or country, and then, finally, The Long Ride Home. What the hell does he think we are, anyway? Does he think any of us is really sane? WASPs! God, how I loathe us, so hard and pure, so squeaky-clean!

Anyway, the weekend is the purest shit. Awful sessions at the dining table, the phony old dark carved baronial groaning board. He slices the roast so thin it curls up in shame. The pan juices are as pale as mother's family's blood. Two straight-up candles, church-type, flickering, illuminate our faces, bring out all the smugness within. I sit opposite Child. She's talking about her new Comp. Lit. course. The reading list's exhaustive—her eyes glow as she lists the books. Proust, Joyce, Mann—ugh! Mother nods like a zombie. Daddy-O evinces a mild interest. Mandy passes the roasted potatoes. The peas are so green they're either frozen or dyed. Finally I can't stand any more, want to make my distaste evident to all. Mother provides me with an opening. 'Wow that does sound like quite an interesting reading list,' she says, and, turning to me: 'Don't you think so, dear?'

'Well,' I say, laying down my flatware, 'since you're asking me I assume you want the truth.' 'Yes, of course,' says Mother Dear. Daddy-O, knowing I'm about to unload some shit, glances over and narrows his eyes. I say: 'All right, since you want my sincere opinion, I have to tell you that it all sounds—well—a bit jejune.' 'Jejune, dear?' Mother, deeply perplexed, begins to shake her head. 'She means barren,' says Child. 'She means it sounds like it's all a bore.' 'Is that what you mean?' Daddy asks, in his slow hushed inimitable tone. 'Actually,' I say, 'I don't know what jejune means. It just seemed like a good word to use at the time. Forgive me, Child—I really don't think those books are a bore at all.' Child looks at me. She knows we're crazy. She's GOT to know. A long silence. Mandy appears with floating island. Hurrah, hurrah—

 

W
alking out of Central Park, turning down Fifth Avenue, she realized why she hadn't seen another jogger on the track. It was Labor Day, 6:00
A.M
. Even the earliest regulars were out of town or still asleep.

It had been three years since Suzie's death, a little less since Jared's trial. She no longer called herself Penny
Berring
. She'd taken her mother's maiden name and was Penny Chapman now.

Her apartment was on East Eightieth between Madison and Park, in a brownstone owned by a woman psychiatrist who encouraged her patients to care for great quantities of cats. Dr. Eleanor Bowles, herself, kept quite a few of the beasts in the duplex she inhabited on the upper floors. Penny could hear them meowing whenever she entered the house, and, on certain hot days such as this holiday morning, the stench of them wafted down the stairwell to sicken her slightly as she came through the door. Still, despite the meowing and the odor and Dr. Bowles' strange patients—who turned up at odd hours, often with a cat-carrying case or two in tow—Penny was content with her home. Her rooms were pleasant, and the location was good for using the park and getting to work.

She glanced at the card above her mailbox. "P. Chapman," it said. Looking at that name, she couldn't quite connect it with herself. It seemed to speak more of a Cosmo type than a depressed stay-at-home editorial trainee.

She unlocked the inner door and started up the stairs. The cat smell hit her like a blow. Perhaps Dr. Bowles had taken the holiday off, leaving her pets' litter boxes to ferment and overflow.

Her own flat, one floor up and in the back, consisted of a small living room crammed with books, a windowless kitchenette, a tiny bedroom and a bath. It was a typically over-priced single person's Upper East Side apartment, plagued by seasonal infestations of roaches, with a classic grunting air conditioner stuck in the bedroom window and two dead-bolt locks arrayed on the entry door. But there was something special about it, a three-sided bay in the living room, with a window seat and leaded panes that looked out over the private gardens behind the houses. She'd had a cushion made to fit the seat and had hung some plants above the windows. She liked to sit there reading or staring out at the scraggly trees.

She peeled off her jogging clothes, took a long, hot shower, and watched the soapy water swirl down the drain. Thinking of Hitchcock's
Psycho
, the shower-murder scene, she wondered why she so often had the feeling that something terrible was going to happen to her, that she was destined for suffering and pain.

She dressed and went directly to the window seat where a stack of manuscripts waited to be read. These were her share of the "slush" that poured into Brewster & Angles every week. The sensible thing would have been to return them unread, but sometime in the sixties an ambitious B&A secretary had taken home a
slushpile
novel for the weekend, sniffed something commercial, and promoted it onto the best-seller list for forty weeks. Though the odds against this happening again were probably no better than a million to one, all trainee editors at B&A were now assigned to read everything sent in. Penny found this part of her job saddening. Her weekends and holidays were consumed by the fantasies of inept people who scribbled away at hopeless books. She longed to find something good—a graceful line, a character who lived, an authentic author with something interesting to say—but instead she found incoherence, private
madnesses
, stories better left untold.

Her mother called from Connecticut late in the afternoon, a holiday ritual, to ask her how she was. "I wish you'd come out here for a weekend, dear. We love to see you, you know. We don't see you much at all these days—"

There was a pause then, the sort of awkward pause that occurred regularly when they spoke. Penny thought her mother didn't sound too badly crocked—just a trace of slur. There was something odd in her voice anyway—beneath the mellowness of her affection something high-strung, almost frenzied, that seemed to have grown in the years since Suzie's death despite the care of paid companions and the dryings-out ("stints," her mother called them) at various expensive clinics up and down the New England coast. Penny loved her mother but couldn't bear contact. The formal, icy arrangement between her parents, the tautness between them which spoke of terrible scenes left
unplayed
, her mother's
looniness
and drunkenness, made visits to Greenwich sorrowful and strange.

"I miss you, dear. I worry so much about you living alone in the city, with all the violence and anger there. I wish you'd move to a safe doorman building. I wish you didn't go off running in the park so early, with all the muggers about, and no one around to help. . . ."

She'd heard it all a thousand times. "The muggers work at night, mother. By the time I go out they've gone to bed."

"Yes, I suppose, but still—here's your father, dear. I'm going to put him on."

She felt tension then, as she imagined the telephone being passed. Her parents would be careful, she knew, not to touch. Her mother would hold out the receiver by the mouthpiece, her father would take it by the earphone, then her mother would slip out of her chair as her father turned and stepped aside.

"Hi, kiddo—everything OK?"

"Fine, daddy. Just catching up on work."

"Job OK?"

"Sure. Nothing new."

She felt so stupid with nothing to say, hated the limpness in her voice. She could just imagine him, the crinkles around his mouth and eyes, his smile, his squared-off jaw. And of course the shock of hair that hung across his forehead and made him look so boyish, light-brown copper hair like Suzie's, now slightly grayed around the ears.

"Want to play some squash this week?" He hadn't asked her in months.

"Sure."

"Still running?"

"Yeah."

"In great shape, huh?"

"I guess."

"Well, I'd better watch out, kiddo. Call me Wednesday. We'll set something up."

It was small talk, empty, inane, but still she was touched because he tried. Things between them had been difficult the last three years. He'd been angry when she told him she was going to change her name. He said that wasn't "right," that she couldn't run away from things, and in the soft hushed tone he used when he was truly furious said: "I don't think she would have changed her name if things had been reversed." She'd been nearly crushed by that, had turned away, felt tears rising to her eyes. Then he'd put his arm around her, held her close. "It's your life, kiddo. Do what you have to do."

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