Fit to Strut
Fit to Strut
“What d’you think about girls named Lee?” Jane asked.
She stood in a hall, red carpets and field scenes hanging in frames on sterile-white walls. She and her boyfriend had just stepped out of an elevator and had stopped, facing a tall white door. It was eerily like a hotel, but these tall reinforced doors opened into condos.
“You mean like Remick, or with an EI?” her boyfriend asked. “I don’t like GHs, and if you drop the GH it’d be like the necklace of flowers….”
He was dressed up for once. Jane had always wanted to see him in black, rather than his usual dingy gray, but she’d been thinking of a black T-shirt and jeans.
He’d disappeared a couple hours before they’d left the trailer, saying he had to pick up a knife he’d had on lay-away at the Diamond in the Rough, a pawn shop. He’d returned wearing a suit, very black, like dried India-ink, with a shirt, button up and shiny red as if he’d been skinned.
“It’d be a nice girl’s name, Lei I mean, but I guess you could pronounce it like Lorelei. That could get confusing if she was honest by nature,” he said, the sound of a chuckle leaving his throat without curling his lips. “Ah, and I guess if you pronounced it Hawaiian-style she’d probably get made fun of in school.”
He might have gotten a haircut too. It was always short, but usually like a mutt you’d find in a dumpster. He might have just combed it.
He’d knocked at the door to their trailer, rather than barging in, and she’d thought he was a stranger until she saw the band-aid plastered across the center of his forehead, covering what she knew to be a stitched up bullet hole.
“You look really nice,” he said, and she realized she should have said something about his getup.
“We needed to match a little,” she said. They’d swung by a second hand shop, at her insistence, and she managed to find a black dress, simultaneously slinky and knee length.
“But you look really good,” he said.
“I… I look at you… and I get tingly.”
“The same,” he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and squeezing. “I mean, when I look at you-”
“I know,” she said, staring at the white door in front of them and at the gold ring around the peephole.
“So, why you asking about Lee?- Your middle name?”
“No. Jane Esther Jansingh,” she said. “Jansingh with a GH.”
“…That’s only a silent H– I was just talking.”
“I was thinking about problem children….”
“…Like the Bad Seed?”
“Or the Omen-”
“And Lee Remick…. Your mom seems to like you well enough- She didn’t have to ask you to dinner.”
“She asked you too-”
“And she wouldn’t waste her time unless she liked you…. Are you gonna knock?” he asked, nodding to the door.
“Would you do it?”
“Sure,” he said, but, as his knuckles were about to rap, the door swung in.
“Jane,” Margaret said, with a smile more like a hostess than a mother.
While her boyfriend’s outfit was stunning, that was mostly by contrast, and Jane’s dress was thrifty, Margaret’s dress, red and ruffled, looked like it was worth a new car. She’d never known her mother to dress up quite so showy.
“What happened to your finger,” Margaret asked.
The index finger on Jane’s right hand had been replaced by a stiff white cast. Replaced, because there wasn’t really a finger underneath, it had been taken by that same men who’d put a bullet in her boyfriend’s head.
“From the car crash,” Jane said. The missing finger was a bit of news she didn’t feel like sharing with her mother any time soon.
“And Jack… Come in.” Margaret stepped back, as Jane and her boyfriend passed through.
Jane’s eyes tracked over the parlor. She didn’t think there would be any threat, but it was a learned behavior; her boyfriend was probably doing the same. Her eyes passed over her father, held in an urn on the mantel; she’d managed to avoid looking at it the last time she’d visited.
A few days before, when her mother had invited them to dinner, she hadn’t mentioned any other guests.
There was a man sitting on the couch. He was slight, wearing a brown suit and turtle-shell glasses. Margaret sat on the couch next to him, placing a hand on his knee, answering any questions Jane had about the red dress.
He’s barely cold, Jane thought. Those were the words that popped into her head like that’s what she meant to say. But it wasn’t true. Her father had died months ago, and they’d gotten divorced before that. She bit her tongue.
“This is Roderick,” Margaret said, smiling at her, placating, probably hoping she wouldn’t spit, which Jane felt like doing.
“Roddy,” he said, standing up from the couch, and holding out a hand.
“He’s a professor of history at-”
“Only an instructor,” he said, smiling back at Margaret as Jane stared at his hand. “I’m mostly interested in modern mythology.”
“Jack,” her boyfriend said, taking his hand.
“Right. Margaret told me… you’re a security guard?”
Jane was starting to hate him. Even if it was only a cover, and her boyfriend was neither named Jack nor worked the back of an armored car, you didn’t call a transporter a security guard.
“Something like that,” he said. “What d’you mean by modern mythology?”
“…Myth might not be right. Have you heard about the Glass Virgin?” Roddy asked.
While her boyfriend seemed to be attempting small talk, probably to buy her time to cool down, Roddy had an odd smile on his lips, like he’d told a joke no one noticed.
“I’ve heard of her- from the papers.”
“How about One-Eye?” His smile became more sickly. It might have just been a quirk of his nature, but Jane couldn’t be sure.
“Is he some kind of mob hit-man?”
“He doesn’t just work for the mafia,” Roddy said. “And the Masked Killer?”
“Yeah,” her boyfriend said. “But it’s more like a veil, is what I heard.”
“As have I,” Roddy said.
Jane and her boyfriend had moved their trailer after the dust-up they’d had with the CIA and the French-Algerian mob. They didn’t pay any bills or have a registered address to change, so finding a new patch of turf had seemed like enough, but Roddy’s level of general creepiness was making her think they should have gotten out of town.
A bell rang in the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready,” Margaret said, standing up from the couch. If there was something wrong, she hadn’t seemingly noticed, but the house-wife mask she wore was hard to read.
She left them in the parlor and walked into the kitchen. Jane noticed the red stilettos she was wearing, what Dorothy might wear if she owned an uptown condo.
“You know I kill people?” her boyfriend asked, but the smile was still stuck on Roddy’s face.
“I know, but bad people, right?”
“Yeah, but my definition of bad is both flexible and subjective.”
“What’re you doing with my mother?” Jane asked. She’d already come to a quick conclusion, her mother had a right to date, and Jane didn’t have any interest in manipulating her love life, but weird-creepy-fucks were still off limits.
“We’ve been dating for the last few weeks,” Roddy said.
“I know… old flesh may appear unattractive to the young, but your mother is very kind, and a beautiful woman.”
“How’d you meet?” her boyfriend asked. It sounded like an innocent question, but she hoped he hadn’t bought into Roddy’s bullshit.
“Ah, well, I started tracking Jane a couple of months ago, because I found you hard to contact-”
“You were hunting me first?”
“Not hunting,” Roddy said, “no. I just wanted to talk to you-”
“And you found my mother?” Jane asked.
“Yes. We hit it off right away…. I can see how you might find me suspicious…. I should have started differently.”
“Yeah,” her boyfriend said.
“What d’you want?” Jane asked. She heard the clattering of China, so if they were going to abduct her mother’s boyfriend, it would have to be soon.
“Did you ever meet Mel?” Roddy asked.
Jane hadn’t; Mel had been dead long before she was running in such circles, but he was talking to her boyfriend.
“A few times,” her boyfriend said.
“She used to be my student,” Roddy said.
“…I watched her transform, like a butterfly- You know most people, they wear the latest fashions- That’s a very nice suit by the way.”
“Thanks,” her boyfriend said.
“…They wear the latest fashions, but those clothes and skin only serve to disguise their souls.”
It wasn’t the compliment, probably, but rather a meeting of minds. Jane could feel her boyfriend being drawn in.
“…So you aren’t gonna fuck with Margaret?”
“Ah,” Roddy said, and chuckled. “Not by your meaning…. My academic interest led me to her, but now we have a relationship…. I just wanted to meet a perfect star.”
“I’m not bright and shiny.”
“No. I can see that, but you wear your soul on your sleeve-”
“Dinner,” Margaret said in an annoyed tone Jane found nostalgic.
“She’s been preening Julia Child since Thursday. We shouldn’t let it get cold,” Roddy said, and started toward the dining room.
Her boyfriend leaned over, placing a hand on her back as he whispered in her ear. “You think we should kill him?” he asked, and she thought about it.
“Probably not,” Jane said.