She wore juxtaposition the way a cubist wears a turtleneck sweater. The bar was nearly empty that night. I ordered a double, and sat a few stools away. The room dimmed when she smiled. The lightbulbs didn’t have a chance.
I wasn’t looking for her. No one had come to this private dick weeping over a long lost daughter or a cheating wife. It was just a chance meeting. The kind of thing that happens round midnight, about when Tuesday night starts humping Wednesday morning — Tuesday into Wednesday, that’s the loneliest goddam midnight of them all.
I had a trick I did with a zippo. Most guys have a trick like that. One to compensate for their awkward misery and lack of manners. I clicked the lid back and lit the lighter with a single snap of my fingers. She watched me do it the way a dame watches a monkey rattle a nickel in a tin cup.
“I’m not from round here,” she said, holding her cigarette for me to light.
“I get it, baby,” I said. “You’re from some kooky outer galaxy, aren’t you.”
“A million light years away, mister.”
“Some planet where the years drip down the walls and pool in the corners,” I said. “Where the minutes have knives and anxious eyes.”
“Sounds like you’ve been there.”
“I booked passage once. For me and someone else.”
“…and…?” she said.
“And she never showed. The only way outta Buttville left the station as I stood there on the platform, like a chump. When I looked for her later, all there was was an empty closet and a note that said it was better this way.”
“We don’t do a man like that where I come from,” she said.
I reached across and lit her cigarette.
“Where I come from,” she said, “a girl don’t break a fella’s heart by leaving him. She just shoots him in the back, like a dog.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess that’s why I want you to take me home.”
“Fine by me,” she said, “but it’s a week ’til payday. You gotta bring the bullets.”