The Pickup

A Short Story

Copyright © September, 2001, Kellis

 

“Hi!  Can I give you a ride?” he called, halting with the screech of worn brakes in the opposite lane.

He had spotted her 500 yards ahead on the long straight stretch.  As his truck drew near, he saw a shapely, well-dressed woman in skirt and high-heels, walking correctly on the dusty left shoulder of the paved but narrow country road.  Waist-high brush lined it beyond the mowed shoulder, with green fields stretching away to distant barns and woods on each side.

She looked up fearfully toward the voice, her free fist clenched, the other clamped on the large purse suspended from her shoulder.  She saw an ancient Ford pickup with a single occupant, apparently a very young man.  He was clean-shaven with short brown hair, neatly combed, above blue eyes and a mouth smiling in invitation.  It was not at all a threatening face, and the bare arm on the open window ledge was not heavily muscled.  Marginally she relaxed.

His eyes widened slightly.  The face she turned to him, well made-up with mascara and red lipstick, was blue-eyed oval perfection.  Her fluffed and curly shoulder-length hair was a light brown, several shades lighter than his own.  She wore a white, ruffled blouse cut rather low over ample breasts, short-sleeved for the lingering warmth of late September, above a trim gray skirt, gleaming flesh nylons and black patent heels now hazed by dust.  The large purse, supported by a shoulder strap and clutched protectively in a red-nailed hand, was also shiny black.  Her waist was classically narrow and her hips wide.

She took a deep breath.  “I’d love to get off my feet.”

He gestured around the front of the idling truck.  “Then come on.”  He leaned across the cab and opened the passenger door.

Face set with decision, she walked daintily across the road, heels clicking on the pavement.  His eyes dwelt approvingly on her undulating figure.  Grasping the inner edge of the open door, she pulled herself up into the seat, slamming the door behind her.  The sweet odor of her cologne immediately filled the passenger compartment.

He released the brake and put the vehicle back into motion, then laughed apologetically.  “I guess I ought to ask you first where you need to go.”

She sighed, studying him.  “Back into the city, if it’s not too far.”

“Only a few miles.  What was it, car trouble?”

“You could say that,” she agreed in a sardonic tone.

“I didn’t see your car.”  He spared her a glance.  Her eyes glittered ominously.  He asked with a hint of umbrage, “Some fool didn’t put you out, did he?”

She chuckled unconvincingly.  “Nothing like that.  I parked it off the road.  Maybe it won’t get stripped before I can get back.”

He nodded.  “That makes sense.  I’ll take you to a good mechanic.”  After a moment he added, forcing a laugh, “My name is Cody.  That’s in case you ever want to call me to supper.”

She grinned politely.  “And I’m Liz.  I’ll owe you supper.  Could I ask you to take me to the bank instead — or at least before you take me to a mechanic?”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Mechanics need a lot of dough.”

“It’s the Coltrane branch on Seventeenth and Peavis.  Would that be out of your way?”

He grinned at her.  “That doesn’t matter.  I’ve got nothing else to do.”

“This is very kind of you, Cody.”  She glanced at her wristwatch.  “It’s only a little after three.  Are you escaping from high school?”

“I’ve already done that.  I’m on my way home from a job interview.  Got another tomorrow but tonight I’m free.”

He felt the weight of her gaze and threw her an encouraging smile.  “Go ahead, ask me anything.  I’m too young to have secrets.”

“Are you indeed!”  She laughed coyly.  “All right, since you invited it.  You’re a good-looking boy.  How many girls’ hearts have you broken?”

He chuckled sheepishly.  “I probably ought to claim a dozen or so.”

“Why is that, Cody?”

“So you won’t think I’m such a nerd.”

From the corner of his eye he saw her face turn forward, having lost its smile.

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “On that subject none of us wants to be a nerd.”

“Huh!  You’re a beautiful woman.  Nobody is ever gonna mistake you for a nerd!”

She turned back, smile restored.  “Why, thank you, Cody!  That’s a sweet thing to say.”

“Well, I mean it.”

She reached across the space between them and patted his knee.  “I doubt the girls give you any trouble.”

He sighed.  “You’re right, they don’t.  They don’t give me anything.”

“What?  You don’t have a girl?  Don’t you like girls, Cody?”

He shook his head and declared soulfully, “More than anything in the world.  But I … I guess I want them so much it makes me freeze up when I’m around them.”  Bright eyes flicked to hers briefly.  “Why aren’t they ever this easy to talk to?”

Again she patted his knee.  “I’m glad you find me easy to talk with.  Tell me about yourself, Cody.”

He shrugged.  “Not much to tell.  I left home last month.  I’m living with my uncle and looking for work.  If nothing comes along, I’ll probably enlist in the navy.  I’m finally old enough.”

“What kind of work are you looking for?”

“Something better than minimum wage,” he declared positively.  “I took drafting and worked this summer as a surveyor’s apprentice.  I was just talking to one down the road, but nobody’s hiring these days.”

“You want outdoor work, then?”

“Not necessarily, though I do like the outdoors.”

“I know what you mean.”  She sighed.  “I used to love camping with my husband.”

He glanced at her.  “Did he lose interest in it?”

“In me!  He left me a long time ago.”

His eyes widened.  “I can’t believe anyone would lose interest in you, Liz.”

She smiled indulgently.  “I suppose not.  At your age I didn’t believe it either.  But you’ll be surprised how fast people change.”

Traffic had thickened as they entered city streets.  After awhile he noted, “At least you look like you have a good job.”

“Thank you.  I’m what they call an executive secretary.”

“What’s that?”

She answered dryly, “The person responsible for making the boss’s excuses.  Do you know how to get to that branch?”

“Yeah.  Peavis is just a couple blocks up.”

When the bank’s marquee was in sight, she took a tissue from her purse and wiped the dust off her shoes.  “I’m certainly glad you came along, Cody.  I’d never have made it back to the bank before it closed, and my shoes would have been ruined, probably my legs too.  I don’t walk so much these days.”

“I’m glad I was there.  I had to come into the city anyway.  I’ll wait for you in the parking lot and take you to a mechanic, if that’s what you want.”

“Well … sure, and thanks a lot.”

He had stopped at the bank’s side entrance.  She leaned close and pecked his cheek with cool lips before slipping gracefully out of the truck, purse in one hand, skirt tail in the other.  She slammed the truck door and disappeared into the bank’s dark interior without looking back.

He found a parking place where he could watch the door and sat waiting, after awhile drumming on the steering while restlessly.  She was in the bank about ten minutes before appearing in the same doorway and scanning around for him.  He had already restarted the engine.  He pulled out into the open lot and stopped beside her.  She boarded quickly and looked back over her shoulder.

“Go down Seventeenth, will you?” she asked, slamming the door.

Her face and tone conveyed urgency.  The truck lurched across the lot, found a break in traffic and turned out into the street.  She had bent down and removed a shoe, which she examined while staying bent.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, slowing for a traffic light and chuckling.  “You didn’t rob the bank, did you?”

She dropped the shoe, reached for it and straightened up with it in her hand.  “What a thing to say!”  She held up a penny with her other hand.  “I had something in my shoe.  This!”

“I’m sorry.  I was just kidding.”  He waited until she had slipped the shoe back on her foot.  “Ready for the mechanic?”

She took a deep breath.  “Cody … I’ve got a problem.”

The light changed and he pulled ahead after sparing her a glance.  She was looking down at hands crossed atop the purse in her lap.

“Maybe I can help,” he suggested.  “I’ve got fifty bucks.”

“Oh, Cody, you sweetheart!”  Her hand caressed his arm.  “I’ll bet it’s your last fifty, too!  I thank you very much.  But no, my problem isn’t money, at least not exactly.  Cody, I like you a lot and … my divorce was three years ago.  Would you …  You said you’re free tonight.  Would you take me to a motel?”

At that moment he was surrounded by fast moving traffic.  Nevertheless he dared to award her a long, wide-eyed stare.  “Do what?”

She blushed and looked away.  “Forget it, will you?”

“No, no, I’d love to take you to a motel.  And sp-spend the night with you.  Did you really mean that?”

“You can do it without being missed?”

“My uncle won’t look for me, if that’s worrying you.  He knows I would’ve taken that last job.”

She hitched closer to him on the bench seat.  Her hand dropped to his thigh.  “I guess you’ll think I’m a slut.”

He declared enthusiastically, “All I can think is, ‘I can’t believe it.’”

She laid her head on his shoulder.  “Start believing it.”

He laughed sheepishly.  “I don’t know a motel.”

“Turn left at the next light.”

He raised his right arm and dropped it around her shoulders.  She caught the hand and brought it to her lips.  “I think we can do each other a favor.”

“Oh, god!” he breathed.

She chuckled.  “Don’t get too excited, please.  We’ve got several blocks to go.”  She tugged his hand down upon her right breast.  “Are you starting to believe me?”

“Oh, god!” he repeated in awe.

“It so happens,” she explained, “that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow, so we have plenty of time to pick up the car.  One thing I’ve learned in the last few years” — her hand squeezed his upper thigh — “is to have fun whenever you get the chance.”  She chuckled wryly.  “Now you’ll know I’m a slut!  Well, maybe I am.”

“If you are,” he said fervently, “I’m awful glad of it.”

She laughed with a nod.  “I intend to make you glad.”

When he parked under the overhang of the Longview Motel (Vacancy), she handed him two twenties from her purse.  “See if they’ll give us a room on the ground floor in the back.”

“Uh, what do I tell them?  Do I say we’re married?”

She grinned.  “Don’t mention me.  Just say you want a room for one night, cash in advance.  You don’t have to sign your right name if it bothers you.”

Getting down from the truck, he sucked in his gut and stuck a hand into the front of his jeans momentarily.  She winked at him above a slight smile and he blushed.

The motel office was empty.  He slapped the call bell.  At its ding an old woman shuffled from an inner room.  “What’cha want?”

“A room in the back on the ground floor.”

“Just one night?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re a little early, but what the hell.”  She peered at him.  “You got anything that says you’re old enough for this?”

“I’ve got this.”  He laid the two twenties before her.

She snatched the money and skidded an old-fashioned metal key across the desktop.  “Room 172 and don’t mess it up.  Sign here.”

She extended the registry.  He wrote, John Jones.

“Check out is noon,” she said, studying the signature.  As he turned away she snickered.  “Have a good time, Johnny!”

When he reached to put the truck back into gear, Liz caught his arm.  “Wait just a minute, Cody.”

She was studying the busy street behind them.  He asked, “What are you looking for?”

Her eyes flicked back and forth over the bustling traffic for several seconds before she sighed and smiled at him.  “I’m sorry, Cody.  I thought I saw someone from the office while I was in the bank.”

“And he might be following you?”  Cody turned to look over his own shoulder.  “What’s he driving?”

“A blue Cavalier with red racing stripes.  But he hasn’t gone by.  Perhaps he didn’t see me.”  She pressed against him.  “Come on.  Let’s get out of the public eye.”

“Oh, yeah!” he agreed, wheeling the truck around the building.

The parking lot was thinly populated, suggesting that they could expect a degree of privacy despite the thin walls.  In the room she closed the door, put down her purse and came immediately into his arms.  Her tongue worked between his lips.  She felt him swallow before his teeth opened and his own tongue shyly replied.  He trembled and squeezed her body against him.

She pulled back with a gasp of breath and wide eyes.  “Cody, you were actually telling me the truth, weren’t you?  I’m your first woman?”

“I didn’t say that,” he declared stoutly.  He took a very deep breath.

“No, you didn’t.”  Her eyes twinkled as she felt him quiver.  “I don’t have to ask whether you like me, do I?”

“Oh, god, I do!”

“Yes,” she agreed dryly, “Believe me, I could tell!”  She cocked her head.  “Cody, I was fortunate enough to have an older man.  He made my first time so sweet and loving that I’ll never forget him.  I’d like you to remember me the same way.”

“I …”  He gulped.  “I will.”

“Then let’s do it right.  I need to hang these clothes up so I can wear them out of here.”  She took down a hanger, her eyes twinkling.  “For some things clothing really gets in the way.”

“It sure does!” he agreed, feverishly attacking his shirt buttons.

He stripped quickly and completely, throwing his few garments over a chair, exposing a lean body and a more than adequate erection.  Then he simply stood in the middle of the room, arms dangling, eyes glued to her lengthier divestiture.  She turned down the bed and sat on the edge to remove panty-hose and panties.  When at last she stood openly before him, his lips parted in a gasp of awe.

“Oh god, Liz!  You are … you are stunning.”

Her eyes scanned his body, lingering at his midsection.  “You’re not so bad either, Cody.”

They each took a step to meet the other.  He caressed her breasts, she his manhood.  Shortly his arms enclosed her, pressing her lush body against his.  “Oh god, Liz!” he murmured before their lips met for the second time.

She tugged him back to the bed and pulled him down atop her.  “Oh, god!” he murmured, lying full length between her legs.  “You’re so soft and cool.”

She chuckled.  “And you’re hard and hot as a fever.”  Her hand snaked between them, found his painful erection and guided him into her.  Both gasped with the pleasure of it.

“Come up,” she ordered, urging him with hands behind his buttocks.  He obeyed and essayed a few slow strokes before halting.

She felt him tremble.  “What’s the matter?”

“I …”  He took a breath.  “This feels so awesome!  I don’t want to come yet.”

“I don’t want you to come yet either!”

“But I’m about to.”

“Then I’m glad you told me.”  With a chuckle she pushed him back.  As he settled on his haunches, she rose to a kneeling position, sitting on her heels and taking his organ in hand.  She paused, about to lean forward, and looked into his eyes.  “I perhaps have more experience than you, Cody.  A very young man can have a quick one, then really enjoy his second time.”

“A … quick one?”

“Like this.”

She bent suddenly forward until his groin was filled with her fluffy brown hair, tickling his belly and thighs.  Aside from that he could see only her ivory back, still marked by her brassiere straps, arching away before him, shoulders and elbows to either side.  But his entire attention was riveted upon the feel of her mouth enclosing and sinking around him until her forehead butted his belly.  Throwing hands behind him, he leaned back, giving her greater access, and thrust involuntarily with his hips.  He felt her lips very near the root of his manhood.

“Oh, god, Liz!  I can’t … I can’t stop it!”

Her head began to bob but shortly froze at the first taste of ejaculate.  Her mouth relaxed.  He groaned with each spurt, to which she responded with a tongue stroke beneath the sensitive glans.  His body heaved but she rode with it until his emission ceased.  With a last slurp that drew his strongest groan yet, she raised her head and shoulders, staring at him expectantly.

“Well?”

“Oh, god, Liz.  Oh, god.”

She produced a silvery giggle.  “Goo’ enough for a kiss?”

Her lips and the skin in their corners glistened wetly.  He hesitated.

“It’s your juice, you know.”  Her face surged up to his while her arms prevented his escape.  Her open mouth covered his own and her tongue thrust a musky liquid between his teeth.

She felt him shrug as his tongue engaged hers.  When they finally separated her chin and cheeks were also wet to match his own.

“Was that so bad?” she asked, grinning fondly.

“Oh, god, Liz!”

She sagged backward, flipping her legs out to either side of him, and propped her shoulders up on her elbows, ample breasts jiggling.  Her look was challenging.  “Are you too young to return the favor?”

He took a very deep breath, staring into her eyes.  “Oh, god, Liz!”  He settled on his heels and bent far forward.

“Easy!” she warned.  Around the clit, not right on it at first…  And put in two or three fingers, will you?”

Soon her hips began to rock.  Now stroke right on top of it…  Faster…  Faster!”

She began to moan with increasing vigor until, screaming, she pushed his head firmly away.  He rose to a sitting position and found her staring fiercely at him while gasping for breath.

She demanded, “What … are you waiting for?”

“You mean …”

“What else could I mean?  I’ll bet your dick is even harder … than it was before.”

“You’re right.”  He smiled happily as he sank upon her again.

 

         * * *

 

Gently she lifted his arm off her belly, lowered it to his own hip and raised up in the bed to study him.  He lay on his side, eyes closed, breathing gently and regularly.  She got out of bed carefully, pulled the top sheet up to his shoulders, and turned away towards the bathroom, pausing to pick up her purse along with the room telephone book.

Before flipping on the bathroom light, she glanced back at the young man.  He had not moved.  Softly she closed the door behind her, put down her burdens on the sink table and turned on the shower.

Back in the bedroom the Extension in Use lamp lit on the telephone beside the bed.  Cody sat up, staring at the red glow.  He listened intently to the sound of water falling in the shower.  When he heard a woman’s voice superimposed unintelligibly over the hiss, he gently lifted the telephone receiver and brought it to his ear.

An officious man’s voice was declaring, “— reaches Philadelphia at 12:52 a.m., where you have an eight-hour layover for Train 172, which arrives in Boston at 2:45 p.m.  You’ll need reservations on Train 44 to Philadelphia, which is just as well since you’ve missed it today anyway.”

Liz asked, “How about reservations on Train 172?”

“Not if you go coach.  But you should make your reservations early because of the recent disaster.  I still have a couple seats available on tomorrow’s train to Philly.  Shall I put them in your name?”

“That would be prudent, wouldn’t it?  All right, reserve a coach seat in the name of, ah, Rebecca Green for tomorrow, please.”

“That’s one passenger for Boston’s South Station via Philadelphia, departing tomorrow at 2:35 p.m.  Very well, Ms. Green.  The fare is $172.  May I have your credit card number?”

“I’ll use cash.”

“Then you may purchase your ticket at the Amtrac window.”

“Thank you.”

With a click she hung up.  Cody quickly did the same.  He hunched himself higher in the bed, resting against the padded headboard, and watched the telephone for her next call.

When a minute passed without the In-Use light, he rolled out of bed and padded naked to the bathroom.  He could see her flesh through the translucent shower curtain, above which steam roiled.  Her large purse and the telephone book rested on the sink table.  The mirror was already beginning to fog.  The strap of the purse was laid revealingly at a perfect right angle across its zipper.

He smiled briefly, flipped on the exhaust fan and called, “May I join you, Liz?”

The curtain swished back from the dry end of the tub and the woman’s head appeared, hair concealed by a plastic shower cap.  Her glance went first to the purse with its undisturbed strap.  Then she grinned.

“I’d love it, but I warn you:  I like very hot water.”

He grinned in return.  “That’s all right.  I’ll get wet by rubbing against you.”

She laughed.  As he stepped into the tub she observed archly, “So you can say something besides ‘Oh god, Liz!’”

His hands immediately stroked her slick, soapy lushness.  “Oh god, Liz!”

They spent a happy half hour frolicking under the hot water.  At one point she hung from him, arms around his neck, legs around his hips, impaled on the turgid member, bouncing in a cradle of hands under her buttocks.  But they were no more serious about the sex than the cleansing.  It was too early for his third orgasm without determined pursuit, though not for her.  Several times she emitted soprano moans accompanied by the typical introspection.

When they had exited the tub and dried each other with the towels, she pressed against him with a quick kiss and whispered huskily, “It’s been a long time since a shower was so much fun, Cody.  Thank you.”

“Oh god, Liz!”

She laughed.  His eyebrows rose but he grinned, adding sheepishly, “You’re so cool and sweet I can’t think of anything else to say.”

“Well, I’m not complaining.”

She offered him a blanket from the bed as a wrap, throwing one over her own shoulders.  “In case you get cold.”  She leered.  “Or had you rather go to supper?”

“I’m beginning to get a little —”  He interrupted himself after glancing at his wristwatch.  “Hey, it’s after six.  Let’s catch what’s left of the news.”

“Good idea,” she agreed, taking up the TV remote.  She sat beside him on the bed as the instrument warmed up.

The first few channels she tried were presenting obvious commercials.  Suddenly she dropped the remote.  She found herself staring at her own face.

“What the hell?” demanded Cody, sitting up straight.

“Shhh!” she admonished.

An announcer said in well-modulated tones, “She is wanted for questioning in the murder.  Chief Andrews would not rule her out as a suspect.”

“Wh-what?” stuttered Cody, large eyes swinging upon her.

The scene changed to show a modern office building.  The glass door proclaimed itself in gilt letters to be the property of Pacifico Enterprises.  The announcer continued, “This is the building containing Danny Pacifico’s office, where Elizabeth Derry was employed as his executive secretary.  A woman reported the murder in a 911 call from a pay phone, and when police arrived, they found the offices empty except for a shipping clerk who had heard nothing.  All six of the office workers had apparently gone to lunch.  They returned to find the police having just arrived.  They were released after interrogation.”

The announcer’s face appeared, reading from a prompter.  “Danny Pacifico founded Pacifico Enterprises in 1988, as a company trading in imports and exports, and has remained the sole owner.  It is moderately successful, according to reports, especially in currency exchange.  His heirs if any have not yet been identified.”

He frowned.  “This just in:  Ms. Derry may in fact be an additional victim.”  He looked off camera.  “Can we put her picture back up?”  He continued, “Police have found her automobile still parked in her reserved slot, though her purse is missing from the office.”  Liz’s photograph reappeared.  “Anyone with information on the present whereabouts of this woman, Elizabeth Rawlings Derry, is asked to contact the local police or sheriff’s office.

“In other local news the graffiti vandalism at Mideast Daycare has permitted the identification of two suspects —”

Liz had retrieved the remote.  The TV went black and silent.  She turned to face Cody but flinched back.  “Why are you looking at me that way?”

“I … I …”

“I didn’t do anything!” she protested aggrievedly.

He took a deep breath.  “Will you tell me what happened?”

“Meaning I’ve still got a chance you won’t turn me in?”

His voice held conviction.  “I’ll never turn you in, Liz.”

“Won’t you?”  She stared at him.

“No, I won’t,” he said, shaking his head convincingly.  “I’d rather turn in my left nut.  Was your boss murdered?”

Her mood lightened momentarily.  “Your left nut?”  She sighed.  “Yes, he was.  I saw it happen.”

“Who did it?”

“Virgil Moore, his second in command, with the help of a cop they call Bud.”

“A cop, you say?”

“Wearing his police uniform too, although it was Virgil who actually shot Danny.”

“Danny,” he repeated thoughtfully.

She sighed deeper.  “I was his … main squeeze, as he put it, for the last three years.”

“You and your boss got it on?”

She agreed dryly, “I guess that’s how your generation puts it.  I was his mistress, Cody.  You shouldn’t be surprised to find that I like what a man does for me.  I told you I’m a slut.”

“We’ve already taken care of that.  Did they chase you?  How’d you get away?  Tell it bang, Liz.”

She sighed raggedly and took a deep breath.  “My office was beside Danny’s.  I heard them arguing.  Virgil was demanding the keys or else.  He said he could get ten million for the stuff from Pattel.  It sounded serious.  It was.

“I put my eye around the edge of the door in time to see Virgil pull out a gun.  Bud was standing right behind him in his blue uniform.  He’s a cop who works for us as a guard when valuable stuff comes in.

“Danny was sitting in his captain’s chair with his back to me.  He said to Bud something like, ‘You gonna let him get away with this?’

“Bud grinned and said, ‘Your secretary is already set up to take the fall.’  His face was turned in my direction and I heard those words perfectly.  That’s exactly what he said.

“Virgil shot him.  Danny fell back so hard his chair fell over towards me and he slid out on the floor.  I could see the black hole in the center of his forehead.”

Cody stared at her.  “Did they come for you?”

“I didn’t wait to see.  I grabbed my purse and ran out my own side door.  But I heard running feet on the stairs behind me.  The closest car was Danny’s, of course, and I had a key for it.  It started up right off and I peeled out of there without bothering with a seat belt.  I saw Bud running for his own car — not a police cruiser — in the rear view mirror.

“I made a couple of turns but he followed me.  Then I came to an intersection just as the light was turning yellow.  He was about half a block behind, gaining, and he followed me on through.  Luck was with me.  The light had turned red for him and he nearly hit a police car coming from the right.  The police car spun around, turned on his siren and took out behind us.  But he was after Bud, not me.

“I made a couple more random turns and watched my mirror but I didn’t see Bud again.  I stopped at a pay phone and reported the murder to 911.  A bit later I was on Route 41, so I left town.  I turned off on a random little country road and kept driving until I found a farm path through the woods where I could ditch Danny’s car.”

She sighed.  “I was further out than I realized.  I walked for nearly two hours and didn’t see another vehicle.  Try that on dirt in high heels sometime!”  She smiled sunnily.  “Then you came along.”  She caught his hand, brought it to her mouth and kissed the palm.  “My savior.”

He slipped the arm around her shoulders and pulled her close against him.  “What was the ‘stuff’ that’s worth a million dollars?”

“Ten million, so he said.”  She sighed again.  “Cody, I think it was heroin.”

His face became as solemn as hers.  “Must be a lot of it.  Don’t you know?”

She shook her head.  “I know that Danny has some business dealings he wouldn’t let me see.  We had Caller-ID and he told me not to answer calls from a couple of places.  He would answer those himself.”  She chuckled wryly.  “At first I thought he’d found another squeeze.  One of the places was Pattel Trucking.  I picked up on a couple of those calls.  He was talking to men about receiving or shipping ‘kilos’ of something.  I never heard what.”

Cody said thoughtfully, “They say a kilogram of heroin is worth a long stretch in the federal pen.  What happened at the bank?”

Her eyebrows rose.  “How do you know anything happened at the bank?”

“You kept looking over your shoulder.”  He chuckled.  “And that penny you claimed was in your shoe is one I dropped in the floorboards the other day.”

She glared at him.  “You just let me go on, didn’t you!”  Her glare dissolved into a smile, then a sigh.  “You’re right.  Bud was watching the bank.  I’m just lucky he didn’t wait for me inside.  I started out the other door and saw his car in the parking lot.  He had taken off his uniform cap, but there he sat, big as life.  I ducked back and came out to you.  And you were still waiting, you sweetheart.”

He lowered his head and grinned at her under his eyebrows.  “You meant to ditch me, didn’t you?”

She looked away.  “Not exactly.  My car was only two parking lots on the other side of that bank.”  She chuckled wryly.  “I don’t expect you to believe I meant to swing by and thank you, but in fact I would have.”

He stroked her shoulder.  “I believe you.  What did you get from the bank?”

She studied him.  He could see her reach a decision.  She took a breath.  “I carry the spare key to Danny’s safe-deposit box.  He was robbed a couple years ago and began to keep cash in the box after that.  If the cops were waiting for me with such open arms, I figured I’d better take some money and get out of town.”

“Did you find any cash?”

She got up and went for her purse.  Standing before him, she thrust a hand inside it and scattered objects on the bed.  “This is what I found.”

Many bank-wrapped bundles of money flopped on the sheet along with four keys.  He took up one of the keys.  It was an inch-long serrated shaft of brass with a bright plastic handle, inscribed Morrisey Rental and Storage.

He gestured at the money.  “How much?”

“Count it.”

He took up a bundle: $20 bills.  He counted ten bills and compared their thickness to the remainder of the bundle.  “Looks like 50 of them: $1000.”

The other bundles also consisted of twenties.  Twelve bundles lay on the bed.  He looked up at her.  “Is this the reason you didn’t want to fly, Miss Green?”

“Trying to board a plane nowadays with over ten grand in cash is asking —”  Her eyes widened.  “How did you know to listen?”

He grinned, pointing to the telephone.  “That red light means Extension in Use.”

She studied him.  “Tomorrow I’ll ask you to take me to the Amtrac station.”

He nodded.  “You’re going to Boston.  Where from there?”

“I can get a bus from Boston to Dixville Notch in New Hampshire.  From there Quebec is about 20 miles.”

“You think you can get across the border now?”

“They’re watching for people coming in, aren’t they?”

He gathered up the bundles of money along with the four keys and gave them to her for return to her purse.  “You think these are the keys Virgil wanted?”

She nodded slowly, rezipping the purse.  “I think so.  What else could be important enough for a safe-deposit box?”

“Why did you take them?”

She sniffed.  “I don’t know.  It was an impulse.  If they’re valuable enough to kill for, maybe I could …”  She chuckled wryly.  “A slut and a greedy bitch, huh?”

He shrugged.  “Just a girl who thinks ahead, in my opinion.  And you were right.  Maybe you could.”

“Maybe I could what?”

“Get of a piece of the value.”

“Yes, I was thinking of that.  Pattel might pay a pretty penny for them.”

He said slowly, “You heard, ah, Virgil say Pattel would pay ten million for the ‘stuff.’  Do you think he’d believe these are keys to what he wants?”

She sighed.  “I don’t know.  That’s the stopper — how to convince him.”

“Do you know how to reach him?”

“Sure.  I’ve still got Danny’s note of the numbers I’m not supposed to answer.  I added the Caller IDs to them when the calls came in.”

Cody grinned slightly.  “You could shoot him a line.”

“A line?”

“Tell him Danny was holding out for a high bid, which is probably true enough.  Tell him you shot Danny over another woman and you want to sell him the keys.”

“Good god!”  She stared at him.

“He’s heard you’re a suspect.  This ought to convince him you’re serious.”

“But that amounts to a confession.  It could be used against me in court.”

He shrugged again.  “You’re not going to court.  Tell him he can get ten mil worth of the stuff for 250 grand.”

“250 —  You think he’d pay that?”

“If he believes you.  You’ve got to sound hard and businesslike.  Hmm.  Could you carry 250 grand in hundred-dollar bills?  50 of them would be five grand.  50 bundles like the twelve you’ve got.  They ought to fit in a briefcase or a flight bag.”

She took a deep breath, staring at him.  “Good god, Cody!”

“Do you have any other names you weren’t supposed to answer?”

“Yes, there’s Miltown Courier and —”

“Good enough.  If Pattel wants to negotiate, tell him he gets first refusal and that you’re going to call Miltown next.”

“B-but what if he agrees?”

“Then you have to meet him for the exchange.  Hmm.  I know just the place: in front of the drugstore at Eighteenth and Cable.”

“I know it too: Brown’s Pharmacy.  What’s so great about that?”

“Nothing.  What’s great is the coin laundry next door.  It has back and front doors and a parking lot behind it.  We won’t have to park on the street but we can still make a quick getaway.  If we set the meet about nine A.M., with any luck the laundry will be empty.”

“You …  You’d come with me?”

“Not beside you.  That would spook Pattel.  But I’d wait in the laundry door.”

Her look of astonishment changed to one he could not identify.  “Cody …”  She shook her head.  “Cody, you’re a young guy just starting out, with a clean slate.  If you get mixed up with me on this, you could …  You could even get killed.  And you can’t leave the country with me.  You don’t have a passport.”

His eyes were bright.  “I can get a passport.”

“Doesn’t it take a few weeks?”

“You’d wait for me, wouldn’t you?”

She blinked.  “Where would I wait?”

“Wherever you’re going.  You’d be safer if I went with you, but you can probably make it all right anyway.”

“Oh.  You mean, give you money and tell you where to come when you get your papers?”

“Sure.  But I wouldn’t need any money.  I’ve got some saved.”

She smiled slightly.  “There’ll be other women who like you, Cody.  Younger ones too.”

He shook his head.  “But not another like you.”  Suddenly he rose slightly in the bed, caught her in his arms and pushed her onto her back, his torso partly across hers.  His face was very close.  “Liz, I don’t care what you’ve done or who you did it with.  I’m your man from now on, as much as you’ll let me be.”

She stared into his eyes from inches away.  Her hands rose slowly to cup his cheeks.  She drew their lips together for a chaste and tender kiss and smiled at him when they parted.  “Half an hour ago I thought you were going to say you were hungry.”

They ate at a small Italian restaurant behind the motel.  At his request she told him more of her life and experiences, concluding as they lingered over coffee, “I guess in some ways I’ve been unlucky” — she grinned wryly — “especially with men.  My first fiancé was killed.  He was a sports diver who got entangled in a sunken ship and drowned when his air gave out.  Then my husband left me for another woman.  And now Danny.  He would have married me, I think.  And maybe not.”  She shrugged.  “Water over the dam.”

“But you still love sex.”

“Oh, yes,” she agreed fervently, adding with a grin, “For a very selfish reason: nothing else feels so good.  But it’s a simple proposition.  I’ve learned to make my man feel good because then it feels best for me.”

“Well, yeah,” he agreed.  “I think that would cut both ways.”

Her hand covered his.  “I know you do.  Shall we go give it a try?”

But his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  “Did you mean to try and cash in on those keys from Canada?”

“I …  I guess I really hadn’t thought much about it.”

“You probably ought to do it before you leave town tomorrow.  I think it would be a lot harder to arrange in Canada.  Who’d believe you there?”

“B-but …  How could I do it?  You mean tonight?”

He nodded.  “At a phone booth.  You have Pattel’s number?”

“Yes.”  She patted her purse.

“You might give him a call.”

“I … might?”

He laughed slightly.  “You look like a high-school girl who was just offered her first dick.”

She nodded.  “I feel like one.”

“Well, it’s not a dick.  It won’t be over in a few minutes.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “And it could hurt worse.  Let’s talk about your first job.  You say you were a receptionist at a bowling alley?”

She didn’t answer.  Her eyes lingered on his as she took a deep breath.  “I might just as well throw those keys away.”

He shrugged.  “Or give them to the cops.”

Her face hardened.  “That would be a waste, wouldn’t it?”

He shook his head with a grin.  “It’s up to you, Liz.”

“What would I say to Pattel?”

He answered immediately.  “That you’re Elizabeth Derry, Danny’s squeeze.  You killed him over another swish and you’ve got to get out of town.  The cops haven’t found Danny’s stash.  You understand Pattel wants it bad.  You’ll sell him the keys to it for a quarter mil firm, and you’re giving him first crack before calling Miltown.  If he wants it, you have to arrange the meet right now.  What do you say, Pattel?”

She thought it over.  “And if he wants it?”

“Tell him to have the money in a flight bag in front of Brown’s Pharmacy at nine A.M. tomorrow.  You won’t wait longer than five minutes.”

“What if he says he can’t raise the money that fast?”

Cody shrugged.  “Tell him you’re sorry, you can’t wait.  If he means it, you’ll have to regretfully call Miltown.”

She thought about it.  Her breath came a little faster.  “Let’s go over what I should say again.”

 

         * * *

 

“Oh, god, Cody!”  She gasped for breath.  “You’re a natural at this, aren’t you?”

“If you say so.  But I think you’d make anyone a natural.  I’ve never felt anything this good, Liz.”

“I lost count of how many times I came.  That’s very unusual, Cody.”

He chuckled, looking up at her sweaty, intent face lit dimly by leakage through the imperfectly fitted drapes.  “I don’t know how you expected to count them.  It seemed to me you were coming solid for the last half hour.”

She grinned.  “It goes up and down.  What’s going to happen in the morning makes it … sweeter somehow.”

“I guess so.  I’d envy you a lot except I never imagined how fine it is to play with big bouncing tits.”

“And I’d forgotten a young man’s stamina.  Can you keep it hard all night, Cody?”

“I don’t know.”  He grinned in avid anticipation.  “But something tells me I’m about to find out.”

“Ooo!”  She shivered violently, resuming the rotation of her hips.  “You are so right!”

 

         * * *

 

It began encouragingly.  The laundromat was empty of people, its rows of machines sitting idle.

“Good luck,” he told her at the front door, halting just inside it, throwing it open against the stop despite the morning coldness.  His wristwatch indicated 8:59.

“Thanks!” she retorted tersely.  He watched her march across the 30 feet of sidewalk to stand in front of the Brown’s Pharmacy show window.  They had paused the previous evening long enough to buy her a couple changes of clothing, along with some “feminine essentials.”  Now she wore a loose sweater above slacks, neither of which concealed her femaleness, and a pair of black, low-heeled shoes.  She had left her purse in his truck.  The keys rested in a pocket of the sweater.

The morning was bright and sunny, promising to warm up.  Only a few pedestrians were visible.  One of them, a heavy, fortyish, florid-faced fellow in a black motorcycle jacket, walked across the intersection when the light changed.  A not-so-lightweight flight bag dangled from his hand.  He stopped in front of Liz and said something in a low voice.

Cody stiffened, straining to hear, but the man and woman continued to speak in low voices.  The jacketed man brought up the flight bag and unzipped it.  Liz put in a hand, obviously stirring something.  She withdrew and closed the zipper herself.  Her hand darted into her sweater pocket.  She held it toward the man, presumably Pattel, as her other hand grasped the handle of the bag.  His hand met hers as he released the bag.

She started to turn away but Pattel grasped her arm.  For the first time Cody understood the gravelly voice.  “You dumb broad with no backup, you think I’m gonna let you walk off with a quarter mil of my money?”

She whirled and though her body concealed the action, Cody saw from the jerking of her shoulder that Pattel meant to snatch the bag away from her.  The young man took one step out the laundry door but froze as a large sedan swept to the curb beside the struggling figures.  Car doors popped open and three men emerged with pistols drawn.

At that moment Pattel finally tore the bag from the woman’s grasp and turned to meet the new arrivals.  “God damn!” he cried distinctly.  His right fist opened, scattering colorful brass keys across the sidewalk, to dart into his jacket.

C-Crash!  Two pistols roared almost simultaneously, one from each of the closer newcomers.  Pattel was smashed to the ground on his back.  The money bag flopped to the side.

Liz’s face showed horror but only momentarily.  She drew herself up, chin high and declared loudly, “Virgil and Bud.  Killing again, are you?”

The man nearer to her, short and slim, retorted with a smirk, “This time it’ll be harder to pin on you.  Pick up those keys, Liz.”

She ignored the order.  “How did you know about this, Virgil?”

“When Pattel started calling in markers, we figured we’d better follow him.  Now, goddamn it, I said pick up —”

He was interrupted by the crash of another shot.  The third man who had arrived with Virgil collapsed to the pavement.  The shot had originated from a man crouched beside a car across the intersection, probably Pattel’s “backup.”  Both Virgil and the second man returned the fire.  Virgil missed, but at the other’s shot the distant man folded backward and lay still.

“Good shooting, Bud,” declared Virgil admiringly.

“Comes from practice,” Bud declared.  He was a beefy fellow in casual clothing except for the tell-tale black patent-leather shoes.  He closed on the woman and took her arm in a crushing grip.

“An APB is out on this one.  She’s going with me.  You grab the keys.”

Making a face, Liz strained away but staggered willy-nilly after the large man who pulled her toward the car.  Virgil looked as if he wanted to argue but shrugged and scrabbled for the keys.

Cody stepped clear of the doorway, drawing a snub-nosed revolver from his pocket.  “Stop right there, Bud,” he shouted, cocking the piece.  “You’re not taking her anywhere!”

The beefy man whirled, gun coming around.  With a roar a streak of flame lashed from Cody’s weapon, now leveled at the Bud’s head.  Backward went the large man, falling partly into the street, pistol bouncing away.

Cody strode to the open-mouthed woman and pulled her behind himself to face Virgil, who was crouched with hands extended.  The slim man only shook his head as he picked up the last key, then came to stand before them.  He demanded, “What in the hell do you think you’re doing, Cody?”

Cody’s revolver returned to his pocket along with his hand.  He said calmly, “Claiming my woman, Uncle.”

Your woman!  How long has this been going on?”

“Since yesterday afternoon.  When you told me what happened, I guessed better than Bud which road she would take.”

“God damn it, Cody, I’d kill you if you weren’t my nephew.  We need that woman!”

“I need her more.  You’ve got the keys.  That’s all you need.”

“Damn it, after her I’m the prime suspect!”

“Then take the stuff and blow, Uncle.”

A distant siren started up.  “Yeah,” agreed Virgil, glancing around.  He turned toward his car.

“Cody …” warned the woman under her breath.

He squeezed her hand behind him.  Suddenly Virgil whirled, pistol again in evidence.  “Let her go, Cody.  I can’t let you have her.”

“Sorry to hear it.”  A streak of flame and smoke shot from Cody’s pocket, along with an unmuffled roar.  Virgil threw up his hands and went over backward.

“Get the money,” Cody told the woman.

“What about the keys?” she demanded, scampering for the bag.

“Leave them for the cops.”  He caught her hand, pulling her towards the laundromat.  At the door she clutched the flight bag to her chest and held back for the instant required to survey the scene behind them.  Four men lay in various postures before the drugstore.  Red blood was staining the pavement.  The man shot from across the intersection was groaning and trying to rise.  Staring faces were beginning to appear in opened doors.

“Come on,” he insisted, pulling harder.

She ran through the empty building behind him.  He had placed his truck facing out of the small parking lot, engine running.  They boarded hastily.  Shortly he was urging it almost sedately down the adjacent street.

After several blocks with no apparent pursuit, he drove the truck into a lot and parked it beside a new Taurus.  “Come on,” he told her again, opening his door, “and bring the money.  I’ll get your stuff.”

He transferred her bags to the Taurus’s trunk.  She took a seat in the front beside him, retaining her purse and the flight bag.  Once on the street in traffic he said, “Now’s the time to count it, but keep it below the window.  You’d be surprised how quickly people recognize money from a mile away.”

She took a deep breath and shook her head emphatically.  “You’re no teenager, Cody.  How old are you in fact?”

“26.”  He grinned at her.  “But I can sure pass for 17, can’t I?  Mostly that’s a nuisance.”

She grunted sarcastically.  “But women like it, do they?”

“I never told you I was 17 or a virgin.”

“Was anything you told me true?”

“A little.  I’m not married and I’ve been living with my not-so-sweet uncle, Virgil Moore, for a few years.  At least that’s finished.  You haven’t asked but I’ll tell you.  My full name is Cody Perris Moore and I want you to marry me, whether that bag has more than $100 or not.  I have some money of my own, Liz.”

“You want me to do what?  I’m eight years older than you, Cody, assuming you’re telling the truth now.”

“From now on everything I tell you is the truth, Liz.  That’s a promise.  As to your eight years, isn’t that about how much longer women live than men these days?  Maybe we can drift off hand-in-hand into never-never land.”

She sniffed.  “Not we.  We take too many chances.”

“We don’t have to keep that up, unless you insist on leaving the country.  By the way, I do own a valid passport.  But you heard Bud.  There’s an APB out on you and these days I’d hate to bet they don’t check for American wanted names at Canadian customs.”

“Oh!  You’re likely right.”

“You don’t have to leave the country, Liz.  When the cops find that horse, they’ll understand and most likely drop the charges against you.  Even if they don’t, as my wife you won’t have to work.  You don’t need to show your fingerprints or social security number anywhere.”

He could feel the weight of her gaze.  “You mean it, then.  You really want to marry me?”

He grinned.  “As opposed to just fucking you?  Been there and done that.”  He flashed her a compelling look.  “And I want to go there and do that for the rest of my life.”

She sighed.  “Now you sound like a kid again.  What do you get out of it, Cody, if you don’t even need the money?”

“You.”  He cleared his throat.  “And one other thing.  Can you sew a patch in a man’s trousers?”


END
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