Friday, April 17, 2009

A Cut Above

Rich stood in the kitchen, shades pulled low in a futile attempt to avoid the bright light of morning. His shirt smelled of whisky, though he had no memory of wasting the amber liquid. A quick inventory of his parts uncovered no bruises, proof he hadn’t been the one to spew the bourbon. Matty would have punched him for that. His best friend knew how to leave an impressive mark. It was part of Matty’s job, if not his charm. Sometimes, he couldn’t shake the enforcer personality.

The coffee maker shrieked to let him know it had finished brewing. Most days, he used it as an alarm clock. Today, it worked like a drill. Hands shaking, he filled his cup. It was too hot. He sipped it anyway. His mouth tasted like a monkey’s asshole – or what he imagined that to be like. As far as he knew, none of their adventures with toxic chemistry had resulted in animal abuse. Someone would have taken pictures if they’d fallen that far.

“Close enough to the gutter,” he muttered. He needed a new hobby – one less likely to end in illness or arrest.

The thought brought him up short. He searched the pockets of his leather jacket. Empty. His jeans yielded nothing. He sighed with relief. No bail receipts. Considering the venue, that was impressive.

Matty should never have suggested they meet in a high-class place. All his money meant nothing to those folks. He and Matty weren’t even people to them. They were a momentary diversion at best. At worst, they were freaks and animals. Which, to be fair, described them pretty accurately.

“The thing is,” Matty had said, “some of these women get off on that. You know, walk on the wild side before heading back to the gated community. And how is that not jail for a spirited woman anyway, I ask you?” He was always on about stuff like that. Funny thing was, all of the women he spent time with genuinely cared about him. He said it was because he didn’t ask for anything. He sure accepted what they offered, though.

“There’s something to all that feminism stuff,” Matty had said. “Treat women like people and all. Makes sense. We’re all the same when it comes down to it.”

It was bullshit, of course. Not the part about treating women decent, just the crap about how everyone was the same. Rich snorted. They weren’t the same as those people in the hotel bar last night. Even the bartender had looked at them like they were something he’d thrown away, only to find his garbage had crawled up and sat on a stool to order a drink.

“Fuck them.” Rich stripped off his shirt and threw it toward the hamper. Almost made it, too.

His coffee cup empty, he began the second step to recovering from a night out with Matty. The hot shower washed away the worst of the night, and restored memory. Part of it, anyway. There was a girl with hair the color of sun through honey and the sweetest brown eyes. Rich hummed as he remembered her fingers on his arm, so delicate and fine, jewels flashing in the light. He’d hardly breathed when she laid a kiss on his cheek and told him to call her.

He blinked, then cursed when shampoo ran into his eyes. She’d given him her number, tiny print on the back of a business card. Where the hell had he put that? He rinsed, shut off the shower, and practically ran back to his room, a trail of wet footprints in his wake.

He found the card on his nightstand, one of the few places not covered with crap. He picked it up as if it was one of those artifacts he’d been shown as a kid. He really should have stayed in school. All his teachers said he was smart. Fat lot of good that did when your old man couldn’t even pay the mortgage, much less chip in for college.

She would be educated. All those women were. So, what the hell did she want with him?

He peered at the card and whispered her name. “Celia de Benneville.” It came out like music.

He was glad she’d left before they’d gotten truly drunk. Vague memories of being escorted from the club surfaced through his haze. Rich shoved them aside. That didn’t matter now. A society girl had given him her number. He ran his hand through his short-cropped, blond hair. Maybe she did it as a joke. He set the card down and got ready for work.

When the foreman called the break for lunch, Rich sat with the rest of the guys, feet dangling off a beam. He loved the view from up here. The money for this job didn’t hurt, either. For once in his life, he was flush. That was a damned good feeling. He wasn’t rich Matty, but he did okay for himself. If he saved enough, maybe he could even take a night class at the community college. Then he’d have something smart to say if he ever ran into Celia again.

He shook his head. I’m such a mook. He wasn’t going to call that girl. He put on his hard hat. This was what he was, who he was. It was good enough. He went back to finish the job, balancing precariously above the world.

When he came down at the end of the day, she was waiting for him, her perfect mouth curved in a smile. The other guys stopped and stared.

“How about a drink and dinner? We could see what happens after that.” She practically purred.

“No, thanks.”

She frowned, confused. “Why not?”

“Because I’m dirty, tired, and not inclined to be a performing monkey so you can piss off your parents or tell all your friends how you went slumming.” He left her there, mouth hanging open, and walked home, whistling the whole way.

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