I kiss him on the hotel room bed, the bedside lamp the only light. My evening gown and heels lie on the floor, the straps of my slip fallen off my shoulders. He’s down to his shorts. Just the way I like them. It makes a better picture, intention clear, but not a Hays Code violation. I pull him over to the near side, in the foreground. I unhitch his hands from my body and murmur, “Let me slip into something more comfortable.” I give him a smoldering look over my shoulder. I can frame the bed and enough of the painting to make the location. “Don’t you even twitch.”
In the bathroom I yank open my overnight bag, pull on my getaway dress, stuff my feet into flats. I glance in the mirror and tie back my hair. An Aryan milkmaid face, if I smile. I slot the flash gun into the Voitlander’s hot shoe. I spent sugar on the camera, ’cause I only get one shot. Like so many joes, I learned my trade in the war. Back then I was deep in occupied territory, the dink on the bed was a Nazi officer, and my camera was a gat, spitting lead. Main difference is it’s harder to scram when the mark is alive and angry. But the war ended two years ago, and DC coppers object to me ventilating mugs for adultery. In my right hand I carry a blackjack.
I take a deep breath and raise the camera. Showtime.
I trigger the flash as he notices I’m not naked, then duck to the side. Never be where he saw the flash. Sure enough, he comes charging like a fullback. I tap him as he roars past. He crumbles, out cold.
Another satisfied customer: she gets her alimony, I get my fee.
I screw in another flashbulb, slip on one stiletto, hike up my dress, and rest the heel on his face. I take the shot. Might make a good flyer. I’m artistic that way.
Peggy and I celebrate payday. At five-foot zip, auburn curls, and a face like Little Miss Lollipop, Peggy looks harmless. A bunch of Nazis now pushing up poppies in Alsace made the mistake of believing that. We hit a few bars on H street, have a drink, then the tomcats get thick and we move on. Funny thing. In the war Peggy and I could prop up a bar with the best of them. Nobody blinked. Now it’s an unnatural act. The barflies need some kind of explanation, and they can’t think of one that make us look good.
It’s dark and wet, we get tired of beating back the Romeos, so we make for the one gin mill where we will be treated with respect. DelRays. We stumble through the rain, propping each other up and sharing Peggy’s umbrella. “Tell me about before,” Peggy says. It’s a game we play.
“We had a white picket fence.” I picture it in my mind, shiny in the sun.
She murmurs, snuggles up against my shoulder.
“Got my sheepskin from Bryn Mawr. Married Steve. He sold farm equipment. Great prospects. Lots of gear needed replacing after the Depression. We bought a mortgage near Hartford, with a yard. Cocker Spaniel named Lady. I waited for the babies to come.”
“What about cookies?”
“I wore a gingham apron and baked cookies for the church sale. Oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, snickerdoodles.”
“Tollhouse?” She shuts her eyes.
That’s all I can handle tonight. “Steve enlisted, they put him in a tank. Tank blew up at El Guettar. Patton’s famous victory.”
Peggy lifts her head, looks at me. She understands.
We say it together. “Died in the gutter, just like Mom said he would.” We giggle.
“I got sore. I wanted to slug back. Recruiting took one look: blonde, blue eyes, gift for languages. They knew what to do with me.”
DelRays is not an inviting place. Dark exterior with a small sign. Anyone welcome here knows about it already. OSS friendlies only. Inside it’s a different story; burgundy leather and old wood, cut glass. A dozen joes sit around in small groups. Sharp suits, low conversation. A dozen mugs glance up, turn away. A goose guards the door, six seven, three hundred pounds. His nose was broke so many times it looks like it’s doing the jitterbug. He leans down and Peggy kisses him. “Frank. Good to see you.”