Three linked dreams in one night, 1994/6/20, by Chris Wayan
1: NOT TOO LATE FOR HER--IF SHE KNEW
A small town. A married woman in her thirties is thinking of having an affair. She meets a guy she thought was sexy in high school, though she never went out with him. But twenty years have passed, and he's balding and pot-bellied: already middle-aged. Ugly, in fact.
She's shaken. Twenty years is a long time. If he looks like this, and he was practically God then, what's SHE like? Can't trust the mirror, the eyes of habit. She's middle-aged too. She'll never attract her dream lover now... she's stuck with her dull husband, and town, and life. Too late to change.
The irony is, she looks fine. Beautiful in fact. Pale fluffy blonde hair, thin tall, classic bones, big wounded eyes, a bit sad and scared now but still alive, still feeling--not the deadness of one who denies her dream. She'll look good forever, and she doesn't know it. She could win her dream lover--if she'd only leave town and LOOK...
The same small town. I'm a detective come to investigate the financial dealings of two sisters, one of whom just died. I talk with their lawyer and accountant upstairs in a big-city building, wishing there were windows. For some reason we first discuss the dog, a retriever. Patiently I steer them round to the sister's death...
Pollution from a factory next door killed her. It smelled nice, like fresh apples, and they insisted it was harmless. She was exposed 5 hours a day. She knew it made her sick, she protested, and after years they cleaned up their emissions and she won a settlement--they conceded it was a "nuisance" only. The money went to her estate--she was already dead of cancer. Environmentally induced?
I point out "If you, as her lawyer, were convinced she was being poisoned, you should've gotten her out of there! The settlement didn't do her any good when she was dead." But then (and that's why I've been called in) it does HIM some good, doesn't it? He's her executor; now the WHOLE settlement's in his hands!
He angrily shouts "We didn't KNOW what it was doing to her!" I'm not sure what I think yet. Could be naive, a man not wanting to believe how bad the situation was.
Or it could be a slow, subtle murder.
I'm a visitor, ill at ease, in a rich golf club. I'm returning a file I had to study, and some bright-colored things... forget what. The file was on my mother's father, who was a member. He just died.
They treat me courteously on top but patronizing underneath. "Where do I put my grandpa's folder?" The cabinet holding the members' records has been removed, for an upcoming Open House. All the records put away. They want me to give them the folder. I don't trust it not to disappear. They shrug "It doesn't matter; he's not a member now anyway, he's an ex." Once he's dead, forget him.
They have a Maid, a cliche Southern Black Maid. She's young and smart, with a diamond-shaped face, fox-chin. But she plays the Old South role--look decorative and keep your mouth shut, in exchange for learning intimate details about every millionaire in the county! She's too smart for blackmail, but discreet investments based on overheard old-boy gossip... now that's lucrative! I rather admire her discreet little scam--but I think there's a bigger one going on here.
Rich people donate their entire fortunes to the club, undergoing religious conversion after sleeping in the clubhouse... why? Long list of celebrity endorsements, including Norman Vincent Peale or Norman Cousins, one of those power of positivity guys--all the same to a hard-boiled private eye like me.
They ask if I'll squeeze three lemons for the ritual Southern lemonade. Okay, I say. I know it's distraction. But my eyes are still open. I notice they store thousands of bicycle tires on the ceiling. Very efficient.
I stay over, in the room they offer me free. During the night, I think about the maid, and her 8-year-old son, so small he looked like 6 when I first met him. Small enough... yet old enough... to... God! To follow her directions, to crawl inside the walls and ceilings, to peer through the cracks and nail-holes I've noticed in every room, to spy on the millionaires and their lovers and their business deals, to take that news back to his mom... for blackmail and...
But I've still underestimated them all. A tiny flying saucer falls on my bed. Steaming with... some kind of knockout drug. Or poison. I feel weak and dizzy. Wrap it up. Had I not been expecting SOME attack, I'd have been deep under by now... suggestible. This can't be just one maid's scam--can it? More likely the whole club!
I stagger out, compose myself--barely able to walk, but I must be ready to bluff. The Maid is leaning up agains a wall kissing her boyfriend. I wait till a two-car Muni trolley comes by and isolates us from the rest of the club, a moving loud wall of bright ads... and I throw the steaming saucer in a high arc down on her. And look at her, not saying a word, just grinning meanly. If she runs or wraps up the saucer she'll be acknowleging she knows the gas is toxic; if she doesn't, she'll be poisoned.
The Muni has her cornered; she'll have to fight me to run. She tenses... and sighs, thinking better of it. Wraps up the disk. My backup, a Federal agent I phoned, comes in. I relax in relief. Had she run, she'd have clobbered me. I was a wet rag--got a big dose of the poison. All bluff.
The FBI man says "She's beautiful." She looks startled, actually a bit flattered. "A beautiful case, man, I have to admit it. Wrapped her up for us." She looks hurt.
I almost feel sympathetic. She was only gouging millionaires. Don't they deserve it?
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