Ruin (Page 49)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(49)
Author: C.D. Reiss

Her chair was empty.

Of course it was. I was a good fifteen minutes early. I put on lipstick, smiling at two women who came in and snapped the stall doors shut behind them. A third woman in a pale-blue dress came in, coyly swaying her hips. She puckered at me, as if she expected me to be there.

“Hello, puttana,” she said.

“Everyone in America knows that word, Irene. You’re not getting it past me.”

The attendant came in. She looked vaguely Romanian. Her name pin said Codruta, and she did not make eye contact with me.

Irene blushed a little, shrugging. She played with her curls. I put on more lipstick, patting it with a cloth towel. When the two women in the stalls came out, I made room for them, but stayed by the sink. My hand was in my bag, around the tiny envelope, but I had no idea when I’d get to pass it over.

“He’ll never marry you,” Irene said when the two women were gone. “He’ll always run away.”

“I’ll chase him.”

“He’s not keeping a whore when he’s married to me.”

“Then I hope you like anal sex.”

Her look of abject horror was priceless. Codruta suppressed a laugh. I let mine out, chuckling and sliding my bag off the vanity. The bag got behind a stack of towels, and they fell to the floor like dying white butterflies.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I said.

“It’s fine,” Codruta said. I kneeled down to pick up the towels and slipped the envelope between two, handing the short stack to her. “I’ve got it, thank you.” She looked at me pointedly, nodding ever so slightly and pressing the envelope’s bulk between her fingers.

“You’re welcome.” Then, looking at Irene in the mirror, I said, “It’s really very hot. You should try it.”

That was cruel, but I couldn’t have helped myself. Not one bit. I was only human, after all.

I walked out the door and through the cocktail hour as if onstage. Invisibility was not the objective. Antonio wasn’t at his seat. I kept a noncommittal smile on my lips as if I were going for a pleasant screw in the back of a flower truck, and no more.

I don’t know if, even at the height of my scandal with Daniel, I’d ever felt so exposed, so watched, so in need of the poise and control I’d been famous for. The goal, in both instances, was to be seen, noted, and found unthreatening.

A few stragglers wandered outside, mostly smokers and some younger girls in short dresses, discussing their makeup into their compacts, as if announcing the brand of their blush into a microphone. I paused until one of the saw me then glanced around as if looking for something.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

The truck came into view. It turned out to be a van. Deep blue, with flowers bouncing around white clouds. A man got out of the driver’s seat.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you the florist for the Bortolusi wedding?”

“Yeah.”

“The mother of the bride says the orchids on the dais smell.”

“Smell?”

“I don’t speak Italian, but it was something like toilet. She’s pretty pissed.”

He sighed and slammed the door. “Well, hell. Let me check.”

I knew he wasn’t going to be able to get near the mother of the bride until after the introductions. So all I had to do was get into the truck.

I thought I might hesitate, but I didn’t have to. The truck windows were black with tint. The blue seemed more saturated than normal, the smooth coolness of the handle seemed sharper than the weather should allow, and the click of the driver’s side door as it opened seemed loud enough to wake the dead.

It swung open easily. I got in and closed the door behind me with a phup.

New-car smell. Fragrant flowers. An Egg McMuffin. I slid into the back and lifted the carpet. Potting soil dropped like a waterfall, gathering in the crease. I peeked underneath. It was just like he’d said, a ring and a loop.

I could still hear the music of the second song. He’d come in less than five minutes. I’d be waiting, just like I was told. I yanked up the door.

There was engine stuff down there, just as I’d been promised. But somehow, enough space had been made for a slimmish man to get through. Past that was the drainage grate. It was smaller than I remembered. Or I was bigger, because everything about the iron circle looked the same.

Reaching down until my legs splayed above me, I found the box bolted under the floor and opened it. I found the micro crowbar, and a gun. When I picked up the gun, I felt the weight of the bullets and swallowed. This was real. Very, very real.

The space for the C4 was occupied with a brick that looked like clay and smelled like Play-doh. Weird.

“They smell fine!” I heard from outside. Sounded like he was talking on the phone. “I don’t know what she’s on about.”

“Fuck!” I whispered.

Should I get out and sit in the back as if I were waiting for my boyfriend to show up? Or get the job done and slip into the hole?

The voice got closer. I put the crowbar to the side of the grate and dug it between the dirt and the metal.

No. It was heavy. This had been Antonio’s job. I was going to have to pull up, back into the truck and act like a horny woman at a wedding.

“Hey!” I froze. It was Antonio’s voice from outside, followed by a mumble from someone. Then Antonio. “I don’t know. She said it was the purple? And there are white? Go ask. Who the fuck knows?”

I wasn’t big enough to do Antonio’s job. The grate was too heavy, and my arm wasn’t long enough. I got out from the trapdoor and put the micro crowbar and the gun into my purse. I heard footsteps on the asphalt. That must be him. God bless him.

I put my feet into the hole under the truck, and lowered them until they hit the grate. I wiggled, bent my knees a little, wiggled farther, prayed I didn’t get stuck, and shifted until my knees were on the grass and my torso stuck out the bottom of the truck.

“God help me,” I whispered as I picked up my arms and slid down. My dress stayed up and I was naked below the truck. “Ever the puttana,” I grumbled, sliding down. My breasts caught on a tube or tank or something and I shifted again.

I hoped Antonio would get there soon, if for no other reason than to laugh his head off.

I heard voices. One was Antonio, sharp and loud. The next I also recognized, but I didn’t have time to have a feeling about it before the truck shook.

The truck shook again, and I heard something hit the ground outside.

Paulie: “Who’s saying Ave Maria now?”