She wore red. Not just a flicker of carmine on her lips or nails, but moneymaker crimson like a suit of armor every guy in the pool hall wanted to shove his lance though. We’re used to girls in this place; floozies looking for cab fare and rent money, but this girl didn’t need us. There was too much in her stride, those long legs and a venomous figure worth thanking Eve for.
She gets gin from the bar and a rack from the counter, sets up her shot and breaks the balls with a crack everyone heard over the smoke and hustle and jukebox. Everybody stopped to watch her. Dames who shot a fair game of pool were harder to find than beat girls without Daddy issues.
I killed the rest of my pint and did what everyone else wanted to do—I walked over to her. She smiled and sank the six in the left corner. “Play for drinks?” she offered, smiling like a nun with a collection plate.
“I’ve drunk enough tonight,” I answer.
“Play for cash?” she tries again, this time with Devil’s eyes.
“Twenty to a kiss,” I bargain.
“You pay or I pay?” she purrs.
“I’ll pay cash.”
She smiles over the rim of her drink and I fish a quarter out of my pocket. “Call for break.”
She claims heads and wins. She’s solids. Four in the corner pocket. Seven in the side. I scratch on the ten and she sinks the three. Our audience follows her every move, watching her garters through the slit in her dress that rises whenever she shoots. The cue slides through her fingers like a john in a back alley.
Only the thirteen and the eight remain. She pops off my ball and takes the eight for herself, posing with a smirk. I’m twenty dollars poorer and my mouth goes dry. She hustled a hustler.
Some kid calls out, “Joey lost to a broad!” and the hall goes silent except for the crack of my cue against his jaw. I don’t even take my eyes off her to hit him. She’s no doll, she’s a shark, she’s a machine, she’s one of us.
She holds out her hand and I slap the crumpled bill into her palm. She gives me that hellfire smile and refolds it, slipping it into the top of her stocking.
One game is all she shoots. She waltzes out the same way she waltzed in. We all watch her leave and no one’s in the mood to play anymore. Most of the guys go to the bar to wash down their disbelief. I grab my coat and go out for a breath of air.
The night is perfect for a cigarette except that I quit smoking two weeks ago. I pop my collar against the rain. Summer in most places means sunshine and beaches, but in Crimson City, if it’s not sweltering, it’s pouring and either way, you’re soaked.
She pulls up in one hell of a car; cherry red as her dress and huge as her moxie. “Need a lift?” she offers.
I can come back for my car tomorrow. I’ve got the feeling I won’t see her again after tonight and this looks like a chance to break even. “I won’t say no,” I reply.
Twenty minutes later I’m pulling off silk panties as black as a pair of aces. The first time we don’t make it out of my foyer, hard and fast up against the wall. The second time we hit the sheets, thunder cracking outside the bedroom window like the dull splinter of the night’s last break.
When I wake up the next morning my wallet is empty and she’s gone. There’s a crumpled twenty with a lipstick kiss on the nightstand. There’s nothing left to do but grin and light a cigarette.
Libby Cudmore is a regular contributor to Hardboiled magazine and Pop Matters. Her work has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Eastern Standard Crime, the Flash Fiction Offensive, Crime and Suspense, Inertia, the Southern WomenÂ’s Review and Shaking Like a Mountain and here at TKnC. She also has stories slated for upcoming issues of Thrilling Detective, PowderBurnFlash, Battered Suitcase and the anthology Quantum Genre on the Planet of the Arts (with Matthew Quinn Martin).