The Minstrel

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Russell Frawley, Jonathan Pfeiffer’s boss, was quite busy, which was why he had not come to the office that day. He was not on trial. He was not in a meeting. He was not with a client. He was trying to pick up a girl in a bar.

He meant to have been at work. Really, he had. Okay, last night he’d been drinking, and was heading home so he could catch a couple of z’s before he had to head off to the office he when the bar closed. But, as luck would have it, his stupid wife wouldn’t let him into the house. His house. The one he paid for. She wouldn’t let him in it.

So after banging on his own front door for a half an hour, and having to yell at nosy Doris Ferguson next door who had no sex life being a Peeping Thomasina staring at him through her window, he took to the streets again, maneuvering his Lincoln Continental through the streets, feeling like all of the sudden he was on an obstacle course. There were garbage cans everywhere, idiots with mailboxes sticking out on the streets, dumb cats running wild. He had a mind to call the ASPCA. But he didn’t feel like dealing with animal rights freaks at the moment. Finally he got to a mini-mall with bright fluorescent lights that made him dizzy. He found a pay phone and called someone, he forgot who. So it couldn’t have been that important if he couldn’t remember.

He found a diner near the mini-mall and drank a lot of coffee, trying to substitute caffeine for sleep. After all he had to go to work. He was a very busy man But all the coffee did was make him want to puke and besides the waitress had an attitude and one of those ugly moles on her chin that you fixate on because it tangoed when she talked She got snippy, and he said to go see a dermatologist. Then she started to have a nag attack. So much for the customer was always right. He didn’t need this shit. Besides, maybe a drink would do him good. He was hungover as hell. One drink, that was all. Then he would go to work.

And he had been at the bar ever since.

So, about this woman. She showed up when the sun started blaring through the skylight (What bar had a skylight? This one did. It was annoying. No one ever sat under it. It got too bright there.), so he figured it had to be around noon. He knew she wanted him, because she was sitting two seats away from him, and there was hardly anyone else in the bar. Yet she sat near him. It was like an angel walked in the room; because when she opened the door to come in, the sun streamed behind her. Frawley felt blessed indeed. She was a dark exotic beauty with silky looking black hair and sumptuous brown eyes, a wonderful change from his wife’s bleached out blonde looks. She was dressed in holey jeans and a ripped T shirt. She wanted him. She wasn’t giving him a second glance. Frawley got the game she was playing. She really, really wanted him.

He looked in the glass behind the top shelf liquors to make sure he was kosher for love. His reddish hair still looked combed, he still wore his Joseph Abboud suit and it wasn’t too wrinkled, so he still looked like he had a professional job somewhere. When he was satisfied with his looks, he turned to face his exotic prey, soulfully searching the profile of this woman to get a sign of how to move. Such pain he saw in the pools of her dark eyes, he speculated with drunken sentimentality. He mesmerized poetically, wondering if those eyes were mirrors of what he felt inside of him. Pleasure fluttered across his genitals in the fashion of a butterfly. Frawley envisioned a pastoral scene where he and this woman were running through green meadows, the meditation rudely interrupted by an unidentified loud belch coming from the back of the bar. But the pleasure survived the rude onslaught, what pain the pleasure inflicted upon him, teasing and torturing him. He wondered if this were a sign to come, that she would be a tease. He wondered if she would be his torturer. His manhood rose at these thoughts.

Drinks were sent to the lady, courtesy of Frawley. Each time a drink was sent, her order changed. Whiskey sour, gin and tonic, rum and Coke, and a bunch of pina coladas. Each time a drink was sent, it disappeared after one gulp. This was going to be easy, Frawley thought with greedy lust. But she still hadn’t looked at him. And by this time, a little audience had gathered at the bar; many were his colleagues having a three martini lunch. Some were watching the seduction scene with bemused interest. Frawley knew that now was the time to make his move.

“Hi there,” he called to the girl. Still no answer. Okay, the coy act was starting to run thin here. She wasn’t deaf. She’d certainly heard, “What are you drinking?” But everyone in the bar seemed to have heard his hopeful salutation except his lust object. Frawley found himself profoundly embarrassed. He decided to cut off the liquor supply, while continuing to fortify himself. That should get her attention, he decided. It didn’t.

To hell with it, he decided. There were other bars in this town. He didn’t need to take this broad’s shit. Besides, his colleagues were here. This whole scene wasn’t any good for his image. He could hear them snickering as he put on his overcoat. To hell with it.

“Thank you for the drinks, mister,” she called out as he was ready to saunter past her. Immediately her voice propelled him in her direction. She was his magnet.

“Hey, no problem. Anything for a lady in distress,” he said, sitting on the stool next to him. She sniffed. Frawley wasn’t sure what to do now. This wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. She was as confusing as hell. One minute she seemed interested, next like a cold fish. So he ordered another beer and gulped it down. She looked at him and snickered. He snickered back. He cleared his throat again. “So where are you from, little lady?”

The girl shot a look at him that made her look crazier than his wife. That was a nearly impossible feat. “Look mister. If you want to take me to bed, get two things straight: one, don’t call me little lady. And two: an experienced barfly like you should know better than asking a woman where she’s from; it’s none of your business. Unless of course I’ve misjudged you. Maybe you’ve never done this before.”

Spiky, spiky. Frawley liked that. “Oh, I see that the lady, excuse me, the woman has a mouth.”

“I need one,” she came back, “to deal with assholes like you. You know, if you’re going to hang out and get on my nerves, why don’t you buy me some food. I’m hungry. Some fries and a hamburger would be good.”

“Some fries and a hamburger for the woman!” Frawley bellowed loudly. The woman jumped at the noise and swore. “Sorry,” Frawley mumbled, instantly humbled. Harsh women always rendered him a little boy, ever since the venerable Michelle Johnson-Frawley birthed him.

The woman grumbled in acknowledgment. Frawley felt himself leap inside at her very voice. He was finally getting somewhere.

“Had a hard day?” he asked cheerfully.

“You could say that,” was her reply.

“Me too. Tough day at the office. Bagging bad guys, protecting the innocent, dealing with crook lawyers, that sort of thing.”

She looked at him through narrowed eyes. They looked lethal. “You’re a cop?”

“Nope. Lawyer. But not a crook one,” he added quickly.

“I’m sure you’re not,” the lady replied. Her eyes returned to their luscious ovals. Frawley was excited. He was gaining her confidence.

“My name is Russ. Russ Frawley.” He held out his hand.

The lady squeezed it briefly, hesitating before replying. “Adelaide.”

Frawley paused. Anonymity seemed to be her style. Hesitation? No last name? He smiled, hoping to crack her suspicious shell. “Adelaide? Just Adelaide? No last name?”

“That’s right.”

He laughed like it was a great joke, though he felt his mental footing slipping. “Oh I get it. Like Charro or Cher?”

“Yep. Just like Charro or Cher.”

“Wow. That’s cool. You must be famous. Are you?” Wow. That sounded stupid. You must be an idiot. Are you? He berated himself. She didn’t answer. Boy, he was acting like such a moron he was losing her. Then the food showed up. She ate quickly, though he wasn’t sure if it was just because she wanted to get the hell out of here. She ate as though this were the first thing she’d eaten for days. Frawley watched her. She didn’t look at him once.

“Can you get me another beer?” she paused midway.

Frawley’s heart leapt with his hopes at hearing her, among other things. “Of course. Anything for a woman, especially one as beautiful as you. You’re not a feminist, are you?”


“That’s good. I hate feminists. They whine too much. They make a big deal out of nothing. If you were one you would make a big stink about a man offering a lady a drink. Or if I held the door open for you or something like that. They think it’s sexual harassment.”

“That’s stupid.”

“It is, isn’t it? Me, I’m a gentleman. I like to do all the old-fashioned things for a lady. Pick her up, wine her and dine her. I hate when a woman pays. It makes her too much like a man. I need a lady to be a lady. Something soft to hold onto and look up to. Not this equality garbage.”

Adelaide didn’t respond. Frawley panicked. He’d crossed the line. He’d offended her. “Look, can I buy you another drink?” he asked quickly.

“No. You can walk me to where I’m staying,” Addie, he decided to call her, got off the barstool and headed for the door.

Frawley could hardly believe his luck. He followed her, a dog pursuing his bone, proud that he had shown everyone his extensive sexual persuasion powers. He knew all along that this would be easy. All the winos and slobs watched his exit. Frawley generously pitied them for a second before returning to his real focus. Poor jerks would go home alone. Not him.

They left the bar without speaking a word. Frawley was too engrossed in his lust to see or hear anything but Addie’s moving form. He was particularly absorbed by her buttocks, which were barely covered in a pair of ripped up jeans. No underwear, he noted. His mind swooned with hordes of lustful thoughts as she led him to their destination. It occurred to him for a brief moment that she could be a crazy lady leading him to his death. In his horny and intoxicated state of mind, the whole thing was processed like a Twin Peaks fantasy. He had always gotten off on David Lynch.

She directed him to a part of town that Frawley only came to when he had to deal with his pro bono clients. Frawley just blinked at the ramshackled building with a neon sign that said OTEL on it , and in smaller lettering, V CA CY. Well, it wasn’t his usual fare. But the place had a certain charm to it. A real kinky one at that. Frawley could dig the adventure.

He must have been staring at the place for awhile, because he was startled by a sudden, “Are you coming or what?”

“Oh, yes yes,” Frawley squeaked eagerly.

Next stop: the front desk. Frawley assumed she was getting her key. So he stood and waited for her. She turned on him in annoyance.

“Well?” she barked. “Aren’t you going to pay?”

Frawley started, momentarily thrown off. “Well, I-, I-” Didn’t she say she lived here? Frawley was really getting confused here.

“I told you, I don’t pay on my dates,” she yelled loudly enough for people outside to turn and stare. Frawley was embarrassed as he stood there with all eyes on him. Here he was, a fine attorney, and he would be know as a cheapskate throughout this town? Especially this part of town? He couldn’t have that. And suddenly, the idea rumors spreading that he took his date to a cheap motel seem to loom larger than the appeal for a walk on the wild downtown side. This certainly wouldn’t do. If rumors were going to be spread, let it be known he was a man of style. He took Addie by the arm and whisked her outside.

“Hey, where are we going?” she asked angrily. Luckily, she didn’t try to break free from him.

“You’ll see,” he announced, whisking her into Lincoln Continental, shooing away a black boy that was hovering around the car like a fly. He turned to see a shivering Addie next to him. After a couple of minutes, it dawned on him that she might be cold. In a grand gesture of chivalry, he pulled over his car, momentarily double parking and causing the girl to groan, removed his overcoat and gently placed it around her shoulders. She managed a smile towards him, though it was plain the gesture had taken a great deal of effort, him, and he warmed inside by her attempt. It was the first time she’d showed him any real sign of affection. His heart and penis fluttered rapidly.

He chose the Chateau Nice, a favorite business meeting place of his when he entertained clients in the bar with jazzy lights and premium aged liquor. Since his were usually male, he had never had the opportunity to stay here, though it was written up in all the Yuppieorama mags like Conde Nast. The valet boy came for the car. This was exciting.

He told Addie to wait in the lobby while he ordered a room. He liked the girl, but hey, discretion was discretion. So he ordered the best room in the house, a room that had been supposed to be booked but canceled at the last moment. Fate was definitely on his side today. What amenities. King size bed. Whirlpool. Sauna. Balcony. The name? Avery Valance, his name of intrigue, procured by an extortion client who he’d help beat a federal rap for racketeering. License and credit card? Sure, here they are. Room 512. Thank you sir. Luggage? No, no luggage. I’d like to have the room indefinitely. Two hundred dollars on the sly in cash hushes any protest. Of course, sir; stutter stutter. Have a good day sir; stutter stutter.

Room 512. Room 512. The Garden of Eden. With his own Eve. For now anyway. But the good ones never lasted. The bad ones, you married. Oh, but he couldn’t wait for this morsel. He could taste her even now as he approached her sitting in the lobby. She looked like a diva, reclined in the leather couch. All the yuppies and buppies passing by gave her the eye, but Addie returned with a look of venom that would melt Democratic Headquarters. Atta girl, Addie. You show the fakeos. He reached her, and it was his honor to give her his arm to escort her.

“Took you long enough,” she grumbled as she got up and accepted the gesture. The impact of her touch almost paralyzed him right then, she was so hypnotic. Man, he’d never been with a lady that exuded sex and charisma like opium. Addie seemed to resent this effect. “Give me a break,” she snapped. ” I’m not Miss America. Give up the Madonna worship. And I don’t mean the singer.”

“I’m not worshipping a dead statue. I don’t want some eternal virgin,” Frawley snapped.

She grunted.

They reached the room without much conversation. Addie had long pulled away from his arm. Frawley resorted to all kind of kinky fantasies with Addie in order to deal with the silence.

After what seemed like six Presidential administrations later, they reached the room. Before he could say, she was naked. Not a stitch on her, and he hadn’t even touched her yet. Boy, she wanted him. Russell sucked in her physique in one glance. She needed some meat on her bones, but despite her gaunt frame, she was contoured with shapely curves that made him want to sculpt her like an artist of passion. If hard times hadn’t been a part of her life, she would be such a knockout, he knew. Because she was beautiful now. He made a move for her, but she neatly evaded his grasp and disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door. He heard running water, the fixtures to the bathtub being manipulated. He smiled. A shower together, a warm bath of love. Voraciously, he ripped at his clothing until it had completely departed company with his body, ready to join his nymph.

Not so fast, not so easy. The locked bathroom door barricaded his fantasy. Frawley backed away, confused. Something was wrong. He stood in a hazy mental fog staring at the blocked entrance for what seemed like a long time. Then it hit him. She was playing hard to get. He giggled. Two could play the game. He trotted under the covers and waited for her, pretending that he was asleep, that he hadn’t been willing to wait up for her. But a full night and day of drinking caught up with him soon. He wasn’t the frat boy from Harvard anymore, and his body hitting the bed reminded of him of that. He was soon out cold for real, before he even knew it.

Meanwhile, Cindy, a.k.a. Addie, lay in a tub of bubbles. The whirlpool jets felt so good on her body. She hadn’t realized how much pain her body had been in until now. She wished she could be like this forever.

But after a few hours in the tub even she got a little tired of being a dried out prune, so she got out, reluctantly parting with the bathwater like a friend she’d never see again. She had rinsed out her clothes before her bath, and they surprisingly were almost dry. She thought it was going to take a lot longer. She put them on, resenting them. She really didn’t want to be reminded of what she had to go back to after this little night on the town. After all, this guy was married. He hadn’t said so, but she knew. She could smell it, it seemed so obvious. A guy with a real job wearing a nice suit would only be in a lowlife bar in the middle of the day if he was running away from the wife. The bachelors would wait for the night life for the relatively virginal meat, and the lowlife singles wouldn’t be so carefully pressed and tailored by Joseph Abboud. Let’s put it this way, old Jonathan would be in bad need of dry cleaning the way this dude was boozing it if there were no wife to clean up after him. Of course, Cindy was technically married, too, but that was different. She was sure this guy’s wife wasn’t on the prowl after him. In any event, he wasn’t going to be providing her with luxury like this for the rest of her life. Besides, he didn’t even know her real name.

She surveyed the room that she was in. Marble carpets. A sunroom the corner of the room with a sauna, steambath, and Jacuzzi dressed in various pastels. A king-sized, fluffy bed. A twinge of nostalgia pricked at her. It was in a room like this that she had been in love. And in a room like this when her heart had been broken. The stuff of yesteryear, that was what this was. She bit her lip to prevent the tears from flowing. If she let them flow, they would kill her. Her tears would dictate her actions, and she would run on emotion instead of her head. She would make a phone call, be lured into the trap that memories and emotions were the bait for, and it would be too late. She would die. The tears could not be allowed to flow. Another part of her humanity chipped away.

She was hungry, desperately hungry. One normal meal and her body automatically thought everything was just as it always had been, time to eat, drink and be merry. She had forgotten the feeling of normal living. It used to be so familiar that she didn’t pay attention. Now it felt strange; like coming back home after a really long trip. Like a magnet, she was drawn to the wallet that was lying on the bureau and the room service menu that was next to it. The wallet had cards under two names: Russell Frawley and Avery Valance. She grunted. What, was this guy wanted by the authorities? The people she teamed up with, what winners they all were. But then again, look at her.

Quietly she slipped out the Master Card bearing the name Avery Valance. She was in a compassionate mood. Let him have an assumed identity if he wanted. Intuitively, she knew that Russell Frawley was the guy’s real name. Maybe because in her years on earth she’d discovered that alcohol was the best truth drug known to mankind.

She looked at the menu. Filet mignon. Shrimp scampi. Whole lobsters. Her hunger ate her stomach just from reading the menu and know that she could actually order anything she wanted from it and eat it all herself. She cast a long look at the sleeping Frawley. He didn’t know how good he had it in life.

After half an hour of savoring the luxurious menu, she decided on lobster tails, linguini with white clam sauce, a large Greek salad, shrimp bisque, and two chocolate parfaits. Once she placed the order, she wanted the food to arrive immediately, if not sooner. Each passing moment made her more irritated in her starved suffering.

She ambled over to the sunroom looking for something that would get her mind off of her hunger. She got more than she bargained for. Memories which had been mere flashes and impressions formed in some vague haze flooded her, attacking her with the force of reality. This whole scene, the room, the food, and the rich man had been her life. What a price she had to pay for that life. A private hell, a public spectacle. She was less afraid now on the streets than she had been then. Self-pity crept into her. All she wanted was a normal life. A nice apartment, a job, and maybe a man to love her, in other words, the life she never had. Cindy believed that such an entity couldn’t possible exist. A normal life; things that ordinary people either took for granted or who wanted to trade it in for bigger and better; that was what she wanted. She had had both glamour and poverty. Ordinary was the elusive dream that seemed to slip through her fingers.

And as far as she was concerned, that life would never happen for her. She’d settled down and tried ordinary for the briefest of times, when she fled her husband’s home about a year ago, the prelude to her current lifestyle. She almost got killed for her attempt to do ordinary. Till death do us part had almost become reality for her. Her driver’s license was what almost killed her. She grunted. She remembered the high and mighty bitches she’d hear put down women like her, in the clubs, the stores, all the hoity-toity snot nosed places where to belong you had to prove you were better than everyone else. The dummies should leave before they became a statistics in a body bag, these great idiots of philosophy preached. They must like it, that was why they stayed. And the unsolicited advice, usually from such close friends like the beautician or the interior decorator, that somehow seemed vaguely pointed at her without her saying anything. And always, it was the women. Men never said things like that to her. Maybe because they knew what the rage of their species was all about. It didn’t end with a U-Haul dragging away possessions, a women’s shelter or divorce court. It did not end. If the little ninnies were here, Cindy show them reality: See, I took your advice. I left. And that was when I almost became a fucking statistic in a fucking body bag. Taxes and driver’s licenses: nemeses to her personal survival. What a joke. The streets were safer.

The food arrived, all protected and sealed by sliver platters like hidden treasures waiting to be revealed. Cindy stared at the covered meal without really looking at it. Somehow she found herself no longer hungry. She sat half awake, basking in the smell of her treasures. Presently her appetite returned. Food cravings. She remembered them. God did she feel good. She resolved that if she ever got to live a normal life ever again, she was never going on a diet. It was such a waste.

She sipped at her soup. The rich broth dispelled some of the knots wrapped inside her, its heat adding a healing twinge of pain to her raspy throat. A hot bowl of soup was her salvation. She almost cried when only a few measly drops were left. She licked the bowl, self-consciously keeping her eyes on the sleeping Russell Frawley as she did so. She suddenly became annoyed at herself. Why in God’s name was she concerned about what some old man thought of her? She didn’t even know him. His opinion didn’t matter. And yet here she was, getting all bent out of shape. It made her feel weak and inferior to be subjected to worrying about others’ opinions. Her concern about people’s opinions was what gotten her into trouble in the first place. She didn’t want others to have that power anymore.

Consuming the bisque had taken the ravenousness away, and she felt more human having some food in her. She went on to reveal the rest of the banquet and sat down to feast on it, this time as a lady with a napkin on her lap and with utensils in her hand. Somewhere into her salad she decided some soft music would be nice. She chose one of those jazz stations that played the kind of music that preached the world would be healed by the salve of romance. She was seduced into a trance-like mood as she ate the meal; the whole atmosphere acted as a sedative. For the first time in a long time, she felt security. It took her awhile to realize that security was what she was experiencing. So foreign.

Her meal made her sleepy. She debated whether she should take the couch or sleep with Russell Frawley. As she was deciding, she idly went through his wallet. Master Cards, Visas and American Express, all Gold. Even Dining a la Card. A picture of him and what seemed to be his wife and son, probably taken ten years earlier, judging by the look of the present day Frawley. His drivers license, which announced that he was born on November 10, 1950. The receipt for the hotel, which said it was October 15, 1997. Almost forty-seven years old. A Scorpio. She was an Aries. Her thirty-first birthday would be in April. She suddenly felt very old. She felt like her life had escaped her, though only thirteen months were missing from her life.

She finally decided on the bed. After all, she didn’t get to stay in many of those nowadays. Besides, he wasn’t all that repulsive. Not too much gray, all his hair, no middle aged paunch, nothing explicitly ghastly about him. Sighing, she stripped herself of her tattered clothing, and being as naked as he was, slipped under the covers next to him entwining in him as she slept.

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