Chapter One (Part Two)
I couldn’t stand listening to that pussy one second longer blathering about how much he regretted hurting the girl, that he really thought he’d loved her. If he knew how many times I’ve heard that self-serving shit from men who need to rationalize screwing around on their wives, he’d shut his mouth before uttering one more word. It was all I could do not to punch him in the mouth when he bleated for perhaps the twentieth time that it wasn’t sordid, Ms. Wire, oh, no, it was true love. I make them call me Ms. Wire because that way, I’m not covered in their filth. It’s enough to make me swear off men the way these idiots act like tomcats in heat. I’m sure this girl was sooo different—that’s why he’s sending me to break into her house to retrieve something of value which might link him to her. Besides, if she was sooo different, he wouldn’t have dumped her, now would he? I had had half a mind to turn him down cold until he mentioned how much he was willing to pay. Twenty-thousand, flat. A cool ten-thou resides in the back pocket of my jeans in the form of a check, and the other ten thou will be mine after I deliver the goods. That’s ten months of rent money—which is nothing to sneeze at.
After leaving his office, I return to my studio in the Mission, after detouring at my bank, of course. I don’t even bother to think about the case until that check clears. Why waste the brain power if I don’t have to? This time, however, the check clears right away. Funny, what money can buy you. I forgot to mention there’s a five-thousand dollar bonus if I finish the job in three days. ‘I really need to ease my mind, Ms. Wire,’ he had said, earnestly pushing his glasses up his nose. I can’t imagine fucking a wet noodle like him, but to each her own. If someone was buying me diamond rings and shit, maybe I’d be willing to think of my country and spread my legs, too. Hell, I did it often enough in the old days. I light up an unfiltered and inhale deeply. I quit smoking two years ago, but allow myself the pleasure when I’m figuring out a job. I have a firm rule that once I’m on the job, I can’t drink until I finish, and I’m an ornery bitch if I don’t give in to one of my vices. Since my other fave is heroin, I figure smoking is the least harmful to my profession.
I’m not an ordinary thief, mind you, and I hate being called that. I don’t break into houses for the hell of it and bust shit up. I don’t carry a piece, and I don’t kill anybody. Killing is for losers—I saw enough of that while living on the streets. In fact, it was after I witnessed someone getting killed for a couple bucks that I began to rethink my lifestyle. As fate would have it, a hooker in the Tenderloin asked me to help her retrieve something from her pimp, and when I was able to do it successfully, she recommended me to a friend. Thus, a career was born, and I’ve been thanking Cocoa every since. She got sliced and diced a year back, and they still haven’t found the son-of-a-bitch who did her. It’s some john, of course, but no cop gives a good goddamn about some Tenderloin whore. It’s just me and the girls who mourn her, and that asshole pimp of hers, Johnny Dee, except his grief is only for the loss of a paycheck.
I open the windows of my studio so the place won’t reek of smoke. I gaze at the replication of a Dali painting I have hanging on my wall. You know the one, with the melting clock? Makes me feel like I’m dropping acid without the nasty side effects. I’d love to get my hands on a Bosch someday, but that’s just a dream. I didn’t know anything about art until a girl I knew, one of Cocoa’s colleagues, if you can believe it, started talking about the Louvre and shit. Seems she was crazy about the French when she was living the straight life, and she studied everything there was to know about them—including French art. Surprised? Not all working girls are ignorant, you know. Mona Lisa had wanted to go to cosmetology school, but her daddy beat that thought out of her. He’s the one who tricked her out. Told her she better get used to spreading her legs because that was all she was good for. She must have believed him because she’s still working the Tenderloin, and last time I saw her, she didn’t mention paintings any more. Or cosmetology school.
I shake my head to stop thinking about the hookers; it brings me down, and I can’t afford that at the start of a new job. I need to focus, conserve my energies, and come up with a plan. Fenwick Harrington had given me his mistress’s vitals—Gina Lattimore, 23 years old, fresh out of Haahvahd, thank you very much. She lives in Nob Hill by herself which means she’s not strapped for cash. Wouldn’t think she’d be able to afford it on a caterer’s assistant’s salary, but Harrington probably wasn’t her first sugar daddy. He gave me a picture of her, and she’s one of those wounded angels with soft, fluffy dark curls and big, pain-filled eyes. The kind of girl guys can’t wait to serve and protect. The way she holds herself, though, tells me that she knows she has it and isn’t afraid to use it. She’s the kind of girl who knows that refusing a man like Harrington only encourages his interest. My money says she was scamming him all the way.
Harrington was reluctant to provide me with details of her life because he didn’t want to disturb her, he just wanted his property back. He felt guilty for hurting her, and he didn’t want to add to her pain. I disabused him of his chivalrous notions pretty damn quick. I’m sure the only reason Gina’s ‘hurt’ is because she lost her meal ticket. Men amaze me. A woman will screw over a guy ten sides of Monday, and he’ll make excuses for her every time. A man will screw the same guy over once, and the guy does everything he can to destroy his opponent, even if the perceived insult is slight. It took me a good half-hour longer than it should have to make Harrington cough up the name of Gina’s employers, the name of her health club, the names of the places she hung out at, and the names of her friends. He really didn’t want me to make a mess of her life, he insisted, although after I found out what she took from him, I couldn’t believe he didn’t brain her on the spot when she told him.
I scratch out a few notes on one of the many black-covered notepads I keep around the apartment. I like to jot things down whenever inspiration hits which makes for interesting moments of rifling through five or six different notebooks in order to find specifics. I transfer the information to my computer when I’m through with a case, but I like to work on paper during.
Gina works out every other day like clockwork. She takes one of those masochistic high-intensity aerobic classes followed by a soak in the hot tub, then a shower. I narrow in on the health club because it’s a casual place to bump into someone without it appearing too strange, but there’s time and opportunity for talking—such as the hot tub scene. I’m not crazy about hot tubs because I can’t stop thinking of all the other chicks who have been in the same tub and what nasty germs they might bring to said tub, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take to get close to Gina.
Gina Lattimore. I repeat her name a few times, feeling a thrill each time. This is the part I like best about the job—the hunt. I focus in on the prey until I can practically hear her thoughts. The more I know about her—and it’s almost always a her—the more I understand what makes her tick. Once I do that, the case becomes a piece of cake. I savor the moment when a prey becomes mine for the taking; that alone is worth the risk. I’ve even been able to talk a few of my quarries into giving me the item I was commissioned to repossess. One stupid bitch thought I was going to burn the letters for her in a ritualistic ceremony in the hinterlands of Alaska. I highly doubt that Gina will be that easy, but there are other effective ways of retrieving, and they all hinge on knowing the mind of the possessor. To that end, I ponder the rest of what Harrington saw fit to tell me.
Gina Lattimore, straight girl from Compton. Means most likely I can’t use sexual persuasion to retrieve the property, but that’s not always the case. Straight girls of a certain type don’t mind playing around as long as it’s understood that they’re really straight. If it gets me what I need, you’re not going to hear any complaints from me. A good girl from a large Italian family. Seven brothers and sisters, or so she’s told Harrington. Personally, I highly doubt a quarter of what she told Harrington is true, but I don’t begrudge a girl the right to spin her sugar daddy a life history that will endear him to her. In my book, it’s caveat emptor. If the guy is stupid enough to buy it, then he deserves to get ripped off. Gina drives a cute little Miata, yellow, one of the non-jewelry gifts from Harrington that she accepted, but only after much protesting. She was properly grateful, of course, because it seems her old car was simply falling apart and needed a new transmission or something. I’d say good old Gina was no innocent ingénue, but Harrington saw what he needed to see. Hey, if it weren’t for saps like him, persons with my particular talents would be out of a job, so dream on, Gina, and don’t forget there’s a sucker born every minute.
I crush out the cigarette and snap the notebook shut; I have my plan. I stare into space for a minute, lost in the pleasure of the hunt. Harrington didn’t know where she stashed the evidence which is but a minor wrinkle. I could just break into Gina’s place and toss it, but that is a sloppy way to go about it. I stash it as my backup plan, but I’d rather get the information straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s more professional, and it wastes less time. I hate leaving a place in a less pristine condition than it was when I entered it, so I decide that I have to face my prey first this time. There’s something bugging me, however, and I power up my computer so I can check it out on the internet. When I find the information I need, I begin to laugh. Just as I thought. I shut down the computer, still chuckling to myself. What an ass. Fenwick could have saved himself a bundle of money if he’d just bothered to do a little research. Oh well. If it weren’t for jerks like him, I’d be shit out of luck and a job.
I grab a glass of orange juice and raise a silent toast to the innovative Gina before slamming back the juice. I feel the adrenalin surge and give myself over to it. Tonight happens to be one of the nights that Gina frequents her health club; looks like it’s body-numbing aerobics for me. I strip off my clothes and change; let the games begin.