No Hands

Beat To a Pulp, March 28th, 2009

Diana took the blindfold off.

She saw what she expected to see. Her exertions with four enthusiastic men had pulled the sheets loose from the mattress. Pillows, wadded towels, and the bedspread littered the floor.

The air in the bedroom was heavy with sweat and the cigar smoke of at least one man who didn’t understand “nonsmoking.” Diana could tell she smelled like the room. She smoothed her hair with her hands. It was all the freshening she could do for now.

She sat naked on the edge of the bed and looked at the four men, who had fanned out in front of her. She had allowed them to get dressed in their Friday business casual clothes before she performed her party trick. They probably thought she would need to see their bodies, but that wasn’t how she did it.

Diana uncrossed and slowly re-crossed her legs, making a show of slipping into a pair of stiletto heels. It only seemed fair to give the clients an extra thrill, since she was about to take more of their money.

Three of them deserved a little consideration. The fourth was going down.

“Remember, no hands,” said the man on the right.

She stood up and smiled.

“No hands. I won’t need them.”

She stepped in close to the first man on the left. Was his name Bill? Yes, that was it. Her breasts brushed the front of his blue oxford shirt. She smiled up at him for a moment and stepped to her right. She gave the next man the same treatment, and the next, and finally Ted, the man who had booked the hotel suite and come up with this party game.

“Okay,” she said. “Bill, you were first. Ted, you were second.”

She reached out and tapped the man next to Bill on the chest. “And … “

“Paul,” said the man.

He didn’t seem offended, but it was still bad form to forget his name.

“Paul was second, and Jim here came last.”

“Damn, you’re good,” said Ted.

She smiled again. “We said double or nothing, right?”

“Double or nothing.”

He pulled his wallet from his front pocket and took two hundreds from it. When he looked meaningfully at his friends, they went for their wallets and extracted bills, which they passed to Ted. He bowed and smiled as he held the money out to her with both hands.

“Care to tell us how you did it?”

“Professional secret. I’d be drummed out of the guild if I told.”

His smile didn’t flicker. “Thanks for coming.”

“My pleasure.”

The front half of her money was in a hidden pocket deep in her oversize bag, which sat on the table in the corner of the bedroom. She had draped her clothes over one of the chairs that went with the table. She tucked her bonus in the bag and dressed briskly. It took all of her willpower to keep from running.

In the living room of the suite she passed another table, where a card game waited for the men to resume it. She doubted they would tip the maid enough to make up for the mess. Cigar ash, potato chip crumbs, and spilled whiskey mingled with the money and cards.

Enjoy it while you can, Diana thought. Which won’t be long.

She left the suite and headed for the elevators. It wasn’t smart to linger in the hotel, but the call she needed to make couldn’t wait. She remembered seeing pay phones by the women’s rest room in the lobby.

It was almost midnight, but Detective Tillotson answered. He usually did. When she had more time, she would worry about his personal life.

“I don’t really have time to chat,” he said.

“I know who killed Renee.”

“That’s different.”

By now he knew to take her seriously.

She started to speak, but nothing came. She had been holding the memory back, but now it washed over her. Her mind took her to the Regal Motel a week earlier. She walked down the dim hallway, past the room where Renee was meeting a new client. The door stood ajar, which struck Diana as wrong. She pushed it open, and smelled death.

As she reached for the light switch, a train ran over her. That was what it felt like. Then she realized she had a man on top of her in the dark. There was nothing new about that, but this time everything was wrong. She smelled his sweat, and his aftershave, and his fear.

Before she could think about what to do, the man bounced up again. She heard running feet in the hall. By the time she had managed to get up and flip the lights on, there was nothing to see but Renee lying strangled on the bed.

“You still there?” said Tillotson.

“I’m here. Sorry. The killer’s name is Ted. Right now he’s in five-oh-five at the Poindexter.”

“Business must be looking up.”

She said nothing.

“Bad joke. How do you know it’s him?”

She explained the party game to him.

“You mean you can take a whiff and recognize a guy?”

“My nose works just fine. And I’ve had a lot of practice. By now the smell of a man calls up everything else I remember about him.”

“Damn. I’m going to have to figure out how to handle this. I don’t know a lot of judges who’ll give me a warrant based on that.”

She could hear him thinking.

“That‘s my problem. What’s your next party trick?”

Again she didn’t answer.

“Sorry,” he said. “Another bad joke. That’s not usually my style.”

“It’s not that. I was just wishing I could smell a killer before he killed. Maybe I could have saved Renee.”

“That’s something you learn in my line of work--you can’t save them all.”

Tillotson waited. He wouldn’t hang up on her. She would have to say something, but she stood there holding the receiver, as if he had nothing else to do and she didn’t have another late date to get to.

She took a breath.

“One would have been nice.”