Authors: Tim Maleeny
“She’s got an ass like a ripe apple.”
Gail’s parting words bounced around Sam’s frontal lobe as he waited for someone to answer the door to 21-D. Those were her words of advice on how to recognize one of the “cute young things” down the hall. Unfortunately, she’d neglected to provide Sam any insight on how to recognize his neighbor from the front, but he assumed an equally compelling image would apply.
Sam realized how right he was when the elevator
down the hall. He turned in time to see two breasts moving languidly toward him, loosely connected to a woman in her midtwenties. They looked like two honeydew melons juggled by invisible hands. Though he had yet to confirm the apple analogy, Sam had to give Gail credit—there was something about this young woman that could only be described using fruit metaphors. She was a cornucopia of eroticism half his age.
Sam wrenched his eyes to her face before she’d closed half the distance, a personal moral victory and the result of being happily married for so many years. Plus all that extensive cop training. She had almond-shaped eyes set wide in a face that was a Eurasian blend of features that made her look terribly exotic and unnaturally friendly at the same time.
“You looking for me?” she asked, coming to a halt right next to him, keys extended in her right hand. “Or Shayla?”
Sam caught his breath and shrugged. “Either,” he said. “Or both. I’m—”
“The cop down the hall,” she answered, revealing a smile of impossibly white teeth. “I’m Tamara. Gail told us you’d stop by.”
“I only talked to her this morning.”
Tamara smiled again, making Sam wish he’d worn sunglasses. “She called last night. Once Gail decides something’s going to happen, it usually does. Shayla and I think she’s a witch.” She turned the key in the door. “A good witch, mind you. Wanna come inside?”
She didn’t wait for a reply, just pushed the door open and stepped in front of him. Sam saw immediately that Gail was right about the apple.
“Have a seat,” Tamara called over her shoulder, gesturing into the living room toward an overstuffed white couch across from a matching loveseat. Moving left into the small kitchen, she tossed her keys on the counter and opened the refrigerator. “Something to drink?”
Sam checked his watch. “Anything with caffeine would be great, thanks.”
Tamara brought over a diet soda whose current ad campaign featured an adolescent pop star dry-humping a jukebox to a dance remix of a Beatles’ song. Sam took the can without comment and sat down, facing a view through the sliding glass doors very similar to his own.
Tamara sat in the loveseat and cracked open a bottled water, crossing her legs. She was halfway through her first swig when the door swung open.
A tall black woman about Tamara’s age glided across the threshold, kicking the door closed with her left leg without breaking stride or dropping the twin bags of groceries. Even with most of her upper body hidden by paper bags, Sam could tell she was as attractive as Tamara, if such a thing were possible. He stood and extended his hand as she dropped the bags.
“You must be Shayla. I’m Sam, your—”
“—friendly neighborhood policeman.” She took his hand in a smooth, strong grip.
“Guess my cover is blown.” Sam reclaimed his seat.
Tamara spoke from the loveseat. “With Gail as a neighbor, there aren’t that many secrets on this floor.”
“Except one.” Shayla grabbed her own water and plopped down next to her roommate. She turned to Sam. “Guess that’s why you’re here, huh?”
Sam felt compelled to state the obvious. “You’re talking about Ed, I take it.”
Ed,” said Tamara, nodding.
Shayla turned to face her roommate. “I always told you pigs couldn’t fly.”
Both women erupted in laughter, then looked at Sam like two schoolgirls caught smoking.
“Guess you both had a motive, then?” Sam asked gently.
The roommates stopped laughing, but their eyes betrayed their amusement. “You probably think we’re awful,” began Tamara.
Sam shook his head. “Just surprisingly honest. Most people don’t speak ill of the dead. At least not when they’re talking to a policeman.”
“We’ve got nothing to hide.” Shayla spread her arms wide.
“An ironclad alibi,” added Tamara.
Shayla nodded. “It’s all on tape.”
“Tape,” Sam repeated. “You went out that night?” He figured they went to an ATM machine that night or a club or convenience store. Walk into any store or restaurant downtown and you were probably on tape for at least half the night. You might have a right to privacy, but the ability to get some was something else entirely.
“No,” replied Shayla. “We stayed in.”
“C’mon, we’ll show you.” Tamara uncrossed her legs and stood up in one fluid movement that could have put Viagra out of business. Sam shook his head and followed the roommates across the living room, down a short hallway, and into the first bedroom on the right.
The apartment was a two bedroom, two bath arrangement featuring one bedroom on each side of a short hallway running perpendicular to the living room. The room Sam entered held a bed topped by a down comforter just slightly smaller than Mt. Everest, flanked by a nightstand on the right that held the usual
of reading lamps, tissues, books, and alarm clock. Against the right wall was a couch low enough to trip over, set adjacent to a small desk. On the desk was a computer with a flat screen monitor. Near the left wall was a short dresser pushed up against a princess vanity with enough lights around the mirror to blow a fuse. From bed to carpet, the overall color scheme was pink, with occasional accents of pink against a background of pink, complimented nicely by random touches of pink, just to keep things interesting.
“Go ahead, guess my favorite color,” prompted Tamara, launching herself onto the bed.
“That wouldn’t be fair,” replied Sam. “I am a detective, after all.”
Shayla smiled and curled up on the couch. Sam half expected her to start purring.
“You said something about an alibi?” he said hopefully.
Tamara looked over at Shayla and winked, then smiled broadly at Sam and did something that caught him completely by surprise. She curled her arms around her sides and slowly lifted her shirt over her head, revealing a pair of breasts that should have been hanging in the Louvre.
Shayla giggled to fill the silence as Sam was struck speechless. Tamara did her standing-up move and stepped uncomfortably close to him, saying, “Here, check it out.” Then she took his right hand in hers and steered him gently over to the computer.
Sam was busy reminding himself to breathe when Tamara released his hand and grabbed the computer mouse, jiggling it back and forth on a pad next to the keyboard. Sam found the jiggling painfully distracting until the screen saver cleared, revealing a new image on the flat screen that explained everything.
Actually it was four images, each in its own quadrant. In the upper left was an aerial shot of the room they were standing in—Sam figured the camera was set somewhere in the corner above the door, based on the view of his own back. The image in the lower left showed a view of the bed from the ceiling. Lower right was a view from behind the vanity, looking directly at anyone sitting there. And in the upper right were Tamara’s perfect breasts, warped and magnified in loving detail by a small camera mounted directly above the computer screen.
Sam managed to reverse his blood flow back toward his brain and state the obvious. “You ladies have a web cam.”
Shayla giggled again as Tamara theatrically put her arms around him and gave him a peck on the cheek. Then she strolled over to the bed, reclaimed her t-shirt, and hid her twin genetic masterpieces from view. Part of Sam was horribly disappointed, and part of him was relieved. He was suddenly back in the world he understood, the world of vice and human commerce, and no longer in the letters section of a men’s magazine.
“It’s more than a web cam,” said Tamara proudly. “It’s the soft-core website of the month, according to Matt.”
Masturbation Matt’s Reviews
,” replied Shayla. “
source for quality adult entertainment on the web.” Tamara added, “Just go to
—he gets 80,000 hits a day.”
Sam had the sudden need to sit down. “Mind if we go back to the living room?”
When they were back on their respective couches, drinks in hand, Sam put it together. “That’s how you pay the rent.”
Shayla nodded. “We take turns sleeping in the room with the cameras. Getting undressed, doing our makeup—topless, of course.”
“Of course,” replied Sam. “You ever vacuum in there?” He had to ask.
Tamara nodded. “Nude.”
“Naturally,” said Sam. “Who needs lint on their clothes? And how many, um, visitors do you get?”
“We have about two thousand members at any given time,” answered Shayla.
“Ten bucks a month,” added Tamara.
Sam ran the numbers in his head. “Two hundred and forty thousand dollars a year?”
“Not counting expenses,” replied Shayla. “We pay for links to other sites, placement on search engines, that sort of thing.”
“I’m going to med school,” said Tamara.
“Law school,” added Shayla.
“We’d make more if the site was hardcore,” said Tamara, frowning. “But a girl’s gotta have some privacy, wouldn’t you agree?” She adjusted her t-shirt and shifted on the couch.
“Absolutely,” replied Sam with a straight face.
“Plus we make some money on the side,” added Tamara. “But nothing serious—I’m eye candy.”
“I protest,” said Shayla.
Sam thought Shayla was jumping to her roommate’s defense until he remembered hearing the term before. “Eye candy,” he said slowly. “An escort service?”
“Un-nuh.” Tamara shook her head empathically. “You’re thinking call girls, dressed up like arm jewelry.” She turned to face Shayla. “I ain’t no ‘ho, am I sister?”
Shayla laughed. “She gets paid 500 bucks a night just to go to parties.”
had a feature article about a year ago. He was so accustomed to the underground world of prostitutes that the growing above-ground economy built on sex often eluded him. “Some millionaire is throwing a party or a major celebrity’s son is having his eighteenth birthday, they want enough hot girls to fill up the room.”
Tamara nodded. “I’m part of the scenery, like wallpaper with tits.”
Sam wrestled with the image only for an instant. “No strings attached?”
Tamara shook her head. “Wouldn’t do it if there were. Sometimes I even meet someone worth talking to, but most nights it’s just boring. Free food and drinks, easy money.”
Sam looked at Shayla. “Not you?”
Shayla shook her head. “Don’t want to give up my nights. Not enough of a social life as it is.”
Tamara nodded ruefully. “San Francisco—half the men married—the other half married to each other.”
Sam titled his chin toward Shayla. “And you protest what, exactly?”
Shayla shrugged. “Anything…everything. I get a call, I call some friends, we go to a march.”
“You lost me.”
Shayla leaned forward. “Remember the antiwar protests last year?”
“Sure,” said Sam. “Screwed up traffic downtown for a week.”
Shayla smiled, pleased with herself. “I was there. And remember the anti-outsourcing march down Market Street last month?”
“I must’ve missed that one.”
“Didn’t get a big turnout,” admitted Shayla. “Then there was the bikers’ rights ride down Market Street.”
“The motorcyclists bitching about having their own lane, like the bicyclists?” asked Sam.
“Yeah, I was on the back of a Harley. It was fun.”
Sam drank off the last of his soda. “How does it work?”
Shayla’s eyes lit up. “Most people don’t know it, but almost all the protests, marches, sit-ins—you name it—are organized by the same four or five guys.”
“Everything’s got a political angle, right?”
“Think about it,” said Shayla, warming to her topic. “Protest the war, the current administration looks bad. That’s worth something to the other party. You don’t want outsourcing, well, that’s worth something to the unions.”
“The guys on the motorcycles?” asked Sam.
Shayla smiled. “Two groups working together. The union guys who paint the lines on the streets and a city councilman who worked the biker clubs to get elected to his district.”
Sam nodded. “And wherever there’s politics, there’s money.”
“Exactly.” replied Shayla. “So a small group of entrepreneurs got an idea—call yourself a grassroots organization, apply for nonprofit status, and pay yourself outrageous salaries as the organization’s executive directors. Then make money by organizing a march or protest for any client—from any political party or cause, in any city—anytime you want the press to cover an issue.”
Tamara interjected. “And all you need are a bunch of highly social young people, connected by technology. An instant, mobile army that’s highly photogenic.”
Shayla pulled a cell phone out of the back pocket of her jeans. “I’ve got three hundred contacts in this thing—I send an instant message and at least fifty of them show up at any given time, bringing other friends with them. I get paid five hundred for smaller events, a grand for anything that commands national coverage, like CNN.”
Sam ran his fingers through his hair, feeling like he was back in school. He should definitely be taking notes. “What are your politics?”
Shayla shrugged. “I’m a libertarian—I think both parties are filled with a bunch of crooks who wake up every day trying to figure out how to take your money and give it to some guy they went to school with—
telling you that they truly understand the plight of the black community…or the working family…or the bilingual student…or the ostracized motorcycle gang.” Shayla made a face that suggested nausea. “And I don’t think a march ever changed a damn thing.”
“Then why do it?”
“Because marches make people feel better—like they’re doing
. And because the money that goes in my pocket comes out of the pockets of those politicians.”