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Authors: Jeremiah Healy

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BOOK: So Like Sleep
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“Sure. Where are we going?”

She turned, stretching back to pick up a handbag. Her hemline rose another four inches. “Cointreau’s.” She pronounced it “quan-trows,” like the liqueur.

“What’s that?”

She gave me a saucy smile. “My, my. A virgin.”

“I guess so.”

“C’mon,” she said, closing the door behind her. She looked toward the street. “That yours?”

I glanced at my ratty Fiat. “Yes.”

“Maybe we better take separate cars anyway. Just in case.”

I followed her for three or four miles. We had just entered another ritzy suburb when she wheeled into an immense parking area surrounding a brick and glass restaurant-bar, perhaps two and a half stories tall. There were fifty or sixty cars already there, and five more pulled in as we walked to the door.

“This is Cointreau’s?” I said.

“Uh-huh.”

The bouncer at the door appeared to be examining the IDs of two guys in front of us. I didn’t get it, as they both looked at least mid-to-late twenties. He allowed them in, then waved us past without a word.

“Why the ID challenge for those guys?” I asked Bishop as we approached closed double doors, muffled music behind them.

“Tonight’s ‘over-thirty-only’ night. They’re real strict about it.” Then, assertively, “That bouncer’s already stopped me a few times.”

Uh-huh.

We pushed through the double doors. The music was courtesy of The Byrds. There was a wide, parquet dance floor, the largest I’d ever seen in the Boston area. A glitter globe rotated over the twenty or so dancers, flanked by two oblong butcher-block bars with brass rails high and low. Plants with thyroid conditions sprawled everywhere. The only places to sit were high stools around the bar.

“Hey, Lainie, very foxy tonight,” said a fortyish guy wearing a print body shirt opened to the navel, a peace medallion, and a gray-black toupee. I checked my watch. Six P.M. If I’d had a calendar, I would have checked the year as well.

“Thanks, Charley,” she said.

Charley moved on as three people brushed past us. We headed toward the bar on our right.

Bishop asked me what I was having. Given the name of the place, I ordered a vodka sidecar. When the bartender said, “A what?” I switched to a screwdriver. Bishop ordered the same.

“Well,” she said, “what do you think?”

“I’m not sure.”

She laughed, edging a little closer as our drinks arrived. “There’s a quieter room upstairs. Let me just visit the ladies’ room, and we can talk up there.”

“Fine.”

Bishop moved off, her hips swaying provocatively. I felt a hand on my arm.

The hand belonged to a woman with flowers in her hair, falling long and straight nearly to her waist. She wore strands of love beads around her neck and a sleeveless Grateful Dead T-shirt. Sleeves would have been better, her arms being a little puffier than they’d have been in ’68.

“I hope Lainie doesn’t think she’s bought you with that drink.”

“Probably not,” I said.

She slid the hand up my arm. “You’re in good shape. Aries?”

“No, Reliant K.”

She giggled, running her free hand down her hair. “I’m a Pisces. I think we’d be very syncopated.”

“I don’t syncopate like I used to.”

She giggled again. I was making a better first impression than usual. “I have some terrific grass in my car,” she said.

“No. Thank you, but no.”

She shrugged. “Maybe during another incarnation. Right now, you can call me Bliss.” She turned to go. High on her shoulder Bliss had a tattoo of a butterfly that looked as though it was changing back into a caterpillar.

“Forget about her,” said Bishop’s voice next to me. “She’s not your type.”

We picked up our drinks and walked toward and up a wide, spiral staircase. At the top was a toned-down version of the first floor. Subdued sound system and low glass tables, nubby carpeting and burlaped sectional furniture. Several couples, semi-reclined, already seemed to be getting acquainted. In fact, more than acquainted.

We took a corner piece off by itself. Bishop’s dress rode north again as she sat back.

“So,” she said, “where would you like to start?”

“What is this place?”

Bishop sipped her drink. “Basically, it’s a singles bar.”

“But the dancing and …” I looked around.

“And?”

“And, uh, so on. I mean, it’s barely six o’clock.”

She set her drink down on our little table as The Temptations came on. “Look, the reason for this place is so people, people our age, can come out and feel comfortable. The music and the clothes we grew up with, you know? Most everybody in here has commitments, like kids or responsible jobs or both. So the management keeps out the teeny-boppers and gives us a place we can have a good time and still be home by ten.” Bishop reached languidly for her drink. “Hopefully, in bed.”

I drank, changed the subject. “How did you come to be in Dr. Marek’s therapy group?”

She sipped again, then played with her glass. “After my divorce—it was final two years ago—I felt pretty down. This place wasn’t open yet, and I didn’t like going into Boston. My ex was a real shit. A computer whiz at one of the Route 128 companies. You know, home late, sometimes not at all. Running new programs, he said. Why you? I said. He was needed, he said. Why can’t somebody else push the buttons? I said. Because he pushed better, he said. Then I found out the buttons he was pushing were on some nineteen-year-old secretary. I got the house, and fortunately my aunt was in the real-estate business. The interest rates were coming down, so I refinanced and starting working with her.”

“As a broker?”

“Salesman first. Takes a while to get your broker’s license.” Bishop paused. “You do much divorce work?”

“You mean following husbands for wives, that kind of thing?”

“Yeah.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Too bad.”

“I thought you said you were already divorced?”

“Oh, I am, I am. But in my business, well, it’s a real help to get referrals. Like if you knew that a couple were busting up, and they had a big house, I could sort of …”

“Be the listing professional who helps them sell, for six percent.”

“That’s right. That’s my business. And I’m very good.” She lowered her eyelids to half-mast. “At all sorts of things.”

I downed more of my screwdriver and asked her again how she came to be in Marek’s therapy group.

“My aunt had heard about him. So I gave it a try. The hypnosis stuff is incredible. It drives out all the bad vibes, lets you really relax and relate. At first, I thought the group was pretty … well, strange. All different kinds of people with different kinds of problems. But Cliff is very good at bringing people together.”

“Like Jennifer and William?”

“Yeah, but Jennifer didn’t need much help. She did just fine on her own.” Bishop tossed off a third of her drink. “People will tell you she was kind of spoiled, from being rich and all. I never knew her ’til the group thing, but all Jennifer really needed—Oh, just a second, there’s somebody I have to talk to. Be right back.”

Bishop got up with her drink and quick-stepped over to a slim black man in a conservative three-piece suit. She passed two other males coming our way. One was stocky, with blond hair and a mustache. He looked like the kind of guy who’d buy a BMW with an automatic transmission. The other, taller but skinny, had thinning black hair in a surfer cut. They both swiveled their heads obviously to watch Lainie go by.

“Nice bod,” said Mustache to Surfer.

“Nothing face, though,” said Surfer.

“You gotta picture her with the lights out,” said Mustache.

“You planked her?”

“Not yet, but she’s a regular here. Let’s just say her next banana won’t be her first.”

They moved just past me to survey the dance floor from the balustrade of the loft.

“Check the ta-ta’s on that brunette,” said Mustache.

“White dress?”

“No, red top. The one doing the stress test.”

“Oh, yeah. Kind of chunky, though.”

“The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin’.”

Surfer laughed appreciatively.

“See that one, with the long hair and no sleeves?” said Mustache.

“Yeah.”

“I rang her chimes a coupla times. Screwy broad, though.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, her name’s Bliss, and she thinks she’s still a hippie.”

“Boy, a bummer, huh?”

“You ain’t heard the half of it. We’re in the sack, at her place, her husband’s outta town. Well, what they’ve got is a mattress on the floor, sheets filthy. I don’t know how the guy stands it. Anyway, this fuckin’ cat hops in with us.”

“I hate cats in bed.”

“Yeah, me too. So I’m puttin’ it to her, and this cat hops in, and he’s only got one ear, like the other one got bit off or something. And Bliss says to it, ‘Not now, Vincent,’ just like that, like maybe the cat was next after me.”

“Vincent?” said Surfer. “That’s a funny name to call a cat.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too,” said Mustache.

Surfer looked down to the dance floor again. “What do you think of the two in the corner over there?”

“By that fuckin’ whale?”

“Yeah.”

“Not bad, but it’s still kinda early to pounce yet.”

“Yeah, but how about if we check ’em out?”

“Sure, sure. I hate to waste time on a broad I haven’t heard talk yet.”

They turned away and headed for the staircase. They missed Lainie Bishop’s approach back to me as The Lovin’ Spoonful came through the speakers.

“Sorry about that,” she said, settling back onto the sectional. “Terry’s wife is bitchin’ him up over their joint-custody agreement, and it’s been tearing at him something fierce.”

Bishop’s glass was empty. “Let me get this round,” I said.

She clamped a hand on my knee. “Already ordered. So where were we?”

She left her hand there. I refocused on the job.

“You were telling me about Jennifer Creasey.”

“Right, right. Not a bad kid, really, though she did kind of dazzle poor William. Flashing her WASPy ass at him, you’d think he’d know better. But I guess enough people told him he was smart. And William was too, but smart in the brain sense, not in the mind sense, you know?” Her hand ventured up from my knee a few inches. “Book learning, not worldly wisdom.”

The cocktail waitress arrived with our drinks. She carried a tray with eight indentations around the edge, into which the eight filled glasses fit snugly. A truly great invention.

Bishop reached the knee hand up for her drink. A tactical mistake, as I was able to shift my leg away from her. The waitress left.

I said, “Can you tell me what happened that night?”

“Sure,” she said, “except for finding her … her. I don’t want to talk about that.”

Bishop related basically the same sequence as Linden had. I thought of a question that I’d forgotten to ask Homer. “Would there have been any reason for Jennifer to see Marek outside the group?”

She clouded up. “What do you mean?”

“Any reason she’d be seeing Marek?” I said as neutrally as possible.

Bishop shook her head, maybe too hard. “No. Cliff … Dr. Marek doesn’t fool around like that.”

I would have liked to pursue the subject, but she seemed sensitive on it, and I wanted other information from her.

“Did you have any reason to think William would harm Jennifer?”

“Nope. Oh, he was wound pretty tight, pressure from the college and Jennifer and all. But I never would have guessed he’d hurt her.” Bishop put the accent on the “he’d.”

“Who would you have guessed would hurt her?”

She gave me a dreamy look and slid closer, hand to my thigh this time. “I’ve been thinking. If I answer all your questions now, you won’t have any reason to see me again.”

“Oh,” I said, with the obvious next line, “I wouldn’t say that.”

Bishop drew her nails firmly across my thigh and leaned over for a kiss.

“I prefer to separate business and pleasure,” I said.

“I don’t,” she said, kissing me on the lips, head moving left to right seductively. I didn’t respond.

She pulled back, surprised. “What’s the matter, I’m not attractive?”

“I think you’re attractive. That doesn’t mean I find you attractive.”

Bishop lowered her voice. “You’re not gay, are you?”

“No, just working.”

“Christ,” she said. “Whatever happened to Mike Hammer?” She took a drink and looked at her watch simultaneously. “Look, honey, it’s been terrific, but I think I’m gonna move on.”

“I’d like to ask you a few more questions,” I said, Bishop standing and I following.

She gave me the head and curls roll again. “Sure. Sometime when you’re not working, huh?” She turned.

“One question, please?” I said.

Bishop sighed. “Okay, one.”

“Who would you have bet
would
hurt Jennifer?”

“Oh, what’s his name, the guy she tossed over for William. Richard something. At Goreham. Listening to her, he was a real bastard.”

“Thanks.”

“Ciao,” Bishop said, walking back toward Terry of the Bitchin’ Wife.

I hate wasting a drink, so I downed half my new screwdriver. Which made me look for the men’s room. There was one on the second level. When I came out, Lainie Bishop was sitting next to Terry, clasping her hands on his and talking very seriously. An image came to me, an image of her consoling a similarly troubled, but younger guy.

Like William Daniels.

I climbed down the stairs and yielded sideways at the bottom to a couple moving up. I heard Mustache’s voice behind me at the bar. “Baby, all I can say, is this
hombre
thinks you are
muy
beautiful.”

I turned my head in time to see Mustache tapping his chest in front of a chubby woman with the weary face of a nurse working double shifts. Surfer was nowhere in sight.

“In fact,” said Mustache, slouching nearer to her, “in the event of a nuclear war, I hope you’d be the last chick on earth.”

“Pal,” she said, not giving ground, “if I were the last woman on earth, you’d be standing near the end of a very long line.”

I walked to the double doors. Simon and Garfunkel clicked on. The baby-boom generation hits middle age.

BOOK: So Like Sleep
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