Maybe I Love You

08/21/23

People wearing badges pinned to identical blue polo shirts clutter the hotel bar. They’re young and athletic. Working for some fitness brand. I notice the woman the moment I walk in. She isn’t with the group. She sits at a table near mine. Her back is to me. From her fine profile, I guess she’s pretty. She might not be, some people are handsome in fragments, but not in full. She’s a brunette with curly hair gathered in a ponytail that hangs over a shoulder. It would be fun to run my hands through that mass of curls and make her purr. She seems to be the purring kind. It’s a little fantasy to go with the smoky single malt the server brought me. In truth, I don’t care about her profile or her hair, it’s her spine that holds me entranced.

She wears a black lacy top, transparent in the spaces between the embroidered leaves. Her back is evenly tanned, without a bra strap to break the smoothness. I love how the fabric is stretched taut, no wrinkle, no seam, it could be a thin layer of tattooed skin, the lace is so much a part of her. I look away. I’ve been staring for too long, she must feel my eyes on her. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. A light thrill under that perfect skin is fine, more than that would ruin the moment.

My gaze slips back to her after a sip of whisky, drawn to the little metal hooks and clasps that fasten her top, aligned neatly along her spine, from neck to waist. There’s no way she put that garment on by herself. And she can’t remove it without help either. The outfit is bait. It fascinates me. It dries my mouth and pumps my heart rate. You think I want to possess the woman, but you’re wrong. I’m not interested in her face, her breasts, or the warmth between her legs. I desire the sequence of metal pins and loops that borrow heat from her body, that follow the bumps of her delicate vertebrae. She’s a hybrid creature made of silver and flesh, bone fused with minerals, an object of desire created by a jeweler driven mad by beauty.

I want to caress her spine.

A man appears by her side. He’s dark and thickly built, with a beaked nose and a weak chin, wide hips atop muscular legs, a satyr to her nymph. He puts a hand on her shoulder and I feel the weight of his paw. Did he help her dress? His big square fingers are ill-designed for the task.

He cannot be allowed to rip through the lace, and destroy the enticing metal puzzle. I know he has to be dealt with, fast and efficiently. Something I am an expert at. My plane leaves tonight. It’s all right, there is time.

I signal the server for another whisky. I wait. Something else I do very well.

When the man leaves the table to go to the restrooms, I’m ready. The thin blade coiled in my belt is sleek. I’m confident it’s also painless. I shove the man in one of the stalls and flip the lock. The procedure takes less than a minute. I don’t bother with cleaning the blade. I may need it again. I haven’t made up my mind about the woman.

I settle my bar tab and move to a chair in the lobby. There’s a constant movement of people checking in. I watch the bar entrance. The woman will soon come looking for the man.

I’ll tell her I saw him. There’s an empty meeting room off the lobby. I picture the woman laying prone on the long glossy table. I feel the tickle of the blade in my pocket. That decides it. I will not unhook the clasps. I anticipate the teasing sound of the blade cutting through lace and flesh, in two long parallel stripes on both sides of her spine. For the masterpiece to be lifted intact, she will have to be perfectly still.

Even in love, my hand will be steady.

~ fin ~

me-proctor

M.E. Proctor was born in Brussels and lives in Texas. She’s currently working on a contemporary PI series. Her short fiction has appeared in Vautrin, Bristol Noir, Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Reckon Review, Shotgun Honey, and Thriller Magazine among others. She’s a Derringer nominee. Her short story collection Family and Other Ailments (from Wordwooze Publishing) is available in all the usual places. Website: www.shawmystery.com