Authors: David Handler
Tags: #Romance, #Mystery
Table of Contents
FOR DOMINICK ABEL,
THE LAST OF THE COCKLESHELL HEROES
I am extremely grateful to Elaine M. Pagliaro of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory for generously sharing her expertise with me; Susan Stephenson, Jerry Weiss, and Peter Zallinger, gifted artists and teachers all, for showing me the world through their eyes; Judy Friday, who offered me her insights into rescuers; William Goldman, who encouraged me when I really needed it the most; Ruth Cavin, who believed in me; and Diana L. Drake, who gave me the Fibonacci series and way, way more.
HE CALLED HIMSELF STAN, although Torry was pretty sure that Stan wasn’t his real name. There was something about the way it seemed to catch in his throat the first time he said it. Plus he was real nervous. His eyes kept flicking around the bar as if he were afraid someone might recognize him.
Not that he seemed like the kind of guy who ever hung out with the kind of guys who hung out at the Purple Pup.
Stan wasn’t fat. Stan wasn’t loud. Stan didn’t reek of bad cologne. He was classy and soft-spoken. He said “thank you” when Torry brought him his draft beer—Beck’s, which was a dollar more than Miller. And pretty good-looking for an older guy, too. Tall and trimly built, with nice Ralph Lauren clothes. Torry, who was not good with ages, figured he was somewhere around fifty. And a real curiosity. Because she didn’t see his type around the Pup too often. Hardly at all, actually. Stan’s type belonged in a country club in Farmington.
The Purple Pup was a scruffy roadhouse next to Kwik Lube on Highway 66—just west of Middletown on the way to Meriden. Middletown was known for Wesleyan University and for the big mental hospital that was there, Connecticut Valley Hospital. Meriden wasn’t known for anything except the inadequacy of its storm drains. Residents of the neighboring towns knew to steer clear of Meriden whenever more than a quarter-inch of rain fell. As a consequence, Meriden was not considered a good place to own and operate a small business. Still, the Purple Pup managed to do well on the weekends when the weather was good. It was very popular with the bikers—the middle-aged firemen and postal workers who liked to toodle around in the sunshine on their vintage Harleys. It was a thing they all did, like playing golf or going bowling. They’d pull in by the dozens, drink and laugh and listen to oldies on the jukebox. It was fun when the bikers came, and Torry could make fifty bucks a shift in tips. She was a big, meaty woman, large through the breasts and hips. Not fashion magazine material—but she went over well with the Purple Pup crowd.
Torry had been slinging drinks there for almost two years. For the past year, she had been a blonde.
When it was cold and rainy, the Pup was deserted. Particularly on weeknights. A few young guys who worked odd jobs and still lived with their folks would hang there, nursing a couple of beers and watching the games on the dish. Lousy tippers, to a man. And their advances toward her were crude and smirky. Not to mention unsuccessful. Curt, who owned the place and tended bar, barely broke even on such nights.
That was the kind of night it was when Stan first came in. It had been raining, a cold March rain. The parking lot out front was under four inches of water.
He drank two Beck’s, seated there by himself in the shadows at a small corner table. When she asked him if he would like another one he asked her if she would like to go for a drive someplace after work. She said, “Where?” He said, “We’ll find someplace nice.” She said, “Why not?” Someplace nice turned out to be Wadsworth Falls, where they made out in the front seat of his mud-splattered Range Rover and listened to the rain beat down. Stan was a total gentleman. He even asked Torry for her permission before he unhooked her bra, marveling over the size and beauty of her breasts as he tongued them gently. He treated her like she was a prized figurine. She did not even have to ask him to use a condom. He was prepared. He was solicitous. He was as gentle as a lamb.
Afterward, he asked Torry how she made ends meet.
“I do what I have to do,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“And how does that work?”
“Not real well.” Not that she was complaining. Or had her hand out.
Still, when he dropped her off back at her car, Stan slipped her fifty dollars. And asked her when he could see her again.
“Whenever you’d like, Stan.”
Torry was not a hooker. She was simply someone who did what she had to do in order to get by in life. And there was no crime or shame in that. She was making it on her own. She wasn’t on welfare—even though she was a twenty-three-year-old single mother who had no high school diploma and got no child support from Stevie’s father, Tyrone, who was still in jail in North Carolina for armed robbery. She hadn’t seen Tyrone in four years and did not expect she ever would again. In spite of this, her parents had refused to have anything to do with her since she became pregnant with Stevie. They could not deal with Tyrone being black.
Torry worked thirty hours a week at an Ames discount store in Waterbury for not much more than minimum wage, although she did get a 20 percent discount on toys. Evenings and weekends she worked at the Pup. She and Stevie lived on Meriden Road in a twelve-unit apartment court with fake brick facing. Stevie got the bedroom. She slept on a convertible sofa in the living room. The walls were paper thin. She could hear everybody else’s toilets flushing and phones ringing. She could hear their love moans and their sneezes. She could hear the trucks rolling by at night as she lay there, her feet throbbing from so many hours on the job. It wasn’t much. But it was theirs.
Stevie was a sturdy, clear-eyed boy of five. Her true love, her best friend, her everything. She hated that she had to be away from him so much. Luckily, her next-door neighbor, a widow named Laura, was home watching TV virtually day and night and was happy to baby-sit for her. Laura would accept no payment for this. As thanks, Torry would bring her a bottle of good bourbon every week from the Pup’s back room. Curt would let Torry take this bourbon in the belief that he would one day soon be collecting a blow job from her in that same back room. Of which there was zero chance. But this was how much of Torry’s life worked. The invisible economy that kept her afloat. She had no health insurance. No retirement plan. A total beater of an Isuzu that needed new brakes. And no man to take care of her. Curt wanted a piece of her. So did Wade, her assistant manager at Ames. But she was not about to give herself up without getting something in return. Sex, in her opinion, was a transaction. Marriage was a transaction.
Life was a transaction.
So when a man like Stan came along, Torry went along. He was her third such steady gentleman. She never allowed herself to be involved with more than one of them at a time. And she never gave them more than two evenings a week. Al, who was a member of the state legislature from Waterbury, had been her first. He liked to come over to the apartment to watch adult movies on the VCR and frolic with her in the sofa bed. He was overweight and homely, but he filled her freezer with steaks, her closet with clothes and shoes. He even bought her a new sofa bed—her old one was giving him back trouble. Al had lasted for about six months. Right up until his wife found out and threatened to divorce him. After Al there was Dominick, who was an executive with Jolly Rubbish in Middletown. Dominick drove a flashy vintage Corvette and liked to drive her in it to the big Mohegan Sun Casino on the Indian reservation in Uncasville, where they would check into the hotel and order bottle upon bottle of champagne from room service. He would pour it over Torry’s bare feet and lick it off of her toes. Dominick had a thing for her toes. Afterward, he would give her a stack of chips to gamble with, most of which she would quietly cash in and pocket. The thing with Dominick lasted for three months. He just stopped calling her.
When Stan came along, there was no one. She started seeing him two evenings a week. He gave her fifty dollars in cash after every evening. He never asked to spend the night with her. Which was how she knew for certain that he, too, was married. Not that she’d ever doubted it. Or cared. Four hundred a month tax-free was damned good money for pleasant part-time employment. It meant she could think about getting health insurance for Stevie.
She would meet Stan at either Wadsworth Falls or Laurel Brook Reservoir. Both were deserted at this time of year. She would bring a blanket. If the weather were good they would spread it out on the grass and do it there. If it were bad they would do it in his car. Sometimes he pulled up in the Range Rover. Sometimes a pickup truck. Once he came in a minivan. She thought he might possibly run a car dealership. Or might be a building contractor of some kind—his hands knew hard work. They were large and surprisingly strong. But he told her nothing about himself. Stan was a bit unusual that way—most men, in Torry’s experience, could not stop bragging about themselves. Not Stan. He was modest. And extremely private. He never once came to her apartment. He never came to the Purple Pup again. And he never gave her his phone number. He would simply call her at the Pup and tell her where and when to meet him.
The lovemaking was not particularly inspired. Not as far as Torry was concerned. But it was quick and it was harmless, except for that time she got poison ivy all over her in a place where she couldn’t exactly scratch it. Only once did Stan ask her to do something that bordered on the slightly kinky. But Torry didn’t mind. In fact, it was kind of fun checking into that hotel all by herself. Playacting. Wearing that wig. Being all mysterious and sultry. Every man in the place had eyes for her. And the intrigue sure seemed to excite him. When he knocked on her door he was so hot he came the instant he got inside of her.
That was the only time she ever met Stan somewhere other than in the woods.
Torry was not someone who permitted herself to dream big, like those people who were always buying Lotto tickets. Still, she did allow herself to fantasize what it would be like if Stan ever divorced his wife and the two of them got together for real. They would have a home with a backyard on a tree-lined street somewhere. An investment portfolio. A college fund for Stevie. Sure, she dreamt about it. She was human, wasn’t she?
And then one night he wanted to end it.
He seemed very tense and preoccupied when they got out of their cars. Didn’t say a word as they strolled down the trail for a ways by the light of his flashlight. She carried the blanket. When they reached a nice little clearing she stopped and spread it out on the cool, wet spring grass in the moonlight. She knelt on it, her arms held out to him. Stan just stood there, motionless.