“Do you ever leave this place, Henry?”
Henry shivered against a cold, bitter wind that blew from the northeast. “Not much to leave for: Mirage Springs isn’t much to talk about, and Cohn doesn’t give me enough time or money to get away.”
Elaine allowed the wind to blow the hair from her face as she held her coat tightly about herself. “If it’s not for the money, what are you doing here?”
“For the stock options.” Henry burrowed his hands deeper in the pockets of his jacket. “And the chance to take a breather.”
“And what do you plan to do after you’ve caught your breath?”
Henry turned to his client of the evening and managed a smile. “You know as much as I do.”
“Tell me about your husband.”
“What do you want me to tell you?” Elaine rolled over onto her back.
“Was this his idea?”
Elaine laughed in the darkness. “Oh yes. Roger always has crazy ideas. First he talked me into going out with him, then he talked me into marrying him, then he talked me into trying to have children.”
“But he couldn’t.”
“No, he couldn’t. Low sperm count. He found out from the doctors back in July, then he heard about you on the radio.”
Henry squirmed beneath the satin. “The radio?”
“Yes, the radio, then he read about you in the paper–” Elaine twisted her head towards her bedmate in the near-complete darkness. “Henry, you don’t–”
“No, I’d rather not know.”
“Where are you going?”
“The bathroom.” Henry shut the door behind himself and ran the faucet to cover the sound of his retching.
When he returned, Elaine was sitting up in the lamplight. “I hope I didn’t upset you.”
“No, not at all,” Henry told her. “Must’ve been that salmon we had for dinner.” He eased himself back under the covers and turned the light off, and then the two rested in the silence of the room for a full minute before he asked, “So what’s your husband like? Is he old?”
“Why do you ask that?” Pause. “Okay, he is old, but not too. Forty-five.”
“Old enough to be your father. No offense.”
“None taken, Henry,” Elaine replied in a sigh. “Yes, he’s old and overbearing and not too great in bed. At least not as great as some people.”
“Not to pry. Why’d you marry him?”
Elaine paused again, then held her enormous wedding ring over the covers. “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Henry.” Then, after staring at it for a long while, she slowly pulled the ring off and placed it on the nighttable.
“Hey.” Elaine didn’t smile at or kiss Henry as she entered the room and walked to its center, though she smiled when she glanced at the screen of his laptop. “You’ve finally come up with something!”
Henry closed the laptop on
and dropped his hands to his sides as he looked his client up and down. “Can I take your coat?”
“No, Henry, you may not.” Elaine seated herself on the end of his immaculate bed. “I’m not staying.”
“What do you mean?” Henry took a seat himself, in his writing chair.
“I’m leaving you, Henry. Just like I’m leaving Roger.”
“There are a lot of why’s. The biggest one is that I’m late.”
Henry looked at his watch. “Boy, tell me about it.”
“No, Henry.” Elaine hunched her shoulders in his direction and gave him a condescending smile. “My period is late.”
“I mean nothing’s certain, but I might be.”
“Are you sh–”
“But I didn’t come here to talk about that. I came here to get you fired.” To his dumb look she explained, “This isn’t healthy for you, Henry, and I care about you.” She lowered her gaze to the carpet beneath her feet. “I spoke with Larry in his office before I came here. Then I told him I needed to use the bathroom.”
Her last words were spoken to an empty chair, as Henry had already bolted from the room and was running down a corridor in the direction of Cohn’s office, past a Calvin who vainly tried to get him to stop.
Henry found the door to his employer’s office wide open, and walked right in. “What did she say to you?”
Cohn looked up from his chair, then replaced his phone in its cradle. “Have a seat, Henry. Smoke?”
Henry waved the pack away as Cohn leaned forward to slide an unmarked envelope across his desk. “I’m gonna have to let you go, Henry. That’s a nice severance check, Henry, which I hope you’ll take as a demonstration of our gratitude for your nearly seven months of service. Calvin is packing your bags as we speak.”
“Listen, whatever she told you–”
“Whatever, Henry. It doesn’t matter what Mrs. Robinson said to me. I’ve been wanting to change our business model for some time now.”
Henry held the envelope firmly in one hand. “What change?”
Cohn leaned back in his creaking leather chair and stared at the ceiling with a sudden smile. “The URL, for starters. We’re changing it to studs-dot-com. It’s taking things a step further. The idea came to me when I was reading about ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.” Cohn’s eyes were lit and his hands were making grand gestures in the air polluted with his smoke. “I was reading about the increased chance of pregnancy that’s the result of a woman having multiple sex partners in one session.”
“You mean a gang bang?”
Cohn’s smile and eyes didn’t waver. “Such an ugly term. I prefer the acronym MIT, for ‘Multiple Insertion Therapy’. I’ve already set something up in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The woman will remain anonymous and masked, of course–this is beyond revolutionary–but I used my college connections again and found a group of bright young men, very physically fit, too, who would be very happy to provide their services. They play hockey at Adams College–didn’t you go there briefly, Bacon?”
A jarring slam of the office door was the answer to Cohn’s question, and Henry ran out the front entrance of the complex, past his suitcase and rucksack and a Calvin who tried to apologize for carrying out his employer’s instructions. Henry chased down the limousine which he had watched Elaine step into from Cohn’s front window, and the limousine pulled to a stop as he caught up with it at one end of the driveway.
“Why’d you stop?” Henry asked as he plopped his sweating form onto the seat opposite his last client.
“Driver, the airport.” Elaine didn’t look at Henry, but instead looked out the window as the limousine turned onto the road. “I thought you might like a ride to the airport.”
“But my bags are back at the clinic.”
Elaine shrugged. “Details, Henry. That’s only fitting: this is your chance to start over again. What’s in your hand?”
“Hush money.” Henry smoothed the envelope’s surface out somewhat and opened it to pull out a check. His eyes bulged. “Quite a bit of hush money.”
“There you have it.” Elaine pulled her coat more tightly about herself. “Now you can start over in style.”
Henry stuffed the check back in the envelope and stuffed the envelope in the tuxedo pocket over his heart. “Elaine.”
“Come back to New York with me. Let’s have this baby together.”
Elaine burst into a laugh, then leaned out of her seat to cradle her temples with the tips of fingers topped by red nail polish. Her laugh became an anguished sigh. “I’ve been impregnated by a cybergigolo.” Then, after she sat up once more to stare out the window with streaked mascara, “Driver, stop and let Mister Bacon out.”
“I’m not leaving without you.”
Elaine reached back to close the partition between the two halves of the vehicle. Then both of her hands grasped the neckline of her dress. “How would you like the tag ‘attempted rapist’ added to your name? Believable storyline, isn’t it? Girl accuses gigolo of being a limpdick, and he tries to force her to see otherwise.”
Henry opened the door for himself. “You’re a ruthless bitch, Elaine.”
“You’ve made me one, Henry. And the name’s not Elaine; you’re not the only one who uses pseudonyms.”
Henry was poised over the threshold between limousine interior and roadside desert before one of his client’s Manolo Blahniks met his rear end and forced him out.
“Goodbye, Henry.” The door slammed shut behind him.
“Elaine!” Henry was on his feet with arms spread wide as the limousine tore away.
All he got for his efforts was shame in a mouthful of dust.
“Sugar, you look like you’ve been to Hell and back,” Rosie the waitress declared as she reached for a cup.
“I’m still in it.” Henry eased himself onto the stool before the counter, ignoring the crowd’s stares at his tuxedo torn and coated with dirt.
“Do you take checks?” Henry asked as the cup was placed before him.
“Sure don’t, Hon.” Rosie reached beneath the counter for a paper cup. “Tell you what: it’s on the house. Go on home and get yourself cleaned up.”
“Home.” Henry laughed at his repetition of the word and accepted the cup of coffee without an expression of gratitude.
As Henry headed for the front door of the diner, he overheard a newsanchor talking from an overhead television. “…breaking news: a twenty-four-year-old former White House intern is under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr for allegedly lying in an affidavit in which she denied that she had had sexual relations with President Clinton. The FBI reportedly has tapes of the former intern describing both her affair with Clinton and efforts to cover it up–”
Henry let the glass front door of the diner slam shut on the newsanchor, and savored the crunch of hard gravel beneath his feet as he walked towards the sun setting over the unused gas pumps.
He was not alone.