“Lush!” thought Herb Bannion, as he strolled decisively along a corridor carpet with a deeper pile than anything he had felt underfoot in his whole life. Velour wallpaper with embossed designs lit by a dozen crystal flutes that would easily fetch three or four hundred dollars a piece on the South Shore market…
He stopped at a gilt mirror that was larger than him and stared at the reflection that stared back.
He was tall, and wide, and his best electric blue suit almost shone in the glow of the flute lighting, but not as much as the shining velour that seemed to mock him from the expanse of wall he had just traversed.
“Lush!” He spat beneath his breath, easing slicked hair flat behind his ears. He grinned, large, moving his head from side to side slowly checking the pearly whiteness of his perfect teeth. A final gentle pressure to the lower point of his immaculate Windsor tie knot and he continued down the broad corridor.
At Room Three Twenty Seven he stopped and turned to face the door squarely. He clenched and unclenched the fingers that wrapped themselves loosely around the kidskin handle of his blue samples briefcase and without hesitation rapped a big hand against the timber.
From within, he barely registered a muffled, “Just a second!”, and he allowed himself the luxury of a final limbering of huge shoulders and sinewy neck. “Seconds away…” he whispered beneath his breath, “Round one…”
The voice from beyond the mahogany and walnut door was rich as chocolate, thick, sultry and oozing promise.
“Good afternoon, Ma’am.” Herb took a half step away from the door and displayed himself, palms upward, to the brass ringed eye glass. “I am here to offer you today a personal, exclusive service on behalf of the Cleopatra Lingerie Company.”
The richer, penthouse clientele were often the easiest to gain entry to, Herb had found. Something about the apparent self subjugation he would display, the personal sacrifice of one human being to another seemed to strike all the right buttons with these ‘upper echelons’ of society.
“The Cleopatra Company realized,” Herb continued. “Some time ago, that those customers of a certain standing, used to appreciating the higher qualities of life, would, by default, appreciate a higher quality of attention and service. Therefore…”
The door to the apartment resonated with a heavy ‘clunk’, and swung gently open an inch.
“Ma’am?” Herb questioned, and moved forward pushing gently at the rich timber. Well oiled hinges took over and the room swung languidly into view.
The area of deep pile, where Herb had expected the lady of the house to be standing, was empty. Instead he watched, as perfect swaying buttocks, wrapped in the finest of fashionable pencil skirts, retreated into the enormous room, to a huge red marble table upon which a lipsticked menthol cigarette was stubbed into a crystal ashtray.
“Are you coming in then, Mister Salesman?” The chocolate voice questioned. “Or are you going to let in the draught?” She turned her face toward him, twisting at the hip and moving one stiletto shoe into profile, whilst keeping her hips facing directly away from the open door. She was beautiful.
“Classic pose,” thought Herb. “Thin the waist to its smallest, accentuate the height of the shoe heel, pronounce the calf but keep the seams in view.” He closed the door behind him with a gentle click. “Oh yes! I’m going to enjoy you.” he thought, silently.
The apartment was huge. As he crossed the floor, Herb gauged the living area alone to be maybe a hundred and sixty feet square. The lush cream and red carpet felt like walking on cloud, and the enormity of the Alabaster fireplace beggared belief.
The woman wandered idly to a red mahogany and walnut bookcase that matched the doors, and ran a perfectly manicured finger along the spines of a collection of first and limited edition books that oozed value.
“Do you like de Lempika Mr…?” She turned an absent look in his direction.
“Bannion, Ma’am… but please call me Herb, Miss..?”
The woman gave no reply, but returned her interest, instead, back to the picture on the wall.
“She imparts such sexuality with every stroke of her brush… don’t you think… Mr. Bannion?” Those fingers moved again, tracing the contours of the woman in the picture, catching here and there on the ridges of hard oil paint, and Herb realized suddenly that the painting was of her; and an original, no less.
She moved again, drifting across the room to what Herb judged to be the West wall, a wall built entirely of long glass windows, an observation deck to the city beyond, sprawling away to the sea.
She rested her head against the glass and looked out onto the gathering of white doves on the ledge outside.
“Please – take a seat Mr. Bannion.” She said without turning.
Herb wondered idly, as he unlatched his case and sat, what sort of life women of her kind must have, what line of work, if any she followed. He placed her age at perhaps forty five; a well tended forty five, with raven black hair, immaculately presented with a golden head band to compliment the yellow silk blouse she wore, smoothed into that charcoal gray, buttoned down skirt.
“What then are you going to ply me with this afternoon Mr. Bannion of the Cleopatra Lingerie Company?” she offered, tiredly, as she smoothed the skirt across her buttocks, easing herself onto the plump cushions of the couch opposite, and Herb realized that he couldn’t tell whether she was toying with him, or was, simply, an uptight bitch.
He lifted the case lid and spun the open face slowly toward her.
“This, as I said, is our exclusive range.” He slid the crimson velvet lining toward her and allowed the contents to speak for themselves. The sales handbooks his father had forced him to read in the ‘good old days’ came into play and subconsciously he allowed her to impress herself with the selection before her.
She looked at the samples with a vague glimmer of interest for a moment, and then leaning forward withdrew a rectangular packet from the case.
“Red!” She said, feigning slight interest. “Silk?”
“May I?” She cocked a wrist at Herb in askance.
“Please,” he replied “Accept them as an introductory gift on behalf of Cleopatras.”
A faint smile broke an otherwise emotionless expression and she slowly stood up. Bending, she began to unbutton the lap of her skirt, and continued slowly until she reached thigh height.
Herb said nothing, but watched unmoved as she revealed the multiple suspenders attached to the black stockings she currently wore.
Gently she unclipped the sheer nylon and chased it with her palms down to her ankle, stopped, and removed the stiletto from her foot.
“West Coast sunset glow on those legs!” thought Herb idly, as he watched her remove the stocking completely. Not too tanned not too white. He wondered again at her profession, or perhaps her marriage to some older, wealthy oil or property tycoon. Latin influenced looks, body to die for; some folks just didn’t have to try.
Without smiling she lifted her eyes toward Herbs equally impassive face and opened the packet containing the red silk replacements. She removed the gossamer contents and placed all but one stocking onto the table.
Resting back against the couch arm, she reversed the process she had just performed. She rolled, inserted, smoothed and clasped the hose to her perfect leg, checking the run of the dark seam up the rear of her leg with both palms before replacing the shoe and buttoning the skirt back into place.
Herb said nothing.
“And this…” She picked a larger item from the crimson velvet after giving her shapely ankle a cursory appraisal in its new red encasement.
Herb looked at the copper green and black lace Basque the woman held in her hands, and with a non committal gaze he nodded. This would be the easiest yet.
She unfastened the top two pearlescent buttons of her blouse, then, looking toward Herb for some reaction that was not forthcoming, motioned toward the bedroom door behind her.
“I’ll try it… in here.”
Herb nodded again, and almost laughed at the pathetically unsubtle innuendo.
“Grab yourself a drink, Mr. Bannion. Cabinet’s by the radio, there’s a nice Whisky, Martini or I think maybe a good Rum if you’d rather?” she turned toward the bedroom door.
“Lemonade’ll be just fine if you have it.” Herb said as he watched her disappear from view.
“In the Frigidaire!”
Herb stood up quickly and moved across to the radio. He turned the huge knob and with a click the volume rose. One of a million possible crooners warbled a song of unrequited passion into the room and Herb lifted the flap on the drinks cabinet.
“Can I do you… anything?” He echoed her pitiful wordplay.
“Dry Martini, shaken… not stirred!” She called.
“Don’t worry, my dear. You’ll be shaken – before the sun goes down.” he whispered as he opened the immaculate blue jacket and withdrew a neatly folded pair of cotton gloves.
The gloves had been his fathers, back in the ‘good old days’. Back in the days when his father had sold linens door to door to bored wives and widows across the mid-west twenty years gone. And to the one widow who had stolen that father away from his wife and young family, leaving them, to fend for themselves in a depression to end all depressions, alone.
Herb Bannion pulled on his father’s gloves and with the humor of the insane drew the long skinning knife from within the lining of his jacket.
“Why, Mr. Bannion! I simply love it!”
Herb turned slowly, rolling the wicked blade in playful rotation across his palm, before unhurriedly placing both hands out of view behind him as he spoke toward the open door.
“Would you perhaps allow me the pleasure of a viewing, before we finalize… business?” He grimaced at the pathetic double entendre that he felt sure would impress.
“And why not?” said the voice, more chocolaty rich than ever as she stepped back into the room.
She rested against the doorframe, arms held coyly behind her back. A vision in greens, reds and black, copper green panties and a Ruby studded leather choker complimented her lingerie. While on her feet, heavy gray, spike heels lifted her to the proportions of an Amazon.
Had Herb Bannion been a normal man, what followed would have been a dance played out a thousand times through time immemorial but, neither being the case, what did follow would make the morning papers nationwide.
“There are times in a boring life, that a girl must make her own entertainment, Mr. Bannion.” She watched him closely from below lowered lids as she moved further into the room.
“I have lived here in the city for longer than I like to recall. But I have few friends Mr. Bannion. Few true friends…”
Herbs patience was at an end. The threat of suffering, imposed by the self pitying rhetoric of this whore who had the world at her beck and call was too much to bear.
“And like children left to exist on dust and fresh air, salesmen too must make their own entertainment at times… Ma’am!” he spat in ironic agreement, and for a moment he was glad that she would remain anonymous to him as she screamed her last breath into his face.
Then, in perfect synchronization, Herb pulled the skinning knife into view as the woman, unperturbed; pulled the heavy pistol she had been concealing, and aimed it directly between Herbs eyes.
Behind him, from the ledge beyond the window panes, the doves took flight, and with a deafening roar and splintering of concrete and timber the entire side of the apartment disappeared.
Herb did not hear the crash, nor feel the crush of the huge object that destroyed half of Wentworth Boulevard that afternoon. In fact all that remained of Herb Bannion was a bright crimson smear across the once lush carpet and the skinning knife which, propelled by the force of the impact, spun across the room and sank, hilt deep, into the silver Frigidaire.
Fragments of reinforced concrete and lethal shards of window glass showered the interior of the apartment, as whatever monumental force was travelling in the air beyond the windows carried the crushed remains of Herb away, down the street outside.
The woman stared at the huge opening where the west wall of her apartment had once been. Large pieces of debris fell from above onto the glass strewn floor, and with the same unperturbed expression remaining on her face, she let the handgun fall to her side and walked into the wind that was now carrying the noise of sirens into the apartment.
She looked up at the clear blue afternoon sky and leaned out to look down the boulevard, strong gusts of wind thrashing her hair about her face.
A huge spherical object, spiny and metallic was careering along the avenue some eighty feet above the road below. Against the silver skin of the receding sphere she could just make out the blue color of a painted ‘Kilroy’ peeking at her over grasping fingers, with the word ‘BOOM!” emblazoned in a speech balloon above its head.
As the enormous bomb-ball crashed again into the buildings lining the avenue she noticed a now familiar figure astride its top.
The leather flight suit, of the man who had become known to the residents of Dore’s Rib as ‘The Archangel’, bent and rose repeatedly into a small, open hatch or doorway, tearing up cables in handfuls and loosing shot after shot into the innards of the flying bomb. With grim determination he held fast to the object like a wrangler to a wild stallion, and despite the wind she thought she heard him screaming maddened curses into the workings of the thing.
With a sudden lurch the sphere swung to the left and, demolishing the radio antenna from the DRR station a block away, ploughed onward toward the dockside and the open bay beyond, sun glinting off its horned carapace.
She stepped back as a last piece of debris fell, with measured finality to the blood smeared carpet at her feet, and looked at the devastation around her.
“Shit!” she said, to the wind, and the sirens wailed.