First degree murder is punishable by death in Missouri, even if the victim is an editor of romance novels.
When the body turned up Reppert G. Pennyworth would see three excellent reasons to mind his own business, starting there. The death penalty doesn’t come up much in intellectual property work.
Rep later reflected philosophically on the futility of having three excellent reasons when you need four. But what could he do? Not only was the murder a tough break for the victim, but it interfered with the most interesting copyright issue Rep had seen in a long time.
Peter Damon had known since junior high who got girls like this. And it wasn’t guys like him.
Violet eyes with a minxish glint worth half a Byron canto. Luminous smile. Ebony hair framing a dusty rose face whose casual perfection reminded him of Uffizi canvases. Ample breasts that casually mocked the perfunctory effort of her silk blouse to appear demure. Your basic Peter Damon, with his bookish pallor, wispy, light brown hair already retreating from his forehead, oversized ears, and watery blue eyes unkindly magnified by the thick lenses of wire-frame glasses, couldn’t even let himself imagine that a woman like this might be hitting on him.
He hadn’t imagined anything of the kind when she’d asked to join him at what she claimed was the last available non-smoking table in the Lake Tahoe Holiday Inn Crown Plaza restaurant. He hadn’t imagined it when she’d introduced herself as Lara Teasdale, had guessed correctly that he was here for the librarians’ convention, and had explained that she’d come to teach PowerPoint presentations to rookie sales reps for Golden State Office Interiors. He had wished, for the only time in his life, that he were a rookie sales rep.
He hadn’t even imagined it when she’d segued unsubtly from crosswords to hookers.
“Please don’t let me keep you from your puzzle,” she said, nodding at the twice-folded New York Times beside his plate.
“It can wait,” Peter said hastily, capping his medium point blue Bic pen and stowing it in his caramel-colored corduroy sport coat. “Civil War theme, no biggie. I guess crossword puzzles are an occupational cliché for librarians, aren’t they?”
“Not necessarily. I’m just an MIS specialist, and words have always fascinated me. ‘Hooker,’ for example.”
“You mentioned the Civil War and that reminded me. Wasn’t that when the word ‘hooker’ came into American slang?”
“Oh. Right. Because of all the, uh, er, camp followers with the Army of the Potomac while General Hooker was commanding it.”
“Exactly,” Teasdale said. “I love neat little connections like that. Like ‘joysticks.’ I remember seeing an Eighties movie called Joysticks on video, and I’m like, am I the only one who gets this?” “Probably not,” Peter said, feeling a crimson burn on the backs of his ears.
“I mean, they once called the throttles on airplanes ‘joysticks’ because of the phallic association.” She raised an eyebrow in polite interrogation, and Peter nodded: he knew what phallic associations were. “Then when video games appeared, they called the control rods ‘joysticks’ because they looked like the throttles on World War II fighters. Then someone making this B-movie teenage sex comedy revolving around video games thinks ‘joysticks’ is this incredibly clever double entendre, and all they’re doing is going back to the original allusion.”
“Uh, yeah,” Peter said. “Er, hey, do you travel much for Golden State Office Interiors?”
“More than I’d like,” Teasdale sighed. “I could draw the basic floor-plan for every hotel chain in the country. It gets very lonely.”
“I guess it would.”
“Like tonight,” she added, catching his eyes and lowering her voice. “All I have to look forward to is Sports Center and a hot bath.”
That’s when Peter began to think the unthinkable. He caught himself holding his breath.
“That is,” she continued, “unless you’d like to come up and show me how fast you can finish that crossword puzzle while we see if PBS or the History Channel is showing something on the Civil War.”
Peter forced his lips into a shy smile and made himself meet Teasdale’s gaze.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever talked to,” he said gently. “You’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen. But my wife, Linda, means everything in the world to me. It would really hurt her if I were unfaithful. I just couldn’t do that.”
He braced himself for a cold shower of bitchy petulance. He got a wistful smile instead as Teasdale rested her chin on interlaced fingers.
“Is Linda very lovely?” she asked.
“Very,” Peter said, meaning relative to the female universe the likes of him had any business thinking about. “She’s lovely, and smart, and committed, and idealistic, and just a very together lady.”
“She’s also something else,” Teasdale said. “She’s very, very lucky. Please let me get the check.”
# # #
It was 7:26 p.m., Central Daylight time, when Linda Damon and the twelve million other people watching Reality Check Live! on Fox heard her husband describe her as lovely, smart, committed, idealistic, and very together. Though the night was warm, she pulled the sheet up to cover her breasts as she turned toward the other side of the bed and spoke.
“I think you’d better go now, Tommy.”