Cupid ain't Stupid
Lenny spotted Elsie McGivney sitting at the bar of the High Hat Lounge nursing a watery Coke. "Not working tonight?"
"Just got off," she replied amiably. In her early twenties, the dark-haired girl had gained weight over the summer and, though she still possessed a reasonably good figure, was more pleasingly plump than svelte. Her frizzy auburn hair, undeniably her strongest feature, framed a weak mouth and smallish, freckled nose. "Seen Derrick around?"
"Funny," Lenny replied, "I was just getting ready to ask you the same question."
Elsie shrugged indicating her boyfriend was among the missing. "Heard you had quite a party last Friday night."
"Depends on your source of information, Lenny muttered disagreeably." When the bartender approached, he waved him off. "I got rolled… lost my goddamn paycheck."
Her features scrunched up in a tight ball. "What happened?"
Well, let's see. I got smashed on gin and tonics and passed out at a friend's bachelor party. Your boyfriend, Derrick, gave me a lift home and promptly emptied out my billfold as I was slumped over in the back seat with my puke-stained face mashed up against the armrest.
"I dunno,' Lenny replied." It was an open bar… all the liquor paid for in advance. I had two hundred bucks when I arrived and not a penny when I left."
Nobody would have learned about Derrick's thievery but for an inadvertent slip of the tongue. Fool that he was, the treacherous louse got shitfaced the next night, buying boilermakers for everyone in the High Hat Lounge on his unexpected windfall. Totally soused, he confided to the guy sitting on the stool next to him how - like a carrion crow - he picked Lenny's wallet clean. Words spoken in strictest confidence have a way of wriggling loose of their constraints and doubling back to bite the unwitting owner on the ass.
Lenny had nothing against Elsie McGivney. He was here to settle the score with the human vermin she slept with two to three nights a week when she wasn't tending bar. "Derrick gonna drop by the club tonight?"
"Dunno. I ain't seen him all week and he don't return my calls." Elsie pulled a cell phone from her purse and hit the auto-dial. After a brief interval she snapped the lid shut and placed the phone alongside her drink on the bar. "Ain't that a bitch… I gotta talk to him about something real urgent."
Lenny eyed her curiously. "You're not…"
"Aw, for Christ's sakes! Give me credit for something." The tone was more self-mocking than otherwise."
Don't just get mad, get even - that was Lenny's philosophy. He wanted retribution in full - two hundred bucks worth - not a wimpy, mealy-mouthed apology. He would confront Derrick with the facts and then punch the bastard in the teeth, making sure to snap the wrist a quarter turn on impact. Or better yet, hit first then fill in the missing pieces while Derrick, with a mouthful of broken enamel, lay squirming on the ground.
Half an hour passed - ten-thirty and still no Derrick. Elsie cracked a sloe-eyed smile and glanced away. Lenny wondered what it might be like coupling with such a blasé, nonchalant creature. Not that Elsie's sexual proclivities were any of his business; they certainly had nothing to do with the task at hand, the reason he was wasting his time in a stuffy room that reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke.
"He ain't coming," she muttered exasperatedly.
"No, I shouldn't think so."
"Say," she swiveled on the stool, "I'm hungry as hell. Why don't we pick up a pizza and go back to my place."
The offer caught Lenny totally off guard. Clearly, there was nothing suggestive in either the girl's tone or body language and, anticipating fisticuffs, he hadn't eaten a solitary thing since noon. "Yeah, why the hell not." He threw a couple of bills on the counter and the twosome headed for the door.
Elsie lived in a modest apartment complex in back of the library. The place was clean and tidy. Ten minutes - that's how long it took to polish off the Mexican pizza with black beans, jalapenos, tomato slices, sautéed hamburger and Monterey jack cheese. "You don't have to run off," Elsie suggested. "I got a movie you might like."
The girl was rinsing out the cups at the sink. "I dunno the title. Some silly, porn flick Derrick left the last time he slept over."
Porn and retribution - suddenly, beating Derrick within an inch of his life didn't necessarily seem like the best way to settle an outstanding score. Elsie drifted into the bedroom and returned moments later with the DVD. Everything she did, from setting the table to retrieving forty-five minutes of graphic smut was done with guileless panache. Lenny read the raunchy liner notes on the back of the plastic case. After spending the night exploring Elsie's anatomy, the score would be settled. No need to tell the sociopathic creep that Lenny had bedded the girlfriend. That would be low. On the other hand, if through no fault of his, Derrick eventually discovered …
"What's wrong?" Elsie suddenly slumped down at the kitchen table sobbing uncontrollably. Tears cascaded pell-mell down her arms, staining the sleeves. There was no immediate reply. "You miss Derrick?"
"What… him? Are you nuts?" She hissed. "That selfish bastard treated me something awful. Good riddance!"
"So what's the matter?"
"Lost my job."
"But I thought -"
"The club owner fired me." Only now did Elsie pull her hands away from her eyes. "A customer complained… accused me of cheating him when he paid his tab… said I didn't make proper change.
"One drunken asshole complains and -"
"It wasn't the first time," She blurted sheepishly. "Back to high school, I was never that good at math… flunked algebra twice." The confession was followed by another outburst of blubbering anguish and self-loathing. "Truth is, I'm stupid as hell!"
Lenny pulled the girl up to her feet and wrapped his arms around her back. Soggy mascara dripped down the side of her face halfway to the chin. "Aw Christ, Elsie, it's just a job! Go work where people don't exchange money."
"I dunno… My aunt Helen is a health aide in a nursing home. She don't have to worry about such nonsense. My mother answered phones and did filing at an insurance company."
"Never thought of it that way," Elsie said in a hushed voice. She kissed him on the cheek and draped her arms over his shoulders. "You sure are sweet to say that. I already feel a hundred percent better." "Despite the fact," she added, "that I ain't got two nickels to rub together and the rent's due a week from Friday." Elsie sighed. "You wanna watch that dirty movie?"
"No, not really."
"I'm still feeling shaky." He felt her grip tighten. "You're not gonna leave, are you?" The girl curled up against his chest, like a cat coming in from the cold. He could feel her fleshy stomach, her smallish compact breasts mashed against his chest. Elsie's cheek made a nice fit nestled comfortably in the crook of his shoulder.
Lenny felt complicit. He had come home with Elsie seeking retribution and sucked her into the snake pit of his vendetta. "No, Elsie." He kissed her mouth, a perfunctory gesture devoid of passion. "I'll sleep here but no sex… at least not tonight." Platonic sex - it was a bit out of the usual, but then so was everything that flowed from the ugliness with Derrick. "I'll spend the night but no extracurricular activities."
A month later, Lenny was sipping beer at the High Hat Lounge when Derrick sauntered in with a platinum blonde. The girl went off to powder her nose and Derrick, who looked half in the bag, made a beeline for the men's room. Lenny slid off the barstool and picked his way to the rear of the room.
"Hey, good buddy!" Tall and gangly with a clean-cut, boyish manner, Derrick was relieving himself at a urinal. No one ever saw the mean-spirited nastiness - certainly not until it was too late.
Lenny leaned up against a sink. "Where's Elsie?"
"We broke up ages ago. Elsie's stupid as shit and, if you didn't already hear, they fired her for chiseling customers out of their proper change. The broad was pathetic, a total moron." Derrick wagged his head dismissively. "I seen it when we were together… how she missed certain cues, never quite measured up. When she started ripping off customers, I had to dump the sleazy bitch."
"Funny choice of words." Lenny took a quick read of his own emotional state. He felt perfectly at ease, self-contained. Getting fleeced by the man, who was stuffing his appendage back in his pants, wasn't the issue anymore. He had other, more pressing scores to settle.
"So you don't see Elsie?"
Derrick shook his head vigorously. "Heard she got a job through a temporary agency, working as receptionist for some eye doctor off Lexington Ave." He smaned and spittle dripped on the tile floor. Derrick was skunk drunk. "I got to tell you, Lenny" he lowered his voice, affecting an confidential, palsy-walsy tone. "For the life of me, I can't picture that dumb-ass broad sitting behind a desk answering tel -"
Lenny slid a half-step back, cocked his fist and let fly. The knuckles caught Derrick, whose chin was raised and hovering slightly forward like a penitent's accepting Holy Communion, flush on the teeth. Too engrossed in his drunken harangue, he never saw the sledge-hammer blow coming; absorbing the full impact, he collapsed helter-skelter in a sorry heap, totally unconscious before coming to rest on the tiled floor. Lenny stood over him motionless for a brief interval before exiting the bathroom.
Locating the willowy blonde nursing a martini at the bar, he slid onto the adjacent stool. "You know what a misogynist is?"
She stared at him uncertainly. "Enlighten me, why don't you?"
"It's a guy who ain't got no respect for women. He may treat girls swell at first, but that only lasts until he sweet talks them out of their panties. Derrick's a bona fide misogynist… a liar and a cheat." Settling his tab, he headed home for the night.
Truth is, I'm stupid as hell! Elsie's unflattering pronouncement flitted through his brain. Lenny never liked riddles, crossword puzzles, card games or loose ends; with Elsie McGivney, certain critical considerations didn't add up. The boss at the High Hat Lounge gave her the bum's rush for lousing up the money. Even she admitted as much in her teary-eyed confession. But people weren't selectively stupid.
Lenny's Cousin Felicia was dull normal. She couldn't make change or much of anything else for that matter. She dressed slovenly, seldom bathed unless escorted into the bathroom with a change of underwear and couldn't remember to bring her plate to the sink after eating. She couldn't be trusted to wash a load of laundry, adjust the heat settings and run an iron over a sheer blouse or even mow the lawn for fear she would do something crazy.
Elsie shared nothing in common with Cousin Felicia. Her apartment was fastidiously clean. If you cracked a joke, she got the punch line and laughed on cue. The former barmaid brushed her hair and presumably washed her crotch on a regular basis. When Lenny and Elsie crawled into bed together the night they shared the Mexican pizza, she snuggled up against his chest as though it was the most ordinary thing in the world and fell promptly asleep.
Just a month ealier, Lenny wondered what it might be like to bed a woman like Elsie. The experience proved sedate and uneventful. It was pure bliss. He couldn't get the feeling out of his system for days afterward. She wasn't terribly pretty, but she elicited a reverential awe. She couldn't make change. A human slug like Derrick could fornicate with her and then thumb his nose at the girl with the weak chin and deferential smile. It was like something out of an Aesop's fable - the dim-witted Tortoise and the sociopathic Hare.
The night they slept together without having sex, the swelter of conflicting emotions confounded Lenny. He lay there in the darkness holding her pliable body, sodden with ineffable joy.
On Wednesday evening, Lenny stopped by Elsie's place. "How you doing?"
"Better." She held the door wide open. "I got work at a doctor's office."
"So I heard."
"Can I get you anything?" She led the way into the kitchen.
Lenny slouched down in a chair. "Cup of coffee, maybe."
Elsie filled the mesh basket on a single-serve Black and Decker coffee brewer with grounds and added water. "Doctor Blake is real nice Everything's going fine."
"You don't handle cash."
"I process the payments," Elsie corrected, "but use a digital calculator so my 'situation' doesn't become an issue."
The coffee brewed, she brought the cup and a pitcher of light cream to the table. "The dyslexia… I was diagnosed in elementary school." She stood near the sink. "It's why I can't learn shit."
"But you're doing okay at the doctor's office."
"For sure!" Her features brightened noticeably. "Like I told you, I need a calculator to double-check my math, because sometimes, in my screwed-up brain I see figures backwards."
"In the wrong order?"
Elsie smiled sheepishly. "While the doctor's giving an eye exam, I talk myself through a math problem, out loud… softly to myself, without disturbing the other patients. I use my ears not just my eyes to make sure bills are accurate." Elsie looked him full in the face and her voice softened. "Want to spend the night?"
"I didn't come here with that in mind, but, yeah, that would be nice. This time, though, maybe we can get a little more sociable, if you know what I mean."
Elsie ignored the playful banter."So if you didn't come here with that in mind…"
Later as they lay naked under the covers, Elsie ran her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. "Any two numbers… ask me to multiply them."
Lenny was dozing off with Doctor Sheldon Blake's new receptionist draped lightly across his chest. "What's that?"
"Any numbers between two and twelve." She spoke purposefully. The sex was over and done. Not quite ready for sleep yet, in her doggedly resolute manner, the girl had moved on.
"Eight times eight." Lenny felt his blissed-out brain going off on drowsy hiatus.
The girl kisses him leisurely on the side of the mouth, then nipped his ear with her teeth - just hard enough to grab his attention. "Eight times eight is sixty-four, close your mouth and shut the door!" she intoned with a herky-jerky, singsong inflection. "He ate and ate and sticks in the door, eight times eight is sixty-four. Skate, skate, figure eight's all the way to the shore, eight times eight is sixty-four."
Lenny caressed her buttocks. "Nine times nine."
"He stood in line and ate a ton, nine times nine is eighty-one."
"That's how you learned to multiply?"
"There was no reply. The girl, who could rhyme all twelve multiplication tables, had fallen off the steep ledge into deep sleep.
The thought occurred to Lenny that certain shared intimacies were commonplace. Derrick could have picked himself up off the bathroom floor, gone home and fornicated with the platinum blonde. In the grand scheme of things the carnal act counted for nothing. In the morning over a leisurely breakfast, Lenny would suggest a dinner date at one of the exclusive Italian restaurants on Federal Hill, where a parking valet greeted you curbside and diners cleansed their pallet with fruity sorbet between courses.
He stood in line and ate a ton, nine times nine is eighty-one.