Slow Squeeze(10)

By: Dianne Emley

Barbie watched Iris with heavily made-up brown eyes creased with crow’s-feet. She chewed another hunk of steak. “That’s very sweet. Thank you. But you’re holdin’ back the good stuff.”

“Why do you care what I think of you? You told me earlier you’ve learned to just please yourself.”

“And I do. But if I’m gonna give you my money, I got a right to see what you’re made of, don’t ya think? Believe me, you’re not gonna tell me anything I don’t already know.”

“All right. You like showing you have money, but that’s not unusual for someone who’s not used to having it and something that I completely understand. You lack a certain…polish, but it’s part of your charm. Since schooling tends to round off rough edges, I’ll guess you haven’t had much beyond high school, which only shows how far you’ve pulled yourself up. You’re certainly memorable. The flirting and flamboyant clothes contribute to that. People enjoy being with you.”

“Flirting? Flirting how?”

Iris paused, struggling for a diplomatic response. “Well, like being touchy-feely. Maybe I misinterpreted your interaction with the bartender. If I did, I apologize.” She took another bite of her cooling food.

“Being touchy-feely bothers you?”

Iris shrugged. “Whatever works for you.”

Barbie reached across the table and put her hand on Iris’s hand. “So if I touch you, you think I’m flirting with you?” She looked into Iris’s eyes.

Iris returned Barbie’s gaze and didn’t move. “Of course not.”

“Does it bother you?”

Iris pulled her hand from Barbie’s and reached for her glass of mineral water. “No. It doesn’t bother me,” she said confidently. “All this provides some interesting possibilities in terms of an investment strategy. My feel is, since you got your money quickly you think it’ll keep coming the same way. I’d like to balance something high-risk, high-return with a few more conservative choices. But I hope I haven’t offended you by some of the things I’ve said. You may want to shop elsewhere, but you won’t find anyone in this town who will do a better job for Barbie Stringfellow.”

“Waiter? Honey, could I have a cup of coffee please? Iris?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Don’t worry, Iris. You’d have to go a long, long way before you offend me. You’re nice to say I’m not polished. I came from dirt. A little place in Mississippi that you could hardly call a town. Wore clothes the town folks gave me. I’d remake them to fit. High school education? Good Lord, you flatter me. Daddy worked for the railroad. Momma took off when I was twelve, leavin’ me to take care of my three snot-nosed brothers and my father and that shack we called a house. I left home at fifteen. Got a guy I knew to drive me to Atlanta. Ain’t never been back. Got my first job as a stripper, even though I was underage.”

The busboy brought the coffee.

Barbie poured in artificial sweetener. Iris drank hers black.

“Iris, you’re wrong about one thing. My money did not come easy. It may have come all at once when I married Hal, but it did not come easy. I used whatever god-given talents I had to get ahead, to make somethin’ of myself. Just like you. See, you and I aren’t all that different. You just went about it different.”

Barbie pulled her large handbag onto the table top, plunged her hand inside, and dug around. “Hal left me well set. I didn’t even have a bank account before I met him. He taught me to manage money. He taught me that you need to put your money to work for you.”

She took out a purple wallet, flipped it open, and began writing a check.

Iris silently watched, remembering that a good salesperson knows when to talk and when to shut up.

Barbie held the checkbook with the flat of her left hand and tore out the check with her right. She held it between two long nails toward Iris.

Iris took it. It was made out for fifty thousand dollars.

“This good enough to get us started, darlin’?”


Iris said good-bye to Barbie in the parking lot of Wave and took Pacific Coast Highway south to Topanga Canyon Boulevard. She left the top down on the TR. The night air helped sober her up from the buzz of closing the sale. Her purse sat unzipped on the passenger seat and she caught a glimpse of Barbie’s check. She fingered the paper.