Slow Squeeze(3)

By: Dianne Emley

Since delicacy doesn’t earn ratings, Santé pressed her. “It must have horrible when…” “Tell us how you felt when…” “Is there anything worse than…?”

“She’s losing it,” Charlotte said. “All that poise don’t go too deep, does it, Iris?”

Iris’s voice broke, and a tear painted a line down her cheek. She brushed the tear with the back of her finger. The sister securities trader sitting on Iris’s right put a reassuring hand on her arm. The camera panned the audience again. The women wiped their eyes and noses with tissues. The men looked aghast. Everyone felt lucky that these things hadn’t happened to them.

“And quite a bit of the embezzled money is still missing, isn’t it, Iris? How much?”

“About a million dollars.”

The audience gasped.

“Rumor has it that since you were good friends with the murdered mailroom boy who stole the money, you know where it is,” Santé said forebodingly.

Iris’s momentary loss of control passed. She touched the last tear on her cheek. “People keep looking for more scandal, but there isn’t any.”

The show broke for commercials.

“A million bucks,” Lorraine said. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“I’m gonna call,” Charlotte said. She pushed Lorraine’s feet off her lap and leaned across the couch to grab the telephone sitting on an end table. She dialed a few times before she was finally put through. The program staff queried her about where she was calling from and her purpose.

“We have a caller from Salt Lake City, Utah,” Susie Santé said. “Are you there, caller?”

“Hi, this is Charlotte. I just wanted to tell Iris that you’re a hell of a woman to have gone through what you did and to just keep on rollin’. My hat’s off to you, sugar.”

The audience applauded enthusiastically.

“Thank you.” Iris smiled.

Charlotte hung up.

“Happy now?” Lorraine asked.

“Rainey! You’re not jealous, are you?” She put her arms around Lorraine. “You got no reason to be.”

There was a knock at the front door.

“Who in Hades…?” Charlotte got up. “I’ll get it.”

She walked across the living room and looked through the peephole in the front door.

“Who is it?” Lorraine asked.

“Some guy. Looks like he’s selling something.”

“Don’t open it.”

“Let me just see what he’s got. It’s Christmas, after all.”

Charlotte pulled open the door, stepped outside, and quickly pulled the door closed behind her. She patted her arms against the cold. “Well, Jack Goins. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“This is nowhere near your neighborhood.”

“The world’s my neighborhood.”

“Hmmm. How did you know I was here?”

“I always know where you are. You keep making that mistake, don’t you? Thinking people are stupid.”

“I paid you this month. Didn’t you get it?”

“I got it. But I’m a little short.”

“That’s your problem.”

“No, my dear. It’s yours.”

“I’m not giving you any more.”

“I think you are.”

Charlotte ran her hands up and down her arms. She was wearing only a thin sweater.

The man ran the back of his fingers against Charlotte’s cheek. “Your face is cold.” He looked at her chest. “And your nipples are perked. Maybe we ought to go inside and get warm.” He moved his fingers down her neck and across her chest. “Like we used to, remember?”

“I’m not alone. How much do you want?”

“A thousand would do it.”

“A thousand?”

He shook his head sadly. “Prices are going up all over. Terrible, isn’t it?”

“Come back tomorrow at two o’clock.” She rubbed her hand against his face, drew her thumb across his lips, and stuck it in his mouth. He sucked on it. “I’ll be alone then.”

Charlotte went back inside the apartment.