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Grace

Grace was not like the young girls he favored, fresh and green and the younger the better. She made herself up with lips painted red, eyelashes Maybellined, and eyebrows penciled black. Brittle. That was the word. She was slick as ice.

Her hair was bobbed off at a sharp jaw line, cut short on her neck in the back and bleached too blonde. A cigarette always hanging out of her mouth. Good straight teeth but yellowed with nicotine. Stale like yesterday’s ashtray, strong and bitter like old tea gone stout. A clear laugh, a throaty voice, both cut across a room and brought attention.

She was the kind of woman who lived on the edge of ugly, but she moved with purpose, with an aim to where she was going. She never backed away from saying right out what she had in mind. He wanted to know her better.

She mentioned they should marry.

“Why not?” he said. It wouldn’t be for long.

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Hotel De Hertogshof, Batavia, Dutch East Indies

A woman can disable a man in a variety of ways. Karate, ju-jitsu, and aikido all come to mind. The old stand-by, fornication, works as well as most. Invite a second woman to the tryst and the man hasn’t a chance. A guy balancing a pretty French tart on his mustache and the world’s most beautiful exotic dancer on his cock isn’t going to think straight.

Nevertheless, Mata Hari, the woman riding the cock, had no time to waste if she wanted to survive the night. The Hohenzollern coat of arms tattooed on Mr. Tobias Kupper’s shoulder marked him as a German Army officer, and not, as he had claimed, a Dutch tire salesman. She had suspected as much throughout their flirtation these past days, just as she suspected someone, likely an accomplice of Kupper’s, had tailed them to the hotel.

She had selected the perfect hotel for the tryst. A raucous dance band played American ragtime music two floors below, loud enough to mask a thud or stifled scream. The beat pulsed through the floor. The moan of saxophones wafted on the sultry Javanese air, through the open window over the fire escape. Mentally she followed the fire escape’s wrought iron stairs from the balcony to the dark alley behind the building, then to the safety of the streets and alleys in Batavia’s Rijswijk district.

Mr. Kupper’s clothes lay in a pile on the floor beside the squeaking bed. While Mata Hari uttered a stream of groans and ribald flattery over the size of his manhood, she leaned over and picked up his jacket, making the movements feel like part of the Javanese dance she was doing on his Johnson. Bingo. She felt a small pistol in the left pocket, as well as a small cylinder the size of dismounted silencer.

The time had come for the signal. She kissed the French tart, who promptly leapt off the assassin’s face and bent over an end table, in accordance with Mata Hari’s earlier instructions. A photographer would burst in to capture Mr. Kupper in flagrante delicto, and the blackmailing scheme would be complete. Or so she had told the girl.

Mata Hari whispered breathily in Kupper’s ear, “Don’t leave her waiting.”

Pussy-dazed and hypoxic, Mr. Kupper stumbled after La Belle France and took her from behind over the end table. Unwisely, he turned his back on Mata Hari. If there had been a book called Assassination for Dummies it would have an entire chapter on not turning your back on Mata Haris in general, complete with side-bars entitled: Playing with dynamite, Putting your head in the lion’s mouth, Catching a tiger by the tail, etc.

Mata Hari knew Mr. Kupper’s greedy little reptile brain would quickly sense the threesome had suddenly two-somed. If a little power were redirected to the suspicion-center of his brain, the German agent could turn on her. Taking the Belgian Model 1910 automatic pistol and Maxim silencer from the jacket pocket, she spooned behind the assassin. Matching the rhythm of his coupling, she screwed the silencer to the pistol.
“Bite her,” Mata Hari breathed into Kupper’s ear in her best jail-bait voice, “bite her neck.”

French Apple Pie whimpered in mock pain, further exciting Kupper. With her free hand, Mata Hari shoved a finger up his fundament. Sensory overload for Mr. Kupper. Power shutdown along the entire Eastern Seaboard. 2+2= Ecuador. All reasoning capacity ceased.

Mata Hari aimed the pistol at the back of Kupper’s head. That wasn’t part of the plan she had explained to the French girl. The bullet would pass through his skull and eliminate the witness, also. A sad business, but then the whore had remarked earlier that Mata Hari’s roots were showing, when she damned well knew they weren’t, so the whore had brought it on herself, really.

“I’m going to shoot!” Mr. Kupper, said groaning in ecstasy.

Mata Hari knew she should say something clever, but thinking of nothing, shoved the pistol into the back of Kupper’s skull instead, and began to squeeze the trigger.

The hotel room door crashed open.

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Shampoo and Rinse

. . . I stamped out of the office and went straight to the ladies. I slammed the toilet door which somehow broke the mirror. In thirds, with a gap in the middle. It’s still usable. Makes me shudder every time I see myself, my two halves don’t connect.

I stare at my reflection and think, there’s a piece of me missing, and it feels right, it feels strange and odd and satisfying. It’s as if I have acknowledged something that’s lurked at the depths of my consciousness. I spent so long in here that Poo sent in Wendy to see if I was okay. Touching of him, really, I didn’t think he cared.

Wendy saw the mirror and I saw the words behind her expression. ‘You’re going to have to pay for that.’

‘It wasn’t me,’ I told her and I meant it.

It wasn’t me; it was her. It was the person who’s been missing from my life, the person who looks out through my eyes sometimes. Now I see what she sees, things I’ve never noticed before.

Like Poo doesn’t hate me.

Rince is a pain in the neck.

Shirley is a jealous cow.

Wendy couldn’t care less about me.

Moments like this can be euphoric. I wanted to bawl. Why have I wasted so many years being angry, upset, and lonely? It didn’t have to happen.

Wendy left.

I never saw her go. I stood so long staring at the mirror, staring at the bits of me that were missing and I reached out for the delicious silver sliver lying next to the soap and traced the glass over my wrist, like I used to do as a child to tickle myself.

The first tickle didn’t make me laugh. I laughed when the fourth brushed against my skin puckered and tugged and released rubies of blood. I wanted to stop. I didn’t want to push it in deeper. I did.

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The Conversation

The years had turned her dark hair white, but he saw the younger woman. He remembered her hands, now gesturing in conversation, then bandaging the knee of her little boy, calming his nightmares with tender reassurance. Then, as now, she seemed to exist in a warm, gentle glow, made more cheerful with the wine shared at the cafe table. Would she know him, forgive him, bearded, kerchiefed, declared MIA twenty years ago? He stood across the street pretending to admire art while he gazed at his mother’s reflection in the gallery window. The broken man he had become answered, “No.”

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This is a photo of a postcard invitation to the William Gallery, St. Helena, CA. Depicted on the invitation is a Rod Knutson oil on canvas painting entitled, “The William Gallery.”

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