Keith blew cigarette smoke out. “Yeah, baby, I’m here,” he lied in what he hoped was a strong, assuring voice. Fact is, he was, as the saying goes, a million miles away, lost in more worried thought than he’d known in a long time.
He listened to himself. His voice didn’t sound the least bit strong or assured at all. It reminded him of being a kid, nauseous with fear at answering an adult’s threatening summons, like a call to account for something somebody had broken in the living room where children weren’t supposed to be horsing around in the first place.
His response now was just as helpless. He was a grownup scared to say something that would wound another grownup who had made herself as defenseless as, well, a child.
“Hell, some child,” he chuckled to himself, hardly aware he’d spoken out loud. He went on visualizing her in his head: She stood five feet-plus off the ground (he’d never actually asked Lesli her height, now that he thought about it, but fairly tall for a woman, had to be, oh, five-seven, maybe five-eight with an athletic figure — shapely, firm, an ounce or so short of being actually thick but no skinny-minnie by any means). And she completely cussed me out the very first time she ever set eyes on me.
It was in L.A. Not Hollywood, but hot-shot enough for a few big-timers to be there, seeing and being seen. At the home of Jim Reed, an acquaintance he’d made through some contractor-promoter or other. It was a party for, he clearly recalled, then-emerging, now stellar neo-soul singer Mirage.
He’d been dancing with — or opposite, anyway — a slim-as-a-switch, good-looking Asian chick who couldn’t find the rhythm with radar. He’d taken a step backward and landed squarely on Lesli’s instep. Turning to apologize, he caught a strong blast of rum-and-Coke from someone’s breath and glimpsed an ungodly gorgeous female face.
“I’m so sorry—” he started to say by way of apology.
A slender hand was moving into his eyes. And moving fast. He didn’t like the idea of defending himself against a woman. Instinct, though, borne of growing up on a Brooklyn, N.Y. street, kicked in, not slowed by the considerable number of double-Jack-rocks he’d had himself. From the look in her eyes and the speed of her swing — it all registered to him in reflex — this drunk broad was about to slap him into the middle of next Tuesday.
He braced, balanced and leaned back, blocking her arm at the elbow. She swung with the other arm and he blocked that too. She got ready to kick him square between his legs, and he flung her away.
She’d landed squarely against the stereo, from which Mirage’s new album no longer pumped to hearty revelers’ content. The whole place went dead with people looking around, grousing, “What the..?” And Lesli, flat on the floor, hollering abuse at the top of her considerable lungs…
He’d stood open-mouthed, slack-jawed, struggling to bring sudden circumstance into some sort of sense. She, coiled in submission, called him everything she could think of except a child of God. Lesli denounced Keith with assertions about his parentage. He was, she loudly announced with unassailable authority, the product of a random coupling of strangers. His mother, she declared, had lycanthropic tendencies and was not in good standing with the Lord.
Next week: Hot words lead to warm showers.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.