“Does Frida have a good nose?”
Harold Zelenko lit his ninth cigarette of the day, and took a gulp of coffee. “Old ball and chain has the best nose in perdition,” he said. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. The Florida sun hadn’t yet reached its zenith, but there was no roof over the fenced motel patio, and it was a barbecue pit.
“I meant a nose for trouble.” Agnes Ames–private investigator, her card said–uncrossed and re-crossed her legs.
“No, Frida keeps her nose out of everything,” said Harold. “Only broad I know who does. She doesn’t even watch those soap operas all her friends love.” From his crotch came a twinge at the thought of his wife’s friends, particularly Myra Bixler of the blue bedroom eyes and impertinent rack. While Frida had been visiting her sister down in Sarasota, he and Myra had gone at it like weasels on the living room sofa. They’d put a spot on the quilt Frida claimed had come straight from Bucharest with her great-grandmother. It was right around the holiday season, so Harold told her he’d spilled eggnog while watching TV.
His eyes wandered back to Agnes. Her ironed slacks and polished pumps said secretary, but her pixie nose and Brigitte Bardot pout said porn star. He’d had reservations about doing business with a female investigator, but she did have the best résumé of the handful of applicants. Plus, she’d brought coffee in a neat little thermos. It was rough-tasting, but by God it was caffeinated.
“This sounds like a killing,” said Agnes with a smile.
“Yeah, you know, real kid stuff. Easy stuff.” Harold tore his eyes away from her hips, and lit another cigarette. “And you walk away with some big American boffos.”
Lately, there was just something different about Frida. If he entered the room, she hung up the phone. He found himself eating dinner solo in front of the news while she sat in bed reading. The difference was almost a smell, a vapor she exuded as she went about her day.
Harold tried to swallow, but someone had stuffed his mouth and throat with cotton. The cigarette between his cold, clammy fingers had gone heavy as lead, and he let it fall to the floor. Tiny sparks flared, scattered and winked out. From somewhere in the distance came Agnes Ames’s voice suggesting he lie down. She didn’t assist him, and he didn’t ask. The bed was perhaps six feet from his chair, but on legs of taffy, it was the longest six feet he’d ever walked. The world swelled and swooped before him as if he’d gotten into a swing, and the ceiling did the same when he fell back on the bedspread.
“No, it isn’t the heat,” said Agnes. “It’s the muscle relaxant in your coffee.” In one latex gloved hand, she had an orange bottle with a white label. The pressed tablets inside rattled like dry bones.
“Agh,” said Harold. He knew that bottle. Last Easter, he’d tried to move the monster armoire in the guest bedroom. Instead of throwing out the leftovers of his prescription after his back improved, he’d left them in the medicine cabinet.
The mattress shivered under Harold as Agnes climbed onto it. She rolled his left sleeve. When she unbuckled his belt, he entertained the slim hope that she planned to suck him off, but then she eased the belt from its loops and cinched it just below his bicep. She waited, then slapped for a vein. In Harold’s humble opinion, she administered the injection a stupid way. The angle was ridiculous. After the bite of the needle, she let the belt fall away, and laid the syringe in his right hand. She rolled it around in his palm, then pressed each of his fingers to the barrel and plunger top. Harold understood.
She slipped from the bed. He tried to turn his head, but his neck wouldn’t work. The aroma of pine and spice followed the click of a lighter, and Agnes reappeared, a Tampa Nugget cigar clamped between her teeth. Harold knew that cigar brand, too. Myra’s husband, Paul, smoked those like a chimney.
Agnes had replaced the prescription bottle with a bottle of perfume. It was the fancy cut glass sort with a bulb sprayer. She gave his shirt and hair a good misting, overlaying the cigar smoke with a cloud of sugary flowers. Sugary familiar flowers. Harold’s eyes blurred. A tear escaped and ran into his ear. A nose, a nose for trouble. He gurgled, which was all the laugh he could manage. Myra Bixler’s perfume, Paul Bixler’s cigars. His wife would identify both to police with the greatest of ease.
As if reading his mind, Agnes blew an impressive smoke ring right in his face. “For this job, you did offer a few big American boffos,” she said. “But your wife paid me much bigger ones.”
She turned away then, and Harold slipped into a dark, soft place. Perhaps with some luck, God would put him someplace without broads.