A Pale Apricot Moon (1286 words)
A pale apricot moon hung in the night sky. Lying in bed, Lenny watched it looking in on him and wondered whether he would be discovered or whether he would get away with it.
The ‘phone rang and he froze, pinned to the mattress, listening to its shrill summons repeating over and over. Finally, he leapt up; and the moon veiled herself in wisps of cloud at the sight of his nudity, at the affront of his rudity.
He held the handset to his ear without speaking.
“Lenny?” The voice was low, conspiratorial. “Lenny, is that you?”
“Depends,” Lenny muttered.
“I heard that. Don’t bugger me about, Lenny!”
He let go the breath he was holding. Ellie was all right.
“Your bollocks for one thing. And I’m going to come round and chop ‘em off personally.”
“Yes, personally, in person.”
“What even if the moon’s watching?” He turned to the window and gave a wave.
“Yeah, gelding by moonlight, it’s an ancient rite…that is, the right of the woman dispossessed to have her pound of cobblers.”
Suppressed laughter exploded through Lenny’s nose and he wiped the fruits of it on the back of his hand, twirling for a tissue and finding only his discarded underpants.
“Dispossessed of what?” he said, his voice half-throttled by a second eruption. He applied the pants directly this time and blew into them.
“Dispossessed of her trappings. Dispossessed of her essence.”
“Dispossessed of her trappings? What does that mean?
“It means dispossessed of her wherewithalls.”
“Her wherewithalls?” Lenny gurgled, as he collapsed on the duvet, gasping for air against the hoots and whoops bursting out of him, his knees to his chest and his ribs concertinaring in and out, up and down.
“Yes, ‘cause I saw you.” Something sharper edged into Ellie’s voice. “And you weren’t going where you said you were.”
Lenny sat up, swivelling his feet to the ground. “Hang on.” He left the phone on the bed, closed the curtain and pulled on a threadbare bathrobe from the back of the door.
“Right,” he said, picking it up again, “It’s not what you think.”
“Isn’t it? What do you think I think?”
Lenny’s grin was tight and anxious. “Trick question, Ellie. I’m not falling for that one.”
“I’ll tell you then, shall I?”
But before she could go any further, there was a loud banging on the door; not a knock with the knuckles, but a pounding with the side of a fist.
“Sounds like truth time,” Ellie said and rang off.
“Who is it?” Lenny tried to control the tremble in his voice and failed.
“Father fucking Christmas! Open the door, Lenny.”
Lenny drew back the bolt and opened it. A large man, smelling of cologne and wearing an expensive, camel-coloured overcoat, blocked out most of the landing behind him.
“Ah, here you are, laddie,” he said, striding into the centre of the room and looking around him. His face beamed down from the same height as the moon had done, but it was larger and closer. “Squalid little place you have here.”
“I can explain, Douglas.”
“I hope you can, laddie.” The man took hold of the only chair in the room, a dark-stained, wheel-back, and shook the clothes off it onto the floor. Placing it where he had been standing, he unbuttoned his coat and sat down. “And it’s Mister Alexander to a little street rat like you, Lenny.” Behind the smile, the eyes narrowed like the voice.
“The thing is,” Lenny started, tightening the belt of his robe and wishing he had his clothes on; “I was going to…”
“Close the door,” the man interrupted, his smile disappearing. “We’re going to need some privacy.”
Lenny did as he was told and stood with his back to it, his fingers still on the handle.
“Come over here,” the man ordered, pointing to the floor in front of him.
Lenny walked towards him, until he was three or four paces away.
The man smiled. “Closer,” he said. Lenny took a step in. “And again. Don’t be shy, laddie.” Lenny shuffled half-a-pace forward. The man stretched out a hand, wrapped his fingers around Lenny’s bicep and squeezed. Further down, the tips of Lenny’s fingers began to tingle. The man pulled him in closer still and let go. “That’s better,” he said.
He stood up and Lenny’s eyes flicked shut, as he sucked in his breath; but the man moved away to the side. He took off his coat and, straightening the duvet, smoothed it out on the bed. With his back still to Lenny, he slipped his suit jacket off, as well, and laid it next to the coat with equal care.
Turning, he rolled each shirt sleeve to just below the elbow and, loosening his tie, undid the top button of his shirt.
“Now then,” he said, resuming his seat, “you were about to explain to me how and why a…”
A sharp, double rap on the door cut the man short; and Lenny, crossing himself, sprang away to answer it.
A young woman was standing outside, bouncing on the balls of her sneakers, a restless energy coiled around her like the silver ring through her nose. She was wearing jeans and a zipped, leather bomber jacket, black like her hair, which was razored short at the back and the sides.
“We’re busy, Ms McVay,” came the man’s baritone over Lenny’s shoulder. “Can I ask you to call back later?”
“No, you can’t!” she said, pushing Lenny aside and advancing into the room, her dark eyes flashing. “If there’s any violence due to this limp dick of a man, Mr Alexander, then I’m the first in line.”
“Well, lassie, you’ve a lot more balls than he has,” the man chuckled.
“That’s not difficult,” she said; and a blade shot into her hand from her sleeve.
“Oh Jesus, Ellie!” Lenny cried from the doorway.
“I’m here to geld him myself, you see,” she grinned, ignoring him. “So, you can have what’s left, after I’ve finished with him.”
The man moved fast, springing forward to grab her wrist and sending his chair spinning over behind him; but she was too quick and his hand closed on air. Half-crouching, she circled away from him, her arms curving out in front like a crab, with the knife in one hand balanced by the other, palm down.
“All right,” the man said, standing up straight and raising his hands in the air in a mock gesture of surrender. “Cats can give you a nasty scratch, I’ll grant you that.”
He rolled his sleeves down, closed the knot of his tie and shrugged on his jacket, followed by his overcoat.
As the man came for the door, Lenny edged to one side. “And you,” the man said, blocking Lenny’s movement with a stiff arm to the wall, “be at the club tomorrow night.” The steely eyes bored into him, unblinking. “Nine o’clock, laddie, not a minute later. We’ll continue our discussion then.”
“I’ll be there,” Lenny said.
The man took his arm away, moved out onto the landing and then turned.
“You’ve over-played your hand today, Ms McVay. There will have to be a reckoning, I’m afraid.”
He nodded and was gone. Without moving, they listened to his measured tread dying away down the stairs and then to the sudden rise and fall of the street noise outside.
Lenny let out an extended groan of relief. “Oh, Ellie, you’re a life saver…literally!” Grinning, he spread his arms wide and swayed towards her.
“You better get some towels,” she said, pointing the knife directly at him.
Copyright: Charles Becker, 2019.