“This city, I swear, it gets more illumination from all the neon than from the sun itself,” she says as she pulls down the blinds.
I can’t disagree, except that I like all the neon. Like the way it makes everything look ever so slightly surreal.
The all-night pawn shop across the street, the pizza joint below me, the Edward Hopper-esque cafe on the corner—all make sure I never have to face my demons in the dark. And I do get a lot of them—demons.
Some say it’s PTSD, but that seems to imply that on some level I have moved on past the trauma when in truth it’s still very much with me. In every thought, in every nightmare. Every time my old bullet wounds groan to the rain.
The woman before me, the one who dislikes neon light, she’s a demon too, after a fashion. I’ve known her kind over the years. This neon city is full of them. The ones who’ll never talk to you in a bar—who won’t go to the bars you go to. She’s beautiful but far from pure; I’d bet behind her oversized shades are eyes that have seen things.
When she takes her sunglasses off, I can see that I was right. Her eyes are grey, the color of the smoke swirling above smokers’ heads like strange halos. She gives me a look—that look—takes me in, sums up my worth.
I know I’m easy to figure. A cliché, really. Got chewed up and spit out by the army, didn’t have the temperament for police work, so here I am—just another private detective. Cheaper than most, less selective than most too.
She must know it. Because the next thing she says to me is, “I’d like you to kill someone for me.”
I bet she’s never taken no for an answer. Maybe never even heard a no.
Me, I’m a betting man. People bets tend to pay out, ponies … that’s another story.
She’s beautiful, alright, even in this dimmed light. Looks just like that movie star, but I can’t think of a name. My strength is faces … names, not so much.
She unbuttons her trench coat, its fabric shimmers like moonlight on water. Beneath it are legs. Legs for days, as my old man used to say. A dress so short it can qualify as a suggestion of a dress; one that starts too low and ends too high. Or, as some would think, just right.
Tasteful, understated jewelry, I can tell she has money. I want her money—wanting her would be useless, I’m a practical guy.
“Murder is illegal last I checked.”
“Last I checked you weren’t all that scrupulous about it,” she parries.
“Who’d you say it was that recommended me?”
“A phone book,” she smiles wryly.
Liar, my ad in the phone book is a blink-and-miss-it affair. She must have tried others; others who dared to say no to her, before coming here. I tend to be the ‘last resort’ kinda solution.
“Who did you have in mind?” I ask. “Hypothetically speaking.”
“My shadow,” she says.
Ava Moore isn’t her real name and the age she gives out to agents isn’t her real age. Her beauty though is real, albeit touched up frequently, and it gets her work. Over the years she transitions from small-time print ads to tv work, but stardom eludes her.
She has the talent, the determination, the looks, but in this business, you need more than that—you need lady luck herself to give you that one fateful push.
Ava doesn’t hesitate to explore other options; she doesn’t think herself above sleeping her way to the top. After all, it means nothing. She’d been in love once, years and years ago. She wouldn’t recommend the experience.
Her latest conquest—a corpulent, hirsute movie producer twenty-five years her senior—is exactly the right step on the success ladder. Ava’s been going on some very promising auditions. She’s being considered for some very promising roles. It feels like a begging … however delayed. Finally, finally, within reach.
She can still, just barely, play a wide-eyed ingénue, if the lighting is right. She wants it so badly, she can barely sleep for the want of it.
Everything’s going great until her shadow shows up.
At first, she doesn’t think much of a mousy girl who does her make-up and fetches her coffee. It’s just someone the studio assigned her, and Ava is grateful. She takes it to mean that, at long last, things are moving in the right direction.