A primal sound consequently erupted from Joe, a repeated series of whoops that was more than likely being repeated “word-for-word” by a silverback somewhere in the far reaches of the Congo. Also, much like his genetic cousin on the other continent, my hairy Armenian friend with coiffed hair began pumping his arms in the air, and if he had traded his suit for a loincloth and a club, he could have easily been mistaken for the second incarnation of Tarzan. Not counting his bitter tirade in that derelict building amongst our new rupestrine friends, I had never seen him so vividly emotive. His wide eyes and open mouth said it all: Me right! Donna two-timing slut! Donna bad! Donna, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more of an antipode to Joe’s reaction. Ignoring him for the time being, she calmly smiled at me while leaning forward to cradle her head on a supporting arm.
“It is true that I work for the Dun Group…and it is true that we are trying to clear out a few blocks in West New York for reconstruction. And even though I do not participate in all those deals being made, I am not ashamed of that. And I am not ashamed of trying to send dirty cops to jail, especially if they get in the way of making money. How’s it called? One stone, two birds?” She shrugged, taking another slug from her bottle. “And I am dating a top guy at the Dun Group.” She smirked again, with that same mischievous appearance that bordered on being diabolical. “But I date a few men. I am dating a retired Princeton professor who is from a rich family and almost double my age, plus we have a fun time with toys in the bedroom…all while his wife is dying from cancer. I am not ashamed of that, either…because life is about having options. I make my choices without shame, and I choose to help get rid of Captain O’Bannon, to both get rid of bad cops and to make money. To be honest, that actually makes me proud.”
Damn…that is one woman it’d be a mistake to mess with. For the second time in so many days, I watched the balloon that was Joe’s elation suddenly deflate, popped by the indignant stab of Donna’s stern conviction. Though his posture hadn’t lost any of its righteousness, his slumped shoulders and countenance showed an inability to reconcile the unabashed candidness and the actual words from our pragmatic ally. His lips flapped silently as they formed various shapes in confusion, emitting sounds that fell flat due to having no volume. As for me, I experienced a doomed sense of certainty. I had a sinking feeling, knowing that we were farther than ever from our initial goal and steadily plunging into a Mariana’s Trench that sepulchers all hope. Taking Joe’s sensibilities into account, I was well aware that such a revelation could be the very undoing of this shaky alliance.
“Well,” I stated flatly, failing to resist the temptations of witzelsucht, “Nobody here cares about your sex life, Donna. Unless, of course, there are pictures that you’re willing to share.” When no laughter came my way, I took the hint and plodded onward. “Anyway…I think that I speak for both Joe and myself, when I say that we don’t ultimately care about your personal conquests. What we do care about is whether or not you’re actually being up front and telling the truth about Richie. You are…right? And you have the proof to back it up?”
Donna’s face reverted back to her previous stoicism. “Yes.”
“Okay…well…I can work with that. And I’m sure that Joe might not agree with all of your life choices, but he’ll get past them.” At the very least, I sure hope so… “Out of curiosity, though…do you think that any of your more powerful boyfriends might help us out? You know, a favorite among them who’d be more inclined to lend a hand?”
She stared into the space behind my head in a pensive trance. “Hmmm…maybe one of them could help.” She paused again, not wearing hesitation well since it didn’t really suit her. “And I don’t have a favorite among them…since I do not love any of them. All of them are useful to me in some way, but it is hard to measure it…maybe the professor? He’s older, and he might leave his estate to me in his will.”
Observing her dark eyes as having a resemblance to a starless vacuum, I realized that this situation bore striking similarities to the awkward moment with her cousin: sometimes there’s really nothing to say, since it just is what it is. Who knows where it all started for Donna. It could have had something to do with that grandfather who yearned for a son and had incessantly reminded her of it. Perhaps it had been a father who never paid any attention to a young girl looking for some kind of approval. Maybe it was a seminal uncle who had betrayed her trust when she had discovered him looking through a drilled peephole in the bathroom or when he had a case of wandering hands. Whatever and whenever didn’t matter anymore. Somewhere along the line, she had made a critical choice about the rest of her life and about the men who would be in it. In that denouement, the decision had been made: she would never be a victim again. She would use them like they had used her before and like they intended to do again. Similar to the décor of her minimalist apartment, her very soul would be functional yet uninviting. She would bear a thousand pounds on her shoulders but would never hang a few grains on sand from her fragile heart. Like so many other young girls who experience disappointment or horror, some aspect of her had departed permanently, for which there would never be a return of that native. No dialogue of any length could stretch across the vast distances to bring it back, and her very essence would be forever sealed by an encircled wall of steel and crowning razor wire. It is what it is.
An exasperated Joe leaned back, reeling as if struck by a metaphysical lightning bolt. “Jesus Christ, Donna! Messed up doesn’t even come close to describing you…I’ve had enough for one day! Ridiculous! Sorry, Pete…I gotta leave and take a break in order to process all of this.”
“Come on,” I said, attempting in vain to recover this disastrous situation, “We can’t call it a night on this note…”
To which, in response, the universe disputed my assessment by triggering a knock on Donna’s front door. When Donna invited into her home those who beckoned, our building super Miguel and Rhonda entered and were greeted by all.
Joe waved, picking up his coat from the sofa. “Good to see you, Rhonda and Miguel. You came at just the right time. I was just leaving this madhouse.”
I focused on Rhonda. “What’s going on? Everything okay?”
Miguel, still in the car repairman uniform of his other job, began to explain. “On the second floor. There’s a situation…”
“You should come right away,” Rhonda interrupted urgently. “It’s your naked girl. She’s back.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.