“It’s like that — you’re paying somebody to do what you don’t want to do yourself. Still has to get done.”
“But I’m not asking you to clean my house.”
Hard to tell if he was smiling a bit when he said it because he’d been dragging on his cigarette. He wore Maui Jim wraparounds with brown lenses, so she couldn’t see his eyes, but he was clearly a good-looking guy, maybe forty, sandy hair, sharp cheekbones and jawline. He was about six feet tall, looked like he worked out, maybe jogged, but didn’t devote his life to it.
“It feels so
,” she said. “Like, this can’t be my life, can it? People don’t
do these kinds of things, do they?”
“Yet,” he said, “they do.”
“How did you get into this line of work?”
“A woman kept asking me questions, and one day I snapped.”
Now he did smile, but it was the kind of smile you gave people who searched for exact change in the express line at Whole Foods.
“How do I know you’re not a cop?”
“You don’t really.” He exhaled a slim stream of smoke; he was one of those rare smokers who could still make it look elegant. The last time Nicole had smoked a cigarette, the World Trade Center had been standing, but now she had to resist the urge to buy a pack.
“Why do you do this for a living?”
“I don’t do it for a living. It doesn’t pay enough. But it rounds off the edges.”
“Poverty.” He stubbed his cigarette out in the black plastic ashtray. “Why do you want your husband dead?”
“Not from me it’s not.” He removed his sunglasses and stared across the table. His eyes were the barely blue of new metal. “If you lie, I’ll know it. And I’ll walk.”
“I’ll find somebody else.”
“Where?” he said. “Under the hit-man hyperlink on Craigs-list?”
She looked out at the water for a moment because it was hard to say the words without a violent tremble overtaking her lower lip.
Then she looked back at him, jaw firm. “He beats me.”
His eyes and face remained stone still, as if he’d been replaced with a photograph of himself. “Where? You look perfectly fine to me.”
That was because Alan didn’t hit her hard every time. Usually, he just held tight to her hair while he flicked his fingers off her chin and nose or twisted the flesh over her hip. In the last couple years, though, after the markets collapsed and Alan and men like him were blamed for it in some quarters, he’d often pop the cork on his depthless self-loathing and unleash on her. He’d buried a fist in her abdomen on three different occasions, lifted her off the floor by her throat, rammed the heel of his hand into her temple hard enough for her to hear the ring of a distant alarm clock for the rest of the day, and laid her out with a surprise punch to the back of the head. When she came to from that one, she was sprawled on the kitchen floor. He’d left a box of Kleenex and an ice pack by her head to show he was sorry.
Alan was always sorry. Whenever he hit her, it seemed to shock him. His pupils would dilate, his mouth would form an O, he’d look at his hand like he was surprised to find it attached to his wrist.
After, he’d fill the bedroom with roses, hire a car to take her to a spa for a day. Then, after this last time, he’d sent her and Lana to Paris.
She told this to Kineavy. Then she told him some more. “He punched me in the lower back once because I didn’t move out of his path to the liquor cart fast enough. Right where the spine meets the ass? You ever try to sit when you’re bruised there? He took a broomstick to the backs of my legs another time. But mostly he likes to punch me in the head, where all my hair is.”
“You do have a lot of it,” Kineavy said.
It was her most striking attribute, even more than her tits, which were 100 percent Nicole and had yet to sag; or her ass, which, truth be told, had