I could be anyone in a red dress walking into Clark’s. Anyone in a ripped, red, satin dress walking up to the bartender without looking at him; hearing him mutter, ‘that’s original’ when I order my whiskey neat. I chase it with the Schlitz he slides in front of me, and finally look up at him and then past him to the reflection in the bar mirror after two more. They don’t see me. I am just part of the furniture here, where dames in red dresses get a raw deal seven nights a week. We get tiresome, I know. But, give me time. I might grow on you.
The woman at the desk was brusque and impatient. The line was getting longer by the minute. She didn’t look at or speak to Petra.
“2 adults to Lisbon.”
She prepared their tickets and stamped them, her eyes boring into Roberts’ eyes as they were slid across the counter with immaculately groomed and sharpened red claws. She seemed to notice Petra for the first time and eyed them both close and tight. Robert took the tickets and dipped his hat, turning to walk away with a hand at Petra’s back. “90 minutes.”
He could feel the shape of a target in the middle of his back as they made their way to the gate. They didn’t stop at a lavatory or a café. They walked until they reached the gate, then they sat down.
One day in London turned into Petra and Robert replaying the good parts of Niagara Falls. The first two days were spent fasting, and nearly dehydrating, in their hotel room. On the third day Petra and Robert ventured out, finding their way to a restaurant, and then to a racetrack, somewhere Petra could place a bet. It could have been anywhere, but Robert did love the horses. They got his heart racing in a way that nothing else could with the exception of the roulette table. Petra went along with it without much to say. She could live without gambling for once– the entire escapade a gamble, whether they lived or died, together or alone.
Petra and Robert were less than two hours in the air, but it felt like more. Petra had been nearly killed, but it didn’t cause her the personal agony the hours did while flying next to him. Robert was polite. He let her sit by the window. He stood when she needed to walk about the plane. He ordered her a drink. God knew they both needed one. He was insistent that this ‘talk’ they were going to have was not going to be in public. He was not going to be standing in front of the world while she removed the dagger from his gut that she had left there in Niagara Falls.
Robert went through the attacker’s pockets, putting their contents into his own pockets. He did not remove his gloves. Petra did as he told her to do, getting a pair of shoes she could run in and a skirt that did not trip her up. But there was no time and she barely got dressed before he was pulling her out of there. She grabbed her purse and followed him out of the door to the bank of elevators.
“Do you expect anyone you know to still be in the hotel, perhaps in the lobby?”
“No, they leave after the parties. They live in the city. But the workers in the lobby know who I am. They always speak to me.” He took a look at the elevators then kept walking, never letting go of her. He walked with her through a darkened ball room, and to the freight elevator, taking a chance on the one that got him up here. The thing about paying off the help is there is always someone around to pay them more to cross you. The elevator operator took them to the ground floor and gave them a verbal map of how to get through and out of the parking garage to street level. Robert thanked him after paying him some more. Petra was silent.
Petra didn’t hear an answer, turning her back to the balcony and shimmying down carefully. She liked this dress and didn’t want to snag it. She finally got her second foot down to the floor of the balcony and suddenly there were hands on her neck, then something more deadly. She could not breathe, unable to catch a full breath and feeling as if she would black out.
She frantically tried to get her fingers under the cord, loosening it briefly until it tightened up once more. She struggled and looked down, seeing the end of one of her stockings, realizing that it was a stocking, one of her own very expensive silk stockings. This angered her and helped her to struggle harder. She tried to kick backwards, kicking at his shin behind her and stepping hard on his foot, but without her shoe on she didn’t cause much damage, and he remained silent. other than a soft groan, flinching at the surprise attack back. It gave her a moment to pull away from him, but her attacker still was between her and the room, and she was even closer to the edge of the balcony. When she got a breath, she tried to scream, eliciting only hoarse words.
Six weeks had passed like days, one night the same as any other, a buffet of excess and hedonism. Sometimes Chicago would cross her mind, but Petra would drink another glass of wine and then set the memory aside. She was the perfect companion for Charles Perkins. She danced when he wanted to dance, ate when he was ready to go in to supper, and she was charming to his friends until it was time for the men and the women to separate, as often happened at their parties.
That was the portion of the evening that bored her the most, and this evening was no different. The women did not talk about things that she was interested in, and she sat with them at poolside, playing with her ring and reclining on the chaise lounge, her legs crossed, one foot swinging to keep herself awake. The alcohol was making her tired, but this was her life, and she was a young woman. That never held her back from a good time.