Fiction

Luck Be a Lady

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 FICTION

Harry Sparrow had a run of luck so rotten you could smell it three blocks away. Everywhere he went, folks gave him the twice-over and then some. Used to be Old Elsa who ran the Laundorama always had a kind word for him, even sometimes let him use the special dryer at the end free of charge. Nowadays Elsa acted like Harry had Ebola.
   Lousy way to go, blood pouring out of your eyes and mouth. Harry didn’t like blood much. Or he guessed he didn’t. For years, he’d lived on the left side of the law without coming close to blood. Probably because Harry never carried a weapon. He kept it to breaking and entering. He’d only done a little time — jail, not prison — and wanted to keep it that way.

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    Harry’s luck took a turn for the better one night when he least expected it. The day had been lousy, with the mercury hitting a hundred and staying there. Harry didn’t want to be cooped up in his furnished room, so he took the train out to the racetrack with McCormick, a sometimes-associate who swore he had a live tip from an apprentice jockey. McCormick was a small man who wore the same navy three-piece suit every day of the week. He had a history of mental illness, so Harry took everything he said with a grain of salt. But Harry knew that sometimes McCormick’s tips were good, so he kept an open mind.
   The day Harry’s luck turned, he tucked a C note in his sock and two twenties in the money clip given him by Susan, the last girl he’d dated. Susan was arrested for forgery shortly after moving into Harry’s room with him. Harry couldn’t say he’d been sorry to see her go. She was pretty and fond of having sex in public places, but she had a mean streak. Even that would have been okay, but it was unpredictable. Harry would ask Susan to pass the sugar and she would snap. Start shouting and kicking him in the chins.
    Harry and McCormick arrived in time for the first race. Harry glanced at the program. He was familiar with several of the horses running. He played a straight two-dollar trifecta with an eighteen-to-one shot over a ten-to-one with the favorite to show. Miraculously, with just a sixteenth of a mile to go, the three horses in Harry’s trifecta were running in the order he’d bet them. Harry felt the whole world opening up. The sky was wide and beautiful. Two strides shy of the wire, the second-place horse stuck her nose in front of the 18-1 shot, ruining Harry’s triple. Harry felt sick. He went home, leaving McCormick at the rail, chatting up a floozy with a skin condition.


On the bed sat a small woman with a gun. She was pointing the gun at Harry.

    On the train home, two bony dark-skinned kids got on with a boombox blaring an old Grandmaster Flash song. Harry had seen these kids before. They had a good act; people liked to give them money. The taller kid sat the boombox on the floor as the shorter one started dancing like Michael Jackson. Kid could dance. Everyone on the train could see it. Then the bigger kid got in on it. He moved well too. He did a few somersaults and a standing back flip. He picked up the smaller kid, twirled him above his head and miscalculated. There was a horrible sound as the smaller kid’s head smashed against the ceiling of the train. At first the tall kid tried to pretend everything was okay. But the smaller kid was just lying there on the floor. There was a nurse on the train car. She examined the small kid. Told him not to move. Harry knew a bad day was getting worse.
   At 10:15, Harry walked down Sanders Avenue. He was wearing dark clothing and noiseless, rubber-soled shoes. He carried a black briefcase. He passed by number 153, noted that the front stoop light was on but the rest of the brownstone was dark, as it had been for five nights. Harry had been careful in staking this place out. Had gotten an inside scoop from the maid who had once dated a friend of Harry’s uncle. The Schwartzes were upstate at their summer place for two weeks, and they didn’t have an alarm.
   Harry approached from the back yard. The windows were locked. He put masking tape on the window then discreetely cracked it. He reached his arm in, undid the window lock, and climbed in. He didn’t know much about the layout of the place, only that the master bedroom was on the second floor, the safe behind an oil painting of a landscape. Jewelry and savings bonds were in the safe. The Schwartzes did not trust banks. They were the children of Holocaust survivors. Or so the maid had told the friend of Harry’s uncle. Maybe it was wrong to rob the children of Holocaust survivors, but Harry’s uncle had mentioned the Schwartzes were unkind to their pet cat. Harry liked animals.
    Harry had trained himself to see in the dark. He made his way to the central staircase and went upstairs. The master bedroom was lavish. There was velvet and brocade. The ceilings soared and wore their 19th century moldings intact. At the center of the room was an immense antique sleigh bed. On the bed sat a small woman with a gun. She pointed the gun at Harry. Harry didn’t like guns but he knew a little about them. He thought this one looked like a Raven .25.
    "Hello," said the girl. "You must be the burglar."
    "Harry Sparrow. Nice to meet you." What else was he going to say?
    "We’re in a quandary, aren’t we?" the girl smiled. She was wildly attractive: cute teeth, long brown hair and a face like a fox. Petite but looked like she had some strength in her. Maybe she’d taken gymnastics as a child. Maybe even gone semi-pro but wasn’t quite good enough for the big leagues. Had enrolled in college studying some subject her heart wasn’t really in. So there was a little bitterness there for one so young. She could have been thirty; it was hard to tell. Maybe after college, she drifted a little. Now she was the housesitter for the Schwartzes. Maybe the nanny? But the kids weren’t here. Maybe she was petsitting for the abused cat.
   "A quandary. Yup," Harry said. He couldn’t figure what made the girl so attractive. Mostly it had to do with her face and what was in her eyes. She wore a pair of baggy navy gym shorts and a white tank top. She was close to flat-chested and her legs were short, albeit shapely. "Are you the housesitter?"
    "Something like that." She smiled again, showing off the cute teeth. "You’re not what I expected."
    "You were expecting me?"
   "I heard the window cracking downstairs. I have overdeveloped auditory and visual senses. Always been that way. Some folks say it’s a gift, but like all gifts, it’s a curse. I hear too much, and I can’t bear bright light."
   She looked so tired when she said it. She was tired of hearing too much. Tired of the light hurting her eyes.
    "Lucky I have my friend," she said, indicating the gun with her chin.
    "I wish you’d stop pointing that at me. I don’t like guns."
    "An outlaw who doesn’t like guns. You’re a man of two faces, Harry Sparrow."
   He liked the way she used his name. "You haven’t told me your name," Harry said.
    "Rebecca Church."

Harry knew it couldn’t be wise to stare at an armed girl’s pubic hair.

   Keeping an eye on the Raven .25, Harry sat down at the edge of the bed. He began asking Rebecca questions about herself. He asked did she like gymnastics.
   "I hate sports," she said. Harry agreed that sports were often detestable.
   Rebecca was sitting cross-legged now. Her gym shorts were loose, and Harry found himself staring at the place where the flimsy nylon pulled away from her inner thigh. Rebecca wasn’t wearing underwear. Harry could see a few dark pubic hairs. He knew it couldn’t be wise to stare at an armed girl’s pubic hair, but the more he struggled not to, the more he stared.
    "You’re staring," Rebecca said. She picked up the gun, which had been resting on her knee, and pointed it at Harry again. She made no effort to close her legs.
   The gun was too close to Harry. It made him see double. It made his heart bump against his ribs. It stretched time. It made Harry lose sense. Very softly, he touched Rebecca’s cheek, and her eyes became smaller. He reached down and ran one finger from her left knee up to her inner thigh. He let his finger rest there, just where the gym shorts ended. The gun was inches from Harry’s head. He replaced his finger with his lips. He kissed that spot of thigh repeatedly and closed his eyes.
   Harry Sparrow had always had a keen sense of self-preservation. That was all gone now. He started biting into Rebecca’s upper thigh. He wanted to transplant himself inside of her.
   Rebecca Church kept her gun pointed at Harry’s head as she leaned back and propped her ass on a large pillow, giving Harry easier access. Harry finally stopped biting the thigh, slipped his fingers under the elastic waistband of the gym shorts and pulled them down to her knees. Even as Harry yanked the tank top over her head, Rebecca kept holding the gun.
   Harry let out a moan as he took in her small body. Breasts with nipples so pale they almost didn’t exist, the pubic hair slightly unruly. This made Harry love her a little right then and there, in spite of the gun. Harry thought again about how much he didn’t like guns. Then he put two fingers inside Rebecca Church, exploring her softly. She was very wet and pink, and she smelled like sugar. Rebecca rested the gun on her belly and moaned.
   Eventually Harry reached for the gun. He got hold of it before Rebecca realized what was what. He didn’t point it at her, just held it and ordered her to turn over onto her belly. She did as he told her. Her ass cheeks were big for such a small girl. Harry parted them with his fingers and inspected her, almost clinically. He wanted to know everything about her.
   "Put your mouth on me, Harry Sparrow," she said.
    "No," Harry said, even though it half-killed him. "Get up," he said. All he wanted was to be inside her. To swallow her. To be her. But he had to play his cards carefully. He dressed her. He asked her where her hairbrush was and brushed her hair. She pouted. She put one hand down the front of her gym shorts and sucked the thumb of her other hand. Harry gave her the gun back.

Later that night, Harry Sparrow learned that Rebecca Church was the housesitter for the Schwartzes, a wealthy couple who were friends of her second cousin. Since hitting town six months earlier, Rebecca had been drifting from sublet to sublet. At first, she was grateful for a nice place to stay but came to dislike the Schwartzes. When she met them the day they left on their trip, they’d seemed fine. But once she’d been in their house twenty-four hours, she disliked them. She hated their magazines and the clothes hanging in their closets. The children’s rooms were all wrong, decorated in banal pastels as if all kids were supposed to like pastels. Rebecca didn’t know any kids who liked pastel.
    By the time Harry Sparrow came to burglarize the place, Rebecca actively hated the Schwartzes. Harry, she liked. So she had no second thoughts about helping Harry clean the place out.
    "What about your second cousin?" Harry asked. "Isn’t this going to reflect badly on him?"
    "I barely know him," Rebecca said, leaving it at that.
   The burglary proceeded. When Harry had a little trouble with the safe, Rebecca came over and put her ear to it. She could hear things Harry never could: strangers’ heartbeats on the subway, the small sounds insects made. So she helped Harry get the safe open. She was all business. She had contained her lust inside herself, in a place Harry would reach later.
   Once Harry had taken the jewelry and bonds and put them into the bag he’d had folded in his briefcase, Rebecca found Sally, the cat. She hadn’t heard about the Schwartzes’ alleged cruelty to animals, but she noticed the food the Schwartzes had left for Sally. It contained byproducts. Rebecca strongly disapproved of byproducts, so she decided to take the cat. As they left through the front door, Harry glanced at his watch. It was 11:53 p.m., and his luck had turned.
   Rebecca came back with Harry to his furnished room. "It’s small," she assessed, immediately turning off the lights and closing the window in spite of the stifling heat.
    "I’ve had a run of bad luck," Harry shrugged. He watched Rebecca make Sally the cat comfortable. Once the cat started eating, Rebecca looked at Harry. She smiled a little and took off her tank top. Harry stared. She put her finger between her legs and stood there, naked and looking at him.
    "How come you have a gun?" Harry asked her.
    "I like to shoot things," Rebecca said.

She didn’t want to have sex with Harry because it was noisy. He bought her earplugs.

    This worried Harry a little, but he decided they could discuss it later. Right then, Harry needed her small body and foxlike face. Rebecca saw him standing there, needing her, so she came over and put her hand down the front of Harry’s trousers. She made a sound like a kitten and she kissed him. Harry kissed her back. He wanted to jump down her throat. He loved her and maybe it would end, but right then he loved her internal organs as much as he loved the wet between her legs.
   She was still touching herself when Harry reached down and pushed her fingers aside. He ran his thumb along everything, prodding. He wanted to be her doctor. Rebecca was making wild sounds now. She tried to shove him onto the bed, but Harry resisted. He made her stand there, trembling. He did let her unzip his pants and rest his cock against her tiny belly. He wanted to enter her belly button.
   When Rebecca started to come, Harry was almost angry. He’d never seen anything like it. He was barely touching her, but she was coming. Arching her back and her neck, her hips wiggling, her eyes rolling up into her head. More animal sounds. He finally threw her back on the bed and entered her. He stayed perfectly still, feeling her come. Then he pulled out of her and looked at her eyes; they were green. He kissed her eyelids. He watched her curl up into a little ball and suck her thumb.
   Just when Harry thought Rebecca was asleep, she sat up. Harry’s erection had deflated a little, and Rebecca stared at it. She leaned down and kissed him. Harry then let Rebecca Church straddle him. She felt like the ocean.

***

Harry had to do a lot of explaining — and even break out the book of penal codes — before he could convince Rebecca to leave the gun at home when they went out on jobs. Rebecca really liked her gun, even though she swore she hadn’t shot anything but cans. They worked well together, and Harry knew she was his luck. She saw in the dark even better than Harry did, and she was aces at the auditory part of safecracking. It was a very lucrative month. By September they had rented a nice two-bedroom with a tiny patch of backyard that Sally the cat could sun herself in.
   By October Rebecca got a little crazy. She started refusing sex with Harry because it was noisy. He bought her earplugs, but she could still hear internal noise. Her sensitivity to light was bad too. She began wearing Ray Charles-style glasses morning noon and night. Everything was too bright for her.
   In December they started making big plans for holiday burglaries. Harry thought it would bring them close again; maybe Rebecca’s hyper-sensitivities would disappear. The two of them staked out a dozens of places. Christmas would be their big day. There was a brownstone they had their sights on. The man living in it was obviously away. Newspapers and mail spilled from his box, and his walk went unshoveled. There was one light on the second floor but it was always on. The place was lavish; there would be an alarm, so Harry went for a brush-up course with Mac the Alarm Guy.
   They went in in broad daylight on Christmas day. Went in through the back, Harry picking the locks. The alarm whined, threatening to start its full song unless someone disabled it pronto. The sound made Rebecca crouch to the floor and cup her hands over her ears. Harry left her there and let his nose lead him to the alarm. He deactivated it in just a few seconds, mentally thanked Mac the Alarm Guy, and went back to find Rebecca. She was gone. Somewhere upstairs, there was music playing. Very soft piano music. Maybe it was French. There hadn’t been music playing a few moments earlier. Had Rebecca gone upstairs and started playing records? Usually she didn’t want any music. It was all too brash for her ears. Even some of the soft country ballads and gentle renditions of Chopin Nocturnes that Harry liked. But maybe she’d lost it so completely she was playing records on the job.
   Suddenly, Harry had to take a leak. This was unusual. Harry had trained himself never to need to evacuate on a job. Some burglars liked that kind of thing. Not only were they taking the people’s stuff but they were pissing in their toilet too. Harry thought that was wrong but he had to go bad. He found a bathroom. He tried to pee, but it wasn’t coming though.
   He stood there, feeling a little dumb, thinking about Rebecca. He thought about her gymnast’s body and how for the first thirty-five days they had made love at least three times a day and thereafter almost never, because her ears got so bad.
   Harry was feeling a mix of frustrations. Still he couldn’t pee. He wanted to call out to Rebecca and explain the holdup, but that would mean raising his voice. Must have been twenty minutes that Harry stood there before giving up. He was in pain as he went upstairs to look for Rebecca.
   What Harry saw there was bewildering. First, there was trash everywhere. Spent containers of takeout food littered every surface. Then there was a big black piano and a man sitting hunched over it, playing softly. Rebecca was lying under the piano. Harry closed his eyes to put the hallucination away. When he looked again it was all still there.

She had sworn she wouldn’t bring the gun, and she had.

    Needless to say, Harry didn’t burglarize the place. And Rebecca said she was staying right there. She said the man played music softly enough that she could listen to it and that was all she’d ever wanted. Rebecca was smiling as she told Harry how the man had a disease that gave him pain in his fingers. He’d been a lauded concert pianist until the disease came when he turned forty. Now he stayed in his house eating from takeout containers and playing softly.
   The man didn’t say anything. He looked up at Harry with mild curiosity as Rebecca related all this. When Harry showed no signs of leaving, Rebecca produced her gun from a holster on her ankle that was hidden by her pants. She had sworn she wouldn’t bring the gun and she had.
   Harry figured that was it. Back to bad luck.
   Five days later, Harry ran into McCormick. McCormick had a tip on a horse in the 4th and did Harry want to come to the track. It was f cold and the sky was angry and Harry knew he would lose. But he went. Harry wanted to sit out the first race. Maiden two-year-olds going five and a half furlongs. Might as well pick numbers out of a hat — it was that unpredictable.
    "Come on, Harry, what’s got into you?" McCormick said, egging him on.
   Harry rolled his eyes then looked from his program to the muscled and shining horses in the paddock. He picked out a trifecta. He went crazy. Put a 30-1 over a 6-1 over a 17-1. Miraculously, with less a sixteenth of a mile to go, the three horses in Harry’s trifecta were running in the order he’d bet them. He knew something would go wrong, though, so he looked away. Just walked away from the rail and the crowd that was gasping at a dramatic finish.
   Harry’s horses had come in. In the right order. The tri paid over ten thousand dollars. Harry had to go to the IRS window and have his picture taken and have his winnings reported to the government. That made him nervous but the money was nice. Rebecca Church had given him luck and let him keep it.
   Harry Sparrow went home and fed Sally. Rebecca hadn’t even come back for the cat. But that was okay. Harry liked animals.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maggie Estep has published five books, most recently Gargantuan, the second in a series of "horse noir" novels. She is an obsessive bike rider, lives in Brooklyn, and likes to hang out at racetracks, cheering on longshots. Her website is www.maggieestep.com.

©2004 Maggie Estep and Nerve.com