Flinch Hard Enough

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He sat on the end of the bed while she slept. Television at this hour was
full of suggestions. “The corncob itself is a scene of copulation,” it

   He looked back at her with renewed interest, but she’d been out for a while, and no amount of urging or mention of corn would make her wake up and fuck him.

   The butcher-brown wallpaper made him think of blood. Hotel
room the size of a cake box. My friend Wallace used to shit in cake boxes
them on people’s stoops
, he thought. The ubiquitous bag of money slumped on the
dresser, below a dirty Jesus portrait with the eyeballs erased.

   Three hours ago, in a dead-end hotel just like this one, he
left a similar woman, same milky back turned toward him, exposing her kidneys.
Harvesting organs had never occurred to him, but he’d stolen her money, shot
her in the back of the head with a silenced Beretta while she slept, and she’d
never suspected a thing. Not death, not infidelity, not black market kidney theft.
Nothing. Anything would’ve made him feel better. She hadn’t even had a gun under
her pillow. He was dealing with idiots.

   Which reminded him: her sisters Florence and Venice, the twins,
would discover the body in a few hours. They were also spies, already on his
list to kill; he planned on them finding her. He’d left a note stuck to the congealing
blood on the back of her scalp that said, “If you were me, how would you spend
the money?”

   His new woman there in bed was a Canadian agent who worked
under the name Veux Le Fleur. She came from the part of Canada that believed
mattered, goddammit. She was splayed on the bed like she’d

could decapitate Le Fleur with the remote control and not
spill a drop of blood.

been thrown from a car, a little speed bag
of a mole on the curve of her shoulder blade. She murmured harrumphs
when she shifted. At those moments she seemed most like an animal to
him, and he worried that if he touched her, she’d sink her
teeth in his neck.

   After killing the other woman, Forza, he’d planned on sweeping
back to Le Fleur through the fire escape and seducing her out of her various
gun holsters. But he’d fallen in the window and smashed his shins on the radiator.
She didn’t even wake up. So he’d gotten into her bourbon and watched television.

   He leaned back, bottle in hand, and reached under her pillow.
Again, nothing. Was he the only one trying anymore?

   He got up and put the bag of money under the bed. With all
the effort Le Fleur put into this operation, it would be the last place she ever

   He flipped through channels and remembered the salad days,
back when every operative had a unique technique or ability, at least a look.
Like Sandy Bahg, the shark-faced half-black German. Or Sun Kim Chi, the six-foot-four

Korean woman who shot poison darts from her
armpits and knees and was rumored to have ripped someone’s head off. “Tore
the skull right from the roots,” one agent said.

   Modern operatives were a mix of ex-junkies, ex-dealers, murderous
whores, frustrated English majors and girls whose bands didn’t work out. No one
over twenty-seven and not a single ability beyond the willingness
He hadn’t met a woman who would’ve lasted five minutes in the ’80s since
the ’80s.

   He could decapitate Le Fleur with the remote control and not
spill a drop of blood on floor or mattress. Have her body cut up, bagged and
in the
dumpster in five minutes. But she just lay there. He walked around the

bed and stared, an inch away from her face.
She was actually sleeping. Not pretending to sleep, about to bring a
blade to his throat; she was just dreaming, probably about getting up
to go to the bathroom. He pulled a tiny gun from his neck holster and
let it hover over her temple. She started snoring.

   He expected as much.

   He’d often thought that the diminishing quality-female-agent
quotient mirrored the steady decline in attractive stewardesses over the years.
used to be like flying limos with lascivious waitresses. Now they were just packed
buses with thick, matronly women in pants serving drinks, pushing their carts
through the aisle like lawnmowers. He flew coach to remain inconspicuous, while
the prim executives and voice actors sat in Barcalounger first class sipping
in plastic cups.

   His neck gun was ridiculous. A poison dart that looked like
a guitar pick. He threw it in the trash.

   He went back around to the television and sat on the floor
with his back against the bed. He took a long pull, set the bottle between his
legs and put on whatever this place had for sex channels. There were two: a
naked Asian woman pretending to masturbate behind a waterfall; and an edited
porno, no penetration, a

“Where’s your gun?” he said.
“In my ass,” she said. “What the hell do you care?”

blonde in missionary with her legs in the air. At one point her high heel hit the camera. You couldn’t see the head of the mushy torso slamming into her, and her one visible scarred nipple was pointing out the window.

   He changed to an infomercial for a tiny ninety-dollar jar of
White-Out for teeth. The animatronic host took testimonials from couples on long
white couches, all apparently engaged because one or the both of them had painted
their teeth with this crap.

   Maybe he should be paranoid. Maybe this was all part of La Fleur’s plan — he drinks himself to sleep, she rises up in her underwear wielding the garrote.

   He jumped up and almost knocked over the television. The butt
of the bottle put a crescent-shaped divot in the wall. Looking around at his
shit everywhere, he tried to remember if he’d drunkly thrown all his laundry
in the
ceiling fan.
He began packing with urgency, as if a fire consumed the lobby and was swelling
to swallow the entire hotel.

   Just as he stood over the dresser and realized everything he did made noise he heard the sheets move quickly behind him. “What time is it?” she said. “What the hell are you doing? Did you kill her?”

   “Nah, didn’t feel like it. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

   “Ha,” she said. “Where’s the money?”

   “It’s here someplace,” he said, pointing around the room.

   She squinted at his hand. “What about the chip?” she said.

   “The chip was last month. This mission was the mind-bending phone.”

   “Oh yeah. Did you get it?”

   “There wasn’t one. Just a Blackberry that didn’t even work.”

   “Or a decoy. Maybe she still has the real one.”

  &nbsp”She doesn’t have anything. She’s dead.”

   “What about Florence and Venice?”

   “That’s what we’re doing this weekend.”

   She crawled down the bed and took the bottle from his hands.


A show on Russian small arms was on the History
Channel. “To understand the gun is to better understand history,” the
narrator said.

   “Where’s your gun?” he said.

   “In my ass,” she said. “What the hell do you care?”

   “I’m serious. What if I’d turned.”

   “I’m serious too. The trigger’s in my ass. I flinch hard enough, blow your nuts off.”

   He felt the back of her thong through the sheet. Sure enough,
the gun was wedged in her crack.

   “So sit down, watch television and shut the fuck up,” she said.

   They both laughed.

   “And drink,” she said, handing him the bottle.

   He’d been dreaming about the delicate hotel they’d move into
once everyone forgot about the Italian agent dead in her bed. Dreamed he was
staying in the gubernatorial suite, with the French doors open on the afternoon,
his aunt, but she was a stewardess, and when he woke up, he was actually having
sex. Le Fleur was on top of him, half-heartedly grinding her hips. She had her
hands in what short curly hair his head still had.

   The second he fully opened his eyes, she yanked his head to
the length of its neck.

   Florence and Venice came from the dark corners of the room, guns drawn, and shot out his elbows.

   “Weapon,” Le Fleur said, extending one hand as the other held
his head up. A sword was placed in her palm.

   “It’s like that song,” she said. “Jesus Christ Superstar.
Who in the hell do you think you are

   He swallowed and said, “That’s not how it goes.”

   “That’s how it goes for me,” she said, and raised her sword.

is the author of the story collection Gigantic. He
received his master’s degree in creative writing from the University of
Michigan. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker and

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©2004 Marc Nesbitt and