lines from the pulps: “i’d like to see you naked with a rose in your teeth”


A Taste for Sin

Gil Brewer

A Berkley Original
1961


Bookseller Photo

One…


I stopped the Volks in front of the house on Grove.

It was a small place, white with gray trim, set on a green
lawn among elms and pines.

I took the bill and the two bottles of Martell’s cognac, and
moved up the walk. There were three antiquated red brick
steps and a small stoop with wrought iron rails. I used the
brass knocker; a clown’s head. Appropriate?

Clank—clank—clank—

I’d waited a long time to get this close to Felice Anderson. I
wondered what would happen. There was something going
between us. She had a husband, George, who was the
assistant cashier at the Allayne City Trust Bank. So far that
hadn’t mattered, the way we’d looked at each other when she
came to the store to order booze.

The door opened.

“Well, Mr. Phalen. You finally got here.”

“Jim.”

She smiled. “If I call you Jim, you’ll have to call me Felice.”

Neither of us was fooling the other with this crap.

“A deal.”

She was in smooth soft white belted tightly at the waist. A
slim waist. George Anderson was maybe forty-five, Felice
maybe eighteen. One of those things. She could balance your
libido with her eyes.

“Come in,” she said. “I’ll pay you for that.”

She had a curiously flat, unassuming voice, with a faint lisp.

I went in.

I got a whiff of her perfume. I’d had it before, at the store. It
was something. I’d done a lot of hard thinking about. Felice
Anderson. We just plain weren’t strangers, and we both knew
it. But there was a glass wall between us.

We were in the living room. She smiled again, broad lips
parting, revealing perfect white teeth. She closed the door.
Smooth velvet black hair tumbled down the middle of her
back, to between her shoulder blades. It was wild looking,
brushed to a sheen. Maybe she licked it like a cat. I wanted to
sink my fingers into it. She had Spanish in her, you could tell.
Probably both her mother and father. The look was all through
her. I got an ache. She was the complete opposite of Jinny; the
old nightmare I couldn’t rid myself of.

“Good to see you, Jim.”

All right, I thought. Hit her with it.

“I’d like to see you naked with a rose in your teeth.”

Somewhere a clock ticked.

She gave a short laugh.

“Be right with you, Jim.”

She walked down a hallway, white high heels ringing. She
wore sheer black nylons. Her behind was a round personal
idea.

“Take those bottles into the kitchen,” she called.

The front room took in the front of the house, maybe twenty-five
feet. It was furnished with heavy dark rattan, thick, soggy
cushions with a flower design on them. There were a couple of
bad prints on the walls, some monk’s cloth draperies, and
thick red rag rugs on the hardwood floor.

In the same house with her, alone, it was something.
I went down the hall, glanced to the left. She was in a
bedroom. I saw her face in the mirror of a dressing table, as
she opened a purse. She smiled at me in the mirror. Her face
was heart-shaped, with high round cheek bones. Her eyes
were black.

“The kitchen, Jim.”

I went into the kitchen; modern with lots of stainless steel,
cream paint, red curtains. I put the bottles on the table and
wiped my hands on my pants. I wanted a cigarette.

Oh, you bitch, I thought. You Spanish bitch.

She came into the kitchen.

“How much?”

I looked at the bill and told her.

“Here you go, on the button.”

You bitch, I thought. I pocketed the money. We stood there.

“Let’s have a drink,” she said.

“All right”

It was a goddamned game. That sheet of glass was still
there.

“What’ll you have, brandy or beer?”

“Beer. It’s been kind of warm.”

She opened the refrigerator. In a moment, we stood sipping
from tall delicate Pilsner glasses. Sun slanted through rear
windows. Green limbs of elm shadowed. I was beginning to
sweat. Then I saw something. She’d had on a brassiere when
I’d come, now she didn’t. They stuck out lush and big and
proud and the nipples showed through the white dress.

“Let’s go in the other room.”

We went into the living room and stood there.

She said, “You haven’t been in Allayne long.”

“No.”

My husband, George, working at the bank and all… I see a
lot of you, Jim, right across the street, that way.” it was
something between a lisp and a hiss. “Yeah.”

“We hardly know each other, really,” she said. “Do we?”

“How you look at it.”

She covered that with a sip of beer.

“I kept an eye out for you today,” I said. “It’s better
to
phone in, though.”

My beer was finished.

The Happytime Liquor Store,” Felice said. “That’s a real
good name. You like working there?”

I gave a grunt.

She motioned me to follow her with a long red-tipped finger.
Across the room against the wall was a walnut cabinet with
small leaded glass windows. She opened the doors. The
shelves were loaded with bottles and glasses. I counted
sixteen bottles of Marten’s cognac. She closed the doors.
You could hear the mid-May afternoon, the sunlight the
shade. The clock ticked.

“Does that answer any question in your mind, Jim?”

“I think so.”

She took my glass and set both glasses on top of the
cabinet. Then she looked at me again. The top button on her
dress had come undone from the movement of her arm. The
twin thrusting mounds filled under my gaze.

She spoke more from the throat. “I lie awake nights a lot
ever since you came to work at The Happytime, six months
ago. I feel we’ve known each other a long time. Frankly, I
watch you every chance I get. You’re awfully big, and kind of
ugly but…”

“It’s the same with me. Only you’re not ugly.”

Perspiration dewed her upper lip. Her eyes were black. She
rubbed her palms against her thighs.

“I wanted to be absolutely certain how you felt,” she said.

My throat was thick. “We both feel the same.”

“Obviously.”

I took a step toward her.

“No,” she said. “You’ve got to leave now”

“What?”

She stepped past me. She ran her hand up my chest and
around the back of my neck. It was like fire. But she kept
walking to the door.

She opened the door.

“Don’t say a word, Jim.”

My heart socked against my ribs like a distance swimmer
who’d just grabbed the float.

“Why’d you call the damn store? You knew I’d make the
delivery.”

“I told you. I wanted to be sure.”

“Felice.”

“You’ve got to leave, now I mean it”

I stared at her.

She said, “Now, go—God damn you—go!”

“Will I see you?”

“What the hell do you think?”

I went outside. She was closing the door. One eye and her
red lips showed.

“So long, Jim—for now.”

I grabbed the edge of the door. “You black-eyed bitch.” I let
go of the door. It closed with a polite snick.

In my mind there was the sound of broken glass.

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