She laid on the bed, head towards the bottom, arms out, stretching. Samuel did not miss the display this made of her body, nor the obvious invitation. He resisted and finished taping the heavy iron bar to his shin, making sure it was flush with the leg and tight. He had finished already with his other leg.
“Is it going to be today?” Belinda asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Today.”
“You said that yesterday.”
“I did.” He broke off the tape, took his foot off the chair and hunted around for his pants. “I say it every day.”
“Then how do you know it will be today?”
He found his pants under the bed. He bent over, kissed Belinda on her forehead, looked into her eyes and said gravely, “It is going to be today.” He bent a little further and snagged his pants with a finger. They were a fine cut, gotten in the Old Country, but without any ethnic look about them. He started to pull them on over his heavy legs.
“Isn’t there another way?” she wheedled.
He stopped with his pants half-way up and sighed. “Again?”
She rolled over, propped herself on her elbows and gave him a good look at her breasts, framed in the grey silver nightgown she wore. She nodded.
“Okay.” He finished pulling his pants up, buckling them. “There are four ways to get off the grid.” He held up a finger. “One. You kill the right person. I’m not interested in killing anyone ... not again. Not now. I’m done with that. Okay?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
He reached for shorter iron bar on the dresser, that sat next to a partner, and held up two fingers for her. “Two. You steal, and you keep stealing, until you have enough to bribe the thugs. That’s all very well, but I’m not very good at stealing, and I’d get caught.”
Samuel began wrapping the tape around his forearm, fixing the iron bar in place behind his elbow. He was careful about just where it was, and as he taped it in place he gave room for his arm to bend normally.
“What’s the third thing?” she asked.
“Three,” he said, giving the same speech he always gave, and putting up the right number of fingers. “You swim. You swim for a long time, and you keep at it or else you’ll drown. I’m not a strong enough swimmer.”
He got the one bar in place, and started on its partner, putting it behind his other elbow.
“Finally, four. You do what I’m doing right now. You fight your way in, you pitch your case to the thugs, and they let you off.”
“How do you know they won’t just say no?”
He laughed. Then he chuckled a bit. “Oh, they won’t.”
“You haven’t even seen them one time.”
“I only need one time.”
“And then what.”
“Hey, babe – you want to give me three minutes and just shut up?”
She clapped her mouth closed and he shook his head. Belinda was a great girl. She had been a great good time for him. No question about it, if she wasn’t the most beautiful girl on the grid, she was one of the most beautiful three. He’d been lucky to have her. But he needed to be in the right head space, he had to get through that door and he had to get five minutes with the thugs. From there he’d be home free.
“You’re going to leave me,” Belinda pouted.
“I’m not going to leave you. I’m following the plan.”
He slipped on a white silk shirt, and followed it with the crisp jacket that matched the pants. His carefully straightened the lines across his shoulders, turning this way and that too look in the mirror, to make sure there was no tell-tale bulge showing. Appearances were everything. He started tying his tie.
“What’s the plan?” she asked again.
“I tell you every day.”
“Tell me again. I like hearing it.”
“Okay. Get me my shoes, and I’ll tell you again.” He fastidiously fixed the tie, getting the right lift on it, knowing it would have to put up with a little abuse before it would be seen ... but that didn’t matter. Everyone looked a bit scuffled after getting through the door. They had to.
He sat down and watched her lithe body float to the shoes, and then fetch them for him. She stopped halfway and hefted her arm. “These are heavier.”
“Yes. I stepped on someone’s foot yesterday, and they hardly grimaced. And I lost a place in line. That’s not going to happen again.”
She knelt down and helped put on his left shoe.
“There’s no trouble. I get in to see a thug, he looks me over and hears what I’ve got to say, and then I’m off the grid. Right after that, I talk to some of the people I know who got off years before, and they set me up. Six months, and I’m set – I get myself named as a thug, and then I can do anything I want. I stamp your papers, and we’re together. Easy peasey.”
“What if you don’t come back?”
He smiled warmly, lifted her chin and gave her a warm, soft kiss. He let it last for awhile, and felt her give a little underneath it. It broke with a nice smack, and he smiled again. “Not come back for you, Belinda? A man would have to be crazy.”
She smiled, and fitted him with his other shoe.
He pulled on the cuffs of his jacket, cracked his neck a few times, tested the weight of his arms and felt satisfied. The big bruise on his thigh was almost gone, and his hand hardly showed any discoloration. It was going to be today. He felt certain.
He gave Belinda a last hug, felt her warm, sensuous body pressed into his and felt a pang of regret. It lasted through the last kiss, and through the last look he gave her as he went out the apartment’s outside door.
Then it was gone. Poor, sweet, lazy, dumb Belinda, he thought, conscious that this might be the last time he’d ever see her. He hoped it would be the last time.
Samuel straightened his straight lapels, started down the stairs and got his head straight.