Scootie had plenty of theories about women, but only one that actually worked. Women had an instinctual attraction to men who were having sex with other women. It seemed to come from the reptilian, subconscious mind, and it might have more to do with the air of confidence a freshly fucked man puts out. Scootie would see the effect on Juliana Kross – but first, he had to deal with the odd behavior of Jackie Simmer.
He dragged in through the Fetzle Mansion’s sixteenth-century Spanish doors, bruised and battered from his adventures in the Big South. He sat at his desk a full five minutes before gathering the momentum for his first task: designing a print ad that was due at the end of the week. With a non-profit arts group, this was more a political process than aesthetic. He had to balance the shows themselves, the dozens of Fetzle donors who had been promised public acknowledgement of their largesse, and Aggie’s ever-expanding box office instructions. He had managed to ring up the graphics program and outline a box the size of his ad when Jackie snuck up and began a rigorous nec-rub.
“Mornin’, honey. How you doin’?”
“Doin’ better now,” said Scootie. “If you keep that up, I’ll have to take a nap.”
“You need caffeine. Whattya say we hit Cafe Bolero for a steamin’ cuppa artificial intelligence?”
“Nope. Got to get at least a rough draft of this ad.”
Scootie swiveled around in his chair. “How about this afternoon? One o’clock?”
“Um, okay,” said Jackie, but she didn’t mean it. She chewed on a fingernail, then grabbed Scootie’s shoulders befroe he could turn back to the screen. “Um, no. It’s not okay. Scootie, I gotta tell someone or I’ll burst. Come on, please? My treat.”
“And a poppyseed muffin. I know how much you like those poppyseed muffins.”
“Well, I don’t...”
“Scootie! Are ya holdin’ out for a new car? Now get your sorry butt out of that chair and let’s get goin’!”
She took his hand and yanked him from his seat, barely giving him enough time to grab his jacket on the way out. Bouncing along in Jackie’s pickup, Scootie pestered her with questions, but she wouldn’t budge. “I can’t say a word till I’m sittin’ in that cafe with a steamin’ shit-brown mocha. I’m shootin’ for production values!”
Five minutes later, Jackie returned from the counter, unwrapping Scootie’s poppyseed muffin and arranging it just so on a plate. Fortunately, there were no customers within hearing distance when she took a sip from her mocha, wiped away a whipped-cream moustache and declared,
“I got laid!”
Scootie laughed for two minutes straight. It was Rex, of course. She and God’s own cowboy had two-stepped the night away at a dance hall in Gilroy, then driven all the way to Hallis so they could boink the weekend away in her apartment.
“And goddamn could that cowpoke poke! I haven’t been this saddlesore since that horseback trip up Half Moon Bay.”
“Jackie please!” said Scootie. The Western entendres are killing me!”
“You ain’t shit till you’ve rode a cowboy, Scoots.” Besieged by a sudden attack of modesty, she covered her mouth and laughed. “I can’t believe I’m talkin’ like this to a co-worker!”
“Co-worker, Schmo-worker, I’m very happy for you.” Scootie took his mug and gave Jackie’s a confirming clink. “When are you and the Tyrannosaurus having at it again?”
She quickly deflated. “He’s going back to Montana for a coupla weeks. Some kinda disease runnin’ through the herd.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Ah, it’s okay. Might actually be a good idea. I have this bad habit of glommin’ on to guys when I find out they can fuck good, and I fail to notice all their nasty little habits till six months out.” Jackie gave Scootie an overlong look. “And my apologies for cuttin’ into your mornin’ routine.”
“Just don’t get laid too often, or we’ll both get laid... off.”
Jackie laughed and took a chug from her mocha, continuing to give Scootie the once-over. It wasn’t long before he broke under the scrutiny.
“What? What is it?”
Jackie folded her arms and stared him down like a prosecuting attorney. “And just who you been messin’ with, Mister Jones?”
“I knew it! I knew you women could tell this stuff.”
“Yeah, that’s nice. So what’s her name.”
“And just what do you and Audrey LaBrea do?”
“Pigeons,” said Scootie. “Pigeons and sex.”
“And in what order do you do them?”
“What makes you think we do them in order?” he asked. And laughed, because he had succeeded in making Jackie Simmer blush.
Scootie surprised himself by watching the sun go down from his office window. He was clearly wired, and he guessed he should take advantage of it before he crashed. An hour after dark, he printed out a draft of his ad design and left copies in Garth’s and Jackie’s boxes for approval. But even with the job finished, he couldn’t conceive of going home.
He went to the library instead, and rambled around on the piano for a good 45 minutes, seeking that grand combination of tones that would bring him... what? He never knew. Giving up on Cagean freestyle, he settled into a simple motif from some opera – Wagner, Tchaikovsky, he was never sure, a repeated F-sharp echoed in double octaves. He played it three times, trying to remember where it went next. But it wouldn’t come, so he let the F-sharp ring out, overtones diving in like drunken swimmers, then closed the cover over the keys.
“I like that.”
He turned to see Juliana, decked out like Dale Evans in blue jeans and a white suede cowboy jacket.
“I’m guessing Tchaikovsky,” she said. “Piano Concerto Number One?”
“Precisely,” said Scootie.
“I didn’t think you knew actual pieces.” She cultivated a slow smile as she came to the piano, the black varnish sending off an upside-down reflection.
“I do,” said Scootie. Juliana was putting out something of the same aura as Jackie Simmer that morning, only... more assertive. “What brings you down?” he asked.
“You.” She settled into the burgundy armchair, dangling her legs over the side. “I heard you playing from my kitchen, and I thought I’d come down for a talk.”
Scootie rose from the piano and settled on a footstool in front of her. “What shall we talk about?”
“Well for instance,” she said. “Which one of your wide circle of friends did you entertain this weekend? Cindy? Jackie?”
“Audrey,” said Scootie. He knew the next question before she spoke it.
“And what is it you do with Audrey?”
“Pigeons. And what did you do this weekend, Juliana?”
“Oh, nothing. My husband’s off in Tokyo, and I am incredibly bored.” She draped one buckskinned arm over the back of the chair. “You know, my family donated this.”
“Really? How old is it?”
“Goes back to the orchard days, Santa Clara Valley. Do you know what they called it? ‘The Valley of Heart’s Delight.’ Prunes, cherries, apples – Great Grandpa and Grandma Lane.”
“So. You’re of pioneer stock.”
“Yes. Ain’t we lucky? Sometimes I think they donated this chair just so I could come down here and feel at home.”
Noting the way she was breathing out her sentences, Scootie was beginning to understand where Juliana had obtained her assertive aura. “So where did you spend your afternoon, Juliana?”
“Wine tasting,” she said. “Down in Felton, with some friends. You’d be surprised how many wineries they have down there. Very impressive, very mom-and-pop. Very...” She ran a finger across her lips. “I’m still a little drunk, aren’t I? That’s funny. I don’t feel drunk.”
“You don’t look drunk,” Scootie lied. “Just... relaxed.”
“Oh, Scootie. I am uptight so much of the time, aren’t I? I’m like a wound-up clock. She extended her booted feet into Scootie’s lap. He held them in his hands, avoiding any motion that might be misconstrued. “Being a public figure does that to you,” she continued. “If it weren’t for all the travel, and nice furniture, and jewelry, and beautiful houses... why, being rich would really suck!”
Scootie laughed. Juliana ran back over her words and had to join him. “My, I am a card.”
“The Queen of Diamonds,” said Scootie.
“Oh, you!” she scolded, and gave a playful kick to his ribcage. Scootie forgot himself, and began to loosen one of Juliana’s boots.
Juliana ran a hand through her hair. “What are you doing, young man?”
“I’m not a young man,” he said. “I’m older than you. And I thought you might like to take off your shoes and stay a while.”
That was when the aura around Juliana vanished. She spoke her next words without anger, but Scootie could tell he had crossed a line. “I’m sorry, Scootie. I had better go.” She placed her feet on the floor, and readjusted her boot. “My... husband gets back tomorrow, and I really should get home and straighten things out.”
Juliana stood and walked to the door, propelled by the guilt of actions already taken, thoughts already had. She stopped with a hand on the doorframe, turning enough to speak to him but not look at him.
“I’m very sorry for intruding, Scootie. But thank you for entertaining me. It’s very... comforting when I hear you play. I... Goodbye, Scootie.”
Scootie looked up at the portrait of Harlan Fetzle as Juliana’s footsteps faded down the hall. A moment later, he heard the Spanish door open, then settle back on its hinges with a click.
Photo by MJV