Marty drove her back to her car. Twilight. Time for a good wife to be home getting supper ready, and a good husband to stop at the tavern for a beer so the  wife will have time to get supper ready. Marty laughed softly. She would probably make it. He didn’t know if Virginia Beckerman burned canned beans, or whipped up gourmet chow with one hand. That was another life. Max’s life. Marty Nuco would be home having dinner with Missus Nuco and all the striplings.

Marty could have many women, which was why he had few. Usually they wanted something from him. But not Virginia. She was totally indifferent to Hollywood, and in fact, longing to leave it. The fact that she was Mrs. Max Beckerman was not inconvenient for Marty. Like most people, Max had a secret he would do almost anything to keep hidden. And like a lot of such secrets, Marty knew it. So if there should be any trouble, Marty would have cards to play.
Marty turned into the driveway of Ciro’s, and stopped in the slot next to Virginia’s car, so she could slip out of the passenger side of his car and into the driver’s side of her own. But Virginia was just taking out a cigarette. She offered him one of hers, and Marty took it, though he didn’t really want it. He guessed he could spare a Now Voyagermoment. He lit the cigarettes. Out of the corner of his eye he could see somebody in a white undershirt, maybe a dishwasher, sitting on a beer case by the back door of the restaurant, also smoking, looking at them.

“Sweetums…”
“I know.” Virginia touched his lips with a finger of her soft, cool glove. “G’bye.” She opened the door, and swung her feet out. Marty turned back toward the steering wheel.
He saw the pistol first. He saw the mouth of the barrel of the pistol first. The way the daylight angled into the opening for a fraction of an inch. It was right outside the car window, pointed at the middle of his face. A hand held the pistol, and farther back, at the other end of the arm, Marty saw Max.
“Get out.” Max stepped away, and clearly expected Marty to open the car door.
He did so.
“Max?” Virginia’s voice came over Marty’s shoulder. Still in the car, it sounded like.
“Did you thank I did not know?” Max’s voice was low but strained with rage. “Did you thank I would let you do this?”

“Do what, Max?” Marty got out of the car. Now the gun pointed at his chest. “Take my wife.”
“Max!” Virginia spoke to him angrily in German, and Max spat out a reply in the same language, losing himself to anger briefly, his face red, his chin jerking toward her, his eyes leaving Marty for only a split second. In that moment, Marty collected himself.
“There is nothing going on here, Max.” Marty looked at the pistol, the mouth of the damn thing like the entrance to the Rockfish Tunnel. He made himself believe his words. Everything depended on that. “I haven’t touched your wife. She is thinking of going back to work, as you know. I am frankly discouraging her, but she is insistent. We went over to my office to draw up a contract. It has not been signed.”
Max let out a short, harsh laugh. “I’ve got a private eye who says different.” Virginia said, “You what?”
Marty cut her off. “He’s bluffing. Cut the bullshit, Max. There’s nothing going on.”

Something caught Marty’s eye and he looked up. A young woman leaned out a window, in an apartment on the hill behind the parking lot. The apartment and the window and her face were all bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. Golden. This stranger stared down at them from her bleacher seat with round eyes and a slack jaw. Marty shared her disbelief. After all he had faced, to be shot by a jealous husband. It was a bad way to go.
“You’ve had your way too many times. I’ve looked the other way, and God damn me, I’ve even helped you.” Max took one step back.
Marty realized he had a cigarette in his hand. He lifted the hand. It shook. He took a drag. His lips shook. His chest. He had one last plea. “Max…”
“No bullshit.” Max’s face twisted with a kind of hate Marty had seen before.

He knew it was the last thing he would ever see. “You are going on a trip now,” Max growled and pulled back the hammer.
Marty froze.
Virginia whispered, “Max, don’t do it!”

Lily Torrence

Mystery


…all because twenty-six hours earlier he’d reached for a bottle and found a gun.