NO MATCH FOR TINA
He put the empty glass down gently on the bar and the ice cubes clinked gaily, winking up at him through the mist. He rested his chin in one palm, shook his head slowly and chuckled.
"Hey, ice cubes! Erstwhile little buddies! In a few minutes you'll melt away and vanish," here he paused to ponder for a moment.
"Just like all my friends!"
He turned sadly to watch the woman who had been sitting on the stool next to him storm across the floor of the club. Her buttocks slashed quickly back and forth, breathing life into the tight fabric of the dress that endeavored to contain them. The door opened, swung shut with a dramatic finality, and she was gone.
"Damn broad!" he muttered. Man, you could never figure a woman out! Just when they were beginning to swing she had started talking wedding bells. That had cooled the whole scene for him immediately. What the hell did a thirty-two year old bachelor who was just beginning to make the big bucks need with a wife! He wanted to sample a few more sets of warm thighs and young breasts before the matrimonial axe fell.
He swished the cubes once more, then raised the glass high and leaned back on his stool.
"Fly away, little buddies!"
His eyebrows dipped and his lips pursed as he studied the glass for a time. Lowering it to the bar, he put his chin back in his palm again with wavering care.
"Alright. Sit there and melt, damn it!"
The bartender tore his eyes away from a pair of magnificent thirty-eights that adorned a babbling blonde seated at the far end of the bar.
Richard nodded and the bartender reached for a fifth of scotch. Moments later, a fresh drink appeared. The man behind the bar hovered across from Richard uncertainly for a time, taking the odd swipe at the formica top with a damp, grayish rag. He glanced at the sodden swain across from him.
"Trying to drown 'em, fellow?"
Richard looked up abruptly, shaken from his reverie.
"No, they swim quite well, thank you."
The man shrugged and moved back to the far end of the bar where he was soon once again engrossed in his anatomical studies.
The blonde babbled. The soda fizzed. Richard belched, a classy belch that rumbled up from the depths of his soggy stomach and hissed out through his teeth.
Shaking a cigarette fromthe half-empty pack on the bar he picked up a book of matches that had the picture of a beautiful red head twirling a parasol on the cover.
"I'm a scotch n' soda man he stated to no one in particular. The stamp of greatness, he chuckled. Tearing a match from the book he swung his head around to stare at the blonde. She must have felt his eyes because she turned and smiled at him.Drawing up one leg, she crossed it, showing an immodest expanse of soft, white flesh.
His blood began to pound as his gaze travelled up over the lush swelling of her calf, rounded the bend of her knee and followed her thigh up under the hem of her short skirt. He drooled inwardly for a moment, then cursed himself and averted his eyes.
"Damn it, man! You just watched a million bucks worth of broad walk out on you and now you're getting alll lathered up over some two-bit hooker!"
He turned and once again stared down at the redhead on the cover of the matchbook.
"Where do the ice cubes go after they've melted, honey? Or for that matter, what happens to you when your matchbook is empty?Do you keep on smiling when you're thrown away?" He laughed and sipped his drink, studying the girl through bloodshot eyes, "When you're lying in a gutter and your dress is all splattered with mud, do you still smile, sweetheart?"
She was a lovely girl, all peaches and cream and roses and dewdrops. She was the girl next door and yet there was something different about her. Gazing down at her long, red hair, full white breast and willowy legs he felt a tingle rise in his groin. But it wasn't just his libido that churned within him. There were other emotions that she stirred in him as well. Protective, nurturing instincts that swelled up from the vortex of his soul.
He flipped the matchbook closed and, both eyes watering now, picked it up gently and held it in trembling hands.
"Two more matches and then you've got to go, honey."
She smiled up at him as he tore a match from the book, lit it and held it in front of her. It glowed yellow-orange in the dark as the flame burned slowly toward his fingertips. He blew it out and grimaced, rubbing his eyebrows with a thumb and forefinger.
"I don't understand how you can be so trusting when you're on the brink of destruction!"
Angrily, he pulled a fresh cigarette from the pack and put it in his mouth. His hands trembled as he fingered the last match. The blonde giggled. The girl on the cover smiled up at him. The parasol she held seemed to spin faster and faster. Her green eyes watched him coyly. He couldn't do it.
Pushing the last match back into place, he closed the book and replaced it in his breast-pocket. Then, sliding off the stool, he walked to the far end of the bar.
"Excuse me, but can you give me a light?" The golden-tressed one dug a lighter from her purse and gave it to him. He flicked it, took a drag from his cigarett e and, patting his breast-pocket handed the lighter back.
"I thank you and the lady thanks you."
"I beg your pardon?"
He walked out into the night, looked at his convertible parked at the curb, then stepped unsteadily into the street and hailed a cab.
He seldom dreamed when sleeping one off but this night was an exception.
The redhead stepped down from the cover of a giant matchbook and walked toward a bubbling fountain. Sitting down gracefully at the edge, she turned and smiled that same smile at him.
He walked closer until he stood just in front of her. Suddenly it grew dark and the fountain gurgled ominously. A breeze ruffled her hair as the giant matchbook swung quickly open and a match tore itself from the book and erupted in flames.
He ran one hand up the nape of her neck until his fingers twined around a sheaf of flaming red hair. Kneeling beside her he pulled her back gently onto the grass. Her skin glowed and her eyes flashed in the flickering match light. He had just begun to trace the line of her throat with his lips as the match burned out.
A second breeze ruffled her hair as another match tore itself loose and burst into flame. He felt the warm softness of her. Watched her breast and thighs quiver anxiously beneath him as he made love to her, absorbing the wild sweetness of her.
All the while, the giant matchbook continued to open and shut and the matches lay burning in a charred heap at their feet.
He looked up as the cover opened for the last time and saw only one more match standing stark and alone. He openedhis mouth to scream but found he could utter no sound. He tried to rise but was rooted to the spot! Looking down in horror at his hands and feet he commanded them to move but still he lay there, his lips between her breasts!
Bathed in sweat, he watched the last match burst into flame, flicker and die. The drops of sweat gathered and formed a pool, there between her breasts. A rivulet shot out from the pool and cascadedbetween her thighs. Then the fountain roared as a torrent of muddy water gushed forth. The stinking water slapped against them, coursed madly past them.
Her hair hung in mud-clottedstrands across her forehead, her breasts and thighs were streaked with black ooze. She smiled up at him.
He screamed and ran, knees driving hard through the muddy torrent. Panting, he collapsed on the river bank, watching her naked body bob in the boiling blackness which swept her downstream. She grew smaller, became a white speck then disappeared from view entirely.The matchbook shuddered violently and fell with a thunderous roar, crushing the fountain.
He woke, the sound of the falling matchbook reverberating in his brain. Closing his eyes he felt his body start to rotate on some invisible axis. Spinning faster and faster until the sweat stood out on his chest. He opened his eyes and the spinning stopped. Acid juices rose in his chest and he ran gagging, into the bathroom.
After a hot shower he returned to his bedroom and picked up a pack of cigarettes from the dresser. Searching for a light, he spotted the redhead lying near the base of the lamp. He reached for the matches but stopped, suddenly reminded of the torrent, feeling it pressing against his thighs. He threw the matchbook into a drawer and slammed it shut.
Thinking a drink might help his frayed neves he mixed up a batch of Bloody Marys and, drink in hand, settled in the darkened living room to think.
Suddenly, the pungent odor of perfume assailed his nostrils. A moment later, he heard the gentle swish of a nightgown behind him. He clutched his glass tighter as a chill ran down his spine. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow move. He turned quickly, heart hammering in his chest, but saw no one.
During the next few weeks he became a man obsessed.She appeared on crowded streets, behind the darkend windows of restaurants. He began to drink more and stay out later, dreading the moment when he would climb into bed and dream that dream again.
His business began to suffer. Because of lack of sleep he was trying to function in a state of near-exhaustion. He went through the motions with his clients, desperately trying to project the illusion that he was still in control of his senses. Yet ceaselessly the redhead haunted him. He'd board a subway car only to see her step off onto the platform as the train pulled away. He'd push the button in his elevator. His blood would run cold as he watched her staring at him from the mezzanine smiling at him until the doors closed between them. He believed he was slowly going insane. Something had to be done. Something drastic!
And so it was that on a rainy Friday morning he found himself talking to a receptionist at Impact Art Studio. The woman listened to him, then led him into a tiny office. Moments later, a short, balding man in shirtsleeves entered the room and introduced himself.Richard took the matchbook from his pocket and handed it to the photographer.
"Did you take this picture?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. That's Tina, one of my favorites. Why?"
"Well, I'm a photographer myself. Nothing professional mind you. Could you, uh, tell me where I can contact her?"
"Well, I can give you the number of her answering service. But, she's a pretty girl!...and she doesn't come cheap."
Richard fumbled with a pencil, trying to shut the man's malicious grin from his mind.
"I didn't expect she would" he replied huskily.
It was almost midnight when the doorbell rang. He rose to answer it, drink in hand.
"Mr. Dean?" she was beautiful. The girl on the cover!
"Yes. Come in!"
She smiled that smile and walked past him. He sniffed and winced, perfume and bourbon! Settling on the sofa, she allowed her stole to slip off her creamy shoulders. She eyed him coyly.
"I guess I'd better tell you." he began, "I'm not really a photographer."
"I didn't think you were!" came her reply.
"Look, it's rather a confusing story but I'll try to explain. Would you like a drink?" he asked nervously.
"Ummmmm, bourbon and soda, if you have it." She smiled again and pulled a cigarette from her purse. "Do you have a light?"
"Uh, sorry, no. My lighter's dry. I use the gas stove in the kitchen."
"The stove? How quaint!". She rose and started for the kitchen then stopped as she spotted the matchbook lying on the coffee-table. She picked it up and studied the cover briefly.
"Why, what a coincidence! It's me!" she giggled.
Richard started toward her. "Yes, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." His eyes grew wide as she reached for the match inside. "No!" he shouted hoarsely. "No, you can't."
But she had already pulled the last match out of the book. Striking it, her sensual face was illuminated in the glow of the moment. The match flared quickly and died out.
"Guess I'll have to use that stove after all," she grinned.
He walked to the open french doors and stepped out onto the balcony. It was raining. Large, tear-shaped drops that gleamed in the dark streets below. Gazing down the avenue, he noticed the fountain in the city square, also gleaming in the neon-lit rain.
Her scream was sudden and piercing. He turned just as she emerged from the kitchen, her red hair in flames, her face contorted with pain.
Rushing past him, her eyes tightly closed, she hit the waist-high railing and toppled over shrieking, hurtling the ten stories to the pavement below.
He looked down at her doll-like body, lying in the gutter.Her dress clung, red-stained, to her broken flesh. Her hair hung in mud-clotted strands across her forehead. Her shredded lips drew back over her teeth, and she smiled up at him in the moonlight.