by EG Silverman

            Rhonda was small as a pickle and raw as the Tiparillo she clenched in her teeth.  Her eyes were as loaded with life as the body stretched out on the floor between us was devoid of it.

            “Well ain’t that a fuckin shame?” she said, flicking ash onto the dead man.  “If he ain’t as sorry looking a son of a bitch as a stiff as he was alive.  Weren’t never worth more than a sack of watermelon rinds neither way.”

            We were both naked, as we’d been when I’d first made the acquaintance of Reginald T. Smith, or Smitty as his friends apparently called him.  Or make that, used to call him.

            “What do you figure we ought to do with the dumb fuck?” Rhonda inquired, depositing more ash on the deceased.  “Bury him or dump him into the river and let the catfish feast on him?  Assuming they ain’t picky catfish, which I doubt, seeing as how I’ve never run across a catfish that much cared what it ate.  A lot like a man in that regard, come to think of it.”

            A recommendation from me pertaining to the optimal means of disposing of this fellow, with whom I had had only the most passing of acquaintances, was not immediately forthcoming, for while it was indeed a most germane subject for active exploration, it was also a field of endeavor in which I lacked both experience and sagacity.

            Rhonda gave her former lover a ginger nudge in the ribs with her toe as if to confirm that he wasn’t faking.

            “Think I ought to cut his dick off first?” she mused.  “So as to make sure one of them catfish don’t choke on it?  Sides, I might want to dry it and use it as a key chain.  You know, sort of like a rabbit’s foot for good luck.”

            Her toe lifted and then dropped the anatomical item under consideration.

            “Well shit, I could use a drink,” Rhonda sighed.  “And you could too.  I’m not sure who’s whiter, you or shit-for-brains.”

            She held the stub of her Tiparillo up before her eyes and regarded it closely.  Then she ceremoniously dropped it onto the dead man’s chest and ground it out with her bare right sole.

            Rhonda had small, delicate feet, their nails neatly polished in the same cherry red as her fingernails.  A thorny green rose was tattooed above her right instep.  The first time I had taken note of it had been some quarter of an hour earlier, immediately before her calf slid over my shoulder.

            I followed Rhonda out of the bedroom and down the hall and watched as she padded across the dingy linoleum kitchen floor, pulled three shot glasses out of the garish green cabinets, and poured three shots of tequila.  She was finely constructed, no more than five feet tall, a hundred pounds at most, tanned top to bottom as evenly as if she’d been browned on a rotisserie, and as firm as a marble sculpture.

            She drank one shot and handed me the other.  I tossed off the tequila in a nasty gulp, doing my best not to grimace as it went down in an incendiary flourish.

            “Guess you’re wondering who that’s for,” Rhonda said, indicating the remaining shot with a nod of her head.  Her hair was brown and lustrous, in a neat pageboy, professionally executed.  Her bangs formed an exquisitely cut arch, perfectly mimicking the natural flow of her thin eyebrows.  Her eyes were as brown and radiant as her hair.  “Just cause he’s a dumb fuck don’t mean we should be rude.  I figure the least we can do is offer him a drink.”

            She was off down the hall, full shot glass in hand.  Back in the bedroom, we stood once more over her defunct companion.

            “You’re an archeologist,” Rhonda said.  “You must know some prayers.”

            “Anthropologist,” I corrected her.  “My brief is the scientific study of the behavior and cultural development of human beings.”

            I tried not to sound pompous about it, but, I’m afraid, probably failed, as I’ve often been told that I tend towards the grandiose in my discourse.  And the truth be known, I make no apology.  For if being born to one of the finest families in Philadelphia, spending my high school years absorbing the best education Europe has to offer, taking my undergraduate studies at Oxford, and enjoying the cultural indulgence of multiple Ivy League doctoral programs is a crime, then so be, I stand convicted.

            Rhonda poured the tequila onto the face of the expired.

            “See that.  I ain’t no priest and I done the holy water,” she said.  “The least you can do is throw in a prayer.  I mean, damn it boy, it was your dick that killed him, much as anything else.”

            My immediate reaction was that this would be an excellent opportunity to engage my hostess in a colloquy regarding imputation for this unfortunate event.  However, this would surely have led inexorably down a path of philosophical dialogue on the very nature and meaning of responsibility, and those pesky and ethereal issues would have had to be thoroughly explored and a consensus reached before we could attempt to appropriately apportion accountability.  And while this would have been a fine and challenging intellectual exercise, the cultural and educational limitations of my counterpart tempered my zeal, so instead I recited a brief passage from Plato.  That seemed to do the trick, and I was rewarded with a smile.  Her teeth were surprisingly white given her fondness for smoking those disgusting brown things.

            Indeed, it had been her smile and the way she clasped her Tiparillo with her teeth that had first drawn my attention hours earlier.  After my evening class (Every Wednesday, 7-9 PM, I lecture the adult education Introduction to Anthropology—Catalogue course # Anth.154A, a course that although it lacks serious scientific purpose, nonetheless allows me to fulfill a major portion of my teaching requirements at the university without expending much effort and, I must admit, appeases my urgings to perform more as theater than as an academic, strutting and gesturing and telling jokes as I impress and amaze an auditorium full of adoring government clerks, administrative assistants, and real estate agents, with my unlimited knowledge of a subject so arcane to them as to have never crossed their minds that it existed, let alone merited a lifetime of study.), I toddled on over to The Library, as I often do, for a glass of refreshment to help me unwind from my performance.  The Library is a tastefully decorated cocktail lounge on the edge of campus, with dark paneled walls, paintings of fox hounds and formally attired riders, and cozy leather couches and easy chairs overlooking a zinc-covered bar originally located in a bistro in Paris.  It’s a perfect spot to sip a cordial and quietly read a book under one of the green-shaded lamps.

            Of course, my visits are as much professional as recreational, as the establishment is an excellent source of material for my current study of the increasingly feminist-dominated nature of our society, which I intend to compare and contrast with similar shifts that have occurred in other great societies in their waning years, and further to quantify this trend so that it can be used as a predictive tool to meter the unraveling of America’s sphere of influence.

            And so you can only imagine my pleasure when, as I was sipping a kir and musing over the reaction to my lecture, I happened to observe that in the rear section of the lounge, where a grand wooden archway, similar to one I once saw in a rail station in Switzerland, opens onto a lovely billiards room with its imposing table on immaculately carved legs and taloned lion’s feet, this little lady with her smile, her Tiparillo, and a devastating game of pool was quietly taking control.

            I decided to view the combatants more closely, gathered up my briefcase, obtained a fresh drink, and found myself an easy chair adjacent to the arch.  I was going to jot down a few notes, as is my wont, but thought it might be deemed a breech of etiquette.  Instead I sipped my drink and spectated.

            The lady was unbeatable.  In fact, I had the impression that she was toying with her prey, as a feline might with a murine victim, not to draw out the suffering of her mark, but merely to prolong her enjoyment of the sport.  I found myself thinking of sex, the way she attenuated her opponents with such deliberateness, almost as a form of foreplay, until she was ready for the climax of the kill, which she accomplished by running the remaining balls on the table and then sinking the eight ball, leaving the poor fellows demolished.

            I had become lost in my thoughts exploring the role of sex in my overall thesis, when I was startled to find her standing directly in front of me, her nicely chiseled chin resting on her two fists, which were grasped around the shaft of her pool cue.

            “Hey there pretty boy,” she said by way of salutation, “you wanna shoot some pool, or you just gonna sit there and stare at my ass?”

            She proceeded to remove my ascot and tuck one end of it into a rear pocket of her jeans, so it waved like a tail feather as she wiggled back up the two steps to the pool table.  (I should comment here that I don’t usually wear an ascot.  Good Lord, I’m not that pretentious.  But I have found that it does add a certain panache to my adult lectures.)

            A case study of a dominant female exerting her influence through athletic competition was fertile ground for further exploration, but my enthusiasm was, needless to say, mitigated by my scientific training, which warned me that I could not be both a participant and an unbiased observer.  With this self-admonition duly noted, I removed my herringbone jacket and marched up to the table.

            “Shit boy, where’d you get that shirt?” she said as I went to the rack and selected a cue.

            “Thomas Pink of London,” I replied.

            I saw no point in any further discussion of vesture or the quality thereof.  Clearly, whoever had manufactured the leotard top that clung to her chest had concerned himself very little with fine tailoring.

            Then for the first time I was privileged to observe in close proximity her ceremony of extracting a Tiparillo from a compartment in her pool cue case, which lay open on a straight-backed chair, putting it into her mouth, and then extending it in the general direction of a group of young men until (and it never took long) one of them nervously produced a lighter or a match and provided fire to her.  It was indeed interesting, from a scientific standpoint, the way in which, at a basic instinctual level, the quest for fire played such a prominent role in her ritualistic dominance.  I provisionally hypothesized—no, merely speculated, as I didn’t yet have sufficient evidence to warrant using the term “hypothesis”—that her procedure was to first dominate a male through pool and then to maintain dominance through this Tiparillo-lighting ritual.  Interestingly, she had not yet attempted to lure me into providing fire for her.

            It was time to conduct an experiment, to test my speculation.

            She was racking the balls expertly, her delicate fingers rolling them tightly together as she clenched the Tiparillo in her teeth.

            “Excuse me miss,” I said pleasantly.  “I’m sorry but I don’t know your name, or I would address you by it, but I was wondering if I might inquire as to what game we are about to play?”

            “Rhonda Doubleday,” she said, stepping to me with her hand outstretched.  Her handshake was surprisingly firm given her diminutive stature.

            “Brently,” I said.  “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

            She removed the Tiparillo, flicked ash into the air, and gave me a smile.

            “I couldn’t help but notice that you are quite adept at eight ball,” I said.

            “Yeah well, that’s the game these chickenshits cotton to.”

            “A game where the novice can excel.”

            “What’s your point, pretty boy?”

            “You may address me as Brently, if you please.”

            “What’s your point?”

            “I am proposing we play straight pool.  First to fifty wins.”
            I noted a change in her countenance.  I was gaining respect.

            “Yeah well they like to keep the table moving.”

            She inspected her underlings, gathered in the corner awaiting her command.

            “Any of you shits care if we play straight pool?” she called to them.

            No one objected.

            “Okay, you’re on,” she said.  “Brently.”

            I did not particularly care for the way she pronounced my name, as though it were a foreign food with which she was not familiar, perhaps one consisting of animal organs.

            “But we’ll need to make it interesting,” she added.  “How much you want to wager?”

            In my study of hierarchical dominance in postmodern urban organizational structures, particularly those undergoing abrupt leadership changes, I had previously recognized the propensity of competing power-seekers to overlay a wide range of activities, be they for amusement or for substantive ends, with a speculative edge, and this would be no exception.

            “My dear lady,” I replied, “name your stakes.”

            I could see she was taken aback by my boldness.

            “Fifty bucks.”
            “Done.”

            “I want to see it.  Now.  And I don’t take no American Express.”

            From my wallet, I produced a freshly minted fifty-dollar bill and placed it on the rail, resplendent in its crispness.  She extracted a ratty version of the same from the extremely limited storage space in her jeans, unfurled the bill, and flattened it with her palm onto mine, as though the two of them were copulating.

            “Let the games begin,” she proclaimed enthusiastically to the assemblage.

            “The lady breaks,” I said, locking my eyes onto hers.

            For the uninitiated, I should explain that in pool, as with most things in life, attitude is as much a determinant of outcome as is skill, and I had noted a distinct lack of confidence in Miss Rhonda’s previous opponents.  This was entirely consistent with a major tenet of my theories on the rise of feminist power.  Simply put, a good looking woman who knows how to use her aura of sexual potential frightens most men into submission.

            Unfortunately for my adversary, having approached the subject with the distance and academic rigor my training and position required, I recognized her technique and was therefore unintimidated.  What’s more, I had through my many years at university, gained a certain proficiency at the sport in question.

            Halfway through the match, the scored tied, she uttered her first words since the game began.  “I’m dry as a bone.  Hey Jimmy, how about fetching me another Southern Comfort?  And one for my friend here.  What you drinking Doc?”

            I couldn’t help but wonder how she had come to recognize my educational credentials and to refer to me by my title, albeit in an abbreviated form.

            “A kir royale, if you please.”

            “Okay Jimmy, got that?  A Crown Royal for the doc.  How you want it Doc?  Neat or rocks?  A splash of water?  Oh shit, don’t make that face at me Brently, or I’ll break it for you.  I don’t give a shit, Jimmy, bring the fucker whatever you want.”

            Tiparillo dangling from the corner of her mouth, her fingers encircling her cue as though it were a member of male anatomy, she extended her tightly compacted behind, gave it a shake, and sank the five ball in the side pocket after a well executed two-rail bank.

            She dragged deeply on her Tiparillo and exhaled a cloud of smoke over my head.  Obviously she sensed that I was onto her strategy, and her dominance suddenly in doubt, she was exploring alternative tactics.  This was a compelling turn of events, and I considered requesting a brief intermission so I could record a few notes, but I realized this could be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, and as such, it would be ill-advised.

            The fellow she had referred to as Jimmy, an unkempt fellow whom she had earlier roundly trounced, returned with our drinks.  She consumed her liquor in a single swallow and proceeded to lick out the inside of the glass, making certain that the details of the surface of her tongue were thoroughly displayed to me.

            Apparently she had determined to commingle tactics.  This was going to be interesting indeed.  A paradigm of generations of struggle was unfolding before me.  My only regret was that I had been unwittingly cast into the fray as an active participant instead of my preferred role of impartial recorder and analyzer of events, as any scientist should be.  And yet, I had to admit to a feeling of exhilaration at the challenge.  Indeed, can it not be argued that any scientist conducting an experiment is always an active participant?

            “Your shot Buster,” she said.  “We don’t got all night you know.”

            I responded by sinking the three in the corner, nicely drawing back the cue ball to leave myself set up for an easy combination on the twelve in the side, which I sank smartly, spinning the cue ball to a dead stop, lined up for the two in the corner.

            “Another round Jimmy,” she called to the fellow.  “We got to get Doc here to lighten up.  I can see the stick in his hands, but he struts around like he’s got it up his ass.”

            By the time he returned with the drinks, I was up by five.  I sank one of the two remaining balls, racked, and broke with a gentle touch, leaving her nothing to shoot at.

            “Wimp,” she said and inhaled her cocktail.

            She missed a difficult, but in my estimation makeable, attempt on the fourteen in the corner.  Worse yet for her, she left me set up.  I hammered in the fourteen while ricocheting the cue ball into the pack, thereby providing a wealth of opportunities for further shots.  

            If her intention was to gain the upper hand by encouraging alcohol consumption, she had sadly miscalculated.  My many years at university had provided me with more than merely academic training.  Alcohol consumption only improves my game, this being entirely consistent with state-dependant learning theory, the dictum that states, quite simply, that one is best at performing a task if one is in the same mental state as one was in when one learned how to perform the task.  An excellent case in point, I proceeded to run the table and on into the next until, with an emphatic pounding of a five ball into the corner pocket, I reached fifty and had won.

            I glanced over and saw the awed faces of the spectators.  I was now chief of the tribe.

            Rhonda gathered up the two fifty-dollar bills and stuffed them into my right front pants pocket, ensuring that they were well ensconced.  As I felt her fingers investigate thoroughly their immediate environs, she said, “How about a nightcap, Brently?”

            I could detect no negative inflection in her pronunciation of my name, this new found respect no doubt an acknowledgement of my recently achieved status as head of the clan.

            I really should be writing all this down, I thought to myself.  It is excellent confirmation of my theories on pack structure and behavior.

            “I’d love to, but the hour precludes it,” I said.

            “Winner buys one round.  House rules.”

            But of course, how foolish of me.  Following coronation, the ruler of the fiefdom is expected to demonstrate his ability to care for his subjects by providing nourishment.  Classic behavior.

            “Yes.  Fine then.  One round,” I said, in the interest of science.

            Her little hand emerged from my pocket grasping one of the fifty-dollar bills.

            “This ought to cover it,” she said.  “I know a better place than this dump.  Follow me.”

            The slouching assemblage of males was waiting to be fed, like animals at the zoo.  Didn’t I, as recently anointed king, bear some responsibility towards them?  Here then was an avenue of study that certainly merited investigation.

            But upon further consideration and consultation with the chronometer on my wrist, I concluded that I could hardly be expected to conduct two courses of study simultaneously, and as my major interest was the rise and impact of feminism on society, I chose to follow Rhonda.

            “I’ll drive,” she said outside.

            Interesting, I thought.  A gambit to reestablish dominance.  Clearly I made the right choice, from a scientific standpoint, to pursue this arm of the investigation further.

            Her car was parked illegally in a dimly lit alley nearby.  It was an old Fiat Spider convertible, its upholstery urgently in need of repair.  While my training is as an anthropologist, I have, of course, spent more than a little time on archeological digs and have acquired a modicum of skill in that endeavor, and therefore was able to learn a great deal about my companion’s eating habits as revealed by the abundance of fast food establishment paper products strewn about the passenger cabin.  Taco Bell appeared to be a particular favorite.

            Rhonda drove in a manner reminiscent of Bornean tribesmen running harrowing shoots of rapids in wooden canoes, and the sound emanating from the poor Spider was only slightly less voluminous than that made by the torrents of water rushing over the rocks, routine automotive maintenance evidently not being a pursuit that she found fulfilling.  The smoke billowing from the tailpipe, or what remained of it, reminded me of the signal fires used in some remote parts of the world as a means of communication, although perhaps here I am glorifying the subject of my study more than is warranted, a pitfall that scientists must always be diligent to avoid.

            She turned down a country lane well outside of our modest university town.  The lane gave out onto a dirt road, little more than a path really, and finally she came to a halt in front of a dismal white clapboard dwelling.  A stop sign mounted on its post had been installed at one corner of the front porch to hold the sagging tin roof at some semblance of a proper elevation.

            “We’re here,” Rhonda announced.

            “My dear girl,” I said.  “I believe you requested my company for a final cordial in celebration of my victory.  I had quite naturally assumed you were referring to ones being offered at a public house.”

            “Cool your jets, Brently,” she said and strode into the house.

            As I extricated myself from the Spider, a scruffy brown mutt appeared out of the woods and relieved himself on the rear right tire.  I speculated momentarily whether, as the dominant male, I ought to do likewise, and in fact it brought to mind the fullness of my bladder.

            I found Rhonda in a squalid kitchen smacking frost-encrusted metal ice cube trays against the sink, and inquired as to the location of the hygienic facilities, hoping that the directions would remain confined to the interior of the abode.  Following her instructions, I entered her personal boudoir, its bedsheets in a tangled mess, a couple of blankets in a heap on the floor, and vast quantities of female apparel strewn randomly about.  Interesting, I thought to myself, and continued into the bathroom, which was simple but clean, with a tidy black and white tile floor, old but serviceable fixtures, and neatly folded towels.  Very interesting indeed.

            Upon relieving myself and freshening up a bit, I found my hostess busily at work straightening up the bedroom.

            “Sorry about the mess,” she said, handing me a drink.  “I wasn’t expecting such highfalutin company.”

            She made the bed and stuffed clothes into drawers and the single closet, which required a fearful round of shoving and kicking before the door would agree to stay shut.

            “There now, that’s better.  You’re a lot of trouble Brently, but I guess it needed some redding up around here anyway.”

            “And I did triumph in our competition,” I said, sounding a bit more foppish than I would have preferred.

            “Yeah, here’s to your victory,” she replied and ingested the contents of her glass.  “So Brently, here we are.  You won.  Claim your prize.”

            I was quite curious to see what sort of coronation she was envisioning.

            “Oh shit.  Brently please don’t tell me you’re a faggot.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “You don’t like boys, do you?”

            “I beg your pardon.”

            With that, she stepped to me, put her hands around my neck, and kissed me.

            One must recall that my mission here was one of science, and while it could be argued that the sexual rite that she had in mind was no more than the formalization of her recognition of my tribe status, and as such, observing it to its ultimate outcome was an integral component of the investigation I had assigned myself as part of my ongoing research project, nonetheless, I couldn’t help but sense that I was perilously close to jeopardizing the rigorousness of my scientific objectivity, and therefore, I hesitated in responding enthusiastically to Rhonda’s advances.

            “Oh Brently,” she whispered into my ear, “I’m going to fuck you like you’ve never been fucked before.”

            Aha!  A ceremonial invocation.  Damn it, I really ought to have been writing this down, but my briefcase was out in the car.

            Without the aid of notes, it is difficult to recount the exact sequence in which the subsequent events transpired, but as best I can recall, I found myself deeply involved in what can only be characterized as a mating ritual, with my person, of course, in the position of dominance, hers in one of submission, eyes closed, her hands splayed flat on the bed beside her head in supplication, and her feet elevated by my shoulders.  I do remember that she asseverated repeatedly, “Oh God, Oh God,” followed by the refrain of “Give it to me baby—fuck me, oh fuck me.”  Then as I was remarking to myself on the artistic quality of the tattoo on her inner ankle, I heard a door slam, and she muttered, “Oh shit.”  Immediately thereafter, a gruff and displeased male voice behind me declared, “What the fuck is going on here?  What the fuck?  Rhonda, damn you bitch.  What the fuck?”

            As rapidly as our intertwined anatomies would permit, Rhonda and I disentangled.  Our recently arrived visitor stood glaring in a most unfriendly manner at us, and at my engorged self in particular.

            “Now Smitty, calm down,” Rhonda said.  “What the fuck you doing here anyway?”

            “Me?  I fucking live here.  What the fuck’s he doing here?”

            “You don’t live here asshole.  I fucking threw your sorry ass out of here in case you forgot.”

            “I’ll kill you.  You fucking whore.”

            I was about to suggest that I excuse myself while the two of them attempted to resolve their domestic squabble when he added, “And you Dr. Brently.  I’ll fucking kill you too.”

            Our guest then withdrew from the room abruptly.  Rather rude of him, I thought.

            “Excuse me Rhonda,” I said.  “But I am curious.  Who is this gentleman, and how does he know my name?”

            “You idiot Brently.  He ain’t no gentleman.  He’s one of your students.  And by the way, I’ve never been clear, is Brently your first or last name?”

            The fellow was making a commotion in the kitchen opening drawers, slamming things about, and uttering epithets.

            “What the fuck’s he doing in there?” she said and then yelled at the open doorway,  “What the fuck you doing in there Smitty?  Why don’t get the fuck out of my house?”

            Rhonda opened the closet door and was greeted by a cascade of clothing and shoes.  I stooped to retrieve my trousers from the floor.  Smitty reappeared in the doorway wielding a butcher knife and then advanced in my direction in an unmistakable attitude of attack.

            Rhonda ordered, “Smitty drop it.”

            Alas, this was not Rhonda’s night for dominance, and Smitty continued his charge, the knife poised for a thrust at my sternum.  With some alacrity, I grabbed the bedside lamp, in its former life a bottle of Chianti, swung, and connected solidly across the side of his head, glass shattering.  He staggered backwards.  Meanwhile, Rhonda had receded into the closet, leaving me in the role of protector.  Thus it was of intense scientific interest when, a moment later, as I readied myself for my assailant’s next onslaught, Rhonda re-emerged from the closet, pointed a revolver, and demanded, “I mean it.  Drop it Smitty.”

            Smitty resumed his assault, the knife prepared to commence its downward arch towards me.  Rhonda fired.  Smitty’s face faded from anger and determination to surprise, then wonderment, and then it evaporated away to empty, like a puddle on a sidewalk on a hot summer’s day.  His arm lowered slowly, and the knife dropped to the floor with a subdued clatter.  He turned and looked questioningly at Rhonda for a moment, took a couple of steps, and fell over, landing on his back with his arms at his sides, as though he had lain down for a nap.

            “The dumb fuck,” Rhonda said.  “He never did listen to what I said.”

            “Well done,” I said.  “And not a moment too soon.”

            “More like medium rare,” she replied, toeing him gingerly.  “Think he’s dead?”

            I squatted and checked for a pulse, finding none.  “Quite dead, I’m afraid.”

            “No need to be afraid of the dead, sweetheart.  You know, you don’t have a half bad ass.”

            She lit up a Tiparillo.  “Always got to have one of these suckers after a good fuck,” she said.

            She smoked, regarded the deceased, and contemplated the situation.

            “What do you think we ought to do with the dumb fuck?” Rhonda inquired, as she watched her ashes flutter lazily downward towards his genitals.

            Warming to Rhonda’s smile at my Platonic eulogy, I continued, “Either death is a state of nothingness and utter consciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another…Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is to gain; for eternity is then only a single night.”

            “Cool Brently,” she said.  “You should have been a priest.  Can we get rid of the stiff now and get back to unfinished business?”

            Now this was a most fascinating twist indeed—her reference to me as a holyman linked with an invocation of sexual sanctification.

            “Now Rhonda, I believe you were proposing a burial at sea?”

            “It’s easier than digging a pit, ain’t it?”

            “Precisely.”

            “Okay professor.  Here’s the plan.  Out back’s a dock.  At the end of the dock is a boat sitting in the Delaware River.  We cruise out to the ocean and dump him.”         

            “And how big is your boat?”

            She grinned and shook her lustrous hair.

            “Brently, you mean, how big is my dock?  Big enough for your boat.  Want to come into port?”

            “We must be serious now Rhonda.  Please describe your boat to me or I’ll be forced to go inspect it myself.”

            “I like it when you talk dirty.  Didn’t know you had it in you.”

            I located the back door, and as she said, it gave way to a dock, at the end of which was tied a cabin cruiser, which though in need of refurbishment, was certainly large enough to be adequate for the job.  I returned to the kitchen to find Rhonda making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

            “Sex always works up an appetite,” she said.  “Want one?”

            At least she hadn’t made one for Smitty.

            “What you making faces at?” she said.

            We soon had the boat loaded with our cargo, as well as a case of beer on ice, and were underway.

            “I hope you got some money,” Rhonda said.  “We’re going to need gas.”

            “I believe you still have my fifty.”

            “Your fifty?  Shit, I let you win.  That don’t hardly count.”

            The night was clear and pleasant, refreshments were cold and plentiful, and had it not been for our infelicitous freight, it would have made for a delightful outing.  To kick off the conversation, I encouraged my hostess to regale me with tales of her personal history.

            “So what do you want to know, Brently?  I ain’t got no diseases and I’m on the pill, if that’s what you mean, although it’s kinda late for asking, wouldn’t you say?  Sort of like closing the barn door after you already fucked the mare.”

            In no time at all she was chattering like a chickadee, accompanied by the steady drone of the motor as we slid through the moonlit night and black silky water.

            “I think better naked,” she said.  “You mind?”

            “Not at all.”

            As Rhonda disrobed, I learned that she was professionally employed as an assistant at a tattoo parlor and body-piercing salon.  She assisted in the various surgeries and artistic endeavors, sterilized the equipment, answered the phone, took appointments, and generally managed the business operations.

            “But mostly I let the guys gawk at my tits and ass so they won’t notice the pain,” she elaborated.  “A lot of the girls get off on it too.  I let one of them kiss me once, well shit I was pretty drunk that day, but even so it was gross and that was the last time for that shit.”

            I commended her on the fine piece of artwork on her ankle.

            “You know, Brently, that’s the first nice thing you’ve said to me.  If you’re gonna fuck a girl, you ought to toss a few compliments her way.  Didn’t your mother teach you no manners?”

            We cruised through the darkness, entranced in our own little idyll.

            “Rhonda, if you don’t mind me asking a personal question, your present costume makes quite apparent that you have only one tattoo, and I am unaware of any perforations in your flesh, other than those of the usual female configuration, and I was wondering, given your chosen profession, whether management might deem this less than exemplary?”

            “What you saying, Brently?  You one of them freaks, like to see a girl’s body all covered with shit and stuck like a pig?”

            “No, no, not at all, I….”

            “Shit Brently, I should a knowed it.  You and your fancy talk and professor shit, and you’re no better than the rest of the scum.”

            “My dear Rhonda.  You could not be more mistaken.  I find your body to be quite acceptable in its present state, and I wouldn’t recommend any modifications whatsoever.”

            “See that Brently, you can be a sweetie when you want to.  Give me a kiss.”

            I obliged.

            “You know, Brently, I’d do it if you want,” she whispered as we embraced.  “Another tattoo, or piercing, or whatever you want.  You could watch them do it to me.”

            Her suggestion to codify her allegiance through such a ceremony was completely in line with the findings of my studies of tribal body lancing and painting practices.

            “Thank you, but that will not be at all necessary.”

            “Okay, but you just let me know, babe.”  Her smile lit up the night as though the shimmering reflection of the moon on the water was emanating from the glow of her features.

            “I don’t mean to be indelicate,” I said, “but I’m curious about your relationship with your late cohabitant.”

            She lit up a Tiparillo.  “Not much to tell.  Met him at a bar.  He seemed nice enough.  One thing led to another.  Before I knew it, we was shacked up.  Till the sight of him made me want to puke.  That and he fucked my best friend.”

            “You said he was a student of mine?”

            “One of those big lectures you give.  Boy, you dazzled the shit out of him, I’ll tell you that.  He’d come home eyes full of wonder.  Thought you were some sort of wizard.”

            “Then he was a student at the university?”

            “Management trainee at the 7-Eleven.  Said he was gonna take courses at night.  Make something of himself.  Yours was the only one he ever got to.  Guess it’ll be the last.”

            “And he was enjoying my lectures?”

            “Sometimes it’d be all he’d talk about—this wonderful brilliant professor who’s been everywhere and done everything and uses such pretty words that even when you can’t tell what in the fuck he’s talking about, it don’t matter cause it’s so pretty you could sit there and listen to it all night.  Then one time, I’m laying on my back staring at the goddammed cracked ceiling with old Smitty grunting on top of me and I start thinking what the fuck?  If this goddamned professor is so fucking wonderful, then why am I listening to some worthless lump of shit telling me about it, instead of me having the real thing myself?

            “Yeah that’s right Brently.  Tonight was no accident.  I was waiting for you after your lecture at that bar.  I put on that whole show for you.  And here we are.”

            This latest information was indeed exciting.

            “And you know what, Brently?  Sure you’re a uppity windbag, but there’s something, I don’t know, warm about you, something that makes a woman feel like a woman, something that lets me know that even if you don’t show it, you really do care about me.

            “And you know what else, Brently?  You’re damned good in bed.”
            We were back on firm anthropological footing.  Sexual flattery as a means of manipulation.  Control through subservience.

            “And so Brently….”  She cut off the engine and suggested I drop the anchor.  “We have some unfinished business to attend to.”

            Afterwards, she grinned at me radiantly, her skin glistening in the moonlight, her eyes sparkling like the stars.

            “You know Brently.  I could keep you around for a while.”

            Her back was to the windscreen.  Her buttocks resided on the deck, not, I should imagine, more than a foot or two from her previous lover’s glassy-eyed stare.

            “The king is dead.  Long live the king,” I mused.

            “You are my king, all right,” she purred, resting her head against my chest.  The dewy night air enveloped us and she added, “and I am your queen.”

It seemed as though I had barely drifted off to sleep, when a cacophony of birdsong advised us that first light had arrived.  Soon, her naked body was standing before me, her hands extended, stretched to their utmost.

            “God, I slept like a baby,” she said, beaming that endearing grin.  “You sure know how to put a girl to bed.”

            “I’m so glad.”

            “Not a morning person, huh?”  Then, after a moment’s reflection, she added, “Smitty weren’t no morning person neither.”

            “And so now he’s a mourning person.”

            She looked at me peculiarly for a minute.

            “Brently, did you make a joke?  God, now this is a red letter day, ain’t it?”

            She knelt and kissed me on the cheek.

            With a minimum of preparations we were on our way, passing through a sedate section of verdant river ravine, streaks of sunrays breaking through morning white clouds, mystic mist clinging to the muddy shoreline.  Before long, we happened upon a marina, where Rhonda left me to refuel while she marched off to fetch us breakfast.

            “Pay cash,” she said before heading off.  “No credit cards to show where we’ve been.”

            I couldn’t help but notice her use of the second person plural, further confirming our tribal status.

            While watching the scruffy attendant in his sleeveless shirt and greasy bandana look as bored as was humanly possible as he pumped the gas, I debated whether I should call and cancel my appointments for the day.  The calls would require use of a credit card and at a later date would provide unambiguous evidence of my whereabouts.  However, for me to simply not show up with no forewarning would, given my known propensity for compulsiveness, in all likelihood give rise to immediate alarm, and as my billiards match had been witnessed by many a person, a search for my whereabouts would likely lead quickly to Rhonda’s house, where her car sat with my briefcase on display.

            So, upon Rhonda’s return, I proceeded into the marina’s restaurant where I found a payphone, which I used to call my secretary and advise her that I was ill and she should cancel my appointments for the next couple of days.  Then I wandered into the shop beside the restaurant and bought clean underwear, a T-shirt, shorts, two toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a razor.  Also, I purchased for Rhonda a powder blue tank top, which I thought would show off her complexion and eyes to good effect, and a yellow sundress with a school of angelfish swimming across the front.

            She stood at the stern, shaking her head, her hands on her petite waist.

            “Did a little shopping, did we Brently?” she chided.

            But her displeasure turned to glorious smile when I presented her gifts.  She threw her arms around my neck and pressed her mouth to mine.

            “This might be a good time to employ that toothbrush,” I said.

            “You’re too much Brently,” she said and scampered off to the public restroom.

            After we had both completed our toilettes, we were again underway, drinking coffee, munching on Danishes, and enjoying a brilliant day on the river.  By noon we entered a section that was considerably more heavily traveled and the shores thoroughly populated.  Rhonda opened her first beer of the day.

            “Still cold.  Some fresh ice wouldn’t hurt though.”

            “I believe we should stay focused on our mission, don’t you?”

            “Brently, I could tell you what I’m focused on, and that’s my mission.”

            “Perhaps you do need some fresh ice, my dear.”
            By mid-afternoon, we entered the bay, having stopped briefly at another marina to refuel both the boat and ourselves.  The bay emptied into the sea as the sun sank into a fiery display.  We continued into the gloaming until twinkling lights were all we could see of the shore.  Rhonda shut off the engine.

            “We already had the funeral, so let’s get it over with,” Rhonda said.  Her voice sounded uncharacteristically flat.

With considerable effort, we hauled Smitty’s stiff body out of the cabin and onto the deck.

            “Would you like me to leave you alone with him for a minute?” I offered.

            “Fuck no.”

            She lit up a Tiparillo, and I let her smoke for a few minutes until she flicked ash onto the body and said, “Will he float or sink?”

            I hesitated.

            “You don’t know, do you?” she taunted me.  “I thought you were supposed to be so damned smart, Doctor Brently.”

            “We could tie an anchor to him.”

            “Oh great.  Then what are we going to use for an anchor?”

            She smoked.

            “All right,” she said.  “Tie the sucker on.”

            I procured the anchor and lashed its tether securely around Smitty’s waist.

            “Okay, let’s do it,” she said.

            Together we heaved Smitty overboard.  He slid quietly into the water and bobbed there until we dropped the anchor with a splash and then he was gone, and Rhonda and I were alone in the night.  I leaned over the side and washed my hands in the ocean water.

            “Got the cooties?” she said snidely.

            But then she leaned over and washed hers.

            A cleansing ritual after the burial.  Very fitting.

            She started up the engine.

            The return boat ride was uneventful, and when we arrived at her house, it appeared exactly as we had left it.  We dug the bullet out of the wall and threw it into the river.  Rhonda smacked the wall with a hammer, so the damage appeared more general.  She cleaned up some blood spots and burned the paper towels she used.  She washed the handle of the knife he had held, to remove any fingerprints.  We both surveyed the scene and were satisfied.

            “Well Miss Rhonda, I believe I shall be going now,” I said.  “This has been most enlightening, but I must attend to some business of my own.

            “A nightcap for the road?”

            “Oh hell, why not?”

            I noted with satisfaction that she waited for me to drink first.  I thought of my briefcase and my notebooks out in her car.  I had still not written down a single note from this entire episode.  It occurred to me with some alarm that this excellent research might be compromised by the unfortunate fatality involved, which could preclude me from publishing it in full detail.  Oh well, perhaps I could still make use of the individual items of behavior to support my theories.

            “Brently, sometimes I wonder what is going on inside that pretty head of yours,” she said, sipping her drink and puffing on her Tiparillo.

            “Oh just reviewing some ideas for tomorrow’s lecture.”

            She appeared to be disappointed.

            “My work is very consuming,” I said.

            I finished my drink and handed her the empty glass.

            “Well cheers,” I said.  “I’ll be on my way now.”

            “You walking home?”

            “Oh yes, I guess I do need you to chauffeur me.”

            “On one condition.”

            “Pardon me?”

            “You let me come in with you.”

            “To my home?  I’m sorry that will be quite impossible.”

            “I need to see where I’m going to be spending my time.”

            “I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken if you….”

            “Brently, you didn’t think I went to all this trouble for one stinking night, did you?”

            “Look Rhonda, I’m afraid you must have somehow gotten the wrong impression….”

            “You mean the impression of your dick in my pussy?  That one?  I got that wrong?”

            “Yes, indeed, but that didn’t mean, which is to say, that well, as I’m sure you can understand….”

            “Oh I understand a lot more than you think.  I ain’t good enough for you.  I’m good enough to fuck, oh yeah sure no problem, but not good enough to be your girlfriend.”

            “It’s only that I’m a very private person, and I’m not predisposed to become involved in the type of relationship which I believe is in concordance with that which you are seeking.”

            “Fuck your concordance Brently.  You ain’t got no choice in the matter.”

            “No Rhonda, really.  I’m afraid we are both quite fatigued and if I might offer a suggestion, perhaps it would be best if we were to continue this discussion at a future date.”

            “No Brently.  I want to hear it out of your goddamned mouth right now.  I want you to tell me that I am coming over to your place tomorrow night and you’re going to fuck my damn brains out and then I’m going to sleep in your bed.”

            “And if I refuse?”

            “I’m going to blow your goddamned head off.  Now that I did it once, I’ve kind of got a hankering to do it again.”

            Aha!  All her ritualistic surrenders be damned.  Obviously, my scientific exploration here was not yet complete.  Surely this was fertile ground for further study—a paradigm of feminist dominance in current society.

            “In that case, I accept,” I said.

            As Rhonda drove me home, I took out one of my notebooks and scribbled down some ideas.  I needed to firm up my hypothesis and then lay out a series of experiments, being sure to maintain my academic objectivity.

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