Everyone is inundated with promotion. I’m as guilty as the next author. We’re all looking for some way to get our book to stand out among the hundreds of others you’re bombarded with every day. It’s not like we want to irritate you with something we think is a clever way to cajole you into buying our deathless prose. We have to do something, or the book we spent a year working on will slip out of the public consciousness without a trace. I’m not complaining. As Hyman Roth said to Michael Corleone, “This is the life we’ve chosen.”
The only thing an author has control over is to write the best book he or she can; it’s up to the audience to decide whether to buy it or not. So, I held up my end. I gave you my best effort. Is it worth your time and money? Only you can say. To help you out, here’s Chapter 1 of Worst Enemies. Free gratis, as Al Swearengen would say. If you want to read more, the book drops Wednesday from Down & Out.
Until I got married, I was my own worst enemy.
Tom Widmer needed to pay attention. It’s not every night someone tells you how to kill his wife.
Hard enough to hear in Tease as it was, the tekno/disco/hip-hop cranked to Volume Eleven, so loud the pulsing in his eardrums ruined the floor’s foot massage. Chastity’s nipple in his ear didn’t help. She had the rest of her tit wrapped against his cheek like she was about to go off shift in fifteen minutes and needed to get him into the VIP Room now, which she was and did. This was her go-to move when time got short: sit on the arm of his chair, slip the teddy or camisole or whatever they call that thing she wore off-stage out of the way, then ease it in. Usually he didn’t mind. Usually it cost him an extra fifty for a trip to the VIP Room. Not tonight.
Tom turned his head and Chastity gave him a mouthful. He couldn’t resist a quick lick before he pulled away. “I’m sorry, baby. Marty and I gotta talk. Maybe later.”
Chastity pulled a pout. “I go off shift in fifteen minutes, Tommy. Can’t it wait?”
Tom looked at Marty and saw no, it couldn’t wait. “Sorry, babe. Next time.”
“You’re just a tease.” The smile that never reached her eyes didn’t hide the irritation in her voice. Fifteen minutes wasted. She made a show of tucking the nipple away and ran her tongue around his ear. Bit the lobe for good measure. “Next time. You’ll be sorry you passed.”
Marty waited for her to get out of hearing range, about three feet. “Can I have your attention now, or do I have to wait for your dick to get soft again?”
“You’re sure it has to be tomorrow?” Tom swallowed the bottom half of his gin and tonic, looked for the waitress.
Marty put his hand over Tom’s and forced the empty glass onto the table. “Pay attention. This has to be done before Monday. She hired a lawyer. You understand me? She already hired a fucking lawyer. Once they serve me with papers, there’s no way anyone will believe a burglar killed her. Thursday’s my regular night out and we have this thing with her family over the weekend. It has to be tomorrow.”
“That’s not a lot of time to plan.”
“Fucking A, and I got tired of waiting for you to do it. Everything you need’s in the car.”
“No, dumbass, in my car. How the fuck would I get it into your car?”
Tom really wanted that gin; the tonic had become optional. He’d had fun the past few months, basking in young pussy while he and Marty talked about killing each other’s wives, a couple of lap dances for the road. He figured his divorce was almost as close as Marty’s, and Marian would get half of what was already only half as much as it had been, the market’s death by a thousand cuts bleeding him every day. The sun would shine brighter in a world without Marian.
Now Marty was good to go. Carol had a lawyer and Tom didn’t know for a fact that Marian didn’t. Marty was right: once papers were filed, neither wife could catch cold without her husband falling under suspicion. Of course, wife killing was much more entertaining as an abstraction, and Tom had never killed anything more evolved than an insect in his life. Buried the whole cage when the kids’ pet hamster died so he wouldn’t have to touch Fluffy. Still, it was now or never. Kill her or face the idea of living like an intern again, running the copier for guys whose cufflinks cost more than his car.
Marty was talking. Probably had been, now that Tom thought about it. “You gotta be there at ten o’clock. Earlier and she’ll still be up. Later and it’s too close to when I come home.”
“Huh? Wait. Run that first part by me again.”
Marty squeezed Tom’s wrist until he grimaced. “Pay attention, dickhead. You fuck this up and I’ll come after you myself. There’s no way you’re doing this half-assed and taking me down with you. You listening to me?”
Tom nodded, tried to make eye contact with the waitress without moving his head. She wanted fifty bucks, he’d give her fifty bucks. A hundred. Just someone bring him a drink, for Christ’s sake.
Marty didn’t need a drink. “One more time. The stuff’s in the car. Black pullover, black jeans, black shoes and socks. One of those head things like Hines Ward wears when it’s cold.”
“What? You mean like a helmet?”
“No, not a helmet. Jesus Christ. Are all stockbrokers this dumb? No wonder the economy’s in the shitter. It’s like a skull cap, tight, pulls over your head, covers everything except your face. Race car drivers wear them.”
“If you say so. At least you’re listening. Put everything on, darken your face up some—”
“How should I do that?”
“Darken my face.”
“I don’t know. Use some charcoal from the grill.”
“We have a gas grill.”
“Then buy some charcoal. Jesus Christ. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here. Spend three bucks on a lousy bag of Kingsford.”
“It’s not the money. How am I going to explain the charcoal when I have a gas grill? It won’t look right.”
Marty rubbed his forehead with a thumb and index finger, closed his eyes for a couple of seconds. “What are you, autistic? Throw the rest of the bag away. It’s just charcoal. It ain’t like they got serial numbers on them. Use dirt if you want to. Just darken up your face.”
Tom had a thing about being dirty, showered before and after work every day. Sanitized his hands after he blew his nose, snot on them or not. Right now he’d swim naked through a pig trough if someone would just bring him a beer. Lite beer, even.
“Look at me, you son of a bitch.” Marty grabbed Tom’s cheeks between a thumb and forefinger. “I’m desperate here. This has to happen, and it has to happen tomorrow. You don’t do this and I’ll ruin you. I’ll tell your wife what I know and she’ll get half of what you got left plus child support. And you’ll probably lose your license. Then what are you gonna do?”
“How you figure to get my license?” Marty could tell stories about Tom lawyers would line up for like politicians at a microphone. Being a randy drunk couldn’t cost him his stockbroker’s license.
“Remember that time you told me about that old broad—what’s her name?—Finnegan? How you used money in her account for what you called ‘leverage’ to float that hedge fund thing a few years ago? You made a bundle off that, didn’t you?”
“She didn’t lose a dime.”
“She didn’t make any, either. You told me how you got her to sign shit she wasn’t sure what it was? Got to be records of that, right? You move money around, something she has to sign for, I can’t believe they just throw the paperwork away when the money gets moved back. I’m no stockbroker, but they must be pretty fussy about their bookkeeping. I mean, it’s money, right? No other reason for a stockbroker to be in business.”
Fuck. Fuck. Marty told anyone about that and it was over for Tom. He’d be lucky if his old man could get him a job delivering uniforms. If he didn’t go to jail. He opened his mouth to talk. Marty beat him to it.
“Wait. Don’t say it. How do you know I won’t tell anyway? Right? That’s what you’re thinking. Well, think again. You already have me dead to rights for solicitation of murder. That’s a capital offense. If we quit dicking around and go through with it, both of us have enough on the other guy that neither one can afford to talk.” Marty cocked his head, raised his eyebrows. Showed the palms of his hands like he’d just said something so self-explanatory a retard would understand.
Tom was drunk, not retarded. He understood perfectly that he was well and truly fucked. Didn’t matter anymore whether he killed her or not. Don’t kill her and Marty would ruin him, maybe even send him to jail. Much as Tom disliked getting dirty, he liked the idea of taking one up the ass even less. Kill this woman he’d never met, never ever seen, who’d never done him any harm, and he knew Marty would hold up his end of the deal. Just watching him, the way he acted when he talked about it, Tom knew Marty wanted to do Marian. Hell, he was looking forward to it. Then Tom would be out from under forever.
Maybe he should pretend she was Marian.