Girl out back

One

“Barney.”

Maybe if I pretended to be asleep she’d stop. She didn’t.

“Barney?”

“What?” I asked.

My name is Barney Godwin. I’ve been around for thirty years, one day at a time. I have an utterly useless education, a happy and industrious set of endocrine glands, good reflexes, and a wife who’s worth two hundred thousand dollars. It’s a living.

“I just wondered if you were asleep,” she said.

Her name is Jessica Roberts McCarran Godwin. She is thirty-four years old and is a prime mover in the Wardlow Women’s Club, Save-the-Trees-on-Minden-Street Division. She is currently an ash blonde, has very lovely, big, blue eyes, and her figure hovers somewhere between voluptuous and overblown, though she can still make voluptuous in ten days on Ry-Krisp and lettuce when she wants. She wears a thin gold chain around her left ankle. This may not blend too well with that Save-the-Trees kick, but it does have an exciting look under sheer nylon.

“Have you cleared it up?” I asked.

“What up?”

“Whether I’m asleep or not.”

“Well! You don’t have to get nasty about it.”

I didn’t say anything. She was probably right; I didn’t have to get nasty about it. I was on the payroll, wasn’t I?

“Isn’t the moonlight pretty?” she asked.

Moonlight slanted in under the honeysuckle about the second floor bedroom window and fell across her bare left leg from pelvis to toe as she elevated it slightly and rotated the ankle into the high-heeled-shoe position or the position-for-taking-cheesecake-photographs. The chain was a thin tracery of gold against gleaming silver. Not bad, I thought. This was Percy Bysshe Godwin, drunk with beauty.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

I told her, in my best drunk-with-beauty manner, what I was thinking about. You don’t have to keep hitting Godwin with the cue.

* * *

Violence was gone from the night. She lay with her cheek against the pillow watching me with the languorous well-being of a relaxed cat. Her eyes were quite soft and dreamy in the shadow.

Then she laughed.

“Who do you think you’re kidding?” she asked.

“Kidding?” I reached out on the night table beside the bed for a cigarette.

“You and that little priss.”

So we were going to have one of those what-movie-were-you-seeing? routines. I lighted the cigarette and dropped the match in the tray.

“What little priss?”

“You know who I mean.”

“No,” I said. “But don’t tell me. Let me guess. Maxine? Francine? Maurine? Corinne?”

“You make me sick.”

“Chlorine? Fluorine? Gangrene?”

“Aren’t we cute? A rhyming tom-cat.”

Sometimes a change-up pitch will work. “Shove it,” I said. I’d like to get some sleep.”

“Well . . . !”

“In case it’s escaped your attention I go to work in the mornings. You can lie around in the nest till noon if you want to.”

“Fat chance. That cotton-pickin’ Reba comes tomorrow. She can make more noise . . .”

“Well, cheer up. Everybody has a certain amount of tragedy in his life.”

”Let’s don’t get sarcastic”

“Fine with me. Let’s just log a little sack time.”

“You weren’t really thinking about her, were you?

I sighed. “Who?”

“That angel-faced little hypocrite. I know the type; if she thinks she . . .”

“I knew I’d guess it in a minute,” I said. “Just give me a few clues, that’s all. You mean Barbara Renfrew. Am I right?”

“You’re damn right you are.”

“Knock it off, will you?” I said. “You should know, if anybody does, that she’s not even there any more. You made it so tough for her she finally quit and went to work in the bank. Or don’t you remember?”

“And isn’t that too bad? So now you never see her more than three or four times a day.”

“Twice,” I said. “That’s as often as they’ll rent us the