by Robert Lopresti
She was the most interesting thing that barroom had seen in a long time.
I had only been there an hour, but the look on the bartender's face
told me had been waiting for a woman who looked like that for a
whole lot longer. Maybe his whole life.
clothes were a little skimpy for March. Nothing to shock
the church ladies, if such existed in Portland, Oregon these days, but
enough to get a man's attention. I happened to be a man.
only thing that spoiled her appearance was the thirty degree tilt to
her frame that came from the heavy vinyl sack over one bare shoulder.
Since it said LEFT COAST CRIME I deduced that it was full of new
mystery novels.She shifted the bag onto the floor and climbed
onto a stool a few seats away from me. The bartender came up with
an eagerness he had not shown when I ordered my white wine.
"Martini," she said.
"Gin or vodka?" asked the barman. He had a face like a burlap sack full of grapefruits.
"Steve," she replied.
He frowned -- much shifting of citrus- - and went down the aisle, presumably to consult his drinkology manual.
a moment she turned my direction and gave me a careful lookover.
A more thorough one than the subject deserved, really.
smiled and batted her long eyelashes. Then she said: "Starting on
the day Charlotte Mayhew murdered her husband -- October 23, 1985 --
she became very suspicious of cats."
I don't have the equipment to bat my eyelashes but I can blink. I did so. "Excuse me?"
"I said, 'Starting on the day...'"
"I heard you. But why did you say it?"
bartender had arrived with a drink - whether it was a Steve Martini I am
not prepared to say. She gave him a smile which threatened to turn
him into a puddle on the duckboards.
"It is the opening line of a story by Jane Haddam," she explained. "Crazy Cat Ladies."
"I remember," I said. "I read it in Ellery Queen last month. But why say it now?"
She turned that smile on me. "It's a great opening line, isn't it?"
"I had an insight when I read it. It occurred to me that an opening line is like a pickup line."
"How do you figure?"
have the same purpose, don't they? To attract someone's attention.
Pique the curiosity. Convince someone to spend some time
with you. In other words, to seduce."
At the other end of his dog run, the bartender dropped something. It tinkled.
"I never thought of it that way," I admitted. "So you're a mystery fan?"
"Michael Connelly. The Poet."
shrugged. Her shoulders, specifically. "It's one of the
great romances, isn't it? The writer and the reader?'
"Older than that," I said. "The storyteller and the listener."
She nodded enthusiastically. "But it's usually a fling, right? Even the best book doesn't keep us forever."
"I suppose not. But just like a love affair, one can change your life, and stick in your memory all your days."
She gave me her sleepy grin. "You're a romantic."
"I'm too much of a realist not to be."
A frown. "What does that mean, exactly?"
"Beats me, but it sounds good." I did a quick drag through the shallow river of my memory. "I saw her entrance. It would have been hard to miss."
I nodded. "Eight million Ways To Die."
She finished her drink. "Wanna go somewhere and discuss literature?"
I shook my head. "I'm meeting my wife in a few minutes."
She sighed. "Happy families are all alike."
"Anna Karenina," I said. "Not mystery fiction."
"When I drink I get promiscuous." The bartender was staring at her. "In my reading, I mean. Stout, please."
He nodded. "Pale or dark?"
"Rex," we said together.
"Enjoy the rest of the conference," she told me as I paid my bill.
"You too--" I frowned. "Your name isn't Velma, by any chance?"
She shook her head. "Call me Ishmael."
"No, I don't think I will."
Note: In searching for more openers to put in here I discovered that Fran Rizer had had the same insight as my mysterious friend.