The Catch: Jim swung closed the door of his black sports car and headed to the closest pedestrian crossing. The streets were still wet since the afternoon showers, but the rest of the day was sunny, and no puddles had survived.
Jim breathed in with his full chest. The air was heavily laden with the busy city rush. Gasoline fumes, cigarette smoke, grilled sandwiches in the nearby restaurant, burnt hot dogs from the street vendors had mixed in a powerful punch. A sudden gust of wind coming from the lake broke into the mix, igniting the feel of imminent adventure and empowering lust for life.
Jim saw an old drunken bum stumbling against the flow of the busy corner. People tried avoiding him, but he seemed to be determined to cause trouble. He stepped on somebody’s foot as if by accident, then ran into an older woman, and almost fell down, clutching Jim’s arm just in time to keep his balance.
“Hey, buddy, get the fuck off of me!” Jim looked at the bum with contempt. “Do you know how many jerks like you I can buy with the money I paid for this suit?”
The bum regained control over his disobeying body, and was standing in front of Jim swinging. “How many jerks that would be?” he asked, producing a disgusting belch.
Jim gazed at him. What a nasty, rancid, revolting excuse of a creature, he thought. He was about to move along when the bum clutched at him by the elbow.
“Do you have ten dollars?” he asked with obnoxious smile, exposing wide gaps in his mouth. “Common, buddy, give me ten dollars, or I’ll barf all over your suit.”
“Ten dollars, huh?” asked Jim, grabbing the man by the collar of his dirty jacket, steadying him for a second. “I’ll give you your ten dollars, jerk,” he added, punching him swiftly in his gut.
The bum gasped for air, and crashed down, his eyes popping out of their sockets. Jim produced a small bottle of hand sanitizer out of his pocket. He rubbed his hands then wiped them clean with a disposable tissue. He threw the used tissue at the bum, who remained lying on the sidewalk curled like a shrimp on a frying pan.
Jim continued on his way, looking for a pub to get a drink. He quickly found one a block away from the intersection where he had an unpleasant encounter with the bum.
He entered the darkened space. The floor in Geese and Swans was freshly washed and ready for the long night, a faint scent of cleaning chemicals lingering in the air. A few patrons were busy with their drinks, some of them talked to each other quietly. Jim slowly approached the bar and took a sit on a barstool. He lit up a cigarette, waiting for the barman.
“Can I have a light, please?” asked a young woman, tapping his shoulder. Jim turned around. The woman had a slim cigarette in her mouth, her lips generously covered with red lipstick. She wore a blue velvet skirt with white slinky turtleneck sweater.
“Sure!” he said, pleasantly surprised by her request. He opened the lid of his Zippo lighter, and snapped his fingers, hitting the flint wheel.
“Wow,” she said, showing her teeth in a seductive smile, “Old school, huh?” She graciously lowered her head, touching Jim’s hand.
“Do you mind if I join you?” she asked, putting her handbag on the bar.
Jim shook his head. She climbed on a stool next to him. He studied her appearance. Her hair, a color of dark chocolate, was cut in a bob style. Her big blue eyes contrasted with the bright red lipstick, creating an otherworldly, almost eerie look. Massive bijou earrings added a touch of cheapness to her otherwise sophisticated image.
She’s not a barfly, thought Jim, Not likely. He would expect to see some ruggedness in women with such a lifestyle, but she seemed too delicate, almost fragile. Maybe a prostitute, he kept guessing, expensive one. If it were so though, why would she waste her time in here, an average downtown pub?
“I didn’t see you coming to this place before,” she said blowing the smoke. “What brings you here?”
“Nothing really,” replied Jim, “I wanted a drink, and this bar was on my way. Do you come here often?”
“Almost every night.”
Most definitely a prostitute, thought Jim.
“Do you work here?” he asked.
“Do I look like I’m working now?” She took a long drag from her cigarette and flipped the ashes. “I’m Lydia by the way,” she added. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Jim. Nice to meet you Lydia.”
“Nice to meet you, Jim.”
“Would you mind if bought you a drink?”
“Not at all,” she said, shaking her head.
“What would you like?” asked Jim, taking his wallet out, his eyes searching for the barman.
“Two vodka sevens, please” Jim ordered when the barman approached them.
“Just a moment,” said the barman, taking a bottle off the shelf.
“Make mine a double vodka, Frank,” said Lydia, winking. “Don’t cheat!”
Frank nodded. “How is it going, Lydia?” he asked, pouring alcohol into the glasses.
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
The barmen topped the drinks with 7Up. “Two vodka sevens,” he murmured, sliding the drinks towards Lydia and Jim and went to deal with another customer.
“Do you know him?” asked Jim, sipping on his drink.
“Of course I do,” replied Lydia, “I told you I’m the regular here. Frank is the nicest guy.”
“So, what do you do for a living, Jim?” she asked after a short pause.
“I’m a stockbroker.”
“A stockbroker! I should have guessed by the way you’re dressed.” She put her cigarette in an ashtray without butting it out. A glowing ember burned the filter.
“Why wouldn’t you butt it out?” asked Jim, swiftly squashing it in the ashtray. “The filter stinks when it burns.”
“Can’t risk burning my fingers or nails. I happen to have the most beautiful hands in the world, Jim. ”
“Really?” asked Jim, laughing. “How would you know your hands are the most beautiful? Did somebody tell you that?”
He studied her long, thin fingers with elegant nails shaped like miniature grapes. Her hands were a true work of art. The blood vessels were running like the fresh water springs under her creamy, glowing skin while her knuckles formed two archipelagoes across her graceful, narrow palms. He struggled with an overwhelming desire to touch her hands, hold them, and feel their silky smoothness on his lips.
“Do you mind if I touch?” he mumbled hypnotized.
“What is it with men and touching?” asked Lydia playfully. “Sometimes I think men are like kids who never grew up.” She looked at Jim, who seemed to be confused by her reaction. “Of course you can touch them,” she added in a deeper voice after a short pause. “As a matter of fact I’d very much like you touching my hands.”
Jim put his large hairy palm next to Lydia’s. It looked like a Barbarian soldier looting the Caesar palace. He touched the top of her hand lightly. The skin felt smoother than he imagined. Lydia responded to his touch. She leaned closer and put her hand over Jim’s, squeezing it gently, letting their fingers entangle. Jim could feel the warmth with the outer side of his hand. He kissed her wrist lightly, mostly just pushing his lips against her skin.
Lydia slowly released herself from his grip. She sat up straight on her stool, adjusting her hair. Jim was too impressed to speak. He sat quietly, studying the reflection of dim pub lights in his empty glass.
“I can’t stand the silence for too long…” said Lydia. “What do you wanna talk about?”
“Me? What do you wanna know about me?”
“Hmm, my whole story? Well, I was born to my mommy and daddy. They wanted me to be a good girl, so they sent me to a good private school. I was smart but I wasn’t very diligent. I finished the school and enrolled into one of the elite colleges to study modern art. I had so much fun there, there was barely any time left for classes. I dropped out. And here I am, drinking my vodka seven with a very attractive man who is almost my father’s age.”
Definitely a prostitute, decided Jim.
“Your father’s age? How old do you think I am?” he asked, blowing the smoke.
“Don’t be upset. You don’t have to take me seriously.” She squeezed his shoulder lightly. “Now it’s your turn. You have to tell me how you brokers make all that big bloody money.”
“Everybody thinks it’s all about big money, right? Well, money is not everything,” admitted Jim. “The job is tough mentally. Making decisions and risking every day gets on your nerves. I’m not getting any younger you know, and those pesky pimpled jerks are trading as if every day is their last day on Earth.”
“Aren’t they reckless?”
“Sure, but when you risk big, you win big. In every brokerage, there is always a young gun, who would outperform us the old guard. They receive bigger bonuses and get better promotions. They drive posh cars, eat in the best restaurants, and wear high-end clothes… When I look at them, they remind me so much of myself when I was young… God was I sharp! Nothing could stop me. Absolutely nothing! I was king of the hill.”
“What about now?” asked Lydia, putting her elbows on the bar and resting her chin on her fists. “Did you lose your kingdom?”
“Not quite. I’m still pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, I just wish I had the former strength in me. That’s all. The same tenacity, the same hunger. Some of my friends receive testosterone shots, you know. I would probably do the same, but I can’t get over the fact that the doctor will be shoving needles into my body.”
“Are you scared of needles?”
“No, I’m not scared. I just see it as a violation of my body.”
“I think I know what you’re talking about,” said Lydia.
Jim thought about the evening. He liked to pick up younger women in bars, it was his little hobby, and he was good at it, having all what it takes to succeed. Despite his age, he retained much of his hair. Thanks to frequent visits to the gym, he was fit. He had money to afford expensive suits that looked great on him. His countless one-night stands made him feel younger. However, tonight was different. He realized it was Lydia picking him up. It went against his rules. It made him feel uncomfortable, but he had no desire to resist.
“Do you have any plans for tonight?” asked Lydia, finishing her drink.
“Not really,” replied Jim.
“We could go to my place if you want,” she suggested.
“I thought you said I was your father’s age.”
“Well, maybe that’s why I want you come with me,” she said, picking up her handbag. Jim had already surrendered. It was relieving to have somebody making decisions for a change. He put the money on the bar and they left.
Lydia’s house was only ten minutes away, but they had go through a maze of small streets to reach it. The backstreet was quiet, somewhat leery, and under those rare circumstances, quite beautiful. The garbage bins were not visible. Old walls and fences covered with obscene graffiti were hidden by the fog.
“There’s my place,” said Lydia pointing at the door of an old semi-detached house. “I rent this half.”
“Who lives in the other?”
“Some old drunk,” said Lydia, fumbling for a key in her bag. “He doesn’t do anything, too drunk most of the time.”
“Damn drunks, they should make it legal to shoot them.”
“Why shoot? They’re harmless. My ex-husband was a drunk. We broke up a couple of months ago. Come on in.”
The room on the main floor was quite big, but the floors squeaked mercilessly as Lydia walked around flipping the light switches. Some furniture appeared to be as old as the house. A TV, a desktop computer and a couch stood out awkwardly since they were much newer than their surroundings.
“The house is super old, but I like it. It has a lot of character,” she said, pouring brandy. She handed a glass to Jim. “You know what’s funny? My ex-husband doesn’t even know I rent here. He still thinks I’m living with him. Imagine that! Too busy pretending being an actor and drinking I guess.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s about my age. After we broke up, I decided to date grownups. Older men know what they’re doing. They have experience. They don’t need any soul-searching. With all his drinking, Alex behaves like a teenager. The booze is some kind of a wicked fountain of youth for him.”
Jim didn’t like old houses. He hated random noises, and the old buildings were full of them. Sometimes he thought that the walls in those houses were alive.
They landed on the couch. Lydia sat so close he could smell her breath. Jim liked it. The mix of vodka and cigarette smoke had turned him on. He touched her wrist and leaned forward, reaching for her neck with his mouth. She hugged his wide shoulders and they kissed. Jim felt her elastic body grinding against his knee.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she said, breathing deep.
The stairs proved to be horrendously squeaky. Jim noticed a bathroom to the left, and went in, excusing himself.
“How long have you been living here?” he shouted from the bathroom, unzipping his pants.
“Since we broke up.”
“Why did you chose this place? You could afford a much nicer place. Aren’t your parents loaded?”
“I felt good about it. I was drawn by the decadence of the neighborhood.”
Jim came out of the bathroom. He stood in the middle of the bedroom, looking around. The bed was very old. The nightstand by the window had a reading lamp on top of it. A hideous chest of drawers was hiding in the corner.
A doubt had crept into Jim’s head, but he tried to banish it away, concentrating on the exceptional beauty of his companion. He liked to be in control, feeling a constant need to dominate. He didn’t need love or devotion. He didn’t care about feelings. He preferred paying for sex. Lydia hadn’t asked for money yet and it baffled him. If she’s not a prostitute, why is she doing this, he agonized. He couldn’t remember the last time he had lusted so strongly after a woman. Lydia managed to ignite the fire long gone in his putrid soul. She crawled deep under his rugged shield. He was ready to stand on his knees, lick her shoes, and do anything she wanted him to do.
She took off her sweater and bra, exposing a pair of firm, tempting breasts with the pink nipples. They kissed again. Jim reached for her neck with his hungry tongue. She breathed heavily, but didn’t moan. With the quick, possessive motion, Jim turned her around, pulled her panties down, and lifted up her skirt. She bent, holding onto the back of the chair, exposing her round ass.
Jim entered her body. Forceful, methodical, and decisive, just the way he liked to live his life, the winner, the conqueror. Lydia remained silent, but not idle. She moved her hips to the rhythm of his thrusts, squeezing the back of the chair, and wheezing loud. Soon it was all over.
She lay on her bed face down. Jim sat next to her his legs crossed.
“You’re one of the best fucks I’ve ever had. One of the best fucks, Lydia. You are impossible,” he said with excitement.
Lydia reached for a cigarette. She puffed on it quietly, her panties hanging around her ankle. The skin around her lips was red with a lipstick smear. She rolled off the bed, walked barefoot to the window, and pressed the ‘play’ button on a vintage tape recorder.
“Bloody hell, it’s Soft Cell,” she said quietly, tapping to the rhythm of the song. “Baby, baby where did our love go?” the sound came out of the speakers.
“So, when can I see you again?” asked Jim.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I want to see you more, Lydia.”
“You asking me why? Haven’t you enjoyed it?”
“Well, it was okay, I guess.”
“Just okay?! How can you say that? It wasn’t okay! It was great! It was unbelievable! It was the best sex I’ve ever had!” shouted Jim, buttoning his shirt.
“I’m glad you have enjoyed it, big boy,” she took a drag. “Those testosterone shots you were talking about. I think you should try them.” She threw the butt out of the window, and went back to bed to pick up her clothes. She passed Jim his pants. “Get dressed,” she said, squeezing into her skirt.
They dressed in silence and went down to the living room. Ugly and decadent only fifteen minutes ago, it suddenly looked to Jim warm and sweet. Lydia walked slowly to the door and opened it.
She waved her head, pointing outside.
“Can I call you?” asked Jim. He was hopeful it was some kind of a bad joke.
“Why? Didn’t you have fun? A romantic encounter with a young hot chick. Quick fuck with no strings attached. What else do you want? A cookie?”
“Listen, Lydia, I want it to be so much more than just a quick sex. You’ve touched me the way… I…”
She put her finger on his lips and shook her head. “Why did I think older men are different?” she said with a shrug. “Come here, Jim, I’ll give you a hug.”
“I love you Lydia,” he whispered sobbing, resting his head on her chest as she patted his head.
“Enough,” she said, removing his head. “You have to leave now.”
He trudged outside, the door closing behind him. He stood on the porch for a while, trying to collect his thoughts. Why was she so mean, he thought. Why did she have to banish me in such a hurry? He groped for his wallet in a fit of panic. It was safe in his pocket. He counted the money. It was intact. He stepped on the sidewalk, and took off, heading back to the pub.
A trashcan got in his way. He kicked it as hard as he could, causing a racket. The garbage came out pouring on the greasy pavement.
“Hey, brother!” Jim heard a hoarse shout, coming from behind. “Wait! We need to talk!”
Jim decided to run. He had no desire to talk to the stranger. Rapid steps followed him. The owner of the hoarse voice was chasing him. Jim added some speed, trying to figure out the shortest way to the main streets. Suddenly his foot hit something in the dark and he fell on the pavement head first, scratching his hands. He tried standing up, but somebody kicked him in his chest and he fell on his back.
Two hands grabbed at his suit, lifting him up, and then another kick followed, striking his back. The hands that held him prevented him from losing his balance. The next second, a knee came out of nowhere, ramming into his groin. Jim fell down as the hands released their grip. The pain was too sharp to endure. He curled on the pavement, trying to cope with it, gasping for air, scratching the pavement with his nails.
A face appeared in front of him. Though it was dark, he was able to recognize the bum he had met earlier.
“Hey buddy,” said the bum handing him a paper bag. “I got you something to drink.”
“Get lost,” moaned Jim, knocking the bag down.
“Look fellas,” said the bum with a smirk. “I told you he was a bad motherfucker.”
“Cut his face, Stevie,” suggested the hoarse voice, the same voice that was calling him a minute ago.
“Yeah, Stevie, cut his face!” said a younger, unfamiliar voice.
“No,” asserted Stevie. “I don’t know about you fellas, but I care about my karma. It ain’t worth screwing up because of this piece of shit!”
He reached for Jim’s pocket, fishing out his wallet.
“Look fellas,” he said, pulling the money out with a grin. “He can pay us to spare his face.” He passed one of the bills to the owner of a younger voice. “Go get us a drink Snaky, make it quick!”
Snaky darted away.
“Look, buddy,” said Stevie, slapping Jim’s face lightly. “Remember, I told you I was going to barf on your suit if you didn’t give me ten bucks, right?”
“Get lost,” hissed Jim angrily. He had trouble breathing.
“What a proud son of a bitch,” said Stevie. “Oh well. A promise is a promise.”
He pushed two fingers deep into his throat until he began to gag. Then he pulled them out and a shot a brown vomit landed onto Jim’s suit. Stevie repeated the process, covering Jim’s suit with more vomit. The smell of booze mixed with potato fries filled the air. Stevie wiped his fingers on Jim’s face.
“Okay, Tommy, let’s get moving. I don’t trust Snaky,” he said to his accomplice. “Not with that kind of money.”
“You’re the boss, Stevie. You’re the boss!” replied Tommy in his hoarse voice.
They dashed away. Jim remained lying on the pavement for some time. Then he managed to stand up. Swinging, he had made his way to the main streets as fast as he could.