Lynch sips his coffee and pretends to read the newspaper. Three months out of prison and two months and twenty-eight days into another bad streak, he’s scrounged together five dollars and figures, fuck it, he deserves a latte luxury. Dinner will be a challenge, but you only live once and he’s heard the meals are better in the afterlife anyway.
He’s skimming through the real estate section—yeah, right—when he notices her. Silky black hair down to her ass, fake tits, eyes like a voodoo priestess. The dress is too long to be slutty but it hugs her curves as if it has to get in a good one before a guard comes over and taps the table with his baton. Lynch has lost his sense of smell—too many broken noses—but he knows in his spirit that she scents the air like a freshly cut lawn and well-tended bougainvillea.
He swallows the remainder of his coffee, crushes the cup, pushes back from the table and heads her way. She’s by the biographies, on the verge of copping Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.
“Good book,” he says.
She turns and actually gives Lynch eye contact. “You’ve read it?”
“Only as far as the title,” he admits. “But it’s a damn good one.”
“Lynch,” he says, extending a hand.
“Briar,” she replies, taking it.
Speaking through a lump in his throat, he says, “That’s a pretty name.”
Something flashes and then goes dark in Briar’s eyes and Lynch knows somehow he’s fucked up. That realization makes his stomach cramp in a way constant hunger has never managed.
“What?” he says.
“That’s a pretty name,” she says. “Heard that a million times. I was hoping you were more creative.”
“You’re sure a million times,” he hears himself say, “and not ten thousand one hundred and twelve?”
That earns him a smile and a second chance.
Briar asks, “What did you go in for?”
Lynch’s second chances have never been more than third strikes he somehow managed to get a bat on. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I have cousins who’ve lived the life,” she says. “Tension in the shoulders. Frown lines around the eyes even when they’re relaxed. Skim the newspaper every day because they can and not because they’re truly interested in the Arab Spring.”
He says, “I’ve heard the daffodils are gorgeous in Bahrain this time of year.”
“I’m thinking voluntary manslaughter with provocation. You seem like an in-the-heat-of-the-moment sort of guy.”
Possible sentences of three, six, or eleven years. The judge in Lynch’s case had thrown in for six, four and a half of which Lynch served.
Briar continues crawling around in his head. “You were working construction or plumbing—came home every day smelling like your work. Your old lady always had a hot meal ready, but after some time you noticed her orgasms were these big loud productions. When you first got together she’d just squeeze your waist and tremble. You couldn’t figure out what’d changed.”
He clears his throat but doesn’t try to speak.
“The guy you caught her with,” she continues, “draped his suit jacket over the back of the chair you sat in to eat your dinner. That enraged you.”
Eyes like a voodoo priestess.
“My place is fifteen minutes away,” she says. “You any closer?”
He shakes his head.
Briar’s place is pretty much what he expected. Artwork on the walls, white leather furniture, bookshelves swollen with hardcovers.
Her bedroom is neat when they enter it, but a mess within minutes. A lamp is turned on its side like a chess piece. The bedspread lies in a pile on the carpet with his shirt and pants. He didn’t consider draping any of it on the chair in the bedroom.
He’s sweaty and breathing like an asthmatic when the door blows open as if pushed by a strong wind. Briar grips his waist so it’s difficult to turn, but he manages to pull free.
The guy in the doorway is jacketless. The tail of his dress shirt is untucked and his tie is loose. His nostrils flare.
But all Lynch sees is the gun in his right hand.