MARY TWO NAMES
He went back into L.A. feeling wary and alert. What he saw there, after all these years, just amazed him, no matter how wary and alert he’d thought he was. It was another city than the one he had known. Towers and fortresses crowned every hill. Valleys he had walked in that were once filled with liveoaks were now lined with stacks of apartments. The huge city boiled with movement. The lines of cars on the freeway stopped and started, their tail lights like a red wave. The streets were full of people. It was hot in L.A.
N. was as dead as dead can be. He looked at himself and there he was, dead as a doornail, however dead that was, deader certainly than a dead dormouse or a dead doormat in front of a door. Iron was a dead thing and nails were made of iron, so, when he thought about it, he thought that he was, in fact, as dead as a doornail and not as a dormouse, for instance. A dormouse might miraculously spring to life, since the thoughts of both mice and men do not exclude miracles. The door mat, he thought, was a dead end. Dead as a doormat didn’t sound right, picturesque as it was. Dead as a dead end was good, in a way, but kind of redundant.
“In this city I’ll bet all the detectives now are smart modern leggy babes like in movies and books. I’m not only invisible here, but considered dead. There was a day in this town when the name N. meant something. There were a couple of movies made, even. You’re too young. A guy with a flat-top in Florida had a comic strip about me. A comedy troupe made a record album about me. There was a TV series that lasted two seasons. I was N. and I had some reason to be proud of it. Now I’m nothing. I’m dead as a doormat or something.”
“Dormouse,” she said helpfully.
“That doesn’t sound right,” said N. “Anyway, you get my meaning.”
“I catch your drift,” she said. “I’m smart. I get it. I’m pretty typical of today’s modern efficient leggy gal detectives,” she said in all seriousness. “I’m not all that different than most of my colleagues.” She crossed her long legs at the ankles.
Her ankles were like something he had forgotten but which, once remembered, became all- important, all-consuming even. The rest of her, as detectives like to say, wasn’t bad either.
“You’re not a lesbian as well, are you?” he asked. “I only ask because increasingly girl detectives in books and movies are and while it doesn’t seem to mar their efficiency or legginess at all, it might cut down on the success I would have if I asked you out to dinner, if you see what I mean.”
She looked at him for a minute. “God, you’re amazing,” she said with a laugh. “Men detectives just got eaten up by their own … what? Numbers? Multiplicities? Complexities? There were too many of you or there were too many movies about you?”
“Something like that, from what I understand,” he said glumly. “Are you a lesbian or not?”
“You never know. I might be a lesbian who liked stupid guys, why cut down your chances?”
“Want to have dinner?”
“Not if you’re paying. You couldn’t get close to picking up the tab for me. I’ll take you to dinner, little buddy. C’mon. And mark my words …” She got up and looked at him carefully. “There’ll be no fucking, pal. Get that straight.”
“God forbid,” said N. with a silly smile on his stupid face.