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Mr. Paradiseby Elmore Leonard
Late afternoon Chloe and Kelly were having cocktails at the Rattlesnake Club, the two seated on the far side of the dining room by themselves: Chloe talking, Kelly listening, Chloe trying to get Kelly to help her entertain Anthony Paradiso, an eighty-four-year-old guy who was paying her five thousand a week to be his girlfriend.
Now Chloe was offering Kelly a cigarette from a pack of Virginia Slims, the long ones, the 120's.
They'd made their entrance, the early after-work crowd still looking, speculating, something they did each time the two came in. Not showgirls. More like fashion models: designer casual wool coats, oddball pins, scarves, big leather belts, definitely not bimbos. They could be sisters, tall, the same type, the same nose jobs, both remembered as blonds, their hair cropped short. Today they wore hats, each a knit cloche down on her eyes, and sunglasses. It was April in Detroit, snow predicted.
Now they were lighting the cigarettes.
The waitress, a young blond named Emily, came through the room of white tablecloths and place settings with their drinks, alexanders straight up, with gin. She said as she always did, "I'm sorry, but you're not supposed to smoke in here. It's okay in the bar."
Kelly looked at Emily in her black pants and starched white shirt. "Has your boss said anything?"
"He hasn't yet."
"So forget about it," Chloe said. "He likes us." She brought a Ritz-Carlton ashtray from her coat pocket and placed it on the table, Emily watching.
She said, "They're always from a different hotel. I like the one, I think it's from the Sunset Marquis?"
"It's one of my favorites," Chloe said. "Next time I'm in L.A. I'll pick up a few more."
Emily said, "Cool hats," and left.
Kelly watched her moving through the empty tables.
"Emily's a little weird."
"She's a fan," Chloe said. "Fans are weird."
"I'll bet anything she comes back with a catalog."
"What're you in this month?"
"Saks, Neiman Marcus — she'll have Victoria's Secret."
"Remember she asked if I modeled," Chloe said, "and I told her now and then but mostly I did hands? She said, Oh."
"You called it hand jobs. Show her your Playboy spread, she'll freak," Kelly said, and saw Emily coming back through the tables with a catalog, holding it to her breast with two hands, Victoria's Secret, a look of pain on Emily the waitress's face, hesitant now as she stood before Kelly.
"I hope you guys don't think I'm a pest."
"I don't mind," Kelly said. "What page?"
Emily gave her the catalog and a Sharpie. "Sixteen, the Second Skin Collection. Could you sign it like right above your navel?"
"I'm in the Seamless Collection," Kelly said, "Second Skin's the next page," and wrote Kelly in black over bare flesh. "I'm in another one somewhere."
"Page forty-two," Emily said, "the new low-rise bikini. And on the next page, the low-rise v-string and low-rise thong?"
Kelly turned pages until she was looking at herself in white panties. "You want each one signed?"
"If you wouldn't mind. I really appreciate it."
Chloe said to her, "Which one do you have on?"
Emily made a face, clenching her teeth. "I'm trying the v-string."
Emily squirmed a little. "It's okay."
"I can't wait to get them off," Kelly said. She handed Emily the catalog.
"I kinda like the way a thong grabs you," Chloe said, "but haven't worn one lately, and if you want to know why, ask the old man."
And Chloe said, "Aren't you glad you're not a waitress?"
"Yeah, but I think I'd be good at it," Kelly said. "I'd take orders for a table without writing anything down. The woman with blue hair, the whitefish, the scotch drinker, pickerel. And I wouldn't call them 'you guys.'"
"Your style," Chloe said, "make it look easy. But you fly to New York to work instead of living there."
"The traffic," Kelly said. "You spend most of your time waiting for it to move."
"So what? You're sitting in a limo."
"I like to drive."
"You could work for Vicki's full-time, make a lot more money."
"I do okay."
"Go to parties with movie stars --"
"Who want to jump you."
"What's wrong with that?"
"I have to be in love. Or think I am."
They sipped their alexanders and smoked their cigarettes and Chloe said, "Hon ... I desperately need you."
"I can't, I have to take my dad to the airport."
"He's still here?"
"Playing the slots all day and giving me advice at dinner. He thinks I should get a new agent."
"Isn't he a barber?"
"He has time to think about things."
"Get him a taxi."
"I want to be sure he makes the flight. My dad drinks."
"Can't we work around it? I'm talking about three hours, max. By midnight the old guy's asleep in his chair. He even nods off while we're talking, drops his cigar. I have to watch he doesn't set himself on fire."
"Not tonight," Kelly said, but then began to let herself give in a little because they were good friends and had been sharing a loft the past couple of years, Kelly saying, "If I did go with you sometime, would I have to do anything?"
She wouldn't mind getting a look at Mr. Paradiso.
The way Kelly understood the arrangement, the old man was laying out five thousand a week to have Chloe available, all to himself. It was a lot for not having to do much, almost twice what Kelly made in her underwear ...
Copyright © 2004 by Elmore Leonard
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