The Tempting, by Richard Godwin

Her nails caught the overhead lights.

And in the bar across the polished surfaces so spotlessly clean there in the fragment of her varnish he saw the blade of a dagger dance and scythe the air.

She turned full figure to him in her designer top.

‘Something catch your eye?’, she said.

He knew how when he walked into a bar and he got the look what was on offer, but there was something different here.

‘Gucci?’, he said.

‘You like designer?’

‘On the right person.’

‘And what’s that?’

‘Maybe I’m looking at it.’

She swivelled on the stool and leaned in to him. Full figure, very feminine very knowing. Her body was saying I’m steering this thing.

‘Honey buy me a drink.’

‘What is your pleasure?’

‘My pleasure’, she said and smoothed her lips one across the other as if she had eaten some part of him. ‘Well, there’s a question.’

The barman came over, wiping down a glass.

‘What can I get you?’

‘I’ll have a shot of Chevis Regal and whatever the lady’s having.’

‘Another Martini?’

‘You’re a gentleman’, she said.

‘It’s a while since I’ve been called that.’

She waited for her drink and watched him in the mirror as he sipped his Chevis. The bar began to fill up, the noise of tired workers drifting through the space between them.

She had a look about her that at first told the story of a beautiful woman, a woman who knew male desire and how to get it, but beneath the surface he detected something else, something darker.

A couple of young women came in and sat near them and started talking boyfriend talk.

‘He was like all over me.’

‘Gross.’

‘I said can’t you keep your hands to yourself? You know what he said?’

‘Guys are always like that.’

‘If you gave me more I wouldn’t have to.’

‘So what did you do?’

‘What do you think I did?’

There was tittering and he could see irritation on her face as she rose from her stool and walked over to them. They were still talking, unaware she had joined them.

‘So you did it with Al?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Was he like?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Excuse me’, she said, ‘do you mind moving further away, I am trying to have a conversation here.’

‘Well who are you?’ Al’s conqueror turned round and was about to get smart when she stopped herself. ‘Ah forget it, come on.’

They moved down to the end of the bar and she resumed her seat next to him.

‘What were you looking at?’, she said.

‘Your nails.’

She held them up, the perfect manicure of a wealthy woman.

‘Something about my hands?’, she said.

He knew the hands of a killer, knew the subtle dexterity that lay there.

‘Your varnish caught the light.’

And she reached out and took his hand and looked at it and said ‘buy me another drink.’

She sipped it slowly before turning to him.

‘You come into this bar and think you can pick me up?’

‘No.’

‘Is that what I am to you?’

‘I’m not chasing skirt.’

‘So, what?’

‘I think it’s you who wants to talk to me.’

Someone dropped a glass and the shattering it made turned their heads. The barman stooped to pick up the pieces.

‘Come on, let’s get out of here’, she said.

They stepped out into the night time and she threw him the keys to her red Mazerati.

They dined at Ultro and as she sat down she said:

‘I’m Emerald.’

‘Anthony.’

‘I like the name.’

‘Really?’

‘I always think of the temptation of Saint Anthony, the saint drawn to the flesh.’

‘You religious?’

‘My religion is shall we say not of a church going kind, but I can feel Anthony’s craving when I think of that story, his need for a body.’

‘Well I’m not religious.’

‘We all need bodies. Think of the man who tells himself he’s one thing because he’s too afraid to be what he really is and of the woman who knows that and brings to the surface his secret self. You see men expose themselves, men need to be guided and Anthony- well, Anthony found who he was by the time his temptation was over.’

The waiter came and they ordered.

‘So here we are and I’m not picking you up’, he said.

‘No you’re not. And I think I am with a man who may know who he is, unlike the saint.’

‘And what am I?’

He looked at her and as he did he realised just how beautiful she was like, some extremely rare and precious jewel he had found and did not yet know the value of. Everything about her showed that she had lived a life most people dream of, she’d never had to ask for what she wanted, one look of hers would make a man be used.

‘Sometimes’, she said, ‘we need to try a different fruit.’

‘And what is it I am plucking here?’

‘OK Anthony, let me lend a little excitement to your life. You walk into a bar and find this woman there, this woman you want and desire and she offers herself to you, just like that, the ultimate male desire, no strings attached. She says take me somewhere and make love to me, but there is a condition and it’s nothing to do with money.’

‘She wants him to do something for her.’

‘That’s right.’

‘And what is it she wants?’

‘She wants him to kill her husband.’

The waiter came over and brought their food and he sat and watched as she carved up the rare steak, the edge of her plate swimming with blood as she placed the meat on the tip of her tongue and held his gaze and left no drops of blood on the glistening sheen of her carmine lips.

‘Why would he kill your husband?’

‘Because he knows what he is.’

‘And what’s that?’

Something shimmered in her eyes as she said ‘a killer’.

And he remembered what he’d seen there in the bar and a thousand daggers danced through the air and brought the attendant bloodshed with them that he’d known and he understood how she knew him and he recognised what it was that was happening. Knew he was in the tempting.

‘Do you have a place in mind Emerald?’, he said.

‘Oh yes. And I knew you would find me.’

‘In a bar. On your own.’

‘This has been decreed by agencies beyond our waking knowledge.’

And he knew she was not crazy and he knew what he would do.

And when they had eaten she led him to the house where the sensor lights shone deeply into the estate that hemmed it in.

And she sat in the car and waited for him, not a trace of emotion or tension in her body or face.

There at the top of the house he found him.

The husband turned to him with recognition on his face as he entered the room as if they knew each other knew their allotted roles in this drama and the resistance he gave was less a struggle than a show in his surrender to the deed as though he had contracted him to end his life.  And he held him until the last of his movements had left him and he laid him down, the man’s face now empty of all life like some relic.

And outside she asked him to drive her to the hotel and said he should not wash at all because she wanted to feel the presence of death in his lovemaking and he found her there beneath the sheets, and her body seemed to have its own climate like no other he had even known.

Her heat made his sense of self shimmer at the edges and he placated the hungry ghost in his soul as she steered him further into what she was and knew him to be.

And he moved beside himself there in the bed in which she lay and seemed like a supplicant at his own feasting.

And he knew her then and knew her heart to be the heart of a killer.

And she washed him clean.

They lay for some time without speaking amid the sweat and perfume of the sheets and the markings they had left in the room haunted the air with all its lacerated knowledge of what it was and what they had made that night.

He left her there and they arranged to meet the next evening.

But when he retuned she was gone.

His shirt lay draped at the edge of the bed and he clutched it to him as if he were holding the very whiteness of his grief.

And he left.

But the knowledge had not been bought and he knew her and all her strange machinations and how she lived.

And he found her again in another bar waiting for him.

As ever the flicker of her nails gave her away. For she had commissioned him and in doing so had led him to her secret heart.

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