TESSIER NOIR

She said she was leaving, but she made no suggestion of movement toward the door. 'She' was Lady 3Jane, and I had just declined her generous offer of an evening's employment as discreet companion and protector. Suddenly, a mouth as red as a ten-dollar cocktail cherry was pouted in my direction.

"Dammit, Marlowe! You're such an arrogant beast! Why won't you come with me? It's an easy job. Why won't you do this for me?"

Because I knew her, I wanted to say. Because things she touched had a habit of blowing up. A few old acquaintances of mine here…a public house full of Irish squaddies there. I held my tongue, settling for:

"Because I don't know whether I'll be able to walk out of there."

She looked insulted.

"What do you expect? Battalions of riot police, with rubber bullet kisses? Or that I'll get you drunk, drive us to a cheap motel and have my way with you?"

"Yes. That's exactly what I expect."

More likely, no one else would show, I told myself. And the next day, the promise of the old restaurant would have mysteriously burned to the ground. It was her way of saying that she was serious, that—if you'll excuse my Californian—she was in no way to be casually fucked with.

"Oh, Marlowe—"

I held her wrist. Yes, my name was Marlowe, as hers was 3Jane. Many would not have understood why, but I liked hearing her say it. I thought, and began:

"I've gone along with you before, and—"

"And? You're still here. No—well, only a few—scars, and still breathing."

"Some cheques even you can't cash, sweet lips. Don't be threatening me. I disappear, you know what happens." She didn't. I knew. I knew that I'd get a cheap pine coffin, nailed down tight just in case, and that she'd get away.

"Maybe I don't care for these games of ours anymore. Maybe it's time to leave this town."

There she was with the leaving again. Who knew, she might even be serious. I shook my head, both to clear it and to indicate the negative. Neither seemed to be overly successful.

"I'm telling you, I'm not interested," I murmured whilst glancing around for my papers and hat. "Not this time," I said, slipping protection I had every intention and chance of using into my coat pocket, "no way."

I patted the keys to my severely non-bulletproof car, sneered a crazy grin, and took her out for the evening. We'd have some drinks, lunch and perhaps some post-prandial sex with all the kinks of role-play.

After all, she was my wife.