Raggedy-Ann

The back of the bus always smells like cigarettes and latex on the way home from the airport, but it could just be the smell of the hotel or some girl, lingering. Guilt doesn't wash out easily.

This past weekend, it was a girl named Patty, a good-looking red-haired girl from Iowa who I met in a New York bar on a business trip. It's always a business trip. She was only twenty-two, and now the back of the bus smells like her, that stinking, invasive smell of tobacco and youth. I don't even like the way it smells. Half the time, I don't even like the way those young girls look.

"Hey," Patty had smiled at me over room service coffee and eggs. "What do you do, anyway?"

"Not much."

"Hey," she said, "don't be that way." When I turned away from her, she said, "I hate men who get all quiet on me, like you're doing."

I looked at her. She was fidgeting with a paper napkin; she'd written her phone number on it. I hoped she wouldn't try to give it to me. Her red hair looked like dirty yarn. "I'm in tax law. I don't suppose you know anything about tax law."

"Well, aren't you something," she said snidely. One of my business cards was on the table; she picked one up with a shiny manicured hand and examined it, slid it into her pocket. "Can I keep this in case I ever need a lawyer?"

She left at three in the morning. I put the napkin with her phone number on it in my pocket, in case I was ever in New York again.

Seems like it's always raining, on the bus ride home from the airport.

Something's not right. There's a cop car in front of my house. When I let myself in, my wife doesn't meet me at the door but is sitting sniffling on the couch in her worn bathrobe. She's talking to a sturdy-looking man in a dark blue uniform. "Is there a problem?" I say. I hate it when my wife cries.

"Seems a young lady was murdered outside your hotel tonight," the cop answers dutifully. "Seems she had your business card with her. She didn't have any other ID with her. We were wondering if you knew anything."

"My God," I say, and cross the room to sit with my wife, hold her hand. "No. Not at all. My God."

"Red-haired lady," the cop says, staring at me. "Bright red-hair."

Patty's face, framed by a halo of that Raggedy-Ann hair, dances before me. She's crossing her legs, uncrossing them, crossing them again. She's laughing. She's waggling a finger and smiling at me. "Well, aren't you something," she's saying.

"Her neck was broken," the cop continues. "She was beaten badly. We have no idea who she is."

"Oh, God," my wife chokes out.

"You're sure you don't know anything?"

"I assure you," I said, and reach into my pocket to crumple up the napkin that has Patty's phone number on it. "I can't tell you a thing."