Cry Uncle(2)

By: Judith Arnold

“Fifth, but who’s counting?”

“You know I love you, Kitty. But you’re exactly what I don’t need right now.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” She returned his grin, then waltzed off, her tray balanced above her shoulder on one splayed hand. Joe observed the sway of her hips with detached admiration. She had big curves top and bottom, and she dressed in clothing that flaunted them—tonight, a snug T-shirt and fire-engine red shorts. Her legs were a tad thick, but her other dimensions were superlative enough to overcome that flaw. She probably would have been even more attractive if she didn’t bleach her hair. Toward the end of every month, the dark roots made her look a little seedy.

Joe and Kitty had slept together once, years ago—between her second and third husbands, if he wasn’t mistaken. But they hadn’t set the world on fire, and they’d decided that from that point on they would be just friends. In any case, a four-times married bleached-blond woman whose brassiere cups runneth over wasn’t the kind of woman Joe needed right now.

He needed someone proper and demure, someone stable and respectable and...boring. The woman Joe was looking for had to be bland and inoffensive. No dark roots, no wise-ass sense of humor, no D-cup bra and sassy hip-wiggling. The woman he was going to marry had to be exactly the sort of woman he’d never bother with, if he had any choice in the matter.

But he didn’t have a choice.

When she’d arrived at the Shipwreck for her shift that evening, Kitty had told him she’d found exactly the woman for him. “She moved into my building just a few days ago. Unattached, quiet, keeps to herself. I ran into her in the laundry room, introduced myself and said, ‘I know a guy who’s looking for a lady just like you.’”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing. She just kinda flinched.”

“Great,” Joe had snorted. At five o’clock, the bar had begun to perk up. The early-bird drinkers had staggered home to sleep off whatever they’d spent the daylight hours imbibing, and the evening drinkers were starting to trickle in. Joe had been filling bowls with peanuts when Kitty had sashayed in through the back door and filed her report on this new neighbor of hers.

“No, listen,” Kitty had continued. “It wasn’t you she was flinching about. I said to her, ‘The guy in question is my boss, and he’s desperate to get married.’”

“Terrific,” Joe had muttered. “You paint me as desperate, and she flinches at the mere thought of meeting me. You have such a way with people, Kitty.”

Kitty had brushed off his sarcasm. “Damned right I do. Who gets the best tips around here?”

“They’re tipping your anatomy, not your personality.”

“Whatever works. So anyway, so I said, ‘Why don’t you mosey on over to the Shipwreck tonight and check him out? He doesn’t bite.’”

“That must have really reassured her.”

“All right, look, you don’t want my help? Just say the word, Joe. Stay single and see where that gets you.”

Where that would get him was alone and bereft. His lawyer had told him that if he wanted to hold onto Lizard he would have to clean up his act and settle down, attach himself to a good woman and create a stable family situation. Joe knew all the good women in Key West. Most of them were married, and the rest, like Kitty, presented the sort of image that would have the majority of family court judges delivering Lizard to the Prescotts in no time flat. If this new neighbor of Kitty’s worked out, Joe would be eternally grateful.

He wished he’d had more than a few hours’ warning that he was going to be meeting a prospective bride that night. He’d showed up at the bar wearing his everyday garb—a loose cotton shirt, old jeans and sneakers without socks. If he’d known Kitty had invited a woman to stop by and meet him, he would have dressed in something a little nicer—and he would have shaved. As a rule he shaved only every third day. Tonight was day two.

He surveyed the room again. Two women huddled in front of the juke box, their backs to him. Even in the dull amber light he recognized one of them from the pink-rose patch on the hip pocket of her shorts. Sabrina would have made a good wife, he supposed—at least she would have been a pleasure to find in his bed after a long day. She and Joe had been an item several years ago. But one long weekend, when he’d tagged along with a couple of buddies doing a round-trip sailing jaunt to Miami, Sabrina had taken up with a biker. Sabrina had given him the boot after a few weeks, but her attempt to reconcile with Joe had gotten kind of complicated, and then Lizard had arrived, and Joe had found himself with more important things to worry about.

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