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The Talented Prey
By Lawrence R. Dagstine
Wednesday, December 19, 2001
THE TALENTED PREY
Lawrence R. Dagstine
Tonight on this cool fall evening there was a woman who chose the sexiest outfit in her closet, a red and pink clingy, low-cut skirt and blouse combo, with enormous shoulder pads. Underneath she wore a non-visible black tank top for support, and from a distance the whole ensemble resembled somewhat of a one-piece dress. One more time she'd try, just once, and if she didn't get results this time, the high-and-mighty Curt Lang could jump in a lake for all she cared. After all, the woman had pride.
She wriggled her way into the skirt, zipped it up, then returned to the bathroom mirror to fashion her hair into its usual whisked-up ponytail of curls. Lang would have to be out of his mind, she decided, to choose one of those other ten-dollar sluts or crazy dames on Main and Bank over this.
Perfumed, lipsticked, blushed up, and with cleavage showing, Jennifer Talbot Parkinson set out to bag her prey. Curt Lang was the best hunk of male flesh Kansas City--the outskirts--had to offer, an older gentleman with charm and an intellect, and good ol' Jenny, which she preferred to be called for short, was determined to have him or wrinkle up trying. She didn't need all that make-up to catch this man, not like the other women near his warehouse laboratory that came out after dark to solicit a few bucks; and a lot more than just a shoeshine. But she decided why take a chance; she was a woman known for not accepting rejection too well. But, still, she had what people called a "natural beauty".
She drove her father's old pick-up to the corner of Bank and Dennison, and found herself the perfect parking spot. She tucked her purse under her arm and strutted down the alley behind Bank and Main. Up the block was the old double feature cinema. Health inspectors had closed it down almost two years ago. In the opposite direction were the Pigeon Park, the florist, the hardware shop, the town hall, and the town's savings bank. Smack dab in the middle of it all was a pharmaceutical company, a research facility which employed hundreds and mostly conducted research on experimental drugs or scientific breakthroughs in both the medical and technical field. A lot of it was geared towards strong antibiotics with no side effects for viruses. But she never knew much about that stuff anyway. She did know, however, that a few of the Midwest's leading pharmacists, chemists, and scientists were working sometimes day and night to come out with something new. Curt Lang was among those few. He had a license to prove it.
The back door of the warehouse was unlocked. Every Wednesday night Curt worked late. Always the last to punch out. She had known this for some time now. She anticipated his every move, but there was one she had been looking forward to. She turned the knob soundlessly. Inside, a radio played softly and a dim fog of light showed at the far end of the narrow back hall. On tiptoe Jenny crept its length, just as she had ambulated on the balls of her feet when entering the building. There he was with his back turned to her, transferring liquid-filled vials and test-tubes from beaker holders with one hand, while trying to balance a stack of papers on his knee with the other. He had only one light on, a two-bulb desk lamp actually, and the warehouse's steel window shutters were drawn. A stroke of luck, thought Jenny---privacy!
He was in the room next door to the biohazard tank, working silently as if no one was there, penciling chemical figures and math problems on the papers he had balanced on his knee, whistling along with "I thought I'd never see your face again." It was an old 80's country song. Even though Curt wasn't much for 80's music or country, it was the only thing playing on the radio. And it was the only station without static. Jenny slipped off her pink high-heeled shoes, crossed the small room on cat feet and stopped close behind him. She had almost bumped into a toxic waste canister on the way. She gave a quick sigh of relief. Then, as usual, she followed the instincts of her body, not her brain. She didn't stop to figure that you don't blindside a former traitor to the U.S., a nuclear physicist who had once turned informant to the KGB during the early Reagan era.
Instead, she moved in and began slipping her hands around his waist. Curt's elbow flew back and rammed her in the gut. He lurched to his feet, spun around babbling on about the CIA and the Cold War and the Witness Protection Program and whatnot. His eyes opened wide in hostility; not so much irate, but more or less exasperated. Already a nervous wreck about something she knew nothing about, he knocked her off kilter, slamming her to the floor.
"Jen, what the hell are you doing here?" he exploded. Yes, he had a secret. Something he couldn't tell anyone about, yet he had practically almost given it away. For certain there was a secret identity and a hidden past, or perhaps some sort of hidden agenda, which he could tell no one, or up until now, had revealed to no other sources.
Jenny couldn't talk, not with the breath knocked from her; so much for pride.
He stood over her, hands on his hips. From the now ominous-looking glare of the two-bulb desk lamp you could see a man in his early forties, tall and slim, with brown hair, clean-shaven, and a chiseled Kirk Douglas-type chin and face. Handsome as ever, but as for nice or a perfect gentleman---not at the moment.
"Get up and get out of here!" He jerked her roughly to her feet. He couldn't believe he had opened his mouth about the Witness Protection Program and CIA. For some reason, that scared him the most. For over five years now, too. When you're offered immunity concerning the past and come back and make that plea bargain, you accept what they give you. That he knew. That anyone knows.
"I should have you arrested for assault, you shithead," said Jen angrily.
Curt--if that was even his real name, but who was she to question it--shook his head in disgust. "A regular Lola Falana," he said smugly. "Goddamn whore," he went on. "What you got to learn, Jen, is that I'm a happy man. I like my life just the way it is. I prefer to be alone." Here he was, trying not to embarrass or go all out again on this young woman who came from a family composed mainly of poor white trash. A mother who was an alcoholic…a father who worked as a lumberjack just to make ends meet, and then come home and beat his children …and a younger sister who resorted to coke, and had abortions a plenty. "Listen, I'll make it simple, Jen. So hear me out, because I want it to be crystal clear this time around. Leave me alone, because I don't want what you're sellin'. Oh, and if you're fallin' for me, big mistake. What we had before was a one-nighter."
"You heard, a one-night stand."
Jenny went to slap him in the face, but he just blocked. "You…hit…me…you bastard!" she managed between gulps. "Perhaps the reason you prefer to be by yourself has somethin' to do with that Witness Protection or CIA bullshit." It was out in the open now. The cat was out of the bag, but what sort of cat?
"Don't you ever mention that to anyone! Understood?" Curt grabbed her by the hair and marched her to the door, snatching up her high heels on the way. He fired the shoes like two pink grenades into the alley, pushed her outside and offered in parting, "If you're in heat, Jen, go sneak inside somebody else's back door. This is my workplace." Then the door slammed and the lock clicked.
Jenny glared at it and hollered, "Damn bastard! Just who do you think you're knockin' around?" She kicked the door viciously and sprained her big toe. Other women in the vicinity, ones who knew what Jenny was like, laughed. Their little snickers could be heard throughout the entire alley behind Bank and Main. Holding her toe in pain, she screamed louder. "I'll be back, shit-eater!"
With tears and black mascara streaking her face, Jennifer hobbled down the alleyway, retrieved her shoes and limped away past the other women utterly and totally embarrassed. Hey, some of them were after the same thing she was.
She arrived back home at her trailer not too long after, enraged, and headed straight to the telephone. "Yes, operator, patch me through to 682-4570," she said loudly. "It's okay, I'll pay the charges." Then she waited impatiently with the white candlestick mouthpiece tapping against her chin; she was clutching the receiver so hard it was about to break. In the meantime, while she waited for the call to go through, she went over to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a glass of vodka---straight! And then in less than one minute she gave herself a refill.
After a couple of rings she heard, "H'llo?"
"Curt, this is Jenny."
"Jen," he whispered, "I told you to stop getting in touch with me."
"I don't give a damn what you told me, Curt, so shut up. And the same way I had to listen up, you listen up! Just be at my trailer in an hour, or I'll be payin' your precious foreman a little social call concerning that Witness Protection and CIA. You assaulted me, so now your job and ass is on the line."
She forgot to mention his identity as well, but that would come later.
"Jen, you're puttin' me in a tough situation. You don't know what I've been through, and I can't punch out just yet."
"One hour, Curt. Just one hour. If that's your real name. For all I know you could be some ex-con or felon, even a former serial killer or somethin'. I got me a bottle of Smirnoff on the kitchen counter, so be prepared. Now move, Curt!"
She slammed the earpiece into the prongs and nearly loosened the table legs as she whacked the telephone down.
Curt had little choice. The older he got, the more peace he wanted. Witness Protection had offered him that peace by giving him a new identity and offering him a chemist's position out in Missouri. The CIA gave him immunity and didn't put him in front of a firing squad, only because in the end he helped diminish the KGB and Cold War effort. Many years ago he had taken his skills to the Soviets for a hefty price, and helped their scientists build weapons of mass destruction that the United States, as a Super Power, had first introduced to the world. But still, the way things were with the CIA keeping him on a low profile from Russian organized crime, there was still that feeling of unease. Just as there was unease with a trailer-park woman by the name of Jennifer Parkinson. She seemed just dumb and ornery enough to louse things up between him and the United States, and he had no intention of going to prison for her. No, sirree. When he gave up the so-called game, he intended on spending the rest of his life alone, using his retirement funds to buy a house by a lake, where he could constantly go fishing.
When he arrived at the trailer park and opened Jenny's door, he was already yelling. "Jen, you got no brains or what? You were trespassin' in my workplace! I can't believe it. Where are you, Jen?"
"I'm in the bedroom," said a voice. "I put the vodka in the fridge a little while ago. I know you like yours cold." Curt walked over and retrieved the bottle. He poured himself a tall glass and guzzled it down, then finished it off by pouring himself another. It seemed that in the time he was gone Jenny had gotten at it first. And she had got at it good. "Perhaps when you're done you can come in here. Perhaps I can convince you or arouse you into tellin' me a little bit more about yourself."
"I doubt that very much," Curt mumbled under his breath, taking a swig.
He rounded her low-roofed bedroom doorway and stopped talking suddenly, as if a guillotine had dropped across his tongue. Jenny was sprawled on the bed in back, wearing only her pink high heels and a sexy come-hither sort of look on her face.
Curt dropped his vodka glass on the floor. Jenny may have been just some ordinary midwestern girl, but she wasn't that dumb. How ridiculous, he thought to himself. She was twenty-seven. He was forty-two. He not only had fifteen years on her but he had to protect his past. But it seemed as if he couldn't help himself tonight, especially with those long legs and high heels. Temptation took over as he approached the bed, just as it had three months ago. He came over and nestled beside her. A second later, they went at it.
Two months later, on a blustery day in December, Curt got another call from Jenny, but not at the laboratory, this time at the production factory.
"Damn it, Jen, what's the matter with you, callin' me here! The foreman is on the floor right now! He's inspectin' everyone's progress!" That's all he needed, to get fired over some trailer-park hussy.
"I gotta see you. I got somethin' important to tell you."
"The company's already behind schedule," said Curt. "I can't tonight, but I'm free on Thurs---"
"Tonight, Mr Witness Protection Program-A.K.A. Soviet scientist," said Jenny demandingly, "or I'll get Mr Sniggums home number and blurt it out on this here phone that you're a traitor and your real name was originally Curtis Slanders!"
There was a moment of silence on the other end. "His name is Jiggums, not Sniggums, Jen." Pressure. Oh how Curt disliked being pressured. "And he's on the balcony above watchin' me as we speak. You're gonna get me canned!"
"Then it's your own fault," Jenny said. "You know the drill. You there, Curt? You gettin' all of this?"
"All right, all right! I'll see if I can give up my lunch break so I can go home a little earlier." But what was so important that Jenny had to resort to this form of blackmail? Just to make him come at the time she desired? And everything had been peachy for the last two months now. Curt had only stopped by her trailer once, and she started to avoid him where before she couldn't help herself.
When Curt arrived at Jenny's trailer, she was dressed in a sheeny black two-piece, with a mini skirt that went up past her thighs. The top half was patterned with cerise orchards, glitter, and areas of imitation rhinestone. She stood up and closed the door behind him with a sober snap, sauntered into the kitchen area, then turned to face him with her hands on her hips.
Curt loosened his tie. "This better be good. Oh, and by the way, even if you had told Jiggums about my identity, he'd probably find you stark raving mad."
"Well, that's not what I want to talk to you about, now is it?" asked Jenny. "I think you'll need a drink when I'm done tellin' you." But she offered a cocktail in advance. "Vodka-cranberry?" Curt declined, but he would regret not accepting a glass, for the news he was about to hear would be most unexpected.
"I'm pregnant, Curtis, and it's yours. I wanna know what you're gonna do about it?"
For a moment Curt was too stunned to speak. Finally, bug-eyed, breathless, and with his mouth agape, he stammered, "B--but I visited just once in the last two months."
"Exactly, Curt. You remember the condom broke?"
He dropped to an old recliner, and raked a hand through his hair, muttering, "I don't believe it. Pregnant!"
Making her usual, sensual approach, Jenny braced a stiff arm on the back of the chair, drumming paradiddles with her hot-pink nails. "Yep, you're gonna be a daddy, Curt. I don't know why you're so surprised. Oughta be here in June."
"You seen a doctor already?"
"Yep. Went into town today, had a big talk with this obstetrician."
"Some of them aren't back yet."
Curt jumped to his feet and paced. "Damn it, Jen, why didn't you tell me you could've got pregnant that night? Like I'm supposed to know about fertility. This is your fault, not mine!"
"Are you forgettin' the condom incident, Curt?" asked Jenny. "Because I sure hope not."
"The blood tests aren't even back yet," said Curt, "so you don't even know if it's mine. And half of Kansas City knows what trailer park women do when they can't afford the utilities, and waitressin' just doesn't cut it nowadays."
Jenny came to life like a kicked cobra. "You better not be callin' me a whore, Curt Lang! And you're sayin' it's my fault? Hah! Don't you blame this one on me. You've always been a great one to leap first and ask second."
"Under circumstances of persuasion and temptation, Jenny. And those traits match you like a book."
"Bastard!" Jenny started smacking him in the head.
"Now just wait a minute, Jen." Curt grabbed her arms. "I come in here under blackmail, and find you sprawled out like a ham sandwich waitin' for a slab of mayo or a dash of salt. What do you expect?"
"Curt, let's cut to the chase. I wanna know what you're gonna do about it?"
"About what?" Curt was practically screaming at the top of his lungs. "We've got no proof yet it's mine!"
"Well, if it is yours, and most likely it is, I wanna know what you're gonna do about it, and I want an answer now!"
"Answer! Where'm I supposed to get an answer?"
Jenny studied her nails. "You could retire from the company early, the two of us leave Missouri and buy a house somewhere further north."
"Are you nuts? You just don't pick up and run away, especially with a history like mine." Here was Curt trying to explain the repercussions of his past again.
Jenny's expression turned slightly sullen. "Well, what's location to the Central Intelligence Agency anyway?"
"Location means a lot. I'm safe here for one thing, and second, if I work till I'm fifty I'll get a bigger pension from the company."
"And what am I?" Jenny tapped her chest. "Chopped liver? There's a human growing inside me right now, and he or she's a pension collector too. Maybe the Witness Protection Program would like to find new names for all of us when the time comes. How about I pay them a call? You can't keep runnin' your whole life away from something that happened almost two decades ago, Curt."
"Jenny, be reasonable---"
"Reasonable? I'll give you reasonable, Curt. How's this for reasonable? Two months and I'll be startin' to show, and by that time I want one of two things. Either your real name on a wedding license or eighteen years of child support."
"And if I don't abide?" Curt asked her.
"Then I'll see you in court," Jenny replied. "And I'm sure the CIA won't be too fond of that. From what you've told me, you've only been in the clear for a- bout five years now."
Five years it was. But Curt's trouble was just starting. He had gone and did a terrible thing. In what laymen from all around Kansas City termed: getting the missus' "knocked up". What would Curt Lang ever do? What about his chemist's position at the pharmaceutical company? What about Witness Protection and the CIA?
What about his future?
It was not a good winter for Curt Lang-A.K.A. Curtis Slanders. Jen wouldn't leave him alone. He earned good money at the lab, sure, but it'd be a cold day in hell before he'd hand over his pension to the likes of her. Worst of all, she was beginning to pester him at home, a dinghy little apartment, calling him at insane hours when he had work the next day, and making up some trumped-up excuse if he happened to answer. She even showed up at the company one day when he was getting off at eight o'clock--just to remind him he had only a short period of time to come up with plans for money or a marriage certificate.
Curt developed an ulcer. The stomach pains intensified one night when he came home and looked through the mail to find Jenny had brazenly directed the obstetrician's bill for her visit to his house. The harassment continued daily.
Just before the onset of spring, Curt received another key piece of mail, but it wasn't a bill this time. It was a twisted letter saying how the U.S. showed too much leniency, and how they should have put Curt up in front of a firing squad. He was furious. Curt began to detest her, wondering what he was going to do and what she'd ever seen in him in the first place.
He crumpled up the letter and put it in his pocket. He jumped in his Cadillac and headed straight for the trailer park. "Responsibility, huh!" Curt mumbled to himself on the way there. "I'll show you responsibility, you bitch!" Either he was starting to hate her even more, or he was beginning to fall in love with her.
No sooner had he arrived, Jenny was waiting outside. Curt pulled up alongside her and shot out of the car, hand in his pocket and ready to throw the letter in her face. For a moment Jenny closed her eyes, gulping, unable to swallow the lump of fear and sorrow that suddenly congealed in her throat. Was it fear over childbirth? She opened her tear-filled eyes and stared at the ground. Something was wrong, and it took Curt a while to realize.
Curt watched the actions take claim over Jenny Parkinson. He watched her struggle for control, watched her momentarily lose and regain it.
When she lifted her eyes, they were like two dull stones in a face as pale as bleached linen. "Curt?"
"Yes?" Curt's heart was skipping beats.
"I have somethin' to tell you."
"What is it, Jen?" He decided now wasn't the right time to take out the letter.
"It's not yours, Curt."
"No." Jenny resumed looking at the ground. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps Jenny was fooling herself all this time; maybe Curt had come to do the same.
Though she spoke only his name once more, this time in an almost inaudible whisper, and repeated herself by saying the word "no", the single negative word was like a rusty blade in Curt's heart.
He went back to the car. "You know, I was expectin' it. I started to want it."
"What do you mean?" asked Jenny.
Curt kept silent. He had thoughts of fatherhood on his mind, no longer the CIA or Witness Protection Program. Not like before. "I'll tell you somethin' cool before I go, but you gotta tell no one."
"Before I was a Judas, and then helped bring down the old Soviet republic, I was a great scientist. I bet a Missouri girl like you didn't know that. And I bet a Missouri girl who gave me this darn ulcer didn't care."
"I care…I care a lot. Always know that."
"Well, I guess I better go."
"Bye," said Jenny, with a dispirited wave. "I love you, Curt Lang."
The car pulled away, leaving Jenny in a swirl of exhaust, fighting tears, and staring aghast at the empty parking lot… ***
Site: THE VORPAL SWORD
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