COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Alana Jennings lived in a duplex apartment in a redbrick town house not far from Trion headquarters. I recognized it immediately from the photograph.
You know how when you just start going out with a girl and you notice everything, where she lives and how she dresses and her perfume, and everything seems so different and new? Well, the strange thing was how I knew so much about her, more than some husbands know about their wives, and yet I'd spent no more than an hour or two with her.
I pulled up to the town house in my Porsche—isn't that part of what Porsches are for, to impress chicks?—and climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. Her voice chirped over the speaker, said she'd be right down.
She was wearing a white embroidered peasant blouse and black leggings and her hair was up, and she wasn't wearing the scary black glasses. I wondered whether peasants ever actually wore peasant blouses, and whether there really were peasants in the world anymore, and if there were, whether they thought of themselves as peasants. She looked too spectacularly beautiful. She smelled great, different from most of the girls I usually went out with. A floral fragrance called Fleurissimo; I remembered reading that she'd pick it up at a place called the House of Creed whenever she went to Paris.
"Hey," I said.
"Hi, Adam." She had glossy red lipstick on and was carrying a tiny square black handbag over one shoulder.
"My car's right here," I said, trying to be subtle about the brand-new shiny black Porsche ticking away right in front of us. She gave it an appraising glance but didn't say anything. She was probably putting it together in her mind with my Zegna jacket and pants and open-collar black casual shirt, maybe the five-thousand-dollar Italian navy watch too. And thinking I was either a show-off or trying too hard. She wore a peasant blouse; I wore Ermenegildo Zegna. Perfect. She was pretending to be poor, and I was trying to look rich and probably overdoing it.
I opened the passenger's side door for her. I'd moved the seat back before I got here so there'd be plenty of legroom. Inside, the air was heavy with the aroma of new leather. There was a Trion parking sticker on the left rear side of the car, which she hadn't yet noticed. She wouldn't see it from inside the car either, but soon enough she would, when we were getting out at the restaurant, and that was just as well. She was going to find out soon enough, one way or another, that I worked at Trion too, and that I'd been hired to fill the job she used to have. It was going to be a little weird, the coincidence, given that we hadn't met at work, and the sooner it came up the better. In fact, I was ready with a dumb line of patter. Like: "You're kidding me. You do? So do I! How bizarre!"
There were a few moments of awkward silence as I drove toward her favorite Thai restaurant. She glanced up at the speedometer, then back at the road. "You should probably watch it around here," she said. "This is a speed trap. The cops are just waiting for you to go over fifty, and they really sock you."
I smiled, nodded, then remembered a riff from one of her favorite movies, Double Indemnity, which I'd rented the night before. "How fast was I going, officer?" I said in that sort of flat-affect film-noir Fred MacMurray voice.
She got it immediately. Smart girl. She grinned. "I'd say around ninety." She had the vampish Barbara Stanwyck voice down perfectly.
"Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket."
"Suppose I let you off with a warning this time," she came back, playing the game, her eyes alive with mischief.
I faltered for only a few seconds until the line came to me. "Suppose it doesn't take."
"Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles."
I smiled. She was good, and she was into it. "Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder."
"Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder."
"That tears it," I said. End of scene. Cut, print, that's a take.
She laughed delightedly. "How do you know that?"
"Too much wasted time watching old black-and-white movies."
"Me too! And Double Indemnity is probably my favorite."
"It's right up there with Sunset Boulevard." Another favorite of hers.
"Exactly! 'I am big. It's the pictures that got small.' "
I wanted to quit while I was ahead, because I'd pretty much exhausted my supply of memorized noir trivia. I moved the conversation into tennis, which was safe. I pulled up in front of the restaurant, and her eyes lit up again. "You know about this place? It's the best!"
"For Thai food, it's the only place, as far as I'm concerned." A valet parked the car—I couldn't believe I was handing the keys to my brand-new Porsche to an eighteen-year-old kid who was probably going to take it out on a joyride when business got slow—and so she never saw the Trion sticker.
It was actually a great date for a while. That Double Indemnity stuff seemed to have set her at ease, made her feel that she was with a kindred spirit. Plus a guy who was into Ani DiFranco, what more could she ask for? Maybe a little depth—women always seemed to like depth in a guy, or at least the occasional fleeting moment of self-reflection, but I was all over that.
We ordered green papaya salad and vegetarian spring rolls. I considered telling her I was a vegetarian, like she was, but then I decided that would be too much, and besides, I didn't know if I could stand to keep up the ruse for more than one meal. So I ordered Masaman curry chicken and she ordered a vegetarian curry without coconut milk—I remembered reading that she was allergic to shrimp—and we both drank Thai beer.