by Lindsay Smith
They told us things would be tougher after the war, but I didn’t know they mean quite like this.
Cold metal, slipping in my sweaty palms. Ears ringing. My face flecked with powder, but it’s still hot, so hot, it burns like ash.
And then of course the man before me, face forever frozen like I just called him something rude, hand pressed to the hole in his lungs as he goes down.
Let me explain.
I was always like this, see, not the killing part, but the part that led up to it. The part where I found me a bone and gnawed and gnawed at it like a dog possessed. “Annalisa,” Pa would say, that tone both scolding and proud, “maybe it’s time to give it a rest, huh? Worry about something else for a while.” But when I found me a mystery, I clung to it, until one of us was solved.
Usually it was as simple as finding where our downstairs neighbor’s good pearls got off to (her husband’s bookie) or who’d gotten the landlady’s daughter in a family way. In the war, I made a bit of a name for myself, nothing official, of course, but the cops came to me all the same. Their best detectives had been poached by the OSS and so on, and they just needed a hand dealing with the vagrants who’d somehow slipped the draft—purse thieves and smugglers and all the other shits you find down south of Houston or lurking around the docks. Pa’d already gone to Europe then, so there was no one but old Mrs. Dougherty to tell me I couldn’t, and she’d turn her glass eye to anything as long as her cooking sherry stayed stocked. I solved everything from break-ins to embezzlers, and didn’t feel a bit bad about a single one of the creeps and goons I got locked up, even though I didn’t get much credit (or any at all).
Bianca, though … Bianca I felt bad about. But then I’m jumping ahead.
When the war ended and the men came home—though some of ‘em, like Pa, made the trip in a wooden box—they warned me it was going to be hard. The best thing I could do was find myself a man, young, not too shellshocked, who was so damn happy to be home and alive that he wouldn’t mind what a boatload of trouble I was. Mrs. Daughtery couldn’t watch me forever, and I was old enough I didn’t need her by then. I tried dating, thought admittedly not hard, but I’d have had more fun sitting across the diner booth from a box of soap. Every guy was a crossword and I’d solved ‘em by the time the waitress brought our main course.
What I wanted was work. Real work. Work I could hang a shingle on, and get paid enough to live, not just to buy myself something at the soda fountain. I needed to rent a room of my own before I wore out all my excuses with our landlady, before the government checks ran out.
But the cops suddenly didn’t want me, at least not at any price I could afford to take. So I pawned my grandpa’s old pocket watch and took out a newspaper ad.
Mostly it was other women who came to me. We were all in the same boat; we’d had a purpose for a few years, were building a career, then just as quickly it was gone. I saw housewives who were going stir crazy, imagining murderers next door, their husbands’ affairs, even a neighbor who didn’t smile at them just right. They weren’t always wrong, but it was quick, easy work, and that never paid the bills. Not that they had much to give me on their own, scraping together nickels from their grocery money on the sly, but I took the jobs anyway. We were in this together, after the war.
Then Bianca stormed into my world and there’s no way I was going to end up unscathed.