I wrote this many long years ago, but I still have a fondness for it.
The River City Falcon
by Marian Allen
The Ford had been around a handful of years longer than the woman who sat behind its wheel. Its paint was the same beige as her trenchcoat; its upholstery, as blue as her eyes. The trim on its dash was the gleaming chestnut of her hair, which was brushed smooth over her crown to cluster at her ears. The woman and the car were both solid, efficient, and a little the worse for wear. They both had good lines, though both seemed bulky in this streamlined age. A difference: The car’s emissions were clean; a cigarette sagged in the corner of the woman’s mouth, billowing smoke out of the crack she’d rolled in the window.
The Ford cruised up Second Street, catching all the lights green.
The woman drove smoothly, but her eyes were narrowed, watchful, intent. As she made a right turn onto River Road, her upper lip twitched once.
She was doing Humphrey Bogart.
The impression faded as downtown Louisville snatched her skirts away from the muddy river. The Ohio began playing hide-and-seek on the left, ducking behind houses, restaurants, country clubs, then flashing out again with irritating brilliance.
The woman took a right turn onto a side road, then a left, then another right. Houses grew larger and insisted on more personal space. She parked the Ford at the circular end of a long drive, in front of what looked like the Taj Mahal’s American cousin. She tucked a bulky leather handbag under her arm as she sorted through her keys and let herself into the foyer.
It wasn’t until the lock had clicked behind her that she realized she wasn’t alone.
A man stepped into the hall from a wide door to the woman’s left. He was large, blond, and hard. He was muscled for power, not aesthetics. Behind him was another man, a smaller but congruent man, less blond but even more muscular. Their clothes seemed to have been stolen from other people’s washlines.
She froze, her face neutral, her eyes hostile.
The bigger man balanced like a fighter, ready to leap when the woman should turn to run or draw breath to scream.
“Take it easy, lady,” the smaller man said, in a tone recommending that attitude as sound and advisable.
The ormolu clock on the little piecrust table ticked off five seconds, then the woman spoke, her voice turning the words to icicles.
“What are you doing here?”
The larger man laughed. “What’s this, some kind of Woman’s Lib? You come home, find two strange men in your house, and you’re not supposed to be scared?”
She showed her teeth in the faintest of sneers and denied fear with the slightest of shrugs. “Scared? Of you?” She laughed with more scorn than sound.
Poised to pursue, the bigger man staggered back a step as the woman stalked forward. She passed him without a glance–Lady Astor’s cat–entering the room he and his echo had just left.
The men had raided the kitchen. Glasses, a bottle of wine, a plate of ham and a loaf of bakery bread sat on furniture never intended for food service. Scraps and stains degraded the oriental carpet.
“You certainly made yourselves at home.” She picked her way to a brocaded Morris chair, unfastening her trenchcoat as she went. She tossed the coat over the back of the chair and nestled into it.
“Any objections?” the smaller man asked, insolent, but less insolent than cautious. This woman should have been hysterical, or at least concerned, but the hands that fished smoking gear out of her bag and lit a cigarette were steady.
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,” she said. “Or… shouldn’t I ask?”
The big man flexed. “Call us Pat and Mike,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.”
The woman nodded. “I understand. You may call me Mary. Sit down. Finish your meal.”
The men looked at each other and sat. After a moment, Pat cut three slices of bread and made himself a double-decker ham sandwich.
“Will you be staying long?” Mary asked.
Mike grunted and said, “Long enough.”
“Joel will be pleased to see you,” she said. “At least… I hope he will be.”
“Who’s Joel?” Pat asked around a mouthful of ham and bread. “Your old man?”
Mary quirked her mouth and stubbed her cigarette into a crystal ashtray. “You have an interesting sense of humor,” she said. “Or perhaps you didn’t know that Joel is the name … he’s using these days. Just as Mary is the name I go by.”
“The name you go by?” Mike asked.
“We could hardly have kept the names we used in San Francisco. Not after… Well, you know.”
Pat’s chewing slowed and stopped. He swallowed a mass that would have killed a lesser man and said, “What in the hell are you talking about, anyway?”
The woman looked from one man to the other. Then she leaned back in her chair, folded her hands on her stomach, and laughed in a smothered blast. “Marvelous! Really, it is. Am I to gather that the two of you chose this house at random?”
“Yeah,” Pat said. “Is that funny?”
“And you have no idea whose house this is? I mean, whose house it really is?”
“No,” said Mike.
Mary’s laugh imploded again. “Well, this is amusing, it is indeed. I cannot tell you the eagerness with which I await Joel’s arrival.”
“Er…” said Mike. “Joel’s coming? Here?”
“Why shouldn’t he? It is his house. For the time being, at any rate. Of course, he might consider your presence here less diverting than inconvenient. Joel is rather humorless, I’m afraid. We may be obliged to move on ahead of schedule.”
The men got the point.
“This Joel,” Pat asked. “Just who is he?”
“If you don’t know, it would be most indiscreet of me to tell you. I may have said too much already.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Mike. “Don’t say too much. We don’t want to know too much, right, uh, Pat?”
“When’s this Joel supposed to get here?” Pat asked.
“At any moment. Of course, he may have stopped by the airport to pick up the others. If he has, he may be later than I anticipate.” She shrugged. “Until then, my time is at your disposal. My advice is that you return that disposition to me.” She sat forward abruptly. “I must ask you to make up your minds, and do it quickly,” she said in a soft but most convincing tone. “I have things to do; I haven’t got all day to sit here at your ‘mercy’.”
“Keep it cool,” Pat said.
“That’s easy for you to say. But Joel expects certain things to be done before he returns. It was different when I thought you were friends of his, but now… You have no idea what Joel is like when he’s cross.” She shuddered. “Let me go about my business or leave. I couldn’t throw you out if I wanted to, but Joel will take care of you when he comes.” She fell back into her chair and fixed poisonous eyes on Pat.
Mike turned his head so that Pat could see his face and rolled his eyes three times. “Whacko,” he mouthed.
“Maybe we better be running along,” Pat said. “If any cops should ask, you never saw us. We was never in the neighborhood.”
Mary’s blue eyes became cyanic. “If the police come here,” she said in a voice as quiet as the drawing of an arrow, “you will regret it.”
The men let themselves out. The woman watched them through the window near her chair.
When the men were out of sight, she bustled through the house, scooping all the jewelry and whatnots she could stash into her large, lumpy handbag. She’d have to leave the large silver pieces and the china, but Pat and Mike might possibly place anonymous information with the police; she couldn’t take the time to pack and load. Still, there were other houses, and the afternoon had been out of the common run. Call it expenditure of profits on entertainment, that made it seem less of a loss.
She dusted the arms of her chair and emptied her cigarette butt into a pocket of her handbag. A woman of sentiment, she took the ashtray, too, for a souvenir. She folded the trenchcoat in on itself, with any of her hair and dress-fibers it might contain. She wiped the door handles on her way out–not easy to do with an ormolu clock under one arm and a little piecrust table under the other. She stuck false license plates on the Ford, just in case Pat and Mike had been more observant than they had seemed.
She drove back to River Road, stopped at the phone booth outside Captain’s Quarters, and placed some anonymous information of her own with the police. One has one’s civic responsibilities, after all.
As she pulled back into traffic, she caught sight of herself in the rearview mirror. She gave herself a twisted, ironic smile, saying, “You’re a good man, sister.”
She was doing Bogart again.
WRITING PROMPT: Have a character channel characters from a favorite book or movie.