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California Tennis Club—by Robert J. Ray

The barista comes in sweaty from tennis. There is sweat under her armpits, sweat between her breasts, sweat pooling in the curve of her back. She strips off the blouse, drops it on the floor. The jogbra is halfway off when she hears a noise from the bathroom. The bathroom door is open a crack, no light on. She remembers leaving the light on and now she notices the bed, her suitcase open. She had left it closed, on the floor. The top dresser drawer is open. Where she kept her purse.  She looks around for a weapon. Spots the tennis racquet. It is black boron, with a medium size head. Still in her tennis skirt, jogbra, and tennis shoes, the barista backs toward the door. She picks up the racquet, a black Prince Boron 14 Model X.

She’s bending down to grab her sweaty tennis blouse when he comes through the bathroom door. He is a medium sized man of medium build with a handlebar mustache and sideburns and a pony tail. He wears cowboy boots and faded jeans and an old blue work shirt. In one hand is a plastic grocery sack. He moves toward her, boots scuffing the carpet, walking with a limp. His eyes move from her legs to her bare belly to her arms and then to her face. He grins, licks his lips. She is three steps from the door, but then she still has to get it open. He outweighs her thirty pounds, but she has the advantage of surprise. If she could knock him down, or even out, then she could open the door and run. With his limp, there’s no way he could catch her. She could run to Belinda.

He moves closer. She waits, the black Prince racquet hanging loose. He glances at the Prince and grins. His mouth shows two teeth missing, maybe three. A desert rat in her room. He sticks his tongue out, pulls it back, sticks it out again. A clear signal of what he wants. She tosses the sweaty blouse at him. As he reaches to catch the blouse, she hits him with the black Prince. She aims for his ear but he blocks the blow with his raised arm.

Shit, he says. You bitch.

She grips the black Prince with two hands. He twists the straps of the black plastic bag. It’s heavy with loot. He moves to her left, herding her away from the door. She swings at his head, he throws up his arm, she chops down on his wrist. He grunts, drops the plastic sack, and slams her with a body block. His body, all male and tough, feels like a log hitting her. She goes down, back slamming against the wall, rolls away from him. He grabs her hair, twists, bringing her head back, her body prone on the floor. She has lost the black Prince. The intruder sits on her, straddles her, grabs her jogbra, pulls. She grabs his wrist with both hands, the training coming through, not enough training, but all she has. She grabs a finger, tries to snap it. He slaps her hard, making her jaw tremble.

You broke my fucking finger, bitch.

The barista says nothing. She knows she blew it. She was too slow to analyze the situation. Maybe it’s not too late. She makes her mouth into an O, lets her tongue protrude in the age-old invitation for sex. He grins, grunts, grabs the shoulder strap of the jogbra, gives it a pull. She feels cold air on her shoulder. He rises up, making room between their bodies, and she feels a hand between her legs. She does not want to get raped, does not want to have sex. Her brain is frozen. She is lost. This is a bad dream and she wants to wake up. He’s pulling at her panties. She feels a finger probing. Yes, she says. Oh, yes. And then she jabs him in the Adam’s apple, knuckles narrowed into a half-fist. His eyes go wide with shock. His finger exits her crevice. With both hands, he grabs his throat. She pushes, trying to get his weight off. He is heavy. She is trapped, She is ready to go for his eyes when the door opens and she hears footsteps and a short-barreled pistol is shoved in the man’s ear. The hand holding the pistol belongs to Belinda B.

You, she says. This is a nine millimeter pistol with a silencer. Do you hear me?

Uh huh. The man nods his head.

Roll to this side. Get on your belly and put your hands behind your back. Barista?

Yes?

Are you okay?

Now I am.

Get the sash from your robe. Tie his hands up.

Want me to call security?

Not just yet.

_______________

The sky is blood-red through the window. There is a pot of tea on the table. Belinda B sits in a chair. The cowboy sits with his back against the wall. His hands are in front of him now. His wrists have been tied with plastic handcuffs. His cowboy boots, dusty with age and the desert, sit next to him on the floor. In he’s holding a pint bottle of Johnny Walker.

The barista sits on the floor with her back against the bed. She’s wearing green warm-up pants and a matching green sweatshirt. Her feet are bare and brown. The toenails need clipping. She sips tea from a cup. She wants a glass of wine, but Belinda B has her on a no-booze vacation for a week. She also wants something to eat. A cookie, a cracker, some kind of bread. The no-booze diet also means no bakery stuff.

Belinda B is talking on her cell phone. She’s wearing the usual. Gray warmup pants and an orange sweatshirt over a gray blouse with a collar. Like the barista, Belinda B is barefoot. Her Birkenstocks are against the wall, next to the cowboy boots. Belinda B says goodbye to her caller. She presses the button to sign off. She smiles at the barista. Her smile is different now that they have an intruder in custody and the barista feels a glow of satisfaction. She did not get raped. She did not get killed. She took action on short notice. At one moment, she felt the urge to hurt this man, maybe even kill him. She remembers thinking about the consequence for killing. First the police, then jail, then lawyers, then a courtroom and a male judge. Thinking slowed her down.

So, Slim, Belinda B says. Your story checks out.

Thank you, ma’am.

Need another snort there, Slim?

Wouldn’t say no to that, ma’am. Thank you.

This is not your first snatch and grab, is it?

Sorry to say so, ma’am. But no.

First time you’ve been caught?

Third time, ma’am.

What happened the other two times?

I knocked them on the head and took off for the high country.

You were interrupted?

That’s a fact, ma’am.

Women? Or men?

One was an old boy three sheets to the wind. The other was a college boy with a fancy black sports job. I cold-cocked the college boy, roped him to the bedpost, and drove his car to Vegas.

You know people in Vegas?

Some of my best buds, ma’am.

You know people in Dallas?

How’s that?

Dallas, Slim. It’s in North Texas, east of Fort Worth. You have best buds in Dallas?

Can’t say as I do, ma’am.

Ever been to Dallas? Like driving through?

Maybe. But it was some years ago and I was just a shaver.

By shaver, you mean shave-tail?

Sure do.

How old were you when you were a shavetail, Slim?

Just a kid, ma’am. Just a wide-eyed little old boy with big ears.

Did you grow up in a house filled with God, Slim?

Sorry to say I did, ma’am. And look at me now.

There’s a big church in Dallas. It’s called the Cathedral of the Word. Ever prayed to Jesus in there?

Shoot no.

Your eyes are jumping, Slim.

It’s this whisky, ma’am.

We looked through your wallet, Slim. No driver’s license. No social security card. No plastic, not a single piece for identification.

I got myself unplugged, ma’am.

Unplugged? You mean from the grid?

That’s a fact.

So you could feel free?

That’s a fact, ma’am.

But you came here for money.

A fella’s got to live, ma’am. On the grid or off.

Ever been married, Slim?

Three times, ma’am. Two before the judge and one common law.

Any children from these happy unions?

Yessum. Seven.

So when you break into a room for money, do your children get the benefit?

I sure do my best, ma’am.

Would you like to go to the hospital, Slim?

Go to the hospital, ma’am?

Yes.

What for?

To stop the bleeding.

What bleeding?

See this little knife?

What’s that?

It’s a surgical scalpel. Sharper than a razor. One little cut – an artery in your throat, say – and you’ll bleed to death in an hour.

Right here? Right here on this floor?

How about the bathtub. Run some water, let your blood mix with water, then let it down the drain.

How about what’s left?

You’ll be too dead to worry about it, Slim.

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