I got up and put down my glass. She stood looking at me for a while then took off the housecoat and threw it on the bed. Few women are seen at their best in the nude. She had a body to thank God for.
She stood there, hands on hipssand said calmly, “I am beauti-ful, Senhor Mallory?”
“Few men would dispute that.”
“But I am a whore,” she said flatly. “Beautiful perhaps, but still a whore. Available to any man who can raise the price.”
I thought of Joanna Martin who had never actually taken cash on the barrel which was the only difference between them.
“And I am tired of it all,” she said. “Just for once I would like a man who can be honest with me as I am honest with him. Who will not simply use me. You understand?”
“I think so,” I said.
She blew out the light.
It was late when I awakened. Just after two a.m. according to the luminous dial of my watch. I was alone in the bed’, but when I turned my head I saw the glow of her cigarette out there on the terrace.
I started to get dressed. She called softly, “You are leaving?”
“I’ll have to,” I said. “I’ve things to do or had you forgotten?”
There was silence for a while and then, as I pulled on my boots, she said, “There is a street opposite the last pier at the other end of the waterfront from here. The house on the corner has a lion carved over the door. You want the apartment at the top of the second flight of stairs.”
I pulled on my jacket. “And what will I find there?”
“I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise.”
I moved to the door, uncertain of what to say. She said, “Will you be back?”
“I don’t think it very likely.”
“Honest to the last,” she said rather bitterly, then laughed, sounding for the first time since we had leftThe Little Boat like the old Lola. “And in the end, Senhor Mallory, I’m not at all certain that was what I really wanted. Don’t you find that rather amusing?”
Which I didn’t and did what I suspected was the best thing in the circumstances and got out of there fast.
I found the house with the lion above the door easily enough. It was one of those baroque monstrosities left over from the last century, probably built for some wealthy merchant and now in a state of what one might delicately term multiple occupation. The front door opened at once giving access to a large gloomy hall illuminated by a single oil lamp. There was a party going on in one of the downstairs back rooms, I heard a burst of noise and music as someone opened and closed a door.
I started up the stairs in the silence which followed. The first landing was illuminated lik?the hall below by a single oil lamp, but the next flight of stairs disappeared into darkness,
I went up cautiously, feeling my way along the wall, aware of the patter of tiny feet as the rats and lizards scattered out of the way. When I reached the landing, I struck a match and held it above my head. There was no name on the door opposite and the lamp on the wall was cold.
The match started to burn my fingers so I dropped it and tried the door handle with infinite caution. It was locked so I did the obvious thing and knocked gently.
After a while, a lamp was turned up, light seeping under the door, there was movement, a man’s voice and then a woman. Someone shuffled towards the door, I knocked again.
“Who is it?” the woman demanded.
“Lola sent me,” I answered in Portuguese.
The door started to open, I moved back into the shadows. She said, “Look, I’ve got someone with me at the moment. Can’t you come back a little later?”
I didn’t reply. The door opened even wider and Maria of the Angels peered out. “Heh, where are you man?”
I took her by the throat, stifling all sound, and ran her back into the room, shutting the door quietly behind. The man in the bed, who cried out in alarm, was a mountain of flesh if ever I’ve seen one. A great quivering jelly more likely to die of fright than anything else.