[Carl and Marla! Written for a creative writing class, summer of 2009] Carl is a detective; Marla is his secretary. They don't take kindly to a sudden disturbance.
And the devil will drag you under by the sharp lapel of your checkered coat. Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat.
"What the hell is that?"
"Don't change it," Carl commands, not looking up from his magazine. "I'm listening."
Marla makes a disgusted face at his back and stands up anyway, prepared to ignore him.
"You change it, I shoot you," he warns, a mocking tone in his voice; he is not kidding and Marla feels sick at the thought that he might be daring her to do it - blood spatter and brains would be just the décor he's been looking for.
To cover her discomfort she crosses her arms and plops down at her messy desk. "So you're listening," she repeats caustically, crossing her slender legs and tapping one high-heeled foot in the air.
He turns a page deliberately. "That's right."
"To what? What exactly is this garbage?"
Carl clears his throat in warning, but Marla does not rescind the statement. "It's from Guys and Dolls," he informs her scathingly, and she raises one dark eyebrow at the sudden emotion in his voice. "Now will you shut up and let me listen?"
"Fine," she breathes, rustling papers on her desk needlessly. "Fine."
He mutters something that sounds like "bitch" but Marla chooses not to hear. They sit for a moment, not talking. The song changes and Carl, his eyes never leaving the page, reaches out and shuts the music off.
Marla grits her teeth in fury, tapping her lacquered nails on the dirty desktop. He gives no indication he notices her and angrily she rises. "What are you reading?" she asks, snatching away the magazine. She looks over the open page, her full, painted mouth turning down in distaste. "This is porn."
The woman on the glossy page is naked, her over-processed blonde hair slithering in long, wavy tendrils down her softly curved shoulders. Her knees are pressed together, rising strategically so that they come up to the line of her navel. Her breasts are thrust toward any observer, pale and round, the perfect fleshy adornments to her smooth, ivory chest.
Carl makes one quick swipe to take it back, but Marla steps out of his reach and he is too apathetic to pursue her. She is small and all angles instead of curves, with pixie-cut hair in chestnut instead of gold. "It's art," he defends, taking one bent cigarette out of his dirty shirt pocket.
"Don't smoke in here," Marla commands, sparing him her attention for only a moment. She starts flipping through, wondering vaguely if she could find anything redeemable about it. "This is not art. The Mona Lisa is art."
Carl blows a long stream of smoke right at his secretary. "Is she naked?"
Fed up, Marla throws the magazine to the ground and stomps on it with one shiny red stiletto. Looking for some way to punish him, she grabs the cigarette and plucks it from his lips, fingertips brushing briefly against his mouth. "Give me that," she seethes. She bends down and presses the cigarette out on the pretty model's face. "You're disgusting."
He looks around the small office. There are two half empty cartons of Chinese take-out on his desk and a sandwich crust on the floor beside it. Marla's panty-hose is still draped over the fichus in the corner of the room. Everything is covered with a thin layer of dust and ash because, even with all of Marla's prodding, he never goes outside to smoke. "Not going to argue with that, baby."
She rolls her eyes, exasperated with him. He is sick of being around her and has no patience for dealing with her; she has been sleeping in the office on the small, beat-up couch because the man she was living with had no discretion for what he put his fist into. There were blue and purple splotches painted all across her collar bone when she came in, drunk and alone, with cuts on her side from a bottle shoved into it. He agreed to let her stay there, sleep only in his office, not in his apartment above it, but he is beginning to regret his decision.
She struts forward and slips her hand into his pocket, pulling out another cigarette. "I'm going outside," she says, her voice loud and deliberate. "So I can smoke there. Where I'm supposed to." There is a tone of superiority in her voice, and he sighs, already impatient.
But she has not even started toward the door when it flies open. The cigarette falls to the floor as three men rush in, all holding guns, and Marla gasps in fright and stumbles backwards. Carl catches her, hands clasped hard on her shoulders.
"Okay," one greasy man shouts, "okay. We're not going to hurt you, just give us... give us all your money." He is sweating, the gun in his hand not quite steady.
"Don't have any," Carl says blandly, and even Marla turns her head to stare at him. "Sorry," he continues. "We don't keep it in the office."
The presumed leader of the robbers laughs and points the gun between Carl's eyes. "I'm not going to play with you," he barks.
"N-no," Marla agrees, "he's telling the truth."
Carl's hands have moved from her shoulders to her hips and he ducks his head so they can't see his mouth move. "When I tell you," he whispers, "I want you to get on the ground."
She takes in a deep breath to signal that she understands. The robbers have turned to profanity as an accelerant and they are posturing and pointing their guns like they know how to use them.
"Well if you don't have any money... throw us her pearls."
"All right." One hand moves to the necklace clasp; the other squeezes her hip.
Marla understands, and the next moment she is flat on the floor. Carl wastes no time and in the next second he has pulled out his own gun and fired three shots.
Now there are three dead men on the floor and one bullet in his shoulder.
Marla cautiously rises, brushing off her dress. "What... What the hell was that?"
"They tried to rob us."
That much was obvious, and she gives him a very pointed glare. She walks over to one of the newly created corpses. The man is leaning up, his arms behind him, legs bent up and knees pressed together. There is a large red stain blossoming across his chest. Panic fills her and desperately she looks for something to cover him. She grabs the ruined magazine from the floor, and puts it down over his face.
"I'm going to call the police," she says. Her tone is normal but her hands are shaking. "Did you have to kill them?"
Carl shrugs as best he can and does not answer. "Call the hospital, too. I got shot."
"What?!" She rushes over to him, suddenly clear-headed. "Are you all right? Where did he get you?" He notices the tear tracks on her cheeks and wonders when she started crying. He is holding himself together to keep her from getting hysterical; crying makes him very uncomfortable.
He brushes her petting hands away. "My shoulder, Marla. It's just a graze. Christ, would you calm down?"
She is already peeling off his shirt to look at the wound. "How are you not in agony right now? I can't believe this happened; I just can't believe it." She is worrying over him, looking at the wound and dabbing at the blood with a handkerchief. It hurts so badly he is nauseous and light-headed.
"Would you leave me the hell alone and go call someone?"
Her brows furrow and she frowns at him. But she wipes her face and grabs the phone on his desk to call the hospital.
Carl sighs. He fumbles with his left hand, maneuvering it into his shirt pocket; if Marla is distracted, he is going to smoke. He gives her a plaintive expression and reluctantly she lights it for him. "I can't believe you did that," he says, staring over at the dead man. "That was good porn."
"And the devil will drag you under with a soul so heavy you'd never float. Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat."