Nikki opened the door to Goody's basement study and for a moment, she felt as if she'd gone back in time. Goody sat behind a huge mahogany desk at the far end of the room, exactly as he'd done the last time she'd seen him, fifteen years ago. It looked as if he was wearing the same wrinkled, blue sport jacket and rumpled, white shirt he'd worn then. The same blue tie was looped like a lazy noose around his sun-burned neck.
Goody clutched a cell phone to his right ear and he was looking down at his desk, so he did not see or hear her, as she approached his desk with all the quickness and quietness of a cat. She heard Goody say, "Yeah, that's true," in a soft, sad voice.
He savagely stabbed a button with the horny underside of one stubby finger and flipped shut the phone. Goody opened the top drawer of his desk, slipped the telephone inside, and closed the drawer.
Goody looked up and saw Nikki at last. He froze, startled. Then a tiny sliver of frosty, white light snapped on in his small eyes. His fat, greasy lips curved slightly upward in a smile, which Nikki knew, was supposed to be charming and disarming, but which only made him look like the lecherous, old man he really was.
"Well, hello there, beautiful," he said. "What can I do for you?"
Nikki just stood there and stared at him. Her nostrils twitched and her mouth turned into a crook smile filled with contempt and disdain. And hatred.
"You don't remember me, do you?" she asked in a teasing, playful voice.
He studied her for a moment through narrowed eyes. "No, I can't say I do."
"I'll give you a little hint. It was fifteen years ago."
"Look, girlie. You're going to have to be alot more specific than that. A lot of good looking young woman have walked through that door in the last fifteen years. You can't expect me to remember them all, can you?"
"I sat in that chair, right there," Nikki went on in the same slow, low voice, as if she hadn't heard a word Goody had said. She looked almost lovingly at the over-stuffed armchair, which stood next to the left corner of Goody's desk.
"I was barely eighteen, that summer," she said. "I'd just graduated from Lazarus High, the week before. I was going with Eddie Logan at the time. He introduced us."
Goody guffawed like a braying mule. "That moron."
"He wasn't a moron back then. He was a sweet guy. What did you do to him?"
"I didn't do anything to Eddie. He got in too many fights, took too many shots to the head. He still works for me. I let him run one of my businesses for me."
"One of your adult bookstores, no doubt."
"Now, wait just a minute. I'll have you know I'm a respectable businessman."
"And I'm Hillary Rodham Clinton," Nikkia snapped back. "You told me I had a beautiful singing voice and I looked like a young Madonna, and I had the kind of magnetic personality that would make the whole world stand up and take notice. You said that, among other things, you were a talent agent, with offices here, in New York, and Los Angelos."
Nikki opened the bulky, red leather purse which hung by a strap from her left shoulder. Goody flinched at the unexpected tearing sound the zipper made, as she pulled it all the way back. Nikki smiled at his discomfort. She reached inside her purse and pulled out a small, white business card. The old card was creased down the middle and the once razor-sharp edges were frayed and peeling apart. She tossed the card at Goody.
He watched the card flutter to his desk. Then he picked up the card with both hands, unfolded it, and stared at the card with dull, uncomprehending eyes.
"Yeah, that's my card, all right," he said, flinging it aside. "So?"
"You told me that fame and fortune didn't come over night," Nikki said. "If I wanted those things, I had to work for them. I had to be prepared to start at the bottom. You said you'd introduce me to important people in Hollywood."
Nikki paused, staring straight into his eyes. Goody offered her nothing in return, except the sullen, defiant look of a spoiled child.
"You had me bewitched," she continued. "I was completely under your spell. Although there was a moment when you almost lost control over me."
Goody arched an eyebrown in disbelief. "Oh, yeah? How'd I do that?"
"The whole time you were talking to me, you kept staring at my cross." Once again, just like on that warm, bright, spring afternoon, fifteen years ago, she saw his nervous, beady eyes dart to the tiny gold cross dangling from a chain around her slender neck. "You looked like you were afraid of it like a vampire." The memory caused the faintest wisp of a smile to crease Nikki's lush lips.
"You said to me, 'Lose the cross.'
"At first, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd never met anyone so afraid of a cross before, as you were. I almost wanted to laugh out loud. But I didn't. Instead, this strange fear gripped my heart. I wrapped my hand so tight around that little cross that the edges cut into the palm of my hand like razor blades. A small, still voice spoke up at the back of my mind. 'This man is raping you,' that voice said. 'He's trying to steal your soul.' I was terrified of you, the same way I'd be afraid of the Devil, if I ever saw him in all his smokey, red flesh. That little cross in my hand started to glow. I swear to God. It felt like it was on fire. I was sure that if I didn't let go of it, it would burn my skin like a branding iron.
"That cross was a confirmation gift from my mother," Nikki said. "And I didn't want to take it off. I didn't want to give up eleven years of singing on the church choir, either. But I wanted what you had to offer me more than anything else in the world, including God. So I took that cross off. And my life hasn't been the same since then."
"Did you ever make it to the big screen?" Goody asked.
"No," Nikki said flatly.
"Then what are you doing here? I mean, it's obvious you didn't come back to thank me."
Nikki smiled her most alluring and provoctative smile, and batted her long, dark lashes at him in a seductive fashion. "Why, Mr. Carlisle, don't ya know?" she asked in a sultry voice that was almost like a sweet caress. Once more, she dipped her hand inside her open purse. "I came back to kill you."
This time, she pulled a .357 Magnum from her purse.
Goody's small eyes grew large and around as a pair of traffic lights and his lips formed an almost perfect circle, as she slowly extended her right arm and leveled the weapon at Goody's chest. She clearly heard a faint but unmistakeably metallic click!, as she pulled back the hammer and coiled a finger around the trigger.
Goody's eyes seemed to grow even larger in their sockets, forcing his eyebrows upward, and his jaw fell all the way down. For just a second, Nikki swore she could actually see his heard pounding wildly against the inside of his shirt. He gripped the glossy edge of his desk with both hands. Drops of sweat as big as pebbles popped out on his forehead and cheeks.
"Hey, what the---" he sputtered weakly. "What do you wanna kill me for? I never did anything to you."
"Just put me through fifteen years of pure, unadulterated hell, is all," Nikki said.
"I didn't so that you. You did it to yourself. All I did was offer you a chance to make your dreams come true. I never actually came right out and said I'd make you a star. You can't blame me if it didn't work out. Sheesh!"
The barest ghost of a laugh escaped her rigid lips. She shook her head.
"You know what you are, Goody?" she asked him. "You're a walking, living, breathing piece of human pond scum. I ran into a few of the other girls you lured out to the land of sunshine and dreams. Guess what? None of them made it in the movies, either. They're all making porn flicks---strung out on dope and meth---trolling the Strip, late at night, looking for a quick and easy way to make an extra buck. But thanks to your old buddy Tony Lozarrio, I'm sure you know all about that, huh? Tony Lozarrio. Now there's a real piece of work. How much does he pay you for every naive, unsuspecting girl like me you send his way? I was always curious about that."
"But like I told you, I didn't do that to them or to you. You all did it to yourselves."
"Oh, puh-lease. Give me a huge, personal break here. True, we did a lot of it to ourselves. I don't deny that. But you were the puppet master. You pulled the strings and we all danced to your tune. And now, it's time to sever those strings, once and for all. "Bye-'bye, Goody."
She eased back the hammer, tightened her finger around the trigger, just a hair.
Goody started to shake. His prodigious belly shook like a bowlfull of jelly, just like Santa Claus.
A voice spoke up behind her. "Nikki...don't...please..."
Nikki smiled. Good, old Peter. He'd been standing behind her, all this time, and she'd competely forgotten about him.
Nikki breathed in deeply through her nostrils. "Yeah, you're right," she said, never taking her eyes from Goody. "He's not even worth the fifty cents it would cost to replace the bullet I'd waste on him."
She removed her thumb from the hammer and unwound her finger from the trigger, and dropped the gun in her purse and zipped it shut. This time, Goody jumped upward in his chair, as if she'd actually shot him.
"What your name?" he asked her.
"Surrette...Surrette," he mumbled. He snapped his oily fingers. "I do remember you. How old are you, now?"
"And you're still a damn fine looking woman, if you don't mind my saying so. Are you still interested in becoming a singer? Because if you are, I have an opening in my club. It's called The Blue Peacock Bar and Lounge. It's up on the mountain, just outside of town. Drop by sometime. I'll let you audition for me."
Nikki rolled her eyes despairingly toward the ceiling. Some people were incorrigible.
"Come on," she said to Peter. "I'm done here."
She strolled out of the room and started up the stairs to the kitchen, leaving Peter to close the door behind him. Nikki thought to herself that there were some doors in this world that should remain closed forever.