Lindsay Werner was one of a rare breed of man, the type who dressed impeccably but modestly and showed courtesy to everyone, even those who lacked this quality themselves. He wore crisp white collared shirts and pressed slacks of black or charcoal gray supported by gray suspenders. His ties were shiny, he liked the shiny ones, but of classic hues such as maroon or royal blue embellished with little patterns in gold or gray or black. His glasses had plastic frames to reduce the chance of breakage, and were of a tortoise shell pattern in earthen hues. He wore soft leather wing tipped shoes that were all black so that you would only notice the wing tip quality if you examined them closely, and black nylon socks pulled up over his calves. He had dressed this way in his youth and he dressed this way even now as his years progressed and his neatly trimmed fine hair turned gray at the back of his head but remained black at the crown and his pencil line mustache was all salt and pepper.
He worked for the city arts commission issuing permits to crafters who desired to pedal their wares on the streets of San Francisco. He loved art and music, but lacking the courage, talent, and skill to produce anything himself, he was satisfied with working close to creative people. Although he might only encounter a particular artist once or twice, he enjoyed the momentary proximity. They would come into his office after demonstrating to a panel that they were indeed the artist or crafter who produced the goods they intended to sell, and there, behind the walls of his cubicle, he would accept their check or credit card and write out their permit and laminate their photograph into an official street vender identification badge. It was in this way that he met Alice.
She was a painter with long honey colored hair and blue eyes and skin like milk. She wore long flowing scarves of bright colors and knitted hats and billowing goucho pants. Every gesture, every glance of hers was filled with vitality, and spark. She was too young to sport even crows eye wrinkles or fine lines on the forehead. She showed him an abnormal amount of attention there in his office, standing terribly close to him as he filled out the paperwork on a counter beside the desk. It made him tremble. She touched his suspenders and gazed into his eyes and made him completely dizzy.
“Do you like Dashiell Hammett? The Maltese Falcon?” she asked him and he had been scarcely able to nod and cough out a yes.
“Well you remind me of a character from a book like that, the way you look. But are you the villain or the good guy?” she asked him pulling on the suspender a little and turning her face up to his.
“The good guy I hope.” He said honestly.
“Hmm.” She smiled, “I’m sure you are. But we should find out.” She took a step back from him and began to collect her things.
“I’m not, uh… quite finished with your permit yet.” He told her.
“That’s all right.” She said, “You can bring it to me when you pick me up for dinner.”
“D-Dinner?” he stammered.
“Dinner. Tonight. 7pm. You can pick me up on the corner of Geary and Folsom.”
Then she left him standing there alone, sweating and shaking.
He had picked her up that night, exactly at seven, and soon she was living with him, sharing meals with him, sleeping with him, and making love to him. There had never been a woman like Alice before. He gave her money for clothes and art supplies, he bought her jewelry and flowers. She transformed his living room into a makeshift studio, setting up her easel over a sheet, and soon the room was full of pieces of art. Now he was closer than he had ever been to the creative process. He watched her in awe and even sat for her once.
She had a way of asking him for money that he could not refuse. He gave it to her until his account was overdrawn and he was pulling it from his savings.
Then one evening he came home from the office and found that she was gone, every sign of her had vanished. He sat down in the empty living room, full of shock. The trembling and sweating began as it had on the day that he met her and soon it transformed into tears. In the following weeks he searched for her on the streets, looking for her in the places were she used to sell her art. He asked the other vendors but none of them had seen her, no one knew where she had gone. Then one day a little Italian photographer, a young man with long dark hair stared at him for a long moment after he asked about Alice.
“You’re the one that lives on Lombard right? 326? She had me up there sometimes when you were at work. Forget about her. She’s no good. You seem nice, if I had known you I wouldn’t have gone into your bed with her like that.”
He stared back at the man in shock, in terror in disbelief. For the first time in his life he felt an incredible rage. He wanted to grab the young man by the throat. His skin turned red.
“Do you know where she is?” he asked “Is she with you?”
“With me?” the man laughed bitterly, “No. She took up with some business man living in Nob Hill. She won’t see me anymore either. Forget about her. She is no good. She looks like a lamb, but my friend, we are the lambs. She’s the lion.”
Then he had turned away and busied himself shuffling black and white prints, perhaps to hide his own emotion, and Lindsay wondered away down the windy street huddled under his jacket. Now he felt like a character from a Dashiel Hammet novel, most definitely, the good guy, the one who gets duped, and this new awareness of himself stung him fiercely and unrelentingly in the heart.