Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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 Chapter 3

A Spat

Melissa and Jethro lived, in theory, in adjacant apartments facing each other across the fourth floor landing. In fact, they lived in Jethro's apartment and used Melissa's both as a gallery for Jethro's art work and as a setting for a good many of her field sessions. While the neighborhood precluded it's use in some of the more elegant ones, it was often possible to structure the session in such a way that the locale formed an integral part of the fantasy to be reduced.

Jethro, setting down his mug of herb tea, asked,

"What's the scenario for your new client?"

"This man's a retired army colonel, and I'm going to have him play a confederate colonel in the Civil War. His regiment is part of a force that's just captured Cincinnati."

"That's not an impossible stretch of the imagination. Hunt Morgan raided pretty near here."

"When we discussed it, Colonel Huggett said something like that. Contrary to appearances, he's not really stupid."

"I take it that he conquers Biggin St. and finds you here."

"That's right. I'm a recent German immigrant, but from an aristocratic family."

"Aristocratic Germans didn't immigrate to America."

"There must have been a few. Anyhow, he's a bit of a snob and I'll play into it. It's too bad that they didn't have recorded music then, or I'd have a Brandenburg Concerto on."

"I'll put something on in here, and it'll waft across the landing. Some of those German immigrants probably did play chamber music in their apartments."

"Ok. I'll turn the lights out and use plenty of candles. I can wear my civil war period costume with a few adjustments to make it more Tuetonic."

"How about high-heeled black boots under the long skirt?"

"Not bad. Can you whip off an Albrecht Durer type drawing to hang on the wall?"

"I've already got one. I'll see if I can get it into a frame. Anything else?"

"A nice touch would be to put the German-English dictionary out on the table. I'm going to speak only German, and we'll have to consult it to communicate."

"Is he going to arrive by taxi?"

"I think so. I can arrange for him to be costumed down at Robson's after they close for ordinary business. He can come right here from there."

"I'll be a corporal mounting guard down below. I'll report that the position has been secured and send him up."

"You don't have a confederate outfit, do you?"

"Near enough. Civil war soldiers in the middle of a campaign wore all sorts of captured clothing as their own wore out. For that matter, I could be an immigrant myself and come up with him to act as interpreter."

"That's going beyond the bounds!"

"All right. Don't throw a fit. It was just a suggestion."

"If you cared about me, you wouldn't make such suggestions."

"Well, it's not as if I didn't know what's happening."

"But Jethro, we agreed. My degree is in experimental, not clinical, psychology. That forces certain adjustments."

Jethro laughed, somewhat unpleasantly, and replied,

"Not many people want their eyelids conditioned."

"Eyelid conditioning is a perfectly respectable academic specialty, and my thesis was judged good. But I can't make a living as an ordinary psychologist any more than you can as a painter."

"Why was my suggestion out of bounds, then? A little translation from one language to another isn't going to shake any foundations."

"But that would put you there at the wrong time. When I hit on this other thing, you agreed that we'd distance ourselves in a certain way."

"You have a greater ability to deceive yourself than anyone else I've ever known."

"It's not self-deceit. I know exactly what I'm doing. I just don't want to be forced to recognize explicity that you know anything about the details of it. Even to have to explain this to you is hurtful. You should already understand."

"Unfortunately I don't."

"When I adopted a conceptual structure that makes sense and allows me to act as a professional psychologist, I did it as much for your sake as for the clients. Why can't you accept it?"

"Fantasy Reduction and Impulse Empowerment. For God's sake!"

"It works. I have more success than the psychiatrists. Most psychiatrists have never cured anyone."

"Ok. I can believe that much. The trouble is that you want me to help with the preliminaries. But, then, there's an imaginary line and you get upset if I cross it."

"The line isn't imaginary. Your expertise as a set designer is always valued. But, if you go beyond that, we'd have to discuss things that shouldn't be discussed. I'd find it humiliating, and I hope you would, too."

It was now late Saturday afternoon, and Jethro got up, saying,

"I think I know where I can have a few words alone with Al the robber."

Melissa asked, with only a slight twist of her expressive mouth, whether he would be home for dinner. Jethro replied in the affirmative, adding,

"Unless, of course, things go so well that I have dinner with Al."

"At six o'clock sharp, whether you're here or not, I'll get into the shower. At six twenty, if you aren't here, I'll get dressed and go downtown to have a dinner you wouldn't be able to afford."

Jethro smiled non-committally and waved as he left.

Wearing his bush hat with one side rolled up, Jethro looked rather like an urban big game hunter as he stomped his way through the jungle of litter on the sidewalk. Much of the paper was brightly colored, and the shards of glass from broken wine bottles caught the light reflecting from the store-front windows. The game, in the shape of drunkards in various stages of delapidation, fled at Jethro's approach. Then, after lingering off to the side until he had passed, the men returned to their lairs between ripe trash cans and twisted discolored cardboard cartons. There, equally alert to prey and predators, they assumed improbable simian positions as they nursed their bottles.

Biggin Street ended in a park which had originally complemented the gracious architecture of the street. The architecture was still there under the peeling paint and the dirty curtains sagging out of windows, and the layout of the park, two blocks long and one wide, was also unaltered. Surrounding the central gazebo, there was open space with walks and benches. Along the perimeter of the park was a row of great trees, majestive in their survival and their immobility. Underneath them, the sparse spiky grass formed a sort of veldt which, at night, lay in the deepest of moon shadows. This allowed some rather dangerous animals to creep up on the winos stretched out on their benches. A number had been killed for the meagre contents of their pockets, and, even in daylight, crime and violence was sufficiently frequent to lend a certain tension to the still air. Everyone watched, listened, and sniffed for danger.

Jethro continued to march along, apparently oblivious to the various scents and sounds which drifted past him, until he came to a bench on which a man was sitting reading a newspaper. He also wore a hat, this one designed, not for the jungle, but to be tipped to ladies. It happened that the most dangerous man in the park was also a gentleman.

Al Markowitz always wore a clean white shirt, and, except when slumming, a jacket and tie. As he smiled up at Jethro and laid his paper aside, there was a pleased look on his smooth-shaven rather angular face. He asked Jethro,

"What brings you here at this time?"

"Girl friend trouble. I had to get out of the house."

"Get rid of the girl, get rid of the problem."

"She's also paying the bills."

"That's more serious."

"Yeah. I may have to make some money."

Al made some vaguely approving but non-committal noises. He then replied,

"You could get a job at the slaugherhouses down on Spring Grove Avenue. With the warm weather beginning, there'll be some interesting smells."

As Jethro made the appropriate response, Al snickered. He then asked,

"What was your last job?"

"I used to make five hundred or a thousand or more some days, but it's been a while."

Al used obscenity only sparingly, but he murmured a soft "fuck" under his breath. Then, lifting his sharp clever face as he leaned back and looked Jethro in the eye, he replied,

"I guess you must've been a high-class pimp, then."

It was intended as an insult, but not a fighting insult. It was also a rational guess. High-class pimps, and even some lower-class ones, did make that kind of money on good days. Moreover, while Al could have had no idea who Melissa was, or what she did, he had pegged Jethro as a man who would know how to use women.

Jethro only smiled and shook his head. It wasn't a happy smile, and Al cast his eyes down briefly. He had been warned off. Jethro had also as much as told Al that he was an armed robber. Al replied,

"I might have something for you in a week or two."

Jethro nodded and moved off. When he had gone a hundred yards, Al drifted after him. A reasonable man in Al's position might have thought that he needed a little more information about Jethro. In his sort of employment there were no resumes. Nor were references at all easy to come by. The employer had to trust his intuition, and had to have a sharp eye for under-cover policemen.

At five minutes to six, Melissa decided that she would, at six, have to make a decision. So as not to prejudice that decision in advance, she quickly threw her favorite things into an old backpack. If she did make that decision, it would have to be executed very soon, so that she wouldn't meet Jethro on the stairs. If she decided the other way, she would just take her shower. If, when she was through, Jethro was still absent, she would have to make a slightly different decision.

At two minutes to six, Melissa started the shower. It took a little time for the hot water to come up to the fourth floor. But, still, the decision remained open. She was still fully dressed, and she wouldn't even bother to turn the shower off if she left.

Standing in the bay window, Melissa could see up and down Biggin Street. Jethro wasn't to be seen, but he might appear around one of the corners at any moment. It occurred to Melissa that, if she could decide whether she hoped that he would come in time, she'd be able to decide whether to stay.

That turned out to be not much easier. Part of her problem, she knew, was because, in her rebelliousness, she had substantially reversed the teaching of the nuns. In their view, penetration was necessary under certain circumstances, and was justified by the need to produce babies. But most things leading up to it were, if not linked to baby production by a married couple, terribly wrong.

The idea of being sexually penetrated by a man filled Melissa with dread and mortal fear. On the other hand, she loved many of the preliminary processes. Clients could be managed with technique and artistry, but would any man other than Jethro really understand?

That was one thing. And the art was another. But everything else was bad. She hated Jethro's way of living, most of his friends, and many of his attitudes. Indeed, she had just picked up the pack and slung one strap over her shoulder when Mortimer came running up with the rubber turtle she had given him in his mouth. Melissa, already crying, took the turtle. Then, undressing quickly, she got into the shower.

She had just gotten the water adjusted to the right temperature, with the stream directed luxuriously at the back of her neck, when she felt the floor shake. That would be Jethro running up the stairs. She was hardly surprised when he burst into the bathroom. But she was surprised when he jumped into the shower fully dressed, including his hat and shoes. She laughed, and Jethro, the water cascading from the brim of his hat, put his arms around her. Feeling the coarse fabric of his sleeves on her wet skin, she knew that it was going to be one of their happy times.

Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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