It's Not Funny If I Explain It
- Graham Greene
Diandra Devlin had her reasons for always wearing a suit.
For one thing, the suit—usually a vintage black double-breasted number with a white pinstripe and lapels you could cut yourself on, sometimes with a red carnation in the lapel on days she felt particularly fancy—was always all anyone remembered about her when the cops asked about her. It was kind of astonishing how effective that was, because there were plenty of other things about her that probably would have been helpful to the investigation: she was fat, looked to be in her late twenties, had one green eye and one blue eye and a noticeable diagonal scar on her chin. But put a woman in men’s clothes and the person underneath just slips on by sometimes
She didn’t seem to have a particular region she kept to. People reported seeing the woman in the suit everywhere from South Florida, where she wore a white flannel three-piece and a Panama hat, to as far north as Buffalo, where she was usually described as wearing red gloves and a black, fur-collared overcoat. For all anyone knew, she wasn’t even restricted to the United States. In Ciudad Juarez, a cartel lieutenant who was known for beating up prostitutes if they wouldn’t mule his product went home from the cantina one evening with a white woman the locals said was dressed “like a movie gangster” and was never heard from again.
The sheer distance she would have had to cover led many local police departments to eventually decide the woman in the suit didn’t actually exist. She was on the FBI’s radar, but the only person assigned to the file was a 70-year-old man who hadn’t been allotted enough of a travel budget to go to half the places she’d been sighted.
In the more credulous regions she passed through, there were people who whispered that she was something other than human entirely, a demon or an avenging angel or some variation on the Erinyes of Greek myth, the furies who relentlessly pursued the unpunished sinner to the point of madness. Sometimes a skeptic would point out that it hardly sounded right for no one to remember what an angel or a devil looked like, to which they would respond that that was probably deliberate, some sacred or profane joke.
On one of those annoying fall evenings when the air is too warm to wear a jacket until a preview of the late-November wind off the Atlantic blows through, but for only a second at a time, Diandra found herself taking restrained sips from a bottle of Sam Adams in a bar just a stone’s throw off a suburban college campus in eastern Massachusetts. It was a place not for students or townies, but for recent graduates to score and party until the more attentive of their parents realized their son wasn’t “looking around at grad schools,” and wasn’t going to look for full-time work unless they were made to. It was Bro Purgatory.
Diandra was the only woman in the bar tonight aside from one or two hostesses, which was distressing to most of the patrons. The nearby college was one whose female graduates, far more so than most of the male ones, got their bachelor’s in fields that required them to hit the ground running, either job-wise or Master’s-wise, meaning the bar’s best shot at female attention was from the more daring undergrads. During midterm season, this was not a sustainable business model for anyone who lived in hopes of Thursday night pussy.
On that particular Thursday night, James Neris hadn’t planned to be in this particular bar at all. There was one he greatly preferred a little further west, one with a hell of a lot more girls on any given evening and a guy who sold coke out of the men’s room. Unfortunately, he’d noticed an ex he was doing his best to avoid had been hitting that place up recently, and even though she was the kind of person where a chance encounter might start out ugly but would probably lead to a hatefuck, he was definitely not in the mood to stick his dick in crazy tonight.
James had noticed Diandra staring down the bar at him about an hour before and had hoped she would take the hint if he didn’t acknowledge her. Since then, however, he’d done what might be called an ill-advised number of vodka shots, and as it became abundantly clear that no more girls were going to come in, he found himself staring back in spite of himself. Between going home empty-handed and going home with a big girl, who would, after all, be appropriately grateful for the experience and make him feel a lot better about himself, it wasn’t much of a contest.
James maneuvered across the three empty barstools between them until he was next to her. He gave her his best charmer face—not to the same degree as if she’d been a 10, but definitely up to her standards—offered her a light and said “What’s on your mind?”
She turned and smiled, showing her teeth, her red lipstick like the only neon sign on a dark highway. She wasn’t that bad-looking after all, he thought. “You don’t get to hear what’s on my mind from all the way over there, you silly boy,” she said. “Lean in for just a tick.”
With a clearer head, James wouldn’t have taken that “silly boy” shit from any girl, regardless of hotness, but something about this was pretty exciting. He leaned forward and she bent over and whispered a girl’s name in his ear.
He jerked back suddenly. He wasn’t sure, in that moment, just why the name was significant, but he knew it was nothing good. Hearing one woman whisper another’s name while you’re trying to make shit happen rarely was. Her whispering that she had a dick would have been less of a mood-killer.
“Oh, so you do remember her?” Diandra said. “Kinda sorta?” She leaned back in to make up for the distance he’d jumped back. She was still smiling pleasantly but now there was something dancing behind her eyes, something bright and cold and red in tooth and claw that lent credence to the Erinyes theory. “Tell me who she is, James. I want to hear it from you. Just tell me who she is.”
James didn’t like her tone. Fuck it, empty-handed was better than this. He stood up and raised his voice. “Look, I dunno what that bitch told you, or what asshole put you up to this,” he said, trying to sound authoritative, “but you want to get the fuck outta here before you make me angry.” A few of the other patrons were staring at them now.
Diandra smiled again, picked up her black homburg hat from the bar and walked over to the door. When her hand was on the door she looked behind her and locked it. “Any of you guys Kenny Rogers fans?” she asked conversationally. No one said anything. Diandra shrugged. “It’s not funny if I explain it,” she said. She walked back to the middle of the bar and sat back down next to James.
This was rapidly becoming the opposite of what James had come out for. He rose slightly. “I thought I fuckin’ told you…”
Diandra’s eyes flashed. “I’m gonna need you to sit down, James.”
Surprised at hearing his name, James, his muscles still tensed, lowered himself onto the stool for support.
“Yeah, you’re James Neris, age 25, graduated with a BS in business two years ago—haha, BS in business, that’s cute--rumors that you paid a poor kid to take your final are, while entirely plausible, unsubstantiated, so far as I can tell. Your dad, Richard, is an oncologist in Framingham.” The way she said it sounded oddly rehearsed, like this was information she’d recited in her head over and over. James had, by now, sunk completely back onto the stool, and everyone was listening to Diandra, who stood up and leaned back a little, resting her ass against the edge of her stool.
“James, three years ago, you attended a house party with the young lady whose name you reacted so poorly to. You knew her from a couple of classes and you were casual acquaintances. Is this starting to ring any bells?” James didn’t answer, so Diandra kept going. “On this particular evening,” she said, “this girl, this girl of unclear significance, had had a few too many drinks and was telling you as much when you took her by the arm and steered her into the downstairs bathroom. SIT BACK DOWN IN YOUR SEAT AND DON’T GET UP AGAIN.”
Diandra smiled, as though she’d surprised herself with her bluntness, and gave her head a little shake to get a lock of dark brown hair out of her eyes.
“Once the two of you were in the bathroom, you locked the door, filled the sink with water and then proceeded to rape her. You then told her that she wasn’t going to tell anyone what had happened, and that no one would believe her if she did. You then shoved her face into the water and held it there for a few seconds, before releasing her and asking her if, quote, you seemed like someone she should take seriously. This girl, this girl who I can tell you’re starting to remember now, swore she wouldn’t say anything, and, in fact, she didn’t, but that didn’t stop your father’s attorney paying her an unsolicited visit a week later to show her some Facebook photos of herself in which she was visibly drunk. Upon showing you those pictures, he asked, quote, ‘Would you believe anything that girl told you? Because I don’t know a jury that would.’ He sounds nice. Your dad, too.”
She reached up and fixed the problematic lock of hair again. “Now, I can tell, judging by your reaction, that you’d all but forgotten about the incident I’m describing, but the young woman in question certainly hasn’t.” She pulled a .45 from inside her jacket and a gasp went up throughout the room.
“Sweetie, just—just take it easy, okay?” said the man behind the bar, who had tended bar in Boston in the ‘80s and thought he was through with this shit.
Diandra looked over at him with an extremely annoyed expression, keeping the gun on James. “Jesus on toast,” she said. “I have a goddamn gun and it’s still ‘sweetie.’ That’s really condescending, man.” She turned back to James. “AN-neeway…”
“Look, wait,” James said. “I have money.”
“Yeah, so does she,” Diandra said. “This school is fuckin’ expensive. Try harder, James.”
“Miss, look, come on, you don’t have to do this. SHE doesn’t have to do this. I dunno how much you talked to her, but I mean, come on, I fucked up, yeah, but does she really think this is going to make things better for her?”
Diandra shrugged. “Shit, man, I don’t know. She’s paying me so she can find out, though, so that’s pretty sweet for me.” She shot James twice in the chest and once in the head. She put the gun back in the shoulder holster with one hand and took her wallet out of an interior pocket with the other, laying a fifty on the bar.
“Sorry about the mess,” she told the bartender as she walked back toward the door and flicked the lock back open. She turned around and looked across the room at the bartender expectantly, like she was waiting for him to say something. When he didn’t, she looked annoyed. “Star Wars?” she said. “That one was so easy. It’s not funny if I explain it.” Another of those brief, sudden autumn chills blew in through the door as she opened it and walked out into the night.
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