SCORPION'S KISS

      by Stuart M. Kaminsky
 

 Ringerman was almost finished shaving when the doorbell rang.   No one had rung his bell or come to his door in the three months he had lived here,  but he wasn't surprised by this announcement of his first visitor.
 He looked in the mirror.   He had been through much in forty-six years.   His face still looked youthful and smooth and there was no more than a little gray in his hair.
 The doorbell rang again.
 He had stepped out of the shower only minutes ago.  He wanted to be ready for what he had to do this afternoon.  Now he stood barefooted,  shirtless.   He wiped away the soap and washed his face with cold water.  Then he dried.
 Ringerman had not worked out with weights for more than four months but his body was still firm and he did do a half hour of push -ups and sit-ups every morning and at night.
 The doorbell rang.
 He examined himself once more, brushed back his hair with his hands and went through the door.   He had one more thing to do in his bedroom and living room.
 The doorbell rang.
 Finished with what he had to do,  he moved  across the wooden floor to the heavy,  metal -reinforced door he had installed when he moved in.   One of his conditions,  which the landlord of the building accepted because he was having difficulty renting in this rapidly declining district, was that Ringerman could put on a new door and install bars on the windows.
 Since the apartment was on the fifth floor,  the tired-looking landlord in the crumpled suit,  head balding,  tinged with sweat,  agreed.   He had nothing to lose.  When Ringerman left,  the landlord, whose name was Gentry,  would use the bars and reinforced door as inducements for a possible tenant.
 The doorbell was ringing again as Ringerman opened it after looking through the peephole.   On the wall across from his door in the corridor, Ringerman had installed two mirrors three feet apart at angles.   The mirrors were small,  unobtrusive and allowed him to see to the end of the corridor both right and left.   There was no one outside but  a  woman looking back at him.
 He opened the door.
 "Robert Miles Ringerman?"  she asked.
 She was as tall as he,  dark of face as he was,  and definitely pretty.
Her hair was short and blonde.   Her dress was dark and fashionably expensive.  She looked as if she were no more than thirty-five.   He was certain she was older,  close to his age.  She was holding something in her hand.
 "Yes," he said standing in the doorway.
 "Here."
 She handed the wallet to him.
 "You dropped it in the Jewel,  near the deli counter."
 He took the wallet.
 "Thanks,"  he said.
 "You're welcome.   You going to count the money,  check the credit cards?"
 Her smile showed perfect white teeth.
 "No,  I'm not going to count the money or check the credit cards."
 "Then it's alright?" she said.
 "Yes,  thank you.  It's fine."
 "Then I'll go."
 "Can I offer you...?" "No,"  she said with a smile.  "I...no,  but thank you."
  "Please come in.   Just for a minute.  Let me get you something to drink or..."
 She looked at the thin, gold watch on her left wrist and puckered her full lips in though.
 "A minute,"  she said.
 He stepped back and she entered.  Ringerman closed the door behind her.   It clicked shut,  metallic,  firm.    He threw the deadbolt.
 She looked at the door,  unafraid.
 "You're careful,"  she said.
 "Paranoid,"  he said.  "If you're afraid..."
 He reached over to open the door again.
 "No,  no."
 He nodded and said,
   Coffee.  Can I offer you coffee?"
 "Coffee would be nice.  Black."
 She smiled nervously,  looking around the room.
 Ringerman didn't smile.
 "I'll have it ready in a minute or two,"  he said.  "Have a seat,  please."
 She nodded and gave a careful smile.
 He  went through a door to his right and out of sight.
 She looked around the room,  glanced at the barred windows.  It was late afternoon.   The sun was still shining.   She looked at the furniture and the polished wood floor.   When he moved it, Ringerman had pulled up the dirty carpets and found good oak underneath.  He had polished it into respectability.   The furniture was simple,  consignment,  two armchairs,  a sofa.   They were a rough fabric,  gray with a series of black stripes.   A small television stood on an oak cabinet against the wall  near the door he had gone through.   There were three floor lamps and a handmade book case about three feet wide and reaching to the ceiling.  The shelves were filled with neatly lined up books.
 But what really drew her were the paintings, twenty of them,  all in simple black frames, some horizontal, some vertical,  all of them the same size,  about two feet  by two and a half feet.
 She heard him moving around the kitchen as she moved to the wall, drawn by the paintings.   The paint was thick on the first ones to her left,  thick,  heavy,  dark standing out in three dimensions like irregular mountain ridges.    She thought she felt anger in what she saw.   As she moved down the line,  the paint was laid on less thickly.  The colors were brighter.  They moved from left to right from abstraction and darkness to sunlight and portraits of men,  women,  children.
 The first six  paintings of darkness were of the same room,  a room without windows and no people,  just furniture.  The furniture was simple.
There were different angles of the room.
 The next set of paintings was less dark but more abstract.   The one that held her longest was of a simple balance scale,  grayish white against a background of blue.   The scale was tipped to the right because the left
plate of the scale was empty and the one on the right held a red scorpion, its tail raised,  ready to strike.
 She moved quickly past the rest of the paintings of people,  mostly men,  tired men,  smiling men, and finally to the portraits of women,  four of them,  all beautiful,  all,  she could now see,  were of the same woman.  The woman's hair was short and blonde in one painting,  long and dark in another,  piled dark and red in the third,  and hanging in an almost white
ponytail over her right shoulder.   She was smiling in all of the pictures.
These were followed by another set of four children,  each different,  ages from perhaps five to twelve.
 He was still moving around the kitchen.   She moved to the bookcase pausing to examine the scorpion on the scale for a moment.   The painting held her till she forced herself to look away and step toward the high bookcase.
 There was no pattern to the books.   There was a book on Inuit art,
a history of Peru,  a thin book on learning to play the banjo,  a book on
diplomatic relations with India,  biographies of movie stars,  authors,  soldiers,  a book on clocks and clock repair,  and novels,   Mickey Spillane, Tolstoy,  Joyce Carol Oates,  James Fenimore Cooper,  Hans Helmut Kirst, Albert Camus,  Roald Dahl,  Louis Lamour,   Borges,  Marjorie Kennan Rawlins.
 She was holding a book on astrological signs in her hand when she sensed him in the kitchen doorway across the room.  She turned slowly, book in hand.
 "You read all of these?" she asked looking at the rows of books.
 He stood with two mugs,  identical, blue, in his hands.   He was wearing a long-sleeved button down denim shirt now.
 "Yes,"  he said.
 She carefully returned the book to the shelf and moved toward him to take the warm cup.   Their fingers touched.
 "Your taste is certainly..."
 "Eclectic,"  he said.  "I read whatever comes to me."
 "Have you ever seen The Manchurian Candidate?"
 "Sinatra?   Yes."
 "After he's been brainwashed he reads everything,  anything,  book after book,  piled up all over.  He meets Janet Leigh and he stops the manic reading."
 "I remember,"  he said.  "Saw it a long time ago on television.   Guy is brainwashed into killing some friends.   Then he kills his girlfriend and her father and then his stepfather and mother."
 "You're right.   Does he kill any brothers or sisters?"
 "He didn't have any,"  Ringerman said.
 "And you?"
 "Brothers or sisters?"
 "Yes,"  she said.   "Wife,  children, mother?  father?"
 "Mother and father are dead,"  he said.  "I have one sister, a twin.  I'm not married."
 "Are you close?   I mean you and your sister?"
 "Very,"  he said.   "You?"
 "Yes,"  she said stepping back to sit on the sofa.   She held the mug in both hands.   Her long, red fingernails formed a jagged pattern.   "I have a husband,  a fourteen year old son,  and a brother."
 "Are you close?"  he asked.
 "With my husband and son?  Yes.   With my brother, not really.   I'd say 'no'.   These paintings.  Yours?
 "Yes,"  he said, still standing,  looking toward the paintings.
 "You've done more?"
 "Yes."
 "Many more?"  she asked.
 "About eighty more.   Some of them went to friends.  I've got other ones stored."
 Something clattered outside,  maybe a truck.    They could hear it far away through the closed and barred windows and down five floors.   Ringerman and the woman paused.
 "That one,"  she said pointing toward the wall when the clatter had stopped.   "The one with the scale and the scorpion.   Before you put your shirt on I saw..."
 "Scars," he said.
 "Yes," she answered.  "Scars and what looked like that scale tattooed on your left arm,  right by the muscle."
 "Libra,"   he said.   "I'm a Libra."
 "Your only tattoo?"
 She sipped her coffee.
 "Yes,"  he said.
 "Coincidence," she said.
 "What?  You're a Libra?"
 "No,"  she said,  "Scorpio."
 She put her mug down on a Time magazine on the table in front of her and kicked off her left shoe looking up at him as she did it.   She turned her foot so he could see the very small tattoo just below her ankle bone.
 "It's a scorpion,"  she said.  "I'm a Scorpio."
 "Your only tattoo?"
 "Yes,"  she said kicking off her other shoe.   "That's a scorpion on the scale in the painting."
 "Yes,"  he said looking at the painting.
 "You know a Scorpio?"
 "I'm not really into astrology,"  he said.  "That was done a long time ago.   A roommate of mine was a Scorpio."
 "A roommate.  That room in the paintings,"  she said.   "You were in jail weren't you?  It's none of my business,  but it looks like a cell."
 "Prison,"  he said.   "I was in prison.  That's where I got the tattoo.
When I first went in.   If I flex the muscle,  it tips the scale."
 "Which way?"  she asked with a smile.
 "Whichever way I want it to go.   You want to leave?"
 "No,"  she said.   "No.   I haven't finished my coffee.  You want to get rid of me?"
 He looked directly at her.
 "No,"  he said.
 "I've never known an ex-convict,"  she said.   "I got married young,
moved to Wilmette with my husband,  an accountant.   Got a college degree in not much of anything,  joined groups.   Not a very interesting biography.   Your life?"
 He still stood looking at her.   He stood for a long,  slow thirty seconds before he spoke.
 "Lived with my mother in Wisconsin,"  he said.   "Small house,  right on Lake Michigan,  just below the Michigan border.   Lots of land.  No money.   My father died when my sister and I were babies.   I wasn't much of a student in school.   I wasn't much of a son.   I wasn't any kind of a brother.  Loner,  quiet.   Started with small crimes,  stealing cars.   There was a chop shop in Madison my friend and I used to drive them to.   His name was Charlie.   He wasn't much of a friend.   Spent his money getting drunk...and on women.   We were kids.   Sure you want to hear this?"
 "I'm sure," she said curling her legs under her.
 Ringerman could see that she had good,  long legs.
 "I split with Charlie when we were both twenty five,"  he said leaning back against the wall,  not drinking his coffee.   "Went on my own.  Safer."
 "Your mother?"
 "She didn't know.   I told her I was driving a truck.  She worked in a shop that rented uniforms till her legs gave out.   She got disability,   read,  watched television,  mostly game shows.  Wheel of Fortune was her passion.   She actually said that.   I just remembered.   'Wheel of Fortune is my passion.'     I'd drive days away,  as far as Duluth or outside Chicago or Fort Wayne,  put something,  cheap mask,  stocking,  over my face,  point a gun in the face of a department store manager or a jewelry store owner, take the cash and get out of town.   I'd wear gloves,  do all the right things and never go near the same town twice.   I'd always use a cheap stolen car,  a car I stole from somewhere about twenty miles from the place I'd hit.  After,  I'd drive the car back to where I'd parked my car out of sight,  wipe it down.  Did alright.   Then..."
 "Then,"  she said looking up at him intently.
 "Got greedy,  getting older,  almost thirty-five,  and getting greedy.   I was doing fine,  but not big fine.   I decided to go for a bank.   Not inside where they have the alarms you can't stop and people ready to be heroes.   Or maybe someone gets scared and runs even with a shotgun leveled at them.   I decided to take the armored car at the end of a pick-up day.   Come at the guard,  stick the shotgun in his face,  grab what he had in both hands, cut the truck tires,  back the guard up to my stolen car to keep the armored car driver from helping and get away fast.   It was all worked out.   I checked the bank out for a week eating at a MacDonald's across the street,  sitting in the parking lot of the mall where the bank was, reading a book.   Had it all  worked out."
 "But?"  she asked.
 "But,"  he repeated.  "Everything went down perfectly.  Truck,
tires,  guard,  gun,  bags.   A few people were watching,  but I didn't care.  None of them moved.   You never know.   When I was backing up with the guard,   a little kid,  a boy no more than five or six,  got away from his mother who was watching.   She screamed.   The kid ran at me,  grabbed my leg and wouldn't let go.   I tried to shake him lose,  but I had the shotgun at the guard's neck,  two heavy bags in the other hand and my eyes on the doors of the armored car.   The kid bit me."
 "Too much television,"  she said.
 "He wanted to be a superhero,"  Ringerman said pushing away from the wall and moving to the chair across from her.   "I told the guard to get the kid off of me but my time was running out.  The whole thing had broken down. The guard  made a half-hearted move to get the kid loose,  but the kid's mother was running fast at me and only a few yards away. "
 "And you got caught?"
 "Gave up,"  he said after taking a long drink of coffee.  "If I believed in astrology I'd have said the stars and planets were against me.   The kid was a hero.   They said I would have gotten away with two hundred thousand and change.  Instead I wound up with fourteen years and change,   the change being three months.    They tied me to some of the other smaller jobs I'd done.   I did  ten years with good behavior.  Could have been worse, much worse.   More coffee?"
 "I don't think so,"  she said.
 "My mother was seventy-nine and ailing,"  he said.  "She died a few months after I went in.   Since the job had been done in Illinois,   I did my time in Stateville."
 "How long have you been out?"  she asked.
 "Three months,  four days,"  he said.  "Three months,  four days."
 "And now?"
 "I'm on parole.   I drive a bus up and down Western Avenue,  report to a parole officer,  mind my business."
 Ringerman smiled.
 "Am I missing a joke?"
 "I don't know.   Just kind of funny that I wear a uniform now instead of looking at other people wearing them."
 "And you built your own prison cell,"  she said looking at the barred window and then at the bolted,  reinforced door.
 "What did you study in college,  psychology?"
 "A little of lots of things,"  she said.  "Nothing to make a living with.
I think  I should be going."
 She stood,  barefoot,  and handed the empty mug to Ringerman who stood to take it.    Then she just stood there looking at him.   He looked back.
 "Have you... it's none of my business,  but have you been with a woman since you've gotten out?"
 "Yes,   twice,"  he said.  "Paid for it."
 "You're a good looking man,"  she said.  "I wouldn't think you'd have to pay."
 "That's the way I wanted it,"  he said.
 "This is crazy,"  she said with a laugh,  shaking her head, looking up at the ceiling and then back at him.   "Would you like,  do you want?  I mean with me?"
 Ringerman clinked the two empty mugs together.
 "You mean...?"
 "Yes,"  she said.  "Before I change my mind.   I've never done anything like this before,  not even remotely like this.   We're strangers.
We'll never see each other again.   One time.  No more.  Never again."
 He stood looking at her and she looked at him.
 "Not your type?"  she asked.
 "My type covers a lot of possibilities,"  he said.  "You're a very beautiful woman."
 "Thanks,  but?"
 "No 'but'," he said.
 "You have protection.  I mean...."
 "I have,"  he said.  "You sure you want this?"
 "I'm sure,"  she said.  "I'm very sure."
 She moved in front of him,  reached for the top button of his denim shirt,  paused and then leaned forward to kiss him.   They were about the same height.  After a few seconds,  he put his arms around her and kissed her feeling her breasts against his chest.
 "I feel you,"  she said pulling her face a few inches back.
 He saw her full lips,  her white,  even teeth.    He nodded his head.
 "Before I panic,  before I change my mind,  before...."   She paused.
"The bedroom?"
 He turned his head toward the closed door next to the bookcase.
 "You want to know my name?"  she asked.
 "Make one up,"  he said.
 "Emma,"  she said.  "Emma Bovary."
 "Emma Bovary,"  he repeated.
 "I'll go in first,"  she said.  "Please.  I need a minute,   just a half minute.  This is crazy....I need a minute.  Please,  wait till I call you."
 "I'll wait,"  he said.
 She hurried into the bedroom and began to take off her clothes.  She did it carefully,  laying each item out on a chair,  not taking time to look at the paintings on the bedroom wall.   The bed was narrow.   A single.   She and her husband had a king size.   When she was naked,  she looked around for a mirror to examine herself in.   There wasn't one.  She got into the bed and called,  "Ringerman."
 He appeared in the doorway,  stripped down to his undershorts.
She knew he was freshly showered and she knew his body was strong and hard.   She searched for the tattoo.   He moved to the bed,  sat beside her and touched her breast.
 "Oh God,"  she said sitting up.  "I forgot something in my purse.  I'll be right back."
 Ringerman sat,  back straight,  looking at one of the ten paintings in the room.   It was of his mother's house,  now  supposed to be his house,  at least as he had remembered it.   If it were still standing, it  was probably smaller,  probably in worse shape than he recalled.  Probably not quite so close to the massive  cold lake of dead,  dark black and blue.
 He could hear her go into her purse.
 When she came back into the room,  he was still looking at the painting.   He did not turn his head toward her.
 "That was our house,"  he said.
 "I know,"  he heard her voice,  soft,  not at all confident.
 Then he turned his head.
 She stood there with a small gun in her hand.  She was quite beautiful.   He knew how old she was but her body was young,  straight.
Her breasts were high,  not large.
 "I'm going to kill you,"  she said.
 He nodded,  unsurprised.   His lack of surprise or fear made her shake slightly,  but she was determined.
 "You're not afraid,"  she said.
 "No,"  he answered.
 "I want you to be afraid,"  she said.
 "I'm sorry,"  he said.  "I'm not much of an actor."
 "Don't you want to know why I'm going to kill you?   You think I'm just some crazy robber?"
 "No," he said.
 "I've been having you watched for weeks,"  she said.   "Since you got out.  I've been having you watched."
 "By a little man,  neat,  not much hair,"  he said.
 "Ye...Yes."
 He nodded.
 "I wanted to know where you lived,  what you did,  where you shopped.   When I knew,   I paid him and ended his services.  He told me you were a very careful man."
 Ringerman looked at the painting again.
 "You learn to be careful in prison,"  he said.  "Still you get scars.  If you survive,  you have scars."
 There was another rumble beyond the room.  The windows in here were also barred.   The rumble this time was distant thunder.  The sun was still shinning.
 "When you dropped your wallet,  I saw my chance.  Are you interested in this?"
 "Yes,"  he said.
 "Then look at me.  Look at me."
 There was a distinct edge to her voice now.   Ringerman turned his head to look at her.
 "Do you know who I am?"
 "You're not Emma Bovary any more,"  he said.
 "I never was."
 "No."
 "My name is Charlotte Brenner.    The name doesn't mean anything to you?"
 "No."
 "Before I married,  it was Charlotte Dianne Glicken, a name given to me by my adoptive parents,  and before that for a few days it was Charlotte Ringerman,"  she said.   " I'm your sister,  your twin sister.    The Scorpio born less than an hour after your sign,  Libra,  had ended and mine had begun."
 She looked at him for a reaction.   There was none.
 "I was the one they chose to give up for adoption,"  she went on.  "You were the one they chose to keep.   The boy.   The boy who became an armed robber and went to jail."
 "Prison."
 "Prison," she repeated.
 "So you're going to shoot me because our parents gave you up for adoption and you blame me?   You've been holding this inside  and now because our parents are dead you hold me responsible?"
 "Yes."
 "No," he said shaking his head.  "It doesn't make sense.   Resentment,  maybe,  but hate?  No,  unless you're crazy.   I've known people in prison and out who killed for crazy reasons.   There was a kid named Ramirez two cells down from me,  in for drug dealing.  Low level stuff but he got caught and the Dade County attorney wanted numbers.  Ramirez was a number.  He was twenty-four when he took his sharpened spoon in the yard and started stabbing everyone he could reach who had a wife and kids.   He went right by the single guys,  young, old,  black, Mexicans, me.  Just started stabbing.  Killed five,  hurt the hell out of two more.  One of them,  Ian Plickwell lost his voice box.   Ramirez went for a guard.  Guard was shaking,  pissed in his pants.   Guards weren't armed in the yard.   Ramirez went down and out with two shots from a tower guard."
 Ringerman lay back on the bed and flexed the muscle of his left arm.
The scale moved first one way then the other.   He reached down and ran his finger along a raised pink scar about four inches long,  the memory of a prison gang fight he hadn't wanted to be in.
 "You're the crazy one,"  she said,  now holding the gun in both hands to try to keep the weapon steady.
 "Maybe,"  he said.  "I've thought about it.  I mean whether or not I'm crazy.   I don't think so,  but maybe.   I don't think you're crazy either.   A year before I got out I had a friend who got out the year before check on mom's property.    A resort had built up around it.   Choice lakefront property.   Worth close to a million,  maybe more.   My friend,  Alan,  poked around.   He was good at it.  Con man.  Knew how to find out things and use them.   Alan found out I had a sister.   I had him find you.  Not hard.  When did you find out you had a brother?"
 She had stepped forward now,  nearly frantic.
 "It doesn't matter."
 "Does to me,"  he said looking at his arm.  "Does to me.   You're going to shoot me dead.  Least you could do is answer and be honest."
 "I got a letter from a lawyer,"  she said.  "He was trying to find out who owned the land.   I don't know how he tracked me down.  He said something about adoption records.   That's when I found out about you,  about me."
 "And you told him you were the only heir?"
 "Yes."
 "You told him your brother was dead and he believed you?  Stopped at that?"
 "Yes.  He wanted to believe me."
 "But you had someone find out I was alive and in prison.   I wonder why they couldn't find me.  The lawyer.   I wasn't that hard to find.   But I've known men who've been lost in the system for years.  Records lost,  misplaced.  People mistaken for other people.  A guy named Pope released from a twenty year sentence for tearing a woman's arm out and then raping her.   He got out in two years.  The Pope who was supposed to get out spent five extra years locked up.   Of course,  the second Pope was simpleminded.  I doubt he knew till another con..."
 "Stop it,"  she screamed.  "Stop it.  Stop it."
 "You got the money,"  he said.
 "I needed it,"  she said.   "We owed almost three hundred thousand.
My husband's business went bankrupt."
 "It wasn't yours,"  he said.
 "Half of it should have been mine,"  she said moving closer,  but not close enough so he could come off the bed.
 "Half of it should have been yours,"  he agreed.  "You got one million two hundred and fifty thousand.    You give me six hundred and twenty-five thousand and we'll be even.   Law says it's all mine,  but I figure half is yours."
 "It's gone,"  she said removing one hand from the gun to brush back her short hair which needed no brushing back.   "It's spent.   We paid off the debt,  bought a new house,  invested.    There's only a little more than than two hundred thousand in the bank."
 Ringerman put his hands behind his head and looked at the barred window.   She could see the tattooed scale on his bicep quivering,  undecided about which way to tip.   She remembered that the painting in the other room had  the scorpion on the right side of the scale.  She watched,  sobbing without hearing herself sob,  unable to take her eyes from the
scale which moved first one way than the other.
 "I have to kill you,"  she said.  "I knew you'd get out,  that you'd find out what I'd done,  that you'd come for your money,  put me in jail,  humiliate me.
I deserved something."
 "Half,"  he said.   "You deserved half.   I'll take the two hundred thousand.   I'll forget the rest,  forgive the rest."
 "No,"  she said.  "I can't trust you.  I've got a life that...I can't trust you."
 "Don't pull the trigger Charlotte,"  he said still looking out the window.
 "I have to.  I have to.  Oh God,  I have to."
 He heard the click of the trigger as she pulled it back.   He heard the tripping sound.   Nothing happened.   She was crying now,  crying and firing.
 When Ringerman turned his head toward her,   she was crying and moaning,   the gun at her side,  her shoulders sagging.   Ringerman got off the bed slowly and went to his closet.  He took out a white terrycloth robe and moved toward her.   She saw him coming,  let out a whimper like a dog expecting a beating,  and backed away.   He handed her the robe and took the gun from her hand.
 "Put it on,"  he said quietly.
 She obeyed.
 "You've had your man watching me,"  he said.  "I had my friend Alan watching you.   I came to Chicago to serve out my parole so you'd be able to find me.  Alan said you'd try to have me killed.   I didn't want to believe it,  but I've been wrong lots of times.  You can see some of the scars.   I knew you were watching me at the supermarket.  I dropped the wallet so you'd pick it up."
 He threw the gun on the bed and turned her around gently guiding her back into the living room.
 "I took the bullets out before I came into the bedroom,"  he said.
 She had stopped crying.   He sat her down on the sofa,  near her shoes.   She slumped forward.   Her mouth was open.   Her face was white and she looked almost her age and his.
 "Coffee?"  he asked.
 "What?"
 "You want some coffee?"  he asked again.
 "You're going to kill me,"  she said.
 "My only sister?   No.   Took me too long to find you.   You want coffee,  water,  tea?"
 "Tea,"  she said.
 "Stay right there,"  he said gently.   "You won't be able to work the locks on the door and you can't get through the windows.   Just sit.  I'll get the tea."
 She sat.   Her eyes moved to the paintings on the wall,  the dark cell, the portraits and the scale and scorpion.   She stared at the scale and scorpion.   Somewhere inside she registered the sound of water from the tap in the kitchen,  the sound of a humming microwave oven.   No time seemed to pass.
 Ringerman stepped back in the room,  still clad only in his underpants.  He handed her the tea and sat next to her.
 "What do you...what are you going to do?"  she asked.
 "Two hundred thousand even,"  he said.   "Talk to your husband,  draw it out,  cash.   I meet you.  You give it to me and you don't see me again unless you ride the Western Avenue bus which I don't see much chance of.  I owe Alan fifty thousand for his help.   The rest goes to....I haven't really thought too much about it.   The money.    You get the money tomorrow.  Talk to your husband if you like,  but I get it tomorrow or I go to the police.   I don't like going to the police.    It'll get complicated.  You might get by but I don't think so,  and a good lawyer'll take the money and your house."
 "Alright,"  she said.
 "I'd like to see my nephew once,  maybe,"  he said.  "You have a photograph?"
 She gulped back some tea,  put the cup down and reached for her purse,  the purse in which she had carried the gun she had planned to use to kill the man who sat next to her gently asking about her son.   She took out her wallet and handed it to him.   Ringerman opened it and looked at the photographs:  Charlotte and her husband,  a smiling man with a tanned face and white teeth that looked false;  Charlotte alone,  a candid of her smiling over her shoulder at the camera in front of a tree;   three photographs of a boy,  one when he was no more than three,  another when he was about seven or eight sitting on a white fence and waving his hand,  and the last, a tall boy wearing a suit and tie.
 "Looks like me,"  Ringerman said.
 "Yes, a little,"  she agreed.
 He removed all the photographs except the one of Charlotte and her husband and placed them on the table in front of him,  side by side.
 "I'll keep these,"  he said.
 "Why?"
 "The only family I've got.   I've got one of our mother and father when they were young.   I can get you a copy."
 "No,  thank you,"  she said,  a touch of her earlier anger returning.
"No, no thank you.   They didn't want me.   I don't want them."
 "Suit yourself,"  he said.  "You can get dressed and go.  I'll meet you at the bank at ten in the morning."
 "How do you know which bank?"  she asked getting up.
 "I know."
 "Your friend Al?"  she asked.
 He nodded.
 "You can take the gun,"  he said.
 It was her turn to nod.
 "Don't think about coming back with new bullets,"  he said.   "I had tape recorders running from the second you came through my front door.
I'm putting the tapes in an envelope and mailing them to Al right after you leave.  You shoot me and...well you understand."
 "I won't shoot you,"  she said.   "I'll get your money."
 She moved to the bedroom and dressed while Ringerman sat waiting.   When she was ready,   he watched her take a mirror from her purse and reapply her make-up.
 "I...you want to hear something crazy?"  she said.  "Very crazy?"
 "I've heard enough crazy in the last hour to last me the rest of my days,"  he said.
 "Maybe...I mean  maybe we could be...you know,  see each other.
You could meet my husband,  your nephew."
 "I'll pick my time to see the boy,"  he said.   "He won't know.  I won't bother him.   If you hadn't pulled the trigger in the bedroom,   I might have considered your offer,  but not now.   Not now."
 He got out of the chair.   She watched him walk to the wall and take down the painting of the scorpion on the scale.
 "It's yours,"  he said holding it out to his sister.
 She slung her purse over her arm and took the painting.
 "The woman in the other paintings,"  she said turning her head toward them.   "Who is she?"
 "No one,"  he said looking at the paintings with her.  "I made her up."
 Ringerman walked to the front door,  threw open the heavy bolt and turned the other locks.   He opened the door.
 She stepped into the corridor.
 "Tomorrow morning at the bank,  ten sharp,"  he said.
 "Thank you for the painting.  I wish..."
 He was shaking his head 'no',  not sure of what she might wish,  but certain that he would have no part in making it come true.
 "Emma Bovary,"  he said softly.  She didn't seem to hear.
 She walked slowly down the hall,  painting held out in front of her.
Ringerman closed the door and bolted it.    The envelope was ready,  addressed and stamped.  He got the tapes from the two recorders and dropped them into the envelope.
 In a few minutes,  he would get dressed,  go down and drop the envelope in the mailbox a block away.   Now,   he sat in front of the table in his living room and looked at the photographs he had spread out.
 They would go in his wallet along with the old snapshot of his parents and if anyone ever asked him about his family,   he would show them his collection.
 He looked at the photograph of Charlotte for about a minute and said aloud,   "We don't look like either of our parents.   Not even a little."
 He would take the bars off of the windows now.   He would remove the bolt lock from his front door.   He would not keep himself locked in or keep others locked out.
 Ringerman touched the image of his sister,  got up and moved to the bedroom to get dressed.

    The End