If you are a fan of hardboiled fiction, you probably know about Hard Case Crime, a pulp-noir book imprint founded by the founder Juno Online Services, Charles Ardai. Recently, Titan books has become the publisher, and their slate of upcoming books looks great.
Here's an exclusive excerpt from Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence, by veteran crime novelist Lawrence Block.
The fellow's name in Kansas City was Lucas. She'd taken note of him early on, and his eyes had shown a certain degree of interest in her, but his interest mounted when she told the group how many sexual partners she'd had. It was he who'd said, "Five? That's all? Just five?" When she'd confirmed her count, his eyes grabbed hers and held on.
And now he'd taken her to another bar, the lounge of the Hotel Phillips, a nice quiet place where they could really get to know each other. Just the two of them.
The lighting was soft, the décor soothing. A pianist played show tunes unobtrusively, and a waitress with an indeterminate accent took their order and brought their drinks. They touched glasses, sipped, and he said, "Five."
"That really did it for you," she said. "What, is it your lucky number?"
"Actually," he said, "my lucky number is six."
"You were never married."
"Never lived with anybody."
"Only my parents."
"You don't still live with them?"
"You live alone?"
"I have a roommate."
"A woman, you mean."
"Uh, the two of you aren't…"
"We have separate beds," she said, "in separate rooms, and we live separate lives."
"Right. Were you ever, uh, in a convent or anything?"
She gave him a look.
"Because you're remarkably attractive, you walk into a room and you light it up, and I can imagine the number of guys who must hit on you on a daily basis. And you're how old? Twenty-one, twenty-two?"
"And you've only been with five guys? What, were you a late bloomer?"
"I wouldn't say so."
"I'm sorry, I'm pressing and I shouldn't. It's just that, well, I can't help being fascinated. But the last thing I want is to make you uncomfortable."
The conversation wasn't making her uncomfortable. It was merely boring her. Was there any reason to prolong it? Was there any reason not to cut to the chase?
She'd already slipped one foot out of its shoe, and now she raised it and rested it on his lap, massaging his groin with the ball of her foot. The expression on his face was reward enough all by itself.
"My turn to ask questions," she said. "Do you live with your parents?"
"You're kidding, right? Of course not."
"Do you have a roommate?"
"Not since college, and that was a while ago."
"So" she said. "What are we waiting for?"
Lucas lived alone in a large L-shaped studio apartment on the top floor of a new building. "I'm the first tenant the place has ever had," he told her. "I've never lived in something brand spanking new before. It's like I've taken the apartment's virginity."
"Now you can take mine."
"Not quite. But this is better. Remember, I told you my lucky number."
"There you go."
And just when, she wondered, had six become his lucky number? When she'd acknowledged five partners? Probably, but never mind. It was a good enough line, and one he was no doubt feeling proud of right about now, because it had worked, hadn't it?
As if he'd had any chance of failing…
He made drinks, and they kissed, and she was pleased but not surprised to note that the requisite chemistry was there. And, keeping it company, there was that delicious surge of anticipatory excitement that was always present on such occasions. It was at once sexual and non-sexual, and she felt it even when the chemistry was not present, even when the sexual act was destined to be perfunctory at best, and at worst distasteful. Even then she'd feel that rush, that urgent excitement, but it was greatly increased when she knew the sex was going to be good.
He excused himself and went to the bathroom, and she opened her purse and found the little unlabeled vial she kept in the change compartment. She looked at it and at the drink he'd left on the table, but in the end she left the vial in her purse, left his drink untouched.
As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered. When he emerged from the bathroom he reached not for his drink but for her instead, and it was as good as she'd known it would be, inventive and eager and passionate, and finally they fell away from each other, spent and sated.
"Wow," he said.
"That's the right word for it."
"You think? It's the best I can come up with, and yet it somehow seems inadequate. You're—"
"Amazing. I have to say this, I can't help it. It's almost impossible to believe you've had so little experience."
"Because I'm clearly jaded?"
"No, just because you're so good at it. And in a way that's the complete opposite of jaded. I swear to God this is the last time I'll ask you, but were you telling the truth? Have you really only been with five men?"
"Well," he said, "now it's six, isn't it?"
"Your lucky number, right?"
"Luckier than ever," he said.
"Lucky for me, too."
She was glad she hadn't put anything in his drink, because after a brief rest they made love again, and that wouldn't have happened otherwise.
"Still six," he told her afterward, "unless you figure I ought to get extra credit."
She said something, her voice soft and soothing, and he said something, and that went on until he stopped responding. She lay beside him, in that familiar but ever-new combination of afterglow and anticipation, and then finally she slipped out of bed, and a little while later she let herself out of his apartment.
All by herself in the descending elevator, she said out loud, "Five."