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He had been so focused on the television that he hadn’t noticed the woman who took the stool next to him until she tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, handsome, slide that bowl of pretzels this way, will you?”
He glanced to his right and found a thin woman with brightly dyed red hair and cigarette lines around her mouth. Milo slid the bowl her way, noting that she used to be beautiful – he could see it in her bone structure if not in her actual face. Now, she was merely attractive. “Here you go.”
“Yeah, Sondra?” the bartender answered.
“This gentleman wants to buy me a drink. Whiskey sour, sweetie.”
Sax raised his eyebrows at Milo, looking for confirmation.
Milo smiled and gave an affirming nod.
“I’m Sondra Lane,” she said, turning herself to offer her hand for him to shake.
“You’re new here.”
“You live in ‘sin city’?”
He recognized the unofficial moniker of his retirement community: Sun City had recently been outed as having a surprisingly large number of people carrying sexually transmitted diseases. “I take it you’re not?”
“Not yet.” She smiled seductively. “Where are you from?”
“Illinois by way of Minnesota. You?”
“California. I was an actress.”
He sipped his beer and nodded.
She gave him her most beguiling smile, seemingly unaware that the years had taken their toll on it. “You may have seen me in Siege of the Moon. That was my biggest role. I played Sunrise Aeon, the leader of the Martian battle forces.”
“I’m afraid not.”
She shrugged. “It’s a crapshoot. About one out of every ten guys I meet recognize me. Women usually remember me from my recurring role on this old soap opera back in the Seventies.”
He looked at her again and instantly knew who she was. “Carmella Savage!”
She drew back and gave him an appraising look. “You don’t look gay.”
He chuckled. “I’m not. My wife loved Scions of Beauty.”
“Apparently the audience was housewives and every gay man in America. I could sign an autograph for you to take to her…”
“She died a few years back.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Milo thought that, for an actress, her delivery of the line was a little too upbeat. Sax finally arrived with her drink. She inhaled it like a camel that had spent a week too long in the desert. He signaled Sax to bring her another, digging a twenty out of his wallet. “Why’d you move to Arizona?”
“I had to get out of L.A. The city was killing me. My daughter lives here and she asked me to come and stay with her for a while. You?”
“My son’s family.”
“Sometimes I wonder what the draw is,” she said. “I mean, what brings all these people to this God-forsaken dustbowl of a city?” She sucked a long ice cube slowly into her mouth, her eyes meeting his over the rim of the glass.
Discreetly readjusting himself, he answered, “People always think they’re going to love the heat.”
She released the poor, melted ice cube and it dropped, exhausted, to the bottom of the glass. “Do you?”
“I’m adjusting.” He hadn’t thought of sex in a very long time. He knew that for a man to so completely sublimate sexual urges was unusual, but, between his high-blood-pressure medicine and his lack of desire for dead Alice, he had taken all of his sexual energy and diverted it into his work. In fact, he was currently experiencing his first hard-on since 1987. He had forgotten just how much blood was required to maintain an erection and wasn’t exactly sure why he couldn’t seem to focus on anything other than the not-quite-lovely Sondra.
“I only come here because they keep their air conditioner set so low. My daughter doesn’t want the air in her house any cooler than eighty degrees. It’s so hot I just want to walk around in the nude!”
Milo reached up and wiped the sweat from his upper lip. His brain was no longer able to form complete sentences. “My house cool.”
Sax put another drink in front of Sondra and gave Milo a look that seemed to say you poor bastard.