“Yes, that.”

“Not much to tell, really,” she said, closely examining her scimitar-like fingernails for smears of the Braithwaite blood. “It was sort of a bet. I lost.”

“Your bet somebody on something and if you lost you had to marry me?” I regarded her with the objective scientific curiosity for which I am so well known and inquired politely, “Are you insane, Carolyn? Is that your problem? There is a certain trembling around the lower thorax–”

That's a lower thorax?“Never mind my lower thorax,” she snapped. “My lower thorax is none of your business. We will leave my lower thorax out of this, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well, if you insist. You may consider your lower thorax officially extinguished.”

“Thank you.”

“I won’t mention it again.”

“Please don’t.”

“The subject of your lower thorax is closed forever.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

“It’s a very nice lower thorax, though–”

“Ponsie….”

“I’m just saying. I have a right to say you have a nice lower thorax, don’t I, what with our impending nuptials and all? I mean, if I’m going to be your husband, it seems to me that your lower thorax is the very least I may expect to be presented with. As it were.”

“Ponsie, if you’re hinting what I think you’re hinting, I can tell you Marilyn Monroe will be serving you Frosty-Freeze cones in hell before you lay so much as a pinkie on my lower thorax or my lower anything else, you got that? This is a business arrangement – I help you, you help me. That’s as far as it goes. That’s as far as it will ever go.”

“I don’t remember that you thought so badly of my skills at the time,” I said, genuinely hurt.

She softened. “I didn’t mean that, Ponsie.”

“Remember our matinée in the hot tub between you defending that pornographer and then nailing the nun’s ass to the wall for suing your client over that little matter of a defective electric rosary?”

She slid down in the seat and closed her eyes, sighing. “I do. That was such a wonderful afternoon.”

“Well, I haven’t lost my touch, you know. And we will be married, after all.”

“Oh, Ponsie,” she said, her voice gone all breathy and deep. “I remember your gifts with great fondness and affection, but it can never happen again for my heart belongs to another.”

“That’s a relief,” I said.

“What?”

“That you have one. A heart, I mean. I sometimes wondered.”

“Now, Ponsie, don’t be jealous. It isn’t becoming to an attractive man like you.” In sliding down the seat, her skirt had done some sliding, too, I noticed, and was now riding on her hips like a thin kerchief strung between two firm wheels of brie. “Watch the road, Ponsie,” she purred.

“I am,” I growled. “You were telling me why I was marrying you.”

“To save my life, of course.” She touched my knee. “Like you always did. My Knight in Shining Armor.”

“Uh-huh. What from this time?”

“Oh, it’s silly really. A couple of years ago – before I met you, as a matter of fact – this boy I was dating got the idea that he was in love with me and that we should get married. Well, he was very nice and his…um..body…was delicious, but he was dumb as a brick and marrying him was out of the question. Besides, he was an athlete and you know what they’re like.”

“Not faithful, you mean.”

“And a 10-sec attention span. It was impossible but he was very persistent. Finally, just to get me off my back, I told him I was already married.”

“And he left?”

“And he left. Then. Unfortunately, he has returned and he says he’s still in love with me and insists on meeting my husband – you, that is – so he can be sure you’re worthy of me. If you are, he’ll go away. That’s all there is to it.”

There was a flaw here somewhere. A hole. A trap. A catch. I could smell it. “What exactly does he mean, ‘worthy’?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said as if she’d lost interest in the subject. “A wrestling match, I think. He’s a wrestler.”

“A wrestler?” I reeled. It’s hard to reel when you’re sitting down, but there’s no other legitimate description for what I did. I reeled. “A professional wrestler?”

“Mmmm. He goes under the name of Pukin’ Nuke. Horrible, isn’t it? But that’s the business, he tells me.”

I gulped. “Concentrate, Carolyn, I beg of you. You can’t be talking about Killer Mike McCoy, the Puking Nuke, could you? It’s not the same guy?”

She raised both eyebrows. “You’ve heard of him? Why, Ponsie, I’m shocked. I had no idea you followed wrestling. Kind of low-brow for you, I would have thought.”

“I don’t,” I managed through the pall of doom around me. “We have a history.”

“Do you? Why, Ponsie,” she said, shifting in the seat toward me, breathing hard, her eyes half closed, “you have unsuspected depths, don’t you?” Her blouse had fallen open slightly. Just enough…. “Do tell. And don’t leave out any of the juicy details.”

The world was a garbage dump, and I was on the bottom of the pile.

Like a Song You Can’t Get Out of Your Head:
What exactly is a lower thorax, anyway?

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