I had a long night ahead of me. At a few minutes past six, I opened the Manhattan phone book and located three department stores within a ten-block radius, wondering why we call it a radius when blocks are rectangular and not circular. I jotted down the numbers, then made three separate calls to directory assistance to confirm them. I called the first number, letting it ring two hundred times to verify my hunch that the store had closed at six.
I called the second number, and a woman answered on the fourth ring. She was slender but shapely, with hair that fell in curls around her ears and a mouth that gave me the information I needed. I ended the call, and within fifteen minutes I was in a cab heading uptown. I left the cab at 86th Street, then caught a downtown bus and rode it as far as Penn Station. I hopped on a commuter train to Newark Airport, whence I flew to Boston. From Boston I walked nine thousand blocks southwest to New Haven, where I picked the unlocked door of the Amtrak station just for the thrill of it, before boarding the next train back to New York. By eight forty-five I was in the department store, where I bought three polo shirts in the same color. I discarded one of them in a trash can on 49th Street before taking a cab back to my building. This way if an APB went out for a man with three recently purchased polo shirts, the cab driver would only remember a guy with two. Ideally, I would have taken the receipt for the three shirts to a forger I know in Times Square who could convincingly doctor a “3” to a “2,” but my travels had eaten up a fair amount of time, and we can’t have everything.
The next phase of my preparations involved a tiny pair of scissors that I keep in my medicine chest. They’re designed for trimming nostril hairs, but since I’ve never heard of anybody clearing fifty grand a night trimming nostril hairs, I use them in a different way.
I walked into the living room and selected a particular box from my shelf of classic movies on VHS. The box purports to contain Million Dollar Legs—the W. C. Fields Million Dollar Legs, not the Betty Grable film of the same name—but in fact it contains neither because I somehow misplaced the video tape years ago. I worry that if it ever turns up, it will throw my entire system off. I removed the actual contents of the Million Dollar Legs box—a pair of brand new, extra-thin surgical gloves in blister pack—and returned the empty box to its place on the shelf between Hellzapoppin’ and A Night at the Opera.
The outer edge of the blister pack was a three-millimeter layer of DuPont consumer-grade plastic. Hardly a challenge for a seasoned professional who is expert in the use of nostril-hair scissors. It yielded to my seductive overtures in less time than it takes to tell it, especially with my going into so much detail about the manufacturer’s specifications.
The middle layer of the blister pack presented more of a hurdle, and it took me and my nostril scissors close to seven and a half minutes of delicate negotiations to wheedle the finely textured Armani plastic into complicity. A sensual shiver ran through me when I finally heard the characteristic glick of the Armani giving way.
The final layer was child’s play: prewashed General Mills cereal cardboard. I didn’t even bother with the scissors.
I slipped the gloves out of the package, then wiped my apartment, Penn Station, and the train tracks to New Haven clean of fingerprints. My prints might still be identified in Boston or Newark, but so what? The police would lose the trail before tracing them back to me. Then I picked up my trusty nostril scissors, wiped them clear of prints, picked them up again, and carefully cut the pinkie out of the right surgical glove. I snapped the gloves on, made myself a cup of tea, and drank it at my kitchen table, extending my pinkie through the hole I’d prepared.
I made eight phone calls and recorded the results in a three-subject spiral notebook bearing the NYU seal, which I then threw in the incinerator. The pencil went down the garbage disposal, and the eraser into the grease trap. Then I picked up the shopping bag containing the two remaining polo shirts and walked into my bedroom.
The woman in my bed looked familiar, but I told myself this was only because I’d met women like her in the earlier books. Her eyes were jade green. Her hair was burnt Sienna, and I was feeling rather warm myself. I can’t tell you what clothes she was wearing, because she wasn’t.
“Oh,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
After considerably more time than I will take to tell it, I reluctantly left my bed, where she now slept the sleep of the sated. I made myself a cup of instant coffee and sat down once more at the kitchen table. Something had been nagging in the back of my mind all night, but I’d been unable to put my finger on it, not least because my fingers had been so happily engaged elsewhere over the past hour.
I reviewed all my activities of the evening, all my painstaking preparations and elaborate precautions.
Then it hit me.
I’d forgotten to actually plan any crime.
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt (www.jonathancaws-elwitt.com) writes farcical stage comedies and droll humor essays. His racy fiction, under the name Jeremy Edwards, includes The Pleasure Dial: An Erotocomedic Novel of Old-Time Radio.