Don’t blame the sinner, Joe wrote in his notebook. He sipped his sangria and contemplated the hideous painting in front of him as he plotted.
The sun turned the ice cubes to water and cut the sweetness of his drink as it warmed his back and prickled his scalp.
He jotted in his notebook now and then, planning. When he completed his list he put away his pad and enjoyed the rest of his drink.
At last he saw Lily coming and signaled the waitress for more drinks.
“Hi, there,” she laughed as she dropped her bags and joined him at the bar.
He smirked. She had no idea.
“Did you buy everything that I asked?” he leaned over whispered into Lily’s ear.
“Yes, sweetie,” she said, oblivious to his tone. She tried to reach for the shopping bags at her feet, but Joe stopped her with a firm hand on her arm.
“No, not now,” he said deeply.
Lily looked at Joe’s hand clutching her wrist and laughed ironically. “Okay, then. Whatever you like,” she smiled and reached for her drink. “Cheers,” she laughed, holding her glass in front of his face. He didn’t laugh or clink her glass, but instead flipped open his pad and wrote something down.
“I modeled everything for the salesgirl like you asked,” Lily told him. “The bra, the panties, the dress, all of it,” she prattled on as he wrote. Joe didn’t acknowledge her.
When he finished, he took another long look at the colorful painting on the bar in front of them and grimaced. He gulped down his glass of sangria. “Okay, let’s go,” he said, standing up and putting his notebook into his bag, which he slung over his shoulder. “Time to see some real art,” he announced.
“But I just got here,” Lily complained.
“Get up,” he growled.
Lily pouted and took one last sip of her sangria. She stood up, then bent down slowly the way he liked to pick up her bags. Joe gave Lily a sidelong appraisal.
“Pay for the drinks,” he ordered.
Lily put the shopping bags on her shoulder and opened her purse. She slowly pulled out a twenty dollar bill, which she slipped under her glass, aware of Joe’s eyes on her the entire time. She pulled her oversized sunglasses out and closed her purse. Joe took her by the arm and led her to the sidewalk. They walked in silence.
Joe pushed Lily ahead of him up the steps to the art gallery. Inside, he ushered her to the ticket desk. “Buy our tickets,” he barked.
Lily set down her bags and opened her purse. “Two, please,” she said pleasantly to the man behind the counter. She exchanged cash for tickets and picked up her bags. “Here you go, sweetie,” she gave Joe his with a touch of sarcasm.
“Let’s stop at the ladies’ room,” Joe said as he steered her over to the bathrooms. “Go change into your new things.”
Lily disappeared into the bathroom with her bags. Joe lurked outside, scribbling a few last-minute thoughts into his notebook. His mom always told him not to blame the sinner. Was seducing the sinner taking it too far? He just couldn’t resist the sting of shame he got from Lily’s dirty money. It made Joe want to own her and he planned to do just that.
“What do you think, baby?” Lily giggled as she emerged from the ladies’ room. She twirled around to show off her new slinky black dress, lace stockings, and black stilettos.
“Nice,” Joe permitted her one word of approval before snatching Lily’s elbow and leading her towards the artwork. He approached a white marble bench. “Sit here,” he pushed her down. She sank down onto the bench and dropped her bags on the floor in front of her.
“Here?” she half-whined. “In front of this?” she pointed at the painting of the chess pieces come to life.
“Yes,” Joe directed. “You wait here while I run an errand.” He bent down and grabbed her purse, then strode out of the gallery and down the street to the jewelry shop.
“Would you like some help, sir?” the salesman asked.
“Yes,” Joe answered. “I need an engagement ring.”
An hour later Joe returned to the gallery, his pocket bulging and his heart swelling at the sirens’ crescendo as his pieces fell into place. He stepped inside and found Lily slumped on her bench, a crowd of pawns admiring his scene. Checkmate, he thought.