Alice wasn’t a half-bad-looking woman. Not if you sat her in the right light. Not the harsh overhead fluorescent kind like you’d get in a dentist’s office. But the soft, ambient light of a downtown bar, a few low-wattage bulbs glowing through lampshades coated with 50 years of grill smoke and the viscous amber of nicotine stains.
Her teeth were a little small for her mouth, and she looked a bit underfed. But she took pains to keep her hair impressively backcombed, and her lipstick more or less within the boundaries of her lips. Which, I can tell you from experience, is not easy to do once you’ve had three or four Crown Royal and Cokes.
She had a throaty laugh and made easy conversation. Not too inquisitive and not too presumptuous. The out-of-town guys especially appreciated that. The salesmen, the admen, the insurance guys in Big D for a convention. Men who wore pinky rings and white shoes, flashing impressive wads of cash and even bigger bellies. They liked that Alice listened to their carefully crafted stories and chuckled at their ill-timed jokes, letting them light her cigarettes so they could lean in closer. Maybe place a lingering hand on her elbow, her back, her knee.
They liked that she asked them for change to feed the jukebox for songs like “For the Good Times” and “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” Alice would let them pick a few, but she always saved a dime to play “The Back Side of Dallas,” by Jeannie C. Riley. That’s when the regulars, the in-town guys, would start laughing. They were in on the joke, you see.
Often, the out-of-towner would lean in and make the suggestion to Alice that they find someplace less crowded, more intimate. Sometimes she’d agree. And the guy would happily follow Alice out of the bar. Whether or not he was happy an hour later would depend on how drunk or desperate or curious he’d become.
Alice, you see, was not your typical girl. Least, not in Dallas.
Kathleen Kent’s fifth book, The Burn, was published earlier this year. She is also the author of The Dime, a crime thriller set in Dallas, and three New York Times bestselling and award-winning historical novels. She lives in Dallas.