Lawrence Block

Getting OFF



Pronouns suited her.

She, her, herself. These worked just fine. Names came and went, you were out the door and on a plane or a train or a bus, and your name stayed behind, along with whatever else you didn’t need anymore.

Once, in a man’s apartment, a book caught her eye. The title was She, by H. Rider Haggard, and she plucked it from the shelf and opened it at random. She read this passage: Oh, how beautiful she looked there in the flame! No angel out of heaven could have worn a greater loveliness. Even now my heart faints before the recollection of it, as naked in the naked fire she stood and smiled at our awed faces, and I would give half my remaining time upon this earth thus to see her once again.

She might have read more, but she had to get out of there. The book’s owner was in the bedroom, as naked as the woman in the story, sprawled on his back with his sightless eyes staring at the ceiling. So she couldn’t stick around, and she wasn’t interested enough in the book to take it away with her. She’d take money, that was different, but she wouldn’t take a book, and she wiped her fingerprints from this one and returned it to its spot on the shelf.

When she was born her parents named her Katherine Anne Tolliver, and she grew up with seemingly endless variations of Katherine. Kathy, Katie, Kath, Kate.



For a time, her father called her Kitten. The world shortened that to Kit, and somehow it stuck, and so he called her that as well.

Kit. Kit Tolliver.

The trouble with that, though, was that one name ran into the other, with her first name ending with the same letter that started her last name. So that someone hearing her name might think her surname was Oliver.

She still had the name when she graduated from high school. It was on her diploma, but some idiot misspelled it, left the E off her middle name. Katherine Ann Tolliver, it read, and that bothered her for about fifteen seconds. Then she realized she wouldn’t be keeping the diploma. Or the name, either.

All the same, she packed the diploma and took it with her when she moved to the Cities. She went first to a motel in Red Cloud, just to be out of Hawley, and nine days later she signed Katherine Tolliver to the lease of an apartment in St. Paul. It was a perfectly fine apartment, and she had a two-year lease, but she was gone after ten weeks. Done with the Cities, done with Minnesota altogether. Done with being Kit Tolliver.

There were plenty of other places to go, and when one was used up she never had trouble finding another. There were plenty of names, too, an endless supply of names, and she’d keep one for an hour or an evening or a week or a month.

And then get another one.

Once she took a man’s name along with his cash.

He’d given it as Les. “Les is more,” he’d told her, and laughed heartily, and it had been clear she was not the first woman to receive this assurance. And, when this particular Les was no more, she went through his wallet and discovered that his name was not Lester, as she’d more or less assumed, but Leslie. Leslie Paul Hammond was the name on his driver’s license, but on his credit cards the middle name was conveniently reduced to an initial.

Well, why not? The sexual ambiguity of the name made it easy enough, so why not let his AmEx card pay for a plane ticket, why not use his Visa to pay for a nice hotel room? It would be a while before anybody found him, and by then she’d have doubled back on her own trail, so anyone looking for her would be looking in the wrong places.

By then she’d be somewhere else. And by then she’d be somebody else.

Nothing to it.

She, by H. Rider Haggard.

She might have looked for a copy later on, but she never did. Instead she forgot about it, even as she forgot about the dead man in the other room. And all the men, and all the other rooms.

And moved on.


She felt his eyes on her just about the time the bartender placed a Beck’s coaster on the bar and set her dry Rob Roy on top of it. She wanted to turn and see who was eyeing her, but remained as she was, trying to analyze just what it was she felt. She couldn’t pin it down physically, couldn’t detect a specific prickling of the nerves in the back of her neck. She simply knew she was being watched, and that the watcher was a male.

It was, to be sure, a familiar sensation. Men had always looked at her. Since adolescence, since her body had begun the transformation from girl to woman? No, longer than that. Even in childhood, some men had looked at her, gazing with admiration and, often, with something beyond admiration.

In Hawley, Minnesota, thirty miles east of the North Dakota line, they’d looked at her like that. The glances followed her to Red Cloud and St. Paul, and other places after that, and now she was in New York, and, no surprise, men still looked at her.

She lifted her glass, sipped, and a male voice said, “Excuse me, but is that a Rob Roy?”

He was standing to her left, a tall man, slender, well turned out in a navy blazer and gray trousers. His shirt was a button-down, his tie diagonally striped. His face, attractive but not handsome, was youthful at first glance, but she could see he’d lived some lines into it. And his dark hair was lightly infiltrated with gray.

“A dry Rob Roy,” she said. “Why?”

“In a world where everyone orders Cosmopolitans,” he said, “there’s something very pleasingly old- fashioned about a girl who drinks a Rob Roy. A woman, I should say.”

She lowered her eyes to see what he was drinking.

“I haven’t ordered yet,” he said. “Just got here. I’d have one of those, but old habits die hard.” And, when the barman moved in front of him, he ordered Jameson on the rocks. “Irish whiskey,” he told her. “Of course this neighborhood used to be mostly Irish. And tough. It was a pretty dangerous place a few years ago. A young woman like yourself wouldn’t feel comfortable walking into a bar unaccompanied, not in this part of town. Even accompanied, it was no place for a lady.”

“I guess it’s changed a lot,” she said.

“It’s even changed its name,” he said. His drink arrived, and he picked up his glass and held it to the light, admiring the amber color. “They call it Clinton now. That’s for DeWitt Clinton, not Bill. DeWitt was the governor a while back, he dug the Erie Canal. Not personally, but he got it done. And there was George Clinton, he was the governor, too, for seven terms starting before the adoption of the Constitution. And then he had a term as vice

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