A Detroit Author's Book Excerpt: 'Flirt: A Novel of Lust, Love, and Murder'

June 17, 2024, 8:15 AM

The author of "Flirt: A Novel of Lust, Love, and Murder" spent his working life in Detroit journalism, first as a copyboy and later as a reporter for The Detroit News, then as a senior editor for Detroit Monthly magazine. He was integral in starting the multiple award-winning HOUR Detroit magazine and was its editor for nine years. His work has been recognized with more than 50 awards. 

                                                 By Ric Bohy


She leaned into the mirror on her grandmother’s dressing table, keeping her back arched as she had been taught, and touched the tart-cherry color to her lips. It was on a No. 2 flat red sable art brush, costly, useful for painting sharp edges with oils. It worked as well with lip rouge.

Using just enough pressure to flatten the silken animal hairs into a crisp line, she guided it beyond the outer edge of her lips, but not so far as to be noticeable without getting very close. She traced her upper lip, then the lower, and then returned to the gentle cleft at the top to limn a bit more shape.

“Marvelous, darlin’,” Ruby Bliss said. “You are a natural beauty, a supernatural beauty, no doubt of it. But even a beauty such as yours, as ours, can use accentuatin’, a little boost. It is not gildin’ the lily. It is makin’ the most of what we have.”

The girl adored Ruby Bliss, a genteel Southern belle long known to her admirers as Miss Ruby. The child was abandoned by her mother – Miss Ruby called her “that whoo-er” – and the father, an effeminate ponce, when she was a tot. One morning, they brought their child to Miss Ruby’s for a visit. At the first chance, they skulked out the door and vanished.

She committed to raising her granddaughter as a healthy, well-loved child, and to teaching her how to face the world alone, strong and smart and unafraid, comporting herself in Miss Ruby’s own image. The only difference – Miss Ruby had to persuade the child never to be ashamed of, never to be angry about, and never to think she was diminished in any way by her anomaly.

When the monthlies first visited the girl, Miss Ruby told her she was blossoming as a woman, and began to school her in the ways to use her looks to support herself. Men were quite simple creatures when it came to their libido. Generally, she taught, when it became clear that they could look but would not be allowed to go any further, most would be grateful just to look. Many of them are voyeurs, Miss Ruby said, explaining the meaning of the word. If they have something material to offer that you need for your support, show them a little more. Be proud of your body and its power. Use it.

“When I was young and surpassin’ lovely from my hair to my pretty painted toes, I was able to use my looks and my body to provide near ever’thin’ I now have,” Miss Ruby told her granddaughter. “The more money they have and the more you grant them glimpses of your physical attraction, the more they give ’cause they hope to get more. That is a lot of ‘mores,’ is it not darlin’?

“But here it is: You must never give yourself to them, as that whoo-er does for money. You must learn to dress provocative, not trashy as that whoo-er does. In today times, I keep hearin’ angry women usin’ the word objectifyin’, us all bein’ sex objects and such. You should know that this is not all that women are, but all women are sex objects at one time or other. That is because of the very nature of men, who carry the instinct to breed to keep the herd goin’. In that way, they are always a bit of the beast that they come from in early times. That is no excuse for their animal behavior, when it gets to that. But it is what they are, child.

“There is much more I have to teach before you are a grown woman, and much you have to teach yourself. Never stop feedin’ your mind, child. Study art and science and history and literature and politics and music and whatever you discover on the way. I know I talk like the hillbilly I used to be, but I’ve found that usin’ it as a Southern belle holds its own charm for the simpler sex. You must find your personal way of speakin’ and movin’ that attracts them. Just be sure to speak proper. No contractions, you, like can’t ‘stead of cannot, and won’t ‘stead of will not.”

The granddaughter thought of all this a dangerous game and one that would not accommodate her disability, which is how she thought of it. She wanted to fit in, not stand out. Some nights she wept as she tried to sleep because she could never be perfect. She could only try.

It didn’t occur to her, ever, that Miss Ruby never spoke of love, God, or religion.

It didn’t occur to the girl to ask.

                                                              Chapter One

Jimmy Noze faithfully iced his eye before each outing until the swelling died and the blue-black color faded to yellow-green and only a black scab remained, splitting his right eyebrow. Now he regretted having earned it, which he knew was true even if he couldn’t remember why. She might think he was disreputable or, worse, physically repellent. She probably wouldn’t remember him, and if she did, might not approach a second time. In that case, he had no plan. But he had to look at her again.

He returned to the trendy Train and Tunnel club eight nights running, nursing Jack Daniels sours and eating the orange slices and cherries for hours and fighting the urge to go outside for a smoke until he saw her again.

The author, Ric Bohy

Each night he showered and shaved and pressed a clean Hawaiian shirt, leaving it untucked over his least faded black jeans for comfort, and as cover for the piece he carried in his waistband at the small of his back. Using an old cop trick, he’d wrapped the grip entirely with rubber bands to prevent the gun from slipping down his pants. He dropped a fresh box of Kools into the shirt pocket. Pulling on his treasured Ariat boots, he tucked a Spyderco fixed blade knife into the boot sheath clipped inside the right. He shoved a fat Michigan bankroll, with a twenty on the outside covering a few tens and a pile of singles, fold-down into his right pocket.

The first and only time he saw her, he was sitting on the same stool at the same bar in the Train and Tunnel in Birmingham, a suburb north of Detroit that was rife with the same preening, self-involved, new-money people who made this joint one of his favorites for people-watching.

Mixtapes broadcast from Bose speakers played Leonard Cohen and Renee Fleming, TLC and Boyz II Men, showstoppers from Les Misérables and Cats, Judy Collins and Judy Garland, Warren Zevon and Anita Baker, theme songs from ’80s sitcoms, Sinatra and Nirvana, but never country – though Lyle Lovett made an occasional appearance.

The tables in the room were made of burnished teak and in a utilitarian assortment of two-, four-, and six-tops, which could seat eight. They were nearly chest high and matched with straight-back stools that allowed the women to stretch and display their legs and shoes. The men did what they could to avoid dangling their feet.

Incautious after an hour of slow drinking, Noze had watched while a lady with lustrous hair the color of fresh-stripped copper wire and wearing a low-cut dress in vermillion stood from the table she occupied alone, threw a glance his way, and walked toward him, casually cooling herself with a matching carved-wood fan. She had a hitch in her step that exaggerated the sway of her hips. The clingy dress ended just below the knees and parted in a slit that exposed her right leg to the hip as she moved. She brushed against him lightly and took the stool next to his, facing the bar as he faced away.

“I am thirsty,” she said, looking straight ahead in the mirror on the back bar.

“I’m good for it,” Noze said. “Anything you want.”

She also caught the attention of the bartender, a girl in a tight white blouse and black dress slacks who wore a fine gold chain between pierced eyebrow and ear, a small blue star tattoo on her right wrist, and a simple silver ring on one thumb. Noze reckoned that she could kick-start a 747 on an icy morning. When she tended him, her lips were frozen in a grim line. When she spoke to the lady in red, they parted in a smile that showed sharp bleached teeth.

“Well, hello there, peaches. What’ll it be?”

“Campari rocks lemon twist. He says he is good for it.”

Jimmy Noze was hooked on her style, from dress to drink. Who drank Campari? He turned his stool to study her profile while the liqueur was poured, and paid from what was left of his cash on the bar. He noticed that the red of the drink nearly matched her lips, and wondered if it had been calculated. She smelled like flowers. He had no idea what they might be.

“So,” he said, feeling stupefied, “come here often?”

She reacted as though his seat was empty, pursed her lips in a way that put a little knot in his colon, and sipped the aperitif.

“That was kind of a joke,” he tried.


“Am I intruding on your private time with the drink I just bought you?”

A trace of a smile, and a sweet, smoky voice. “I do not know you, and I am not sure I want to.” It was barely above a whisper and required Noze to lean closer. As he did, he let one palm rest on her exposed thigh. It was cool and smooth as – Noze couldn’t think of an adequate simile – soft but well muscled. She looked him in the eyes, without offense.

“No, no,” she said like a schoolmarm, and he removed his hand. “People do not value what they get for nothing. Give me everything in your pocket.”

He reached in and pulled out the rest of his money and handed it over. Even when she took it, silently stood, finished the rest of her drink, and walked off as he watched that sway, Noze thought it was the best eight bucks and change he’d ever spent.

The nights when she had not reappeared were at least interesting. Noze collected characters like the swells collected fine possessions because there was that novel he was still going to write and he didn’t trust his imagination as much as his power to see and note details and remember.

To say that the crowd at this club was of a type wasn’t entirely accurate, and he knew his own prejudices, tending to generalize when it came to those with money. They were a little loud, even in a quiet room. They had no manners when dealing with those who served them, issuing orders instead of making requests. Some reeked of entitlement and exaggerated self-worth. They were keenly competitive, which could be admired, but not averse to lying and cheating and stealing to overtake the front of the line. Some had taste gleaned from lifelong exposure to costly things. Some would always assume that money alone meant their tastes were refined. Many were bullies, but believed they were compassionate. Few promoted charitable causes that did not directly benefit their class, tax status, or self-promotion.

Jimmy Noze stood out from the crowd in the club. His teeth didn’t gleam with an unnatural whiteness, and the bottoms were skewed and overlapped. His fingernails were ridged and the cuticles torn. His hands weren’t soft, but neither were they horned and heavily calloused. His skin was not tanned during cold months. His eyes were alive, but without malevolence. His hair was untouched by anything but shampoo, and trimmed at home once a month with electric barber clippers fitted with a No. 4 comb.

Others in the club dressed casually, but the clothes were new and the look affected. The place prided itself on eclecticism, which its clientele thought was grand, so tennis skirts mixed with business suits, slutty clubwear mixed with boating togs, and a Hawaiian shirt and black jeans were not entirely out of place. It was a noisy room, indirectly lighted with strategically placed pink reflectors to give everyone a healthy glow, though few needed the help. The room gave anyone who entered the club a quick once-over.

When she walked in, pausing to survey both competition and prospects, conversation stopped, and a few women snickered maliciously. Noze didn’t know her at first sight. She was an entirely new character. But there was that hair, and as she walked with a subtle pony’s gait to an empty two-top near the front of the room, he remembered the slight hitch in her step and the pronounced movement it gave those hips. Many of the men stared. Noze heard some of the comments by women.

“Please,” said one, drawing out the word. “What does she thinks she’s doing?”

“What’s with the limp?” said another. “She thinks she walks like a model or something.”

“Look at daddy’s little girl. I don’t know what she’s peddling, but it’s disgusting.”

“The bitch isn’t as hot as she thinks. I’ve got way bigger tits.”

“Maybe so, Lindy. But you also have a way bigger ass.” Boozy laughter.

Noze thought them all typically rude. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Her hair was parted in a T, with some teased forward to play across her brow. A glossy hank was gathered on each side and tied with a lace ribbon that closely matched the tart cherry red of her lips. Another length of the same ribbon was tied as a choker around her neck.

Tonight’s costume included a white blouse, cut to pinch at the waist and flare over the hips. It buttoned the full length of the front and the neckline was low yet nearly modest. The cloth was scandalously sheer, but doubled at the breast pockets, providing a pretense of decency. The skirt was inky black. It rode her hips and fell in wide pleats almost to her knees. She completed the look with ruffled white ankle socks and black patent Mary Janes with just enough of a heel to heighten interest by shaping her butt. It was a cliché, but clichés became so from effectiveness. A subtle scent of freesia and violets arose from her hair, neck, and thighs, a custom blend prepared exclusively for her by a perfumer she’d enchanted. She called it Vestal. She slid effortlessly onto a stool from the left side, set her purse on the table – it was kicky, chic for its reuse of a piano-black Cohiba Comador cigar box with a glass bead handle – and crossed her legs, right over left, the left heel hooked over the stool’s foot rung. She raised a hand to signal for a server, but one was already on his way, wending between the tables, moving urgently, leaning so far forward that he seemed in danger of falling on his face. Noze watched her look up with shimmering gray eyes, showing perfect teeth in a delectable smile, flirting. The young man leaned closer as though he could not hear, she said something, and he scurried off. She began to scan the room.

Her eyes met his for a two-count, then moved on. He felt he had been judged and discarded. He turned to pick up his sour and drained it.

“Oh, barkeep,” Noze said to the same black-and-white and pierced girl who seemed always to be here, “Jack on the rocks, el doble.” She was in mid-show, adeptly keeping two of three bottles aloft while combining tequila, triple sec, and lime juice over crushed ice in a salt-rimmed shooper. When she finished, slamming each bottle in turn into the well, she stirred the cocktail with a gold-plated barbed wire swizzle, shrieked “Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!” in a mocking Speedy Gonzalez impression, looking sideways at Noze, handed off the drink, and gave him a straight pour.

He took it and swallowed about half, the enervating brown creeping forward from the back of his brain.

He continued to watch the copper-haired girl as she sipped at her drink and smiled and dismissed approaching suitors while he assigned them each a type. The Viking was not accepting his fate.

He wore a slate-gray bespoke suit that fitted tightly on his trim bulk and set off his golden mane, which in turn set off his store-bought tan. He grinned and said something Noze couldn’t make out. She showed him a palm and looked down at her drink. He leaned heavily on the table and spoke again, the grin gone. She refused to meet his glare, showed him the hand again.

The Viking gripped the tabletop with both big hands, shook it hard, and pushed off, turning to walk the walk of shame back to his seat. His jaw was set hard. He sat alone with a fixed stare in her direction. His lips moved between swigs of light beer, until he slammed the glass down on the table and stood. He began to pick his way between tables, heading again for Noze’s dream gir

She saw him coming, set down her drink, stood, picked up her purse, and began making her way toward Jimmy Noze. As she tried to sidestep the Viking, he lunged and grabbed her left arm. Noze saw alarm and anger distort her face as she wrenched her arm away and toppled to the floor, legs splayed. Two men at an adjacent table looked down at her and grinned when they saw her exposed panty. Noze’s eyes were instead drawn to her left leg. The hum in the room was dropping. The Viking bent down, hooked a paw under her closest arm and stood her on her feet, lifting without effort.

“You don’t get to just blow me off,” he rasped, a catch in his throat. “We’re leaving,” he ordered. She hissed. She tried to push by again and he seized her shoulders until she mewled in pain. He shook her and snarled, “Look at me,” and, turning her around to face him, saw past the top of her head as Noze hurried from the bar, reached behind his back and stopped out of reach pointing his pistol – a Glock 31, its magazine filled with fifteen .357 hollow point rounds – at the center of the Viking’s face. He had everyone’s attention.

The hum stopped dead and Mellencamp sang about a lonely ol’ night and the bartender said, “Sir, sir, we don’t allow firearms in here.” Jimmy Noze thought that was about the funniest thing he’d heard since whenever.

The Viking froze, still gripping his prey by the shoulders. Noze told the bartender and the room, “It’s OK, I’m a cop,” and for all they knew he was. The Viking kept his eyes locked on the piece and didn’t move. Noze looked him hard in the eyes and said, “Looks small, but punches like Tyson. Turn her loose.”

The Viking opened his hands, but she stood still, looking up into the big man’s face. “Got a good job?” Noze asked. The Viking subtly nodded, keeping his eyes on the gun. “Enjoy a good rep in your community?” The Viking nodded. “Ever been arrested?” A silent no. “Want to change any of those?” Another two-step shake of the head.

“Miss, is there anything you want to say to this guy?” Noze asked. She took a half step back toward Noze, cocked one shoulder, balled up a little fist, and landed it dead center on the Viking’s gullet. He made a gurgling sound, eyes popping, but stopped himself from grabbing at his injured throat. “Go away,” Noze said, and the Viking did as he was told.

Jimmy Noze tucked the gun back under his shirt and returned to his barstool, still facing the room. He heard bits of can-you-believe conversations starting as the bartender said she had no idea he was a cop and she was usually pretty good at spotting them and she set him up with another double without him asking. “On me,” she said.

The redhead slid onto the stool next to his, back in character.

“I want a drink, just like his.”

The bartender scooped another glassful of rocks, rocketed the bottle of Jack into the air, turning once, turning twice, and caught it spout down, filling the glass. “This is on me too, cutie.” Everybody was back in character.

Noze felt a quiver in his legs as the adrenaline subsided and he hoped the copper-haired girl didn’t notice and he let his drink sit until his hands settled down and smelled the same faint scent of flowers he didn’t know. She turned her stool to face him and pursed her red lips and sucked a little Jack through the cocktail straw. Noze filled his lungs and let it go slowly.

“Dangerous, huh?” she said.

“He wasn’t all that dangerous. Mostly a coward.”

“No, you,” she said, and took a big swig of the fiery sour mash. Noze shrugged and felt like a stupe. He turned his stool to look into her face, but couldn’t stop a glance down at her breast pockets, then looked back into her glinting gray eyes.

“What was that about?” He hazarded a good swig from his glass and appreciated the burn.

“Oh, we saw each other once when he bought me dinner and said we should get to know each other better. I was not so sure.” She pursed her red lips and sipped, again through the little straw. “I let him take me to his house. Just for snacks.” She sipped some more, and pouted.

“But he was mean. Some men are mean. He was really mean. He did rude things and I said they were rude. He expected something other than what I was willing to give. So I left his gaudy house. I guess he was waiting for me to come back here.” Red pucker. Sip. “I think you too were waiting for me to come back here.” She looked him square in the eyes. “Are you mean?”

Noze didn’t know how to answer.

“What is your name, dangerous man?”

“Jimmy. Jimmy Noze. With a Z.”

“Are you really a police officer, Mr. Noze?”

“Far as you know.”

“My name is Mary.” Sip. “Bliss.”

“Is that your real name?”

“Far as you know,” she said, then, “Have you eaten yet?”

This book can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.

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