She stood framed in the doorway of my office, blond and leggy in a business suit that made her look like Mariel Hemingway. The other reporters had noticed, too.
My phone rang; it was the boys in the next office, the kind of heartless newspaperin' guys who would eat doughnuts at their mothers' autopsies. She'd managed to raise a pulse in them, and they'd called to ask: "Who's the babe?"
I hung up the phone without answering.
She told me her name was Tiger, no last name, just Tiger, and she had the police reports to prove it.
Things were happening to her that she didn't understand. She'd been run down by a bicycle, had her apartment broken into, her computer hard disk raped; she'd been busted for drugs she didn't have. And it all started after an aborted agreement to sell her erotic fiction through the Arizona State University bookstore.
She'd even received death threats; she produced a cassette from her answering machine, popped it into my tape recorder and waited tensely outside while I hit play.
Message two: "This is ASU, and we're calling about some kind of lawsuit you have against us, and you're going to be woken up late at night and killed," a man's voice purred.
I told her that big universities were not in the habit of killing students they didn't like. In fact, I explained, they seldom even flunked them out. Her face turned red, her eyes filled with tears of anger. She needed someone to write her story.
I told her I'd think about it.
When she came back the next day, she was dressed to kill. I vaguely remember a short business suit, butvividly recall a gold lam blouse without buttons; it wrapped--or rather unwrapped--across her chest, tentatively held in place by the waistband of a tight skirt.
I loosened my tie.
Overnight, I'd read some of that fiction she said had gotten her into so much trouble.
It was published under the pen name Eva Morris, and it went both ways. Some of the stories were slick and sexy and humped along with a well-lubricated rhythm; others were as hurried and awkward as a backseat fling at the drive-in. What the stories lacked in style, they made up for in libido.
I told her flat out that one of them--a bedtime appetizer in which the characters used the grease from fast-food fish and chips to help things slide, if you take my meaning--was vulgar, even by my tastes. She verbally went for my jugular.
"Don't tell me you don't like my writing," she barked. "That's your fucking peccadillo."
With the different name came a different affect. Tiger had been fragile. This was Eva Morris, the author: grandiose, intimidating, striking.
I could tell she was used to getting her way with men. I sensed she was searching for the personality that would make me open up and do her bidding.
"I'm kind of living a dual life," she said, this time softly.
And then, without really telling me who she was, she laid out a story that was too improbable even for a movie-of-the-week script. But I've lived long enough in this Borderline State called Arizona to know that things happen here every day that are too far-fetched to be fiction.
Tiger's tale was as fragmented as Fife Symington's financial records. She had enough police reports and hospital records to prove that bad things were happening to her.
So what? Lots of people have worse luck. She could be governor, for example. Come to think of it, she was just as outrageous in her accusations, and she made them so forcefully that she was either straight-face sincere or stone crazy.
She held on, white-knuckled, to a belief that all her troubles led back to ASU.
And for everything Tiger said, she seemed to leave just as much unsaid. I was supposed to figure it all out, solve the mystery, write the story.
Turned out the babe was a mystery herself.
She wouldn't say what her given name was or where she came from. Her father was an inventor, she said--"CT scans, eight-track tapes"--and her mother was a nurse who lectured on sex education at junior high schools.
She'd grown up partially in Colorado, and when her parents split, she claims she went out on her own--at age 12.
Her story took her to Japan, where she wrote health-and-fitness columns for Japanese magazines.