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CH01 - No Score

Lawrence Block

  No Score

  In this sinfully silly coming-of-age adventure, a young orphan works a series of very odd jobs, attempting to make his fortune and lose his virginity in one fell swoop

  Chip Harrison thought he was normal until his parents blew their brains out. An orphan at seventeen, he is cast out of his prep school with nothing in his pocket but $27.46 and a vintage prophylactic, determined to make his fortune as soon as he manages to lose his virginity. He has no experience in business or bed, but no amount of rotten jobs, irate husbands, or loaded revolvers will stop him.


  “I SHOULDN’T EVEN be here,” she said.

  “Oh, you should,” I said. I looked at her, and I got this very sudden, very tight feeling in my throat, as though I had done a very ungood job of swallowing something large. I swallowed again, and the tight feeling moved downward through my chest and stomach and down to the very pit of my stomach, where it settled and put down roots and applied for citizenship papers.

  Now, you really must be cool, I told myself. Because she’s here and so are you, and if you just Stay Cool and Play Your Cards Right everything will work out.

  But the trouble with telling yourself things, I’ve discovered, is that the part of you that’s being told is always dimly aware that the other part, the part that’s doing the telling, is trying to con you, for Pete’s sake. I mean, it’s like staging a wrestling match between your two hands or trying to commit suicide by holding your breath. (If you try that, you eventually pass out and start right in breathing again. So I understand. I experimented once when I was about thirteen, but I got to thinking that maybe this was just a big story and you really could kill yourself that way if you were very strong-willed. And I decided that I was a pretty strong-willed person and was thus running a real risk, so what I did was go into this fake swoon and collapse gracefully on my bedroom rug. I was in my bedroom at the time, and all alone, so you might wonder why I didn’t just start breathing more or less naturally instead of putting on an act. That would be a tough one to answer actually, but anyway none of this has very much to do with what was going on between me and Francine.)

  What was going on between me and Francine was that we were in my room, not the bedroom where I held my breath and swooned but the room I was renting now, which was in an attic upstairs over a barbershop. Francine thought she shouldn’t even be here, and I thought she should.

  And I had this lump, or tightness really, in the pit of my stomach. Or, not to mince words, in my, well, groin.

  “I should go home now,” she said.

  “You just got here.”

  “As soon as I finish this cigarette.”

  She took a puff on her cigarette and just let the smoke find its own way out of her mouth. She sat there on my bed with one hand on her lap and the other behind her on the bed and she let the smoke trickle out from between her lips, which were parted just enough to let this happen. The general effect was as though something was burning inside her. I could believe this.

  I was on the bed next to her. That sounds sexier than it was. Because we were both sitting side by side on the edge of the bed, and we might as well have been sitting side by side on a bench, watching a basketball game, for Pete’s sake. All it really was was uncomfortable.

  Come on, I told myself. (Remember what I said about telling yourself things, about all the good it does.) Come on, do something. At least say something. Be masculine. Take the initiative. Act.

  “You’re beautiful,” I said.

  “Oh, come on.”

  “No, I really mean it. You are.”

  “Oh, sure,” she said, but there was something going on in her eyes and around her mouth. She fluffed her hair with one hand. Her hair was the soft reddish brown of oak leaves just before they fall off the tree. I reached to touch her hair and she shook her head and I took my hand away. I did touch her hair more or less in passing. It was as soft as it looked.

  She drew on the cigarette and let the smoke find its way to the ceiling again.

  “That’s easy to say, Chip,” she said.

  “No, I mean it.”

  “I’m sure you tell every girl.”


  “Well, how do you mean it?”


  She turned a little toward me, crossed one leg over the other (or perhaps it was the other way around). “Why do you say I’m beautiful?” she demanded. “I mean, what about me is that way?”

  “Oh, well—”

  “Just for the sake of conversation.”

  I gave a quick nod then, a reflexive gesture indicating that I had Gotten The Message. I remember reading somewhere that beautiful women are inclined to be very narcissistic, meaning that they are in love with themselves, and that the best way to have success with them is to let them know that you think they’re every bit as great as they think they are. I read this in a book that told how to succeed with women, and that even gave little poetic lines to say to them at tender moments, but I had never bothered to commit any of the lines to memory because they struck me as fairly corny. Besides, it seemed to me that if the author was really such an expert at making out with women he would be too busy doing just that to waste his time writing books. Like the books that tell you how to make money at the racetrack, or how to turn a shoestring into a million dollars. If anybody could do those things, why bother writing a book? Why not just go ahead and do it?

  “Your eyes,” I said. Another book had suggested that every woman thinks her eyes are beautiful. “Brown eyes flecked with green, and so large, and so deep.”


  “You think about things, Francine. You have deep and profound thoughts.”

  “That’s very true.”

  “And it shows in your eyes.”



  “So you like my eyes,” she said, prompting.

  And smiled a smile to let me know I was on the right track.

  “And you have beautiful hands,” I said.

  “Do you think so?”

  I reached out, trying not to let my own hand tremble, and I took hold of hers. She didn’t draw away. This wasn’t a pass, after all. It was part of the project of cataloguing Francine’s charms. She made things easier by transferring her cigarette to her other hand, and I moved closer on the bed until I could feel the warmth of her body next to mine. We weren’t exactly touching, but I could feel the warmth of her body.

  I held her hand and told her how beautiful it was. As a matter of fact, it was a very fine hand, with just the right softness to it. The fingers were long and sensitive. There was just the finest tracing of soft downy hair on the back of the hand. And it had none of the faults that so many hands will have. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t sweaty, it wasn’t clammy. Of course, I didn’t put things that way. I firmly believe in stressing the positive side of things. For the same reason I didn’t mention the hand’s one flaw, which was the nicotine stain between the first two fingers. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded this if I smoked myself, but I didn’t. I think it’s a bad habit and I don’t see any point in having bad habits. As a matter of fact, I do have one bad habit myself, but that stuff about it making you insane or blind is really a lot of nonsense, and anyway I’ve been doing my best to keep it to a rock-bottom minimum. And, of course, I intend to give it up as soon as I have a satisfactory substitute for it, which is what bringing Francine to my room was all about, actually, although from the way she had been acting you would have thought it was the furthest thing from her mind.

  “And your hair,” I said, reaching out to touch it. “And your tiny feminine feet, and your shapely legs—”

  I went on like this. It was really pretty disgusting, when you come righ
t down to it, but at the same time you have to realize that everything I said was the truth. Francine was so beautiful it could make your heart stop to look at her. A soft, beautiful, innocent face, and these gentle shoulders and slender arms, and her breasts—I still get weak in the knees just thinking about her breasts. You would think that breasts like those would be more at home on a heavier girl, but when your eyes moved down from those breasts (if in fact they did; mine often didn’t, remaining there like two bees at two blossoms), you saw that the waist was very slim, and the hips just wide enough to be interesting, and the buttocks nicely rounded, and the legs as if they had stepped out of stocking ads. I could go on this way, but what’s the point? Even if I pasted a photo of her right here, it wouldn’t do it right, because all of us see things differently. So do this: Imagine an absolutely perfect girl (except for a nicotine stain between the first two fingers of the right hand, and a half-inch-long crescent-shaped scar on the inside of the left thigh) and you’ve imagined Francine.

  I went on telling her this, leaving out those two flaws (only the first of which I knew about then) and wording my praise so that I came off more like an artist and less like a total sex maniac, and all the while I kept looking at her eyes, and the weirdest thing happened. She began to get hypnotized.

  I don’t know what else you could call it. She was nodding encouragingly in time to the rhythm of my words, and every now and then she would chime in with Do you really think so? or Do you honestly mean it? or just a little Yes and Uh-huh and Oh sounds and grunts, and it was as if she was completely caught up in the sound of my voice telling her how perfect she was. I was pressing her hand as I talked and she was giving me little rhythmic squeezes in return.

  You’ve got her, I thought. Now hurry, before the spell wears off.

  But I guess I was afraid to blow it. Things were going so well, see, and I didn’t want to jeopardize my position. Because it seemed as though I had been waiting forever for this to happen, and if it didn’t happen soon I didn’t know what I would do, except maybe go completely out of my head.

  So I went on talking while the cigarette burned unattended between the fingers of her left hand—I was holding the right hand all the while. And very smoothly I went on talking and reached across and plucked the cigarette away and flipped it into the sink on the other side of the room. It was an easy shot because the other side of the room wasn’t all that far away, the room being on the small side, but even so the whole maneuver was one of my smoother plays.

  It encouraged me, and then, too, I realized that soon I was going to run out of parts of Francine to praise. So I got an arm around her and tipped up her face and kissed her.

  At first it was like kissing—well, I was going to say a warm corpse, but that’s really pretty revolting and it wasn’t like that at all. Let’s say it was like kissing someone who was asleep.

  But then she started to wake up.

  She kissed back, sort of tentatively, and I held her a little closer and kissed her a little more heavily, and she opened up like a flower. Her arms went around me and held me and her breasts pressed up against my chest and she sighed beautifully and her lips parted. There was a brief hissing sound as some drops from the leaky faucet put out her cigarette butt, and as the hissing died I let my tongue slip ever so gingerly past her lips and into the rich dark cave of her mouth.

  She tasted of honey and tobacco and musk. She made the kiss a very urgent and hungry sort of experience, putting her own mouth into it and clutching my shoulders fiercely with her little hands.

  First base, I thought.

  I told myself to forget about the different bases, because that sort of thinking can be a trap. I had been to first base before, though not with Francine. I had been to second base a few times, and even to third base.

  But, as you must have figured out by now, I had never been to home plate.

  All right. Let’s come right down and say it, let’s put it down in black and white. I was a virgin.

  What a stupid word.

  I mean, it’s a girl’s word, right? Virgin, for Pete’s sake. You really can’t come up with a more feminine word than virgin. You hear a word like that and you picture a girl with flowers in her hair, wearing something with ruffles. But I don’t know of any other word for it, so that one will have to do. I, Chip Harrison, was a seventeen-year-old virgin. I wasn’t going to be seventeen forever. (Although there were times when it seemed that way.) And I wasn’t going to be a virgin forever, either, if I could help it. (Although there were times, damn it, when it didn’t seem as though I could help it.)

  As a matter of fact, it sort of seemed to me that the two things, age and sex, were connected in some heavy way. That if I scored (which is to say got to home plate, which is to say stopped being a virgin) before I turned eighteen, then I won. Whereas if I didn’t, I lost.

  But the point of all this is that the business with the bases can be a snare and a delusion, or at least I have found this to be so, because they give you the feeling that you are making progress with the girl, in that each time you are with her you get a little closer to the goal line (wrong sport, sorry about that) and thus it seems to follow that sooner or later you will score. This is not necessarily true. And, in fact, it seems that the more you get into this kind of pattern with a girl, the better she gets at getting you to stop somewhere along the way. It isn’t that you keep getting closer but that you keep not getting where you wanted to go, and all of this is not only frustrating (very) but it leaves her knowing that she can control you, and this is not a Good Thing in any sense.

  Not that I am the World’s Foremost Authority on all this. To be honest, some of this I got from the books on how to succeed with women, and some is just speculation on my part. But what it all boils down to is that the best way to do something is to do it, and the best way to Go All The Way with a girl is to just go ahead and do it. Not in stages but all at once.

  Especially because, in this particular instance, I was not going to get another chance at Francine. Because she was two years older than I was, and practically engaged to some college jerk, and so it had been a case of wild luck that I had gotten her to my room at all. So the chances were very good that I would never see her again, which was too bad, but which was something I could life with. If Only. If only I hit the first pitch completely out of the park and ran around the bases and crossed the plate before Francine realized what had happened.

  So we held the kiss, and she clung to me as tightly as her sweater clung to her, and my tongue went spelunking in her mouth, and her tongue met it and got acquainted with it. We kissed for a long time. Then we came up for air and looked deep into each other’s eyes, and when her eyes went slightly glassy I kissed her again, and it was the same, only better.

  When we broke this time she said, “Oh, Chip—”


  “I must go.”


  “Please, I can’t—”

  “You’re so beautiful,” I said, desperately.

  “Oh, Chip.”

  “I love to kiss you.”


  “So beautiful. A goddess.”

  “Oh, my God—”

  I drew her to me. She resisted, but not in any really meaningful way. She sort of stiffened, and I drew her close and got my mouth fastened to hers again, and then she got into the spirit of things again, as if the token show of resistance made it all right for her to surrender now. And in the course of drawing her close, somehow or other my hand managed to get on top of her breast.

  Around first base and streaking for second.

  Getting the sweater off was an absolute stone bitch. It really was. I guess because there is no entirely natural way to pull a tight yellow sweater over a girl’s head. You can’t just make believe it’s happening by itself. It’s possible to sort of slide into a kiss, or let your hands accidentally settle on the more interesting parts of a girl, but sweater removal is just too damned obvious. Even i
f you’re both all in favor of it, it’s hard to pretend you don’t know what’s going on. Or coming off, I suppose.

  I got the sweater out of the waistband of her skirt without too much trouble. But then I started to work one hand up under the front of the sweater, and she broke the kiss and put her hand on mine, and pushed.

  “Please, Chip.”

  “Francine, you’re so beautiful.”

  “Chip, I don’t want you to do that.”

  “I think you have the most beautiful breasts in the world.”

  “I don’t—you do?”


  “You’re just saying that. Chip—”

  A kiss, but not a very successful one.

  “You have a great line, Chip. My goodness, what a line you have.”

  “It’s not a line.”

  “Oh, your hands just won’t behave. Please don’t do that.”

  “Francine, I want to look at you.”

  “Oh, come off it. I know what you want.”

  “I have to see you.”

  “Sure, you just have to see me.”

  “Your breasts are beautiful, Francine.”

  “You shouldn’t talk like that. I hardly know you. I mean, after all—”




  “If I thought I could trust you—”

  “You can trust me, Francine.”

  “I mean if it wasn’t so utterly physical—”

  “You know it’s more than that, Francine.”

  “I mean—”


  “Oh,” she said, finally, and shrugged me away, and just as I was about to reach for her again and start the whole process over, she gave a little sigh and pulled the sweater up over her head. There was a moment when the yellow sweater covered her head completely while leaving her chest uncovered (except for the bra, of course) and that image imprinted itself on my memory. There was something really appropriate about it, the whole image of Francine with the best part of her right out in the open and her stupid mouth covered up. If I were an artist I would paint that scene. I think if it was painted right you could look at it and know everything you would ever need to know about Francine.