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In a Lonely Place - Dorothy B. Hughes, Paula Rabinowitz

“Once he’d had happiness but for so brief a time; happiness was made of quicksilver, it ran out of your hand like quicksilver. There was the heat of tears suddenly in his eyes and he shook his head angrily. He would not think about it, he would never think of that again. It was long ago in an ancient past. To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. They made happiness a pink marshmallow.” 

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Dorothy B. Hughes

I’d known Dix Steele since the war, well since London anyway. He was hung up on this dame named Brucie then. A woman we all wished would look at us the way she looked at Dix, but there were plenty of dames for everyone. The British Roses were enamored with American pilots and believe you me we cut quite a swath through the lavender scented air. 

I lost track of Dix and then ran into him again in New York. He was with another dame, a long legged bit of sparkle that laughed when she was supposed to and knew how to touch a man just right to let him know she was interested. I was with some gal I’d met at the dry cleaners. She wasn’t pretty, but she was alright. Next to Dix’s bit of sparkle her clothes looked a little drab and her face, well she might have been prettier if she’d smiled once in a while. 

Dorothy, as it turned out, was fascinated with Dix. When the girls left for the bathroom which left me wondering if Dorothy’s dourness would rub off on the Sparkle or if the Sparkle would manage to loosen Dorothy up, Dix leaned in and said “whadya think”? 

“She’s gorgeous Dix.”

“Not my dame. I was talking about your dame.”

“Well she’s not my dame. We just met.”

Dix had a terrible temper. I could see his face tighten and realized I wasn’t getting what was bothering him. 

“She keeps staring at me.”

I leaned back and lit another cigarette. “Jesus, Dix, girls always do like you. I’m already jealous you’ve got the prettiest girl in here.”

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Dix had strong hands.

He grabbed my arm and pulled me in closer. “It ain’t like that.” His fingers were like steel rods pressing my skin tightly against the bone. I shook him off feeling a momentary flare of my own anger. I drained the last of the Rye in my glass. 

“I’ll tell you what Dix we will shove off as soon as the girls get back.”

I was expecting him to say something along the lines of that wouldn’t be necessary, but he just nodded to me and said: “That dame with the probing eyes would be a pleasure to throttle.”

I pulled Dorothy aside before she could sit down. I could tell she was not happy to be leaving, but after another long look at Dix and then a look back at me she nodded her agreement. Dix was right about something. She did have eyes that looked deep inside a guy. As we were waiting for the coat check girl to bring our things she said to me: “Dix has issues with women.” 

I laughed. “Yeah, too many of them chasing him.”

I had thought about taking her to another club. Maybe after a few more drinks she’d get a little more friendlier, but all she was interested in was Dix. She shotgunned questioned at me like she was going to write a book or something. I answered a few, but there was no end to her curiosity. I finally pulled over near her apartment and said: “You’re going to have to kiss me if I’m going to answer any more questions.”

She pulled a face that put a damper on any pleasure I would have had from what I could only assume were cold, cold lips anyway. “It’s alright girly I don’t want a kiss you don’t want to give.”

She scooted over closer to me. I put my arm around her and I could feel the wired energy running through her. She gave me a peck on the cheek that was more chaste than what a nun would have offered up to Jesus. I opened my door and stepped out. I reached in and helped her out. I thanked her for a lovely evening. She gave me one more probe of those dark eyes and then she walked away without acknowledging anything I’d said. 

That evening was the last time I saw Dix or Dorothy, but not the last time I heard of them. I was killing time in a bookstore, not because I read, but because I was dating a book seller with pale gold hair that shimmered sending shivers down to my toes. In a pyramid of books on the table at the front was a book by Dorothy B. Hughes, a name which sounded really familiar. I opened up the back and saw her picture. It was...the obsessed about Dix...Dorothy. I looked at the cover. IN A LONELY PLACE

“Well I’ll be damned.” I heard a gasp from a blue haired battle ax with her hands over the ears of a young girl. 

I laughed and told them I was sorry. 

There was Dix’s name larger than life in the text. 

I bought my first book. 

It seems Dix was right about Dorothy being obsessed with him. She even followed him to Santa Monica, California. She published IN A LONELY PLACE as a novel, but from what I gathered from newspapers there was more truth than fiction in the book. I guess I always knew something was a little off about Dix, but I had no idea of what he was capable of. 

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Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in the movie In a Lonely Place. (A really great movie that is under appreciated. )

I went to see the movie too. I was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. Gloria Grahame looked exactly like the kind of dame that always liked Dix. I had to admit I liked the movie better. They changed the plot, but that anger in Bogart’s face was the same cold fury I’d seen transform the pleasing features of Dix Steele into a mask of hate. It makes me feel a little queasy when I remember the glittering madness he showed me that night I was out with Dorothy and he said: “That dame with the probing eyes would be a pleasure to throttle.”

I’m a novel reader now because of Dorothy B. Hughes. Who would think so much real life could be wrapped up in fiction? I married the bookseller not for the shimmering hair, but for the 40% discount on books.