Buck heard the door close behind him, already counting the bills in his hands. Finding that the woman had overpaid him a little, he grinned something truly disconcerting on the face of a Holstein bull. He buttoned his shirt halfway up on his way to the elevator, hiding the perfect human body that made him all his money or at least most. His bovine ears twitched at the ding the elevator made when it reached the lobby of the hotel.
"Hey Buck," a plain brunette waved to him from behind the counter. He glanced up at her and tucked the wad of bills into his back pocket.
"Hi Kristy," he said in a deep, liquid baritone that sounded like exactly what anyone would suspect cattle to sound like if they could speak. "Working late again?"
Kristy shrugged, reaching back to tuck a curl of hair behind her ear. "Dennis cancels so often, and I need the money. What about you? This, uh
an early job for you?"
"Nah, kind of middling," he said. "This is my second job this evening. I should have one more before I call it a night." Kristy nodded, eyes wide and fixed on Buck.
"Who was it this time?" she asked with forced indifference. "Was she pretty? Young? Smart?"
Buck raised his eyebrows. "Sweetheart, pretty, smart young women don't have to hire men for sex." He grinned and Kristy thought it was somehow charming in its peculiarity. "I get a lot of divorcees and old maids." He took a breath mint from the little bowl on the counter and popped it into his mouth. "Hey, last week you said you had an audition, didn't you? How'd that go?"
Kristy blushed. "I'm amazed that you remembered that," she said. "It went
um, it went really well. Really, really well." She thinned her lips and looked down at the counter. Buck reached out and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Ah, don't worry about it, sweetheart. You've got what it takes. You'll make it, kid. Guaranteed." He sighed and leaned forward onto the counter, taking another mint, unwrapping it and spinning it on the counter like a little red and white top. "You're talented. That's more than I can say for myself."
"What? Buck, what are you talking about? You're the most sought-after
everyone likes you!"
Buck gave a coarse laugh, not raising his eyes to meet hers.
"That's not talent, babe. That's oddity. I'm weird. That's why I'm popular I'm different." He shrugged. "Without this weird cow head thing going on, I wouldn't be able to make a living. The Midnight Cowboy! God, what a joke." He caught the mint mid-spin and held it up to look at it. "You know I'm red-green colorblind? I have no idea if this mint is green or red. It could be either, really. Mint. Mint is green. Right?" He squinted at the mint and looked so tragic that Kristy reached out and covered the mint and his hand with her own hand.
"Buck. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You're special. And you'd still be special, no matter if you were part cow or part turtle."
"Thanks Kris," Buck said with a sigh, reaching out and tousling her hair in a way that made her feel like she was in third grade. She frowned. "You always know what to say." He glanced down at his watch. "Hey, I have to go get cleaned up before my next job. See you later this week, yeah?" Without waiting for an answer, he snagged three more mints and, high-fiving the doorman, disappeared back into the buzz of New York City at night. Kristy heaved a sigh and allowed her head to come to rest on the counter.
After a moment a woman cleared her throat loudly and Kristy startled upright again, hurriedly brushing her hair back into place with one hand. The woman looked to be in her late thirties and seemed like she might have been pretty ten years ago. She was wearing jeans that were too tight on her and too much eyeliner. "Checking out," she said impatiently. "Linda Connor." Kristy nodded and moved the mouse around to wake up the computer.
"Thank you for staying with us, Ms. Connor. Did you enjoy your stay?" Kristy said mechanically.
The woman laughed. "Boy, did I. That guy might be part beef but he is all man."
Kristy flushed and stared hard at the computer screen. "Linda Connor? Room 216? Wonderful, you're all checked out. Please come again."
Linda strutted out of the hotel, heels clicking on the hardwood, looking immensely pleased with herself. Kristy paused a moment, then reached under the counter for the sign she'd been instructed to put up if she was the only one working and had to use the bathroom.
She took the stairs to room 216, not wanting to run into a maid or another employee on the elevator. First she tried to break the tiny refrigerator, knowing that would require a charge of at least eighty bucks to Linda Connor's account. When she couldn't figure out how to break it, she considered breaking the window, but knew that would draw attention and someone would figure out that it happened after she'd checked out. Finally she settled for the classic stealing-a-robe. It was only a thirty dollar charge, but it was all she could manage at the moment.
She took the robe back to her apartment and laid it on the bed next to her. She fell asleep trying to convince herself that it smelled like him.