With a hip as hard as her lip
And her lip was as hard as bone…

–from an unfinished erotic epic hard-boiled detective poem from Dashiell Hammett to Lillian Hellman

Women were easy. Elfinstone met one at a party and smiled at her, eyes hangdog and rummy. “Let’s fuck,” she said, and he laughed and went with her.

In the morning he was cold and silent and hungover. “Why’d you come with me?” she flirted with him. He’d forgotten her name, lost it somewhere in the gin and vermouth.

“You asked me,” he said truculently, “and a man isn’t taught how to refuse sex.” After that she left him alone and he finished his breakfast silently.

Men weren’t much harder. Some took the measure of him and kept a wary distance, wolves warned off by the smell of carrion, but most fell into his orbit, his bony profile, his lunger’s cough giving him a patina of more-than-continental worldliness.

Kuber was Iris’s husband and followed along behind him bemusedly. “Why don’t you find someone else to tail,” complained Elfinstone.

“She likes you,” said Kuber, “God knows why.”

“Hell,” said Elfinstone. “Come on, I’ll take you to the fights.”

Afterwards they were drinking and one of the flash company insulted Iris. “If you want to finish this,” said Kuber, “we’ll take it outside.”

Elfinstone went under on the first punch.