Judd Wagner's jowels clung to his face like bird shit clings to telephone wire.
That was only part of the problem. Thirty-eight years of unhealthy eating, rare exercise and screwy family genetics had ruined his bloated five-foot-eight-inch frame so badly that he couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror, let alone persuade a member of the opposite sex to enjoy looking at him. Judd had never stimulated anybody’s primal instincts.
Poor Judd. Whoever created him had expertly hidden every bit of his goodness from plain view. He was such a nice man, but he couldn’t reel anybody in close enough to his heart to share his goodness. Not that he ever stopped trying.
So here was Judd at the Third Annual Blind Dates for Baboons, an event that raised money for the local zoo’s upkeep of their monkey exhibit. It cost the attendees whatever monetary sum they were willing to donate to the cause. Dinner would be served.
The event was to take place at eight-o’clock that night in a giant old barn that no longer housed horses, but their stench had never left the confines of the rotting walls.
Judd, wearing his best tweed suit and polka-dot tie, hoped that this would finally be the night he got to see a real-life naked lady. He even dared to dream that tonight would turn into forever so he could come home his very own real-life naked lady and look at her any time he damn well pleased.
Judd arrived at the barn at seven-fifty-eight on the dot and handed a crisp twenty-dollar-bill to the tuxedoed doorman. “Thank you for your contribution, sir,” said the doorman. “The zoo appreciates your donation to the cause.” “My pleasure,” replied Judd, who really couldn’t care less about the local monkeys’ standard of living.
Judd walked through the cavernous entrance. A flood of warm yellow light washed over his eyes as he scanned the inside of the barn.
One-hundred folding chairs and fifty card tables were sprawled across the floor. Each table was numbered with a little card. Forty-three men lined a wall facing forty-four ladies, who got naked sometimes. ‘Perfect odds,’ thought Judd. ‘Got bless America.’
The men were also numbered with little cards, which they held in their hands. Judd picked up the number forty-four card from a stool near the entrance and took his place on the wall next to man number forty-three.
Man number forty-three smelled exactly like cheese.
The women also had numbers, but theirs were secret inside sealed envelopes, ensuring that the dates were truly blind to each other. There was to be absolutely no premature eye-fucking going on across the barn while the monkeys were being saved.
Judd glanced at his six-dollar watch. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Three seconds to eight. The mating ceremony was about to begin.
The tragic shrill of a referee’s whistle cut through the musty air like a bullet. A young man strode elegantly to the center of the room. He was confident in his crisp zookeeper khakis. “Welcome to the third annual Blind Dates for Baboons,” he bellowed, flashing a toothy grin that threatened to swallow his whole face. “At this time, we would like the men to find their tables.”
A symphony of footsteps played across the floorboards as the forty-four men left the wall for their tables. Judd navigated his way through the maze of tables, found number forty-four, and sat down as sexily as he could. He wanted to impress the ladies by being suave at all times.
One of the chair’s legs was slightly shorter than the others. The tablecloth was made out of paper.
Judd smoothed some imaginary wrinkles on his suit and peered sideways at the wall of women.
“Next,” said the zookeeper, “we would like the ladies to open their envelopes to reveal their table numbers. Please have a seat at the corresponding table after you have done so.” The females tore their envelopes open.
The zookeeper managed one last face-eating grin. “Have fun!”
It was time to begin the nervous half-horny exchange of formalities and awkward conversations expected at these kinds of functions.
Judd’s heart rate increased a little as the ladies approached. He had learned from experience to hope for the best but to expect nothing.
His metal folding chair rocked back and forth the way metal folding chairs do when one of their legs is a little too short.
Suddenly, Judd’s date was standing in front of him. “I’m Isabelle,” she said, not sounding half-horny at all. “What’s your name?”
Isabelle’s luscious curves were emphasized perfectly by her pretty pink dress. She had deep-green eyes, lovely locks of brown hair, and skin like a bronze angel. Judd thought Isabelle was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Judd hastily stood up. He needlessly cleared his throat and extended a sweaty hand. “I’m, uh, Judd,” he stammered. Isabelle giggled like a schoolgirl at Judd’s nervousness and gave his damp palm a delicate squeeze.
“Nice to meet you, Judd. Shall we?” Isabelle gently slipped her hand from Judd’s and gracefully motioned towards the table. “Yes,” said Judd. “We shall.”
Judd and Isabelle sat down. None of the legs on Isabelle’s chair were too short.
“Did you hear what they are serving for dinner?” asked Isabelle, her plush lips shaping the question flawlessly.
“No,” said Judd, “but I’m not a picky eater. I eat everything.”
“Oh?” Isabelle raised her eyebrows a fraction of an inch. “Even dirt?”
“Hell no,” said Judd. “Dirt is for swine.”
Isabelle’s mouth opened with surprise.
“It just so happens that my favorite animal is the pig.”
Judd froze, waiting to see if he had blown his chance with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
The edges of Isabelle’s mouth curled upward into a smile. “I’m kidding,” she said. “You’re weird and I like you.”
Relief swirled inside Judd’s belly. He took a deep breath and laughed for the first time in weeks. It was his turn to talk.
“So,” he began, folding his hands on the table in front of him, “what do you do for a living?”
“Oh,” she said, puffing a tuft of hair out of her eyes. “I’m an extortionist.”
Judd didn’t know what to say. He had never met a woman with such a sharp sense of humor. She was so funny that Judd almost forgot how beautiful she was.
“That can’t be true,” said Judd.
Judd looked at Isabelle’s face. She wasn’t laughing.
“But it is,” insisted Isabelle. “I take money, jewelry, cars, anything I can from lonely men like yourself. It’s a win-win situation, really. And it’s so easy. I just find the loneliest men I can sex them up until they give me just about everything they own.”
Judd thought about everything he owned.
“In return,” Isabelle went on, “these men get to have me for a little while, and a woman is all that lonely men ever want. Even when I’m gone, they’ll have known what it’s like to be with a beautiful woman. And you can’t put a price on a memory. It looks like they’re serving spaghetti.”
Judd sat there, his droopy mouth agape in shock. “How can you be so blatant?”
“It’s the truth. Look behind you.”
Judd turned and saw the handsome young zookeeper delivering two plates of spaghetti to the table behind table number forty-four. He spun back around.
“I wasn’t talking about what’s for dinner. I was talking about your blatant extortionism.”
“I may be a criminal,” said Isabelle, “but I’m no liar.”
“What if I turned you in to the police? You’d go to prison.”
“You could do that. But if I went to prison, I wouldn’t go home with you. The choice is yours.”
Isabelle was the most expensive whore in the world, and at this point, Judd was almost willing to pay the price.
Isabelle smiled. “See? It’s easy.”
Judd stared at his hands, amazed that he had walked into such a gorgeous trap. He almost couldn’t believe his lucky misfortune.
“So,” said Judd carefully, “how does this work?”
“You’ll see,” said Isabelle.
The handsome zookeeper appeared at Judd’s elbow.
“Good evening,” he said, with all the enthusiasm of a department-store greeter. “Are you two getting along okay?”
Isabelle batted her eyelids at the zookeeper, light dancing off her eyes. “Splendidly,” she said.
“Well, that’s great to hear,” said the zookeeper. “As they say in the city of love, bon appetit.”
The zookeeper had never been to the city of love.
Judd looked at his spaghetti and pondered the validity of his sanity. His whole life, he had told himself that he would give up anything to be with a beautiful woman. Judd thought this was a fairly safe bet, seeing as how convinced he was that he would spend the rest of his life alone.
Isabelle twirled some spaghetti onto her fork and put it in her mouth. She chewed slowly and swallowed gracefully.
Judd’s hands were shaking. He spun his fork around haphazardly, dispelling most of the noodles. When he attempted to bring the fork to his mouth, spaghetti splattered on within a two-foot radius.
Isabelle laughed out loud. “Your spaghetti technique is pathetic,” she said.
Judd didn’t give a damn about his spaghetti technique. In the light of extortionism, everything inside of him squirmed. He plopped his fork on his plate and looked straight through Isabelle’s eyes.
He saw a hideous beast.
“I may be alone,” said Judd, “but I’m no sucker.”
Isabelle’s mouth plopped open in shock. She had never been rejected.
Judd planted his feet in the ground and pushed back hard, skidding his uneven chair legs on the floor.
He stood up, walked past the man who smelled exactly like cheese, past the confidently khakied zookeper, past the tuxedoed doorman, through the cavernous entrance, and into the night.
For the first time, Judd loved himself. He inhaled the crisp evening air.