“Femme Fatale” is the last story is a sub-section entitled “Killers and Cons.” You meet 68-year-old (“No, I’m really 61.”) Mona in LeisureWorld, a retirement community and immediately, you begin to wonder: is Mona a killer or a con? Mona doesn’t fit in with the merry folks at LeisureWorld. She’s moderately well-off after her fourth (although she convinced the man he was her second marriage) but not so well off as to afford the kind of lifestyle she thinks she deserves. More importantly, Mona has nothing to do, nothing to occupy her time. Until she meets Bryon.
In a Starbucks, Bryon (“With an ‘o,’ like the poet, only the ‘r’ comes first.”) mistakes Mona for a famous starlet. Even when it’s proven she’s not the former star, Bryon keeps after her. He’s an independent filmmaker and he’d like to get a few shots of Mona. He convinces her to come to his studio—“a large locker in one of those storage places.”—and model for him. Cautiously, he gets her to pose in her birthday suit. Mona is shocked at first until she learns people pay to see what she has.
“People pay?” [Mona asks.]Mona’s worth gets established as the story progresses. She’s always liked the looks of her own body and gets quite fond of performing for the camera. Later, she realizes there’s more money to be made if only Bryon will let her in. When he doesn’t, well, let’s just remember the title of this sub-section: “Killers and Cons.” You’ll have to read the story to find out which one is Mona.
Another shy nod. “It’s sort of a. . . niche within the industry.”
“It’s my niche,” he said. “It’s what I like. I make other films about, um, things I don’t like so much. But I love watching truly seasoned women teach young men about life.”
“And you’d pay for this?”
“Just to look? Just to see me, as I am?”
“A little for that. More for . . . more.”
“How much?” Mona repeated. She was keen to know her worth.
Prose-wise, I particularly enjoyed the way Lippman used ellipses. She keenly conveyed Bryon’s hesitancy at broaching the subject of his films to Mona and, later, Lippman uses them to show Mona’s adept acting abilities.
Lippman is sly in the way she introduces the true subject of her story. And, when it clicks for Mona, as in the passage above, you can just see her hesitant eyes sharpen, her brain working over the angles. Work them over, she does, and, by the end of the story, she finally has something with which to occupy her time. And she’s happy. You’ll be happy, too, after you’ve read this fun little noir gem.