Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sunny Wagon Ride – Tom

                Buckets of sunshine raining down.  The unremitting blue sky left him no place to hide.  He sat on the sidewalk outside of the cafe wondering how long he had before the darkness came and he could forget the afternoon.  He wished he could peel back a rock and crawl underneath it.  He visualized his headache, nails gently and unremittingly being driven into his temples tap by tap.  Days like this, lifetimes like this, he just longed to have nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no awareness of any of it. 

                Not that there was much to do today. Louise was out of town and the kids were his for the weekend.  Mo had deftly deserted him, immediately really, in favor of a party.  And Tim, well, he was currently getting a weekend dose of superhero at the cinema.  He was visibly relieved when I had informed him that I would not be going in with him, or even standing outside with him on line.  Joe handed him the cash and waved farewell.

                Not that he and Ben were left unobserved on the sidewalk.  Ben’s dad, George, watched them surreptitiously from across the street.  Not that they were really worried, but you build habits and, well, you try to let go as smoothly as you can but it’s not all that easy.

                He sipped his mid-afternoon coffee and watched George cross the street, making his way toward him.  George ducked inside to get his own coffee.   

                Joe stared into the traffic, hoping to lose all the details.  The bills he was juggling, the stalled work projects, how much he really wanted to get a beer.  He’s been on the wagon for two weeks now – not because of his dismal behavior on St. Patrick’s Day, but because ski season had pretty much come to an end.  Not because of spring or a lack of snow really, but because of little league and soccer, coaching and chauffeur duties.  And he knew that it was good to stand up straight and fly right, even for a little while.  It kept him from getting too gloomy.

                Besides, you have to be alert to the signs, listen to what the world is telling you, and sometimes you are repeating things out of habit rather than out of fun.  Give him some down time though and he didn’t know what to do with himself.  He felt like a raw nerve, and when he wasn’t paying attention he found himself thinking progressively gloomier thoughts.

It wasn’t so much that he wanted to get drunk.  He craved forgetfulness, something to combine with a certain inertia that would allow him to escape the set of observations and obsessions that was pervading his Saturday afternoon psyche.  He really wanted a shot and a beer, because it made him feel good to see them there on the table, like they were a pathway to some happier place.  But repeated experimentation had finally made him accept that this was not so.  They were a rather blunt path to a large tab, a brutalized gut, a higher chance of some further regrettable behavior, and finally unconsciousness.  He needed a slower path or a brighter distraction.  It seemed that the darkness was gone, and he missed it.

                George got his coffee and sat down with him.

                “How’s it going?”

                “It goes.  Another blissful Saturday afternoon.  Kids and chores.  I think the boys are hoping they can have a sleep-over at my house tonight.”

                “Nice.  Nobody even mentioned it.  Hardly an unexpected development.”

                “Looks like you are flying solo.”

                “All revved up and don’t know where to go.”

                “I’m sure you can find something around the house to keep you busy.”

                “Louise didn’t even leave me a list of things she hoped I would get to.  I’m in unfamiliar territory here. Expendable.  Unnecessary.”

                “Used up is more like it.  Spent.  You’ll just have to bask in the sunshine, enjoying your coffee.”

                “Just look at all the lovely people wandering by.”

                “Look, we’re talking Seattle here.  It’s not eighty degrees.”

                “Yeah, but the rain jackets are gone.  Dresses.  I’m seeing some legs and shoulders on the ladies out there.”

                “Sure.  I’m a bachelor for the weekend, sitting here in downtown Columbia City watching girls with you.  My heart wells with pride.”

                “You have to do what you can.  Are you nearly done with your month?”

                “I’m more than half way now, but it’s begun to feel like a heavy lift.  Not cravings so much, but irritation, an unreasonable frustration with the world around me. A raw nerve, a toothache.”

                “Wagon rides are cheerless.  You are morose to begin with.  Now look at her – she’s looking good.”

                “How can you tell?  She’s on the other side of the street.  More than a block away.  Well you might be right.  I have to admit she looks pretty good.”

                The young woman in question kept moving their way.  By now they had stopped their watch, sitting quietly delaying any decisions.  A nice feature of sitting with an old friend – communal silence did not have to be uncomfortable.

                Joe looked up, and watched the woman cross the street.  She was looking at him and walking their way.  Now he was beginning to feel bizarre, like he was about to be called out as some lecherous creep.  He began to anticipate an extremely uncomfortable social scene.

                She walked right up to them, and it wasn’t until she took off her sunglasses that the two of them recognized her as Sarah, a girl they had both coached in youth soccer more than a decade before.  Mercifully she addressed them as Joe and George.  And no, she had not seen them watching her (or did not let on), and sadly and happily had them categorized in such a way that she never would have suspected them of such a thing.

                They watched her go in for coffee, and were still there when she returned.  They waved goodbye and watched her saunter down the street.

                “Boy, do I feel really weird now.”

                “That was all your fault.”

                “No, it was yours.  If you aren’t on the wagon this doesn’t happen.  We wouldn’t be out in the sunshine feeling and acting all creepy. “

                “You’re right, we’d be across the street, inside.  Safe.  Enjoying some cheery libations.”

                “Well, what are we going to do?”

                “I don’t know.  I’m dreadfully sorry.”

                “Let’s go somewhere safe.”

                I should have understood the tide a while ago.  But now, my course of conduct was clear.  No spouse, no kids, and this whole Sarah thing.

                “I’ll text Mary, see if she can pick up the boys.”

                “I don’t care – you can be on point for that.  I’m going to have a shot and a beer.”

                They deserted their coffee and sprinted across the street, ignoring (or perhaps in some small way savoring) the blinking red hand in the crosswalk.  The bar was open, empty, and for some reason had the air conditioning on.

BLUE LAGOON by K. Uffelman

The soles of Maura’s feet burned as she walked across the icy path. Her cozy robe had been abandoned in the little bar, and her swimsuit was definitely not providing enough protection from the biting wind. One of the lifeguards eyed her quizzically through his goggles, his bright orange snowsuit reflecting sun and snow. The dressing room had been packed, but no one else seemed to be out on this deck. Only a few more steps, please don’t slip…and then she was in.

The warm, milky water rose up to her chin as she walked forward and the chalky silica squished between her toes. She could feel the varying temperatures carried by the currents – hot, warm, very hot – as she moved along the bank of the lake, careful not to get too close to the jagged pumice at the water’s edge. She dipped her head back into the hot water, feeling ice crystals form on her eyelashes and eyebrows. The sky was immense above her, and she closed her eyes.

“You look very thirsty. Perhaps you would let me buy you a drink?”

Maura tilted her head up slightly, opening her eyes and looking toward the sound of the voice.

“Excuse me?”

The voice came from a man of indeterminate height (the water was up to his chin, too, but who could tell if he was on his knees or tip toes), wearing a wool beanie and with bits of white mud stuck to his sideburns and forehead. His accent was heavily Russian and he looked a little like the abominable snowman. She had heard that people used the silica mud for facial masks…the effect was other-worldly.

“No, I just got in…not ready to get back out, yet!” She raised a hand to brush the ice crystals off of her hair, but the air was too cold and she quickly pulled arm and hand back down into the hot water.

“It’s no problem. I bring your drink here,” he smiled, “Heineken or champagne?”

Maura’s expression must have been one of pure confusion, because he added, “your choice…or both, maybe?”

It hadn’t occurred to her that she could drink in the Blue Lagoon, but as she surveyed the other bathers, she noticed through the steam that many of them were clutching beer bottles or plastic cups of wine next to their faces.

“Um…okay,” Maura replied, regretting her response as soon as it was out of her mouth. What was she doing?

The Russian smiled and swam away from her. She watched him swim under an arch she hadn’t noticed before, and then could see his speedo-clad body ascend stairs inside the glassed-in bar. That’s why the lifeguard thought she was nuts and why there was no one on the deck when she had risked life and limb to cross the icy ramp. You could just swim into the lagoon from inside!

She noticed several other men, maybe friends of her new drinking companion, floating in the water about 20 feet away.

“Hello!” one of them called.

Maura wondered where Jackson was. He had wanted to go on the official tour, see the geothermal plant that fed the lagoon and learn about their health research facility, but Maura was only interested in floating in the milky water, so they parted ways after paying the entry fee – each paying his or her own way. Maura was a very independent person, but it irritated her how Jackson never offered to pay for anything, and how he’d shrug when she’d offer to pick up dinner or some other expense. “If you want, it’s fine with me.” Eventually, when it became clear that he’d never return the favor, she stopped offering.

Jackson was good in some ways, but his charm was growing thin on this trip (what had possessed her to agree to travel to a foreign country with him in the first place?). They didn’t seem to be interested in doing any of the same things, and Maura almost lost it when he insisted on going to on the geothermal instead of exploring the lagoon with her. He reasoned that the tour was only supposed to take an hour and he promised to find her in the lagoon after. What was taking him so long? And how would he find her? The lagoon was enormous, and it wasn’t easy to see through the steam. Oh well, she’d found other company.

“I brought back three of each, but if it’s not enough, I can swim back – no problem,” the Russian grinned at her, improbably holding three bottles of Heineken in one hand and three cups of sparkling wine with the other. Maua accepted one of each – why not?

“Thanks…I don’t think you said your name?”

“Bruno.”

“Thanks, Bruno.”

“My pleasure.”

His grin was contagious and Maura smiled back at him in spite of herself. Jackson wasn’t a jealous guy, but it occurred to her that he might not be too happy to find her swilling drinks with some random stranger. Whatever. Were she and Jackson even a couple? Standing in the hot water in the crazy moonscape of the Blue Lagoon, her relationship with Jackson seemed totally ridiculous.

The “champagne” was incredibly sweet and went straight to her head. Luckily she had the beer to chase it. Bruno watched her drink, accepting the empties from her like he was her mother, and handing her a second beer.

“See, I could tell you were thirsty! A very thirsty…Canadian? American?”

“American.”

“Ah – I am from Estonia. You hear of it?”

“I think so…by Russia, right?”

He laughed.

“Everything is by Russia!”

“Not America,” she replied. She thought maybe Bruno was making fun of her.

“No, not America. You are right. Estonia is very beautiful country, I think you would like it.”

“Hello Bruno, who is your friend?”

Two of the men from the nearby group were swimming toward them. They were both wearing wool beanies like Bruno and had even more white mud than on their faces and necks.

“She’s from America,” Bruno offered.

“Hello Miss America, very pleased to meet you.”

A fourth Russian – wait, were they all Estonian? – swam up, carrying six Heineken above his head, which he distributed around the circle. Two for him and a beer each for everyone else, including Maura. Her body was so warm, and the air around her face was so cold, and the beer was so cold.

“You here all alone?” Bruno asked.

“Um…no. I’m here with a friend. He’s taking a tour of the geothermal plant.”

“Ah yes…very interesting,” one of Bruno’s friends commented.

“But he’s coming in the lagoon?” Bruno asked.

“Yeah. I mean, I think so.”

“Soon?”

“I…I’m not sure.”

Although it wasn’t completely dark yet, the moon had risen, adding a surreal glow to the surface of the water and the white mudded faces of the men.

“Have you tried the silica?” one of the men asked her, “it is very good for your skin.”

Bruno reached down, and then approached her, his hand just out of the water, full of white mud.

“Allow me.”

Maura held very still as Bruno smeared the mud across her forehead and down her cheeks. He dabbed her nose and chin, and delicately, even respectfully, smoothed some down her neck. He then wiped what was remaining in his palm on his own face, adding to the mud that was already there. Maura felt herself transformed.

Just then she heard someone calling through the steam.

“Maura? Maura?”

A familiar looking head swam in their direction. He scanned their faces, and then continued on past.

“Maura? Maura!”

Maura watched him swim away.

“Poor guy. He must have lost his lady,” one of Bruno’s friends laughed.

Yes, thought Maura, I believe he has.

Mud mask

Memories of Exotic Places—Clark Humphrey

I don’t do “exotic destinations,” at least not very well.

Truth is, I can find the mundane most anywhere. Show me an elegant black tie party and I’ll be trying to hang out with the waitstaff and the bartenders. Show me a Vegas resort and I’ll be most at home at the buffet. Send me backstage at a big concert or show, and I’ll want to be with the crew and the roadies. When “guided relaxation” audio tapes ask me to imagine I’m lying on a beach, I imagine I’m on one of OUR beaches, in February, with cold winds and probably a washed-up seal carcass. 

The following are among my most vivid memories of New York: Coney Island. Heavy-set old women in one-piece suits at a beach. The subway. The far west of the Upper West Side. Camera stores where they wouldn’t stop trying to sell you more and more stuff. The dying vestigial remains of the sleaze-era 42nd Street. The New York Public Library’s periodicals annex. A woman who chatted me up in a bar next to Madison Square Garden, explaining why the Yankees always deserve to win, while her boyfriend sank deeper into his drinks at the next stool. White Castle burgers for breakfast. Trying to lean to one side at the Guggenheim in just the right way so I could see the art “right side up.” 

The following are among my most vivid memories of Las Vegas: Two drunk hookers failing to hook me. The father and son on a bus from a Spice Girls impersonators’ show, talking about the point when “Posh” had sung directly to the son. The rooftop swimming pool at the Horseshoe, the 100 degree temperature sign, and the sullen teenage boy lifeguard. The large, tacky convention room where the World Series of Poker had begun. The giant Pepsi-Cola neon sign right across the street from the “World of Coca-Cola” tourist attraction. The slow-moving parade of older women inhabiting the more “downmarket” casinos such as Slots of Fun, clutching their plastic cups of clot machine tokens. The excessively detailed mural map of the U.S. at New York New York, complete with mountains, rivers, cities, and Interstate highways. Liking Reno (where I’d been the previous year) better, because it hadn’t lost as much of its old grittiness.

The following are among my most vivid memories of Chicago: The El train. Rushing through the Art Institute museum to try to see all the major paintings in the last half hour before closing time. Spotting bootleg merchandise sellers outside Wrigley Field, and insisting to my hosts on getting one of their T shirts instead of an official one. The “Lotto Diner” (at least that’s what its sign said it was). Marshall Field’s, before it got Macyfied. 

The following are among my most vivid memories of Los Angeles: Upper middle class living rooms with velvet rope barricades against the households’ own children. How far everything seemed to be from everything else. The fake Liberty Bell at Knott’s Berry Farm. Not getting to go on any studio tours. A single day in Disneyland, during which I kept looking for the machinery that made everything happen and my mother continually “joked” about how the whole place being dry. My mother joining AA within a month after coming home, and staying in it for 39 years.

Unspeakable Acts —Elaine Bonow

Unspeakable Acts
The plane landed, after a turbulent hop from Miami to Montego Bay. It was the end of hurricane season. She decided to make the trip on the spur of the moment. She had to get away before she did the unspeakable, which would change her life forever.
Madeline reached up and grabbed her bag from the overhead bin and exited the plane parked outside on the tarmac. The heat sucked the breath right out of her body.
She left him behind, and the cold winter that had been so confining, so claustrophobic, so deadening to her spirit, dousing her fire. He was happy alone with his work to keep him busy, his routine that never changed, just like in the movie “Topper,” where the mild mannered banker was controlled by his routine until the frisky ghost of Marian, the fun loving capricious society girl captured him and changed his life.
Maddy had such a vague memory of fun now, married for so long that her younger self was a dull aching memory of agirl who once was the life of the party, a girl who has almost disappeared into staid middle-class-ness.
Maddy jumped at the invitation to spend two weeks in Jamaica, a place she had last visited before her husband had turned into his present incarnation of staid business man concerned with the status quo. He had arrived and was satisfied, proud of his possessions especially of his wifely possession but not proud enough to let go and get full enjoyment from his hard-earned prizes.
Maddy could feel the heat through the soles of her shoes, the asphalt so hot it was like a kids spongy playfield. She wasn’t used to see so many black faces in charge of things. She dragged herself through customs and ignored the lascivious looks of the uniformed guards, the whites of their eyes rimmed in red, a cartoon of black face, which seemed shockingly wrong.
Lois sent a car and driver to get her through the town and into the hills. The heat was unrelenting until she got into the air-conditioned SUV. The road was crowded with cars, mopeds, and pedestrians. Along the sidewalks, school children walked in groups, their clean uniforms creating a wave along the side of the road of white shirts and dark blue pants and skirts accented by tidy ties, books in brown satchels and matching brown lace-up shoes atop white ankle socks.
She felt dizzy from the trip and the heat. The driver pulled over to an open-air stand and bought back a cold can of coconut juice and a straw. She drank greedily and felt slightly nauseous but soothed.
They traveled at a fast pace as he carefully threaded the car through the busy city and up into the green lush hills above the Montego Bay. On the switchbacks, the blue bay outlined by the white sand, interposed between the canopy of the lush forest, was breathtaking.
After what seemed like eternity the cab reached the house. Perched spectacularly on an impossible cliff it looked inviting. Lois wasn’t home yet but a tall dark skinned woman with a severe expression welcomed Maddy. Her hair was braided and she wore a pale blue dress with a white round collar.
She showed Maddy her room. Tired from the trip and exhausted by the heat, Maddy took off her clothes and without redressing lay on top of the bed. A large fan whirred overhead and she dropped off into a dreamless sleep.
When she woke she was immediately aware of her nakedness and alone as she was felt a bit embarrassed. The sun had lowered and she was also aware of certain sensuality in the very air that swirled around her from the overhead fan. She heard voices and sensed movement from the house. Maddy dressed in a pair of white Capri’s and a lightweight shirt and followed the murmuring voices to a veranda overlooking the sea.
“Welcome, welcome Maddy. I see you found us. How was your trip? It’s so good to see you in person and not on the Internet.” Lois grabbed and hugged Maddy to her. “Here meet my friends, Patrick, Celine, we call her Ce Ce and you met Theresa when you arrived.”
Maddy recognized Theresa who had changed into shorts and a pink silk shirt. Ce Ce reminded Maddy of an older Lois and then she remembered that Lois had mentioned her aunt would be visiting the same weekend.
Patrick stood up as Maddy came towards the table and offered her the seat next to him. “Please, sit here beside me.”
The sun was starting to set. The sky, darkened into a turquoise hue, was reflected in the crystal waters below. The house was perfectly situated with a spectacular view. Maddy could hear waves crash below her. She thought they were high in the hills but just then Lois said, “Yes, that is the beach below. There are one hundred steps down to my private little beach. We’ll go down tomorrow.”
“Wow, how did you read my mind?”
“Oh no, I’m no psychic! Everyone has the same look you have when they get here and hear the surf.”
“It is quite charming isn’t it?” Patrick said. “You’ll have a wonderful time here at Chez Lois. I came to Montego Bay about twenty years ago and stayed. I live here now, just up the road.”
“Yes, Patrick has gone native. He operates the best Ital food joint near here deep in the forest.”
“Do you want a drink dear? I’ll make you a beautiful cocktail to toast the sunset. How about a lovely Chi Chi?”
Ce Ce got up, performed her magic and returned with a pitcher of a creamy concoction and five glasses. “This is delicious.” Maddy said after a toast to her new friends and the beautiful surroundings. “It tastes like coconut and pineapple and…”
“Rum of course good Jamaican Rum.” Patrick added and clinked his glass with Maddy’s.
Maddy relaxed in the warm night air. Theresa brought out some snacks from inside the house. It became obvious that Theresa and Lois were lovers, something Maddy never expected, when they shared a kiss and a giggle. They soon retired leaving Maddy in the company of Ce Ce and Patrick. Ce Ce brought out a glass pipe, filled it with, as she put it, “Some Irae weed.”
One puff and Maddy was high. It had been years since she had smoked, since they had smoked or had any fun. She started feeling giddy, a bit topsy-turvy. Her phone rang. That roused her into the now from the Out of Nowhere and she answered the phone. “Hello Dear.”
He asked her about her trip. She got up to stand away from the others. He sounded in usual form, dry in tone with just enough emphasis to seem interested although she could easily imagine that he was relieved to have her gone, to have the time to himself, his routine and his rules without her.
She felt better now after the interruption, not so stoned. Ce Ce had somehow slipped away. Maddy felt relieved like a weight lifted from her shoulders, and also a bit guilty in this uncommon feeling of freedom. A slow reggae beat joined the breeze from the sea.
Patrick came towards her and made a short bow. “May madam have a dance with me?” She fell in his arms and was pleasantly surprised when he could lead her body so quietly and easily, like they had done this before. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slow danced. This made her ecstatic and so thrilled she knew she had to slow down, to watch herself or suffer the consequences.
Patrick let her go. He kept the beat with his body and to her absolute surprise he started singing along with the music. Maddy sat back and closed her eyes. She could feel his presence when he sat in the chair opposite her. She liked him even though she just met him. She felt like a character in a WE Channel daytime movie.
Something has to be wrong with this picture. Maybe Lois had planned something and hadn’t told her. She studied him with half closed eyes. Yes, he was perfectly suitable. She wouldn’t fall in love. She will forget all about him when she goes home. She won’t make a fool of herself.
Patrick liked this part of his life, working for Lois. She carefully picked women and the women friends of friends through Facebook and Twitter, who needed a fix, a fix as strong as a drug but better for the soul by far. He found most of them to be delightful. He enjoyed loving them for a short while.
Maddy decided then and there to do the unspeakable. She didn’t want to miss a second of fun. She got up from her chair and without hesitating straddled the strong brown legs of the stranger in front of her and smothered his face in kisses.

DUCK AND COVER – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER

DUCK AND COVER – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER

Phil stared out the window over the nineties-era high-rises at the black water in the bay. He checked his watch. 9:52 p.m., Vladivostok time. It was exactly seven minutes from the last time he checked his watch. He paced back and forth the length of his hotel room, which took approximately ten seconds. Phil sighed, resisted the urge to check his watch again, and sat down in the room’s single chair.

He turned on CNN to catch up on the American news, although CNN usually made him homesick. Hour after hour, CNN was a veritable smorgasbord of tornados, government scandals, bus crashes, train wrecks, serial killers, Angelina Jolie, shootings in Florida, and international news stories presented to confirm America’s moral, economic, and military superiority. Phil might be in Russia, but in the United States it was business as usual.

Phil watched as a CNN reporter detailed rescue efforts in some little town completely buried by mud. Phil studied the surviving residents’ stricken faces against a backdrop of grey skies. His headset buzzed. “Walsh here,” Phil said, turning down the sound. “Are they back yet from the dinner meeting?”

“Are you kidding?” Evans asked. “They were all drunk before they left. They won’t be back before midnight. Hope the negotiations go their way.” Evans laughed, and Phil heard shouts and laughter on the other end.

“Where are you?” Phil asked. “And how many EP guys went to the dinner with them? Did anyone notice the Exxon guys were drinking? There should be at least four security officers with them. I specifically requested four officers. Four sober officers.”

“OK, Phil,” Evans said, his voice crackling through the headset. “I know that you’re new in the private sector, and you still sound a little uptight. The first thing you need to know is that this is not the Secret Service, so you don’t have to worry about reporters and all that protocol nonsense. Exxon executive protection is a lot different.” Evans paused for a second, and Phil heard him take a drink.

“So what I’m trying to say Phil, what I’m telling you is to pull that stick out of your ass and come down to the bar to drink with us,” Evans said. Phil heard several loud bursts of laughter. “The Exxon guys are a lot more fun than Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A bunch of us off-duty guys are here in the bar. Except for the four guys you specifically sent to the dinner. Those poor assholes.” Evans laughed again, and Phil’s headset went silent.

Phil sighed. He glanced at his watch again. 10:19 p.m., Vladivostok time. He wanted to call his wife and kids back home in Houston, but he couldn’t figure out what time it was in Texas. Since he left the Secret Service to manage the Russian executive protection program at Exxon, Phil traveled six months out of the year. The Exxon job paid more than double what he made for the government, but the travel exacerbated an already strained situation with his wife.

He jumped up and looked out the window at the city. During his interview at Exxon, the head of the executive protection services told Phil that Vladivostok was known internationally as “The San Francisco of the East.” There were several hills in Vladivostok and a large, elaborately designed bridge that extended over the bay, but as far as Phil was concerned any resemblance ended there.

Vladivostok may have been picturesque at one time, but Phil thought any vestige of charm the city once had was long gone. The old buildings and monuments, relics of the Tsarist regime, were torn down after the revolution to make way for rows of apartments, factories, and shipping facilities. The concrete fortresses encircling the town, built in the late 1800s to protect the city from warring factions from the Far East were still mostly intact, but the Japanese, Korean and Chinese that the fortresses were designed to repel were now a major factor in Vladivostok’s economy.

Phil sat down again in front of the television. He felt claustrophobic in the small room. A Burger King commercial, all glistening meat, bright American cheese, and crispy salty fries made Phil’s stomach growl. He had to eat something. He jumped up, switched off the television, and put on his navy sport coat. He grabbed his key card from the dresser, slipped his gun into the back of his pants, and headed down the dimly lit hall to the elevator.

He headed through Hotel Hyundai’s lobby to the bar, instinctively taking inventory of everyone in the room. Three Russian women, mid-20s, one in a green dress, one in a black dress, and one in a bright blue pantsuit, all carrying shopping bags. Two Korean men, early 60s, in matching grey suits, one with a black briefcase, the other on his cell phone. Two desk clerks, one male approximately five feet nine inches, one female, approximately five feet three inches, both in hotel-issue uniforms. Everyone in the lobby except the woman in the black dress was smoking.

As he walked through the lobby, Phil could hear Evans arguing loudly with someone about NFL draft picks, and determined the hotel bar was to the right. He pushed the heavy door open, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. He saw Evans and a group of Exxon EP officers bunched up in a tight circle, seemingly determined to ignore the bar’s international clientele.

Evans caught sight of Phil silently evaluating the bar patrons. “Phil, Phil, over here,” he yelled, motioning him into the circle. “We just heard a bunch of liberal idiots want to change the name of the Washington Redskins. Can you believe it? They can’t do that, can they? That’s ridiculous.”

Phil observed the Exxon security officers in the bar. He didn’t know any of them very well, having made a concerted effort to keep to himself. There was Tim Callahan, an ex-cop from St. Louis, Sean Kennedy, an ex-staff sergeant who supposedly served four tours of duty in Iraq, and Joe Rossi, an ex-FBI officer from Baltimore. All appeared slightly intoxicated, but far from drunk. Phil was surprised. If these were Secret Service agents, they would be wasted by this time.

“We want another round of Jack and Cokes,” Rossi told the bartender, tossing an Exxon American Express black card on the bar. “Put our tab on this. What are you drinking, Phil?”

“Jack and Coke sounds good to me,” Phil said. “Can I get a menu?” he asked the bartender. “I want something to eat.” The bartender silently handed him the multi-lingual menu. Phil looked at the offerings on the English page and wished he hadn’t seen that Burger King Commercial. He couldn’t get used to the food in Vladivostok, an odd fusion of traditional Russian dishes with an Asian influence.

“I’ll have the beef and kimchee piroshkies,” Phil said, wishing for the hundredth time that he could just get a burger and fries. He sipped his drink. At least Jack Daniels and Coke tasted the same everywhere. He took another drink and joined his fellow security officers.

“Glad you came and joined us, Walsh,” Callahan said, slapping Phil’s back with his meaty hand. “You come highly recommended. I have a good buddy in the Secret Service. I hear you had top level clearance since Jenna Bush’s wedding. Must have been great at W’s Crawford ranch.” Callahan paused. “I also heard you got a bum deal in that Columbia mess.”

Phil ignored Callahan’s last comment. He assumed they watched CNN, just like he did. “It was a good job,” Phil said. “I loved it. And W was a great guy, a lot of fun to be around. President Obama and his family are nice too, but they’re pretty strict. Everyone has to follow the rules.” He took another sip of his drink. “It’s a tight group of guys, the Secret Service. It’s more than just a job, all that taking a bullet for the president stuff.”

“Yeah, that patriotic stuff is great,” Kennedy said, laughing. “But most of it’s bullshit. The President is nothing more than the CEO of the United States. Everything’s business now, business and oil. It’s always oil. Look that mess we made in Iraq. For nothing, all for…”

“Oh God, don’t get him started on Iraq,” interrupted Evans. “We know, we know, you wake up in the middle of the night because of your PTSD, not because you have to take a piss like the rest of us.” Kennedy laughed. “Just don’t shoot me when you finally snap,” Evans said. “Shoot one of those bastards that pay us to protect them.”

“I can guarantee you that I’m not taking a bullet for anyone at Exxon,” Rossi laughed. “Hopefully the corporate boys lock their doors at night. The most stress I want in my life is turning in my risk protection analysis at the end of the month. That’s more than enough.” Rossi looked at Phil. “So how do you like Vladivostok?”

“It’s all right, I guess,” Phil said. “But it’s too much time away from my wife and kids. The wife doesn’t like it.” He looked at the other people in the bar. “It’s not what I expected here. I thought it would be snow, vodka, and ex-Russian intelligence officers. You know, that John Le Carre stuff.”

“You’re living in the past,” Kennedy said. “The Cold War is over. Everybody in America, Russia, China, and Korea wants the same thing now: more money. Nobody cares about politics. President Obama brokers business deals between countries.”

Kennedy gestured with his half-empty glass. “You remember the APEC summit we had here a few years ago? All about economic cooperation between countries with money. Ideology be damned. But at least the Russians built a new bridge here and a couple of hotels. If you think Vladivostok is ugly now, you should have seen it before 2012.” Kennedy shook his head. “What a shithole.”

“At least this hotel is pretty decent,” Callahan said. “Good old Hotel Hyundai. They named it it after a car. A cheap car.” He looked at Phil. “So what do you drive Callahan? Back in the states.”

“Whatever the government leases, usually something American. Bronco, Silverado, whatever,” Phil said, looking at the plate of oily food the bartender slid in front of him. “The wife drives a mini-van.”

Evans and Callahan laughed. “You aren’t doing government work anymore,” Evans said. “What do you drive now?”

Phil finished his drink. It had been two years since he left the Secret Service, but it seemed like it was yesterday. He checked his watch and wondered again what time it was in Texas. “A BMW. I drive a BMW now.” He motioned to the bartender. “Can I get another,” he asked, looking around. “Let’s get another round.”

“Slow down, Phil,” Rossi said. “We don’t party like those government guys. Someone in EP has to be sober if the CEO’s wife and kids are kidnapped.” He emptied his glass. “But it’s not going to be me tonight.”

Phil looked up at the bar television. CNN was on. He wondered if his wife was watching CNN right now in Houston. He found the thought oddly comforting. “So how long have you guys been here?” he asked.

“I’m an Exxon lifer,” Callahan said. “They take good care of their people. I started on an oil tanker in Alaska, but after that Valdez mess I decided to go corporate. I miss it sometimes, being out on the ship. It’s beautiful there.” He paused, “Or was anyway before the accident. But here in Russia, I’ve been here about ten years or so.”

“Exxon has a lot of major screw ups,” Kennedy said. “Look at what happened in Louisiana. But you’re right Callahan, they do take care of their people. I don’t think they fired anybody or made anyone resign.” He glanced at Phil, struggling with his greasy piroshkies. “There wasn’t a fall guy in the Gulf Coast. BP just paid everybody off. Not like what happened to Phil.”

Phil put down his fork and covered his plate with his napkin. He looked at the men. “Is there anything you guys want to ask me?” he said. “Like why I don’t work for the Secret Service anymore? Did you miss it on the news? CNN covered it for weeks. And everything was paid off.”

Evans shook his head. “We all heard the news, but who in the security business believes CNN?” he said. “The average American has no idea what security is like in other countries. Terrorism is everywhere, and it doesn’t sleep. And it’s not just the Muslims, it’s the drug cartels and the pirates too. As far as Americans are concerned, it’s just one big Florida out here.” Evans looked at the others. “Am I right?” he asked.

“Anyway, we heard you were the fall guy,” Rossi said. “My buddy said they forced you to take the blame for everything that happened. That prostitution is legal in Columbia, and there weren’t that many agents actually involved with the ladies. I also heard everybody was really blasted.”

“Well you heard wrong,” Phil responded. “You’re right, most of us had been drinking, and some of the guys got out of control. But we were off duty, and the President and his entourage were asleep. And we didn’t know the girls were prostitutes. At first, we just thought they were really into Secret Service guys. In retrospect, we should have known better. Even the ugly guys got laid that night.”

Phil nodded toward Kennedy. “He’s got it right,” he said. “Everything is about capitalism. The problem wasn’t that we got drunk and brought back a bunch of hookers to the hotel. The problem was that we refused to pay them. It wasn’t a diplomatic snafu.” He shook his head and laughed.

“The next morning after that night, I woke up to the sound of people banging on my door. I had a terrible hangover and was off duty, so at first I didn’t answer.” Phil rattled the remnants of his ice and drained his glass.

“Then I heard a loud voice say: POLICE. OPEN YOUR DOOR. NOW.”

“I opened the door and the girls from last night rushed in with about half of the Cartegena police department. Then some fat cop yells at me that they hadn’t been paid, that the Secret Service hired these hookers and didn’t pay them and were all a bunch of crazy drunks. Then my room was full of hotel security officers demanding the names of all the Secret Service officers involved, and said that we would have to leave the hotel immediately.”

Phil shook his head. “So we all left the hotel,” he said. “Right after the police made us settle up with the girls. That’s capitalism in action; you pay for the services you get or you get screwed. You have to respect the flow of commerce.”

“And then the President found out,” he continued, “and so did every reporter from CNN to Al Jazeera. The Summit of the Americas wasn’t our finest hour, that’s for sure. Me and the other agents used to pride ourselves on being more discreet.”

He laughed. “Needless to say, my resignation was demanded from the Secret Service. So here I am, senior manager of the Exxon executive protection division.” Phil checked his watch. “It’s 11:54 p.m., Vladivostok time. If we get out of control tonight, can I assume Exxon will pay for it?”

He looked at the men. “Want another round?” he asked. The bar door opened, and the hookers walked in.

The Ladies Room—Dalmatia Flemming

The Ladies Room

“Hey Bobbi… look at us…same colors.”

“Sweetie, you’re right” Bobbi said in her southern drawl. “Are those cords?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, sweetie, those are just cute as can be. How are you doing today, by the way?”

“Great, it’s payday!”

“Yes! And mine’s already spent!”

“Well, I’m sure you can find a little extra to have fun with.”

“I will, I will … you have a nice day now sweetie.”

“OK, you too.”

Amy couldn’t help but notice the tall blonde woman preening in front of the mirror as she was leaving The Ladies Room. Someone Amy had not seen before.

The Ladies Room, visited by women from different work groups and organizations every day. Amy actually had some “Ladies Room Friends”, women that she didn’t work with, who were not in her organization, but while lingering for a short time in said room, would chit chat a little and eventually become “friends”.

The Men’s Room, on the other hand, did not operate in the same way. This was a place void of communication or lingering.

Amy went back to her desk and settled in to work. Bobbi, what a riot. Super nice lady. That Southern drawl; in small doses it was charming. But at one time Bobbi sat right across the divider in the next cube row from Amy. Bobbi would talk endlessly and that drawl was about all that Amy could take at times. Amy would sometimes have to put in ear plugs so that she could concentrate.

The Ladies Room…
There was the sick pregnant lady. The first stall in one of the two rows of stalls was labeled with a handicapped symbol. One day in Amy’s presence, a young woman ran in with a paper towel covering her mouth and puked in the handicapped stall. Everyone present in The Ladies Room at this time looked at one another with concern. After some time, not very long at all, it became the unwritten code of The Ladies Room to never use the handicapped stall; to always leave it available for the pregnant lady should she need it. And she was not getting any better; this went on for nine months. Poor thing. Can you imagine?!

Then there was Laurie, obviously in distress as she practically cornered Amy in The Ladies Room. Apparently Laurie was dating a guy from work and had allowed him to take some photos of her in and around a waterfall, naked. She had to find out if Amy had seen these photos or had heard of anyone discussing them. Amy assured her that she had not. Lucky for Laurie, this was in the days before the internet, if not, the photos would have already gone viral!
Then there was the young lady Amy found slumped in the corner crying so hard she was gasping for breath because she had just found out that her grandmother had passed away. Her Grandmother had been like a mother to her. Amy tried as best she could to console her.

Then there was the time that, as Amy entered the Ladies Room, she could see in her peripheral vision that someone entered behind her. She turned to look over her shoulder to see that it was a man. It was Steve / Stephanie, however on this day he just looked like a guy with long hair. He was in the process of changing genders, so Amy had heard. He had been seen at the local shopping mall after work walking around dressed as a woman. Anyway, Amy was a little startled at first, but then decided that it didn’t matter.

Then there was the time that Amy was the protagonist in her own Ladies Room vignette. After having “Montezuma’s Revenge” for two days, Amy thought it was safe to return to work. Turns out it wasn’t and around mid day Amy found herself shaking, feeling as weak as a kitten and unable to concentrate. She headed to The Ladies Room to lie down on the couch for awhile. Jenny from her group just happened to enter. Amy sent Jenny on a mission to bring her some “Red Vines” from the vending machine, a little pure sugar as a temporarily fix for the situation. Jenny did even more than that, she called Medical as well. A short time later, a couple of women arrived. With one standing on each side of Amy practically holding her up, they escorted her over to medical for some Imodium and rest.
Then there were the numerous times, too many to count, that The Ladies Room provided a source of gossip, that’s no surprise, but also provided a source of official company information, before Amy heard it from what one would think should be the proper source.
Time for a meeting. Amy checked her calendar to verify the room number, grabbed her notebook and headed out. There was that blond woman in the hallway; Amy passed her.

After the meeting, Amy stopped by The Ladies Room on the way back to her desk. As Amy entered the blond woman was exiting. They smiled at one another and said hi. Amy was starting to think that she recognized this woman. But from where?

Amy returned to her desk and settled in, trying to figure out where she had left off with her work. Suddenly it hit her; Amy realized she had seen the blond woman before. It was Steve / Stephanie except that this time she looked like Miss Perfect!

The Night Shift by Shanna

The Night Shift by Shanna

Jo looked out the window of the all night diner where she worked. The street lights flickered in the darkness, illuminating the drizzling rain and creating halos of light on the sidewalk below. The streets were lonely and empty, a distinct contrast from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush-hour traffic. Jo could hear the sounds of the diner all around her; the low murmur of voices blended with the clinking of silverware as customers ate and the diner food sizzled on the grill while Patsy Cline crooned across the speakers.

Jo reached behind the counter and picked up the coffee pot. Her shoes, not quite dry from her commute to work, made squeaking sounds on the floor as she made her way around the diner, stopping frequently to refill the customers’ dwindling coffee.

She passed by what she had dubbed in her mind the “study hall”. In actuality, it was a table covered in open textbooks. The two guys and a girl sitting there were armed with highlighters and notebooks as they underlined passages and frantically scribbled out their meaning. The students came every weekend to study through the night. Jo thought they must be night students from the local college, people with day jobs who were relegated to studying in the middle of the night in order to get everything done. Jo wondered what her life would have been like if she had went to college. Would she have studied all night in a run-down diner? Maybe she wouldn’t have had 12 jobs in the past 2 years.

Jo shook her head and silently filled up their coffee cups and received mumbled words of thanks in return, the trio never lifting their heads from the books in front of them. Jo knew better than to ask if they wanted anything to eat. Other than two orders of fries when they first arrived, the trio never ordered anything else other than coffee.

“Order up!” yelled Roy from the depths of the kitchen, as he tapped the little bell that sat on the counter.

Jo walked back towards the grill area. The smells wafting out got stronger the closer she got and her stomach growled in hunger. She could smell the fresh cut potatoes and greasy onion rings and hamburgers. Mixed in was the scent of breakfast, of eggs and pancakes and maple syrup. Jo picked up the heavy plates of diner food. Her mouth watered, but then again she was always hungry working at the diner. The smells of all the greasy delicious food made her famished to the point that she always chewed gum while she worked, to try to trick herself into thinking she was eating.

She carried the plates to the table where an old couple sat. The couple always came in early to eat and always ordered the same thing. Sometimes they had a little girl with them, that Jo assumed was their granddaughter, but not today. Today the couple sat like usual and ate their pancakes and steak and eggs. By the time the sun rose, they would be gone, starting their day.

A noise outside made Jo look over to the door. The door opened and the hookers walked in, laughing. They shook their clothes and patted down their hair and faces to wipe the rainwater off.

Jo looked at the clock. “5:30. Right on time,” she thought. She watched the scantily clad women as they traipsed through the restaurant to the table in the back.

“Rain or shine,” Jo thought, “I guess everyone has to make a living.” The steady drizzle that had been raining for the past four days didn’t seem to discourage the ladies as they pulled off their sodden jackets.

Jo was familiar with the hookers. They arrived every morning at 5:30, their laughter bouncing off the walls. Jo didn’t know what was so funny about being a hooker, but she hadn’t been in town that long. Maybe there was a running joke that only the locals got.

Being new in town Jo got all the crappy working shifts, the shifts no one wanted, which was why she was currently working the overnight shift. But Jo didn’t mind. Jo thought the night shift was fascinating. She enjoyed working in the middle of the night, so many different people came out of their hiding places. Jo found that customers were more likely to talk to her, when it was dark out in the middle of the night. Perhaps they thought that secrets were less shameful or hurtful when told in the dark, rather than in the bright light of the day. Jo didn’t know but she thought there was something poetic about being awake while everyone else was asleep.

Most of the time the diner was calm, with only the regulars coming in to eat. Occasionally a drunk crowd would come into the diner after all the bars and liquor stores had closed. Sometimes they would get rowdy, their state of inebriation making them unable to carry a conversation in regular tones. Roy would come out of the kitchen, his apron stained with grease, and his boots clunking along the linoleum floor. Jo had watched as, more than once, Roy would stare down the drunks, his arms crossed in front of him, showcasing his old fading military tattoos. More than one person had stared in fright at Roy, perhaps thinking he was some kind of crazy butcher come to life and come to get them. Roy was harmless but he knew how to keep order in the restaurant.

The laughing hookers waived Jo over to give her their orders. Jo pulled out her order pad and jotted down the instructions, noting to herself that the hookers always ordered a lot of food.

“I guess all that work makes you hungry,” Jo thought as she handed the order slip to Roy. She watched as Roy looked over at the hookers and nodded his head, a brief smile on his lips. Another burst of laughter came from the hookers’ table and Jo knew that no matter how loud they got, Roy would stay in the kitchen and let the hookers laugh. Jo pulled out another stick of gum, crammed it in her mouth, and sat down at the counter to wait for the orders to be ready.

4 Sale by Owner – Pandora

4 Sale by Owner

 

The door opened, the hookers walked in, and I froze holding the urn.

I was about to have an open house at my deceased stepbrother Dave’s place when they strolled in reeking of cheap perfume and cigarettes. One of them wore a ratty fur coat with short shorts over black lacy tights, and thigh high black boots. She looked sleazy and not in a Pretty Woman kind of way. The other one was wearing some kind of pleather body suit leaving little to the imagination. We were minutes away from the first showing and it would not do to have these broads clomping around when the potential buyers arrived. I set the urn down on the fireplace mantle.

“What the hell are they doing here?” the Sam whispered nervously. He had a low tolerance for things that felt unsafe. He’d even insisted on parking his BMW behind the house out of fear that it would be vandalized parked on the street in this neighborhood. I’d convinced Sam to help me with the sale of this god-forsaken hovel (i.e. fixer upper) after Dave had passed. We had to sell his place to pay for his cremation and back taxes. And anything extra I got to keep and had promised Sam his share if he helped me.

“Ladies!” I greeted them warmly. Years in sales had honed my people skills. The 2 of them were now in the living room with varying degrees of cleavage showing. “Can we help you with something?” I asked as I tried to block them from entering further into the room. I could imagine their dagger heels scratching the wooden floors I’d just paid an arm and a leg to get refinished.

“We were just in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by to see our old pal Dave,” the one in the fur coat purred in a smoky voice. She walked towards the fireplace and looked at the urn. I stepped forward thinking I’d move it but the door opened again behind me.

Then the 3rd prostitute walked in holding the For Sale By Owner sign I’d just pounded into the lawn. The end of the wooden stake still had fresh dirt on it.

“Jesus!” Sam whimpered as he stood behind me peering over my shoulder at the most recent arrival.

She was impressive, in a terrifying way. She was tall and imposing and had on a long black leather coat and yet I felt she was barely wearing anything else under it. A black wide brimmed hat covered her long dark curly hair. I cringed as she clicked around the living room in her spiky heels. I imagined the tiny divots she was making in the honey blonde floors and suddenly thought of what it would feel like to have her walk on my back.

“Another friend of Dave’s I assume?” I asked the leather coat clad ringleader. For some stupid reason I reached out my hand as if to shake hers. She didn’t even acknowledge it.

“We have some unfinished business with Dave,” She said as she tapped the sign on the floor in front of her. Clumps of soil fell off onto the floor.

“Dave doesn’t live here anymore!” Sam squeaked from behind me.

“Yeah, so I guessed.” The sign-wielding hooker sneered.

“Did Dave leave anything for us?” the girl in the fur asked. Her cat suit clad cohort had slipped through to the kitchen and I could hear her opening cabinets and drawers.

“He never mentioned anything to me…”

They spent the next 10 minutes going through every room and closet of the small house. But I’d cleaned it out completely. There wasn’t a speck of Dave’s old junk left in the place. Just empty rooms and newly refinished floors throughout.

“There’s nothing here! He probably hid it somewhere before he died.” They spoke to each other quietly for a minute then turned to Sam and myself who stood anxiously by the fireplace. “Those two wouldn’t know what to do with it if they found it anyway,” the tall one said. Walking up to me, she took my hand and turned it over and wrote her number on the inside of my wrist. “If you find anything you call me, ok?”

I nodded numbly.

After they left Sam and I quickly swept up the dirt from the floors and I ran out to put the sign back up in the yard.

Back inside Sam and I nervously laughed about our encounter with the prostitutes.

“That was close man!”

What we were going to do with the huge bag of cocaine we’d found in the urn was something we didn’t even discuss. There would be time for that after the house was sold.

Imperfect Thoughts—Elaine Bonow

Imperfect Thoughts
Nighttime lighting was kind to Lollie Winters. That is why she agreed to meet the news reporter at the Queen City Bar and Grill. The booths would offer privacy from incidental eavesdroppers and the glow from the beeswax candles would bathe her face in a soft mellow light.
Lollie ordered a traditional Gimlet with Hendrick’s Gin and Rose’s Lime Juice. As her order was taken by the waiter, the reporter called her cell phone, “Sorry Lollie, I’ll be a there in a bit, I’m parking my car now.”
Her drink arrived. She said, “That’s fine luv. I just got here myself. I’ll see you in a few.” Lollie took a gold compact from her purse. She had all of her makeup especially blended to exactly match her skin tone. She dabbed some powder on her nose and carefully retouched her coral pink lipstick, checked her hair and smile. Satisfied she allowed herself another micro sip from the perfectly blended Gimlet.
She easily recognized Carl Maryborne, local newscaster, except in real life he was much shorter than she would have ever guessed and his head seemed larger than life like a bobble-headed doll. She was glad he was going to be the reporter assigned to her. She didn’t think a woman would be the best fit.
Carl saw her, gave a small wave and headed to the booth. “Thank you so much Lollie for letting me interview you. I am so excited about your story and I feel that people will be inspired by your involvement in this project.”
“Thanks Carl, you are so sweet to say so. I hope you don’t mind I started without you.”
At that moment the attentive waiter glided up to the table and asked Carl what he wanted to drink. “I’ll just have a Perrier with lime, please.” Carl took out a new steno book, turned to the first page, and clicked his expensive mechanical pencil. The waiter returned and poured the Perrier into a glass with artistically shaved ice and announced the Brazilian lime that he professionally squeezed into the water.
“Now Lollie, Let’s talk about you and your work with the homeless youth of the city.” Carl couldn’t believe that such a proper woman would dedicate her life to saving these kids. She didn’t look like the stereotype of the do-gooders in this town who, although good of heart were usually middle-aged women with very short grey hair styled by the neighborhood barber. They always wore sensible Clark’s brogans or Dansko clogs. Their clothes were usually faded green cotton, shapeless oversized shirt blouses and mid calf full skirts, pioneer clothing. No jewelry except a Timex watch and no make-up was the rule.
Lollie Winters was the complete opposite. Looking at her was like looking at an old fashioned movie star. Her dark glistening hair was piled on top of her head in a sleek chignon. The pearls were real and perfectly matched her earrings. The black cashmere sweater set off the perfect shape of her breasts. Her makeup was flawless, not over stated at all and being in the television business he understood make up quite well. Carl Maryborne actually enjoyed getting made up for the camera. His makeup assistant, Nigel, applied foundation and contour with a deft hand, a craft he had learned in London at the Old Vic.
Carl had been on the air for the past thirty years and had won numerous awards. He still had the boyish good looks that had gotten him in the business plus his charming personality helped keep him on top of his game.
Lollie looked like the perfect middle-aged matron, more at home at the Hunt’s Point Country Club than a grubby halfway house for at risk juvenile delinquents. That’s why her story was so compelling, why it had to be told. Carl realized that he was staring. “Please excuse me for staring at you Lollie, but I think our viewers will be fascinated knowing your double life.”
“Carl, I’m doing this because I believe more people in this world need to help others in what ever way they can and this is my way.”
“Before we start the interview, I’d like to know a little about your background, if you don’t mind, so I could understand you a little better.”
Carl had been curious about Miss Lollie Winters ever since she arrived in town and attended society functions. Everybody had something to say about her. Of course, he had Googled her but there was only one website with her name on it and that was under the auspices of her non-profit. He studied the profile before him mentally noting camera angles that would be best if she decided to go on camera with her new project.
Breaking the spell Carl said, “Lollie Winters is a very unusual name. Is Lollie a nickname?”
“Lollie took a larger sip of the gimlet and smiled.” I’m afraid it is just a family name. I was named for my great-great grandmother.”
“My family moved to Australia from California in the late eighteen hundreds. A very unusual move at the time.” Lollie leaned forward, her elbows on the table anticipating the probing by the famous Carl Maryborne. She quite liked his earnestness and the honesty that came across so well on the local news. She trusted him and felt quite good about answering his questions.
“What brought you to the Northwest? Are you settling into the lifestyle here?”
Before she could answer his phone rang. The waiter came by to take their dinner order. Carl motioned to her that he would take the call outside. The waiter said he’d come back in a few minutes.
Lollie sat back and folded her arms across her chest. All of these questions and the half finished Gimlet made her think back to her former life in Australia and the story she always told.
“Sorry about that. I’ve turned my phone off. Where were we? Oh yeah, I was asking about your former life.”
Lollie finished her drink and ordered another. Carl broke down and decided on Veuve Clicquot; together they chose some imported cheeses and artesian breadsticks. Comfortable now with each other, Carl led Lollie through her life in Australia and Lollie answered the questions like she usually did, her marriage, his death, the vast wealth he left her, the moment when she realized she had to dedicate her life to a worthy cause.
“I felt that I was chosen for this task. I became friends with a priest who worked at a homeless youth center. I felt like he did, that these kids had been thrown away.”
“So tell me, what plan do you have for our city?”
Lollie gave Carl an outline of her overall plan in very succinct sentences and handed him a folder with more detailed information.
“Wow, I am impressed. You really have put a lot of work and thought into this.”
“Yes, I want transparency so I thought a favorable news article would be helpful.”
“Perfect I’ll arrange everything. We’ll get you in the studio next week.”
They clinked glasses happy to be on each other’s side. Carl thought Lollie looked lovely. She will photograph beautifully. The two of them would look great together on the TV screen, making it easier to get John Q Public’s approval for her project.
They promised to be in touch and as Carl rose to go he said, “Do you need an escort Madam Winters?”
“Thanks ever so much Mr. Maryborne but my assistant Jacob is waiting to walk me home. I’ll be waiting for your call.”
After Carl departed a young man stepped up to the booth. He was holding her coat, which she slipped on. They left walking south arm and arm.
“How did the interview go Lolo?”
“Oh, very well. He will do just fine. He has just the right amount of sympathy.”
“And have you decided to go through with it?”
“You mean tell my true story?”
“It will be a startling revelation for many but will give your cause and entirely different edge, more pertinent to the modern world.”
“I can’t wait to see Carl Maryborne’s face when I tell him that I was once a man. I saw how he was looking at me tonight. What will he think when I tell him I too was thrown out of my home and left to roam as a homeless youth for being who I was, a small skinny gay boy who made a fortune in real estate so that I could finally be me. What a gift I have to share with the world.