| Sunday, March 14, 2010
| Hey, CC, can you write a story that can be read in five minutes?
|I dunno, probably...
“If there were any other temp in the whole agency available today, I would be calling them,” Angelina Rossi, senior recruiter for TrustiTemps, was screaming into the phone.
We all have our little talents. James Cameron makes shitty movies, Julia Child cooks coq au vin, and I get fired.
“Since you only have me,” I mumbled, “where am I going?”
“Ronnie Chesterfield’s office. Typing and filing, thirteen an hour.”
“Ronnie Chesterfield? Like Mr. If you don’t get the house I don’t get my fee tv divorce lawyer Ronnie Chesterfield?”
“Just don’t get fired.”
“I won’t. It’s not even possible. How could I possibly get fired working for that sleaze?”
Just after the paralegal left for lunch, Ronnie got a weepy-voiced phone call. Weepy-voiced phone calls are pretty common in the divorce business. At Ronnie’s though, you could never tell if they were weeping over their cheating hubby or weeping over Ronnie, who was probably also cheating.
“Please, please," the woman wailed, "Ronnie needs to come over, right now!”
“Just a moment,” I said, ever the professional “Can I tell Mr. Chesterfield who is calling?”
“Tell him it’s Kitten," the woman stammered.
If I were as a bad a temp as Angelina thinks I am, I would have asked the lady to be more specific, but I just offered Mr. Chesterfield the call. He had me put her through. Five minutes later, he was getting his coat.
“Helen?” he asked.
“It’s Bell,” I said, “Bell or Annabella”
“I’m going to need you to come with me. One of my clients is about to have a bad run-in with her ex-husband. I want a woman along to take pictures of any injuries.”
He paused for a second in front of the mirror to fix his hair.
Kitten, whose name turned out to be Penelope Reed, lived in a Barbie-dream house in one of those gated communities. A perfectly manicured lawn was spoiled only by the dead body sprawled across the front porch and the police car that had taken out a small bank of pink impatiens in its hurry to park. On our way in I got some pictures of the body. Not exactly divorce case material, but they will look great in my scrapbook.
Inside, Kitten was holding court in a living room that looked like it had been designed by a Disney animator after a three day bender. She was draped across a pink loveseat with a skinny rookie cop at her side. A fat Lieutenant was sitting on a pink and white striped sofa. He was eating chocolates out of a box on the white marble coffee table. Mr. Reed must have been a hell of a guy to put up with her decorating alone. The entire room was pink and white, a color scheme marred only by the clashing red roses on the mantelpiece.
“Well, you know I had a restraining order. He comes to my door and he starts pounding on it, commanding me to let him in…I didn’t know what he was going to do with me if I did. I was so terrified. So I called my lawyer, then I went and got the gun I keep for protection, and when I opened the door, he lunged at me…and…”
She broke into deep, heaving sobs. Ronnie ran over to comfort her, but as he was about to touch her hands, a police officer grabbed his wrist.
“We’re going to have to test her for gunshot residue.” The lieutenant said, “but it’s just a formality. This looks like pretty clear self-defense. He was trespassing on your property, Ms. Reed, and you had the restraining order. The lab will want the gunshot residue, but it looks like it’s open and shut.”
“As long as you test the flowers.” I said. The whole room noticed me for the first time.
“What?” one cop said, but everyone else knew what I was talking about. Everyone turned to the flowers on the mantel, the ones that didn’t match, the ones that had no reason to have gunshot residue or blood on them at all—unless they had been plucked from Mr. Reed’s hands after he died. Men who are coming to hurt their ex-wives don’t bring flowers. Men who had been invited over by a wife asking for reconciliation but were met at the door by a wife with a loaded gun just might.
The lieutenant calmly swallowed what was in his mouth, then pulled out an evidence bag for the rest of the box of chocolates.
“Test the roses, Boys” he said.
As we watched the cops load Kitten into the back of the police car, Ronnie Chesterfield was silent. Finally, I said, “Think of it this way, criminal defense could be a whole new line of work for you.”
And that’s when I got fired.
Labels: mystery noir
|posted by Chalicechick @ 11:28 PM
| Saturday, March 10, 2007
“Shut up, Brad. I don’t want to hear it.”
“I know you don’t. I mean, I know you’re really upset with me.”
“The girl, Kendra, she wasn’t… Well…. She was….”
Kendra was one hell of a fabulous lay. That’s what she was. But I couldn’t say that. And Carrie was still looking at me expectantly. Dark, angry eyes were flashing out from underneath the headpiece on her nun costume.
I was dressed as a priest. Carrie was dressed as a nun, an outfit that still showed her pregnancy. We’d been sitting outside the Henderson’s costume party ever since Carrie had casually picked up my cell phone from the floor of the car just as a text message came in.
Now the tears were starting. Carrie was hurt, so hurt, that Kendra had come on to me and I’d had my fun.
“Am I not enough?” she whimpered
“Honey, you are, it’s just…” How could I explain it? How could I make her understand? Did women get the sensation, the incredible excitement of something new? It wasn’t that Carrie was a bad wife. But she was only one woman. “I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“No,” Carrie said, “You didn’t. You just didn’t care.”
I was silent. I had cared. That was why I’d tried so hard to keep her from finding out. But Kendra was always with the “I love you” text messages. Fucking Kendra.
“Do you think you’re a sex addict?” Carrie asked.
“What? Are you crazy? No… I just want some adventure sometimes.”
Carrie looked like she wanted to list off all the adventurous things she’d tried to do to please me. She even opened her mouth. But then she closed it again.
“Let’s go to the party,” I said.
“Why not? Sitting in the car all night isn’t going to change anything. Let’s go to the party. We will have a good time. We’ll be Brad and Carrie, the couple that everyone loves. Later, we will go home and talk about this. I’ll dump Kendra. Hell, maybe I’ll go to sex addicts anonymous. Whatever you need. I just want you to be happy, babe.”
“Then I want your car.”
“What? You have a car.”
“The sexual revolution started because of cars. Suddenly couples had freedom and privacy. You’re not going to have either for a very long time.”
I had to marry a cultural anthropology major. “How will I get to work?” My voice was more of a whine than I wanted it to be.
“I’ll drive you sometimes. When I can’t, you can take the goddamn bus. You might like it, you’d meet a whole new class of trashy girl.”
“Don’t be a bitch.”
“You fuck some teenager and you’re telling me not to be a bitch?”
“Kendra was 23.”
“Give me your keys.” I dug through my pocket and handed them over. Carrie snatched them and shoved them deep into her habit. “Let’s go,” she said.
“Should I take my coat?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t,” Carrie said. “You know how coats disappear at parties sometimes.”
I shoved my gloves into the pockets of my coat and put the coat in the back seat. Carrie let me take her hand as we walked up the front steps.
The Hendersons were old college friends. They’d changed less than we had. While we’d gotten the power jobs and landed a huge house in the suburbs, Maura and Billy were professors and still lived in a modest townhouse, a modest townhouse that was crammed with people. Drunken, happy people. I couldn’t wait for a drink myself.
Maura and Billy were happy to see us. Maura, dressed as a hippie, took Carrie’s arm and pulled her away, saying something about some new African masks Carrie should see. Anthropologists. Who knows?
Cowboy Billy brought me a brewski. “All these girls here your friends, Billy?” I asked. A blonde in a butterfly costume scampered by, laughing. Definitely no bra on that one.
Billy laughed, “They’re mostly Maura’s grad students. But you’re not supposed to be looking at them. Carrie’s having a baby” Billy’s voice was all teasing mock innocence.
“It’s not a crime to look, my man.”
Billy was watching a redheaded woman in a Catwoman costume gyrate around the dance floor.
“Thank God for that.”
Three drinks later, the party had definitely improved. There was still no sign of Carrie. Billy was off talking football with some of the guys. I sat in the corner, just drinking and watching what I couldn’t have. Butterfly costume girl came bouncing up.
“Hello, Father,” she giggled.
“Good evening, my child,” I said. What was the fun of Halloween if you couldn’t be in character?
“I think I have some sins to confess,”
“Well, tell me about them and maybe I’ll grant you absolution.” Butterfly girl bounced up and down, giggling. Surely Carrie wouldn’t have any problem with a little conversation.
“Should we go someplace private so I can confess?”
“Oh, I think you should tell me right here,” I said.
Butterfly slipped onto my lap. “Well, my college roommate is a really sexy woman, and one night when we were both drunk, we ended up…”
My cock was already hard and I was dying to hear the end of the story.
But it wasn’t to be.
“Brad Miller!” My wife Carrie stood in front of us. I unceremoniously dumped Butterfly onto the floor, but it was too late.
“Find your own way home!”
My pregnant nun turned and stormed out of the house. Everyone was looking at me. Maura looked like the angriest hippie since Nixon was pardoned. Even Billy was rolling his eyes at me. Yeah, yeah. I know. I was the bad guy and no jury would convict my wife for leaving me forever. I did the only thing I could do, which was follow her.
Carrie was pretty fast on her feet for a pregnant woman. She was out and in the driver’s seat before I could get down the steps.
“Can we talk about it?”
She drove off.
Son of a bitch. Son of a filthy whore.
I was stuck in the city outside a party where I wasn’t welcome, with no coat, no phone and no way to get home.
It actually wasn’t that cold and as I walked, I started to calm down a bit. The moon was out, lighting the liquor stores and porn shops I passed. I thought of stopping into the Condom Shack for a magazine, but I figured the priest get-up would freak them out.
I did stop at the window for just a moment, and looking in, I saw myself. Middle-aged guys just looking for some big tits to ogle while they yanked their dicks. I could spin all the crap I wanted about my own sexual liberation, but the truth is I was one of these guys and it was really sort of pathetic. Truth be told, Carrie really did have a point. I was a rat bastard when it came to my relations with the opposite sex. And it must be very scary to be pregnant and wonder if your husband’s about to run off with a 23-year-old.
There were red and blue lights in the distance. Yeah, Carrie, I thought. I get where you’re coming from. It’s a dangerous world. What if I gave you or the baby a disease?
As I got closer to the lights, I saw what looked like a bad accident. Somebody, either the Volvo or the SUV, had run the light and there were pieces of car all over the intersection. A cop came running up.
“Father!” He said. “We have an old woman here, we don’t think she’s going to make it. She’s crying out for a priest.”
“Please, Father, I don’t think she will make it until someone else arrives.”
Why not? I was going to hell anyway, and at least I could make one woman feel better tonight. I’d seen enough cop shops with Catholic murder victims. I knew how it went.
“Of course, my child,” I said, following the policeman onto the accident scene. I knelt by the woman on the gurney. She was small and frail. The EMTs had done a bit to clean her up, but she didn’t look good.
“Father, I think I’m bleeding to death inside.”
Lady, a lot of us are.
“Can I hold your hand?” I said. I turned to the cop next to me. “Get me some bread.”
“Please,” she moaned. I took her hand. “I’ve lived a good life, Father, but I’ve always envied those who had what I didn’t. Please forgive me.”
“God will forgive you,” I said. “Now, let’s say the apostles creed.”
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth…” She croaked it out slowly, giving every word a subtle reverence. When she was finished, I squeezed her hand and recited the Lord’s prayer.
The cop came back, triumphantly carrying a bag from the Italian restaurant across the street. I tore it open and put a piece of bread into the woman’s gnarled hand.
“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper." I looked deep into the woman’s eyes and I felt like she was looking into me. Irrationally, I felt like this woman might know I was a fake and not care. Perhaps I also was being forgiven tonight.
The woman smiled. "Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed," she murmured.
"The Body of Christ," I said, watching the woman chew the bread. She swallowed.
I squeezed her hand again. "May the Lord Jesus protect you and lead you to eternal life," I said. “Let us pray.”
She died in the middle of the prayer.
The walk home was the longest of my life. I thought over and over about the woman, about what a precious gift life was and about our duty to one another. I thought back over my life and I couldn’t believe the way I’d been acting. Carrie and I had a baby on the way! A new life! I couldn’t wait to get home and make love to Carrie. I knew the urges for other women would come back at some point, but well, if I could pass for a priest, I could pass for a faithful husband. Just because I had self-indulgent urges didn’t mean I had to act on them, after all. Hell, maybe it was a sex addiction. I was ready to talk to somebody, get myself cured.
Maybe I’d talk to a priest.
I took the steps up to the house two at a time and swung open the door, running inside to look for Carrie
Kendra’s bleeding body was lying on the living room floor. There was a gun lying a few feet away as if it had been discarded hastily. My coat and gloves were next to the gun.
Carrie walked in, the picture of innocence in a simple blue dress. She started to scream, “My God! My God! Brad! What have you done! I thought when I dropped you off after the party and drove around for awhile, you would have time to think...But... you've! Oh my God! I think you've KILLED her!” Her cries were so loud the neighbors could hear. “I have to call 911!” Carrie bolted into the kitchen and picked up the phone. I could hear her crying as she told the 911 operator that she had come home to find that her husband had just shot his mistress and now she feared for her life.
I looked around the room. Carrie was a careful woman. I assumed that she wore my coat and gloves when she shot Kendra, so that’s where the gun shot residue would be. Actually, in Kendra’s little plaid skirt, she looked like she had been dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl. I wondered if there would be a text message from my phone to Kendra’s sent right after I left the party offering Kendra a night of kinky Catholic fun. Probably. Carrie was smart. It was one of the things I loved about her.
Carrie walked back into the room.
“Carrie…honey. I’m sorry”
“You will be,” she said.
In the distance, there were sirens.
Labels: mystery noir
|posted by Chalicechick @ 9:24 AM
| Saturday, December 16, 2006
|It was after eleven, but my girlfriend Heather was still awake. She sat on the sofa, papers on her lap, her expression glum as the snow kept piling up outside the window. The TV news flickered in the background, jabbering on about some crime I'd already heard about at the station house. Sometimes she would reach up to the coffee table and grab up the pint of ice cream there. Gingerbread flavored, straight from the carton. I stood in the doorway, watching her.
Women. I never know what to do when Heather gets like this.
She shifted and turned the volume up on the TV. The nice-looking girl on the news looked like she was reporting from a party someplace expensive. She wore a red blazer in honor of the season.
"…A Christmas tragedy was averted here tonight," the reporter said into her microphone. "Viktor Gottberg, a partner at Gottberg and Stuebing, was rescued tonight by his secretary Kathy Prince." The camera showed an older man with blonde hair sitting on a stretcher outside an ambulance talking to some of the guys from the rescue squad. "Our sources are telling us that Mr. Gottberg has what was almost a fatal peanut allergy. Tonight at Gottberg and Stuebing's Christmas Party, he apparently ate a few bites of Thai chicken salad containing peanut oil and lapsed into shock. With a foot of snow on the ground, the ambulance was delayed. Miss Prince remembered that the previous attorney she had worked for at the firm was allergic to bee stings and he always kept an epinephrine pen in his office." The camera angle shifted to an exterior shot of a building that was on my beat. Hell, I'd been in Jerry's Coffee on the first floor just that day. "While the ambulances were fighting the snow, Kathy Prince was racing down three flights of stairs and back up with the pen so she didn't have to wait for the elevator. She administered the antidote and saved Gottberg's life."
The image on the screen shifted to a dishwater blonde woman with large glasses. Her cheeks were bright with embarrassment and maybe a little too much eggnog.
"Oh, I'd do anything for Mr. Gottberg," Kathy said. The camera cut away from her.
Heather wearily clicked off the TV. "I bet that Kathy woman's getting a really good review this year," Heather moaned. I hadn't even known that Heather knew I was standing there. She's sharp like that, my girl.
"Annual performance reviews?" I asked. "Is that what this funk is about?"
The two things Heather hates about working in a law firm at Christmas time: too much candy around and annual performance reviews.
"You know it, Jamey," Heather said wearily. "I hate these things." She had her self-evaluation paperwork spread out in front of her. I felt for her. God knows I'd been there. Some boss who thinks he understands how hard your life is comes in and rates your year of busting your ass on a scale of one to five, telling you numerically and scientifically why you don't deserve a promotion.
"Oh, Heather, everybody in the world hates these things. You know that."
She sighed. "It's all due in the morning and I don't know how to even start."
I reached up and stroked her hair. "You make too much of this stuff, Babe. My first year on the force, my partner told me his trick for those forms." She looked up at me, her attention suddenly fixed. Nobody can pay attention like a legal secretary. "Ok, how many different ways can they rate you in each category?"
"Four," Heather said. "Below expectations, meets expectations, exceeds expectations and outstanding."
"Ok, what are they asking about that you're best at?"
Heather thought for a minute. "I'd say my dealings with clients. They have a whole separate category for that. I'm really good with the clients. Mr. Bergstrom from Allied Computing says he always asks for me by name because he knows I know what I'm doing and can figure out a way to get his work done and in front of an attorney, even if it's at the last minute."
"OK, and what are they asking about that you're worst at?"
Heather giggled. "Attendance and punctuality." She reached up and stroked my cheek. We both knew I like to make her late in the mornings.
"Yeah, that's a good one. So give yourself an 'outstanding' in client relations and quote Mr. Bergstrom. Give yourself a 'meets expectations' in attendance and say your goal for the year is to do better. Then give yourself an "exceeds expectations" in everything else and come to bed. Because you ain't rewarded your boy in blue for his service to the community yet tonight."
Heather giggled. "Does talking about your best thing and your worst thing and saying you're just fine at everything else really work?"
"I've done it every year since I was a rookie and it ain't done me any harm."
Heather laughed for the first time all night. She scribbled some things on her paper, then followed me back to the bedroom, where we got an early start on making her late for work in the morning.
It was a good night, but women are still women and she was still all pouty and worried for the rest of the week. She cooked dinner and we watched TV, but we did our romancing together at night seeing as how there was no way she was letting me make her late anymore when she'd just said she was gonna try and be better about that. Friday night, I was sitting in Jerry's Coffee on a break four hours into my shift when Heather called me up on my cell phone.
"James, you're a genius!" She said, her voice all giggly like a happy girl's. She only called me James when the news was really good, or really bad. "They agreed with me that I was outstanding in client relations and they thought I was honest for admitting I'm late a lot. I got a raise AND a bonus!"
Made me laugh. I just sat there on the phone with her and we laughed together, we was so relieved. My girl was going to be in a good mood again. She was going to her office Christmas party tonight and she was going to have a few drinks and take a cab home and then we'd do a little celebrating of our own.
My partner Mickey was looking at me like he couldn't quite stand to watch me. He's just a kid, and he's a little too proud of how tough he is to understand a guy feeling for a girl what I feel for Heather. Then his radio crackled and he picked it up to talk into it. When he put it down again, his expression was serious.
"Break's over, Leonardo diCaprio." He said. "We got a dead body right upstairs from us."
We paid our check and headed up the elevator to the offices of Gottberg and Stuebing, rich bastard attorneys at law. When the door opened to the top floor, there was a gray-haired fat woman waiting for us. Between her and that Kathy woman from TV, I was not impressed. Was I schtupping the only nice-looking woman in the whole legal profession?
"Mr…err… the body is this way," the woman said. "I'm Evelyn Thorn, the office manager." She strode across the room, faster than I would've thought she could, and headed down a hall. Mickey and I had to hurry to keep up.
"Any idea what happened?" Mickey asked. I would never ask a witness a question so open-ended, but Mickey's a rookie and he doesn’t know his stuff.
"It looks like someone hit Mr. Gottberg over the head with a large paperweight he kept on his desk. His blood looks quite dry, so he might have been there for awhile. I hadn't seen him since yesterday morning." I nodded, impressed that she'd noticed the detail of the blood being dry. Of course, that CSI show has everybody looking for that stuff these days.
"Who else was around?" I asked. I shoved a notebook into Mickey's hands to remind him who did what on this team.
"No one," Miss Thorn said. "This entire floor got an email from Mr. Gottberg last night giving them today off. It's the Friday before Christmas, so it wouldn't be unusual for most bosses to do such a thing."
"You said most bosses wouldn't do it. Was Mr. Gottberg not like most bosses?" I asked. You gotta be quick on the uptake with secretaries and assistants. Those chicks always know more than they want to say.
Miss Thorn's steps slowed only slightly, but noticeably. "He was," she said, waiting for a moment to continue as if she was looking for the right word, "Exacting. A very hard worker himself. It would have been unusual for him to do such a thing, it normally wouldn't have even occurred to him."
I nodded, peeking over at Mickey to make sure he was getting all of this down.
"Where's Kathy?" I asked.
"Who?" Mickey asked me.
"Don't you watch the news?" I asked. "Mr. Gottberg here just got his life saved by his secretary Kathy. It was all over the papers."
"Oh," Mickey said. "this is that guy."
"Yes," Miss Thorn said, her voice impatient. "One of the top Mergers and Acquisitions lawyers in the city was indeed 'that guy.' And no, I haven't seen Kathy. I assumed she took the day off like everyone else who got that email." She pointed to an oak-paneled door. "The body is in there."
Gottberg was a very dead man in a very expensive suit. I wondered if he had been that pale in life. Maybe so. He lay on his back, blood caked in his blonde hair and beneath the wound on his head. Yep, somebody had killed him. I figured it had to be someone meeting with him or the guy wouldn't have gotten past Kathy. Just then I heard voices in the hall. It was our backup, some guys from homicide and the forensics guys and all that. My old buddy Lenny from the Academy was a detective now and he led the way.
"Yep, he's dead. Looks like it's been a day or so. An email went out to his employees giving them the day off, so it took awhile for the body to be discovered."
Lenny nodded. "Hey Jamey, listen," He said. "We can take it from here, but we're gonna need reports from you guys, too. Could you and Mickey wait outside with the witness and talk to her? We'll call you if we need you."
And like that, we were out the door. So much for old friends cutting you a piece of the action. I turned to Miss Thorn.
"Do you think the killer gave everybody the day off from Mr. Gottberg's computer?" I asked.
"I think it's highly likely," Miss Thorn said. We were now walking through Kathy's office. You could tell it was Kathy's because there were a bunch of plaques with her name on them on the walls. Employee of the month, Employee of the year at various firms around the city.
"Kathy's a hard worker." I said, stopping in front of an award that said Kathy got it for catching a mistake that would've cost her last firm a lot of money.
"One of the best employees we have. Her last attorney was sad to see her transferred, but Mr. Gottberg simply had to have the best."
"He's exacting," I said.
"He have a hard time keeping staff around?"
Miss Thorn's eyes lowered. "I believe that's confidential information."
I sat down at Kathy's desk, being careful not to touch anything. Everything was lined up just so. You could have filmed a commercial for office supplies right at this desk. The usual papers were in neat piled in the trays on it. Legal forms, memos, even a pink employee performance review sheet where Kathy had given her assistant three outstandings and two exceeds expectations and recommended her for a bonus. Kathy's handwriting was neat and careful and her comments had sounded thoughtful.
She seemed a little off her nut to me, but she was probably a nice lady.
In Mr. Gottberg's office, the guys had started to take photographs of the crime scene. I looked up at Miss Thorne curiously. "Don't guys like Gottberg have corporate credit cards?"
Miss Thorne looked pleased to be able to help. "Yes, of course, I'll go get on the computer in my office to see if Mr. Gottberg's has been used."
"Why don't you escort the lady, Mickey," I said.
Having Miss Thorne escorted was standard procedure, though she didn't like it one bit. She gave me the bitchface but wearily let him follow her out of the room. Legal employees can fight you, but in the end they are used to following pointless orders. I peeked in to Gottberg's office, but Lenny shooed me out again. Fine. So I wandered around the room for a bit, then sat back down at Kathy's desk.
After awhile, curiosity got the better of me and I pulled some latex gloves out of my pocket so I could put them on and open the drawer. Kathy's desk had all the usual stuff, pens, a tampon, a little box of tissues. Probably Heather's desk looks about the same, except that Kathy was now keeping an epinephrine pen of her own in her desk in case Gottberg ate any more peanuts.
I love Heather to pieces, but I gotta admit that right then I wished she was half as good a girlfriend as Kathy was a secretary. Then I looked around at the office again. No pictures of family or art or nothing. Just plaques about how great a secretary Kathy was. I thought of my Heather and the beautiful babies we're going to have some day and I knew I wouldn't swap for a minute.
The guys from the morgue walked through with the stretcher. Gottberg was going back to the lab so some guys with degrees who make twice my salary could determine what killed the guy with the big head wound.
I poked around a bit and saw a red leather book in the back of a drawer. I pulled it out and had a look.
It was a journal of some type, with only five entries, each written in the same neat handwriting.
February 17th Gave Bergen forms to Viktor at 4:30 yesterday. He didn't look at them until today and said the date was wrong. Make multiple copies of all future forms with dates for several future days so I don't have to ask him for his signature twice.
May 5th Mispelled Mr. Radkowski's name. Put "Radkowski" into my computer's
dictionary so that spellcheck will catch any future errors.
July 30th Trusted Carla's numbers on the Lenmore acquisition. They were wrong. Will independently look up all future poison pill numbers for potential acquisitions.
I quit reading then. Kathy was officially starting to freak me out. Who the hell only makes five mistakes in a year and works so hard not to make them again?
Miss Thorn and Mickey came back through the door. Mickey had his arm around her. "It's gone!" Miss Thorne said. "She took the credit card, client money, everything!"
"Kathy went through and cleaned out all of Mr. Gottberg's client accounts up to the cash withdrawal limits. Everything he could access without an extra signature got hit. Miss Thorn thinks the total was about three hundred thousand dollars. And that corporate credit card bought a plane ticket to Australia in Kathy's name. I called the airline from Miss Thorn's office. It looks like she took off early this morning, but missed her connection in Fiji."
"I'm guessing she's never going to reschedule?" Mickey asked. We both ignored him.
"Wow." I said. Sure, she was always a suspect, but I honestly wouldn't have thought a woman like Kathy would have had it in her.
"She must've been planning this for a long time," Mickey said.
"Not necessarily," I replied. "Someone who really knew how this place worked could have made this happen in a couple hours. I'd say if she had planned it carefully, you know, learned to fake a few more signatures, she woulda got a lot more money out of it. I bet some of those accounts had millions of dollars in them."
Miss Thorn sat down and started to cry. Hard to swallow, your best employee being a murderer. Mickey and I went into Gottberg's office with the news.
The guys had just put Gottberg on a stretcher, but everyone stopped what they were doing when I told them what Miss Thorn had told me.
Lenny was the first to speak. "That doesn't make any sense!" He said. "If her plan was to steal from the firm and run off, why didn't she just let the bastard die at the party? She could've taken everything that night in the confusion and if she'd have gotten caught, she would've been a thief, not a murderer."
Lenny had a point. Why hadn't she taken the easy route to stealing the money if that was all she wanted? And if the money was just an afterthought, why the hell had she gone and killed her boss?
And then I knew.
Still wearing my gloves, I calmly walked over to the trashcan and fished out the only pink piece of paper there.
And there it was, right in front of my face.
Annual Employee Performance Review
Name: Kathy Prince
Title: Senior Legal Secretary
Date: December 15
Supervisor: Viktor Gottberg
Period Reviewed: January 1 to December 31
Job Knowledge: Meets Expectations
Work Quality: Meets Expectations
Client Relations: Meets Expectations
Attendance: Meets Expectations
Dependability: Meets Expectations
Overall: Meets Expectations
Labels: mystery noir
|posted by Chalicechick @ 2:20 PM
| Friday, December 01, 2006
| Assigned Topic: "She died drinking lemonde."
|Tommy Jenkins told the entire fifth grade that my grandma was a witch. The other kids said they didn't believe him or anything, but they sure did stay away from our house on Halloween. Momma knew Grandma best of anybody, and the only time she ever looked scared of her was when we were in a restaurant.
And tonight was no different.
Romani's was the new Italian place down the street from the video arcade. They'd only been open a week and Mom kept saying they were still training their staff and asking Grandma not to get so upset. It didn't help.
"Waiter!" Grandma yelled at our waiter, who was halfway across the candlelit room. Even though we'd only sat down five minutes age, the host already knew the sound of her voice and he sent our waiter running across the crowded Italian restaurant.
"I'm sorry, I was with another customer. How can I help you, ma'am?" I blinked in the light. The waiter was Mr. Cleveland, my science teacher.
"I told you to cool off the glass first!" Grandma snapped. She yelled so loudly that the people at other tables turned to look at her. I felt my face get hot and red. Why did she always have to do this in restaurants? Mr. Cleveland looked at me for a long moment like he felt a little bit bad for me.
Grandma was particular about the way she liked her lemonade. She wanted the waiter to fill her glass with ice water, let it set a moment, then dump the water out and put the lemonade and the ice in. I never could feel any difference, but she could always tell when the waiter hadn't done it. My grandma hated a warm glass.
And she already hated Mr. Cleveland. That he was black probably didn't help much neither.
"Hi Lily," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Hey Mr. Cleveland."
Mom and Grandma looked back and forth between us.
"He's my science teacher," I said.
Grandma glared at Mr. Cleveland. "Then why are you waiting tables at night? Do you have a gambling problem or something?" She asked.
"No, Ma'am," Mr. Cleveland said. "I'm saving up to buy a ring for my girlfriend."
"I'm glad you're getting married. So many of your people don't bother. But you're going to have to wait a long time to get that ring. Your tips can't be very good if you can't follow simple instructions." Grandma said.
Grandma's eyes narrowed beneath her purple hat as the Mr. Cleveland scampered back to the kitchen with the glass.
"Dr. Fredrick says lemonade's going to be the death of you," Momma said coolly, studying the menu. Momma looked nice tonight. Her dress was brand new.
"Dr. Fredrick doesn't know anything, the Lord will take care of me" Grandma said.
God probably was a little it on Grandma's side, because Grandma usually got her way about everything. This restaurant usually didn't even serve lemonade. But when the host had taken our drink order, she'd told him that the restaurant had lemons, sugar and water and that the customer was always right.
Grandma always said she hated laziness. But as far as I could tell she hated waiters.
"I want the linguini puttanesca," my grandmother told Mr. Cleveland, shaking a long red fingernail at him. Grandma's fingernails were always long and red and her lips were always the same color red.
"We don't have that on the menu," the Mr. Cleveland said.
"The chef made it for me last time I was here," Grandma said, her voice starting to get loud again. Momma looked at me for a long second. She looked very tired. Truth is, this restaurant was brand new. Grandma had never been there. So either she was confused, or this was how she planned to get her way. Either way, there was no sense telling her.
Mr. Cleveland let his breath out slowly. "I'm sure he will make it for you again."
"With eggplant? He made it with eggplant last time."
"Yes, Madam, with eggplant."
"And make sure he puts capers in it," Grandma snapped. "He didn't put capers in the last time."
"Our chef would never forget the capers in puttanesca sauce," Mr. Cleveland said, sounding the slightest bit insulted.
"Well, YOU forgot to cool my glass," Grandma said in a voice that sounded like she was winning a game. Of course, it was the host who had taken our drink order and forgotten to cool the glass, but the waiters probably all looked alike to Grandma. I slid down in my chair. I couldn't believe Grandma was being so mean to Mr. Cleveland. If Momma had ordered already, she probably would have gotten up to go use the bathroom about then. But she hadn't, so she stayed in her seat and ordered. She got chicken carbonara. I got spaghetti and meatballs. Then Grandma asked for another glass of lemonade.
"Of course," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Cool the glass," my mother said softly, looking up at Mr. Cleveland. "Please?"
"Of course, Madam," Mr. Cleveland smiled softly at my mother, who smiled back. I think Mr. Cleveland liked her new dress, too. Lots of men smiled at my mother, but since my dad left and grandma moved in, Momma was always too busy to do much about it.
Before he ran off, Dad always used to tell me that women always grow up to be like their mothers. I hoped that was true, because I wanted to be as pretty as Momma. I was growing and growing, but I still didn't look as nice as Momma did, especially that night. She was wearing makeup and her hair was all done up. She usually didn't bother with any of that.
"So how are you doing in school, Lily? That man teaching you all right?" Grandma asked, pointing a red thumbnail at Mr. Cleveland's back as he walked off. She fumbled with her big gold purse and pulled out a long cigarette. My mother opened her mouth like she was going to tell Grandma that we were in the "No Smoking" section, but when grandma glared at her, she closed her mouth again.
"Mr. Cleveland's class is okay. I got a B+ on my social studies test," I proudly reported.
"Why wasn't it an A?" Grandma asked.
"I forgot the capital of Nevada."
"It's Carson City," my mother said,
"I know that NOW," I said. My mother smiled.
Grandma let out a long snort. "Well, now's too late."
"It's still a B+, Mom." Momma said. I didn't smile because I didn't want grandma to see, but it felt good when Momma stuck up for me.
"She should be getting A's," Grandma said. "She got Leonard's brains, she's smart like him." Even though she was an evangelical now, Grandma always made the sign of the cross when she talked about grandpa. Mommy dipped her head for a moment.
Mr. Cleveland came back with breadsticks and more lemonade, smiling at my mom again. Mommy smiled back and grandma gave another loud snort.
She grabbed the glass of lemonade with her red nails, and started drinking it down.
"Mom, please be careful," my mother said. "Lemonade is just full of potassium, and you're not supposed to have potassium with your kidney problems."
Grandma snorted again "Oh, go on, Daphne. A little lemonade never hurt anybody."
"You've had three glasses." I said.
"And we haven't even had dinner yet!" Momma said.
"Hush now," Grandma said, taking another drink. "I like lemonade. Makes me feel like I'm back home."
Momma stiffened. Getting Grandma talking about how great Georgia used to be was always a mistake. Grandma had loved Grandpa Leonard, but he'd made her leave Georgia to come here to Pennsylvania. Grandma loved to talk about Georgia and how much she wanted to go back.
"When I was back home," Grandma said. "Men behaved like men and did what was right. There wasn't any of this homosexual stuff going on…"
"Momma, please don't talk so loud," My momma said.
"And colored people knew their place!" Grandma finished triumphantly, if a little loudly. A black family two tables away stood up to leave, none of them looking at Grandma.
Mr. Cleveland must not have heard her either, because he came back over with a tray of thick, chewy Bruschetta.
"We didn’t order that and we're not paying for it!" Grandma said.
"Compliments of the house," Mr. Cleveland said, setting it gently down on the table.
"Let's say grace, then." Grandma said. Recently, she'd started saying grace all the time. She said it was because she was saved. Momma hadn't paid any attention until Grandma had started talking about changing her will to give our house to the church if Momma didn't fly right. Then Momma started to go to bed early with a glass of whiskey.
Grandma's prayer was long and boring and talked about God giving Momma the right kind of husband, and something about Momma not fornicating. I'd asked Grandma before what "fornicating" was, but she wouldn't tell me.
After Grandma said Amen, she snatched up a piece of bread and started eating it, finally quiet. Momma winked at me. Mr. Cleveland walked away, smiling. Grandma took another drink of lemonade.
My mother leaned back for a moment, her expression calm. She looked happy. At least Grandma wasn't talking about Georgia any more. When Dad left, Momma was really sad to have to move back in with Grandma. Momma worked hard to take care of Grandma now, but all Grandma did was complain and write big checks to her church.
I was glad to see Momma smile. She'd looked so sad and tired recently. Part of it was that she was sneaking out at night. She'd go to bed early with her glass of whiskey, but sometimes I'd hear her leave later after Grandma took her pills and went to sleep. I wondered where Momma was going, but never asked her. But tonight she was calm and relaxed as she watched Grandma eat her appetizer and slurp down lemonade.
A few minutes later, Mr. Cleveland came up with our order, and a new glass of lemonade for Grandma. As he sets the dish down on the table, Grandma barked,
"I need some cheese!"
"Of course, Madam," Mr. Cleveland said. I started eating my spaghetti. It was really good. Mr. Cleveland came back and put some cheese on Grandma's pasta.
"More!" She said. Mr. Cleveland put more on. Then he slipped off into the busy restaurant.
"Thank you," my mother called out after him, making Grandma snort again.
Grandma took a big bite, then cried out for Mr. Cleveland again with her mouth still full.
"Yes, Madam?" Mr. Cleveland said, reappearing almost immediately.
"This is too salty!" she said, pointing at her plate like it was a dead rat.
"I'm sorry, Madam," Mr. Cleveland said. He picked up the plate and went back to the kitchen.
Mr. Cleveland came back out with her plate. "Our apologies, Madam. I had the chef thin the sauce for you."
Grandma took a big bite. "It's still too salty! Take it back!"
Mr. Cleveland took the plate back to the kitchen again. I offered Grandma some spaghetti, but she told me to shut up. She was sweaty and looked very unhappy.
My mother patted Grandma's hand "It's just food, Mom. Don't get so upset."
"We pay good money for this food, and I want to be treated right!" Grandma snapped back. Her face was red and she was getting angrier and angrier.
After a minute, Mr. Cleveland came back out. "We've resauced the dish and carefully rinsed the anchovies," he said.
Grandma dumped cheese on it and took another bite. I could tell from her lips that her food still wasn't very good. Now her cheeks were bright red.
"What's wrong with you, you dumb…"
"Perhaps you'd like to order something else," Mr. Cleveland said, still calm.
"I want linguini puttanesca and I want you to make it right!" Grandma stood up and was openly yelling in Mr. Cleveland's face. Everybody in the restaurant was looking at them. "Why can't you cook a decent meal? Why is it so salty?"
Momma stood up and spoke, her voice even but just as loud. "It's salty because you wanted a dish made with anchovies, you wanted capers in it and you keep asking for parmesan cheese, which is also salty! And because you've drunk so much damn lemonade the sugar has your tastebuds extra sensitive to anything that isn't sweet."
Grandma stared down my mother, picked up her glass of lemonade and took a long, slow swig.
And then she grabbed her chest and keeled over dead.
Momma rode in the ambulance to the hospital and Mr. Cleveland drove me. We talked about dinosaurs on the way, because I didn't know what to say about Grandma. Momma filled out lots of paperwork and talked to doctors and called a funeral home. Momma had a loud voice, but I was down the hall and could only hear a few sentences at the time "So awful..." "Wouldn't do what the doctor said…" "Kept eating bananas and drinking orange juice and lemonade…" The doctors said something about renal failure and heart dysrhythmias.
The mortuary would pick up Grandma from the hospital later, but Momma didn't need to stay for that. Momma cried a lot in front of the doctors, but as we walked out of the hospital, she suggested we all go for ice cream.
By then it was really late, but the diner across town with the waitresses in poodle skirts was open. Momma let me get a banana split of my very own and she and Mr. Cleveland got a milkshake with two straws.
After our desserts came, Mr. Cleveland a paper bag out of his pocket. "Connie," he said to my mother. "I still have this?"
Momma took the bag from him and went to the bathroom. I watched her go, then turned back to look at Mr. Cleveland.
"I'm tired," I said. "And I haven't done my homework yet."
Mr. Cleveland patted me on the hand. "Don't worry about it, Lily. What with your Grandma dying, I don't think you'll have to go to school tomorrow."
I nodded and took a bite of banana split. When Momma got back to the table, Mr. Cleveland had another surprise. He pulled out a little velvet box. Momma opened it and giggled.
"I finally got my girlfriend that diamond ring," Mr. Cleveland said.
"Oh Lily, you're going to have a Daddy!" Momma cooed. She leaned over and kissed Mr. Cleveland.
I got up to go to the bathroom, while Mr. Cleveland and Momma made kissy faces at each other and called each other stupid names.
The bathroom was big, with pink walls and black and white checked tile. I looked under the stall doors to make sure I was alone, then went over to the trashcan and dug through until I found the paper bag. I pulled the bottle of potassium pills out of it and stuck it in my backpack.
After all, before he ran off Daddy always said that women grew up to be their mothers. Momma was already starting to get gray hairs.
I might need those pills some day.
Labels: crime fiction noir
|posted by Chalicechick @ 4:48 AM
| Sunday, October 01, 2006
| Assigned Topic: Zombies
|(Someone I know emailed me and made a good case for changing the main character's name. I have done so. -CC)
"I just don’t get it," Clark Whittingham's wife Bitsey said, shaking her blonde curls. Clark reached up and pulled Bitsey onto his lap, his eyes never completely leaving the television screen. Bitsey giggled and snuggled up to him. On the screen, the zombies were beating at the walls of the farmhouse as the scared-looking people inside did their best to blockade the door. The zombies looked like their skin was slightly blue and for the life of him Clark couldn't remember if the zombies always looked like that. Maybe the TV was going. It was getting to be time to get a new TV anyway. Bitsey had been bugging him to get one of the ones that could hang on the wall.
Clark leaned up and smelled the perfume in Bitsey's hair.
She smelled good.
"Tell me," Bitsey whimpered, wriggling on his lap. "Why do you like those stupid horror movies so much? So much that you're ignoring your beautiful sexy wife who just wants some attention…" Bitsey said, her voice the melodramatic one she used when she was pretending she was kidding.
"I don't know, baby," he said, smiling. On the screen, a bluish zombie put his hand through a window, catching Clark's attention again. Bitsey bounced a little bit on his lap as if to distract him. Clark pretended it didn't work.
She picked up the remote and paused the DVR, freezing the image on the screen. A statue of a bluish zombie stood frozen at the farmhouse door. Clark grunted a bit, but didn't object. He had watched this movie an awful lot recently, and Bitsey was fully as distracting as she was trying to be.
"You were good in the tournament today," Bitsey said in what sounded like an attempt to begin wifely conversation. She reached up and stroked his hair.
"Thanks," he said. Clark put his hands on her hips and lifted her off his lap and to her feet. "Tough break about you getting assessed."
"Yeah," Bitsey said, giving a nervous laugh. She turned around to face him. Her eyes looked larger in the dim light. "It always happens at the wrong time."
Clark leaned up and brushed a curl away from her face. It had been a tough break. Bitsey had leveraged everything to build on the red properties, usually one of the most reliable sets in the game. But one unlucky draw of a "Chance" card and Bitsey's chances of placing in the local tournament were shot. Without a local tournament, there was no playing in a state tournament. And Bitsey always played in a state tournament. Clark had come in first and had his invitation to the state tournament. Of course.
Bitsey's victory was no less assured. She was a very good monopoly player. One more chance and she'd be going to the state tournament. It was just that simple.
"We'll get you into the state tournament, baby. There's another local tournament in Groveton next weekend. I'll sign you up on Monday."
Bitsey leaned over and kissed him. "Sounds good. I should sign myself up, but I might forget and miss the deadline, I'd be really embarrassed if I didn't make it to the state tournament this year."
Clark laughed, "Don't you worry. We're both there every year."
They always did go to states, and sometimes even to nationals. It mattered more to Bitsey than it did to him, but then she was the real estate agent, so it was a point of pride with her. Clark's eyes flashed back to the screen. Bitsey leaned over, giving him a nice view of her breasts. She brought her mouth to his ear as if she were about to kiss it.
"Let's go to bed," she whispered. He reached up and brushed a blonde curl off her cheek.
"Okay," he said.
She sprung up from his lap and hurried down the hallway, turning to look when she got to the bedroom to make sure he was following. Clark left the remote on the side table and the television paused as he shuffled down the hallway after his wife.
Bitsey was obediently lying in the center of the bed, her faded blue teddy slightly askew, but her big blonde curls still looking perfect. Clark stood there watching her for a moment as he unbuttoned his shirt.
Smiling, Bitsey reached over and grabbed the remote, clicking on the late news. Either she was challenging him to get her attention or she wanted to see what was on. There was a new anchorwoman. It said across the bottom of the screen that her name was Kitty Williams. Clark watched her as he took down his pants. Kitty Williams was cute. He gave a few experimental pulls at his prick, looking back and forth between Kitty Williams and his wife.
Bitsey didn't seem to notice. On the screen, Kitty was taking about a movie star who was cheating on his wife. Bitsey sat up, looking fascinated. Clark felt his prick start to get a little harder, particularly because Bitsey was leaning over in a way that showed off her breasts.
Clark climbed into bed behind Bitsey. Kitty was still talking about the movie star, promising more details when the news returned from commercial.
"Shh… Take me from behind…" Bitsey said.
Clark pushed her panties aside and stuck his prick inside her. Bitsey leaned her ass back up against him, pushing him deeper inside her. He reached up with one hand and tweaked her nipple, making her shudder.
"That feels good, Baby," she murmured in a voice that made her sound like an actress in a dirty movie. Actually, if you looked more at her breasts than the lines on her face, Bitsy sort of looked like a dirty movie actress, too. Clark was a lucky man and he knew it.
Still thrusting, moved his hand between her legs until she made a little involuntary gasp. Bitsey looked back up at the screen anyway. The car insurance commercial was ending and the news was coming back on.,
Clark felt Bitsey give his prick a long squeeze. He smiled, pumping her harder and trying to imagine what Kitty Williams would look like reading the news without her blouse on.
Bitsey let out a little squeal and pushed her hips upward, meeting his thrust partway. Kitty Williams was still talking.
"And we have a sad story tonight in local news," the anchorwoman said, pursing her lips. "Local Emergency Medical Technician Alison Hughes was killed tonight in what sources describe as a 'prank."
Clark looked up at the television, which flashed a picture of a handsome young man in a baseball cap. "Ricky Zook, shown here, had only been an EMT for four days when he decided to play a prank on Hughes by shocking her with the ambulance's defillibrator paddles. Sources in the department claim he had been warned repeatedly not to touch them and that they weren't a toy, but King County Fire and Rescue Spokesman Ken Fitzgerald has emphasized that the young man did not realize that the shock would be fatal to Hughes.”
"What?" Bitsey asked, working her hips against him insistently.
Clark realized that he had stopped thrusting.
"Alison Hughes was 23 years old and had worked her way through college. She leaves behind two children."
Clark lost his erection completely.
"Come on," Bitsey whinnied.
"Baby, did you hear that?"
"Some guy was playing around with the defillabrator paddles in an ambulance and he killed this poor woman."
"That's too bad…" Bitsey said in a voice that suggested she was waiting for the punchline. Bitsey moved her hips again, trying to get him hard. Clark reached a hand down and played with the base of his prick for a moment, but he remained limp.
"I don’t think it's going to happen, baby" Clark said regretfully.
"It's OK!" Bitsey said with a little too much enthusiasm. "Hey, it happens to every guy once in awhile." She wriggled forward and his prick came out of her with a soft pop. It hung there in space like laundry on the line. "You're just tired," Bitsey said. "Goodness knows I am."
Bitsey leaned over and kissed him, then slipped under the covers as if to illustrate her exhaustion.
Clark climbed out of bed and put on his briefs and a t-shirt, still trying not to think of the poor EMT woman dying in such a pointless way. The news was over. Clark turned the bedroom tv off, leaving Bitsey in darkness. Clark's wife was curled up, looking like she was doing her best to get to sleep.
"Baby?" she said softly.
"Yeah, I'll be OK."
Clark went back downstairs and got himself a Heineken out of the refrigerator. In the den, the TV was still as he had left it, paused on the image of the bluish zombies beating on the farmhouse door.
One of the downsides to being married to one of the town's most prolific real estate agents was waking up alone. Bitsey had been successful for most of their marriage, but when Clark read the local paper, it still surprised him every time to see her picture grinning out from one of her ads. Waking up alone felt like that, too.
Bitsey often emphasized that a secret of her success was her willingness to meet clients early and sweet talk homeowners into showing their houses before work. She was a real estate agent who specialized in busy people, and as Bitsey often reminded him, busy people are the ones with money. Waking up early was how Bitsey was able to demand a three and a half percent commission. Far above the usual three.
So Clark ate breakfast alone. His inclinations were the opposite of Bitsey's anyway. He was in sales, too, of course, selling high-end kitchen supplies to restaurants. His sort of sales was an afternoon business. Restaurant Managers, and especially chefs, tended to be night owls. Calling them before eleven would be downright stupid.
Actually, calling them at eleven would be downright stupid. God bless the lunch rush.
Clark tied his tie and headed out the door at 10:15. He knew Misty Marie would keep his breakfast warm.
The Bob Evans on the edge of town had a pleasing sameness. Bitsey would never go there. She was too concerned about her figure. But Clark liked the biscuits and the warm enthusiasm of his favorite breakfast waitress.
"Hey Mr. Whittingham!" Misty Marie greeted him, the same as always. "Do you want coffee?" She was a short, chubby brunette. As she lead him to his usual table this morning, Clark couldn't look at her without thinking that she was about the dead EMT's age. Misty Marie also had children and was also working her way through school. Clark shook his head as if to clear his head like an Etch*a*Sketch. "Do you want coffee?" Misty Marie repeated, her intonation not a note different from the first time she'd asked.
Misty Marie was a pro.
"No, thanks, Misty Marie" Clark said, flashing his best salesman's smile. "I'm crazy enough already these days."
Misty Marie giggled, making her nametag shake up and down. "How about some Orange juice?"
"Please," Clark said.
"Do you want your usual breakfast?"
"Yes, I do." Clark said.
"And a newspaper?"
"Thank you, ma'am."
That seemed to please Misty Marie, who bustled off. Clark surveyed the crowd, seeing many of the usual faces. There was a group of old men in the corner, eating senior breakfasts and debating boisterously about some issue of county politics. Clark wondered if he would ever become an old man solving the problems of the world in Bob Evans on a Wednesday morning.
Better than the alternative, as they say.
Misty Marie brought Clark his orange juice and his newspaper.
"Your paper, sir." Misty Marie said with cheerful formality. Clark wished that the Bob Evans weren't quite so crowded. He would have liked to talk to Misty Marie. On a slow day, she liked to linger at his table. He always tipped her well on the days she did that. He liked the company but felt he should pay extra for it.
Today Bob Evans was a little too popular. Too many old men saving the world. Clark surrendered his favorite waitress to the previous generations and reluctantly opened his newspaper. He thumbed through, only half conscious that he was looking for more details in the death of the EMT. He was disappointed to find that the article only told him a little bit more. Alison Hughes had gone into cardiac arrest seconds after Ricky Zook shocked her, but had taken three days to die. Clark didn't know if that meant she'd suffered or not. She'd lived long enough to yell "Ouch! Dave, he shocked me!" to the other EMT in the ambulance.
What a set of last words. Everyone wants loving or meaningful last words, but many people ended up having screwed up last words. "Oh shit," "I'm tired and going to bed, good night," "My God, I've been shot!"
Clark realized he wanted his last words to mean something, a realization he'd never had before.
Misty Marie interrupted his reverie with a plate of eggs and bacon, his usual breakfast these many years. His doctor tolerated the habit as long as Clark went to the gym three times a week and took his pills. Still, when Misty Marie set the eggs in front of him, the words, "I'm having chest pains!" sprang to his mind unbidden. He doubted he would eat well.
Clark's fraternity brother Harry had started Alpha Kitchen Corporation straight out of school. When they were still in school, Clark recalled Harry talking about how most restaurants went out of business in their first year. Harry had said that he expected there were opportunities for a company that sold refurbished equipment bought cheap from bankrupt restaurants and sold at a hefty mark up to new restaurants. Harry was always the visionary. Clark made things happen. That's why Harry was a CEO and Clark led up the sales team, then the sales department, then the sales division.
They'd started out in a converted warehouse, but now they were in a glass-encased building in the center of town. Now they made their own kitchen equipment. And Clark sold it to major chains and managed guys who sold to minor chains. Business was good.
He loved the glass building he and his frat brother had built, though admittedly it was Harry's idea and Harry's money that were the mortar and bricks.
His cell phone rang in the elevator. He picked it up,
"Hi Baby," Bitsey was sounding frisky.
"Well, hey, Bitsey" Clark said. He was glad Bitsey sounded back on her game. He'd worried that last night's awkwardness would carry through this morning, but Bitsey sounded very natural and happy. He wondered if she'd sold a house.
"I was just calling to remind you to sign me up for that tournament. I have a closing and two more houses to show today and I think today might be the deadline."
"I'm not sure, Bits, but I will sure give them a call. If you don't go there, we can get you into the tournament in Lofton. It's just two Saturdays away."
"I know. Anyway, thank you."
"Bitsey?" Clark asked.
"Yes, Clark?" Clark was silent for a moment, not sure how exactly to phrase what he was going to ask. "What?" Bitsey said, her voice anticipating that the question would irritate her a bit."
"Do you ever think about dying?"
"I have to go," Bitsey said, "I don't have time to thin about dying. I'm too busy making a living." Bitsey recited this in the tone of someone totally unaware she'd made little pun.
"Have a good day, Bits."
"You, too, Baby. And just wait, you might get a surprise tonight" Bitsey's goodbye was in that dirty movie actress voice she did so well. Clark looked at the phone for a long moment before ringing off.
The familiarity of Clark's office, with its windows giving a view of the highway, was comforting. It made him feel like lord of all he saw, though in truth Harry saw more from his view directly upstairs. Still, running the sales division did have its benefits. He liked looking out the window , watching the cars go by.
As he walked through the reception area, he noticed how oddly the light of the computer screen lit his secretary Heather's face. The effect was subtle, but on a cloudy day, her cheekbones were highlighted by the slightly odd-colored light the monitor was producing. As he walked by, he turned to see that she was reading the news. His first thought was that he supposed he should object but that he didn't actually give a damn as long as she got her work done. His second thought was to wonder if she'd read about the dead EMT.
He had calls to return from major clients, emails from some of his sales guys. But first he looked at his calendar. September 29-Heather's Birthday. He sighed. He felt like being alone today, but it wasn't to be. "So Heather," he typed. "I’d love to take you to lunch today for your birthday. Make reservations anyplace you’d like to go." He sent it off.
A few minutes later, the response came. "We've got reservations for the Olive Garden at noon."
He called up and registered Bitsey for the monopoly tournament in Groveton next weekend. His baby was going to states again this year for sure. He indulged himself in a moment of daydreaming, picturing Bitsey bouncing up and down after some poor jerk landed on Boardwalk and had to finance one of her hotels.
At that, Clark dove into his work and did his best not to lift his head and look around until it was time for lunch.
Even with their reservations, Olive Garden kept them waiting. Clark let Heather have the only available seat and paced around the waiting area. He had to fight back the temptation to play with the plastic grapes on the hostess counter. He was having a fidgety sort of day.
"I love this place," Heather said.
Clark walked back over to talk to her. "Yeah," Clark said. "It's cute."
He looked over his secretary. She was wearing black slacks and a low-cut blue blouse with a necklace hanging in her cleavage. The effect was appealing.
Clark looked around. The walls were hung with faux-Italian paper and the floors were faux-Italian tile. Clark made an effort to look out the window into the parking lot, just so he could see the real cars and the real Jiffy Lube behind them. He shook his head as if that would help clear his thoughts.
"What are you going to get?"
“I don’t know,” Clark said. “Do they have ravioli?”
Heather smiled. “Probably three or four different kinds.”
The hostess motioned and Clark and Heather followed her to their seats. Heather ordered a salad, Clark got ravioli. Heather ordered a bottle of wine for the table, which hadn’t been Clark’s plan, but what the hell? It was on his expense account.
The restaurant was quite full and Clark found himself checking the walls for fire exits. There were two of them, one not very far from him. He wondered what would happen if the bluish zombies descended upon Olive Garden. As he was running away, would he stop to leave a tip? Clark shook his head again. These zombie fantasies were getting ridiculous.
“What’s up with you?” Heather asked. Clark looked up from his reverie to see that he was shredding his breadstick on his plate. Yeah, he probably looked like a nervous man.
“Nothing,” Clark said, forcibly replacing his pensive expression with a salesman’s charm.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Heather said.
Clark sighed, “Do you think much about dying, Heather?”
Heather raised an eyebrow, “No. I mean, I guess I know it’s going to happen, but I figure it will happen soon enough and I just shouldn’t think about it.” Heather paused for a moment, then she looked straight in his eyes. “My God, you’re not sick, are you?”
Clark broke the tension with a smile, “No, no, Heather. I’m just fine,” Heather still looked concerned. “Bitsey, too. Everyone’s fine. I’ve just, well, did you ever hear about something and it just sort of makes you think?” Heather wrinkled her brow. “Like something comes up from behind and shocks you when you’re not expecting it, and it makes you look at the world a new way?”
Heather looked puzzled, “Did you find Jesus?”
“No, I guess… Well, never mind.” Clark took a breadstick and gave it a long dip in the marinara sauce. “Seen anything good on TV recently?” Clark asked, washing the breadstick down with a large gulp of wine.
Chatter about reality shows and the latest detective dramas made for a pretty amusing hour. He drank two glasses of wine and mostly left the talking to Heather. By the time he was eating his tiramisu, he was starting to feel a little bit better about the world.
Then Heather looked up at him, both eyes wide and with a serious expression on her face.
“I’m glad you didn’t find Jesus, Clark.”
“I didn’t know he was lost,” Clark said, laughing at his own joke. Heather ignored that.
“Do you know why I picked the Olive Garden, Clark?” Her voice suddenly had a low, sensual quality.
“No,” Clark said. For a moment, he’d intended to joke about the breadsticks, but Heather looked serious.
“Because the Holiday Inn is right across the street.” Heather let that comment hang in the air for a beat. “I know you’ve noticed a certain tension between us,” Heather reached over and put her fingers on the back of his hand, rubbing the back of his hand in a slow circle. “I was just wondering if you’d like to give me something else for my birthday.”
Clark sat in silence for a moment. Heather was a good looking woman. Her tall coolness was a marked contrast to Bitsey’s cheerleader verve. That hand on his did feel good, making him feel the sort of tension that only comes from something new. Making Heather break down that reserve would be a lot of fun.
But he wasn’t into it. Even after two glasses of wine.
He was sad to realize that he wasn’t even saying no for morality’s sake or for Bitsey’s. He just didn’t care. The sex would be fun, but what then? A torrid affair? Keeping a secret forever? Guiltily confessing. Clark was pretty sure Bitsey wouldn’t leave. But still, the prospect was exhausting to even think about.
“Heather, I think you had a little too much wine on your birthday,” Clark said, making the “I feel your pain” expression that every salesman knows. “I’m going to pay the check and call a cab to take you home. You just take the rest of the afternoon off and have a nice birthday and I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”
“And none of this happened?” Heather asked.
“None of what?” Clark said, plunking down his credit card decisively.
The pasta Clark had eaten for lunch formed an uncomfortable lump in his stomach as he drove home. He knew Olive Garden was pretty much all right, so he wrote his intestinal discomfort off to his recent stresses. The breadsticks had left a fatty film across the top of his mouth and he smacked his lips to try to get rid of it.
Heather seemed disappointed, but that was sort of inherent in the situation. Clark wondered if he could get her promoted to a secretarial trainer of some sort. Things might be less awkward if she changed jobs. It would be best for all concerned.
He’d been blessedly free of distraction that afternoon and his day at work had been more productive than he could possibly expect under the circumstances. Several more restaurants were getting new or upgraded equipment, all thanks to Clark and his sales guys. It was enough to make a man proud.
But the pride at his good day was fading as Clark sat in traffic, flipping the radio from channel to channel. Strife in the Mideast, unemployment, injured athletes. Pain on every channel. Somehow it all made him think of the dead EMT.
He turned the radio off and focused on the traffic that inched forward. Thousands of people going home. From where? Insurance companies, auto dealerships, offices, restaurants where they sold the equipment that chefs made their masterpieces out of, masterpieces that rich bastards had wolfed down in between management meetings and the squash courts, then shit out an hour later. Maybe some of these people would get so bored at work that they would murder their coworkers.
Clark could look out across the traffic and see in-car DVD players and video Ipods flickering in the fading light. The entire traffic jam seemed to be making the best of the situation with passive amusement.
Clark imagined zombies rising from their graves and rejoining the world. No doubt they would limp down highways like this one. All those recently-dead, stumbling along, running blue hands along the sides of mnivans and SUVs as they walked by. The highway would pulse like a vein.
Would the people run? Or would they sit there, medicated into complacency by satellite radio and the flickering lights of in-car television until humanity's destruction was assured?
Would the last battle for humanity's survival be our collective attention span versus a rerun of the OC?
There was a beautiful car in his driveway. Clark could see from the end of the block. For a moment, it made him nervous. Could Bitsey have been offered the same opportunity he’d been offered this afternoon? Could she have said yes? The idea wasn’t impossible. God knows his wife was a sexy woman and she met new men all day.
But it just didn’t feel like the right answer.
Clark parked in front of his house and walked up to the car. It was charcoal gray, a Mercedes of some type. Something about the curves reminded Clark of a delicious woman, of Bitsey. He wondered idly if it had given the engineers a stiffy to design the thing. He walked past the car and up his front steps, arranging his tie in anticipation of meeting some company.
But as he put his key in the lock, the front door swung open. Bitsey was standing there in a blue bikini.
“Hey Baby,” she said, leaning her back against the doorframe, hands behind her head. Bitsey had mastered many provocative poses, but this was one of her favorites. And his.
“Hey Bitsey.” Clark said, looking her up and down for a slightly exaggerated moment. Always good to remind Bitsey how much he appreciated her. “Whose car is that?”
“Yours.” She said blandly.
“Remember the old Miller house on the edge of town?” Bitsey didn’t really pause long enough for him to nod. “I sold it yesterday for two million dollars. I was both the listing agent and the selling agent.”
“At seven percent commission, that’s…” Clark said, trying to do the mental math. Mental math was never one of his strengths.
“$140,000.” Bitsey finished. Clark’s mouth gaped just a bit. That was a lot even for Bitsey. His wife leaned up against him, rubbing her bikini top into his chest. When she spoke again, her voice was breathy and low, “Now I know I’m supposed to be a good girl and save lots of money for retirement, but I know my husband and I’m getting the sense that he’s having just a little mid-life crisis. And I thought to myself “self, what does a man going through that need?”
“And the answer you came up with was ‘a Mercedes?”
“A Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG,” she batted her eyelashes.
Bitsey offered to put some clothes on before they took the car for a test drive, but Clark requested that she not bother. He threw down his jacket and took off his tie, then led is lovely bikini-wearing wife to the car.
They drove out toward the mountains where traffic thinned out and they could really see what a high performance car could do. As they whipped around the turns, he recalled the story about how Elvis used to meet people, take a liking to them and give away the keys to his latest Cadillac. Elvis had never given anyone the keys to his Mercedes Benz SL roadster. Clark had no question why not.
He put down the hardtop, knowing it would cut down on the performance a little bit, but also knowing that Bitsey would love the sun on her face. She looked good that way. Since there were no other cars on the highway, he wondered if he could talk her in to taking off her top.
They flew past an old farmhouse like the one in the zombie movie, and for a moment, Clark found himself thinking of the zombies again, but he dismissed that thought as quickly as it had come. Out here on the highway, in his Mercedes Benz, he could drive faster than the zombies. With Bitsey at his side, he could leave all of them behind. He was really tiring of looking at things and only seeing their pointlessness and their phoniness. This Holden Caulfield shit was getting old. Maybe lots of things were phony, but it was his life and he was going to be phony if he damn well pleased.
He put his foot on the gas pedal, making Bitsey squeal with joy as they took off down the highway a little faster. Away from worry, away from everything.
That night, they missed the late news and fucked in front of David Letterman instead. When Bitsey fell asleep, Clark fell asleep with her cuddled up, thinking only of where he’d drive next. At one point, he stirred enough to look around for a moment. The television was the only light in the room. Bitsey’s skin looked a little bit blue that way, lit only by the tv. He looked down at his own hand. It was bluish, too.
Fuck it. He turned over and went to sleep.
Labels: cheesy symbolism
|posted by Chalicechick @ 11:34 AM
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