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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tour Guide - 6/25

"Bonjour!" Andre spread his arms wide to wrap Jean in a quick embrace. He pulled back enough to place a kiss on both of her cheeks.

She managed a nervous smile and sideways glace to Dennis as she rubbed her hands on jeans. "Um...Bon-jur."

"I'm so glad you found your way," Andre said, turning to a stern faced Dennis.

Dennis extended his hand for a shake, his arm taunt. Andre took the offering with his nimble hand while his other arm wrapped around Dennis's shoulder.

Jean suppressed a giggle as Dennis's eyes grew wide, his cheeks flushing as Andre delivered another bise to either side of Dennis' clean shaved face. The street map in his hand crinkled.

"Your directions were great," said Jean, slipping her arm through Dennis' bent elbow. She gave his bicep a supportive squeeze through his long sleeve shirt.

"But of course!" Andre's smile beamed. He clasped his hands before his snug black tee shirt and trim grey jacket. A stylish fuzzy scarf twined around his neck and drooped down to his lean black jeans and shiny loafers.

Jean adjusted her pack on her shoulder and peered at the crowds hovering around the crystal pyramid. Her sneakers shifted on the large cobblestones.

"So...what do we do now?"

"The guidebook says we get tickets downstairs," answered Dennis. He pulled the zipper on her canvas bag and tucked away the map before pulling out a worn travel book.

"Non, non," said Andre with another grin. "You say si vous plait."

Jean frowned and tried not to giggle at Dennis' nervous glance in her direction.

"See...Vous..Plait," she repeated.

Andre gave her a wink and reached for his back pocket. His hand came back with three crisp tickets.

"You didn't have to do that," she said, taking the ticket Andre extended.

"And let you waste your vacation standing in line?" Andre wagged his finger. "Non, non, non. Come mes amis." Scooping up Jean's arm, he hurried them around the jagged sides of the pyramid to one of the entryways.

Dennis tucked the book hurriedly back into the backpack as the guard processed them through security. He waved them on with a silent nod. Sunlight reflected off the rotating glass door as they each slid inside and found their feet upon the swift moving escalator.

An excited hum filled the cavernous entryway. Languages from across the globe rumbled in conversation while paper pamphlets exchanged hands, computer registers clicked and booklets flipped to explanatory pages. A coiling line poured out of the massive chocolate colored counters occupying one side of the square. Flat, rectangular panels displayed the ticket prices before the slowly moving mass.

Jean's eyes swam across the multicolored crowds milling around the information depot in the center and up to the four large hallways branching off from the square lobby. Large banners of various artworks waved in the gusts of air conditioners. She pulled down her sweaters rolled sleeves against the artificial breeze.

"Where do we start?"

"The guide book said the Mona Lisa's in the..." Dennis frowned, his hand landing lightly on the book containing pack on Jeans back as she stood on the step below him. "Sail des Etats."

"Oui, she is there," said Andre, one step further down. He sighed and shook his long locks. His shoulders slumped as he leaned on the railing of the descending stairwell.

"What?" asked Jean as the escalator deposited them on the tiled lobby.

"If you want to follow the herd like the other cows," he said, motioning towards the surge of humanity heading down one of the four corridors, "then you do not need me."

Dennis crossed his arms. "You can't expect us to miss one of the most iconic paintings of all time. It'd be like you coming to the states and avoiding Washington DC."

"Dennis..." murmured Jean. She shot Andre an apologetic glance.

Andre smiled. "Oui, oui. You are quite right. But trust in your friend. I will show you where the all the treasures lay."

Dennis grumbled under his breath. Jean laid a hand on his shoulder and received a pleading stare. Andre tactfully turned to peruse a group of college-aged exchange students cackling across the marble.

"Andre knows what he's doing, Dennis," Jean whispered. "We're not going to miss anything."

Dennis sighed. "I had marked up the guidebook with all the locations..."

"I know, sweetie...but do you want to trust a book or a local to show us around first hand? Look how much time he already saved us!"

He met her wide, blue eyes instead of the ticket she waved before his nose. The tension in his shoulders ebbed.

"Ok..." he nodded and a small smile crept onto his lips. "So long as he doesn't kiss me again."

Jean leaned in a placed a swift peck of her own on his lips. His hand found her belted waist and pulled her in for a quick squeeze.

"Ah…amour..." mused Andre. He had wheeled on his loafers and a sly smile had crept onto his mouth.

Jean blushed and gave Dennis a half hearted shove.

"Ready?" asked Andre.

"Please," said Jean.

"Si vous plait," corrected Andre with a cocked brow towards Dennis.

Dennis let out a chuckle. "Si vous plait."

"Parfait!" Andre pivoted to stand between them, slid his arms through theirs and guided them against the crowd's current. "This way mes amis! Let Andre show you the world!"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Elusive Catch - 6/17

Gabby froze, her squat, stainless steel fork clutched in her worked raw hand. Her eyes grew wide behind the square black frames perched upon the sheen of sweat coating her sun tanned stub of a nose. Across the camp's folding table, Ryan held his breath and stopped chewing on the mouthful of rubber passing for meatloaf.

The pattern was unmistakable. The trio of amber spots upon the cerulean background burned as bright as the sun fading through the drooping canopy. Two antennas wobbled upon the tiny head investigating the remains of the sparse pile of soggy crackers and aluminum foil wrapped loaf.

Gabby swallowed and prayed her whispered voice would carry. "Where's your camera?"

"Packed," answered Ryan.

"What?" Gabby's eyes ripped away from the perched insect and shot a fiery glare to her hunched companion.

"It's getting dark. It's going to rain."

She clamped closed her lips against his prudent logic. It was always about to rain. She tried to keep from quivering in frustration. She lowered her eyes back on to the butterfly, willing it to linger with cooing thoughts.

The mottled wings pulsed slower than Gabby's pounding heart. A tiny rolled tongue coiled out to clean the insect's eyes and the tiny feet shifted, perhaps taking a taste of the charred loaf.

Gabby lowered her hands one inch at a time until they had fallen below the table's edge. She dropped the fork onto the tarp covered ground and patted out to either side. Her fingers passed over shrouded roots and rocks and rain drenched ground. With all the clutter filling their small camp, at this vital moment, none of her equipment seemed within reach.

On the other side, Ryan attempted the same steady maneuvers. Gabby held her breath as he dipped to the side, disappearing almost entirely from her view.

"Here," he murmured. She felt a sharp prod against her pants and winced, but kept herself from jumping at the unexpected touch. The brush of the metal pipe on the fabric seemed as loud as a shout.

She watched the tiny butterfly freeze. The gently flapping wings tensed. The antenna quivered. The feet of the six legs shuffled upon their half eaten dinner.

Gabby let out a small exhale and slid her hands beneath the table to find the cool handle. Her fingers coiled around the rounded edge. She began withdrawing it with another rustle of fabric and the rough scrape of the nets mesh against the floor covered tarp. As she pulled the net from beneath the table her wrists brushed against the edge. The jostle sent ripples in their water bottles and the quake caused the butterfly to leap languidly into the air.

She swallowed down a screaming curse. "Watch it..." she said instead, pushing up to her feet with a frantic shove.

Ryan's boots scuffed upon the tarp floor and his hands reached out towards the crates by the open tent flap. Gabby heard the clicks of the latches on his heavy plastic cases, but her eyes stayed on their fluttering prize.

Amber specks sparkled with each flap of wing, twinkling like a distant constellation. She watched the butterfly wander near the dangling lines holding up the tent frame, across the stacked crates of rations and then the two cots lined at the far edge of the narrow enclosure.

Her eyes burned as she kept herself from blinking while she stalked forward. One moment of blindness might mean losing sight of the small creature.

She hovered as the butterfly began a tentative descent towards the makeshift bundle of clean laundry she had been using as a pillow.

"Quiet," she whispered. Behind her Ryan's hasty extraction of his camera and long lens followed her instructions. She heard the soft snap denoting the removal of the lens cap and the slow crunch of tarp as he neared with all his lumbering stealth.

Gabby's hands tightened on her handle as the insect debated on which wrinkle to use as a landing platform. With a silent touch the six feet touched down.

Ryan's camera clicked. Gabby lunged. The net swung. The butterfly quivered.

Gabby’s knees smacked into the lumpy ground and her free hand braced her weight against the metal frame of the cot. The net's rim swallowed the pillow, encompassing the lumpy sack in a crumple of tiny braided squares.

"Did you get it?"

Gabby shuffled closer, heedless to the poke of sharp rocks and roots pressing into her skin or the oppressive heat and sweat dripping rivers down her body. She lifted the limp edge of the net. Her mouth spread into a dopey smile and her head swam with dizzying exaltation at the sight of blue and amber.

Hero - 6/14

The breeze through the open door stirred the lingering scent of ash and smoke. The aroma clung on Bruce's nose like the last threads of sleep. Rays from the swiftly rising sun glistened on the plastic edges of the wrapped gray lump at his sneakers and drew his eyes downward.

"The paper," he said in drearily explanation to his slow churning mind.

The fresh air swept in and carried off his morning breath.

Stooping, he winced at the creak in his back and the strain in his rounded arm muscles extending towards the blurred lines of black text. His strong fingers curled around the plastic and he straightened with an arching stretch.

A run, he thought for the countless time since gingerly extracting himself from his cooling sheets, would help work out the day old kinks.

His eyes were drawn to his hand about to throw the paper across the shadowed threshold. Streaks of soot nestled in the creases at his knuckles and charcoal grit sunk deep under his nails.

Another good scrub should get rid of those last traces, he thought. The warmth of the shower beckoned but he shook his head and tossed away the paper. The plastic wrapped bundle crinkled and bounced on the dingy carpet coating his front hall.

Bruce pulled back his foot bracing the door and the heavy plank thudded closed with a click at the latch. He slid in his key to fasten the bolt. The grimy fingerprints clinging to the knob earned a frown but he put his back to the stained metal and headed out along the concrete walkway.

His singed laces thrummed against the hard ground as his pace rose from a slow stride to a steady jog. The baggy blue shorts and gray stained shirt from the day before, matched the rhythm as he trotted out to Main Street. Sidewalk passed beneath his feet. Blood began coursing through his weary limbs, awakening each muscle with a warming touch.

The first passing car let out a honk, nearly tossing Bruce from the practiced pace.

"Way to go Teach’!" The yeller was a block down the road by the time Bruce muddled out their Doppler blurred words. Mystified, he shook his head and turned back to the concrete.

On the sidewalk grew dotted colors of other morning walkers or runners. In the distance the backdrop of the center of town, the epicenter of his jaunt, lingered in the morning haze.

"Hey Mr. Findley," said a red faced teenager heading in the reverse direction. Bruce vaguely remembered him as a student from a few years back. The young man gave two thumbs up around his handful of music player and keys before puffing down the road.

Bruce slowed his trot and watched him go for a moment before turning back to the tree lined path.

"That's him!"

Bruce looked across the two lane road and caught a pair of snowy haired women in matching pastel track suits and white terriers. One crooked finger had been pointed at him.

"Looks like a nice young man."

"Well obviously..."

The polite argument slid out of earshot with a few more jogging strides and the honks from a few more passing cars.

Bruce nodded sharply to a few other shouts and calls from cars or puffed through runner’s lips. He tried to keep the wrinkles on his brow from deepening or the sweat starting down his face from feeling like ice.

The sore muscles and residual grime he could handle. The attention wafting off the pedestrians and commuters was another and far more disconcerting matter.

Orange flames rimmed his sidewalk focused eyes, trying again to draw his attention as they had the night before. A brisk wind brushed against his cheeks, stained with the same pine scent as the dark and winding road slicing through the back woods of town. Another shout from across the street echoed in his ears like the panicked cries and bestial braying that had sliced through the trees and into his lumbering hatchback.

"Watch yourself, Mr. Hero."

Bruce looked up in time to twist and avoid the smiles and shoulders of a running troupe on an opposite course.

"Well done," and "Terrific of you," looped like their soles hitting the concrete.

He nodded and managed a half smile until they passed. He took the first available right and cut down a quiet side street. The honks and the admonitions dwindled with the growth of pungent flowers boxes and trimmed lawns. His chest heaved with more ease. Bruce focused back on each stride, using each pound of his sooty sneakers on the sidewalk to crush a rising question.

How did they know?

Who had told them?

Were those kids ok?

The quiet rhythm returned as he listened to the blood in his ears and the huffs of his breath. Leaning to the left at the intersection he coiled along the perimeter of the center of town.

Brick faced residences shifted into small shops. The sunlight warmed parked cars, grass parks and swaying stop lights hanging over the right angled roads on drooping electrical lines.

Bruce skidded to a stop at the corner of Oak and Fremont after another distracting round of honks and waves. Square receptacles of blue and red and green plastic stood before him in a ragged row along the corner. His own soot smeared face stared back at him from within the glass face and beneath a roaring headline filling half the page.

The paper, he thought with growing embarrassment.

He smiled and waved again at another passerby commending him for his Samaritan acts. Then he had his feet moving once more at a decidedly swifter pace on a decidedly shorter course back to where his own plastic wrapped explanation and promised shower waited.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moving Day - 6/12

Fran stared at the barren wall with her weathered hands on her denim covered hips. Flecks of packing peanuts clung to her grungy tee-shirt and upon her sagging ponytail. Cardboard boxes surrounded her in untouched towers. Folded flaps were nestled inside each other with thick creases on each edge. Fran's strict penmanship coated the sides in thick black marker, noting the current contents around previously scratched out labels. Her thick curls waved with a breeze from the propped open front door.

Tina's slim form filled the doorway and she leaned against the threshold, panting. The square box in her arm jangled with the loose pots resting within the dented sides.

At the sight of an entranced Fran, Tina rolled her eyes and tried to catch her breath. With a heave and a clank of metal, she strode down the hallway, passed Fran's pensive position and maneuvered through the maze of towers to reach the bursting kitchen. She found a spot by the glistening oven and bent down to drop the box onto the floor. The cardboard landed with a clash and a pop in her back.

Tina straightened with a grimace on her face and a hand on her spine.

"Only four or five more," she said.

Fran grunted.

Tina found her water bottle hidden in the shadows of a pair of boxes she had recently slid onto the faux marble counter. One was the third labeled dishes while the other, utensils. She took the plastic bottle with tired fingers and tilted it for a sip. As the warm water hit her tongue, she wished she could remember where her purse had been hidden. A nice, full bottle of aspirin was nestled within the mess of her squat brown bag. She swallowed and set the bottle aside. She padded back out into the labyrinth covering the beige carpet coating the living room.

Tina scanned the right angles. " you want them in here or the bedroom?"

Fran grunted again.

Tina tossed her bangs with a weary exhale. She shook her head and came to stand at Fran's side. Two bubble wrapped frames, large enough to reach Tina's hips, leaned against the brick hearth and a gaping wall rose above the mantle.

"Made up your mind yet?" asked Tina.

"No..." Fran crossed her arms and frowned.

"Maybe you should take a break. You've been staring at it since you brought them up." Tina glanced around the room, noting the array of boxes she had brought up the two sets of concrete stairs in the meantime.

"Maybe,” Fran murmured. “I think I'll feel better when I've made up my mind about it."

"How about this." Tina reached down and ran her nearly numb fingers around the first frame. She pulled off the clear packing tape and drew away the opaque bubble wrap. With a flare of her tired arms, she hoisted the freed ocean scene upon the mantle. "Take a look from the other side of the room."

Fran let out a worried grumble and did as she was told.
Tina squatted down before the hearth and repeated the process on the sailboat painting wrapped carefully within another mile of bubble wrap.

"I like how the orange in the sunset matches the brick..." mused Fran after a shuffle of boxes enabling her to reach the back wall.

Tina glanced up. "I can see that..." She gave Fran a few more moments of consideration. "Now close your eyes."


"Trust me."


Tina glanced across the room and saw Fran had dutifully shut her lids even after the tentative murmur. Tina took the painting from the mantle. She rested it against the hearth and replaced the void space with the sailboat. Bright foam rushed against the bow and the sails seemed to fill with the gust coming through the open door.

"Now look again."

"Hum..." Fran mused. Tina held her tongue and hoped for a decision. "I think...I think that works better. It's smaller so I think the sconces will fit too."

Tina let out a long exhale. "Great."


"No. No althoughs. That's what your instinct said so for now, go with it."

Fran sighed. "You're probably right." Over the maze of cardboard Tina saw Fran blink her once singled minded eyes from the mantle. Fran's dark gaze widened as if realizing the state of clutter filling the rest of the room. "And anyway, once all these boxes are out of the way it'll look totally different."


"But we better get the rest out of the truck. No sense in trying to decorate in this mess."

Tina let out a light snort. She leaned against the mantle supporting the large frame. Her elbow jutted towards the bow. "You think so?"

"Of course..." Fran trailed and she paused halfway towards the door. Her cheeks flushed. "I guess I got a little distracted."

Tina smiled and stepped off the hearth. She patted Fran's shoulder and guided them both back down the hallway. "You get the two marked books and we'll call it even."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nature's Remedy - 6/10

Shane moved as gingerly as he could to the straw shade of the bar. His tried to keep his arms from having to bend too much as he leaned the long board against the side wall. The rest of the gleaming row of waxed panels reflected back the warm hues of the setting sun.

Coral and ochre glistened off the surging waves, mottling foam with diamond specks. The stretch of beach had faded to amber and the sky dipped quickly into an ocean blue.

Shane however had turned away from the breathtaking sight. The cooling warmth however, continued to caress his back as it had throughout the day, enflaming the fire already raging on his skin.

"I told you to put more on," said Duke. He kept his eyes latched on the bamboo shelf as he took another sip on his sweating beer. Half filled bottles winked back at his bronzed face.

"Yeah," said Shane. He stared at the stool at Duke's side before wincing and slouching onto its frayed seat. Bits of straw bit through the olive and white flowers of his knee length swim trucks. He leaned his elbows on to the smooth countertop and then tried not to move.

"Eh?" Mako gave him a nod along with the question.

Shane nodded and stared at the pale beer once the bartender set it before his crossed arms. Instead of picking it up though, Shane dropped his head. He could feel his dried skin stretching with the act, like taunt elastic. A cool night breeze kicked up and waved the hairs on his neck with a chilling touch. He shook his shoulders as the tremble raced down his spine to his sand covered toes.

"Oh my..." Eva's voice cooed in as gentle as the wind. She strode into the small cabana like a wave. The emerald sarong tied around her long tanned throat draped to her knees after a journey down her ample curves. The hem swayed with each of her bare foot steps. Gathered tendrils of ebony hair dropped down in salted curls and held a five petaled plumeria kissed with a lemony center behind her left ear.

Before he could stop himself, Shane turned his head at her approach. He winced at the singe brought about by the folds in the muscles of his neck and shoulders.

"He didn't listen," said Duke. He drowned the reprimand with another long gulp.

"Couldn't stay out of the water eh?"

"Can't keep me away from the beautiful things..." Shane managed the subtle compliment with more heart than he had thought he could muster.

With a sly grin, Eva leaned into the counter. Her raven eyes gave Shane a thorough and appraising inspection. "You," she said finally, "look like a strawberry."

Shane smiled and endured the burn joining his dimples. "Then blend me into a daiquiri and put me out of my misery."

"I can do one better," Eva said with a raise of her long lashes.

"You'll make him reek," murmured Duke.

"And you making him feel bad about it is better?"

Shane looked between the two. Even without looking at one another, Duke and Eva managed the same bemused expression. With a slow hand, Shane coiled his fiery fingers around the cool bottle dripping before him. He nearly had the courage to bend his arm and bring the cold beverage to his dry lips.

"What are you talking about?"

Eva's face softened as her brother finished his drink. "I have something that will help with your...fruit imitation."


Duke snorted. "It stinks."

"It's aloe based...with a few other ingredients. I'll have you cooled down in no time."

Shane's fingers slipped off the bottle and he endured the pokes at his legs while he turned to face Eva. Like the rest of her, it seemed too good to be true. "Are you serious?"

Her wide mouth coiled like a cat's tail. Duke shook his head.

"Come with me." She reached out to brush the tips of her fingertips across Shane's shoulder. His hand found the bottle again. His white knuckled grip managed to keep himself in his seat as his body screamed to flinch. Her touch though was light and gentle. A flame rushed down his body that had nothing to do with the sun's scorching.

Shane managed a dumb nod and floated up from the stool. Eva let out an angelic laugh. In her eye glinted a devilish spark. She swayed back out into the fading light while a ribbon of plumeria followed her steps.

Shane didn't see Duke take hold of the untouched bottle and stand. Shane's mouth was too busy drooping into a lopsided grin. As the smack landed on his bare back he nearly leapt out of his skin.

Duke's voice rumbled through the screech of gulls ringing in Shane's ears. "Careful, man."

Shane sucked in a breath as he stumbled from Duke’s slap. He regained his balance on the sand before he swung his eyes back up to the other man. Duke stood there like some bronzed deity with a warning glower at unspoken insinuations.

Shane's blush was easily camouflaged. "Um...I will..."

After a moment, Duke's dark eyes softened with a slight shake of his head. He downed half the bottle in a gulp then raked his tanned hand across his mouth.

"She’ll be able to help you. So get out of here before I sober up enough to think better about you going off with my sister."

Shane nodded and raked his tongue across his lips. Turning back towards the beach he caught Eva's silhouette languidly strolling across the sand. Dark huts sat hunched in the distant dunes. A floral ribbon caressed his nose and led him out onto the warm grains and into the fading sun. While his libido churned with a hellish fire, his skin silently hoped for salvation.

Unlocked - 6/9

The suitcase landed on its bottom edge with a dull thud and a shower of plaster. Josh dropped to his khaki covered knees onto the worn wooden floor boards before the scuffed plastic face.

"Go get me a screw driver," he said with a lick of his lips. The taste of sea salt and sweat bloomed on his tongue and he stroked an oil and charred tinted hand across his brush cut hair. His wide eyes lingered on the rusted flat locks along the top crease of the gray plastic case. Dark key holes sat ominously at each end of the rectangular latches. The metal and plastic reeked of mothballs and sat in a cloud of age.

Sam strode off to the cabin's kitchen drawer with a flap of his recently acquired sandals and a grumble.

Josh bit back a resurgence of their last argument. So he had lost the key in the wake of the explosion ending the boat chase through the nearby marina. The trade of the keys for the implication they were dead seemed fair. They hadn’t had a tail on them since crawling out onto the beach. They’d have to live with not recovering the tiny silver key, but there were always other options.

After a set of tugs and a grunt, Josh heard the stuffed drawer open. A rattle of tools that ranged from a set of Allen wrenches to a dull zester drifted across the squat tiled kitchen and musty living room.

Josh's attention however remained on his rough hands. They stroked down the sides of the case and came away covered in a thick layer of dust. His fingers prodded at the grimy creases in search of some spot of weakness. The edges were as tight as the top row of latches, working as its designer had intended to keep out unwanted eyes.

Josh was not about to let that, or the lost key stand in his way.

Sam came back after a rustle through the drawer and a quick step. Even with burnt patches and a lingering dampness, his loose button down shirt fluttered.

"Think this will work?" He extended a tool with a long flat head and neck like a giraffe.

"Perfect," said Josh with a wide smile. He took the bumblebee striped handle. "Help me hold it..."

Sam took his direction from a wave of the screwdriver, leaning over the top in order to put his weight upon the case. Pressing down caused the floor boards to creak but the case was frozen in place. Once Sam was set, Josh turned the rounded tips of the square head towards the rustiest area around the left hand lock.

A shower of crimson flecks coated his hand as he dug the tip into the crease. Beneath his rolled sleeve, his arm strained as he wedged the screwdriver along the stubborn lock. Sam leaned into the suitcase to keep it from flying beneath the prodding effort.

"Try wiggling it," said Sam beneath tight teeth.

Josh cast a frown up at Sam and then glared down at the stubborn lock. He shifted position, traded the screwdriver into his other hand and struck out against the second latch.

The square tip slid into a deeper groove, one void of rust or clotted with decades of residue.

"You got it?"

Josh shook his head and rose up on his knees, adding more of his weight into the new found opening. The screwdriver’s handle dug into his palm and the grain of the wooden floor bit through his scorched slacks. He pushed and wiggled and heaved. His shoulder began to burn, and then the screwdriver slipped up to his fingers beneath the plastic.

"Ow," Josh yelped, his hand flying away from the crisp metal edge with a shower of curses. The screwdriver stayed lodged like a diving board, waiting for a final plunge. Josh shook out his hand. He gave the tool and then his fingers a glare. Wet, scarlet scrapes glinted back at him amidst the grime and plaster.

"You alright?" Sam, who had dropped into a relaxed crouch once his weight was no longer needed to keep the case still, spoke only after the swearing had ebbed.

"Yeah," said Josh. He stood and stalked into the kitchen for a towel to wrap around his fingers. Dingy daisies lined the gray terry cloth hanging from the oven's handle. The towel smelled cleaner than it looked. Josh pressed it against his hand, holding it fast with a tight fist.

Sam had left open the drawer and the gleam on steel caught Josh's eye. Josh's good hand pushed aside the top layer, growing more urgent with the arrival of a devious notion. He scooped up the heavy hammer resting on the bottom of the splitting drawer. The wooden handle jumped in his hand as he tossed the tool in order to test the weight. With smirk he turned and waved the heavy head with menace towards the still jutting screwdriver.

"You're gonna break it," said Sam with a shake of his head.

"That's the idea."

Sam stood and pushed upon the case once more. Josh picked his angle of attack. He laid his wrapped hand on the lock, pinning the screwdriver head in place. With a vicious glint, he drew the hammer head back. The metal face smacked into the end of the screwdriver with a clang. The neck sunk deeper beneath the latch.

"One more," muttered Josh. Another swing and the latch snapped with an ice-like crack.


Sam reached down to hold the screwdriver in place as they turned their attention to the second latch. Josh managed the other tool as they widened the crease with a bit more hammering. The square head slipped under the remaining lock and with another pair of swings the metal face sprung free.

Sam crouched on one side, Josh on the other. Their hands gripped onto the bottom and top lids.

"One," said Josh, "Two..."

On three they both pulled. The hinges groaned. Josh's hand stayed latched onto the lid while his eyes swarmed down into the open suitcase. Bare edges and the frayed cloth interior looked back up at him.

"We," Sam murmured, barely loud enough so Josh could hear, "are going to be in so much trouble."

Choosing between lesser evils - 6/8

Andrew tapped his pen against the gleaming glass case. "Keep away from those." Beneath his ball point tip sat a glistening pastry coated in crimson frosting.

"Why?" Violet bent over to match Andrew's right angle, although she didn’t need to brace herself with a hand on her knee. Her hands instead were wrapped around the straps of her dangling purse to keep them away from the delectable display. Their noses hovered before the clean glass already numbed to the sugary haze filling the spotless bakery.

"I don't know what she puts in there, but it's spicy. They’ll leave your mouth on fire for the rest of the day."

"The label says cayenne."

"In a donut?"

"It's a Danish actually." The shop owner, wearing a flour and dust coated raspberry apron, leaned over the counter with a sugary grin and easy manner amidst the saccharine clouds. Her cheeks curved like swollen bonbons and her pale eyes twinkled as if dusted with silver sprinkles.

Violet straightened and pressed down the invisible wrinkles in her straight knee length skirt while looking down to the butterscotch tiles. Her trim black pumps shuffled away from the display case as if her proximity could transfer the calories instantly to her hips. She drew in a breath and set a strained smile onto her lean lips before looking up over the tempting display. "Thanks.”

"No problem." The woman's sunny pony tail bobbed as perkily as her voice. "Can I get you anything?"

"We're still looking..." said Andrew, straightening and stroking his double chin. He folded his other arm across his chest, causing more folds in his coat, dress shirt and wide tie. His suit already strained around the bulk of his ample belly.

Chimes rang at the bakery’s door.

"Just let me know when you're ready," said the attentive owner. She turned with the same cheery grin to the entering customer and headed over with the squeak of her sneakers.

Violet watched the woman's hair continue to bob as she start a similar round of questions with the snow-man shaped woman peering hungrily at a glistening plate of cream covered tarts. Violet wrapped her arms tighter around her narrow waist and shot Andrew an impatient glare.

"Just get those regular ones."

"Oh, no, no, no, no. Irene nagged my ear off the last time I showed up with plain yellow donuts."

"Yeah, but those don't...light your mouth on fire or have so much sugar on them to send you to the moon."

"But they’re so plain..."

Violet rolled her eyes. "More people will like them. It's not like we're getting these for us. Don't you remember our customers?"

Andrew crossed both his arms and glared down at a tray of chocolate coated delicacies.

"But there are always leftovers. Might as well get something you want to eat you know?" He glanced up at Violet’s trim form then shook his head. "Guess you wouldn't..."

Her mouth contorted into a slim pout and she shook out her wrist to glance at the thin silver band and opaque face of her watch. "We're going to be late."

"We're on the clock."

"We're supposed be back before the first appointment. A breakfast treat doesn't mean much if we aren't back until this afternoon."

"Alright...alright." Andrew hunched his shoulders. He stuck both hands into his pocket as he leaned forward to make his final selections.

Violet looked back at the blonde owner. Her dough flecked hands were almost done tying a vibrant blue ribbon around a large white box. The rotund customer traded a wad of cash, waved off her change and the two exchanged broad grins.

"See you later," said the owner as the plump woman waddled back through the door with the box held lovingly in her stubby hands. Another round of twinkling bells floated across the candy striped curtains and rippled across the glass trays and cases.

"We're ready," said Violet.

"So..." The owner picked up another flatted box and started forming it into a square as she neared. Violet looked away from her sweet grin. "You managed to make up your mind?"

"Yeah," said Andrew, swinging his pen around to an array with frosted stripes. "I'll take the tray."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Local Establishment - 6/5

Sue pushed aside the strands of wooden beads with a tentative hand. The movement caused a gentle clatter. Hot spices, the smell of the sea and sweat greeted her. Faces that ran the spectrum turned to glance at her silhouette, framed in the tropical sun beating on her back. A single lampshade with an empty socket but the shape of a huge upturned straw umbrella filled the low, flaking ceiling.

A warm call from the bright doorway along the back wall sounded beckoning. It came from a plump woman in a mottled apron and loose dress the color of the sky over head. The few teeth in her broad smile matched the puffy white clouds at the horizon. She waved a sturdy hand and repeated the same phrase.

Sue licked her lips. Her mouth trembled into a nervous smile as she slipped into the restaurant. Patty padded in at her back, clutching the small travel back on her sun burnt shoulder.

"You think this is ok?" Patty whispered.

She gave the painting of the giant coral squid and its gleaming onyx eye nearly the size of the ragged dinner plates before the small establishment’s patrons, an equally wide eyed stare.

"I think so..." murmured Sue. Her gaze and frozen smile hovered on the plump woman.

The owner sauntered through the set of square tables on an intercept course. Another pleasant greeting bubbled out of her ample chest. Her gray streaked bun wobbled at Sue's shoulder as she continued chattering around her smile. One of her calloused hands cupped Sue's elbow and guided her with easy coos towards an empty table beneath the squid tentacles. She gestured to the two wooden chairs with another broad grin.

"Sit..." murmured Sue around her warming grin.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah," answered Sue as she slipped into the wobbly chair. The straw bindings of the wicker construction bit into her bare legs beneath her shorts. With a wide smile she pulled her bag from her back and nestled it between her sandaled feet.

The plump woman spoke again, something funny but Sue didn't think unkind. Her sun drenched finger poked out to the dishes of those around them most of whom were watching the two women with unveiled curiosity.

"What's she doing?" asked Patty. She had taken the second seat across the wooden slab of the home made table but sat with her pack on her lap and tense arms coiled around the ruby bag.

"I think this is the menu..." said Sue with a frown. She followed the directing finger indicating the options as they passed over the choices once more.

An array of colors, shapes and forms filled the mismatched plates. The couple to their right shared a basket of what looked like mussels in some kind of broth. A lone gentleman, wearing nothing but a pair of swim trunks below a trim chest held a floppy tortilla above a purple glob and some kind of white fish dusted with a mustard colored spice. Between another couple a whole fish striped with charcoal sat half eaten on a green leaf. Other bowls of mashed pastes, seaweed looking salads and the remains of shells from crustaceans of all shapes and sizes littered the busy tables. Trays of flaked fish, baked fish and fish drowning in sauces joined each of the sides.

Sue found one a particularly appealing shade of emerald and pointed to it.

The plump woman nodded vigorously in agreement. She patted her round stomach and her grin spread.

"What do you want?"

"How should I know?" countered Patty.

Sue rolled her eyes and felt her tanned shoulders sag. "Just pick something."

Patty sighed as she scanned the crowd again. Most had returned to their conversations, causing a pleasant murmur to fill the room. The man in swim trunks gave her a toothy smile and wavering thumbs up.

"I'll have that..." Patty said in a blush tinted rush.

Sue motioned towards the man's meal and the owner made another pleasant grunt of approval. She waddled back to the bright doorway shouting the names of whatever they had ordered.

"This is nuts," murmured Patty.

"This is fun." Sue shook her head. "This is real. A whole lot more interesting than those resorts. I mean look at this." She leaned back to gain a better view of the painted squid.

"You're nuts." Patty let out a wavering laugh but her arms uncoiled from her bag and she lowered it between her ankles. She kept her eyes on the painting to keep them from being drawn back to see if the meal suggesting local had any other ideas.

From the back a wave of crackles and the blast of heat of a stoked fire surged into the room. A cloud of new spices flared the warm air with a tantalizing mix of sweet and sour.

Sue leaned over to pull out her bottle a third full of luke warm water when a cascade of falling metal cut through the relaxed conversations. The voice of the plump woman rose in a frightened and pain filled cry.

Sue and Patty exchanged a quick glance. With a surge of professional instinct they were both on their feet and rushing to the wounded moans.

The doorway turned out to lead to a covered awning over a set of charcoal pits dug into the beach. Half filled wooden crates and dingy plastic buckets held ingredients bound for plates. The battered pans and pots used to cook each meal however had tumbled from their precarious positions upon the grates lining the flickering embers. Between the fires crouched the plump owner. A burly young man in a stained tee-shirt and flower patterned pair of shorts bowed over her shoulders.

He looked up with a shake of his shoulder length hair. Bright whites rimmed dark, terrified eyes.

Urgent words tumbled from his thick lips. One broad hand gestured over the pots and fire while the other supported the cowering woman's body.

Sue winced at the unintelligible flow of words and shook her head as she crouched.

"Let me see," she said gently in the soft spoken and measured pace of her best bedside manner. She guessed his confused expression mirrored her own. The two languages were equally unfamiliar.

Patty pulled the zipper on her pack and drew out her ever present traveling medical kit. The young man looked over at the white box and large Red Cross sticker on the lid. His tone grew more urgent.

"Yes," Sue said with an accompanying shake of her head. "We're nurses," she continued with a confident smile regardless of whether the man understood. "We're going to try and help."

He seemed to at least gather their intent. His muscular arm slid free of the woman and Sue could finally see the trouble.

The plump woman had wrapped herself around her arm. The bare flesh had already puckered from the pool of steaming oil soaking her apron.

The two women moved in quiet tandem. Their hands gentle and efficient as they treated the scalding wound. The plump woman murmured throughout the ordeal, swaying back and forth but her trembling began to ebb as Patty's supplies and their tender care eased the burn.

Sue finally sat back on her heels while their patient gazed down at her arm. The round woman then shot her resurging smile to Sue across the sand and then to Patty on her knees at Sue's side. The owner’s good arm reached out as thick tears dropped from her eyes.

Sue leaned forward and took the embrace and then smiled as the woman wrapped Patty in another and then gently tapped the hovering young man on his smooth cheek.

An acrid cloud rolled through the sea scented breeze and the plump woman’s wobbly bun shook. Her tear streaked face snapped to the charcoal pits. Their apparently recovered patient spoke sharply and the distracted young man jumped to his feet just in time to pull the burning tortillas off the grill.