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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dinner Date - No. 183

Tina paused at the restaurant's doorway, and fluffed her bangs with the help of her reflection in the glistening, ebony frame.  She gave her scooped neck a nudge, and smoothed the fabric falling over her hips into a swaying bell.  Giving her mirror image a nod, she clasped her clutch purse, she strode inside. 

The smell of bamboo, and tinkling from the foyer's fountain, blended with hushed conversations trapped between shoji doors and screens.  With muted apologies, Tina worked her way through the cluster waiting to be seated. 

"Welcome," said a petite Asian woman in a pale-blue kimono manning the maitre-d' pedestal.  "For one?"

"No," said Tina, her cheeks flushing.  "I'm meeting someone.  Ralph Warrent?"

The woman drew her finger along a clipboard of names, and then looked up with a grin.  "This way."

She led along the restaurant's main aisle with constrained steps and the flap of her geta, before halting at a screen of rice paper framed in inky wood.  "Enjoy," she said, and then headed back to the entrance.

"Thank you," said Tina.  She glanced at the shoes waiting at the step into the private room, one pair of chunky heels, speckled with silver, toppled against one another.  Her heart sped.  Slipping out of her pointed heels, Tina set them by the riser, and then opened the door.

A young lady seated on the tatami across the table from the opening, with straight, shoulder length hair as dark as midnight, glanced up, a hand towel halfway to her round face.  Her chestnut eyes widened before calming into forced apathy.

"Hi," said Tina.  "You must be Ashley."

"You're Tina?"

"That's right.  Can I come in?"

"I guess that's the point isn't it?"  Ashley proceeded to dab the towel on her face, and then left the cloth beside two other rolls waiting on a wooden tray.

Tina entered, and closed the sliding doors behind her.  She drew a deep breath, before turning and descending onto the cushion beside Ashley, tucking her stocking-covered legs close.

"My dad will be right back," said Ashley.  "He forgot something in the car."

"That's all right."  Tina plucked one of the rolls, and patted her face.  The heat, and clean scent, worked into her pores and sinuses, providing a wave of sudden comfort, even under Ashley's casual inspection.

"Have you been here before?"

"No," said Tina.  "I've heard about it but have never been.  What about you?"

"No," said Ashley, picking up a pair of lacquered chopsticks and twirling them in fingers tipped with jade green nail polish.  "Do you like Japanese food?"

"I do.  You?"

Ashley nodded, even as she set her chopsticks aside.  "Japanese food's my favorite.  It was my mom's favorite."

"Oh," said Tina.  She sought the cup of ice water, dampening the low table, and downed a sip.  Setting the glass aside, she shifted on the buckwheat pillow, surreptitiously working the hem of her crimson dress further down her thighs.  Meanwhile, she endured the burn of Ashley subtle stare.

"Do you not like sitting on the floor?"

"I don't mind," said Tina.  "But if I'd known, I might have worn something more appropriate.  I feel like I'm flashing the restaurant."

"Well, I like your dress."

"Thank you," said Tina, forcing herself still. "It's new."

"Mine's new too."  Ashley leaned back, revealing the rest of her indigo dress, with an empire waist, and flowing skirt pooled like an ink spill around her knees.

"Is that right?"

"We went shopping for it over the weekend."  Ashley shrugged, and sipped her soda.  "I think dad wanted me to make a good impression."

"That makes two of us."  Tina grinned as Ashley's mature demeanor wavered.  Her gaping mouth clacked closed a moment later. 

"The purple goes well with your hair,” said Tina.

"Thanks."  Ashley cocked her head.  "I like the red.  It's fun."

"I thought so."

"It's dad's favorite color too."

Tina flushed.  "I know."

Ashley let out a thoughtful hum. 

"But I designed it long before we met," said Tina, veering the conversation on to safer ground. 

"Oh yeah, dad said you were a fashion designer or something.  That you guys met at a show."

"I was helping premier a line, and he was doing the flower arrangements."

"Do you like it?"

"Work or flower arrangements?"

Ashley rolled her eyes.  "Your job."

Tina shrugged.  "It's hard sometimes, but I like taking pieces of cloth and making them into something everyone can wear."  She took another sip, and avoided a glance at the door when a pair of footsteps strode past.  "What about you?  Any thoughts about what you'd like to do after high school?"

"I don't know," said Ashley.  "College probably."

"Your dad said you're a math whiz."

Ashley bounced her straw in her soda.  "Numbers are easy.  You can make them do whatever you want as long as you know the rules.  But...I don't know."  She glanced up, but the smothered her next words in her drink.

"Don't know what?"  Tina met Ashley's gaze, and noted the fear hovering at the edges of the girl's composure. 

"I'm sick of being with a bunch of boys," said Ashley, the words tumbling.  "I feel like I'm weird or something, being the only girl in class."

"Do they give you a hard time?"

"Sometimes.  They mostly ignore me, like I've got the plague or something."

"Sounds like their intimidated."

"Of what?"

"Of an attractive and intelligent woman who can keep up with them, or maybe who is even better."

Ashley snorted.  "Give me a break."

"Really, I see it all the time."

"With you?"

Tina laughed.  "Not me, but my sister.  She's an architect, not an interior designer, but architect.  Her office is mostly guys but she doesn't let it hold her back.  She voices her ideas and works her butt off just like they do, and has earned their respect."

"She sounds neat."

"She is," said Tina.  "Maybe next time we get together, she can come."

Ashley looked down at the table, her gaze thoughtful.  "Okay."

The door slid open.  Ralph, in navy socks and a matching suit and tie, entered, the tatami creaking under his hurried stride.  The plastic surrounding the bouquet in his hand crinkled as he offered the flowers.  "Sorry I'm late."

Tina reached up, accepting the scarlet roses with both hands.  "They're beautiful.  Thanks."

"And for you," said Ralph.  From behind his back, he revealed a single canary-yellow rose, similarly wrapped with a curling ribbon, and offered the flower to Ashley.

Her face glowed with her sudden smile.  "Thanks, dad."

Tina gave him a grin as he dropped onto the cushion across the table.  He winked, and hefted his menu. 

"What are we having?"

"We haven't gotten that far," said Tina.

"Uh oh," said Ralph, his eyes darting over the menu's edge, "am I in trouble?"

Ashley laughed, her nose hovering above her flower's petals.  "Not yet."

"The night is young," said Tina.

"Well, I'd better eat now."

Tina set the roses onto the straw mat between herself and Ashley, before skimming through the menu.  By the time she'd reached the combinations, a pair of knocks preceded their waitress' appearance. 

"Are you ready to order?"

"I think so," said Ralph, casting a questioning glance around the table.  Ashley nodded and Tina folded her menu.

"I'd like the sushi platter, please."

"I'd like a sushi platter too," said Ashley.

Ralph frowned.  "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," said Ashley.  She lifted her chin, and met his stare without wavering.  "And you can't hold me back."

Tina smothered her smile before her lips stretched into a guilty grin.  She met Ralph's gaze as he glanced between her and his daughter's defiant face.

"All right then," said Ralph, handing his menu to the waitress, "two sushi platters and one sushi boat.  And better bring another Coke and a pair of Sapporo too.  I have a feeling it's going to be an interesting night."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Samaritan - No. 178

Adam gathered the first three sacks from the steel shelf into his arms.  The canvas caught on his uniform’s buttons, and threatened to dislodge the badge pinned to his left breast.  Giving the bags a glare, he headed up the steep stairwell, out of the underground vault, and into the vacant alley.

Trotting up the armored van’s waiting gangplank, he strode the length of the interior, and then bent at the knees, depositing the sacks onto the cool metal floor.  The hush of dollars blended with the muted tumble of coins as the bags listed under their own weight.  Standing, Adam swung his arms, encouraging his blood flow, and then gave his shoulders a rub as he made his way to the van’s gaping exit.

Trundling to street level, Adam stared into the vault.  The eagle in the Mint's seals on the crates and sacks glared with accusing eyes.  Adam smirked and gave them a mock salute, before descending for another armload.

He had three shelves gaping, rivets exposed, by the time the dawn cast another shadow upon the alley.  A corresponding pair of shoes scuffed loose pebbles.

Inside the van, Adam froze by the collection he'd gathered.  He transferred the sacks he held into one arm, and put his back to the new presence.  While his bicep burned beneath the load, he drifted his free hand to the pistol holstered at his side.

"Adam?"  Walter's husky voice crackled with early morning fatigue.

Blowing out a breath, Adam grunted his greeting.  Without turning, he lowered the bags into place, fitting the lumps against one another like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and hiding the tell-tale labels from wandering eyes.  "You're late."

"I thought I had a tail leaving the apartment," said Walter.

Scowling, Adam rose.  "Did you?"

"Would I have come if I did?"  Walter leaned one bulbous shoulder against the van's frame, and stuck his hands into his uniform's pockets.  "Anyway, you're early."

"You know we need to get this done before the morning deliveries."

"It's Sunday, we've got time."

Swallowing his grumbles, Adam retraced his steps, stormed down the walkway and descended into the vault.

From the alley, Walter leaned over the opening.  "We've got what?  Three shelves left?"

"Four," said Adam, wincing as Walter's voice bounced on the steel.

"This was really brilliant you know."

"Pat yourself on the back once we're out of here."  Adam gathered another armload, and started up the stairs.

Backpedaling, Walter checked his watch.  "Want some coffee?"

"I want some help," said Adam, tugging canvas from his button.

"We've got time.  You're just being paranoid."

"We got over ten million here, and you're snapping at me for being paranoid?"

Walter shrugged.  "You know how my shoulder is."

A twang raced up Adam's spine as he walked into the van.  "Fine, just hurry and try not to get noticed.  Large black. No cream."

"Great," said Walter.  "Be back in no time."

Adam snorted, and deposited his bundle, before heading back for more.

As he dropped off the first half of the next to last shelf, a pair of sneakers squeaked against the asphalt.

"About time," said Adam.  He wheeled from the stack of bags, and then stopped, his body rigid as stone.

In the cold illumination spilling out of the vault, a curved figure stood, her body softened by the morning light.  She lifted a hand to her brow, as if to help her peer into the gloom cast by the van.  The plastic bracelets on her wrists tinkled like shattered glass.  "Excuse me?"

Adam licked his lips as sweat popped out at his hairline.  "Yes?"

"I was wondering if you could help me."

Adam cracked his knuckles, one by one, in rhythm with his mounting pulse.  He glanced at the collection behind his back and then scrubbed a sudden twinge at his neck.

"It'd just take a minute," she said.  "I'm afraid I've locked myself out of my car."

"Don't you have a spare key?"

"Yes."  She settled her hands on her hips. "But it's with my no-good Ex."


“It’s out of battery.”

"We'll, I'm not sure how much I can help."

"Isn’t that a toolbox or something?"

"Yeah," said Adam, spotting the box by the mouth of the van.

"Then maybe you could pry it open.  Would you mind trying?  I haven't seen anyone around this morning and I really want to get out of here."

Dropping his head, Adam hid his grimace.  "Sure, sure."  He strode down the van's bed, and along the walkway, keeping his gaze locked on his dress shoes.  Without looking up, he turned, and hefted his toolbox.  "Where is it?"

"Just around the block."

"Okay.  Hold on."

He yanked closed the van's back door, and snapped shut the steel lid of the vault before activating the keypad.  Fishing out his keys, he locked both.

"Isn’t that the bank?"

"Yeah." He winced again, but motioned for her to lead on.

"My name's Casey, by the way."


"Oh."  She waited another heartbeat before heading around the van's bumper, and traversing the narrow alley and along the main boulevard with a wobbling gait.

Adam followed, his gaze locked onto her dagger-heels and the shapely pair of legs flowing up into parts he kept himself from exploring.  Instead, he tightened his grasp on the toolbox’s handle and silently cursed his chivalry.

"Here we are."  She halted by a scarlet Corvette, hugging the curb.

Adam set the box onto the sidewalk, crouched, and flipped the latches.  Sifting through the top layer, he then dove into the deeper compartments until he found his lock pick kit.  After inspecting the car's key hole, he retrieved a jagged rod from within the leather wallet. "This shouldn't take long."

"Here," she said, waggling her driver's license and insurance card.  "I don't want you to think I'm trying to steal it or anything."

Adam skimmed the plastic.  The name Casey MacDonald was printed next to a comely portrait of a five foot 8 inch, one hundred and thirty pound, twenty-one year old brunette with blue eyes.  The other gave matching car details.  "Looks good to me."

"I just want to keep this on the level."

"You seem like an honest person," said Adam, swiveling to face the door.  "Just one with a locked up key."

"Yeah, that's me.  Brilliant as always."

She stood behind him, fabric rustling and bracelets clinking as she swayed to a softly hummed tune.  Putting his concentration on the lock, Adam slipped the rod in and jiggled the metal, identifying each groove.  A twist later, and the bolt flew back.  Standing, he grabbed the handle and opened the passenger door.

"Wow that was fast.  It's like you've done this before."

Without responding, Adam stowed his tool, and zipped the case.

Casey stepped close, and laid one hand on the door frame.  Her proximity wound tendrils of alcohol into Adam's nostrils, twining with the remains of her perfume and a salty film of sweat.

Adam widened his eyes as he found himself staring into hers.  Her bleached smile glowed in an oval face warmed by a chemical tan.  A gauze overshirt covered a snug tank top and matching miniskirt, both tight enough to leave little else to the imagination.

Forcing his gaze to his toolbox, Adam squatted, stowed the kit and clasped the latches.  He seized the handle, and rose.

"You know," said Casey, twining a finger through her tousled ringlets. "You're face seems familiar.  Have we met before?"

"No," said Adam, gazed latched on her heels.

"Are you sure?"

"I'd remember yours."

She released a warm chuckle.  "Well Adam," she said, offering an oranged hand.  "Thanks for the rescue."

Adam wiped the sweat from his palm onto his navy-blue slacks, before clasping her smaller hand in his rough fingers.  "No problem."  He found himself staring into her eyes again.  Breaking free, he released her hand and looked toward the alley's opening.  "I should get going.  Work you know."

"Right. Thanks again."

"Glad I could help."

Adam turned, bent on the waiting van but Casey rested her fingers on his forearm, exposed from his rolled sleeves.  Her touch halted him in his tracks.

"Maybe when you're done, we can get a cup of coffee or something?"

"Sure, sure."

The street lights flickered out as the morning waxed, and spurred his retreat along with his sprinting heartbeat.  Adam quickened his step as he neared the van, tossed the toolbox into the bed, and then double-timed his efforts.

He nearly leapt when Walter appeared, carrying a cardboard tray holding two cups and greased bags promising pastries.

"We got to get out of here," said Adam, hurrying down the stairs.  "Now."

"No one recognized me," said Walter.

"Not you.  Me."

Walter set the tray onto the van’s floor, and lumbered into the vault.  "What'd you do?"

"Helped open a door from some girl," said Adam, rushing up the stairs and into the van.

Grunting, Walter hefted the last two sacks.  "Did she remember you?"

"I don't think so.  Said I was familiar though.  Might have seen me in the club when we were thinking of digging before you got the camera codes and keys."

"And you yell at me for being clumsy."

"Yeah, yeah.  Let's just get this out of here before she comes back."

Walter panted up the walkway, and added the bags to the collection.  "Comes back?"

"Yeah, she said we should get coffee or something when I'm done."

"Not good, Adam, not good."

"Fine, next time I'll get the coffee and you can say no to a pair of legs in distress."

Walter snickered.  "We'll make it work.  We've gotten this far."

"When I'm on a beach in Colima, I'll be happy."

"Sounds good," said Walter.

Plodding out of the van, Walter scooped up the breakfast tray while Adam shoved the toolbox inside and closed the retractable door.  After shutting the vault, activating the keypad and locking the doors again, he joined Walter in the van's front cabin.  The engine rumbled to life, and Adam held his breath as he drove out of the alley.

He flipped the blinker to go left, and then merged into the empty street.  In his side mirror, he spotted the Corvette, lingering by the sidewalk.

Without letting up on the gas, Adam drove on.

"Here," said Walter, handing over the larger cup once they'd reached the highway heading south. "First drink's on me."

Monday, August 29, 2011

G-Man - No. 177

Cupping her hands around her coffee mug, Margie gazed out the diner's window.  The office building across the street loomed in shades of sandstone, columns and molding tinted ochre in the setting sun.  A haze from lumbering Cadillacs and Fords, as well as the steady stream of suited pedestrians making their way to the train for the commute home, blurred the building’s rotating front entrance, the one she had walked through every morning for the past four months.

Adding a pour of sugar to her iced tea, Betty stirred her beverage.  "Staring is not going to get you rehired." 

"I know."  Margie drifted her gaze to the linoleum table between them, her shoulders drooping. 

The clink of silverware on porcelain, low murmurs of conversation, and the bustling from the kitchen trapped behind the counter, filled the quiet in their booth.  Taking her spoon, Margie swirled through her sweetened coffee. 

"Here," said Betty, “I nabbed this from the break room on my way out.”  She set a crinkled newspaper onto the table, want-ads face up.

Margie shook her head.  "You don't think anyone's going to hire me, do you?  After what I did?"

"I think this town needs as many phone operators and secretaries as they can handle."  Betty tapped her manicured finger onto one of the half dozen encircled in blue ink.  "Why not try them."

Margie glanced at the advertisement, and crinkled her nose.  "I don't want to work for some construction company."

"Think of the discounts on paint or lumber."  Betty's smile spread.  "Or at least the burly co-workers."

Rolling her eyes, Margie sipped her drink.  "Even they're going to ask for a recommendation.  Mr. Jenkins isn't going to be flattering."

Betty sighed.  "You didn't have to tell him."

"What do you mean?"  Margie leaned against the booth’s avocado green cushions, the leather groaning against her polyester dress.  "I’m sure those two on the line were talking about murder.  I couldn't just hear it and not say anything."

Shrugging, Betty clamped her lips around her straw.

Margie spun her cup, finding a warmer spot on the porcelain to press against her palms.  "Do you think he told the police?"

Betty snorted.  "I think he fired you for listening into a private conversation, and then forgot about it."

Margie winced, and ran her finger around her mug's rim.  The diner's rhythm captured her pulse, and she let her thoughts latch onto interpreting the slang of orders, and the banter of those in the neighboring booths.  Her eye caught their blonde waitress, delivering a steak and onions dinner as well as a plate of meatloaf and mash potatoes, to an adjacent table.

The waitress stuck a hand on her hip.  "Anything else, fellas?"

"No, thanks Reeda,” said the meatloaf order.

Reeda winked, and placed the bill onto the table before sauntering to the counter.  Taking the coffee pot, she started with the customers on the stools, and then the booths. 

Margie gulped down half her drink, and set the nearly empty mug by the table's lip.

Reeda stopped, and poured.  "Do you ladies need anything else?"

"Not right now,” said Margie, “but thanks."

Chomping her gum, Reeda laid down their tab and moseyed to the steak and meatloaf table, where a pile of bills now lay upon their receipt.   Reeda scooped up the tab, crisp dollars crinkling, and coins tinkling like broken glass.

"Keep the change," said the steak-eater, smiling.

Reeda grinned. "Thanks."

Margie winced, and averted her gaze to her steaming, but free, refill.  "What am I going to do? I've got rent to pay at the end of the month."

"You'll figure something out."  Betty spun the newspaper, so the ads faced her right side up.  Gliding her finger down the columns, she grimaced before shoving the paper to the windowsill.  "I've got a little saved if you get into a tight spot."

"I don't want to take your money, Betty.  You're as strapped as I am."

"Yeah, but I've got a job and I’ve got Mark."  Her wicked grin returned.  "He's good for something you know."

Margie sagged over her cup.  "I guess I wouldn't."

"You could always find yourself a man rather than a job."

Chuckling, Margie absently patted her immaculate curls, marred by the dent of her now distant headset.  "I think I’d have more trouble with a man than I did with Mr. Jenkins."

"Doesn't hurt to keep your eyes open."

"Where, here?"  Margie flicked her gaze around the diner. 

Fedoras rested on table tops beside elbows as their owners leaned over steaming plates.  In most booths, like where the steak and meatloaf orders ate, mirror images resided in the facing chairs.  A rare few had a blushing date nibbling daintily on a French fry or sucking malt through a straw.  Margie shook her head, and returned to her cup.

“Well, don’t look now,” said Betty, her whisper aimed at the tabletop. “But someone's looking your way."

Margie frowned.  "What?"

Betty giggled, but tossed her focus out the window.  "He’s at a stool at the end of the counter, by the rest rooms.  Tall, I'd say six foot at least.  Black suit and tie over a shirt that looks freshly pressed. Square jaw.  Nice hair and shoulders.  Take a look.  He certainly is."

Gulping a flurry of butterflies, Margie pivoted her head, and traced her finger along her jaw line.  Betty's target, however, captured her nonchalant glance, and Margie froze.  The intent stranger rose from the diner’s stool, and plucked his hat from the counter.  He laid down a handful of change, and neared.

"Nicely done," said Betty, her admiration captured in her rushed murmur.  The last of her iced tea vanished with a gurgling from her straw, and she slid to the edge of the cushioned seat.

Margie glared at her.  "Where are you going?"

"I don't want to miss my bus," said Betty, giving a wink, and retrieving a quarter for her drink.  "Let me know how it goes."

Margie gaped as Betty swirled away with a flutter from her pinstriped skirt.  On her clunky navy heels, she strode from their table and outside, where she vanished into the evening throng.

A cough, from the figure now standing at her elbow, drew Margie back. 

"Excuse me,” said the stranger, “but you’re Ms. Margaret Jones, aren't you?"

Margie tightened her grip on her coffee, before gazing up.  As he had across the room, the stranger snared her in a steady pair of cobalt eyes.

"Yes."  A trip of logic made her frown. "How did you know my name?"

The stranger reached into his suit coat, and retrieved a leather wallet.  The flap opened, revealing a shield and identification card with bold letters stating FBI above the name Gordon Niles.  "We have our ways, Ms. Jones.  May I have a seat?"

Margie straightened like a startled cat.  She pulled her cup closer, as if to make him more room.  "Of course."

Gordon tipped his hat before taking Betty's place across the table, and stowing his fedora beside him.  "I heard you were fired today."

"Well, yes.”

"Mind telling me why?"

Margie bristled.  "I'm not sure it's any of your business."

Gordon grinned, and lowered his voice to hide beneath the diner's ambient noise.  “I have a feeling you might have some useful information.”

Margie covered her mouth.  “Then Mr. Jenkins did report it.”

“But he didn’t provide any real details, besides one particular phone number.”

“The Lurton’s?”

Gordon nodded, his smile turning grim.  “I’m investigating their activities against Candidate Barnet.”

Margie's heart drummed against her ribs, as if to escape his stare, and the voices speaking from her memory, through a film of static and telephone wire.  "I see."


Taking a sip of coffee, Margie wet her lips and then set the cup down with both hands.  "I was fired because I overheard a conversation today.  That's against the rules you see.  Operators aren't supposed to eavesdrop."

"What did you hear?"

Margie cast a furtive glance around the diner, before returning to Gordon.  "I think someone's planning on assassinating Victor Barnet."

"Do you know who?"

"No, the two men didn't use their names, at least not while I was listening."  She leaned over the table.  "Do you think it was the Lurtons?"

A grimace flashed on Gordon's face, and he glanced out the window, eyes flicking over the street.  He bobbed his head, in agreement with some unspoken thought, and looked back.  Margie withdrew into the safety of the booth's leather, but Gordon drifted forward, his tone conspiratorially low. 

"Do you think you'd recognize the voices if you heard them again?"

Chewing on her lower lip, Margie rewound the conversation, taking note of the cigar-husky pitch of one speaker, the nasal drawl of the other. "Probably."

"Good.  I'd like to hire you as an expert informant."

"Excuse me?"

Gordon ground his teeth, as if gnawing on an unpleasant morsel.  "I need your help, Ms Jones.  If you can confirm the voices you heard, we'll have justification for arresting the suspects.  At very least we might be able to thwart a threat to Barnet at this weekend’s convention."

"Oh.  You want me to volunteer?"

"No.”  Gordon grinned.  “We pay well."

The presence of the diner’s bill, waiting at the table’s edge, urged her on.  "All right,” said Margie.  “What do I have to do?"

Gordon stood, and offered his hand to help her from her seat.  "Listen, and keep your head down."

Margie gulped, and stared at his palm.  Calluses, and scars, mottled his skin.

“I’m not so sure about this,” said Margie.

"Don't let them get away, Ms. Jones.  You lost your job because of these men, because you stood up against them.  For the good of an innocent man’s life, do it again."

Lifting her chin, Margie met his gaze.  Gordon stared back, his eyes steady and sure.  Gathering her nerves and her purse, Margie slid her hand into his, and rose from the booth.  "Call me Margie."

Gordon smirked, and donned his hat with a tip of his brim.  "Margie, then.  Ready?"

She draped her purse strap over her chest, making way for her angled collar, and adjusted her skirt with a shake of her hips.  Adding her last two dimes to Betty’s quarter, Margie squared her shoulders with a nod.  "Let's get them."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Defending Helen - No. 168

Carla typed the final line of her speech, her fingers blurring over the keys.  Drumming upon on her desk's blotter, she skimmed the summary paragraphs.  Her argument, substantiating the artifact’s lineage and suspected inspiration, concluded with easy prose.  She heard herself droning in her thoughts as she would in a few short moments from the auditorium’s podium.  Wincing, she reread the site information and tie she made to the first palace on that location.

"They're going to question the leap of logic," she said to the screen, and the claim facing her without a corresponding footnote.

Plucking the top volume, she sped through the stack of textbooks at her right.  She thumped one after the other onto the floor, barely missing her chair's casters.  When she dropped the last book, she pushed away from her desk, spilling the collection at her heels over chipped tiles.

Standing, she headed to the file cabinets lining the wall like metallic Doric columns.  She followed her finger along the front face of the first tower, and scowled at the labels.  "Do you know where Adam put the Iona files?"

Harvey's keyboard clacking, and the thumping bass from his headphones, replied.

Swiveling, Carla knocked on the workroom's central table, rattling the brushes and boxes of pottery shards.

Harvey looked up with a jolt, and popped his left ear-pip free.  "Huh?"

"The Iona files?"

He passed his droopy-eyed gaze over the cabinets.  "Try the last one."

"But that's for Heraklion, from three years ago."

"Maybe, but I think Adam put all of the Greek stuff together when he was reorganizing."

Carla rolled her eyes, and stormed to the indicated cabinet.  Yanking open the top drawer, she flipped through the tabs on the hanging files.  Each jewel-toned rectangle contained a tiny slip with a letter, and combination of numbers separated by hyphens and periods.

"What's with the colors?"

Harvey's typing stopped again.  "Huh?"

Carla glared over her shoulder.  "The colors?"

"Oh, Adam said something about each one representing the site's age, or maybe the type of artifact."  Harvey shrugged, shifting his battered tee-shirt upon his boney shoulders, and inserted his ear-pip.  He glanced at his laptop’s monitor, and then to the tray beside him.  Adjusting his glasses with one gloved hand, he brought a magnifier close and hefted the next piece to be cataloged into his palm.

With a growl, Carla wheeled back to the cabinet.

"H better be for Heraklion," she said to the folders.  "Which means I for Iona."

Sifting through the first drawer revealed none with the appropriate letter.  She shut the drawer, and investigated the second.  B's, more H's, P's and M's stared back.  The cabinet rocked as she slammed the drawer shut.  Hitching up her suit's knee-length skirt, she crouched, reaching eye level with the last drawer.  She drew a deep breath.

"You better be in here," she said, giving the metal face a warning glare.

In the back, she found tabs with I's, and then began reading the numbers.  The assortment didn't ascend or descend in any particular pattern, nor did the digits suggest any corresponding dates, whether from the site's origin or modern day excavation.

"Oh, come on," said Carla.  She plucked the first file, and opened the cover.  The usual paperwork, with notes on the artifacts found in the roped-off square foot excavation area, filled the manila file.  Observing the location, she glanced at the tab.

"Who organizes by site and region?"  Grinding her teeth, Carla parsed through her memory, dredging up the column of numbered dig sites no doubt on another obscurely filed paper somewhere in their collection.

The workroom’s door opened, and a pair of loafers slapped the tile, breaking her concentration.  Director Johnson's musty cologne irritated her nose but Carla prevented herself from sneezing as the needed number hovered at the edge of her thoughts.

Johnson, however, released a cough heavy with impatience, and his suit rustled as he clasped his hands behind his back.  "Doctor Peliaposa?  Are you ready?"

"Almost,” said Carla but the nearly grasped digit skittered out of reach.  She glowered at the cabinet.  “I'm trying to complete a last footnote."

"You know the whole auditorium will be waiting."

"I realize.  But if I don't find the corresponding evidence, the Committee is going to ask for it, either that, or some skeptic from the crowd."

"I'm certain you can deal with any of the audience’s or panel's questions."

"Just give me one more minute."

His sigh rolled across the room like an irritated tidal wave.  "Just one."

Carla closed her eyes, and ignored Johnson's hovering presence.  Raking through her wearied thoughts, she sifted through images of the Aegean coastline, shoulder-high pits of earth, and countless shards of pottery and chipped brick.  She tallied the squares until reaching the one where the head of the golden statuette broke the surface.

Even in her memory, the mid-day sun gleamed on the artifact, and her heart began palpitating with the same adrenaline-fueled rush.  Her fingers burned, recalling the hours of delicate brushing exposing the female face and figure.

"89-22.3," she whispered.

Opening her eyes, Carla spied the file containing the same set of numbers.  Rising, she streaked toward her computer, while flipping through the pages.  She tugged out the corresponding sheet on the statuette, and towered over her keyboard.  A click of the mouse inserted a note at the bottom of her speech, and her fingers flew, adding the location, date, material type and test results denoted in the file.

Racing steps stumbled to a halt by the door, but Carla kept her eyes on the screen.

"Director,” said a breathless young woman, “they're about to wrap up."

"I understand," said Johnson.  "Doctor?"

"Saving, now," said Carla, clicking on the corresponding icon.

“Tell them we’re on our way,” said Johnson.

“All right.”  The young woman sprinted down the hall.

"I'm going to go make your introduction,” said Johnson.  “I don't want to have to sing and dance."

Carla looked over her monitor, and grinned in the face of his mustachioed glare.  "You won't."

"No, I'll leave that to you."

Her smile faded, and an all too familiar wave of nausea roiled her stomach.  "I'm right.  It is Helen of Troy."

"I know," said Johnson, his ball-point gaze softening.  "But I'm not who you have to convince."  With a final nod, he strode from the workroom, the opaque glass making him a blurry silhouette as he walked away.

Carla grimaced, and glanced down as her computer beeped.  Unplugging her thumb-drive, she cupped the piece of technology in her now sweaty palm.

“I’m right,” she whispered.  She straightened her shoulders, and adjusted the hem of her suit coat before rounding her desk, and crossing the room.

"Give ‘em hell, Doc," said Harvey.

Carla glanced over her shoulder, where Harvey’s gaze remained on his work, earphones lodged.   She gave him a grateful nod. "Thanks, I will."

Seizing the door knob, she began a brisk march through the door, bent on those waiting to hear, and then undoubtedly challenge, the discovery of her lifetime.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rough Morning - No. 150

The jackhammers started five minutes before Joan's alarm.  Stuffing her head beneath her pillow, she lay face down, and waited for the automated bleating.  On cue, the clock sounded her wake up call, and she slammed her hand onto the snooze button.

Through the feathers and stitching, the pipes whistled as Mike finished his shower.  The faucet then gushed, as he flipped on the tap and scrubbed his teeth.

Tossing off the blankets with a groan, Joan rolled over, and placed a hand on her belly.  Her stomach swirled as if she had tumbled down a hillside.  Staring at the ceiling, she waited for the world to cease spinning, and the beating between her temples to ebb.  Only then did she plant her feet on the floor, and cradle her head in her hands.

Pounding at the construction site outside thudded in tempo with Mike’s toothbrush thumping against the sink.  Both joined forces, dispersing Joan’s mental perusal of her closet in search of something to wear, and heightened the percussion bashing against her skull.

Then, from the living room, Mike's phone rang out with a piercing ding.

He spat.  "I got it.”  Hustling out of the bathroom in slacks and unbuttoned shirt, he dashed toward the phone with elephant strides.

Joan grimaced as he answered with a rolling laugh.

"No, no it's not too early," he said.

"Maybe not for some of us," said Joan.

Heaving to her feet, she steadied against the bed's headrest, before lumbering into their walk-in closet.  She flicked through the hangers, and draped a suitable combination of muted ivory blouse and steel-gray skirt over her arm.  Harvesting other accoutrements from the dresser, she made her way to the bathroom, entering the domain of a whining heat-lamp and spurting faucet.  With a cringe, she hung the clothes on a steam-coated towel rod and turned off the sink.  After undressing, she started the shower, complete with another piercing whistle as the hot water stormed to the spout, and then stepped into the tub.  Pressurized water hammered her shoulders, soaking her with an unceasing rhythm.  Leaning against the tiles, Joan splashed in the growing pool at her feet until the slosh began tempting her stomach.

The door’s hinges creaked as Mike entered.  "Are you free Friday?"

"For what?"

"Dinner with the Reddings."  Mike started his electric razor with a hive-rivaling buzz.

Scrubbing through her hair, Joan waited for him to plop the razor into its stand where the blades were cleaned with a determined gurgle.

"I've got a production meeting that afternoon,” said Joan.  “I might be late."

"I already told them eight."

Cutting the shower, she snatched her towel, and scowled through a gap in the curtain.  "You already said yes?"

Mike glanced at her in the foggy mirror as he cinched his tie.  "I figured you wouldn't mind.  You like dinners with them."

"I also like it when you ask as opposed to filling my social calendar for me."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to jump the gun."

She sighed, stepped out of the tub and began drying her hair.  The rubbing, combined with her bent head, gave her nervous system mixed messages.  With a whimper, she propped herself against the toilet.

"You okay?"

"Fine," said Joan.

"Want me to get you something?"


Mike’s phone rang again, somehow louder within the confines of tile and steam.  He dashed out, answering with another bellow.

"That'll be for Saturday night," said Joan.

She dried herself before cautiously winding the towel around her hair, and mounting the turban on her throbbing head.  Avoiding eavesdropping on Mike's conversation, and therefore adding another stream of noise into her thoughts, she wiped a clear spot on the mirror and did her best with her makeup and clothes, covering up the fatigue in her eyes and nausea in her gut.  After brushing her hair, she opened prescription bottles, poured her morning dosages into her hand, and filled the waiting cup from the faucet.  Gulping down one pill after the other, she sipped the remaining water, and braced herself on the counter.  The bathroom steadied with the anticipation of soothing medication entering her bloodstream.

Mike knocked on the door, and then stuck his head inside.  "How's Saturday for you?  Six with Mark and Janet?"

"I don't know," she said to the countertop. "How is it?"

"I'm not sure, that's why I'm asking."

She waved her hand at him.  "Just tell them whatever."

"But you just...." Shaking his head, Mike withdrew.  "Sounds fine," he said, his voice dwindling with his distance from the bathroom.

Joan met her gaze in the mirror.  "You're being an emotional basket case."  Her reflection nodded with agreement, the turmoil in her stomach bubbling with a similar sentiment.  Exhaling, she guided herself out of the bathroom with a hand on the wall, and then avoided the mounted picture frames as she made her way along the hallway to the front door.

Mike slammed the refrigerator shut, and guzzled a mouthful of orange juice from a full cup.  "Breakfast?"

"Not unless you want to see it twice."

Joan plucked her keys from the pegged hook, and slipped into her cushioned flats.  Mike appeared at her shoulder, offering her purse and a granola bar.  Snatching both, she slung the straps onto her shoulder.

"You sure I can't do anything?"

"Just get out of my face okay?"

Mike raised both his hands in orange-juice-sloshing surrender.

The door thudded behind her as Joan stormed outside, where a bulldozer began collecting the jackhammer's debris.  The ping of her car's lock unfastening echoed like a gong.  With a cringe, she slipped into the driver's seat, and gripped the wheel.  Closing the door, she laid her head onto the curved leather, and drank in the relative quiet provided by the vehicle’s insulation.  Silence seeped into her like a salve, calming her rollicking stomach, and rounding the frayed edges of her nerves.

With a wince at her reflection in her odometer's glass, she retrieved her phone from her purse.  Pressing the touch screen in an all too familiar sequence, she brought the device to her ear.

"Hey," said Mike.  "You okay?"

"Yeah.  Have a good day, all right?"

She sensed the smile in his snort.  "You too."

Hanging up, Joan stowed her phone, and gripped the wheel, before turning the ignition and adding another grinding rumble to her day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Claw Foot - No. 146

The air conditioning chilled the concrete, and blended together an aroma of wood, paint and ceramic, teasing Max's nose. Plodding along the warehouse aisle in his work boots, he stuffed his hands into his jean pockets, and then lingered by a collection of power tools and their discounted price tag.

"This way," said Bridget. With a jangle from her bracelets, she waved a beckoning hand, hefted her purse and spun into the bathroom displays with a swirl of her sun dress’s skirt.

Taking a long perusal of a pneumatic drill, Max sighed.

"Look at this one, hon,” said Bridget, her voice echoing upon the steel beams overhead. “It’s the one I wanted to show you."

Cringing, Max trudged past an array of battery-operated screwdrivers, and through a white and glass standing shower, toilet and sink combination. After detouring through another set that seemed in need of lace and potpourri rather than water-saving plumbing, he found Bridget grinning by a claw-foot bathtub.

"I was thinking this style, but in a soft blue with these tiles."

Max rubbed the back of his neck. "If that's what you really want."

"I want your opinion."

Meeting her sparkling hazel eyes, Max slowly grinned. "No you don't," he said softly. "You want me to have your opinion."

Bridget opened her mouth to argue, and then snapped her lips together into a firm pout. "I want to do this with you. That means I need your opinion, whatever it is."

Max raked his gaze across the tub, and then the tiles Bridget held as if they were made of glass. "I don't like it."

"Don't like what?"

"Any of it."

Bridget swiveled to his side, and stared at the tub from the same angle. "Why?"

"It's too small."

"For what, a polar bear?"

Max shrugged his ursine shoulders. "I'm just giving you my opinion like you asked."

"What about these?" Bridget raised the tiles like playing cards.

"No, not those either."

"Why not?"

"It looks like a plate of spaghetti got spilled on them."

Bridget scowled. "It's modern art."

"It's ugly."

Bridget huffed, and set the tiles in the pedestal sink. Crossing her arms, she faced him. "Is there anything here you do like?"


Bridget rolled her eyes, but Max spotted the quick grin she tried to hide. "Of these displays, Casanova."

"Let me take a look." Max took his time strolling through the other collections, noting a floral disaster, and one made completely of steel and chrome. "I like that one," he said, pointing to the first he'd passed after being beckoned. "It's got clean lines, a simple design and no weird animal feet on the tub."

"You're a mechanic, what do you know about design?"

"I know what I like."

"And you don't like my standing tub?"

"I didn't say that,” said Max. “That one's just so small. I don't know. I feel like I'd break it."

"With a sledgehammer, maybe." Bridget tugged his arm, and drew him back to the claw-footed bath. "Just try it for me."

"What? Here? Now?"

She gave him a Cheshire grin. "Why not?"

"If we get kicked out it's your fault." Using his hands to balance on the edge, Max swung one foot after the other into the tub, and squirreled his back against the sloped sides. Stretching his legs, his knees remained half bent, until he propped his feet on the lip.


"Roomy actually."

"See." Bridget whirled around, and returned with the spaghetti tiles.

Max groaned, leaned back and closed his eyes. The lip of the tub cradled his neck like a firm pillow. "I draw the line at those things."

"Brute," said Bridget. "Stay put, I’ll grab the sample booklet."

Max gave her a thumbs-up without opening his eyes. He followed her movements through the displays by the clattering of her purse and jewelry.

As her honeysuckle perfume began fading, someone gave a nervous cough at Max's shoulder. "Are you finding everything all right, sir?"

Rolling his head toward the voice, Max squinted into the florescent gloom. A uniformed shop attendant with a wobbling grin on his pock-marked face, bounced on his toes like a pogo-stick.

"Yes," said Max. "My wife just went looking for the tile samples."

"Oh. Excellent." The attendant plucked at his boney fingers as if removing a pair of invisible gloves. "Can I show you anything while you're waiting? Maybe some of the other displays."

Max smiled. "You want me to get out of the tub, don't you?"

"Ah, yes, sir."

"Fair enough." Heaving to his feet, Max avoided glancing down to see if his boots had left grease stains, and stepped back onto the concrete floor.

"Thank you, sir."

"No problem."

"Hey," said Bridget. "You were supposed to be trying-."

Max covered his cough with his hand, and pointed toward the attendant as Bridget rounded the corner.

"Supposed to be standing right where I left you," said Bridget. She clutched a three-ringed binder against her chest, and blinked her eyelashes coquettishly at the attendant. "I hope he wasn't causing trouble."

The attendant’s cheeks flushed, matching his crimson jersey. "Oh, no, not at all ma'am."

Max tactfully turned his laugh into another cough as Bridget bristled.

"Can I help you find anything, ma'am?"

Her flirtatious edge hardened into iron. "We're fine, thank you."

Whether or not he grasped the point, the attendant withdrew, bobbing his head amiably before vanishing behind a closet mock-up.


"I don't know," said Max. He sat on the display's stool, and stared at the tub. "It's growing on me."

"Even with the feet?"

"Even with the feet."

"The tiles?"

"Not a chance, ma’am."

Bridget smacked the binder into his shoulder. Grinning, Max rubbed the sore spot on his arm.

"All right." Perching on the tub with a wary glare, Bridget opened the binder so it faced him. "Then we've got lots of options to go through."

Max dropped his head for a moment before gazing over the initial page of miniature tiles, and then catching her eye. "You don't have any in mind already?"

Her grin rebounded with devilish intent. "Funny you should say that."

Retrieving her thumb from a section two thirds of the way into the binder, she began listing their next set of choices.