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Monday, April 30, 2012

Packed Up - No. 343

Standing in the living room, Veronica watched the moving van and donation truck through the paned glass while the downstairs neighbor's bass thudded against the soles of her sneakers.  The van snuck out onto Jackson and turned left, vanishing behind another apartment building's brick-faced corner.  The truck's left wheels, however, hit the sidewalk's curb, making the whole back end jolt. 

She imagined the boxes tossed about inside and hoped the bubble wrapping and Styrofoam peanuts would be enough to keep the dishes intact. 

Finding its balance, the truck heaved onto the street, merged right and rumbled out of sight.

"I guess that's it," she whispered.  “Time’s up.”

No one answered this time, and her stomach tightened.  At the windowsill, the spindly branches of budding trees swayed like spider's legs.  Around her the smell of aftershave and perfume underscored the disinfectant and the sweat from the movers and donation gatherers, the cleaner scents lingering like the ghosts in the emptied apartment.

A meow from the bedroom pulled her gaze from the three story view and away from a plunge into memories. 

Down the hall, Max's faded orange face poked out, ears perked, eyes cautious.

Veronica squatted, the holes in her jeans ripping wider around her knees.  Waggling her fingers, she invited the cat over.

He scampered across the dented and dolly-rutted carpet and jammed his head into her palm.

"Sorry for the crazy week," she whispered. 

He purred with forgiveness, inspiring a sense of guilt for what she would have to do next.  When she scooped Max into her arms, he curled and nuzzled into her sweatshirt.  Creeping toward the kitchen counter, however, Veronica held her breath.

Some kind of animal instinct or feline perceptions triggered before she unlatched the carrying case door. 

Max squirmed and pawed.  Gripping him beneath the front legs, Veronica kept him in hand.

"Come on," she cooed, "you had to know this was coming."

Max mewed his innocence, flicked his tail and flattened his ears.  He scrunched himself into a hissing ball, but she managed to work him into the crate where he proceeded to cower, his emerald eyes narrowing with scorn he shot through the door's thin bars.

"I'm sorry," said Veronica.

He mewed again, but when she passed her fingers through the gap, he thrust his forehead against her offered skin.  After a brief scratch, she retracted her hand and turned to face the empty expanse. 

Max's intermittent meows letting her know his thoughts on remaining in the crate bounced off the bare walls.  The holes from removed pictures dotted the graying white like scattered ants and a fresh round of savory spices from the neighbor's kitchen wafted through the thin plaster.  One of the complex's kids shouted and the squealing brakes from the bus arriving down the street topped off the waning morning's growing symphony.

Inhaling a deep breath, Veronica savored the last smell of a meal she'd never tasted.  She set her hand on her stomach while the children started laughing together, their small footsteps trundling down the concrete stairs like dibbled basketballs.  The countless times she'd wound through a similar charge and been blasted by the bus' exhaust before stepping up into the sour interior on her way to school, rippled across her thoughts.  On her way back, she recalled shopping at Mr. Henderson's where he managed to gather the freshest groceries around while keeping the prices low.  Her ears filled with the gossiped she'd eavesdropped upon within those aisles, their lives more adventurous than she'd ever thought possible.

"Maybe that'll change," she whispered.

The room, however, retained its quiet and its solitude. 

She heard her parents’ voices in the stillness, each chiding her to study before they headed off for an early morning or night shift.  They debated from their arm chairs about replacing the heavyset curtains and concaved couch, Mom pushing to redecorate while Dad countered with the solidity and comfort each piece retained. Arguments over the details of a show blaring on the television once filling the living room's corner flowed across the carpet to where they'd never missed a Sunday dinner at the dining room table draped by the same wash-worn tablecloth.  The grooves from chair and table legs remained, even when the furniture had departed like its long time residents.

"My turn,” said Veronica.

She chuckled, and then released a full-fledged laugh as a weight seemed to fly from her shoulders.  She smothered the sudden burst with her hand, but couldn't call back her voice now echoing down the hallway and against the kitchen and bathroom tiles.

The apartment regained its inner serenity, and she shook her head while the world outside churned with motion.

"Time’s up, Max.” 

Veronica slung on her messenger bag and collected the cat in his crate.  Fetching the key from her pocket she strode through the front door and locked it behind her.  Crouching down, she slipped the key halfway through the door’s bottom gap. 

"Goodbye," she whispered, and thrust the key the rest of the way. 

She set her hand on the burgundy paint with its chips and scrapes to stop her wobble.  Blinking away the droplets from a fresh sheen of tears, Veronica rose and bid the apartment a last farewell.  She turned, and with Max at her side, started down the hall, where a warming spring day and the start of a path they’d always hoped she’d attain, waited for her to begin.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baiting the Snare - No. 340

Helen stood at the threshold and kept her voice low.  "His pay is on the mantle in the sitting room.”

"Yes, Madame."

Benedict bowed, and Helen waited for the butler to depart before entering her husband’s former office.  The Persian rug hushed under her delicate step, although it failed to muffle the tap of Winthrop's patent leather toe or Mr. Giroux's fidgeting at the emerald-shaded lamp on the mahogany desk dominating the room. 

"...state of the art," said Mr. Giroux, his ramblings uninterrupted by her arrival.

"It better be," murmured Winthrop.

Gliding forward, Helen touched her son's elbow.

"You're paying too much, Mother," he whispered.

"I'm paying for the best," said Helen.

Giroux glanced up at her voice, a slick grin blooming beneath his drooping moustache.  "And it is the best, I assure you."

Winthrop shook his head and raised his arms in surrender.  With a huff, he strode to the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the forest encroaching on the estate's perimeter and balancing the office’s surrounding wall of bookcases

"May I show you how it works, Madame?"

Straightening her spine, Helen floated to the edge of the desk. 

"By all means, Mr. Giroux."


He straightened from his bend over the lamp and nudged a stack of pamphlets his loose suit coat had knocked out of alignment.  Covering his mouth, he cleared his throat and then looped one thumb in his suspenders. 

"The contraption is quite simple." 

Giroux clasped the beaded chain dangling from the lamp and pulled once.  The bulb illuminated, its topaz glow pooling on the letter-head stationary and ballpoint pens adjoining the leather blotter covering the desktop. 

"One tug and the lamp lights."

A second tug doused the bulb, leaving the room basking in the mid-day sunlight.

"But," said Giroux lifting a dust-smeared finger, "should you pull twice, in quick succession...." 

He demonstrated and the hinges hidden behind a plump set of tomes groaned.  Skittering to the bookcase, he gingerly opened the secret panel.  The steel face in the wall gleamed and the bright white numbers on the dial glittered like new fallen snow. 

"Even if the burglar gets this far, he'll still be confronted by a state of the art locking mechanism."  He started twisting the dial right, left and then right again.  "The combination is currently the manufacturer's standard setting, but you can adjust it to whatever you like and then share the sequence as you see prudent."

A bolt thudded and Giroux lifted the latch to reveal the safe's empty cavern.

"I'd be happy to set it for you if you'd like."

"That won't be necessary," said Helen.  "Your instructions, I'm certain, will be quite clear to my son."

Giroux's smile faded a degree, like the first sign of sunset deepening shade.  "I hope they will be.  But if you have any trouble—"

"We'll be sure to contact you immediately."  Helen extended her hand, fingers limp, palm toward the carpet.  "It's been a pleasure, Mr. Giroux."

Giroux latched the safe and closed the bookcase before brushing his hand on his slacks and taking her fingers.  He stiffened and made an awkward bow.

"The pleasure has been all mine, Madame."

Benedict hummed at the doorway, his arrival punctuated by the rustle of bills within the envelope she’d prepared.

"Benedict has your payment and can see you out," said Helen, motioning toward the butler.

"Of...of course," said Giroux. 

His eyes darted around the room before he forced a grin and began collecting his tools into the satchel filling one in the pair of armchairs.  He added a derby hat and tipped the narrow brim.

"Mr. Dauphine."

Winthrop turned from the view and bobbed his head an inch, the motion barely shifting his slicked raven hair.

"This way, sir," said Benedict. 

He motioned with one gloved hand and Giroux preceded him from the office. 

Helen rounded the desk while their strides dwindled on the hallway marble.  Eventually the front door opened and shut and Mr. Giroux's motor car popped like a fired musket and rattled away.

"He's a fraud you know," said Winthrop.

"His safe seems to work," said Helen. 

She gave the lamp's chain two tugs.  The bookcase panel opened and she drifted over to stand face to face with the safe.

"Work maybe, but he knows where it is, he knows how to access it."  Winthrop stormed to her side and crossed his arms.  "He'll be back to get what's inside."

"Then we better set a proper combination," said Helen, retaining her serene tone.

Winthrop snorted.  "You think a combination is going to keep him or one of his cronies from breaking in?"

"That's the idea isn't?"

"Mother, please.  You can't think this is genuine protection."

"It wasn't my idea, Winthrop."

He sighed and dropped his gaze the glossy toes of his loafers.  "I realize you're just following through with Father's last wishes, but I still don't think it's a proper course of action."

"You never thought much of his notions in the first place," said Helen. 

Winthrop looked up like a startled squirrel.  Even staring at the safe, Helen could sense the granite forming in his gaze.  She recalled the same firmness in Stuart’s eyes and beneath her cinched bodice her heart swelled.

Winthrop’s voice remained curt.  "That's not fair, Mother."

Closing the bookcase panel, Helen rested her palm against the dusty spines.  "What alternative would you suggest, Winthrop?"

"The vault at the bank." 

"You'd trust the National Bank over this house?"

Helen strode around the desk and stroked her fingers over the stationary and writing implements still in place where he'd left them.

"It's their job, Mother.  This is a house, not a fortress, it's meant to live in not protect things."  Winthrop loosened his arms and leaned onto the desk's edge.  "And the last place anyone like Giroux is going to be able to break into is the National Bank."

She met Winthrop's muddy-brown eyes from across the desk's tidy assortment and found bedrock certainty in his gaze. 

"You really think he's going to try breaking in and stealing it?"

"I think the Heartford Diamond is worth too much for any unscrupulous character not to risk stealing it.  And from what I've heard, Giroux is waist high in those circles."

"You'd think the Yard would do something about him if he was."

"He keeps his hands clean," said Winthrop.  "He shares the details with his cronies but never the deed itself.  He keeps a certain distance while leaving his finger in the pot.  If there could be some kind of connection, some kind of evidence linking him, I'm sure the police would arrest him, maybe even his whole crew, but they haven't, and so he's still selling his wares to unwary households, waiting for them to stow away their most precious possessions, putting them together for his men to scoop up at their earliest opportunity."

Helen pursed her lips.  "You sound like one of those mystery novels you and your Father loved so much.  Perhaps your imagination is getting away with you."

"Go ahead and put the Heartford in there and wait.  Before long that safe's going to be just as empty as it is today."

"I don't think your Father would have demanded us to do something so foolhardy."

"Father wasn't exactly in his right mind in the end."

Helen lifted her chin, her tone lancing.  "Watch your tongue."

"It's the truth,” said Winthrop, railing against the ire she could feel washing off her rigid frame.  “He might have been sharp once, so sharp the Yard would come to him for advice, but you heard his raves about conspiracies in Parliament, the secret societies supposedly collecting weapons and funds to overthrow the government, tainted water and—"

"Thieves stalking in the night," said Helen, cocking a salted eyebrow.

Winthrop scowled.  "I'm not losing my mind."

"No," said Helen, "you’re as prudent as he ever was."

"And like him I'm trying to do something about an obvious threat."

Helen brought her fingertips to her lips, her mouth slightly ajar from the thought illuminating like the desk lamp's bulb. 

"Perhaps that's what he intended," she whispered.

Silence filled the office while the notion spun beneath her graying coiffure.


Winthrop's concern washed upon her pasty cheeks and Helen blinked free from her train of thought. 

"You say Giroux is the mastermind behind this group of burglars?"

"That's what my friends at the Yard say, and a half a dozen merchants agree."

She drummed her fingers upon the desk’s blotter.  "Then perhaps it's time to catch the cat in his own game."

Winthrop cocked his head.  "What are you suggesting, Mother?"

Pausing her fingers, Helen locked onto her son’s puzzled face.

"You suspect he's coming for the Diamond correct?"

"I think one of his men will be, yes."

"And should one of these men be caught, do you think he'll lead the police to Giroux?"

"It depends on Giroux, on how carefully he’s covering his tracks."

"And what might make him less careful?"

Winthrop frowned, and she spied the considerations flitting behind his eyes.  "If he had to hurry, I suppose. If a better window of opportunity came up all of the sudden and he had to act, quickly, in order to seize the chance."  Winthrop rubbed at his clean shaven chin.  "I'm not sure what you're getting at Mother."

"I’m getting at what your Father really had in mind," said Helen. 

Striding to the doorway, she pulled on the braided chain.  The bell in the foyer chimed and Benedict's swift stride headed in her direction.


Helen silenced her son by raising her ringed hand.  Moments later, Benedict arrived and bowed.


"Winthrop and I will be taking in the countryside for a few days.  Please let Madeline know so she can prepare my things.  Contact the carriage company.  They can pick us up in the morning."

"Of course, Madame."  Benedict swiveled his gaze to Winthrop.  "And for the young sir?"

"He can pack his own things," said Helen.

"Yes Madame."  Benedict bowed again before turning and marching down the corridors awash in a sense of purpose.

"You're devious, Mother."

Helen looked to her son, and kept her features innocent.  "What do you mean?  It's been beautiful here, the countryside will be even more so.  And now that I know our family treasures will be safe, it seems a perfect opportunity."

"Perfect indeed." 

While Winthrop smirked, she strode back to the desk and claimed a key from the hidden pocket at her belt.  Unlocking the latch on the center drawer, she opened the one on the bottom left, gathered her skirts and dropped into an awkward squat.  She reached inside and slid back the panel obscured by the pile of bound ledgers.  Within the compartment the cut facets kissed her sand-paper skin, and with the jewel in hand, she rose, wincing at the creaks in her knees.

Winthrop had crossed the room in the meantime, and locked his gaze on the gem’s rainbow twinkle. 

"Do you really want to risk it?"

Helen curled her fingers around the rock and smoothed the wrinkles from her skirts.  "You think this is the real one?"

Tearing his eyes from the jewel, Winthrop frowned.  "It's not?"

"Your Father was craftier than you give him credit for, Winthrop."  Helen closed the drawers, locked the center latch, and then tugged twice on the lamp's chain.  "Shouldn’t you be going?"  She waved at the doorway as she returned to the bookcase.  "I'm sure you have some things to prepare and friends to notify of our departure."

Winthrop straightened his waistcoat and puffed out his chest.  "You're quite right, Mother.  If you'll excuse me?"

"By all means," said Helen. 

As Winthrop departed, Helen turned the dial on the safe.  She set the jewel inside and then added a collection of accounting papers in folders sealed with the Dauphine’s wax stamp.  Plucking the sapphire earbobs from her lobes, she added them and the onyx pendant pinned to her breast and stared at the assortment fleshing out the cavern.

"It took us a moment to catch on,” she whispered, “but we’ll make you proud, you’ll see.”

With a nod to the ghostly face she sensed looking on from the grave, Helen closed the steel face and left the office under her son’s protection and her departed husband's watchful eye.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Quarters - No. 337

Bernice closed the taxi’s checkered door and waved at the driver.  She watched the tail lights disappear around the corner, and fought against holding her breath. 

You won't find out standing here, she chided.

Scooping up her sticker-strewn suitcase she turned from the curb and the lights creating amber circles on asphalt.

She strode up the walkway, noting the lawn looked in need of a trim.   The pansies in the town homes' flower boxes, however, greeted her with perky faces of honey and indigo.  Mounting the pair of concrete steps, she stopped on the braided welcome mat, dug into her purse for her key, and unlocked the front door.

Faint music hummed throughout the dimly lit apartment, broken periodically by the thump of the player’s needle bouncing on a scratch in the record.  The meditative drone floated on a steadier cloud of patchouli incense undercut with a sweeter smell of Hanna's personal stock. 

Shaking her head at her sister’s bohemian habits, Bernice set down her suitcase, bolted the locks, and unpinned the pill box hat from atop her coiffed brunette twist.

"Bernie?"  From the kitchen, Hanna's voice bobbed upon the thickened air and around a mouthful of something.  "Is that you?"

"Yes," said Bernice.  "It's me."

Slipping out of her pumps, she headed into the living room illuminated by the one lit lamp and its rusty shade.  She cast her hat onto the coffee table strewn with National Geographics and packages of printed photographs.  Her quick scan revealed no messages or notes in her sister’s looping script.  

Sighing, she sank into the embrace of a plush arm chair and curled up her legs, massaging her throbbing arches through the panty-hose.  The knots had begun to relax from her three day shift by the time the hinges on the kitchen’s door groaned.

Hanna glided in among the sweetened aromas, her floral print skirt swaying over her bared legs. 

“Cookie?”  She offered a half empty plate of rounded chocolate chip confections.

"Why not?"  Bernice took one and broke it in half above the plate before nibbling on a corner.

Hanna perched on the armrest and devoured a whole one absently.  "How was your trip?"

"It wasn't a trip, Hanna, its work."

"You're flying around right?"

"Yes," said Bernice.  She wiped a morsel of oozing chocolate from the corner of her mouth and sucked it between her lips.

"So how was flying around?"

With a roll of her eyes, Bernice slumped into the chair and propped her feet up on the table.  "Fine."  She wiggled her toes, enjoying the freedom of open air.  "How are things here?"

"Fine," said Hanna.  She traded the plate for one of the packages of photographs.  "I've got a new show starting next week."

"That's great." 

Bernie flipped through the images capturing Hanna's canvas creations.  The bright hues seemed muted in the dim light or merely, she reflected, from the weariness in her eyes.  She stuffed the photographs back into their pouch and placed them back on the table.

"I put your mail and messages in the basket too," said Hanna. 

She flitted off of the armrest and to the wicker tub.  Collecting the basket, she gave the contents a brief shake, the envelopes within rustling.

Bernice fought for a breath.  "Anything…interesting?"

Hanna cocked her head and stared into the basket.  "I don't think so, but ever since I stopped opening your mail, I'm not sure."

"Thanks for the reining in your curiosity."  Holding out her hand, Bernice beckoned for the collection. 

"I can do some of the things you ask me to you know."  Hanna handed it over with a smirk.  "Don't you want to worry about that in the morning?"

"It'll be on my mind," said Bernice. 

No, she amended to herself, he’ll be on your mind.

She started sorting correspondence from junk mail then gasped and held up a bill.  Overdue had been stamped on the front in angry red letters.

"What's this?"

Hanna took the envelope.  "Phone bill?"

"Of course it's the phone bill."  She snatched back the notice.  "Why isn't it paid?  Last month was your month to take care of them."

"Was it?"

Hanna's innocent façade remained even when Bernice glared.  Shaking her head, she slipped her thumb beneath the seal, opened the tab, and retrieved the paperwork.  The due date of mid-March stared at her along with a bevy of fine print.  She skimmed and got the gist:

We're cutting service.  

The statement sent her stomach dropped through the arm chair's cushion.  "Has the phone been working?"

"I don't know," said Hanna.  "I don't get a lot of calls."

"But I might," murmured Bernice. 

She leaned over and plucked the rose-hued receiver from its cradle.  No tone sounded against her ear. 

"That's just perfect," she said and dumped the receiver back into its bed.

"What does it matter?  Not like you're expecting someone to call when you're away."

Bernice closed her eyes and shaded them with one hand while she waited for the light bulb to ignite in Hanna's clouded mind.  Meanwhile she saw Dustin's face, his dark eyes gleaming over his trimmed beard when he grinned.  She recalled the splay of his dress shirt’s crisp collar, the cinch of his tie, the twinkle of the cufflinks at his wrists.  Their fingers had kept bumping with each order of white wine, and she remembered wondering if he'd drink them dry to just keep up their conversation.

"You," said Hanna, her methodical words worming into the vision, "were expecting someone to call."

"Expect is too strong a word."  Bernice let her hand fall and slid further into the cushions.  "Hoped is more like it."

"Who?!"  Hanna's eyes cleared and she knelt on the ground by the base of the chair like a child waiting for story time.

"One of the passengers on one of my flights.  He'd been connecting to Philadelphia but changing airlines in London.  We...hit it off and I gave him our number."

"That doesn't mean he hasn't called."

"Sure, but all he's going to get is that damn beep bop boop.”  She pitched her voice into an electronic tone, “I'm sorry your call cannot be connected as dialed."

"Oh Bernie, I'm sorry."  Hanna retrieved the plate of cookies and made an offering of the last one.  Bernice dragged it from the platter and finished it in three massive chomps.

"It doesn't matter," she said after swallowing.

"Sure it does, and there must be something we can do."  Hanna smeared the crumbs around with her finger, as if reading a plan from the remains.  Coming to some kind of conclusion, she tossed the plate onto the stack of magazines and drummed on her knees.  "What do we know about him?"

"What are you talking about?"

"If he can't reach you, maybe you can reach him. Yes, yes!”  Hanna clapped her hands in applause.  "We already know he's in Philly.  Do you know his name?"

"Dustin," said Bernice. 

She watched Hanna bubble and couldn't help the sudden rise of her own hopes.

"What else?"


"You must have talked or something."

"Of course we did,” said Bernice, “but mostly about little things.  He asked me about flying and I asked him...."  She covered her gaping mouth.


"I asked him about what he did.  He's in town for a meeting."  She scrunched her face, closed her eyes, and sought the details.  "A banking summit, I think."

"Where is it?"

"Downtown I'd guess."  Her eyes flung open like a retracted set of blinds.  "He's staying in a hotel downtown."

"That's terrible," said Hanna, with a pout.

Bernice's elation curbed.  "Why?"

"He should be staying here, not in some impersonal skyscraper."

Hanna's petulance brought a guttural laugh from Bernice and she flung her arms around her sister.

Hanna returned the hug with tentative arms.  "What's this for?  We don't know where he is yet."

"I know," said Bernice.  "But I think we will."


"Because he is in town and I do remember his name."  Releasing her sister, Bernice scootched to the edge of her chair and began counting on her fingers.  "All we have to do is call around to the biggest hotels.  We ask for him and they'll tell us if he's there.  Then we can leave a message and...."  She gulped and grasped her elbows.  "And then...."

"And then you meet for dinner,” said Hanna, mimicking the finger count, “fall madly in love and you're married by the end of the year."


"What?”  Her sister’s face turned serious.  “I'm the creative one right?  I'm supposed to think wild and daring thoughts."

"It's wild all right."

"So let's get started."

"It's the middle of the night."

Hanna batted the notion with both hands.  "It's nine.  Plenty of time."  She hefted the phone's receiver and set her fingers into the four of the rotary dial.  "Oh...that's right."  Chagrinned, she nestled the phone back into the cradle.  "Sorry...."

"We can wait until morning."

"Morning's going to have him in meetings, meetings with other people's pretty secretaries, and who knows what'll happen."  Hanna stood and began pacing along the coffee table.  "What we need is a phone.  No,” she snapped her fingers.  “What we need are quarters."

She dashed from the living room and stormed up the stairs.  A door banged open and above Bernice's head the floor thudded with Hanna's jagged steps.  Following the stomps, Bernice traced her sister’s route around her bedroom and then watched Hanna traipsing down the steps again, a bright green piggy bank in her hands.

"You don't need to do that," said Bernice.  "I'm sure I have a few quarters in my purse."

"This was my fault," said Hanna.  She swept the coffee table clear, the magazines and photographs cascading into pools on the carpet.  "I'm going to fix it." 

Hanna rolled the pig onto its back and worked at the cork in its belly.  She scowled and frowned, sunk in her nails and then turned the piggy bank around to go at it from the other side.  Bernice watched, enraptured by the struggle and what success might mean. 

She and Dustin had gotten along so well, better than any of the other passengers who'd flirted with her over the Atlantic.  Even Janice and Mable had said so and those prudes usually wanted all the stewardesses to be invisible.  He'd even stayed behind while everyone else disembarked, helped her with her uniform's cape and walked her to the next gate. 

The thought of seeing him again outside a terminal or causeway started her heart soaring and her mind swirling on specifics like what'd she'd wear.  Bernice looked down at her rumpled uniform, the shade matching her suitcase full of dirtied laundry. 

Does he even like blue? she wondered.

Spilling coins tumbled onto the table and shattered her speculation. 

"One, two, three," counted Hanna as she filled her palm with dirtied coins.  She cupped over four dollars worth in mere moments and then dumped the money in Bernice’s hands.

"Ralph's has a payphone," she said, tugging on Bernice's elbow, "and the yellow pages."

Bernice found herself upright and being led toward the door.  She had the presence of mind to step into her pumps, much to the disappointment of her arches, and followed Hanna who walked barefoot through the door.  She didn't hear much of Hanna's babbling during their walk down the sidewalk. Even the clunk of her heels on concrete fell beneath her notice.

Her thoughts churned on what to say, who to call, and what might happen if she didn't reach him, what might transpire if she did. 

Before she reached a verdict, Hanna opened the telephone booth's door and shoved her inside.  Cramming in afterwards, Hanna lifted the phone book and splayed the pages.

""  She flipped the dull yellow sheets, and then pointed her finger at the top of the list.  "Where do you want to start?"

"The nicest one I guess," said Bernice.

"Fairmont? Ritz? Waldorf?"

Bernice lifted the receiver, the black headset shaking in her hand.  "Just give me a number,” she whispered and inserted a quarter.

Hanna read off one and the receptionist at the Fairmont answered.

"Um...yes," said Bernice.  She spun on Hanna who shrugged, then waggled her hand at the mouthpiece.  "I'm….” Bernice sucked in a quick breath and let out her request in the next exhalation.  “I’m looking for someone who I think might be staying with you tonight."


"Dustin Garrison."

"Let me see.”  The receptionist began to hum while papers shuffled.  “We do have a guest staying of that name.  Would you like me to connect you?"

“Yes,” whispered Bernice, before biting down on her overeager tongue.

“One moment.”

Hold music brushed her ear and Bernice set her hand on the glass wall.  Her forehead followed and Ralph’s storefront and the sidewalk outside vanished behind her anxious breath. 

Then the yellow book swung into her hollow legs and the phone booth's door thudded closed. 

Wheeling around, she found Hanna grinning on the other side holding two thumbs up.

The phone clicked.


Bernice shut her eyes.  "Dustin?"

His presence hung on the other end while in the background glasses clinked and a bass laugh rumbled.  Something rubbed against the receiver and when he spoke, Dustin whispered.


She flinched at his hushed tone.  "Is this a bad time?"

"No, no.  I just can't believe it's you."

Her knees wobbled.  "Is that good or bad?"

"Definitely good," said Dustin.  Her imagination provided the smile she heard in his voice, complete with plumped cheeks.  "I thought," he coughed and the phone rubbed against something she now guessed was his chin or cheek.  "When I called," he whispered, "and your number didn't work I thought you might not have wanted me to reach you."

"It's a long story,” said Bernice, “but I promise it was an accident."

"Maybe you can tell me over dinner."


"Say tomorrow?”  Someone in the background asked him a question and Dustin’s tone gained a professional cast. "8 o'clock, here at the hotel?"

Bernice’s heart leapt up to her throat and she swallowed it back down.  "Sounds perfect."

"Until then."

Bernice held the phone to her ear until the dial tone flat-lined.  The weight of the receiver finally pulled her arm down and she set the phone back in its cradle.  Behind her, the door squeaked opened allowing in a gust of fresh air.  Hanna appeared at her elbow. 


“Dinner.  Tomorrow at 8.”

Hanna clapped again and then pulled her into a throttling embrace.  Bernice leaned into the hug, wary she’d melt without her sister’s support.

“You know what that means,” said Hanna into her shoulder.



Bernice laughed and pulled back, sagging into the booth’s glass wall.  “How about bed first?”

“Right,” said Hanna.  “You’ll need your beauty sleep.”

Laughing, Bernice let her sister drag her from the booth and looping her arm around her sister’s waist they made their way back home.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rescue - No. 334

Wading through the knee high water, Melody came to the cabana’s window.  She jolted back when Todd's hand dropped down and waggled.

"Grab on, hon’."


His hand vanished, replaced by the rain and his audible sigh. 

"I made a mistake," said Todd.  "Would you rather I not have told you?"

Standing at the windowsill, Melody debated whether ignorance might have been better than the truth, and whether she could believe he’d told the whole story in any case.  Their fight had seemed innocent enough, a simple disagreement about what to do with themselves once their vacation ended, but when he’d left she didn't think he'd end up lip locked with the raven haired bartender who'd been eyeing him all week. 

Stella, he'd said, had kissed him.

He didn't have to come back, Melody reflected, and he didn't have to explain.  But he had, and then the weather had turned.

Todd’s hand reappeared, his palm open, fingers tense.  "Mel?"

She peered passed his limb, through the torrent blurring the surrounding beachfront and sought the neighboring cabanas.  Hints of thatch emerged through the low slung clouds and the downpour’s sheets.  The slap of waves against walls and the pounding on the roof filled her ears while brackish water numbed her legs. 

She refocused on Todd's hand.  "Are you sure about this?"

"We stay inside and we're going to end up swimming."  He leaned down until his pale blue eyes were level with hers.  "We'll be okay."

She wondered if he meant today or in the days to come.  Regardless, she reasoned, the water wouldn't be subsiding any time soon.

Firming her nerves, she dragged one barefoot out of the swell and set it on the windowsill.  She grabbed Todd's forearm and balanced herself on the frame when the view caused her knees to wobble.

Water stretched out before her, drifting to the horizon where it blended seamlessly into the sky.  In between, the tops of palm trees swayed from side to side, each seeming on the verge of snapping.

"Grab the ledge," said Todd. 

His tug on her arm drew Melody from the expanse.  She gripped the thatched edge and sprang off the window.  Out in the elements, the downpour soaked her tank top and plastered her braided plaits to her skull.  Clambering with Todd’s help, she crawled to the sloped roof’s peak and perched upon the main timber.   She gathered her knees to her chest, the straw poking her soles and through her shorts, biting like the flies at dusk. 

The reeds squelched under Todd's weight when he sat at her side.  While the raindrops poured down, he wrapped an arm around her, coming short of touching by resting his palm at the straw by her hip. 

Giving into his cautious embrace, Melody laid her head on his shoulder. 

She stared down at the water where the tethered boats bounced and listed in the cloud cover.  White caps crashed, the sight a brief flash among the gray.  The wind and current ripped palm fronds free, the debris floating on the surface before swirling past their cabana and making their way toward the resort’s main compound.  There the flooding came up to the third story, and Melody spotted figures in tropical colors up at the rooftop and clustered on the balconies. 

Puttering diverted her from their concrete roosts and she peered past the beach's other cabanas to where a small power boat plowed through the waves.  A dozen folks crammed into the vessel, the choppy water threatening to swamp over the sides.

"Hey look," said Melody and tipped her chin to indicate the blob on the rough waves.

Todd swiveled, and shaded his eyes from the rain. "That can’t be a boat.”

"I think it is," said Melody.

"But who's crazy enough to come out here?"

"I'm not sure.”  She squinted and spotted a waving hand.  The gesture made the sopped raven braid and curls framing an oval face rock from side to side.  "I...I think it's her."


She met his eyes and Todd shook his head, his mouth hanging open, this time void of explanation.

"You must have made quite an impression," said Melody. 

Withdrawing his arm, Todd raked the rain from his face.  "Are you going to keep bringing this up every other minute?"

"Just when she risks her life to come to your rescue."

"Do you think I asked her to?"

"I don't know what you did.  You were gone all night."

"Mel—"  Todd cast his fingers through his sandy hair.  "I'm sorry.  I'll say it as many times as you want."

"I don't want your apologies."

"Then what do you want?”  He looked into her eyes, his own beseeching.  “I can't take it back. I can't make it so it didn't happen.  I thought being honest would count for something."

Melody pulled her legs closer and rested her chin on her knees.  Sending her gaze over open water, she fought against an image of Stella’s smooth features as she powered her boat near.

"Why did you tell me?" she whispered.


She felt Todd's eyes on her profile but didn't turn to meet them.

"You're my wife," said Todd his voice barely cresting the pummeling rain and wave's constant surge.

The tremble in his tone tripped up her heart.  Melody turned her head, her kneecaps pressing against her cheek.  Streams of rain traipsed over Todd’s furrowed brow.

"I couldn't not tell you,” he whispered.

"You couldn't not kiss her either?"

He hung his head, his disheveled bangs a curtain obscuring his face.

"Ahoy there!"

Stella’s shout ripped across the water and crashed upon the silence strangling their island.  When the bartender repeated the call, Todd looked up.


"Hey Stella."

Melody's stomach clenched with the name. 

With a victorious grin, Stella handed over the rudder to the lobster red man seated beside her.  On curved legs sprouting from too-short shorts, she maneuvered to the bow where she collected a coiled rope.

"Catch this," she said, and flung the line.

Todd caught the end and stood to put his muscle behind towing the boat to the ledge.  The passengers cringed and an elderly couple clung to the sides when a swath of waves struck.

"Thanks,” said Todd, “but I don't think there's room for us.”

"Sure there is," said Stella.

Melody fought against slapping the other woman to clear the pleading stare she latched upon Todd.  Whether he saw or not, his tone didn’t change.

"Maybe you should come back," said Todd.

"I'm not sure we'd be able to."  Stella gestured at the boat’s cramped quarters.  "I bet we could take one."

Melody bowed her head, not wanting to tip Todd’s reply with a glare or the acerbic "Why don't you go ahead?" burning her tongue.

"Mel and I are leaving together," said Todd.

The crash of rope on water made Melody lift her gaze.  She watched Stella shake off a sudden stupor and begin coiling up the line.  When she finished the bundling, Melody spied a flash of envy lighting the black depths when Stella looked her way.  Clenching her jaw tight, Melody lifted her chin.

"I'll try and come back for you...for both of you," said Stella.

"You know where to find us," said Todd. 

He sat back down with another squish of straw. 

Stella bit her lower lip before making her way to the boat's engine.  She seized the rudder and thrust it around, pointing the prow back toward the hotel.  The little boat rocked on the waves but the passengers gave a weak cheer.   They shrank amid the span of water, thatched rooftops, and palms standing between their lone outpost and the safety of the multistory concrete structure.

From the corner of her eye, Melody spied Todd looking out to sea.  He didn't reach for her this time, and the lack of his arm sent a chill along her spine.  Gulping her anxiety, she inched closer, hoping he wouldn't flinch away.  He didn't, and she found his shoulder once more, rigid but welcoming as ever.  Keeping her eyes downcast, she avoided thinking of anything more than the droplets crashing on her scalp and watched her toes begin to prune.

"Look at that," said Todd after an interminable silence.

She followed the arm he pointed at the horizon. 

Where ominous gunmetal clouds had once created a flawless wall with the waves, blue skies peeked out and as heavily as it had descended, the rain began to ebb. 

Melody threaded her arm through Todd’s and clasped his hand.

“We’ll be okay,” she whispered and savored the gentle pressure he returned to her soaked and sun-kissed fingers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Room Service - No. 333

With one hand white-knuckled on the dashboard, Adele tilted the map beneath the rental car's ceiling light.

"Take the next two lefts," she said.

"You’re sure?"

The undercarriage cracked against the edge of a pothole and Adele winced.

"Yeah," she said and squinted through the rain splattered window.  "There." 

She pointed at what she hoped would reveal itself to be the final directions of the night.

Despite the empty road, Mitch flicked on the turn signal.  The snap created a mixed beat with the rental car's less than efficient windshield wipers.

"See—" The jounce of the car in and out of another rut cut him off.  He gripped the wheel and spoke through gritted teeth.  "See if you can spot a sign."

Adele let the car's turbulence rub her fist on the passenger window, clearing the mist their breaths and the quickly cooling conditions outside had created.  The shoulder-high wall flanking their rural escapade broke at the entrance and rippled with carved letters.  A glistening sheen suggested they might be made of brass or copper.  She spied "vere" and "Hot" before Mitch turned and drove through an opened set of iron wrought gates.

Their jolting ride suddenly smoothed and Mitch sagged against the wheel.  "Well?"

"Molivere Hotel right?" 


"Then that should be it." 

She shut off the car's light, allowing the glowing windows of the manor house up ahead to gleam through the rain.  A carriage entrance jutted from the ivy covered façade, the archways curving amid the streaks of water and softened by giant stone vases where tri-tiered topiaries sprouted. 

"It looks like the picture."

"It better for the price," said Adele.

Mitch grunted wearily and rounded the circular lawn.  Pulling into a cramped space between a black Cadillac and some kind of hut, he killed the ignition and set his forehead onto the wheel.

The rain pattered on the roof while Adele struggled to fold the map.  Giving up, she kneaded the back of Mitch’s bowed neck.

"You okay?"  

"Tired," mumbled Mitch.

"How does a king sized bed sound?"


"It’s only a little further."


Adele grinned and collected her knapsack from by her feet.  She stuffed the half-folded map inside, zipped her jacket, and tugged the hood over her ponytail. 

"Pop the trunk?"

With a nod, Mitch sought the lever by his side. 

Bracing herself against the upcoming cold and wet, Adele stepped out and hurried to the car's bumper.  She grabbed their one suitcase, its sky blue dulled by the night, and slammed the trunk closed.  By then, Mitch had hauled himself from the driver's seat.  Wordlessly, they hurried over to the shelter of the carriage entrance. 

Their soaked sneakers squished on the red carpet leading up to the gilded doors.  Mitch opened one and Adele entered.  Finding a smooth expanse of marble, she lowered the suitcase and headed for the receptionist’s desk, allowing the luggage’s wheels a chance to do their job.  Her mouth began watering when, from a velvet-draped doorway down an adjoining hall laughter, the clink of glassware, and a quartet of strings drifted on meaty aromas grease with butter.  Beside her, Mitch’s stomach had begun an audible grumble by the time they bellied up to the mahogany counter.

A petite, dark haired receptionist in a midnight blue bellhop uniform with silver buttons looked up from his perusal of a splayed book. 

"Ah...Bon soir."  He knitted bushy brows beneath the edge of his square cap and his next words emerged in broken English.  "How...can I help you?"

"We have reservations," said Adele.  "For—"  She checked herself before giving her surname, her former surname.  "Hendly.  Mitch and Adele."

Mitch took her hand and she squeezed his fingers.

"Ah...Oui," said the receptionist. 

Flipping the pages in his book, he plucked a pen from an ink well, its snowy swan feather swaying.  He made a note, the scrape setting Adele's nerves on edge, and then looked up with a forced grin. 

"I am so sorry, but we have had a bit of a...problem...a complication."

She gripped Mitch’s hand.  "Excuse me?"

"The weather, you see, some guests cannot travel.  They are extending their stay."

"But we have reservations," said Mitch.

"Yes, yes," said the receptionist.  He tugged at the square collar cinching his neck.  "But, you see, these guests...they are rather special."

"I don't care if it's the Queen of England.”  Mitch thumped his other hand onto the counter, the echo reverberating on the marble.  "We made reservations for a room.  One with a king sized bed and I just drove across half this damn country in a monsoon to sleep in it."

The receptionist’s mouth flapped uselessly and Adele aimed for a calmer tone. 

"If you can't give us our room, then what do you expect us to do?  It's pouring outside and there's nothing around for miles.

Sweat peaked out from around receptionist’s cap.  "Yes, I understand.  We've made….arrangements for you to stay, just not in the same room." 

He opened a drawer and extracted a sheet of paper topped with an indigo seal made from a pair of fish meeting at the mouth and tail.

"If you can sign here, we can….”  He scrubbed his hair line and mumbled.  “Comment dis….oh ah…pay you back." 

Flattening the sheet with one hand, he fumbled for his pen and offered the plumed end. 

Adele peered at the flowing script, the shape and language obscuring the details in the paragraphs.  One line spoke of suites, another of money.  She listed upon the counter, the weight of interpreting and Mitch's attention landing on her shoulders.

"What do you think?"

She sighed and pulled her gaze from the page.  "Do you want to keep driving?"

Mitch snorted and seized the pen.  He scrawled his signature on the x-indicated line.

"And you, Madame."  The receptionist shifted the page before her.  Mitch fluttered the feather. 

Releasing his hand, Adele added her name, pausing only momentarily when she nearly made a F out of the H.

With a sigh of what sounded like relief, the receptionist stowed the paper away and motioned down another hall. 

"If you would come with me?"

"Finally," whispered Mitch.

Adele shot him an imploring glare but softened her expression when he hung his head and rubbed at his eyes.  Gathering the suitcase, she strode after the receptionist. 

He led briskly along a corridor lined with portraits wrapped in heavy frames whose subjects seemed to follow their passage with oiled eyes.  The busts managed the same eerie watch and Adele quickened her stride to match the receptionist’s swift gait.  They wound through a maze of hallways until she lost track of all the mansion’s twists and turns.  She noted, however, the dwindling art work, the portraits transitioning to stained panels and then painted brick.  When they started down a set of stairs the mortared walls began leaking a wintry chill.  The receptionist weaved through them like a well traveled mouse, and then started along a long corridor dotted with alcoves blocked by what looked like entrances to cellars.

"Here we are.”  He stopped at a pair of steps leading to one rounded door offset on its hinges, and retrieved a skeletal key from his pocket.  "Enjoy your evening."

"You're kidding me," said Mitch.

Adele accepted the key.  "Merci."

With a tip of his hat, the receptionist scurried back the way they had come.  His footsteps faded after a moment, the sudden dearth of sound making the stories around them feel cavernous. 

"Let's get to bed," she murmured and descended to the door. 

The skeleton key rattled in the lock before the bolt drew back with an echoing thud.  She pushed the door in, causing the hinges to whine and the base to scrape.  Crossing the threshold, Adele sought a switch on the wall.  She yelped when she brushed against something gossamer dangling in the open air.

"What is it?"

Adele narrowed her eyes and the ambient light fell upon a string falling from the ceiling.  Giving the line a tug, she illuminated a single bare bulb.  The yellowing light fell upon a lone pillow and twin bed taking up the majority of the closet-sized room.

"Home sweet home," she said. 

Mitch followed her in, lugging the suitcase.  "I hope that was one hell of a refund," he said closing the door.

"Me too."

"You couldn't read it?"

She shrugged and stripped out of her jacket.  Discovering the novelty of a hook on the back of the door next to a hand-sized mirror, she hung up the dripping coat.  "We should ask for a copy in the morning."

"Sounds good," said Mitch.  He smothered a yawn with his hand. 

Adele tilted her head from side to side as she redid her ponytail with the mirror's help.  "Do you want to hunt down something to eat?"

"Not really."

"You're not hungry?"

"I didn't say that."  Mitch snuck up behind her, his wry grin visible in the reflection.  He coiled his arms around her waist and pulling her snug.

Adele couldn't help but smile.  "I thought you were tired."

"I was.  Circumstances have invigorated me."

Spinning in his grasp, Adele laughed.  She leaned in, the mischievous gleam in Mitch's eye heating into something equally familiar.

Sudden thumps on the door, however, kept their lips from touching.


Adele cocked an eyebrow at the American accent in the other woman's voice.  Shaking his head with startled innocence, Mitch released her and put himself between her and the door.


Adele frowned when the woman called her name.

"Please open the door," she continued, her tone of impatience swelling.

Grumbling under his breath, Mitch yanked on the handle.  It took him a second try before the door opened and added another scrape on the stone floor.  He backpedaled when a plump grandmotherly woman wearing a lilac gown with the same fish emblem on the breast stomped down the stairs and occupied the remaining breathing room.

"These are for you."  She offered a pile of midnight blue cloth.

Adele worked up a stupefied grin.  "Towels?"

The woman barked a laugh, the silvery bun atop her head swaying.  "Livery."


“Uniforms,” said the woman.

Mitch set his hand on the door's latch.  "I'm afraid you're mistaken.  We're guests."

The woman squared her ample bust at him.  "You signed the contract right?"

"No," said Mitch, “we sign a refund receipt."

"The paper with the blue seal on the top?  The two fish?"

Adele met his quick glance before Mitch returned to the woman, his usual confidence fading. 

"Yeah," he said slowly.

"That puts you on serving detail or out in the rain."  The woman turned from him, set the folded clothes at the foot of the bed and pivoted again.  "Your choice.  You've five minutes until hors d'oeurvres are up.  Dress and go all the way down the hall to your right, or move out."  With a swaying waddle, she departed, closing the door behind her.

Adele plopped onto the bed and the pile of clothes tumbled onto her lap.  "I can't believe this."

Mitch put his back to the door and stuffed his hands into his pockets.  "Want to leave?"

"I don't want to sleep in the car if that's what you're asking."  She unfolded the first layer and found a trim tunic with the fish seal stitched over the heart.  "Waiting tables was never that bad right?"

Mitch took the shirt and cocked a skeptical brow at the embroidery.  "Not any worse than tonight has been, or it was before."

"Serves me right for not reading the fine print."

"What happened to that sense of adventure of yours?"

"It's waiting for room service," said Adele. 

Rising, she found a scalloped necked dress similar to the older woman’s and began to change.  She sensed Mitch's glance and then his fingers crept around her bare midriff.  He kissed her neck and she tipped her head against his as his bare skin met her back. 

"Five minutes remember?"

"I can be quick," he murmured.

"Yeah, I know." 

With her own wry grin, she bounced her shoulder, knocking his chin aside.  Spinning away, she faced him and tugged on the dress.  While he worked into the tunic and a pair of wide slacks, she traded her sneakers for soft soled slippers.

"They fit," she said, wiggling her toes within the velvet.

"Maybe you can keep them."

"Last think I need is another pair of shoes," said Adele. 

"At least this pair has a story,” said Mitch, belting the tunic with a coil of braided rope as dark as licorice.

"Some story.”  She smoothed out her skirts, and set her hands on her hips.  “How does it look?”

Mitch tilted his head in open evaluation.  “Actually….pretty good.”

“Maybe I’ll get some tips.”  She sighed. "Ready?"

Mitch shrugged.  "For good times and bad right?"

She pecked his cheek. 


Heading out the door and up the stairs, she turned right, allowing her feet to carry her along the woman's directions and eventually, she hoped, back to bed.