The Recruiter

Brian at Bonnywood Manor voiced some concern for what a female in one of his posts had done with a clown’s balloon animals. The following is an editing casualty from The Hot Girl, Part 3. Wherein a Valley Girl Prima Ballerina tells her deepest secrets and desires. Brian, your balloon animals are always safe with me.

Chix-Stix, Beach side of the 1, Central Malibu, CA (Less than a mile from Jim Rockford’s Trailer)

“Oh, awesome! Me? I would so like totally love to play softball with the TV ladies and Kenny and you and, um, like the queen of naked in a magazine girl. Which is, um, totally not right, really. I don’t think. I mean I couldn’t, even, ever…Okay.” Logan composed herself, used both hands to move her coconut chicken bites and broccoli basket half an inch.

“Like after you’re not a virgin anymore? But just because like, you know, you’ve shown it to somebody and that’s over, right, like whew, really, and maybe somebody else, too, but to totally show everybody? I mean I don’t wear much when I dance. And you can tell like how much of everything there is, boobs and butts. But you know you can’t like see them and, um, that, in leos and tights. I guess they all look alike, so what’s the big deal with me and mine, right? Unless they’re all different, boobs and butts and, um, those. But it’s like mine, okay? And, um, not everybody’s.” She moved the basket back the half inch, took a bite of broccoli.

“But it’s okay. I totally want to meet her and everything, because I’m not like prejudiced or anything as long as she’s not a for real mega whore. Is she? No, um, because you wouldn’t, I don’t think. Would you? No? Okay.” She dunked more broccoli in Ranch dressing, turned it around in her finger tips before taking a bite. “A softball team is like a corps de ballet thing, right? With all the same costumes and everything?”

“Jesus, Logan. She’s not a whore, she’s a psychologist now, and you’ll love her. You never played softball before?”

“Yes, I think. But if I haven’t? I can run and jump and they have costumes, so I can totally pretend I know how and be besties with it, ‘cause that’s what I do. Is it the one like baseball? With the boring hard bench thing? ‘Cause that’s like…Well, ewww. Fishing! Not as gross, but for real they both have like the same fun IQ as pavement. Have you ever been fishing?” She reached across the table and took his Coke. Her eyes waited politely for his answer while she drained his cup through the straw.

“My grampa was pretty into it, and we went when I —”

“I did. Once. To be nice, you know?” She set the cup back in front of him. “But what a total gross-out waste of time. This old forgot-to-shave man? He smelled really bad. Like old beer cans you pick up and throw away but sniff first? And like the dead-fish-on-ice place in the back of Safeway by the murdered cows? My dad, we went in a boat to fish with the beer can smelly man. It was like a dad and daughter thing that was totally lame. For me. Dad drank beer so I guess, um, he had fun ‘cause I had to stop talking to him after a while. And eww-my-gawd, Jax, the smelly man? He stabbed a baby fish with a big hook! Right in front of me! I was like get out baby fish murderer! Then I thought, and my dad got mad about this, that like we could go home and I didn’t have to fish anymore after that, right, ‘cause the man was putting a baby fish on my hook so dad could take a picture and be done. And because it was hot and the boat and the man were so-o stinker. And like the whole daughter fishing thing was a huge no-go for me. But dad and the man had beers left. So…”

He looked at her over his cup he’d popped the lid off of looking for anything left inside. “So?”

“So did you know that’s how they catch fish? For real! They totally murder a little baby fish and throw the whole hook thing with the murdered baby fish on it in the water! So some bigger fish will eat the murdered baby fish and get caught! ‘Hi, I’m a baby fish, just living in this bucket of water and old smelly beer and fish guy in rubber pants stabbed me and threw me out here to get eaten! That is so-o com-pletely horrible. So, um, I am like totally off fishing. For-ever. I still like shrimp ‘cause that’s like all about nets and stuff. But not lobster. Because I got in big trouble one time when I was little. This fat man my parents hired to cook lobsters for a dance reception? I told him to like go throw himself into big pot of hot water and see how he liked it. And that he was so-o lucky nobody had a humongous pot for fat lobster cooker men and he was safe until I grew up and got to be rich and had one made for him. But um, that was before I knew dancers don’t like get rich unless they marry one of those old tuxedo men with flowers. So anyway, they murder all kinds of stuff before we eat it! That’s why Kenny is like sort of a vegetarian person. She eats that noodle-y stuff and potatoes and soup. And way too many beans. And bacon. She likes that a lot. Bacon isn’t like a vegetable, it’s like pigs, I think, but she says it has a divine flavor she is totally down with, and —”

“Logan? Softball. Focus. No bench. We talk to people, they take pictures with the TV girls, which is why I need you to help when Randi and Lori —”

“That’s why! You know, why I want to be a softball girl. Because of all the TV ladies. They are so-o awesome. Can I like talk to them and everything, you know, and be like ‘Hey, TV ladies, I’m Logan Bevan-Burns and like I see you every morning inside my TV and you totally have the most amazing hair eh-ver!’ Because they like do. And like awesomeness teeth, too. Can I ask them if they like totally bummed on their braces like me?”

“Yeah, fine. But what we really need is you and Kenny to talk to the people in the bleachers, and bring that ballerina thing because little girls like that and —”

“I can dance in my softball costume? That is so off the…What do I say to them?”

“You tell the Perfectly You is Perfect story better than anyone. I can get you some cards with a good picture of you dancing and Perfectly You is Perfect on the other side. You could autograph them or write ‘keep up the hard work’ or something.”

“Borrrrrrrr-ing. More no fun IQ. What is wrong with you? When we’re little we want it like totally big, not some sweaty girl with a ‘go get’em, princess’ routine. That’s like what dads do. It’s all smelly beer cans and murdered fish and that is like duller than my rubber pirate princess knife. When my ankle was hurt and I was rehabbing and didn’t know what I wanted to do if I couldn’t dance? I worked at Disneyland. In a candy shop for, um…well, like not very long. I wanted to wear a princess costume so-o much, because, like especially Sleeping Beauty when I was there? She was such a snot! Like a ‘Now children, bee-have’ hair-sprayed TV mom and in the bathroom she called them a bunch of handsy little shits. And, well, I think they were, you know, doing that sneaky boy thing. Anyway, this really old man, they called him the princess wrangler? I made him so mad until he like cussed and everything. So I cussed back and said ‘I’m a ballerina, don’t tell me I can’t wear a princess costume because I talk too much! Like we can never, ever talk when we dance and it’s all about the costume, dancing and not talking, you know? So give me the fucking costume and I’ll shut up and show you how princess goes.’” She took a break, squirted some more ranch dressing out for the broccoli. “So. I don’t think I’ll ever be an official princess. Except in a ballet. Are they different? You know, official Disneyland and ballet princesses?”

“Princesses are princesses, I think. Ballet makes them a little more special.”

She frowned. “Only a little?”

“A lot. Softball?” All he could do was wait. “Yes” or “no” from Logan never came without a story. Several stories.

“I have a secret.”

“I’m good.” He gurgled the last of his Coke from the ice.

“So after Disneyland? I have a secret that is way more secret than even it was me who did the big SBD at Blanco’s last time we went and not the dishwasher man who came out of the bathroom that you said dropped a green bomb. I…Oh no! I told you!”

“Jesus, Logan. What secret can be more secret than you cut a weapon grade hungry ballerina fart at Blanco’s and let me blame it on an innocent dishwasher?”

“Sorr-eeee. Okay. I know Kenny paints faces ‘cause she is so like a totally talented painter and dancer person. My secret is I want to be a balloon man sculptor. In my almost official but can’t be because it would be illegal Snow White costume. I want to be an amazing, awesome, totally the best balloon man ever. Only a balloon man girl. Who tells little girls mega super big princess stories and makes them weener dogs and crowns. And flying saucers. And dragons. With balloons.”

“You want to wear a costume and make balloon things instead of play softball? I can live with —”

“No!” She reached over and knocked on his head. “Are you in there, duncemundo? I can like totally run and do that bat thing and everything in my softball costume and then change when you’re tired of me. I can’t be like boring splinter butt bench girl just talking. Mega bor-ing duh. But the balloons would make it so…” She drifted, held up a chicken strip like she was thinking about tying a knot in it. “I, um. I can’t, really. Yet. But, um…” Her secret balloon tying anxiety caused her to almost swallow the chicken bite whole. She separated the rest of her chicken bites and broccoli into neat piles on either side of the fresh squirt of Ranch, picked up one of each, dunked them and stuffed them in her mouth. He could see her thinking.

“But, um?”

“Okay. I found a man. Not like he was lost or anything, he was in the yellow pages. I went to meet him out in the Valley and everything? But he’s like a little weird and, well, mega weird squared, really. He does birthday parties for little kids and he’s like the ultra-est balloon man in the galaxy. His hands are all way ewww wrinkly and his mustache is like white but orange in the middle. And he totally smokes so much he like smokes when he’s not smoking! He said we could work something out for lessons? And I said that was like for real not happening in any universe and so then he said it’s two-hundred dollars for three nights. And I had to bring murdered cows hamburgers for his dinner. Every night! ‘Cause he said first I have to learn how to blow them, right, and then how to make them go bent when I do, and then how to make them look like something. That’s three nights? Yes! So, um, I thought you could go with me. We can take my car with the ‘thank you Jackson and Peach’ way stellar sounding tailpipe things you helped me put in.”

“You’ve thanked me like a hundred times for that when you did all the work. There were probably forty guys standing around Peach’s Garage waiting to see what a prima ballerina from Brentwood with jacked airshocks on a Firebird would do with a blow torch and pair of Cherry Bomb glasspaks. Peach couldn’t buy advertising like that. Let me get this straight, Logan.” He put everything of his on the tray and pushed it to the side. “I need to go with you to learn how to tie balloons into things like weener dogs and dragons because the balloon man is a creepy letch. And that’s two hundred bucks. After that you’re maybe going to bring an almost official Snow White costume to the games? Halfway through you’re going to stuff your pockets with balloons and make weird balloon things for everybody and tell princess stories? Probably based on ballets? Is that my picture of Logan and softball?”

“Yes! You way have it, amigo! Only like duh, Jackson. Ballets are totally based on princess stories, not the other way. And I have an apron from a wood store. You know, like the wood they build houses with? They have doors, too. At the wood store. You know, if you ever need one.” She caught his look. “A door, silly, not an apron. Anyway, the apron has biggo pockets for the balloons if Snow White is out ‘cause of the corps de ballet softball costumes. And that’s like totally okay, if it is. ‘Cause I can’t be like the only soloist, mega look-at-me ego bitch in a princess costume. That would be so-o totally wrong and I’m not, you know, like that. Unless, like when I am the soloist in the princess costume and then it’s okay if I’m a bitch ‘cause that’s for real like, um, you know, my job.” She reached over, set her pasteboard chicken and brocolli basket on his tray, took his last napkin and his wet wipe. “So now you have to kiss me out of my dress again quick before Saturday because I heard it’s like way big time against all your rules to cruise Big-O City with the softball team girls.”

“Logan, I can’t afford balloon lessons and another new coffee table. So —”

“Puh-leeze. You don’t have a coffee table, Jackson. That was at the French lady’s. You only have those like totally the best big pillows eh-ver.”

The Roommate

From ‘The Hot Girl’ Part Three

England was cold. A deep, set in cold. Not a big snowfall cold, just a background damp gets-in-your-bones cold. It was thirty-seven degrees, it had rained almost every day for the first two weeks she’d been there and tonight was no different.

“Come on. Goddammit, open.” The cold drip from the useless, narrow awning over the door was going straight between her collar and her neck. “If you don’t –” She bumped the stubborn door with her hip when she twisted the key and the solid wood door with a thousand coats of pain banged open, dropped her into the flat on her hands and knees. She crawled inside, shook off the rain like a wet Golden Retriever. A quick glance told her Merriam had a fire going, that was rare, and really nice. And music. A soft, folky kind of — “NOOOOOOO! NO NO NO! MERRIAM STOP!! I MEAN IT, DON’T. OH MY GOD. OH – MY – GOD!!” Deanna was about to bite a hole in her right index finger.

“Deanna? Lass? A ghost is it?”

“Just don’t, okay? Put it down, okay? Just…Don’t. Okay?”

“Don’t what okay?”

All Deanna could see was the straight razor in Merriam’s right hand and a guy’s rapidly failing erection in her left. He was stretched out on the nap mat in front of the fire, shirt and sweater still on, nothing below the waist. He’d rolled his head to the side to stare at her. Merriam was on the far side fully dressed, leaning on her hip, legs stretched out, working the now half-staff erection with her fingernails. There was a bottle of scotch sitting on the floor beside the guy on Deanna’s side, two short water glasses beside it. The big soap cup with JOHNSON on it that was usually on the sink in the bathroom that Deanna thought was weird but okay, if that’s how Merriam shaved her legs, was sitting on the left side of the guy’s abdomen. Kind of in the way of Deanna being able to see exactly what Merriam was doing.

The guy turned his head back to Merriam. “I’ll be seeing a knock down then, her having a look?”

“No, love, your money’s well spent. This is our American lass I told you as might be about. She’s not much for a drink or a shag or even a naughty bit of chat. Early days, though. He’s coming back, your lad. Never mind her. Sure as the sun rises she’s seen a todge or two and yours is naught to set in the record books.” She scratched his chest like a dog and giggled.

“True told but it pleasures me well enough. And thinking of her helps him along. A stunner of a drowned cat.” They both snort laughed. He raised his head more, sipped from one of the glasses.

“Lay back, love, I’ve Johnny’s full attention again.” Merriam dunked the beaver bristle brush in a bowl of water, spun it around in the JOHNSON soap cup and lathered up the floor guy’s fully recovered manhood while she held it from the tip, her fingers like a claw. She picked up the razor again, moved in with it.

Deanna screamed, banged into the end of the couch, spun off it into her room and slammed the door.

***

Twenty minutes later Merriam knocked lightly. “Deanna? All’s done.”

“I don’t want to see. I don’t want to know. I don’t.”

“Nothing to see, lass. He’s off down the pub.”

“Really? Gone? Did you clean up the blood? Oh, God. Am I in trouble just for being here?”

Merriam pushed the door open and sat on the bed next to her completely freaked out flat mate. “There was no blood. I’m a professional, lass. I’ll have an Italian peach shaved into a nectarine if I choose. Come out. The fire’s back up and your hands are ice.”

Deanna wrapped herself in a hunting scene throw from the back of Cat’s couch, sat cross legged off to the side of the fire and sipped warm, slightly scotch infused tea while she watched Merriam wipe the nap mat down with alcohol and a paper towel.

“So you just shave them? You don’t, you know, I thought you were going to, well…” she blushed. “You know, whack it off. Not like that, but…”

“A shave is all, and as some feel it they may ‘let go.’ I’ve no trouble with that unless it’s been too long and too much or they have the power of a fire hose. She held out her hands, mimicked holding a high pressure hose pulling them around. “That’s a mess as I’ve seen and cleaned and I’ll not wish for another.”

“God, Merriam, that’s disgusting.”

“The mess? It can be, but twenty quid, some double that for a shoulder or leg massage, all for a half hour spent. Nothing depraved in a shave, Cat’s ill thinking tossed. That’s my advert and that’s what I do. If they choose to bring their spunk to the mat that’s their doing, not mine.”

“No, all of it is disgusting. You played with it! Those nails of yours, I saw that. You can’t say you have nothing to do with it when he was, well, you know, all big and everything from you doing that stuff.”

“So I have a bit of play. And truth told that’s my fun in it. I rate myself a first in todger gardening without shame as I like to see a Johnny rise and bloom. There’s something for me in knowing that, and all stays free of romance or another sweaty hump and gone, mess in the bed shag. A bit of a chat and a stroke. I’m in control and I have my fun. They leave as a polished billiard’s cue and pair with a load off, and I’ve had mine.”

“But the police. What about the police, and you just sort of, well, you know doing that and everything?”

“I’ve never! I shave, I do.” She winked. “And that’s all. I’ve had a copper or two as well. One on his own and another to see as I was up to. The mug stays out and the lather goes on and it’s a shave. As told, they bring what they will, I bring a razor and cup. You truly believed me to be relieving him of his bits of man bother altogether?”

“Yes. Sorry. I just saw the razor, and him and, and…Yes.”

“Your worry was for the mess and the after, or for him?”

“No, not him. I was worried about your new rug and the blood and everything. You can cut them all off if you want, I don’t care.”

“The lad in the frame on your chest as well?”

“Especially him. Only maybe you could save it in a jar in the freezer or something and I can get it put back on him when I go home.”

Romantics

She reached out with her first two fingers, touched the painted plate at 17 Molton St, London, and  left them there as big, silent tears rolled down her cheeks. People stared, she didn’t care. Deanna had ridden the train, by herself, from Cambridge to London for this visit to the last of William Blake’s original residences, only to discover it was another commercial address, not a shrine. She finally dropped her fingers, lowered her head in disheartened resolution.

“‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe.’” A black wool coat covered arm ending in a manicured hand reached out, touched the plaque where Deanna’s fingers had been. She looked up and an elegant man, easily her father’s age or older, had taken up residence on the sidewalk beside her.

“You know about Blake? Really? That was him, the opening to London. I’ve always read it as bleak, but it was beautiful, how you quoted it. Sorry…I never…” She looked down again, the cloud over her returned.

“One needs to stand in a man’s shadow to understand his journey, and his poetry.” He handed Deanna a clean, folded, white handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. That was his story, his London. Commerce and need ruled the day in Old London Town, then as now. Blake knew that, as should you.” He took in all of Deanna, from the savage scissor attack of her hair to her ill fitting jeans and bulky sweater, the ski jacket tied around her waist and well worn running shoes, her pale complexion and sad eyes. “Student, or…” He wondered how a man his age should address a possible street girl or one of the thousands of foreign kids “finding themselves” by riding trains, smoking hash and sleeping in the growing number of hostels.

“Student. Newnham, Cambridge.” She turned, grabbed his coat behind his elbow, and glared at him. “It’s a bar, mister whoever you are. Blake’s house is a fucking bar! How can they do that?”

“It’s not him in Westminster Abbey, nor St. Mary’s. Nor any other place where they’ve hung a plaque with his name. Blake lives here,” he touched his chest over his heart. “Which I daresay is where he’d much prefer to reside with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. As much as we can know a dead man’s wishes. Step inside. It’s a landmark, not a grave. My treat?”

“NO. It’s a —”

“Fucking bar. Yes, you’ve said. And I said one should trod the path of the man and salute his memory. Sandwiches and expensive drinks with a French flair make it no less Blake’s. I’m on my own today and it has been an age, several ages I might be obliged, since I’ve enjoyed a lively discussion of Blake with an overly serious young woman.”

“Are you a professor or something?”

“Or something. If it will put you at ease, I ask only for conversation. I am not, as is commonly observed when men my age seek to engage with young women, ‘a dirty old man.’”

Deanna could tell by the long wool coat, open scarf, creases, shiny shoes and hair cut he wasn’t dirty, or too old. Too old for that, but not too old to eat lunch with like a professor. And he had quoted Blake.

They followed the hostess to a small table at the back wall where he held her chair with one hand while he draped his coat over his own, sat down across from her.

“Okay.” Deanna felt trapped against the wall. “No funny business. I don’t do that.” She watched as he settled his napkin on his thigh and pushed his menu aside and she allowed herself to absorb some of his relaxed demeanor.

“A tired girl a long way from home, who has so obviously spent her food allowance on a train ticket to London only to arrive and discover desecration of what she thought Holy, then proceed to carry on crying about it, I wouldn’t think a ‘funny business’ type.”

“How do you know? Do you look for ‘funny business’ types?”

“No. I have daughters. One of them a hopeless romantic. I cried here myself when I was seventeen. Not so anyone would know, but there I was, just as you were. Would you prefer to sit on this side, and I on yours?”

“No. No that’s…I’m okay. Now.”

“Good. Blake and a double ham croissant are on order, I believe? Swiss or?”

“Yes. Yes, Swiss. Please. Did you know…”

***

Evan Drucker stood in the entryway of his Dawson Place home, handed his wife his coat and scarf, kissed her longer than the usual peck.

“So is it takeaway or some other mischief you fancy?”

“Takeaway? I might do. I took a walk and ate out once today.”

She dropped his coat over one arm and reached for a hanger in the closet she’d opened. “You’ll have me ask again?”

“No. Have you had a call from either of the girls?”

“Not midweek. I wouldn’t, would I? They have school and lives of their own.” She hung the scarf over the coat and closed the closet door. “Now I’ll have that ask, if you don’t mind.”

“I ate lunch with our Avey today.”

“Avianna? Where?”

“Having a quiet cry at Blake’s on Molton.”

“You took her there often enough. The two of you banging on like a pair of Romantic rabblers.” She picked up the faraway look in his eyes. “Our Avey’s away at school in the States, Evan. So who was it you saw shed tears for your Blake?”

“Her name was Deanna Collings, or so she said. An American girl studying in Cambridge, come to mourn at Blake’s. Seemed quite bright and deeply informed. She was a mess of a pretty young girl, though, and scared to death. Called what’s behind Blake’s plaque ‘a fucking bar.’”

“Ah, with the mess of a look and the language then it was our Avey.” She smiled, tugged on his tie. “I hope you’re both the better, having had Blake on for lunch. The kitchen’s cold and I fancy a curry. You?”

“I fancy a prayer for all our faraway romantic daughters, and a drink.” He reached one arm around her, leaned and kissed her on the forehead, checked her expression when he let her go. “Right. And a curry.”

Clean Your Glasses

Lamar reached over the bar, picked up the remote, pushed the “return to last” button and CNN changed to a Spanish Language soap opera. He read the subtitles long enough to find out Ramon, the guy in the jet-black hairpiece, had been sleeping around on a very exotic looking woman with big, pouty lips who was pushing near R rated breast exposure in a seriously flimsy blouse. He punched in the Weather Channel. He knew all about last night’s storms because that was all every local station covered with their roaming interns standing in front of trashed houses interviewing old ladies with pocket dogs and tattooed chainsaw men who spit tobacco. He pushed the number he thought would give him a Hart to Hart rerun on the oldies channel and got Mr. Rogers on PBS. He set the remote down.

Neeko reached in front of him, put the remote back behind the bar. “Reagan’s gonna look up, see that sweater and know it was you.”

“Only place I can think of where the neighborhood is having a lovely day. And he’s dead, so what’s that say?”

“Fred was a hell of a piano player. Always wanted a pair of his slippers.”

“My dad had his sweater. Not the same, somehow.”

“Would you have wanted Mr. Rogers for your dad?”

Lamar pushed the bowl of Low Sodium pretzels towards Neeko. “No. We had a train set, though. Wasn’t very magical. Dad kept changing up the layout and cussin’ when there was a short in the track somewhere. Only ran right about half the time.”

“Sounds like the government.” Neeko made a face and pushed the pretzels back. “Things taste like cardboard, Lamar. We didn’t have a train set at my house, but I was told by my mother that my sisters pooped rose petals and all girls were princesses. And that we should all try to get along and do something constructive with our day. I think she might have been Mrs. Rogers.”

“That’s it right there. Do something constructive.” Lamar waited until the handful of cardboard pretzels he’d popped were gone. “Damn I’m sick of politics. Everything is push back. People trying to push the culture back fifty years, people having duck shit hissy fits about keeping things they didn’t want five or ten or twenty years ago. Enough, you know? Shut up, put the phone down, go to work, fix it.”

Reagan draped her bar towel over her shoulder, leaned both hands on the bar. “I go to the kitchen to see why it was taking them fifteen minutes to get a gourmet hamburger out during business lunch and what do I find? You two still here and Mr. Rogers. Jesus, Lamar. I thought you were a Hart to Hart man.”

“I’m a Rockford man, actually.”

“A clumsy, inept, step on your dick then shoot yourself in the foot three times getting where you need to go man? Sounds like our government to me.” She looked around the bar, none of the lunch stragglers were paying attention to the televisions. She picked up the remote from behind the beer taps, pointed it at the cable box and switched back to the soap, set the remote down on the back bar out of reach. When she turned back she caught the looks from Neeko and Lamar. “What? They wear the best clothes on this one. I wonder if guys in Mexico really walk around in bullfighter pants like the Mariachi’s at El Fenix, only without shirts.”

“According to the girl with all the hair and not much blouse they all have one or two too many girlfriends.” Lamar drained his lemonade, picked up a few more low sodium pretzels.

“It’s the bullfighter pants.” Neeko winked at Reagan. “Makes them irresistible. Maybe we should get you a pair, Lamar. They’re so tight it would give you something to bitch about besides politics. And the extra girlfriends would put your wife right up your butt.”

“Funny guy. I’m not bitching about politics, I’m tired of hearing about politics. It sounds like an unsupervised grade school playground. Like they all need to watch Mr. Rogers, get on the train, get their shit sorted in the magic kingdom and realize they’re getting paid to run the country, not tweet their brain farts and refuse to engage in some kind of constructive dialogue. All the talking heads and their bullshit opinions and speculating and theorizing. They’re no better than the Ancient Aliens people. We don’t know how it got this fucked up, we can’t seem to fix it, so we’ll blame it on each other or little green men or immigrants or the Russians or the right or the left and it’s just a giant babbling blame fest.”

Reagan wiped the bar with one hand, gave Lamar a fresh lemonade with the other. “It’s all over the internet. People unfriending each other, claiming to turn off the TV and stop the constant barrage and getting sucked right back in. I read where depression has cranked way up. It really is almost too much non-information.”

Neeko held up his empty glass for a refill. “It is depressing when all you get from your leadership is drama and everywhere you look the ‘Oh me, oh my God, it’s the end of the world’ crowd gets into it. I unhooked from a lot of websites myself. Re-blogged hate and blame and conspiracies. Couldn’t handle it. Whine, whine, whine. The worst thing is nobody is trying to fix it. They just bitch and point fingers and whine. What’s so funny, Lamar?”

“I worked for a man one time…” He twirled the straw in his drink, slowly. “Let me back up. We had this guy, all he could do was complain. About everything. Manufacturing, marketing, admin. The dealers. Bitch, bitch, bitch. No solutions, just complaints. His whole world was a righteous, unproductive, incompetent mess that was everyone else’s fault and he let everybody know. He was a real no rainbows kind of guy. One day, after a couple years of that, we’re in a meeting and he doesn’t say a word. Not a damn thing except ‘thank you’. It was like we’d done a meeting and didn’t feel like we needed to Febreeze our brains when it was over.” Lamar hit his lemonade, chuckled a little.

“So?” Reagan cocked her head to the side. “A little long on fond workplace memories, way short on point. You need to take a nap, adjust your medication?”

“Right.” He pointed a finger pistol at Reagan, “Bang,” acted like it kicked. “I was in the owner’s office a couple of nights later, doing a midnight save-the-world over an expensive scotch meeting, and I mentioned Steve, the no rainbow guy’s, turnaround. Asked the boss if he had anything to do with it. He nodded, said ‘I told him a little story I like to tell when folks around here get all doomsday. When I’d just started this place we were broke, the bank here in town wouldn’t loan me the damn money to buy a van to run parts between two old barns we were using for plants back then. I was feelin’ mighty sorry for myself, close to throwin’ in the towel. I went to eat dinner out at my Daddy’s house. I bitched and moaned, told him how bleak my world was, how nobody gave a rat’s ass if I made it or not. I was just some crazy redneck boy with a soldering iron and I’d never amount to nothin’. Daddy, he thought a minute, said ‘Son, there’s always hope. You just have to figure out how to fix it.’ Well I bitched and moaned some considerable bit more and asked him, thinkin’ he’d tried to pass me on down the road with some light at the end of the tunnel platitude bullshit, ‘how the hell am I supposed figure that out, how to fix it?’ He looked at me like if was still young enough he’d have bent me over his knee, and he says ‘Don’t know how the hell you ever gonna see how to fix anything, boy.’ I was an upstart young smart aleck back then and I said ‘You know what my problem is, old man, why don’t you tell me?’ Well, Daddy just sat there, looked at me like I was dumbass personified. He popped the top on a nasty Falstaff, I remember this clear as the day it happened, and he pointed the foamy top of that can at me and said ‘You keep lookin’ at the world through shit colored glasses, son, what the hell do you expect to see?’”

The silence in their little circle was weightless. Reagan switched the television back to Mr. Rogers. “The only reason I put up with you two gents is the stories. You know that, right?”

“We tip okay, too. For disenfranchised old white guys who didn’t vote the way everyone thinks we did.”

“Voting is what matters. I need to put this place back together for dinner. Both of you, get out of here, put on your Mr. Rogers sweaters and go tell everyone what a lovely neighborhood it would be if they all voted.” She grinned, threw the bar towel at Lamar. “And clean their glasses while you’re at it.”

 

No small hat tip to Hartley Peavey
Photo from the internet. If it’s yours, holler.

Russian Interference

Saturday, Noonish, Connie’s Frozen De-lites – Venice Beach, CA

“Hey, Stuart.” She smiled, wiped her hands on a red and white striped towel. “The usual?”

“Hey, Connie. Yeah. Extra walnuts?”

“Got it. We ever gonna see another album out of you guys?”

“Not as soon as we wanted. This one was spread out all over the place, keeping Dooce and Freemont out of each other’s way. Dooce played the same freakin’ guitar solo on like three tunes. We didn’t catch it till last night.”

She pulled a scoop out of a small bucket of water, bent over into the freezer. “The same? Really?”

“Close enough. Bobcat sent him to the woodshed with a thermos of expresso loaded Starbucks, a stack of old Benny Goodman jazz albums and a bag of some different weed. He’s been smoking the same shit since the Super Bowl party where he brought in his crop. We all think he just needed to change his channel.” He glanced up for a second. “Gulls are noisy as all hell this afternoon.”

“It’s the stale chips box-lunch tourists.” She looked over his head, pointed with her chin. He turned, sure enough. The smoked glass limo bus had unloaded for lunch on the beach and the air was full of seagulls and the ground covered in tossed stale potato chips.

“I liked it better when they went straight to Disneyland. If they’re going to stop, they could pull up closer to your ice cream coach.”

“No thanks. Tourists, no English, all the pointing, the gulls pooping on everything and all that? Foreigners don’t tip for shit, anyway. I’ll live.”

He nodded agreement, watched Connie the ice cream truck girl embed walnuts into his French Vanilla ice cream. Listened her talk about her dogs while she hammered nuts and ice cream into coexistence on a piece of marble tile. She really enjoyed her job and smiled a lot, always made it an enjoyable experience to buy ice cream from her. She’d told him once it was because a lot of things in her life got worked out on that piece of marble.

He thanked her, took the cone hand off, put a dollar in the tip jar and didn’t bother to look up when he stepped away and onto the sidewalk.

There was a scream. He heard it just before a violent collision sent him off across the grass rolled up in a ball of asses, knees and elbows with someone. They ricocheted off a fifty-five-gallon drum turned trash can ten yards from their point of impact and came to rest a few yards from the can. He and whoever, they seemed to be made out of nothing but lightly oiled caramel colored velvet that smelled like coconut oil and flowers, were twisted into a human Rubik’s cube. And his left shoulder? Gaw-awd dammit. A female voice with a mild Russian accent was talking to his nose. She hadn’t lost her Doublemint gum in the collision and was calm, in spite of whatever had happened. She had great teeth and her nose, all of her he could really see, looked like the rest of her felt. Slightly oily.

“Nice to meet you, ice cream no pay attention boy. Dangerous, your way you meet girls. Just to say ‘Hi, girl,’ is too much? For you? You wave. Maybe I stop. Only maybe.” She unhooked from him, one arm and one leg at a time, from under and around him. She rolled out and away and ended up sitting cross legged and straight armed, hands on her knees. He was on his back, one knee up, his left shoulder on fire. She looked at him like he was some curiosity that had fallen out of the sky. A block of frozen pee from an airliner maybe. Or maybe a piece of Sputnik. She held out her hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

“You said that.”

“You forgot the polite way of how to meet a girl, no pay attention, no apology ice cream boy. So I try again for you. Taisia. Nice to meet you?”

He raised his arm from the elbow, hand up. “Stuart.” She squeezed his hand like it had juice in it she needed for something. “Ow. Say that again. Twa-waw-ayzeeah?”

“Close. Taw-eezh-ee-uh. You should see in Cyrillic. It becomes more clear for you.”

“No, I shouldn’t.” He rolled onto his right side dragging his left arm and shoulder. “Fuckin’ ow! Jesus.” He stared for a split second. “Do you like wax your entire body?”

“No. Only where you should not be looking so close if you are hurt. For those places you should be one hundred percent of yourself. You? Maybe one hundred and ten. Or twenty.” She leaned forward, pushed him over on his back, sat on his chest and frowned while she worked her hands over his left shoulder. Her bikini was one of those three poker chips and a couple of shoelaces jobs, and she didn’t wax everywhere. He knew because he was so engrossed in the way the sun and her body fuzz were working together with the perfumed coconut oil that she had to tell him twice to rotate his arm and shoulder.

“With you I repeat everything? Why is that? Nothing broken, you will live. Something hit you?”

“You.”

“No. I am strong but I am a girl and not so hard to cause pain.”

He thought he might be getting that way and was glad when she stood and pulled him up by his right arm.

“Shirt.” She held out her hand, waited. He obeyed and she got right up on the non-bloody cross-shaped dark purple dent at the very top of his upper left arm. She walked off tip toe on her skates and re-set the trash barrel they’d knocked over, held his shirt sleeve up to where the welded angle iron support frame crossed in the front of the barrel, and nodded.

“Is here.” She pointed at her discovery and a rusty cross on his t-shirt sleeve, looked at him, pleased with her space case ice cream cone boy meets six-foot-four Amazon Russian skater girl train wreck forensics. “Is better you than me, no attention ice cream boy.”

“Any gentleman points for that?”

“Not today.” The backhanded t-shirt hit him in the face with some force. She bent over and started to pick up the trash scattered in their wreck. Jesus, she shouldn’t be…

He pulled the shirt on and squatted to help her with the trash, eyes wide. Sweet, sweet Jesus. He almost forgot about his shoulder before he suggested that she might follow his lead in the squat versus bend.

They dropped the last waxed coke cup and hot dog wrapper back in the can. She brushed her hands together, made a face, wiped and squeezed them on the back pockets of his Levis. Jeeeez-zus. She could charge for that.

“You have car? Mine is too far. I will drive. For X-rays. Come.”

“In skates?”

She stitched her eyebrows together, looked at him like he was the most pathetic dumbass on the planet. “Of course, I remove them before. I am smart Russian girl, not Polak joke person.”

“You have a license somewhere?” No more bikini than she had on he didn’t want to start guessing.

“Commercial. In my skate.” She let a small grin run across her face, looked at him like she knew what he’d been thinking.

“Cool.” He handed her his keys. “It’s a stick. Can you handle it?”

“Stick?” She spun his key ring into her palm. “All the men, they say to me, ‘Taisia, is like tree, can you handle it?’” She gave him a slightly crooked smile. “Today is good because at last I meet one honest American ice cream boy. I like you too much already.” The open-palm whack between his shoulder blades rattled his teeth. Jee-eez-us. He had towels in the trunk. He’d find a way to get her to sit on one and not get that oily business all over his seats.

***

Sunday, 10:47 AM – La Brea, CA

Burke noted the shocky teenage girl in a white apron sitting on the curb with a plainclothes female from Hollywood Division, thought it best to leave them alone. He flashed his badge at the uniform on yellow tape duty and swam upstream against a small army of exiting haz-mat suited forensics people and into the back of the La Brea Haagen-Dazs.

“Morning, Burke.” His task force partner, a young woman from the FBI named Laschelle, handed him a coffee.

“They open already?”

“Nope. I worked at a Farrells up in the Bay in high school. All the coffee machines are the same. I’m Federal. Who’s gonna complain?” She motioned him closer, lifted the lid on a three-gallon ice cream bucket.

“Holy…Goddammit…” Burke jerked his head up and back, collected himself before he looked back down at the severed head covered with walnuts in an otherwise empty French Vanilla ice cream bucket. “Anyone we know?”

“Musician. Stuart O’Connell? Uniforms found his car burned out in a West Hollywood alley. The bucket came from yesterday’s trash. He’s fresh.”

“This is what, five?”

“Six, if you count that one on the cactus at the Harbor Freeway onramp.”

“No note on that one, I’m still not sure. Walnuts are a nice touch. Any reason, you think?” He popped a stick of clove gum, offered.

“No thanks. Shit smells like funked up old shoes, Burke. Too early in the morning.”

“Sorry. The walnuts?”

“Who knows. Do you think there’s a reason for any of these?”

“I’m starting to think one of you is unhappy with my side of the gender line’s manners. Note?”

“Of course.” She handed him the index card, the note written in purple lipstick.

He should have apologized – He shouldn’t have stared

Forty Pounds, Naked

I was asked for more Meyers. So here’s most of an honest-to-God chapter from “The Hot Girl”.

Cambridge U.K., Wednesday, June 13, 1979

“What the fuck?” Deanna shook the satiny bathrobe Michael handed her after she’d set her purse down and taken off her jacket.

“Can’t have you spoil the illusion by ‘in off the street to nude’ in front of everyone.” He put a hand between her shoulder blades and gave her a gentle shove toward a DIY four-panel room divider made of old doors. “Did you get my message about loose clothes, no underthings?”

“Yes, but…” She turned around and had to walk backwards because he was right there and kept coming. “But I hate braless, all bouncing around and cold and everything. Unless I’m just home or something. And no panties? I mean how gross is that? I mean it, what the fuck, Michael?”

“Tight clothes and elastic leave lines where a discerning eye would rather none.”

“So? I’m not a nude model.”

He pulled one of the end screen panels almost to the wall in front of himself to enclose her, stuck his head in. “You are tonight.”

“I am not! I don’t do the nudist thing. I did that once on accident water skiing and lost a sixty-dollar bikini. And six weeks of a summer with someone I was in…who was important.”

He pulled the screen panel open, stepped right into her face. “Shut it. Now. You took the forty. To model. What did you think they wanted to see? A skinny yank in out-sized clothes? You’ve nothing special to keep hidden away. On a right day you’re no more than a knackered mop stood on end.” His scowl intensified for a few seconds before it vanished when he glanced at the clock on the far wall. “They’re setting their places. Clothes or no clothes, on the stand or down the stairs, as you will. Six minutes.”

At seven-thirty she stepped around the edge of the screen of doors in the satiny robe, scared, timid, shaking and determined. Knackered mop? Insulting her pride to get her naked? Another gamey asshole trick. Mother fuc— she flashed the Miss Popularity smile that she had resurrected by necessity, stepped up onto a homemade riser covered in a worn-out oriental rug and topped with a faded Victorian bench. She slid out of the robe in a move she’d seen in some old black and white movie. Godammit, she couldn’t smile like this all night, and big-bottom Michael needed to turn the heater up. Way up. “Summer” in England was a lie.

Cambridge U.K., Wednesday, June 20, 1979

A room full of male and female pensioners, a perv professor and Michael had enjoyed spending three hours spread over two ninety-minute sessions with a too thin, starkly attractive, non-speaking naked young girl so frightened that you could see it in her eyes. She’d presented them with a vulnerability rarely seen in nude models, something Michael had captured with a camera so that he could paint her himself when he had time. The perv professor, Dr. David Childs, had logged that child-like fear as well.

“No, David.” Michael shook his head slowly and spoke like he was dealing with a four year-old. “The Fifty is for the ring to come and have a look, and the forty I’m out for getting her here.”

“You are aware of my delicate financial situation, Michael. Couldn’t we —”

“Ninety, David. Or I’ll call Lady Childs for it and your financial situation will indelicately vaporize.”

David counted out the ninety, slapped them into Michael’s outstretched hand. “Beastly excuse for a man you are.”

“Comes with the under compensated instructor’s crown, you know that well enough.” Michael folded the bills and shoved them in his front pocket.

“She’s a bit of Bohemian, that’s something different. But I have several on my list ahead of her. You will keep her between us?”

“Our own private Bohemian rhapsody, David. I’ll let you know how she goes.”

Michael put his hand on David’s shoulder and ushered him out of the doorway he’d blocked with his lingering, said “Good Night” to his last pensioner and locked the door from the inside. Unlike Dr. Childs, he didn’t have a rich wife, a title, or a list of girls to work his way through before he got to this one.

“Michael?” Deanna tossed the robe over the top of the screen in another old movie move. “Are we going to talk about the cross curriculum symbolism? I made some time for us, and a list.”

He unzipped his pants and shoved the room divider open. “Knob bob time best served before wordplay, Miss Collings. I’d ask to have at down below but that’s a right lion’s head you’ve got between your legs.” He reached for her and his pants hit his ankles. Hers were only halfway up when she let go of them to slide out the backside of the screen and shuffled off to grab her purse, book bag and coat. Michael almost tripped backing out of the screen, and after two shuffle steps himself he grabbed the back of a chair, hop danced his feet out of captivity, lunged and caught her. She spun away from him, but her feet, still bound by her jeans, didn’t follow her. He caught her by the upper arm, dragged her to the riser and tossed her like a rag doll onto the ratty upholstered Victorian bench she’d modeled on. The good news was she’d lost the jeans along the way, the bad news was she bounced off the bench, down onto the riser, rolled to its edge feet first, and then off. She tried to stay up but her momentum, balance and sock feet were at cross purposes. In an effort to stay upright she clutched at an easel and when she knew she was on the way down, with or without it, she heaved the easel at one of the tall glass windows in the second story studio. The sound of the window shattering seemed to last for hours.

Michael picked her up, propped her on the riser. “Are you done?”

“Yes. No! I’m finished, not done. I’m not a fucking cake. Are you?”

“A cake? No, I’m not a bloody cake. Well done I am, thanks to you.” He looked through the hole where the window had been while he pulled on his baggy pants and reloaded his shirt tail. Deanna had never heard so many different emotions in the word “shit” before. Maybe it was an artist thing. She heard the sirens and said it herself.

***

“No ma’am. Really. I didn’t ‘fancy’ him. At all.” Deanna had been through the interview three times and wanted to go home. Before the sun came up. She leaned her head next to the police woman’s and lowered her voice. “He’s got a big butt, for a guy. You know? I don’t know about you, but my dream guy isn’t shaped like a pear.”

The WPC snorted into the back of her hand so hard she dropped her pen. “Very well. You’re not being formally charged with anything, Miss Collings. If you change your mind you might still give us ring about him.” She looked over at the lead officer who nodded. “Pick up your things, Miss Collings. You may go. Quietly.”

Deanna shouldered her way around the red-faced lorry driver whose windscreen had gotten smashed when the easel dropped into the street, two uniformed policemen who chuckled at her and a no-nonsense looking man in a lightweight rain jacket who reminded her of someone she thought she’d seen before.

Michael said “Good night” again, this time to the police contingent, found himself alone with the no-nonsense man who volunteered to help tape cardboard over the broken window.

No-nonsense used his teeth to tear a piece of duct tape from the roll he was holding, held it up to the wall while Michael pushed the cardboard into place.

“Busy night for an art teacher.”

“Bloody stupid fucking skinny cow. Forty pounds to stand about naked, not a thank you in her. And I’m done for the window.”

“Insurance will have the lorry’s windscreen, all’s fair. You pushed her, and they’re not all up for an indifferent shag. I’ll have the film roll, if you don’t mind.”

“You’ll be?”

“Meyers.” He ran the strip of tape down the side of the cardboard in a quick, smooth motion.

“Well, Meyers,” Michael held the right side of the cardboard up and waited for tape. “I do mind. I shot it, it’s mine and I’ll have my forty again and more out of her, one way or another.”

“Or…One way or another I’ll have the film. Day’s end, Michael? This window was all of yours needed breaking on a Cambridge summer’s eve.”

Out of the corner of his eye Michael took in his helper, snapped to the fact that nude photos of the girl and some possible extra income from them weren’t worth a trip to the emergency room. They swapped out holding the cardboard and Michael took a couple of steps to a cluttered desk. He rummaged around, popped the film from his camera and tossed it to Meyers. “She was just another nude model who turned out to be a bit of bad idea. Who is she to you?”

“All I know is someone who worries puts money in my account. Still early days for her and me.” The film disappeared into Meyers’ pocket. “That said,” he tore another piece of tape with his teeth. “She appears to be a girl who can turn a bit of bad idea into a shit grenade. Tape?”

Edited to remove references to people and events not in evidence

Knock Knock

Late Summer 1967, Paris, France

She stood in the window, interlaced her fingers, stretched her arms over her head and yawned, felt her long, silk nightgown almost too much to be wearing against the sun. Three months ago she had been Amanda Vincent. Twenty-two, Masters with Honors from Cambridge, madly in love enough with a beautiful French-Italian playboy to walk out in the middle of her Ph.D. in International Finance. This late Monday morning she was young bride of three months Amanda Morisè, daydreaming out the window of a third-floor Montmartre apartment at the noise and dust of Paris, the memory of day long lovemaking fresh in her mind. It was late summer, warm, close. A light knock on the door brought her back to Earth.

She answered the knock to find a young woman much like herself, wearing a soft cotton summer dress, hair pulled up loosely against the heat, her arms crossed at her wrists, waiting. She had the bluest eyes Amanda had ever seen.

“Amanda? Amanda Morisè?” From the sound of her voice her visitor was very French. And on the verge of impatience overcoming her mannered demeanor. “Je peut entrer? To speak a moment? The matter I think most important?”

Amanda was still somewhere between her daydreams and the young woman standing in the open door. “Yes. Yes…of course. My manners escape me…”  As her visitor passed she thought that if whatever was holding her guest’s hair together let go, it might just explode off her head.

“You possess the mind of his charm, Madame,” her guest said as she passed. “I am Alixandrie. It is too formal, I agree. I am called Alix. As in your America, now we shake the hands, oui?” The blue-eyed girl’s English was much better than Amanda’s French. Alix declared a halt to further polite formalities and launched into a story, told in a series of broken sentences wrenched from the center of her being. Some tears were shed in the telling and it ended with “I believe you also are married to my husband, Yannick Morisè.”

“No, that’s quite impossible,” Amanda’s tone completely dismissive of Alix’s story of a whirlwind romance followed closely by betrayal. “I know you’re upset, but you’ve made a mistake. I’m sorry for whatever your husband may have done, but my husband left just this morning for Marseille. His name is Yannick, but it’s not an unusual name, neither is Morisè.” Her daydreams returned, she saw them eating breakfast together, barely clothed, he spanked her lightly on her behind as she walked past him with her coffee. How, as he was leaving, he had bent over, dropped an end of his tie down her robe, raised his eyebrows, smiled when it followed him as he stood after a quick, deep kiss goodbye.

“No! No, I tell you he is in a house in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, half of one hour’s train ride from Paris. He believes I have come to Paris to discover an answer of my pregnancy. You are assured, Madame Morisè, I am not. I have come to meet you, the wife he married two weeks after me. Of treachery as such, be most assured!”

Alix removed a note card from her black leather clutch with an address in Saint-Germain printed at the top. “I am not believed? By you, his beautiful American woman? Tomorrow he will be away the day. If not for you, perhaps another wife? The Mademoiselle of flowers waits in the road from the station of trains. Show her this.” She took Amanda’s hand and smashed the card in her palm. “She will show the way to you. Tomorrow.” Her face softened. “Offer her kindness, please, the flowers girl. If what is discovered in Saint-Germane you cannot believe? No more will I speak of it to you.”

The blue of Alix’s eyes burned through the redness of recent tears straight into Amanda’s own before she gently moved a strap of Amanda’s nightgown back onto her shoulder, turned and walked quietly away. The soft fragrance of fresh flowers followed her. She put Amanda in mind of a small, beautifully sad garden as she pulled the door closed softly behind her, not quite closing it all the way.

Amanda looked at the card. Quite a girl, and even more of a story. Yes, Yannick had married her in a quiet civil ceremony, that was true. Often accused by the press of squandering his inheritance on a laundry list of immoral pursuits, he’d told her he needed no more publicity. That it was best his enemies, even his friends, not know that he now had such a beautiful wife. She had agreed. He could get her to do whatever he wanted. The things he said, the things he did to her, with her…It was all a lie. It must be. A jealous girlfriend with a story, attempting to start some girl nonsense. She would go to Saint-Germaine in the morning and get the truth from the lovely little French girl with her wild hair, blue eyes, and pathetic little lie.

***

When shown the card, the flower girl said “Oh, Oui,” and spoke rapidly and only  in French that she knew the way, offered to walk with Amanda.

“No, thank you.” Amanda tried to politely extricate her hand from the flower girl’s. “I prefer the quiet. It’s so unlike Paris.” She tried in English, and her best French, the flower girl not understanding. Amanda finally said, “Mercì” for the all the girl’s pointing and handed her a silver 10 Franc coin, which made the flower girl squeal, take Amanda’s hand back and kiss it until she had to pull it away.

The tiny house was no more than a half a mile from the station, off a narrow street. She passed through the hedge wall in front and knocked with purpose. Alix answered and the door opened into a cool, dark room. Amanda wanted to say “Show me your evidence, tell me your tale, cry and let me leave. My husband will be home tomorrow.” Alix’s blue eyes were burning, lighting up the dark entryway. Amanda decided she might be better served with tact. It wouldn’t kill her to be polite. The girl was obviously hurt, give her a chance. Hear her out. It was a lovely village, so quiet after Paris, and Alix’s cottage was remarkably cool.

“I have said you are most beautiful,” Alix pulled the runaway strands of Amanda’s hair from her cheek, pushed them gently behind her ear. “Sad, no? Two beautiful women should meet such as this, our lives entwined in deceit.”

“I’m still certain there’s been a mistake of some kind, I —” Alix’s touch had been light as a feather, warm and cool at the same time…

“I talk too much to you, his beautiful American woman. See your ‘husband,’ Yannick Morisè. Come.”

Amanda had heard at Cambridge, mostly by way of racial innuendo, that French girls were temperamental, hot headed. Meaner than Spanish girls, smarter than English girls, sexier than Italian girls. This was always said by someone in a pub, in a fake French accent. It might just be true.

She followed Alix down a short hallway to a small bedroom dominated by a double bed, the window at the foot of it open where a light breeze drifted in, bringing with it a garden awash in flowers. It felt like home should feel. No, this wasn’t Paris. A view of trees some ten yards distant replaced the dusty haze that surrounded the Eiffel tower. The soft rustling of the hedge, the flowers. It was serene, like she was inside of poetry, so –

Alix practically ripped the doors off a double armoire, banging them violently on the cabinet’s side. Inside, Yannick’s signature blousy, white collarless shirts he had handmade in Florence hung there in testament to his presence. His white collared dress shirt from the High Street in Oxford. No…Surely, they weren’t her Yannick’s. They couldn’t be.

Alix picked up a man’s lacquered jewelry box, dumped the contents on the armoire’s shelf and tossed the box to the floor. Amanda recognized a familiar pair of cufflinks, the Tissot watch she had bought him as a wedding gift. No, no, no…She lifted the watch as if it were unreal, turned it over to see the “Love Always, C.A.M.” she’d had engraved on the back. She was shaking. She tugged on a shirt, softly at first, then violently, ripping it from its hanger to stare blankly at the tailor’s mark on the bottom. YFM, a number. It was true. It was all true. The compact bundle of electric French girl had told her the truth.

Alix saw her start to fold and set her on the edge of the bed, keeping her hands on Amanda’s shoulders. “No more tears. No more for this bastard, our ‘husband,’ will there be tears. Your Father has wealth I am certain?”

“Yes.” She felt dizzy, sick…

“As also mine. This Yannick desires more than beauty or sex, our money to waste. Do not faint on me, Amanda. The steps we take most severe to destroy him, he will not destroy us.” She looked Amanda in the eye, shook her shoulders. “We have the means. In France also the women may judge these things. Divorce him together, destroy him together. Together. For all women we shame this misery from the face of France!”

Alix left the room and returned with brandy in a water glass, gave it to Amanda and waited a few minutes for it to hit. When Amanda had calmed, Alix walked with her slowly, held her hand all the way to the station where they sat together on a worn, wooden bench and waited for the train. “Be strong for us,” Alix whispered when she kissed Amanda on the cheek before releasing her to board the train. “Be. Strong.”

***

Alix had said “We must be taken ill when he returns to us. He cannot touch us. No sex, no control, unable to attend the bank for him? He will go mad.” Amanda stuck to her orders from Alix, feigned “ill”, kept her mouth shut while her anger and her heart simmered into a slow boil for the two days Yannick was home before he was off to Florence on “business.”

Amanda had not only inherited her father’s money, but her one character flaw as well. Impatience. She didn’t wait well, didn’t like, as her father had said, to “let shit ride.” Now she’d let some sweet talking, hot love making pretty boy French bastard take over her body, her mind, her very soul. Let him blind her, blindside her, and marry her just two weeks after he’d married a wild, rich, blue-eyed French girl. Who the hell did he think he was?

Whatever Yannick’s business in Italy, it had been unpleasant. On his return he was irritable, needed a shave, needed a shower, wanted a woman. He drank champagne from the bottle, directed loud, profane insults at Amanda in three languages, asked her why did he have a sick wife he couldn’t fuck? She lost it. Told him she knew. About Alix, about all of it. Because some “arrogant, idiot, dickless bastard had left a watch in a cottage in Saint-Germain.” She called him “the most useless piece of shit excuse for a man ever born.” An outburst that left her on the floor of their bathroom semi-conscious with a broken jaw, a cracked cheekbone and two fewer teeth than she’d had that Sunday morning. Lying on the floor, consciousness fading, all she could think of was Alix. Unaware, alone, and directly in Yannick’s path. He had stormed out in such a rage. He was dangerous. Alix needed to get away…To be safe…Amanda passed out thinking of her, of Alix, the French girl with those blue, blue eyes.

Yannick arrived in Saint-Germaine, at least as drunk and more self-righteously enraged than when he’d left Paris. Alix refused to let him in, but she did let him make enough noise pounding on the door and screaming profanity at her to wake her neighbors. He found an axe leaning against the woodpile, used it to break down the front door. When he was at last standing inside, dripping sweat, axe raised and with a dozen or so neighbors looking on, Alix shot him four times with the Walther PPK her father had taken from a dead German officer in 1944. She dropped the pistol on Yannick’s body when she stepped over it and through the splintered door into the late summer night. She would take the next train to Paris, find the beautiful American woman and tell her the good news. Tell her how a passionate, blue eyed French girl with impossible hair had begun to feel about her, see what she thought about that.

Revised and Updated