I climbed into the passenger seat of Lisa’s big black SUV, waiting at the employee exit, and buckled my seat-belt.
“Well, how’d it go?” Lisa looked at me expectantly, even eagerly.
“Went great,” I said. “I marched in there and laid it all out for him. I said, ‘Mr. Huge I’ve been with Huge Manufacturing for over six years now. My department is always on time and under budget. During the course of my tenure here, I have never gotten a raise. I never asked for a raise, but this year, I need a raise sir.’ I was keeping it respectable and civilized.”
“Good, good,” Lisa said. She was getting excited I could tell ‘cause she was driving faster. “How big a raise did he give you?”
She looked at me with daggers in her eyes, “He did give you a raise, didn’t he?”
“Uhm, well, not yet.”
I couldn’t resist – had to have another go with this prompt!
Me and ‘Klondike’ secured the dynamite, and stuff, without any problem at all. We took ten sticks. Ten seemed like a lot, but the railroad would never miss it.
The plan was to collapse the ends of the box canyon and take the payroll money off the stage.
“There’s gotta be at least $10,000 on that stage,” Klondike mused as we hatched the plan.
“We don’t know how to blast dynamite,” I mentioned.
“Chang does though,” said Klondike. “We’ll Shanghai him and make him tell us.” Chang was the explosives guy for the railroad.
“Or, we could tell him the plan and ask him to help.” I countered. “That’s enough money to split three ways.”
Chang agreed to assist us. He used two sticks to blow the far end of the canyon. He strategically positioned two more sticks at the entrance. That left us six more to toss at the Pinkerton guards who would be accompanying the stage. Klondike said it would take the fight out of ‘em.
We watched the stage come around the first bend of the canyon.
“Blow it now,” Klondike yelled excitedly at Chang.
“Not yet,” Chang waited, smiling, and watched the scene unfold, below.
The kitchen door swung open and Maureen swept in on that wave of activity and motion that seemed to propel her everywhere she went. Things were always happening around her. Maureen lived a whirlwind of a life and, always had. Her long silver hair glimmered in the sunlight that came through the window over the sink.
She set an orange canvas bag on the counter with a baguette sticking out.
All she said was, “Hey Pete. Watcha doin’?”
“I’m cooking some pasta sauce and looking at this book I bought at the Simpson’s garage sale for a dollar. It’s got lots of pictures of Madonna naked in it.” I smiled and held it up.
She smiled back at me, “You’re such a pig.” She said.
“Yeah, well Linda sold it to me. She had it hidden in a box under the table. I don’t think Dan knows that she unloaded it. That alone made it worth buying. It might be years before he realizes it’s missing. I just gotta figure out where I’m going to keep it. Probably shouldn’t be my new ‘coffee table book’. Dan’ll see it and the Freddy’ll see it too.” Freddy was my grandson. Lil’s boy, he was 11 years old – way too young for naked Madonnas.
Maureen pulled out the chair next to me at the kitchen table and skritched it over so she was next to me. “Lemme see,” she ordered so we looked at pictures and laughed for awhile.
I’ve know Maureen since before first grade. We grew up together. She was my ‘best man’ when I married Linda and I was her ‘maid of honor’ when she married Rob.
Truth be told she is probably one of the reasons that Linda left me for Dan. Linda couldn’t understand how a man and a woman could be friends and not be lovers.
Maureen and Rob were married for almost 30 years before Rob passed away. Rob understood friendships he never worried about the bond between me and Maureen. Rob was a good friend too.
Turned out that Maureen had some penne pasta in that orange bag with the baguette she stayed for dinner and after we cleaned up she told me that she had something she wanted to discuss with me. We sat back down at the kitchen table.
“I’m going to sell my house, Pete.” Whoa, no beating around the bush with Maureen but, there never had been.
“Why, what’s happened?”
“When Rob was sick it sucked up most of our savings. If I don’t sell the house the bank’s going to take it.”
“I can give you money. How much do you need.”
“I don’t want your money, Pete. I have a proposal for you.”
“Oh, oh going into business with your friends is a great way to lose friends,” I grinned at her. She simply carried on. Obviously she had given this a lot of thought.
“I’ve got a good amount of equity in my house that I’ll have access to when I sell. I was thinking that I could take some of that money and pay off your house. I could move in here and neither of us would have a house payment. I know how much you owe on your mortgage it would take less than a quarter of my equity to pay off your loan. What do you think?” She took a deep breath and looked at me with wide open eyes, almost pleading. I realized that at some point she had taken hold of my hand atop the table.
“You want to pay off my house and be roommates?” I asked.
“Not really,” she said, “The main reason I came over here tonight was to ask you to marry me. I didn’t bring a ring though.”
My mouth dropped open, “Maureen, you’ll lose Rob’s pension.”
“It doesn’t matter, I have mine and if I invest the remaining money from the house, I’ve got enough to last a long time. I’ve discussed all this with my financial guys. This will work if you’ll have me. I won’t be a burden to you and we can work out a pre-nup beforehand. We’ve been best friends for a long time Pete. I can’t think of anybody else I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.”
“I’ll probably want conjugal relations, if we’re married.” I grinned.
“I’m OK with that,” she grinned back, “I mean, it’s not like we’ve never seen each other naked before and besides I’d hate to think you spending your golden years with nothing except this Madonna book.”
“You make a compelling argument,” I said, “I’m going to take you up on it.”
“Good,” she said. Standing, she pulled me up with her and headed for the stairs.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I want to seal this deal in the bedroom.” she replied.
“Hold on, hold on.” I said and she stopped on the bottom step, turned and looked at me. “Shouldn’t we be saving ourselves for marriage?” I asked.
I think that was the first time I ever saw Maureen at a loss for words. I pushed past her and raced up the stairs. She was close behind. I beat her to the bedroom but not by much. Maybe Linda had it right after all?
There it was. Cookie had really asked it. And asked it right here on the red carpet.
In front of God and everybody.
The question was out there, on the table – figuratively speaking.
The cameras were rolling.
A hush fell over the set.
Everyone waiting to see how she answered it.
If she answered it. Or brushed it aside.
“Well,” Imogene said, “I should think that was obvious, isn’t it?”
She waited for Cookie to answer.
Cookie waited for Imogene to continue.
The prolonged silence grew awkward.
Cookie waiting patiently, like the professional that she was, to draw out the response
Imogene staring vacuously at the camera, smiling, posing, seemingly unaware of the discomfort of everyone else on the set.
“Well, no, not really,” Cookie blinked, “maybe you could tell us.”
Imogene turned her attention back to the interviewer, “Tell you what, dear?”
“Tell us, tell us… tell us who designed your gown for tonight!”
Imogene launched into her well rehearsed speech.
Cookie shook her head, beaten. She’d have some answering to do when she got back to the studio.
It was about a quarter to five and Bob Brickhead was sitting at his desk, in the sea of desks, trying to concentrate on the reams and reams of printout perched on his blotter. It was all that big, wide paper with the green and white stripes, designed to keep your eyes moving in straight lines as they went back and forth across the pages. The tractor-feed ‘burst off strips’ were still attached to the sides. The stack was at least four inches high and he was tasked with finding the $6.00 error that was hidden somewhere therein.
That was when Nancy Carmody stopped at his desk.
“Hey, Bob,” she sang, “some of us, from Admin, are going to the Flamenco Cantina for happy hour after work.” She leaned over his desk and he looked down her blouse at the lacy bra she was wearing, “I hope you can join us.” She picked up a paper clip and stayed where she was; tempting him, teasing him. He caught the scent of her floral cologne.
“Oh God, Nancy. Oh… I’m uh, God, I’d love to if I can get this data analysis finished for Mr. Dithers early enough.” He swallowed and felt his ears turn red as he stared.
“Happy hour lasts till 7:00,” she said as she straightened up and broke his heart, “hope to see you there. You know where the Cantina is right?”
When she turned to walk away he watched her walk to the door and turn into the hall.
Bob reluctantly turned his attention back to the stack of printouts on his desk looking for the error. The first problem with this job was that there might be a single error of $6.00 or there might be multiple errors that when taken as a whole totaled up to $6.00. The second problem was that Nancy Carmody smiled at him from each page, inviting him for drinks. The freesia scent that she had worn got stronger and stronger as he got deeper and deeper into the numerical quagmire. It was really difficult to maintain his focus.
At 5:30 Dithers swung past his desk on his way home.
“Brickhead, I need you to stay tonight and find that $6.00. Make notes and leave everything on my desk before you go tonight.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Dithers. I’m on it.” Bob said.
Dithers gave him a thumbs-up and marched the same track to the door that Nancy had taken earlier. His walk was nowhere near as captivating as Nancy Carmody’s had been and Bob quickly turned his attention back to the spreadsheet. At six o’clock he was only about a quarter of the way through the print outs and hadn’t uncovered any errors. By a quarter to seven he knew he wasn’t going to make it to the Cantina and as his resentment began to build his motivation began to flag. He grew tired.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up, realizing that he had been dozing. Nancy Carmody was standing next to him wearing pink silk pajamas trimmed with black piping.
“We missed you at happy hour, Bob.” She whispered in his ear. “Still looking for that error? Can I help?”
He gulped for air as she pushed his chair back and perched delicately and ‘lady-like’ on his knee. She rifled the pages on his desk, stopped and then turned back a few. “I’ll bet this is the problem,” she said and she held up six crisp one dollar bills. “These were tucked in behind page 475 so this money was inserted into the report but never entered into the report.”
“God, Nancy,” Bob gushed, “brilliant and beautiful!” He clipped the money to the report and scribbled a note for Mr. Dithers. “Can I see you home?”
“That would be wonderful.” She said. “I have beer at home. You like beer, don’t you Bob?”
“Bob, Bob, hey Bob – wake up man.”
Bob jerked his head up and wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth. He was looking at Mr. Perkins. Mr. Perkins cleaned up at night.
“Mr. Perkins?” Bob asked.
“Yeah, it’s me,” Perkins replied. “Who else? You workin’ late tonight, Bob? You musta fallen asleep. It took me a while to wake you.”
“You’re not Nancy Carmody,” Bob said, “where did she go?”
“I never saw nobody else.” Perkins shrugged. “You oughta go home and get some rest.” He picked up the trash bin and emptied it into the large bag he pushed around with him. He moved away emptying bins at all the other desks as well.
“I must have been dreaming,” Bob said, more to himself than to Mr. Perkins. He looked down at the stack of printed papers and clipped to the front page were six brand new one dollar bills. He looked for the note but didn’t find it so, he grabbed a yellow ‘Post-it’ and wrote a note. He used Nancy’s words:
Nancy Carmody found these bills tucked in
behind, page 475. So apparently, this money
was inserted into the report
but never entered into the report.
Bob made his way downstairs to the bus stop. He waited and as his bus approached he reached into his pocket for the fare and found nothing. That’s funny, he thought to himself, I would have sworn I had five or six bucks! It was 23 blocks home. He shrugged his shoulders and began walking.
He thought about Nancy and how nice she smelled. He thought about the way her hips switched when she walked and above all, he thought about her lace underwear.
Stella got back from Vietnam and everything changed
All her boyhood things went from her mother’s house into the trash or the Goodwill
except one photo of her, as Steve, in the Rio Grande, that she kept
because her dad had taken it
The water had been muddy that day, just after the storms
Her dad had snapped the picture right before he jumped in to join her
They swam together for hours
She found a doctor in Chicago who was willing to ‘doctor’ the paperwork for the VA
She tried to forget all about South East Asia,
but it was tough
She wrote a “One Woman” play about a girl with a vegetable fetish
It sucked, but got rave reviews and ran for seven years, off Broadway
She had simple tastes
Most of the Money from the play went to veterans organizations
She kept some of it though, and bought a spread in the high desert
She wrote poems there
She scattered them to the prairie winds
Or tacked them to the walls of the shack until the ink faded from the sun,
or the wind spirited them away
On her last birthday she dug out the photo of Steve in the river and laid it on the table
She wished she had a photo of her dad, she thought
as she chambered a round in her 45
No one heard the ending
No one felt a thing
No alarm was sounded
Stella lived on her terms
– as volatile as they may have been
Only one regret
The Corps and Vietnam
Maybe that was two, but she really didn’t care anymore.
Vic leaned his head back against the trunk and silently cursed his life. He should have never drunk so much last night. He should have never slept under Alice’s table. He should have been more careful climbing Parson’s Ridge. He should have developed tougher bones. On the other hand he had a wonderful family, albeit his wife had been a bit harried lately with the new baby and all. He promised himself to spend more time at home and less time in the bottle from this point on. He pulled the remaining flask of whiskey from his pocket and set it on the ground between his legs. He stared at it.
The colour was a beautiful shade of gold that seemed to shimmer and glow in the falling snow. It beckoned him.
He lifted the bottle, pulled the cork and took a taste of the lovely brown liquor. It warmed him and he leaned his head back against the tree bark and enjoyed the amber glow in his belly.
He must have fallen asleep and when he woke; he woke with a start. Damn, he knew better than that; he needed to stay alert and awake. The cold would kill him if he slept. He took another swallow of the whiskey. Just to warm me and help me stay awake, he thought.
So cold. Shivering.
More whiskey – must get warm. Back and forth, he battled with himself. The whiskey warmed him but it was putting him to sleep, it was a fine line he trod and he felt himself losing.
The next time he woke the cold was bitter and his legs were completely covered with a blanket of snow. Raising his face skyward he bellowed as loud as he could and then listened to the echoing silence; hoping for a reply. The snow covered forest didn’t make a peep. It didn’t make a single sound.
Vic finished the bottle and pushed himself up straighter against the trunk of the tree. He grimaced from the pain in his leg.
Gotta stay awake. He was already unconscious when his eyes closed that final time. It was peaceful and the snow continued to fall softly in the forest.
“At the risk of sounding callous and uncaring,” began Charlene, “How is this even possible? How does a skeleton survive intact, in the open, in the forest? I mean, where are the scavengers? Where are the predators?” She stood straight and still, with her chin in her hand studying the scene. She looked like she was filing the picture away in her mind somewhere.
“I reckon it was the snow.” Sheriff Parsons said.
“How do you mean?” asked Hugo.
The sheriff went on, “if he died in the snow then there would have been little or no scent to draw animals, on account of the covering. The way that springtime works around here he could have thawed many times and been mostly decomposed before the cover of snow melted completely. That would have kept the larger scavengers away. I bet that Ole Victor here, wasn’t much more than a pile of bones by the time the snow melt was complete. Worms – that’s most likely where the flesh went. That’s most likely why the bones weren’t scattered all over these hills.”
“A bit gruesome,” said Hugo, “but plausible, I guess.”
“Let’s go back to the truck, I need to radio Doc, and fill him in. He’s going to have to get this guy back down to town and try to make a positive ID.”
Everyone turned and started back down the trail but Charlene didn’t move. She stayed still, staring. Eventually, she turned and watched the others make the first turn in the trail. She leaned down and eased the pistol out from beneath the dead man’s legs, clicked the hammer back and then eased it down again; checking the mechanism. She slipped it into her daypack and hurried to catch up with the others.
“Hey,” she yelled as she closed the gap, “you didn’t answer Hugo’s question, what happens to the land, if that’s Vic Samuels back there?”
Sheriff Parson stopped and turned to face her.
“In my experience there will be a protracted legal battle involving the Samuels’, the Davenports’, and the state; at the very least. After several years of motions and counter motions where the only folks making any money are the lawyers they’ll reach a settlement. One party, or another will pay a sum of money to another party, or parties. Said beneficiary, or beneficiaries, will promptly make a deal with Hixon, to cover their legal expenses. My guess is that nothing will change but it will be delayed some.”
Garrett shook his head like he didn’t approve of the Sheriff explaining to civilians how the system worked. Like outsiders weren’t supposed to know. After a time, Sheriff Parson turned again, and they all kept moving towards the truck.
For the wickedly brilliant prompt that began this game go here: Wed Stories: The Savage Outdoors . For my initial response try this link: Victor and Hugo. For part deux, penned by LRose – you gotta go here. Note that this is merely the latest installment – if you want to play along, please jump in!
Mr. Black was a spy
Mr. Grey was one too
They spied on each other
On me and on you.
Black was a bad guy
You could tell by his clothes
The dark suit defined
The side that he chose.
Grey was more unaligned
Sometimes bad, sometimes good
Usually working the side that
His mom said he should.
One day Mr. Grey’s bosses
Told him he should
Hide in the bushes
and take Black out for good.
I’m sure I could do that
He said with aplomb
But I’m not sure I will
Till I go ask my mom.
Mom said it was good
If it was OK with Dad.
He agreed of course
Cause you can’t make Mom mad.
Grey shrubbed down the wall
From the bad Mr. Black
He awaited his chance
And then he attacked.
From reading with legs crossed
Faces hidden from sight
Grey waited until
The timing was right.
He jumped up and shouted
When the coast was quite clear
Both men wrestled bravely
Neither knew fear.
They both pulled their weapons
Two shots rang out as one
Both spies collapsed
Both spies were done.
Mr. Black, it would seem,
Was quickly replaced
But Mr. Grey’s mom went into mourning and she wore black every day for the rest of her life. She also blamed her husband who had technically given the final approval for the fateful mission. He sank into an alcoholic depression and passed away at the relatively young age of 65 leaving his wife without any family whatsoever. She took the insurance money and has been living on cruise ships every since.