Temptations ch.1

No great play or story ever began by someone deciding not to do something i.e. explore, strive, take a risk or a leap. Jon Daley decided not to eat an everything bagel. The damn poppy seeds end up everywhere. He did decide to prove to Amanda he was the right guy for her. The only problem is that of course he wasn’t. To everyone else, including Amanda, this was abundantly clear, like a cloudy day versus a typical Colorado day. But Daley was undeterred, uninhibited, and unrestricted in his pursuit of whom he assumed the Almighty had created just for him. His advances were met with cautious disregard and he scratched his head, assuming she was just playing hard to get. She had other things on her mind. She had a sick grandparent and a dead parakeet. Bills piling up and no job and she was nearly out of cigarettes to boot. Oh did I not make that clear? Everyone could see Jon shouldn’t be with Amanda because he was out of her league. Glad we cleared that up. Now, Jon really just wanted the quiet domesticity that life living with a spouse could provide if adequately maintained. He was a low-confidence man in general, and though he had immense potential, with his personality, it could never be fully realized.

Amanda’s life was a garbage can of chaos, bitterness, and ill-will. She hated people and anxiously awaited the grisly death she was sure was meant for her. She smoked her cigarettes to the filter or until they burnt her lips if they were filter-less. Sure, she dreamed of brighter days, but only when she was high. She had given up giving a fuck a lo-o-ong time ago and didn’t see the use in returning to her former giving-a-fuck ways. Her teeth were in poor shape and she itched nearly incessantly. Jon was a moderately successful mortgage broker from Queens. He grew up playing baseball and eating hot dogs like every American boy should. Amanda struck him the way she did because of this recklessness she embodied. Jon had met here one day when his car broke down and he had to walk to borrow a phone to call the tow truck and a Lyft. They nearly collided. It was raining, drops persisting to find their way to the ground for two days straight now, and she was waiting for the bus to take her to a run-down dive bar where she would find the company of cool beer, cigarette burn holes, and empty-hearted individuals with nothing better to do. He was wiping the smudged screen of his dead-batteried cell phone with his lapel when she took a step back, hearing the busses tires hissing down the street towards her and the stop.

“Sorry,” he gurgled automatically.

“Excuse you, I mean me” she offered apathetically.

 

 

Stretched Chapter 3

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water,

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

and Jill came tumbling after”

“Got any coffee?” Lois asked anxiously as she surveyed her surroundings, the dimly lit interior of a humble condo on Sheridan overlooking the baseball fields in Loyola Park, a skip away from the lake shore.

“Iced, hot, espresso?”

“Hot,” her eyes found a desk that looked like a bomb had hit it. Case files were strewn about as if the surface was prepared to slaughter a hog upon.

“I know. I really need a secretary,” his crow’s feet creased as he put on a half-hearted grin. His instinct wanted to put her at ease, but his intellect knew this goal was not likely achievable nor desirable, given the circumstances.

“No. You need a file cabinet. Or a dumpster,” she retorted. He chuckled, it seemed it was her who had put him at relative ease. “What is all this about? Why were those men following me? Why did you contact me?” She should have been an investigator, she knew just how to disarm and interrogate.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I know. Someone tipped the state’s attorney off, and her office is quietly investigating some old, closed cases involving people connected to the upcoming mayoral race.”

“Alvarez is a real shark, isn’t she. What kind of old cases?” Her gut turned and she tried to cover her reaction with a sip of coffee. “This stuff’s kind of strong.”

“You know your politics.” He pretended not to notice her reaction. “Different kinds. One concerns a police shooting in ’94.” Another is–”

“–Wait. Who hired you? I need to know where your interests lie.” Lois’ face flushed, her vision collapsed to focus only on Ramos’ face.

“Enyia’s campaign manager came to me.”

“Amara Enyia? The candidate? What’s her angle in this?”

“If you let me talk, for chrissakes… She got wind about the investigations. Says one of them may implicate a large donor for one of her opponents.”

“Who, Emanuel?” His practiced lack of reaction confirmed her guess. “They say he’s eyeing the governor’s chair though?”

“He is, but he’s still the most powerful politician in town right now.”

“So, you’re supposed to dig up the dirt first to what, blackmail him? Offer to bury it better for a favor?”

“Something like that. Investigator-client privileged information, you understand.”

“Sure.” Her thoughts swept back to that cold night, November, 1994. Her own cries reverberated off the walls and gave her further chills. Leaves rushed in through the open apartment door which flailed as if in the throws of an epileptic seizure. He lay there, his eyes pleading, his hair sticky and warm in her hands. He coughed and rasped. She leaned in, touching her ear to his mouth. “Run, girl. Run to auntie Mina’s. When you get away, you remember…overcome it, overcome them with love.” His eyes clamped and he grimaced. “Go, please,” he managed. Her tears dropped onto his face. She sniffled and looked up. The navy blue uniform stained with crimson. She couldn’t see how she was supposed to love him ever. Her feet pushed her up, with an urgency contradictory to her aching soul, which was firmly planted by her father’s side. She ran against the wind, crimson and blue flashes reflected off the windows and engines hummed as her little bare feet turned the corner.

“I want to ask you some questions, but I’m sure you’re tired. I’d recommend you stay in a hotel tonight, there are a couple around here. I’ll call you in the morning, if that’s alright.” Her mascara laced tear intrigued him.

“Okay.” She lied. She thought it was a good time to finally visit her sister in Florida. “Thanks for what you did back there. And the coffee,” she flashed her money-making smile.

“No need. I’m just glad you’re safe. You’ve still got to be careful, though. Unfortunately, I don’t think this mess will be over any time soon.”

“I will be careful. Listen, Enyia’s good people. Don’t let anybody else’s cash find your pockets this case.” He seemed surprised by the warning, but whether by her guts to say it or its content, she couldn’t tell.

“I wouldn’t think of it.”

“God, what’s burning? Do you smell that?” She felt faint. She took a deep breath. She reached for the table to brace herself. She looked up slowly, dreamily , to see a smile crawling onto Ramos’ mouth. Then it all went black.

Stretched

CHAPTER ONE

“And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men

couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Her eyes wandered across the room, avoiding making contact with any of the men, but recognizing whether they were regulars or not. The song changed to an even worse one than the previous one, and she had to restrain herself from yelling at the bartender to effing change it to something she could dance to already. As she dipped her hips she was careful not to slip in the spilled beer and she closed her eyes as a husky biker with bad breath stuck a five in her thong above her left butt cheek. She loved this job. There was no sick mother at home. No kids to feed. No excuses. Just her, making a rotten living sacrificing her dignity every week night–she hadn’t yet been able to get a weekend spot when all the real dough came through the place. The door creaked open and she covered her eyes from the blinding daylight with an improvised dance move as she saw a striking silhouette enter. He’s way too well dressed to be in here. Her heart fluttered with anticipation as this out-of-place stranger locked his eyes on her, but not her body, just her eyes, and he strode gently towards her, ignoring the bartender’s inquiry as to what he was thirsty for.

“Diana?” He asked. No one has called me that in years, she thought, her anticipation continuing to swell like a balloon in her chest. The bouncer rushed over.

“Sir, the manager has asked to speak with you. Please come with me.” He rasped.

“Diana Kerr?” Her unconscious nod was unnecessary, he knew he had the right woman.

“Sir,” the bouncer persisted “did you hear me?”

“Hear this,” the stranger quickly replied, “I didn’t come here to speak with your manager.”

“Alright, it’s time for you to go, buddy,” the bouncer gestured.

“Diana, I need to speak with you about something very important. Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner, my name–“

“–I said that’s enough!” The bouncer put himself between Diana and the stranger.

“Very well. I will leave, I don’t want to create a disturbance. But before I go, won’t you allow me to tip the dancer, please?” Before the bouncer could answer, the stranger had thrust a bill toward Diana, which she cautiously took with in her hand. The bouncer went to put his hands on the stranger, but the stranger evaded him and the bouncer stumbled, embarrassed. The stranger strode out, as coolly as he had walked in. Diana worked the rest of her shift, wadding the bill along with the others. By the end of the night, she had nearly forgotten about the bill itself, despite her thoughts being drawn again and again to the stranger through the evening. As she said goodbye to the girls and sat in her car, she unfolded the bill. What was it some kind of Euro? Great, she thought. But something was written on the bill in tiny red cursive. She recognized the area code of the phone number as Cook County.

ELI RAMOS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.

She started her car and pulled out of the lot. An ambulance’s siren caused her to pull aside and adjust her rear view mirror. She got lost in her favorite radio show, a wrap-up of the baseball news of the day with guest callers. The rain began to fall about five minutes into her drive. That car’s been behind me a while, she mused, trying to brush it off as paranoia. She couldn’t make out the figures in the car, but there were at least two. She made a left turn and the car stayed behind her. She was only a few blocks from home now. When she was about to turn onto her block, she noticed that her vehicular shadow started signaling even before she did. She didn’t turn. The car didn’t either. She decided to test her paranoid assumption once more when she approached a yellow light. She began to stop, but then, just as she approached the intersection, she floored the accelerator. The car waited for a car to cross, then blazed through it. Her pulse surged. Her hands clamped the steering wheel. My phone better not be dead yet. It was getting late and traffic was thinning out in this part of town. She rerouted to a busier area and thumbed a number into her phone. The dial tone hummed. Again. Again.

“Hello?”

“Ramos speaking.”

Wednesday

Olympus Mons and Arizona

Olympus Mons and Arizona (Photo credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute)

It sneered at her, laughing. It was big and red. It was Olympus Mons. And it was on her forhead. Sable sighed without reservation. Today was the day she was getting her learner’s permit. She had circled the day in purple gel pen on her Dozen Adorable Kittens bedroom calendar and put a silver star sticker on it. She recognized the irony that the silver star was just as prominent on the calendar page as the pimple on her head that would now be immortalized in a DMV photo.

Lisa didn’t always walk Sable to school, but she did almost whenever she could. Lisa’s being a couple ears older hadn’t hindered the friendship, but catalyzed it. Lisa was an only child and Sable was the youngest of her sisters and as she was quiet, she was the most easily ignored.

It was Lisa who was there to shop with Sable for her first real bra and her who stood by her at the Homegrown concert that no one else would attend with her. Lisa got something special out of the relationship too, however. It wasn’t just getting to act as the older sibling, but Sable had an unconventional way of looking at the world. This was something no one really knew except Lisa because Sable’s sparse use of words led others to be confused if they didn’t take the time to ask questions.

Their chunk of Wisconsin was the type of place in which one never felt the need to have their cell phone ready to dial emergency services or look over their shoulder when walking down a dark street. It was a place filled with gentle naighborhoods and parks and the children’s laughter and hollering that accomanied them.

Naturally, Sable’s mother had to get her hair done, right now, and couldn’t take Sable to the local DMV office. “I don’t know about Billy anymore. He’s not as mature as I thought. I heard that he sent Laura Edwards a picture of his junk after she broke up with him,” Lisa said.

“I’ve heard a lot of things about a lot of people around that school. I haven’t seen much to back any of it up. But you know what I think of Billy,” Sable remarked. Lisa parked her father’s maroon Carolla neatly on Pilgrim Avenue. After Sable was as satisfied as she was going to get with the conealer on her zit, the girls began stepping over the brick walks. They went by the chic restaurants and the small expensive shops that didn’t seem to sell anything useful towards their destination.

A tall man in a ratty trenchcoat blocked the path of the girls. His sunglasses were dark as the alley to their right. “Girls–” he drawled. Lisa pulled Sable behind her and fumbled in her purse.

“Listen, buddy you better–” Lisa uttered.

“Wait. Let’s hear him out,” Sable interjected. Lisa glared at her with agonized disbelief.

“Thanks, little miss. . .”

“Sable. What’s your name?”

“Don.”

“Short for Donald? Like the duck?”

“Yeah, hahaha. I stopped you… …is because I need some help.”

“What kind of help?” Lisa demanded.

“My sister’s getting married and I don’t know what… to get her. I know… it’s strange I just need some help.”

“I suppose you want to hop in your van with you? Not happening, creep.” Lisa grabbed Sable’s hand and took a step.

“What is your sister’s name? Where is she from?” Sable asked.

“Mary. She’s from Connecticut. It’s cold up there.”

“What’s her fiancee’s name? What’s her mother’s name?”

“Dylan. Her mother…her mother’s name is… Jessica.” His eyes watered up.

“See, he’s lying, let’s go Sable!” Lisa begged.

“What happened to Jessica?” Sable inquired.

“Mom… died. It’s okay. In June. I miss her. I found her.” Don explained.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Don.” Sable placed a hand on his shoulder. “Would you excuse us a minute? [to Lisa] “He’s not a creep. He’s just kind of… slow. I’m gonna help him.” Lisa told her she wouldn’t leave her alone with him and she was coming.