Authors will do anything to become famous.
Written by Vonda Norwood
Edited by Katherine Miller
Cover by KSP_PROJECTS
© 2017 Vonda Norwood
All rights reserved.
Seven weather weary authors trudge the wilds of West Florida in search of literary fame, while an injured member of the US Army Special Forces is hot on their trail, determined to force his wife to eat a cheeseburger.
Glittering Sales Publishing is the name on the window of a corner building at a strip mall in Miami, Florida. Behind its glass door is a small, square space where Irma Gutierrez, clutching a red folder on her lap, sits in front of a dark brown, bureau-style desk, and across from the head publisher, sixty-year-old, Beatrice Campbell, who is staring at her tan blouse. Beatrice buttons its top button. Her shoulder-length, blond wig slides, inching over her forehead. “Eighty-nine-dollars and it won’t stay put.”
Irma drops her stare to a cellphone on the desk and she bites the inside of her bottom lip. Her ankles are crossed and tucked beneath the chair. She’s rocking her feet, and her white sandals are squeaking.
Mrs. Campbell raises her chin. She brings a finger to a center part-line, where then she slides the wig in place. The publisher smiles at the forty-eight-year-old, brown-eyed, brunette, whose hair is in a tidy bun. “You’re a woman with good taste, Irma. That white dress makes those Tiger Lilies pop. I absolutely love that sundress.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Somehow, I thought you’d look much older.”
“You have the advance I sent you?”
“Yes.” Irma nods. “Four-hundred-dollars.”
“After I receive your summary of the trip, I’ll deposit the rest into your account.”
“Sixteen-hundred.” Irma stares beyond the woman’s thick eyeglasses, searching her blue eyes for a sign of agreement.
“Don’t forget about the fifteen-percent of their total sales.” Mrs. Campbell shrugs. “Which hasn’t ever amounted to much, but that’s why I’m sending you with them. You’re going to love the hotel.”
“It’s hundreds of miles from here?” Irma points at the floor. “From Miami?”
“It’s just a little south-west, Irma dear. Hundreds…” Beatrice shakes a finger at Irma. “I like to remind all my authors not to exaggerate an exaggeration.” Irma squints, glancing down then up. Mrs. Campbell scoots forward. On the desk and in front of her, she rests one arm on top of the other. “That’s a good writing tip.” She gives Irma a nod. “Remember to share it. It’s on the list in your folder.”
Irma opens the red folder and she flips the pages. “A to Z Car Rentals, GPS Instructions, The Correct Way to Write.”
“There you go, that’s it.”
“Okay, number one… Adjectives, go light on them.”
Beatrice clears her throat. “Simple and majestic…”
Irma smiles softly at Mrs. Campbell. “I’m sorry?”
“…red with a green and a very thick, long, long stem and the petals are covered with off-white, sparkling, large, oblong, spots.” Beatrice presents her palms. “You forgot the author was talking about a driveway where a body laid. Right?”
“Authors are very sensitive, my dear Irma. Most are crazy, really. You can’t ever tell them they’re technique is wrong, because they will kill you.” She smirks. “You know what I mean.”
“Your job is to address them as a group. That way they’ll suspect you’re talking about the other guy or gal.” Beatrice winks. “Mention the rules as often as possible. But don’t look those people in the eyes!” Irma swallows hard. She nods each time Mrs. Campbell completes a sentence. “Keep repeating the fundamentals… All you can do is hope that something will sink in.” She shrugs. “But, most importantly, I’m counting on you to teach them how to become a big hit on the platform called, Social Media and the People. Show them how you did it.”
Images of her page flash in Irma’s mind… The covers of the three books she self-published, and the fourth cover… it was meant for the last book in a romance series, but she didn’t finish writing it.
Mrs. Campbell stares wide-eyed at Irma. “Almost two-hundred-thousand followers… Amazing.” Irma’s eyes grow wide. Her heart beats rapidly. “I want you to teach me too. I can just imagine how many books you’ve sold… I know, it’s none of my business, but I am damn curious.” Irma drops her stare to the green indoor/outdoor carpet. “It’s something you should brag about, and I’d insist now, but I’ve got to be running.” Mrs. Campbell grabs the cellphone.
Irma closes the folder and she stands. “The trip, um…”
“I have to be in Chicago tomorrow. So many appointments, so many authors to meet.” Beatrice springs from the chair. “Everything you need to know is in the folder.” She dashes to Irma’s side. “I hate airports. They’re always so crowded and—”
“Why’s the hotel so far from where the convention’s being held?”
Beatrice places a palm on Irma’s back and she guides her to the door. “I thought you were a writer.”
Irma hugs the paper folder. “I am. I was. I—”
“Where’s your sense of adventure, romance? The Out West Miami hotel was once a very famous museum.” Beatrice presses her knuckles to the glass and she pushes the door open.
Irma rushes onto the sidewalk where then she turns around. “A museum?”
“I still have to pack.” Mrs. Campbell slides the phone in a pocket of her tan slacks. She pulls a set of keys out from the other. “When the population here grew and all the main roads went to and from everywhere but near there, they renovated.”
“Into a hotel?”
“My dear, people come from all over the world just to stay in their exclusive, luxury suites.” Beatrice fumbles with the keys at the deadbolt. “We’ve made all the arrangements. They have fine dining and views that over-look groves…” She locks the door, turns and swoops her palms in front of Irma’s nose. “…with thousands of beautiful orange trees.”
Irma takes a step back. “Wonderful.”
“Of course it is.” She raises an electronic key. High-pitch beeps sound-off.
“Fudge!” Irma hops, turning toward two vehicles which are parked facing the building.
“Fudge?” Beatrice giggles and she marches passed Irma. “Use big-girl words, dear.” She steps off the curb and rushes between a silver Taurus and a red mini-van. “No one wants to get fudged to death.” Irma frowns. Mrs. Campbell pulls the van door open. “That’s on the list too. Study it. I’m counting on you.”
Irma grits her teeth and smiles. The van backs out of the space and behind the Ford where it pauses then pulls forward.
The newly hired publicist takes a step when from her right eye, she catches a glimpse of a dark object falling toward her head. Her eyes slam shut and she darts forward. Brick smacks against cement. Irma spins around. A red brick, broken in half, lies on the sidewalk in front of the silver car. Irma sidesteps off the curb and alongside the Taurus. At its rear bumper, she squints into the sun, peering at the roof. A cloud of dust settles on a sand-colored, flat surface next to an air conditioning unit that is four-feet-high and eight-feet-long. “Is someone up there?” A gust of wind sweeps a thin layer of dirt across the length of the grey unit and onto the roof where it then settles. A car, followed by a motorcycle enter the parking lot at Irma’s left. They pass behind her. People are rushing to and from stores. Irma’s nostrils flare, she charges forward, jogs to the end of the building, rounds the corner and then she sprints to her white Jeep.
Later that afternoon, inside a private medical center, Irma power walks, smiling and waving at many familiar faces as she passes nurse stations.
After an elevator ride to the fourth floor, she steps out and pretends not to notice male nurses, who are reading medical charts near every entrance and exit. This floor is temporary host to one patient and a team of psychologists and physical therapists, who specialize in trauma concerning a Green Beret who retains classified information.
Irma trots around the last corner. In a room at the end and to the right, lies her husband, Colonel Donovan Gutierrez. Four months ago, he was injured when a suicide bomber exploded a truck at a checkpoint outside a military base in Afghanistan. On a raised bed, between two small dressers, Don is facing a blank television screen and he is staring at the ceiling.
A young woman places a chair beside his bed. She leans down and presses a green seat. “Cloth covered and cushiony, Mr. Gutierrez.”
Don keeps his hazel eyes locked on white panels. “First, you tell me it’s ninety-eight degrees, then you think I’m going to let you cook my wife’s ass.”
The woman stands tall. “I have removed the leather chair, Mr. Gutierrez.”
“I can’t walk, but my vision is perfect.”
“Yes it is.” The nurse reaches behind her and she adjusts the white hair-tie around her short, brown hair.
“Irma’s lost twenty-pounds since the army tried to stick me at a desk.”
“You will walk again, Mr. Gutierrez.” She heads to the open doorway. “All you have to do is cooperate with the people who want to help you.”
“Cooperate with people who don’t know any better than to offer a skinny woman a fake leather chair on a hot day?”
Irma charges into the room. “Sara… Ooh, the white pants suit.”
Sara smiles. “It’s how we know it’s Wednesday.” The women giggle and embrace for a quick hug. “I love your Tiger Lilies, Irma.”
Donovan Gutierrez bellows, “No one here addresses me as Captain.”
“Enjoy your visit.” Sara rushes through the exit.
“Thank you.” Irma marches forward. She passes a small, elevated table at the foot of Don’s bed. On the wall near the window, she pulls a cord and beige curtains open, revealing tinted glass with a view of a small rose garden on the roof, one floor below. Across the street and above the Miami Family Diner, a digital sign flashes the time, date and temperature. “The pinks are losing their petals, but the yellows are in complete bloom.” Irma heads to the table where from she lifts a remote and aims it at the television. She presses the power button then the mute button. “Those flowers are so lovely.” Finding a local news channel, she brings the remote to her husband, placing it leaning against his left thigh and on top of his thumb.
She makes her way around the foot of his bed. “You had them turn the thermostat down again. It’s cold in here.” At his side, she leans over a plastic guard, strokes his black buzz-cut and she kisses his cheek.
Still staring at the ceiling, and rarely blinking, Don mumbles, “You’ve lost muscle, have no body fat.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been what you call a stick, for over ten years now.” She sits on the green cushion, crossing her right leg over the left. “Tall and skinny, that’s how you like ‘em.”
He blinks twice. “If you were short and chubby, that’s how I’d like ‘em.”
Irma leans forward. “I know.”
Slowly, Don turns his head, until he and Irma lock stares. “Well?”
“Your doctor said—”
He returns his position to staring at the ceiling.
Irma settles back into the chair. “You were wrong.”
His stare drops to the wall just beneath a weather report. Through his nostrils, he draws a deep breath then he exhales slowly. “What is your job title?”
Irma sits tall and she cups her knee. “Publicist.”
Don turns his stare to her. “Is that a real thing?” He studies Irma’s nods and her shoulder shrug. “There are things you must experience before you will learn.”
“The four-hundred-dollars cleared. And I get—”
“Sixteen-hundred…” He blinks once. “…when you return.”
“Two-thousand-dollars, just for signing on.” Irma grins.
He gazes at the ceiling. “Now, you can buy her books and sell them. Nice.”
“All I have to do is chauffeur the authors to the Out West Miami hotel. I get to stay free, so I can drive them to the convention in the morning.”
“And set up booths, help sell books…” In his mind, Don counts the passing of five seconds. “The idea of driving…” He draws a slow and deep breath. “…hours away and then returning to Miami early enough to prepare work stations.” He counts the passing of five seconds. “Honey?”
Her eyelids flutter. “After I take them home, I’ll drop by here and—”
“Admit that I was right.”
“I’m getting paid, and this is a good way for me to learn a few ins and outs of the publishing business.”
“What happens to Mattie and Andrew?”
Irma’s eyes widen.
“Yes. I read your books.”
“You’re the one who bought them last week?”
“I downloaded them to my phone.”
Irma leans back and slips her hand into her skirt pocket. She pulls a cellphone out. “Do you remember your passwords now?”
“Nothing to remember, never signed up.”
“Oh. But you know that?”
“The site knew it.”
“The Roaring Twenties… A fun time to read about.”
“Yeah. It was a fun time to write about.” Irma leans toward the bed. “I want to show you a picture of us when—”
“Mattie doesn’t know it…” Don stares at the ceiling. “…Andy didn’t rob that bank.”
Irma lowers her gaze and the phone to her lap.
“But he’s never going to get the chance to prove it to her, and on the page where you wrote, to be continued, Mattie will forever cry about her bad choices in men.” He turns and studies his wife’s widened, brown eyes. “Because their author got a new job.”
Irma reclines and shoves the phone into her pocket. “You’re the reason I was hired.” He stares at the raised table. “In California, all those new recruits…” His breathing is short and rapid. “Isn’t one of your jobs, um, teaching how to, or is it speeching about how to? What’s it called?” His eyelids flutter. “Single-handed Assassina—”
“It’s not called that.”
“After California you toured Texas and Mississippi. You ended each speech by saying, ‘Follow my wife on social media, or I’ll hunt you down and kill you’.”
“A joke.” His face turns red.
“Told after sharing what you did to those terrorists in—”
“I hoped they’d stop sending me off to give speeches.”
“You told that so-called joke for two years.”
Don’s upper body trembles. “It was inappropriate, poor taste… I should have been reprimanded and reassigned to do real army stuff. I’d rather mow lawns with my teeth then—”
“Wow.” Her eyes well with tears. “Don, you remember.”
He turns to her. “But everyone laughed.”
Irma giggles. “Almost two-hundred-thousand laughers follow me on a program called, Social Media and the People.” She wipes her tears away. “I appear to be practically famous.”
“What kind of fudgery have those bastards been up to?”
She claps. “Fudgery. I love that one.” His temples throb. “Not a thing, Donny. I had no idea they followed me, until Mrs. Campbell mentioned it.”
“Are a lot of people reading your books?”
Her mind wanders to a routine of checking her sales report every Sunday. Her shoulders slump forward. “I’ve sold a total of twelve books.”
“Four of each in the series?”
“One each to you…” She giggles. “…and years ago to your mom and my mom… There’s a stranger out there who too bought one of each. Three-years, and only one real sale.” Irma bites her bottom lip.
“Because you didn’t finish book four.”
She gazes at his chest, hips and legs… all which are tucked beneath a light-blue blanket. “I’m a quitter?” She lowers her eyes.
He stares at the ceiling. “The army threw me away.”
“Do not go near a military base.”
“I found a nice house. It’s—”
“I’ll sleep in a park first, after what they did to me.”
“It’s not anywhere near a base.” She pauses, watching his chest rise and fall rapidly. He takes a deep breath. A few moments later, his breathing slows. “They sent you here because of the type of therapy you need. This is special treatment, not rejection.”
He counts the passing of five seconds. “I engage physical therapy.”
“You sure do.”
“These doctors aren’t like the army bastards. Assholes… just want me to look at pictures. I’m a tracker, a hunter, a—”
“Proud butt kicker.”
“You’re forty-nine and have the body of a thirty-year-old who is in the best shape of his life.”
“Are you working for the army now, Irma?”
Her eyelids flutter.
“I’m thirty-six, and in better shape than any man.”
Her spine stiffens. She holds her breath then releases it slowly. “Oh—”
“I hate this place. No one addresses me as Captain.”
“He thinks he’s thirty-six… Obsessed with my weight.” Between the ages of thirty-six and now, Donny has become a colonel. Irma thinks back… At that age, she explored the idea of a vegan diet. Don told her that it wasn’t a natural way of life.
She swallows hard then clears her throat. “The army has informed you that no one is trying to remove you from field duty. Right here, right now, your job is to cooperate, rehabilitate.”
“You’ve lost twenty pounds.”
Irma’s eyes dart aimlessly. “It’s summer time. You know I can’t eat much when it’s hot.”
“Pick the phone up, Irma. Call the kitchen. Let us share a chicken sandwich.” He counts the passing of five seconds. “It’s not hot in here.” He brings his stare to her.
Throughout their twenty-eight-years of marriage, when he returned from a mission, and later, from lecturing and training, he made a game of pointing out something different about their home, or about her. He’d bring it up to her, and she’d pretend to be a spy who he had to trick into confessing.
Irma opens her mouth and flicks her tongue, making click noises while returning his stare.
Don turns his head, and upon viewing the tinted window, he shuts his eyes. “Why do you do that?”
“It annoys you the way I am annoyed, because how do you know I started a vegan diet?”
With his eyes sealed he rolls his head to the right, where he then views the ceiling. “When we have dinner together, you eat only vegetables and fruit. You used to love cheeseburgers, but last Wednesday when Manny delivered, you couldn’t move fast enough to get out of here.”
Irma drops her foot to the floor. “I can’t hide anything from you.”
“You’re not following the diet correctly. If you don’t gain weight real soon, I’ll start force-feeding you cheeseburgers and sour cream.”
“Sour cream can be very fattening. Ask my mother. She never lets my dad eat it.”
Irma gazes off into thought and she frowns. “Yeah… Just thinking about it makes me feel fat and very sad for cows who are slaves because of mankind’s gluttonous ways.”
“That’s not natural. You know I’m right. You have lost an unhealthy amount of weight.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I can see you’ve lost at least twenty pounds. And in what? I was gone for only two weeks.”
“Don, you’ve been in Miami for a month. I’ve been here for two weeks.”
“Exactly.” He frowns. “I’m sorry, I haven’t wanted to say it, but that diet has aged you.”
She searches her mind for an argument to present… A moment later, she leans toward the bed. “No. I am the same size now as I was when we got married. And everyone tells me that I look ten-years younger.” Irma sits back and grips the arms of the chair. “While packing to move here, I looked at all the beautiful pictures in our wedding album. I haven’t changed one bit.”
He rolls his head to the right. His eyes widen. “Irma, go to the eye doctor.”
“I did.” She clears her throat. “Yesterday.” With two fingers, she points at her eyes. “Twenty-twenty. Looking at those pictures…” She sighs. “…I couldn’t believe how skinny I was.”
“You always say you were overweight when we got married.”
“No, but you sure were chubby.”
He stares at the ceiling. “Bring me that album, Irma.”
“Why? I don’t know what you’re thinking…” She shrugs.
“You’ll see that I’m right. Twenty-pounds in two weeks…” He shakes his head. “Honey, you’re harming yourself.”
“I am as healthy as a chicken who goes around freeing turkeys.”
He turns to her. “What the… Quit that diet. Or I’ll—”
“Go ahead, force me to eat a chunk of carcass.” She opens her mouth and points to it.
“How vegan are you?”
She leans toward his snarl. “We share this planet with creatures, all of them are our equals, and they have just as much right to not be eaten by us as we have to not be eaten by—”
“I’ll be walking Friday.”
“This Friday?” She reclines.
“While you’re on your way to the wilds of West Florida, I’ll be walking to Manny’s Burger Joint.”
Irma studies the fingernails on her right hand and she grins. “I’m winning this one.”
“You’ll be getting real healthy when I’m walking again. Manny’s chunks of carcass are the juiciest and the best—”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“Not possible.” Irma drops her elbows on the arms of the chair and she presents her palms. “You don’t cooperate. You won’t even speak with the psychologists.”
“Is that it?”
She laughs loudly. “That’s it!”
“Let me tell you something, no one will ever have as much cooperation as I shall give. Friday, I’ll be walking, and you’ll have to eat a cheeseburger.
“And, a tablespoon of sour cream.”
Irma Gutierrez never dedicated herself to learning much about veganism. The vegetarian is power walking from Don’s room and trying to recall quotes she read online thirteen-years ago. “He hates that crap.” She giggles and then she halts and presses her palm to her forehead. Sara’s behind a counter. She smiles at Irma and gives her a thumb’s up. Irma nods to Nurse Sara who’s a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. army. She then resumes her forward striding, while smiling and planning how to slowly reintroduce meat into her diet.
Meanwhile, the medical center is on the corner of two main avenues. Its front entrance faces six lanes, three heading north and three heading south. Traffic is heavy and steadily clearing all intersections at thirty-five-MPH. Across six lanes is the Miami Family Diner where in the parking lot, Sergeant Ginger Johnson is sitting in a patrol car. She’s studying the traffic from her side window. In the passenger seat, a young man who is writing an article about women cheating their way into workplaces meant for men, is interviewing her. “Your name reminds me of a stripper. You should think about changing it to a real name like, Gloria.”
“Is there something special about the name Gloria?” Ginger grins.
“It doesn’t sound like a fake name used by a stripper.”
“You keep saying you want to speak with my supervisor, so, don’t forget to mention that one about me too.”
“I do want to speak with him. Which one is he?”
“Captain Tiffany Baller.”
“You’re lying. You made that up.”
Ginger notes that it’s the second time she’s seen a silver, Ford Taurus travel north in the right lane at about ten-MPH. It rounds the corner, passes the entrance to the medical center where then it speeds up. The car has no front plate, and she didn’t see a tail plate.
“Who gets all the dangerous calls? I mean, do male officers see more action than female officers?”
“I see, so you ladies get called to the scenes, for the purpose of inclusion. I get it. It looks good on paper, but when you get there what do you do, jot down what you see while the men do all the wrestling?”
The sergeant bites the inside of her bottom lip and she imagines typing a scene where men in tear-away police uniforms wrestle convicts in pools filled with vanilla pudding. Women in mini-skirts and low-cut blouses wear caps that read, INCLUDED, and they sit on the hoods of patrol cars where they hoot and whistle… all the while jotting down what they see. Ginger presses her tongue to the inside of her cheek.
“What kind of names do the male officers call you females when you get special treatment?”
She turns her head slowly and stares at the smirking, twenty-three-year-old. “You are too stupid to ask me…” Ginger makes air quotes. “…trick questions.” She turns to her window.
“Stupid? You know I’m recording our conversation, right?” He taps at the phone in his hand.
A female voice comes across the car radio. She informs the sergeant that she is clear to take a meal break. Ginger responds to dispatch. Then she sits back and clutches the steering wheel. A silver Taurus rounds the corner and it heads north at about ten-MPH. From her side window, the sergeant spots a middle-age woman who’s wearing a sundress and she is power walking in white sandals. The silver car slows to about five-MPH. Ginger’s dark eyebrows furrow.
“You know what is stupid? The name Ginger Johnson.”
The woman in the sundress steps where the cement slopes for vehicles. The car speeds up and it turns into the driveway. Ginger’s dark eyes widen. The woman leaps forward. The car continues into the parking lot. The woman in the sundress pats at her chest and she sprints to the intersection.
“Ginger Johnson sounds like a man’s limp you-know-what.” He coughs and chuckles into his hand.
“Oh…” Ginger bats long, dark eyelashes. “Always tell new people about your developmental disability, baby.” She puts the car in drive.
Ginger informs dispatch of her intentions to investigate the driver of the Taurus.
“I am a man!”
The sergeant steers toward the east-bound exit.
“We’re not going to eat? I’m starving.”
An eighteen-wheeler speeds by the front of the cruiser and then into the intersection. A blue, full-size van turns in front of it. To the sounds of crashing and breaks squealing throughout the avenues, Ginger radio’s dispatch, and the journalist screams.
Irma approaches the window of Manny’s Burger Joint. She turns toward the sounds of tires squealing, metal crunching and glass shattering. A dark-haired man with a thick, black mustache sticks his head out the window meant for placing orders. He shouts, “That’s a bad one. I hope no one is hurt.” He draws back. “Mrs. Gutierrez, please, come inside. No one will cross back for a very long time. Come in, it’s too hot out there.”
Irma is panting. “And too dangerous.” She charges for the glass door.
Across the street from Manny’s Burger Joint, is the Greco Fine Jewelry Store. It’s owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Samuele Greco. Their thirty-two year-old son, Sammy, is a jewelry designer. Inside the shop, a customer named Carlos Perez stands beside Mrs. Greco. Both stare wide-eyed out the window and toward the intersection.
Mrs. Greco closes her eyes. “Please God, I wish for no one to be hurt.”
In Spanish, Carlos repeats her words.
Behind the display case, Mr. Greco turns his chin to his right shoulder. “Sammy…”
Mrs. Greco places her hands on both sides of her head, smashing silver curls. She spins around. “You should pray to God, not call for our son.”
“Your son is keeping my customer waiting.”
She makes her way toward the glass case. “You angry with him, he’s my son. I wait for the day you are happy with him and he’s my son.”
Mr. Greco chuckles. “No. If he makes me happy, he’s mine. Always.”
Carlos grins and he strolls toward the couple who are half-sneering and half-smiling at each other. A white door opens behind Mr. Greco, and out steps a man who’s six-feet and six-inches tall. He carries a small, red box on the palm of his giant hand. Mr. Greco glances over his shoulder and then he and his wife take three steps to the left.
Carlos gazes at the man who’s a foot taller and half a body size wider than he. Sammy gives the red box to his father.
Mrs. Greco smiles at Carlos and she points at her son. “How such a small couple can make him? He is a first generation American. Uh, very tiny when born. We tell everyone we make him in Texas, on our honeymoon.” She and her husband bump shoulders and they snicker. Sammy smiles softly and he shakes his head.
Mr. Greco adds, “But we married in Italy, and he doesn’t get born in New Jersey for many years later.” The couple snicker.
Sammy clears his throat. “It doesn’t make sense to me either.”
Mr. Greco offers the open box to Carlos. “Your lady will be very quick to say yes, no?”
Carlos lifts the diamond ring from the box. “The mounting is spectacular.”
“My son is a great artist.”
“Oh… He’s your son?”
Mr. Greco shrugs. “I am happy.”
“Thank you for such a fine job. This is beautiful.”
Sammy gives Carlos a quick nod. “I wish you and your fiancé a long and happy life together.” He then returns to the back room and closes the door.
That evening, alone in the back room of the Greco Fine Jewelry Store, Sammy sits at a square, wood table. His laptop is open in front him and he is reading. Slowly, Mrs. Greco opens the white door. She tiptoes inside, then closes the door without making a sound. Two seconds pass, she steps softly to her left.
She frowns and smacks at her yellow skirt.
“I’m facing your direction. There’s no way that I cannot see you.” Sammy’s blue eyes dart from the screen to his mother. “You don’t have to sneak up on me.”
“I give you privacy.”
He squints, glancing down then up. Sammy waves her over. “Come on, check this out.”
Smiling, she rushes around the table. “What is it?”
“Email from my publisher. Everything’s set. Friday they’re sending a luxury van to take me and other authors to a hotel, where they’re holding a banquet to introduce everyone who is newly signed with the company.” He leans back and smiles. “I’ll stay in a luxury suite, and then Saturday morning be driven to the convention where my books shall be waiting for me. All I have to do is set up my booth.”
“All you have to do is not tell your father how much you pay, you spend on your books, and then pray God you sell all of them.”
“Not tell your father…” Mr. Greco slams the white door.
Mrs. Greco slaps her son’s arm. “You don’t see him?”
“How you not tell me? You are not quiet people.”
Sammy and his mother open their mouths. Mr. Greco raises his hands. “No. I want him to go.”
Her brows rise. “You do?”
He drops his hands and takes a step toward the table. “Son, there are things a man must have to experience so he can learn. This is not one of them, but you in it, so there go.”
Mrs. Greco presents her palms first to her husband then to her son. “What is he supposed to learn?”
“It’s a scam, a racket.”
She mashes her curls. “Ah…”
“How much he pay for books, for the car, for the driver, the hotel, food, the booth? I’m right, but I pray God to make me wrong.”
Mrs. Greco lowers her arms. “You do?”
“But I am right.”
She slaps at her skirt.
“He will go, maybe he has a little good time, until he realize scam. It’s a scam.”
She pats her son’s shoulder. “Maybe he makes friends, finds a nice woman…”
“Ah, just make sure she don’t cook. Cooking is my life. Find a modern woman. They don’t know how to cook. You live with us, we have more, a bigger life. Okay?”
Sammy stands and he lifts the laptop. “Let’s go home.”
That same Wednesday night, Sergeant Ginger Johnson exits the back door of a Miami substation. She’s wearing a blue party hat with silver tassels, and an over-sized, white T-shirt with the words, TWO WEEKS PAID TO GET LAID written on the front of it.
She approaches four uniformed officers who are heading toward her brown Mustang. Giggling and shaking her head, she calls out, “Sergeant, Alex, Patty and yes you, Rookie. What happened?”
They form a half-circle in front of Ginger, and they hang their heads. The youngest of them raises his palms. “Aw… Some of us have to work, dammit.”
Ginger crosses her arms beneath her breasts and with a big grin she turns to the young man. “You want to retire already, Bill?”
“No! I want cake.”
They all chuckle.
Patty steps forward and she gives Ginger a quick hug. “We missed the party…”
Silver-haired Sergeant Moore, presses his palms together and he brings them to his chest. “Tell me how, how did you do it? What strength, power, self-control. How did you not kill or at least punch the snot out of that ride-along punk?”
Bill asks, “What do you think he’s going to write, you know, say about you?”
Ginger pulls from her back pocket a cellphone. “That accident by the medical center…”
“So lucky…” Alex crosses his fingers and he raises them to his shoulders. “No major injuries.”
“But before we realized that…” The officers draw closer. Ginger pushes play. The voice of what sounds like a child shrieks about not wanting to see blood and he pleads to be returned to the station.
The officers grin. Ginger turns the recording off. She leans her head to her shoulder then sticks out her bottom lip. “And he told me he was a man.”
Laughter fills the parking lot.
“He canceled the article after he learned that I too recorded our conversation.”
Patty asks, “Where are you going? What are your vacation plans?”
Alex rushes to Ginger’s side. “This is my friend.” He wraps his arm around her shoulders and he pulls until her right arm is wedged against his side. “Known her all my life…” Ginger groans and she frowns. “…but will she tell me what she’s up to?”
Sergeant Moore’s brows rise. “Why, so you can add more candid photos of her to your page online?”
The rookie smiles. “What?”
“You need to delete that one of me in the bathing suit.” Ginger swings her hips, bumping Alex to the side.
He releases her. “Owe. Not until you get rid of the one with me licking the sausage!”
Moore turns to Alex. “Why were you licking it?”
“Grease was dripping!”
Laughter fills the parking lot.
Ginger marches toward her car. “You cops are all crazy… I’m going to go spend time with normal people… With intellectuals!”
“Have a great time…” is repeated in turn.
She opens the door. “See ya in two weeks. Stay safe.”
Meanwhile… Just outside of Miami, a white Jeep turns into the driveway of a trailer park. Traveling over dirt and gravel, Irma passes a palm tree that is bent at its base and its brown palms hover a trash bin that is over-flowing with diapers and beer cans. At the site manager’s dilapidated, wooden shack, she turns left then stomps the brake pedal, stopping the Jeep a foot from the bumper of a police unit. Three patrol cars line the driveway.
Beside the car that Irma almost struck, an officer shines a light in her eyes. “Park and wait on the street. Out, out of here, now.”
For the third time since she moved in, Irma put the Jeep in reverse and she sped away to a well-lit convenience store down the road. She sits behind the wheel snarling at her phone. The agent who helped her find a house that is completely wheelchair accessible, and located in a quiet neighborhood in Miami, sent her a message to remind her that other people are interested in renting that house, and if she doesn’t deliver the full sixty-two-hundred to her by four in the afternoon on August thirtieth, as promised, Irma will lose the thirty-one-hundred she put down as a deposit last Wednesday. “A friendly reminder?”
A ding sounds from the phone. Irma clicks on a message from her sister, Marguerite. “As you can see, our babies are getting along real well. Call me tomorrow. Love ya.” She opens the attachment and smiles at a photo of Mutters, a black and white, mix-breed of unknown terriers who she and Don adopted last summer. The picture shows Mutters licking ice cream off her three-year-old nephew’s cheek.
She turns and frowns at the plastic bags on the back seat. In spite of the air conditioning running full-blast, her vegetables are aging and the ice cream is melting. A ding sounds from the phone. She faces forward and raises the device. Her eyes widen and she smiles. “Oh my goodness…”
Don sent a picture of a cheeseburger with the words, YOU GONNA EAT ME flashing off and on, on two sesame seed buns.
With a tear rolling down her cheek, Irma replies, “You remember your password!”