There were these cookies…”

Prologue:  The Back Story

If you are the 5-year-old sister of a sometimes really, dopey 12-year-old brother and one very cold, “soon to be Christmas” day in Minnesota, he asks you to assist him in a “TOP SECRET MISSION“, you jump at the chance…because even dopey brothers can have really, cool ideas.

I was the sister…and I jumped.

Later…much later…I vaguely remember him warning me about possible dangers…

…but let’s face it…I had stopped listening at “TOP SECRET…”

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Two…The Beginning…

I remember that day well…cue appropriate 1950’s music and allow the images in your brain to go all wavy…flashback…flashback…

…going back in time…going back in time…to the magical “Fifties”…when all things were wonderful and people ate bacon whenever they wanted…

“Look, Lottie,” said Durwood.  “This year you’re the only one that can do this…I really need you…”

And by “this” he meant stealing one of the little red Christmas cookie tins that…year after year…held the much loved and supremely tasty cookies that our wonderful mother, Gee (as in Gee Whiz) Johnson, baked every Christmas and therefore were appropriately called “Gee’s Nut Balls”.

It was at this point that dopey older brother Durwood…in order to further emphasize his need of my help this year…held up both his arms so I could plainly see his two wrists…solidly encased in heavy, white plaster casts from his elbows down to and including the greater part of his fingers.

Absolutely Necessary Explanatory Note:

When movie goers saw “Tarzan” grabbing a vine and swinging over a creek that raged furiously 50 feet below him as he yelled a mighty warrior cry to impress “Jane, his lady-friend”…while trying to save her from certain death…

…it should be noted the vine Tarzan grabbed was in all probability a strong rope…or perhaps even a wire cable and…incidentally there was no creek…nor was there dangerous, rampaging water…

…to further burst the cinematic bubble…he was probably about 6 feet off the floor…which I am sure was suitably padded…

HOWEVER…for dopey Durwood…on a forbidden trek to Minnehaha Falls with four of his very best buddies, the vine he grabbed to do some “swinging” was very real…AND…it snapped midway over a shallow creek that ran from the falls to the Mississippi River…

Durwood fell about 40 feet…the whole time screaming in terror on his way to “two, really, badly, broken wrists”….the pain of which he had to endure in solitude as he slogged home alone since…

All four of his “forever loyal to the end” best friends had bolted in total panic…fearful that they would somehow be blamed for Durwood’s fall.

“I didn’t see a thing!!  I don’t remember…” was the excuse they all settled on as they fled the scene…but not before…

…making sure that Durwood was not dead or in danger of dying any time soon.

They jumped on their bikes and hightailed it home…confident that they had done all that they could.

Later…every one of his friends agreed that they  were very sure they would have stayed if Durwood had been…you know…dead.

It was during his lonely walk home, that Durwood forlornly pondered which was worse…the pain he was currently now suffering as he shuffled along or the unholy reaction he knew would be coming from his usually calm and easy-going mother…

“First the fire…and now this…” he muttered to himself.  “She’s gonna kill me…”

He turned the corner on Longfellow Avenue and saw his mother raking leaves in the front yard…she appeared to be very happy since she was whistling.

It was only then that Durwood started to cry.

The intense pain apparently fogged his brain and prevented him from coming up with any believable or redeemable lie…so he was unfortunately left with telling his mother the simple yet profoundly stupid truth…”I saw it done on TV, ma…”

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Four…Details…Details…

A few minutes later…Durwood and I pretended to stagger sleepily into the kitchen…plopping down at the kitchen table…as we did every morning…to wait for breakfast.

We both faked yawns, stretched and tried to look like we had just crawled out of bed…and that we were ready to eat our standard breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, glass of whole milk, orange juice, coffee, and a couple of Lucky Strike cigarettes…

(I’m just kidding about the coffee and the cigarettes…that was our Mom’s breakfast…this is the Fifties…remember?)

“What are you kids doing up so early?” Mom asked with a big smile on her face…she smiled a lot.  

“Are you getting excited for Santa Claus?  Only four more days!!”

She gave 12-year-old Durwood a “silencing look”…and then smiled encouragingly at me.  She wasn’t quite sure if I still really believed in Old St. Nick…but hey…I wasn’t quite sure either.

Mom had been leaning against the counter by the sink.  She had a cigarette in one hand and a recipe card in the other.

She put the card aside and put out her cigarette in the red and green ash tray I had made for her in kindergarten class last week.

It was supposed to be her Christmas present from me but I couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to give it to her.  It was so pretty I wanted her to have it right away.  She used it all the time!

“How about I make pancakes instead of eggs this morning?” she asked.  She knew full well what our answer would  be…

“YAY!!!”  We both cheered so loud…our dog Duke, who was sleeping under the kitchen table…woke up and barked once.  Then he went back to sleep.  Good old guard dog, Duke.

No one made pancakes like our mom…I think it was the bacon grease she put in the batter…but what did I know…I was only five years old.

“Actually,” she said as she got down her big “pancake” bowl from the cupboard over the sink, “It’s a good think you did get up early this morning or breakfast would have been  just plain old corn flakes.”

“I’m making Rosettes this morning and you both know the rules when I make those…right?  Hot grease is very dangerous…so no bothering mommy…”

She hesitated and looked over her shoulder at us sitting at the kitchen table and gave us her “very serious look”…which she only used when she was “very serious”.

No coming into the kitchen, no talking to me and no asking me for ANYTHING AT ALL until I give you the All Clear.  Got it?”   She waved the recipe card back and forth for emphasis.   

We both appropriately “seriously” nodded our heads…but then  I turned and gave Durwood a dirty look.

Sure…it had only been “a small fire”...but let’s face it…he’s the one who had started it.

(You didn’t think I would forget to tell you about “the fire”…did you?)

Stay tuned…

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Six…Back to the Mission

After all the Rosettes had been made…we were given the “All Clear” and allowed back into the kitchen.

It was time for our morning snack and today it was 2 Rosettes each…but only after we had sugared the others.

Durwood and I sat down at the kitchen table…and began the delicate task of “Rosette sugaring:  Gently placing the Rosette upside down on a plate filled with sugar and then twisting…twisting…twisting…”.

Mom sat down with us.  “I’m beat.” She said as she lit another Lucky Strike.

She pulled my “Christmas Ash Tray” nearer to her and then gave me a big smile.  (I was so proud…it was so pretty…)

“When I’m done cleaning up, I’m going to take a nap.  After you guys are done with the Rosettes you can go outside and play if you want…it’s starting to snow.  When I get up, we’ll have lunch.”

Durwood kicked me under the table and gave me a sly grin and a head nod…did he think I had forgotten that “mom taking a nap” was the key to a successful mission?  Did he think I was an idiot?

“I still have a few Christmas cards to do…” Durwood said casually.  “Lottie said she would help me.”

“Right, Lottie?” he said…glancing over at me and wiggling his sugar coated finger tips…the only things that actually worked on his cast-enclosed arms.

“Nope!  I’m going outside.”  I said ignoring him.

“I can’t wait to make a snowman!!”  I really had no plans to go outside…I just wanted to see Durwood squirm a little…he shouldn’t have kicked me!

“But, Lottie…” Durwood wheedled.  “Remember you promised you’d help me…?”

I finally looked over at him and he was moving his eyebrows up and down…apparently this was his way of sending me a “secret” message.  Also apparently…he thought our mother was completely blind…since she was looking right at the both of us.

I gave Durwood a blank look as if I had no idea what he was talking about…but then after a few seconds I relented and said…

“Oh, yeah…that’s right.  I forgot.  Maybe the snowman can wait.”

Mom shook her head at our little drama and got up and walked over to the sink.

“Christmas secrets are so much fun, aren’t they?”

I didn’t look at Durwood.  I just kept dipping Rosettes in the sugar and twisting.

I knew he was wondering if I could really pull this off.  Well, don’t worry, Durwood…I could.

I picked up my phone and called his number.  Again.

It hadn’t changed in over 30 years.

I had called it so many times I knew it by heart…and I always ended the call before entering the last number.

But not this time.  This time…I forced myself to finish..

It rang seven times.  I waited…seven times.  My heart beating just a little faster after each ring.

And after each ring…my other hand…as it had done so many times before…moved a little to disconnect.  But not this time. 

“Hello…”

It was him!

My God…he sounded so young!  I hadn’t expected that…

Suddenly the years disappeared and we were both seventeen again and he was asking me…to go to the football game…to go to a movie…to go to dinner at Freddie’s…or…or…

…to find out if I was pregnant…and then when hearing I was not…laughing nervously with me in relief.

Now…I couldn’t speak.  I didn’t know what to say.  This was a mistake.  I had made a terrible mistake.

What if he had forgotten me?

I couldn’t bear that…my heart would shatter into a million pieces…dreams vanishing in a split second.

I had waited too long.

But then…

“Riley?”  His voice was now urgent, intense….

My hand started to shake so hard, I dropped the phone. I grabbed at it with both hands.

“How did you…?”  I whispered but was then stunned into silence.

“Oh, Riley…” he said…ever so softly…and I could tell he was starting to smile.

“I’ve kept track of you…I’ve waited for this call for so long…for you to…”   Then suddenly his voice broke and I could hear the tears in his eyes.

“Yeah?”  I could barely speak…my voice cracking as well.

“Are you…okay?”  That familiar deep voice was back…but sounding a little hesitant…perhaps wondering if he had the right to even ask…now…after all this time.

“I’m okay…” I sighed.  I could breathe again.  It would be all right.  Somehow I knew…it would be all right.

“God, I’ve missed you, Riley.”

“I’ve missed you…”

“It’s been almost 40 years…”

“I know…”  My words dropped into the depths of unspeakable anguish.  The pain of so many lost days and nights slashed like a razor into my heart and would not let me say more…

“Riley…?”

“Yeah?”  I struggled to answer as hot tears were streaming down my cheeks.

“I still love you…I still love you, Riley.”

“Yeah…me too.”

The End…

 

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 2

“Cooper, be serious. This is just a little, nothing, neighborhood bar that serves 3.2 beer, cheese pizza and hamburgers to the families that live around here. My God you can’t even get french fries at this place!

“My parents have been coming here for years! I’ve been coming here forever. Everyone knows me…you’ll be fine.

“And on Saturday afternoons, all the really cool guys come in here to play pool and drink beer before they hit the clubs downtown which…as you have reminded me a zillion times…you will never go to before you’re twenty-one .”

I took another deep breath and said very calmly…or as calmly as was possible…considering I was potentially facing a stretch in the slammer.

“Franny. How old are you?” I asked, as I made a very obvious move to turn in my bucket seat and look at her as she was carefully tilting the rear-view mirror to check her make-up.

“Cooper…I’m twenty-one,” she answered quite patiently…ignoring my burning stare.

“You know that…remember?  We all went out last March to celebrate at the River’s Edge Grill.  Did you stay out in the sun too long today?”

Then she pulled a bright coral lipstick out of her purse and painstakingly applied it to her lips, not once letting her eyes leave the mirror.

I knew, of course, she was kidding about being out in the sun too long…and in passing…I must admit we both looked pretty damn great with our ‘fresh’ tans and slightly sunburned noses.

“Yes.  I DO know that.  And…I also know that I am NOT twenty-one.  And this stupid fake ID looks so…so…fake!  I don’t even look like a ‘Shelley Harris.”

“Oh my gosh, there’s Mike Shaw and Danny Wilson walking in…they are so precious!  Stop whining, Cooper, let’s go!”

Then she carefully re-adjusted the mirror and dropped her lipstick into her purse and got out of the car.

“C’mon, Coop.  Get a move on.”  Franny called to me over her shoulder as she quickly walked around her car and over to the sidewalk where she almost ran down to the corner.

We had parked on the street because Franny didn’t want to park her brand-new car in the parking lot that The Friendly provided.

She didn’t want anyone carelessly opening their car door into the side of her new car.  Can’t say as I blame her…that Mustang was awesome.

I finally got out…but at a much slower speed.  One could even say I was dawdling….and one would be right.

Even though I didn’t really care what I looked like right now…I guess I had to consider the customary “mug shot” one gets after you’re arrested…so I bent down and looked into the car’s side view mirror.

“Sometimes the truth can be
so boring…”
Chapter 3

The mirror’s tiny image showed a ruffled, Clairol-assisted, bleached-blonde, pixie haircut, in desperate need of a comb, hazel-brown eyes with green eye shadow (a little smudged…but who cared).

I smiled big…noting in my teeth.  My…just a tiny bit crooked…nose showed the effect of hours of basking in the sun.

My slightly ‘bent’ nose was a result of me foolishly not wearing my catcher’s mask during warm-ups earlier this spring during a fast-pitch softball tournament that I was unfortunately unable to participate in…since I was sitting on an old, very hard, plastic chair in the ER of Minneapolis General Hospital.

Incidentally…broken noses really do produce an un-Godly amount of blood.  Anyway…

I guess I looked okay.  Good enough to be arrested at least.

Franny seemed to be speed walking as I slowly dragged along.  I caught up with her at the corner…still unable to think of a way I could wriggle out of what I was certain to be a horrible disaster.

I had considered and then discarded my possible, upcoming promotion at work as an excuse.  I was in line to be made assistant to the circulation manager at the Minneapolis Journal…the newspaper where Franny and I both worked.

She was one of the local advertising reps and I was slowly moving up in the circulation department.  (No pun intended…)

However sad this sounds…I had to face the reality that most everyone at the paper had ‘liquid’ lunches and sometimes even ‘liquid’ afternoon breaks…so no one would bat an eye if I got nailed for underage drinking.

Most…including my boss, Mr. ‘party guy’ Ross Taylor…would probably consider it just a “rite of passage” into the wild world of adulthood.  

As we waited for the light to turn green, I heard a roar of motorcycles coming up from behind.

I turned and noticed two guys on Harley-Davidsons who had also stopped at the red light.

Ever since I had seen the movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, I had…for some odd reason…become a big fan of motorcycles.  Don’t ask me why…I have no idea.

Even though they were both wearing aviator sunglasses, I could see they both looked pretty sweet!  Oh, c’mon!  Aren’t all guys on motorcycles sweet?  You know…all that leather and… you know…stuff??

Being the friendly sort of person that I am, I sent a huge smile in their direction…you know…as in “Hey welcome to the corner of 34th Avenue and 51st Street.”

Don’t judge me!  I am a very sociable person by nature.  I smile at most people…and when I am out walking…I say hello to every dog I meet as well.  As in…”Hi, dog!”

The biker closest to me pushed up his sunglasses and smiled back…may I say he had really incredibly vivid blue eyes?  I will…he did.

His smile was just a tad inviting… kind of slow and lazy.  Okay.  It was slow, lazy and sexy.

He was wearing a white tee shirt that had seen better days and faded jeans.  His scuffed, black, leather boots looked older than me.  No matter…it was working.

He was really tan and his longish, blonde hair was sun-bleached almost white…just like I was trying to get mine to look.

He was, actually…if you must know…drop-dead, fucking magnificent.

He looked quickly over at his friend and then back at me.  His friend had nodded what appeared to signal some sort of agreement…

“Want to go for a ride?” he asked me.

I think I stopped breating…no really…no intake of air was present for many seconds.

 

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 4

I was walking toward his bike before I even knew what I was doing…other than putting one foot in front of the other..and managing somehow not to trip and fall down.

Then he revved his bike’s engine…the sound was like a siren call.

“Sure…” I said, with not one single, intelligent thought floating around in my brain.

(And…I might add…whose voice was that coming out of my mouth? Certainly not my voice. My voice was perky and bouncy…one could even describe it as sprightly.)

This voice sounded like I had been drinking whiskey for the past twelve hours…during and after my job as a piano-bar singer in a smoke-filled nightblub while I was still recovering from laryngitis.

“What about your friend?” he asked and raised up his head in question…indicating, of course, friend Franny.

“What?” I said. (There was that strange voice again). I had a friend?

But then a sharp poke in my side quickly brought me back to reality.

“Oh, right!” I yelped. I turned to look at Franny who had left the curb and was now standing right next to me.

We whispered out a quick deal. We would both get on the bikes, go for a ride and then later I would go into The Friendly Inn with her. I would not quibble at all…not one quibble.

She knew that “Roger”…the guy she was really hoping to see tonight…wouldn’t be showing up until much later.

So, for her it was really a win-win situation…especially since the other biker…who had now also taken off his sunglasses…was also drop-dead good looking. That was a plus.

And…the deal was done.

“We can only be gone for a couple of hours,” Franny said to nobody in particular…because nobody in particular was listening.

“We’re meeting some people later at The Friendly.”

Then she walked over to “Biker # 2”.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 5

“What’s your name?” Franny asked biker #2…giving him her customary, blazing smile…which suited her fiery red hair and dazzling green eyes.  Franny was something to behold…and most everyone did.

“Bob Nelson”, he answered quite politely.  “What’s yours?”

“Cynthia Zimmerman.  You can call me ‘Zimmer’ or ‘Zim’ if you like…”said Franny Sherman who…being five feet eight inches tall…found it ridiculously easy to sling her long, slim leg over the seat of the bike and settle herself down behind Bob..

Franny getting on his bike was about as easy as her almost never telling the guys she would randomly meet in bars her real name.  It was just her thing.

At some point either during the evening or at a later encounter…she would tell them the truth…if she felt like it.

You wouldn’t know it to look at her but…Franny could be…complicated

I looked up at my guy.  I could see he was pretty tall even though he was sitting on his Harley-Davidson…tall with tan muscular arms that flexed every time he revved up the Harley’s engine.  Okay…

I gave him my best smile and said, “So…what’s your name?”

Instead of answering, he moved his boot and flipped down a little chrome peg from the side of his bike.

“If you put your foot on that, you should be able to swing your leg over.”

I paused only for a second and then said super confidently…and…sprightly…

“Oh, I know…I’ve ridden before…hundreds of times.  In fact, my older brother, Owen, has a Harley-Davidson…not like this one exactly…but still a Harley.”

Point of fact:  I had never ever ridden a motorcycle before and I did not have a brother named Owen.  But occasionally I stretched the truth a little…but only if absolutely necessary.

I put my right foot on the little peg and then paused…casually looking around for something to grab so I could pull myself up and over and onto the seat.

I wasn’t sure if I should grab…you know…him.

At five feet three inches tall…I did not have the ability or the agility to easily sling my leg over the bike’s seat as Franny had done.

He looked at me for a second…kind of waiting…and then asked me the oddest question.

“So then.  You do know how to be a ‘passenger’ on a motorcycle…right?”

I glanced to the left and I could see Bob talking to Franny and gesturing a lot.

Franny was listening and nodding in acknowledgement.  I couldn’t really hear what they were talking about…Bob kept revving his bike engine.  I looked back at my guy.

“Absolutely!  I’m good!  I will be the perfect passenger.  You will have no problems with me at all.”

Words were coming out of my mouth that made absolutely no sense whatsoever…not even to me.

“No problems?…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 6

But really…how hard could “being a passenger” be?  I had ridden a “bicycle” for years when I was a kid…in fact, many times somehow steering my trusty, old Schwinn (don’t even ask) with no hands.

I actually remember cruising down the sidewalk…waving my arms wildly in the air…and shouting to anyone who cared to see…”LOOK!!  NO HANDS!!”

I also remember “being a passenger” on my friends’ bikes…I just jumped on the handlebars or on the bike’s cross bar.  See?  Easy…

No…being a passenger on this motorcycle was not going to be a problem…provided I could actually get on it.

A few seconds passed as I continued to look around for something to grab.

Then…my “no-name biker”…flipped down the kick stand on his side,  got off the bike and came over to me.  (Jesus!  What was he going to do?)

In one swift motion…he grabbed me around the waist, picked me up and set me on the back of the seat.

“My name’s Hank.”  He said grinning, as he got back on his bike.

“You?”  He asked, turning slightly around to look at me.

“Cooper.  I just love bikes!”  Oh my God.  I sounded like I was five years old.

But Hank smiled at me and said, “Yeah, what’s not to…”

Then he looked over at Bob and gave him a head nod.

The light had changed a couple of times as the four of us had been talking, but now it was green and Bob took off.  I saw that Franny had her arms around Bob’s waist so I did the same.

Hank looked back at me.  “Ready?”

“Absolutely!  I’m ready.”

“Well, Cooper, hang on.”  And I did.

We went around the block and rode back towards Lake Nokomis, the lake where Franny and I had just spent the whole morning and a lot of the afternoon.

We circled it and then headed for the freeway which would take us south…thru the southern suburbs and then out to the farm fields that surrounded the city.

Obviously, we weren’t going to cruise around the ‘mean streets’ of Minneapolis.  I was fine with that.  The speed of the bike was exciting!

Before I knew it, we were whizzing through one yellowing corn field after another…no longer on the interstate.

Hank had passed Bob and Franny a ways back and then had abandoned the colorless freeway.  He shouted to Bob over his shoulder that he was taking a more scenic route.

In the distance, I could see lots of hills vibrant with the early, bright colors of Fall.  It was spectacular.

(Okay.  Here’s the part when you, as the reader, might be saying…perhaps even out loud…or thinking…

“Hey!  These two nit-wits don’t even know these guys!”…And…if you did say OR think that…well…good for you.)

Exactly what the holy hell were we thinking?  Aside from how cute these two guys were…we were thinking absolutely nothing…zero.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 7

Feeling so relaxed after laying in the sun all day…and then having a late afternoon, slightly chilly breeze blowing thru my thin tee shirt…my eyes slowly started to close and I just ‘ever so lightly’ put my head down on Hank’s back.

Before I knew what was going on…Hank had abruptly pulled over to the side of the road on the gravel shoulder. My semi-closed eyes flew wide open.

I quickly raised up my head and looked around…wondering if “we were there” or at least “somewhere”.

“What the hell were you doing? You can’t fall asleep on a bike! You want to fall off and hit that asphalt going 70 miles an hour?”

Hank was yelling at me and pointing angrily to the black highway next to us. Just then a car flew by us so fast, I couldn’t even see who was driving.

“Were we really going that fast?” I asked. “Wow!”

Yes. Yes. I know! I was obviously missing the point since Hank was not smiling…nor was he answering my question.

Bob and Franny had driven past us but now had turned back, circled around and parked next to us.

“What’s up, man?” asked Bob. Franny was peering out from behind his shoulder…she looked pretty happy. Well good for her.

She wasn’t getting yelled at…by a complete stranger no less.

“She started to fall asleep…” said Hank. He had gotten off his bike and was trying to light a cigarette. I could see his hand was shaking a little…

“Didn’t you give her the “passenger instruction” spiel?” asked Bob…looking first at Hank and then at me.

“Why would I?” said Hank…sounding totally exasperated and talking about me like I wasn’t even there.

“She’s ridden hundreds of times on her brother’s Harley!” He looked over at me…and shook his head in disbelief.

It was at this point, that Franny…my FORMER best friend…burst out laughing…and she really shouldn’t have done that.

“Sometimes the truth can be 

so boring…”

Chapter 8

“Oh my God!! Are you kidding me? Cooper hasn’t ever ridden on a motorcycle…and she doesn’t have a brother! She doesn’t even have a sister!” Franny was laughing so hard she almost fell off Bob’s bike.

Unwilling…at this point…to make eye contact with Hank, I gazed…with what I hoped was some degree of nonchalance…off into the distance at the bright, yellow, sugar maples that dotted the area where we had stopped.

How very pretty they look, I thought…trying to at least mentally absent myself from this situation that was becoming increasingly unfriendly.

I knew full well that Hank was looking daggers at me.  I was surprised I wasn’t actually bleeding.

I also knew…it was probably not a really good idea to suggest to Hank that this would be a good time to  show me the “ins and outs” of being a proper passenger on a motorcycle.  I had some brains…

So…I kept that suggestion to myself and chose a different strategy.

As I made an attempt to get off this damn motorcycle…I indignantly declared with a voice full of totally, undeserved self-righteousness…

“Well then!!  If you’re going to get so mad…forget it.  Who wants to be here anyway?   I’m going home.”

Again.  Today.  What the hell was I thinking?

Like a lot of my good ideas and intentions…I had overlooked a few facts.  In this particular case…the simple fact that there was a considerable number of miles between “here” and “home”.

Also.  I continued to find it extremely difficult…if not impossible…to get off of this fucking bike by myself…without falling flat on my face!

And I was surely not holding out any hope that Jake was going to lend me a hand any time soon…

So, there I sat…trying to ignore the now muffled laughs of my ‘former best friend‘…what’s her name…?

And, of course…trying not to bleed from the wounds I had suffered from Hanks’ disappointed looks and reproachful words.

No one said anything.  As they say…”the silence was deafening”…except for the damning whoosh of cars speeding by us…

Yes.  Yes.  I know!!  Going really, really fast.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 9

“You know…I saw a sign advertising a restaurant just a ways back,” said Bob, starting his bike.  “I think it’s just a few miles ahead off the next crossroad.”

“Let’s head over there and get some burgers and beers.  We’ll all feel better then.”

I saw Franny pat his shoulder in agreement and without waiting for us to say anything…they took off.

“Well…aren’t they just the two little love birds,” I muttered sarcastically under my breath.

Hank looked at me and I saw the beginnings of a smile…

“Owen?”  he asked.

“Well…” I said, lifting my chin up a little defensively.

“I read somewhere that if you’re going to lie…you should make it as believable as possible and Owen is a really believable name…”

Then I rashly continued…with just a trace of pride in my voice.  “I’ve used that method before…:

“Oh, I just bet you have.” Hank said as he got back on his bike.  The hint of a smile had turned into a full grin.  I liked this look a lot better…it was ‘dagger free’.

So off we went…but not before he gave me a couple of motorcycle “PASSENGER RULSES” as in…NEVER fall asleep and NEVER grab the arm of the biker…while you’re in motion.

Well!  That all made perfect sense to me…now that I knew.

In a couple of minutes, we turned off the main highway and headed down a smaller country road.

Ahead of us in the distance, I could see Franny…my ‘former best friend’ and Bob.

I was hungry…we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and then it had only been coffee and a…

Hang on…wait a minute…brain engaging...

Had Bob said “beers?”  He had.  He had definitely said “burgers and beers.”  I remembered that very distinctly.

Dammit!  I wonder what small town jails were like…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 11

Bob and Franny were waiting for us on a bench outside the restaurant.

They were talking a mile a minute and laughing…like they had been friends for years.

In my paranoid, self-centered world, I prayed Franny wasn’t sharing any personal information about me…like how old I was.

Hank got off the bike and then before I could make any attempt to get down…or should I say…before I wasted any more time trying to get down…he just lifted me off the seat and placed me on the ground…like I was three years old.

I swear…I though he was going to pat me on the head…as in ‘good little girl’…but he instead just smiled at me and then walked over to where Bob and Franny were sitting.  I followed.

“This looks like a good place,” he said, peering inside the restaurant windows and then turned to me.  “What do you think, Cooper? he asked. 

He said my name so…so pleasantly.  Much better than before…when he was yelling at me

“Looks great to me.  Let’s go in.” I said.

Then I almost fainted when Hank grabbed my hand as we headed to the door…like this was an actual date.

There were booths along the back wall of the restaurant, tables by the front window where the family was sitting, a couple of tables in the middle and then a long bar than ran from the front to the back.

There were three men sitting at the bar and they all turned and smiled at us when we walked in the door.  I just love small towns.

I bet their jails are nice too…not that I would be seeing one…but just saying…for the record…I don’t mean ‘a record’ as in ‘ a police record’…I mean…

(OH SHUT UP COOPER!!!) *

* As the author of this piece of fiction, I give myself full permission to yell at any character I have created.  It’s just one of the perks of the job…along with raking in piles of cash…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 12

The bartender smiled at us and motioned for a young girl who was standing right next to him to follow us and take our order.

Aside from the bar patrons and the family by the window…we were the only other people in the restaurant.

There were a couple of ceiling fans lazily churning the air around.  There wasn’t any air conditioning…but that was okay.  The fans kept it cool enough…even though I felt a couple beads of perspiration on my forehead…

Bob and Franny led the way to a booth in the back and Hank and I followed but then Hank veered off toward a sign that said “Restrooms”.

“Be right back,” he said to me.

No sooner had we sat down, than the girl…who was about 15, cute as a button and sporting a pony-tail and braces…placed four well-worn menus on the table and greeted us with a huge smile.

“Hi!  I’m Nan,” she said proudly.  “I can take your order and bring you food but my dad, who owns this place, will have to fill any drink orders since I’m only 16…if you all want beer, that is.”

I silently chuckled…

Then she pulled out an order pad and politely waited for us…to do something.  I imagine just like she had been trained to do…not so very long ago.

“Well, I’m ready,” said Bob.  “I’ll have a cheeseburger with fried onions.  And a Budweiser.”

“Make that two,” said Hank who slid into the booth next to me.

His knee accidentally brushed against mine and I jumped a mile.  (Yes.  I was a little tense.  My big scene was coming up…)

“Are you okay?” he asked.  HIs voice had so much concern in it…how thoughtful…

“I’m fine!  Just great!!”  My voice was rising a bit..  “I’m fantastic!!!  Let’s just get this God damn ordering over with!!”

It was at this point that everyone stopped cold and just looked at me.  And can  you blame them?  Really?  I sounded completely nuts…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 13

I apologized profusely to sweet, young Nan…who had turned bright red but…had generously accepted my apologies…

And…after also apologizing to everyone else at the table and pleading temporary insanity…I quickly opened my menu and then slapped it shut.  I was ready.

Franny was still looking at hers and also occasionally peeking over the menu at me.

I gently cleared my throat a little…not to hurry her or anything…but…I did want her to speak first…

It was “my scene”…and even though she didn’t know it…she had the opening line to this little drama playing out in my mind.

Franny looked up from the menu and said…”What are you getting, Coop”

Yes!  I was “Center Stage”…

I glanced briefly at the menu again…just for show…and then I said, ever so kindly and politely to Nan, “I don’t feel like having a beer.  I’ll have a Coke…with lots of ice, please…and a chicken sandwich with fries.”

Then I handed Nan my menu.  I was so pleased with myself.  I looked over at Franny for her reaction.

Her mouth had fallen open slightly in surprise at my clever move…or maybe (okay…probably) because…without really meaning to…I had given my order to Nan using a heavy (and completely phony) Southern accent…a la Blanche DuBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”…my favorite movie…

“I’ll have the same as her,” Franny said…pausing slightly and then smiling.  “Except…I do feel like having a beer.  I’ll have a bottle of Grain Belt with a glass, please.”

“My dad will have to check your IDs before he can serve you guys any beer.  He’ll be right over.”  Nan picked up the menus and headed toward the bar.

Feeling like I’d climbed Mt. Everest in the middle of a raging blizzard…with my oxygen tanks long since depleted…I leaned back against the booth.

I put my tanned hands on the table and admired my new Revlon Orange Blossom nail polish that I’d purchased yesterday at Larson’s Drug Store.

Taking a deep, relaxing breath I smiled across the table at Franny…and Bob.

“I’m hungrier than I thought!”  I said…with not a hint of a Southern accent…”I hope the food’s good.”

It never once occurred to me that we were sitting here with two strange young men…about whom we knew absolutely nothing.

Somehow it just seemed natural and perfectly fine.

I turned to ask Hank what he did for a living.  He was pulling his wallet out of his jeans’ pocket so he could show his driver’s license to the bartender who was headed our way.

My smiling eyes fell down to his hands.  They were even more tan than mine…

Except for a little band of pure white on the third finger of his left hand…you know…the ring finger…

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 15

“Are you going to tell Bob your real name today or wait until Tuesday?” I quietly asked Franny as we headed back to our booth.

“Oh, I’ve already told him.  He thought the whole ‘fake name thing’ was really a cool idea.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said.  “Well good for old Bob.”

Yes, yes, I know…I sounded just a little bitter.

As we approached the table, Hank jumped up right away so I could get in and sit down…so very courteous.  Whatever…

“Everything okay?” he asked, again sounding a little worried…

“Peachy…just peachy,” I said with a big (maybe a tad phony) smile.

The bartender had brought over the drinks while Franny and I were in the Ladies’ Room.  I took a swallow of my Coke.  I was so thirsty.  It was icy cold…perfect.  Who needed  beer anyway?

I glanced sideways at Hank.  You know…I could play games too.  Maybe I would have a little fun with ‘my married date’.

“So…Hank…” I asked.  “What are your plans for tonight?  Franny and I were going into The Friendly Inn when we met you guys…want to come in with us when we get back?  Play some bumper pool?”

I was trying to sound normal and friendly but I know I wasn’t carrying it off very well…but like I cared…right?

Hank looked at me and tilted his head…almost as if he was debating what to say…it was odd…but then he laughed a little and said…

“Well, actually…” and then Nan appeared with our food and Hank didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence.

The food was really great and nobody talked much while we were eating.

I popped a last fry in my mouth and said, “Wow, that was excellent!”

“I wonder what that sauce was the cook put on the hamburgers?” Hank wondered out loud.  “I’ll have to ask Nan when she collects the bill.  It was really different…but good.”  Bob nodded in agreement.

I gave Franny a look.  What an odd comment from a guy about his burger.  It seemed strange to have a guy so interested in the food.

“What…are you a cook or something?” I asked Hank…a little bit sarcastically…for no other reason…than because he was “a married rotter”.

I wasn’t usually sarcastic to people…in fact I was never sarcastic to people…so it came out a little heavy-handed.

I instantly felt bad…but oh well…if you’re going to “cheat on your wife and abandon your babies”…you get what you deserve.

He paused…obviously feeling the sting of my remark…but then said…

“In fact, yes.  I worked for a couple of years at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis as a sous chef.  Then I moved over to the Nicollet Hotel.  I worked there for about a year.”

“It’s what I do.  I cook.”  He gave me a tentative smile…maybe wondering if I was going to stop him from talking…again.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 16

So…when I made no move to stop him, he continued.  “More recently, I’ve been working at a little restaurant in St. Paul…The Blue Onion…have you ever been there?”

I actually had heard of The Blue Onion…it was very popular now and everyone was talking about it.

“Yes.  I have.  I’ve never been there though…maybe we should go there sometime…”

I let the suggestion hang in the air for a couple of seconds as I looked Hank in the eye while smiling…just so he would think that I was possibly hinting for a future date…

And then…just as it seemed he might be interested…I quickly turned to Franny and very deliberately continued my question to her

“…eh Franny?  You’ve heard of the Onion, right?”  I knew she had and she fell right in line with my little charade at Hank’s expense.

“Oh, yeah.  We’ll have to go there sometime and see if this guy can cook.”  And then she grinned at me…knowing that I had scored.

I turned back to Hank…gave him a slightly, mischievous  smile…and went in for the kill…

“So…what’s it going to be?  Want to come and play some pool with us later?”  I also looked over at Bob to include him…I had a hunch it wouldn’t matter…but I wanted to appear polite.

“You know…that sounds like fun,” said Hank, looking very meaningfully at Bob first…and then back to me…

“But,” he said after a huge pause, “It’s my mom’s birthday and the whole family…including Bob, who is like part of the family, is getting together tonight.”

“We’ll have to take a rain check.”  Apparently, Bob can’t speak for himself…since he didn’t.

What a swell lie.  I was so impressed I almost believed him…mother…birthday…such a good son…such a good, loving, ‘married’ son.

Nan breezed by and left the bill.  I put $10.00 on the table.  I knew that would cover my food and my share of the tip.  Hank pushed it back at me.

“My treat!” He said looking at me.  Damn…he had the most amazingly, beautiful blue eyes.  I hadn’t noticed them before…oh well.  That’s life.

“Sometimes the truth can be

so boring…”

Chapter 18

As we neared The Friendly, I realized I didn’t want to be done with ‘married Hank’…not just yet.

When we got to the corner where this hopeless misadventure had all started, Hank pulled the bike up close to the curb.

He shut it down, got off and again quickly picked me up and put me on the street.  This time his hands lingered lightly on my waist.

“You know, Cooper…” he began…

I didn’t say a word.  I didn’t even look at him.

I just pulled away and walked over to the sidewalk…ignoring him completely.

When I got there, I looked back at him.  He hadn’t started up his bike yet…but was just watching me walk away.

“Hey!” I hollered back to him.  “Don’t forget to put your ring back on…your wife might get a little suspicious if you’re not wearing it when you get home.”

And then…I turned around and quickly walked right across the street into The Friendly Inn.

I was absolutely and completely unaware of where the hell Franny was but…as it turned out, she was right on my heels.

She and Bob had parted ways, quickly exchanging phone numbers before he took off.

Franny and I stopped for a couple of seconds in the entryway of The Friendly to let our eyes adjust to the inky darkness of the bar.

“Cooper…” said Franny. “That was beyond cool! What a put down. I looked at Hank’s face right after you yelled at him and he was completely stunned.”

“I guess he thought he had you fooled.”

“Oh, look,” she pointed. “That booth is empty. Hurry before someone else takes it.”

Franny gave me a little shove from behind and I all but fell into the first booth. She didn’t want to sit on the side that faced the door…she wanted me to sit there…she took the side looking into the bar.

“Now. When Roger comes in, just kick me a little under the table…but don’t say anything.”

“And don’t be overly obvious, okay? I know that sometimes you think you’re so funny…” I interrupted her…

“Should we have a code word…like ‘Rumpelstiltskin‘” I joked. But Franny was dead serious.

“Cooper! I am dead serious. That’s why I’m sitting here on this side…if I see him coming in the door, I’ll get all crazy acting. You know me…So just do what I asked…please.”

“Oh. Here comes Stanley.”

“Hi, Stanley!  It’s really crowded in here this afternoon.”

And that’s when my heart started beating so hard I thought I would pass out.  A life of crime was definitely not in my future.

“Hey, Franny!  Haven’t seen you in here for a few weeks.  Find another place to hang out and steal a guy’s money while you break his heart?”

“Yeah, I guess it has been a while.  Oh, Stanley, this is my best friend…”  She smiled and  turned to look at me…

And…that’s when Franny’s mouth stayed open…but no words were coming out…

She had completely forgotten the name on my fake driver’s license…tick, tock, tick, tock…

Oh My God!!!  I was so screwed!!!

A very small story about life.

You know how sometimes in life…certain events just unfold that massively affect you but you have absolutely no control over them?

Like when…

Someone sneezes behind you while you are waiting in line at the cash register at your local Walgreens to purchase a bottle of Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow nail enamel…and then four days later…YOU sneeze?  Like that…

Or like when…

You are sitting in your car at an intersection waiting…ever so patiently…for the red light to change to green, and then someone crashes into you from behind…and your nose gets broken from the air bag and as blood is still streaming down your chin and onto your brand-new silk blouse…the driver of the car that has crashed into you…who happens to be a very young girl…rushes up to you as you are dazedly trying to get out of your car…and tearfully confesses to you…

“I am so, so sorry, but…but I don’t have any car insurance.”

And then…later in the ER your husband…who is so very, very sweet but at times slightly addlebrained…confesses to you that…”He is so, so sorry, BUT…” he forgot to renew YOUR car insurance?  Like that.

Or like when…

You pull a pair of your “used-to-be” favorite, old jeans out of the dryer…having just washed and dried them because you have recently lost 7 pounds and you are now really, really sure you will once again fit into them and…you do!!

…and then…when you are very, very happily slipping out of them, you discover two forgotten $20 bills in one of the pockets…and it turns out that right now…today…you really need that forty bucks?  Like that.

Or like when…

You “impulsively and later most regretfully”…tell your high school sweetheart named Jake, who loved you more than life itself…that you want to break up with him.  And, even though you never tell him why…it is because your Freshman English 101 professor at University has been asking you to come into his office on Thursday nights for some extra ‘teaching’…and you desperately want to go…even though you know he is married but you don’t care…because he is so…INTENSE and ‘DEEP’ and…CUTE!!!

However, three months later, you realize that Professor Ames is a conceited, cruel and thoughtless bastard…not to mention a hopeless alcoholic and has been asking all the girls in his Freshman English 101 class to come to his office…and so, you drop the class and never see Professor Ames ever again.

Tragically however…you feel that too much time has passed…and you are too ashamed and embarrassed to call Jake and beg him to forgive you and take you back…because you now know what you did was completely and stupidly wrong…

But then…25 years wander by and…

…one night at exactly 12:16 a.m. (and you know this because you have just looked at your watch before) you turn the corner and enter the mail room of your very large apartment building where (unbeknownst to either of you)…you both now live…

…with spouses that neither of you love anymore or even like very much…and…

Jake is standing there looking at the cover of the current issue of US Weekly and he looks up and sees you…

And…you pause for only a split second and then slowly walk the ten feet that separates the two of you…hoping with all your heart that he will open his arms to you…and he does…and neither of your lives will ever be the same again…

And…that is a good thing…

…because suddenly…all the years have melted away and he is once again that handsome 18-year-old boy who loved you without measure and transformed your young life in so many ways and you are that enchanting 17-year-old girl who cherished his love and returned it in ways that knew no bounds…

…and now both of you are together again…forever.

You know…like that.

The End.

 

 

INTRODUCING…

“The Johnsons”

“Where the Simpsons meet the Sopranos…sort of…”

Chapter One

It was a bitter, cold December night in Minnesota…and even though I was not yet born…I remember very clearly every detail of that exciting winter evening because…

…my mother was an authentic genius with a tested IQ of 171 and could correctly remember absolutely everything that had ever happened to her and…

…because my father was a devilishly clever storyteller who could weave a tale that kept you listening…with your mouth hanging open…for hours.

Sometimes…in the middle of one of his stories that took place during my “non-remembered early life”…I would be holding my breath until my mom would gently tug one of my pigtails and say, “Lottie…don’t worry…you don’t die!”

So…as this particular story goes…it was on that cold December night when my “35 1/2 weeks” pregnant mother pulled a gun on a very nice policeman…who “as they so often do”…was just trying to help.

But…let’s begin at the beginning…shall we?

The 23-pound, golden brown Thanksgiving Day turkey had not yet even been carved…when Clive Johnson and his brainy and beautiful wife Gee (as in “Gee Whiz)…announced to all family and friends who had gathered together in Clive and Gee’s tiny  apartment…to celebrate this most beloved holiday event…that they would be moving the following week from their cozy but crowded one bedroom apartment with their adorable, chubby seven-year-old son Durwood and faithful hunting dog named Duke.

Worth noting:  My father did not hunt, had never hunted and would never hunt in the future…but had met some guy in a bar (of course he did) and the guy had been trying to sell his 6-month old purebred hunting dog…for a ridiculously cheap price.

Now my father really loved a good deal…but as he later told Gee, “His eyes just got to me, honey.”  And I’m pretty sure he meant the dog’s eyes…”

When I was able to talk…I called Duke “Thido Thia” for some strange, unknown reason.

 

 

Chapter Two

Our new home was an older two-story, with a screened-in front porch, a screened-in back porch, a couple of bedrooms upstairs…a nice back yard…a scattering of trees and a single car garage.

I drive by it occasionally…the screened-in front porch is still there…the now magnificent Bur Oak tree in the front yard is still there…and I’m sure the bullet…by now deeply embedded in its formidable trunk…is still there as well…

Because my father worked nights delivering oil for Midwestern Oil and Gas Company, he decided it would be a really great idea for Gee to have a gun…so she could protect herself when he wasn’t there.

Clive wasn’t exactly sure what Gee needed protection from…but still…a gun sounded like a great idea.  My father…as I was to later learn…quite often had a lot of really “great” ideas…and this particular idea was prompted by the unexpected opportunity to purchase above mentioned weapon…very, very cheap.

One afternoon while Clive was perched on his favorite stool at “Jimmy’s Dew Drop Inn” some rummy wino lurched in the front door waving a silver, six-shooter gun…visualize a ‘cowboy’ gun…yelling “Ten Bucks!! Ten Bucks!!”

Of course, everyone in “Jimmy’s” ducked because they thought the guy was there to rob the place…even though as they collectively reflected later…they all thought it was odd that he was demanding such a weirdly low amount.

Clive, however, did not duck but instead turned on his stool and said, “I’ll give you $5.00 for it, Scotty.  Does it have bullets?”

My father…as I was to also later learn…seemed to know an awful lot of people…

 

 

Chapter Three

The deal was done…one gun…fully loaded…brought home to Gee who…

…picked it up rather haphazardly from the kitchen table where Clive had so proudly placed it…

…and…in her defense…being completely unaware at how surprisingly heavy a loaded gun could be…

…and…while asking Clive in a somewhat dismissive voice…”How the hell does this stupid thing work?” and not actually looking at the gun as she was talking…

…accidentally pointed it at my father and pulled the trigger.

Well…you will be relieved to know that she missed.

But…it was a tense night in the Johnson household.

The gun was summarily placed on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard next to the sink…with “vague plans” to “someday” visit a gun range for lessons from “someone” who actually knew what they were doing…and that “someone” would definitely not be “Scotty”.

A couple of weeks later…it was about 11:22 p.m. and Clive was at work.  Gee was in the kitchen having a cup of coffee, laced with the addition of milk and sugar…a Scandinavian requirement.    Then she lit a cigarette.

Hey…give her a break!!!  This was 1943 for Pete’s sake.  Pregnant women smoke and drank…and…there was a world war raging out of control!!!  These were stressful times…

Back to the story…let’s re-focus…

Gee…in kitchen…Durwood…cozily asleep in his little bed upstairs…puppy named Duke asleep right next to him.

Outside…snow, mixed with sleet, was falling heavily and gusts of wind blew snowflakes against the single pane windows.

Suddenly, there was a sound on the back-porch steps.  Then…a furtive scraping on the back-porch door.  “What the fuck?” said Gee who never swore…except when she occasionally did.

She did not move right away…instead she put one protective hand on her stomach…or…you know…me.  Then she heard glass breaking.

Well.  What exactly does one do at this point?  Do you scream?  Do you faint?  Do you call the police?  Maybe…or…

…do you slowly get up and take three steps to get a loaded gun down from the kitchen cupboard?

You get the gun, right?  Right.

More glass breaking and then as Gee is getting down the gun…she turned slightly and saw thru the back-door window someone whom she definitely knew should not be there.

Without one single hesitating thought…Gee completely turned toward the door and…because of “previous experience”…used both hands, raised the heavy gun, pointed it and…pulled the trigger…just once.  The intruder screamed angrily and swore loudly.

Gee…whose fearless grip on the gun had not loosened one bit…shot two more times thru the now completely shattered glass window…whereupon she heard another scream and within mere seconds…heard a loud thud.

She then carefully walked over scattered shards of glass, into the hall between the kitchen and the living room where there was a convenient little “telephone nook”…a recessed area only big enough for a chair and a tiny table that held the household telephone.

Gee sat down, placed the still warm gun next to the phone…all the while keeping an eye on the back door…picked up the receiver and dialed the operator and said…in a remarkably calm voice, “I need the police.”

 

 

Chapter Four

Mission accomplished…Gee returned to the kitchen where she sat back down at the kitchen table.  She momentarily put the gun down to light a cigarette.  (I know.  I know.  But let’s give her credit for not cracking open the bottle of Jim Beam that sat next to the toaster…okay?)

That done…she propped the gun on a turned over jar of grape jelly and just stared intently at the back door…wondering…were there more?

Gee…my gutsy, pregnant mother sat there…at the ready.  The gun was in one hand and a Lucky Strike cigarette in the other.

Minutes later, there were a couple of loud knocks on the front porch screen door.

Gee calmly took one steadying drag from her cigarette, put it carefully out in the ash tray, picked up the gun and walked slowly into the living room.

She paused by the stairs that led to the second floor and listened to hear if either Durwood or Duke had woken up from all the commotion…they had not.

She unlocked the solid and very heavy wooden door that led to the screened-in front porch.

After opening it only a few inches, Gee flipped the switch that would turn the porch light on and clearly illuminate anyone standing on the front porch.

HOWEVER, the light didn’t go on because Clive...that lazy son-of-a-bitch…had forgotten to replace the burned-out bulb…a simple chore that Gee had reminded him to do several God damn fucking times…so she hollered…rather absurdly when you think about it…”Who’s there?”

A silent pause for about 3 seconds…then…

“It’s the police, ma’am.  I’m Officer Daniel Nelson.  Are you Mrs. Johnson?  Did you call for assistance…ma’am?”

Now Gee was no fool.  “How do I know you are the police?” she asked skeptically.

Officer Nelson…who was a VERY, VERY new police officer hesitated for a moment…and by doing so…completely destroyed any confidence Gee may have been building with him.

“Well, ma’am…” Officer Nelson said slowly, “If you open the door, I could show you my ID…and my badge?”  And because he was only 23 years old, he unfortunately sounded like an extremely nervous 12-year old boy.

Gee hesitated and pondered her next move.  But then…as I was later told…I kicked her…rather sharply.

“Fine…fine.” She said…somewhat distractedly.  “Hold on a second.”

She tugged open the heavy mahogany door that led to the actual porch with her left hand…

…and because it was so heavy and because she was so pregnant…she used her right hand to help open it…

…and simply forgot (who could blame her…really) that she had a loaded gun in her right hand…and quite accidentally fired off a shot (obviously unintentionally) in the direction of Officer Nelson who was standing a mere eight feet away…separated only by a flimsy screen door.

“Son of a bitch!…ma’am…”  shouted the always polite Officer Nelson..in a weirdly high voice…as he was sure a bullet had just sailed right by his ear.

He was absolutely correct.  The bullet…it was later mentioned in the official police report…had lodged in one of the Bur Oak trees that the previous owner of the house had planted just last June…and which crime scene investigators subsequently determined could remain there…forever.

“I’m so, so sorry…I didn’t mean to do that.” Gee said very apologetically…because she really was sorry.

“Are you okay?” She asked as she walked thru the front porch area toward the outer screen door.  But still on alert…she also asked…

“Do you now have your badge and ID out, Officer Nelson?”

And then…Gee sighed.  She was suddenly feeling very, very pregnant…because she was.

She unhooked and pushed open the outer screen door with her left hand…and then she raised her right hand…again forgetting there was a loaded gun in that hand…at this point the gun almost seemed to be a part of her…

…and she started to use the barrel of the gun to push an errant lock of her long blonde hair from her face…which was now highlighted by the piercing beam of a flashlight held by Office Nelson…which  he had produced to help her see his ID and badge.

It was unfortunate…and later, much, much later…some would say even amusing…that two other police officers, who had come to assist the rookie Office Daniel Nelson, saw the silver gun flashing in the light.  They immediately took cover by falling to the ground…unintentionally sinking completely out of sight in a huge drift of newly fallen snow.

 

 

 

Final Chapter…

The very brave Officer Daniel Nelson, a member of the police force for only three days, swallowed hard and even though he was now looking down the barrel of a very shiny but deadly weapon…he resisted every instinct he had…to pull out his own gun and shoot this obviously demented woman…who could probably end his life and/or his career this very night.

But instead…he took a deep breath and somewhat calmly said…with only a slight quiver in his voice…

“Mrs. Johnson…would you please put your gun down?”

My mother was a sucker for polite young men…so she promptly did exactly what she was asked to do.

And then…from the backyard…Officer Roger Small, who was Officer Nelson’s partner, hollered…

“Hey Danny!!  There’s a dead guy on the back porch!  And he’s wearing a Halloween mask!”

It was the first time that cold, winter night that Gee smiled.

The End.

Chapter Nine

No one…told anyone…anything…ever.  And I never had any more bullying problems and neither did my little “connected” friend Abby.

What a memory to have with a record hangover. ..but I did smile.  I always smiled when I remembered that story.

I started to roll over.  My head felt too heavy for my neck.  What time was it?  I knew it was Saturday.  Thank God I had it off this week.

But…if I had had to go into work…I would have gone into work.  That’s how it is when you work for a daily newspaper. 

You.  Go.  To.  Work.  Among all the changes in the newspaper business…that’s the one thing that has never changed…unless you could send in your stories digitally from home…but neither Hannah nor I had achieved that status…yet.  We would need a couple more years of seniority before we had that luxury…and privilege.

Right now we had desks and cubes and a computer.   Our editor expected to see us sitting there… at our desks…unless we weren’t out on assignment.

Just like old school…without, of course, the free-wheeling lifestyle enjoyed by most  newspaper reporters of the 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s.

Back then…when newspaper ink really ran in your veins…there were always 2 or 3 bars within walking distance of every newspaper, in every U.S. city…big or small.

The success of those bars depended on how much the reporters and…let’s be totally honest here… pretty much everyone else who worked at the newspaper drank.   

And…to be honest…everyone drank a lot back then.

A Bloody Mary and a cinnamon roll for that morning coffee break?  Of course.  Martinis at lunch?  Why not.  A couple of beers before heading home?  I am surprised you’re even asking…

The office Christmas parties were legend and mostly banned in the mid-sixties.  Actually banned…I wish I could have gone to at least one.  I heard they were outrageous…and great fun!  

Now…to celebrate the Holidays…we get a complimentary (alcohol free) luncheon buffet…and maybe a candy cane.

Chapter Ten

I didn’t sit up.  I wasn’t yet sure how my stomach would react to any movement…and I didn’t want to clean up last night’s “after-drinking, food frenzy”.

I’m pretty sure I liked it the first time and didn’t want to spoil the memory…

Hannah and I almost always closed the bars.  We never left while there was still loud music slamming against the walls and bouncing around our ears…we were “dancing fools”.

We didn’t want to miss a second of the night.  We both worked hard and right now we saw no reason not to play as hard as we worked.

We had both started working for the Journal at the same time…about two years ago.  Hannah had worked for the St. Paul Gazette for almost a year but left after hearing too many rumors that it was folding…it did.

The ink on my journalism degree was still a little wet as I sat down for an interview with the City Editor of the Journal.

Every week the newspaper held a mandatory orientation/tour meeting for all new newspaper employees before they actually starting working.

Hannah and I found ourselves sitting next to each other and as we waiting…began talking about our ‘nail polish art’.  She had little yellow ducks painted on her nails and I had shooting stars painted on mine…we clicked instantly..

Afterward, we both agreed that even though it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, greasy hamburgers and cold beers at The Little Pony, a favorite ‘reporter hang-out’ across the street from the newspaper, sounded like a great idea.  A friendship was born.

Hannah had been married for only a few months when she realized that “oh so foolish” husband Harry was having too much fun on the road as a clothing rep for Nike.  Marriage done and done.

She didn’t believe in second chances and when you saw Hannah…you totally understood why.

She was beautiful inside and out…from head to toe.  Men actually stopped talking when she walked by them.  She was sweet, friendly, bat-shit smart and shared the title of “best friend” with my new house-mate, Abby…who was now yelling at me from the living room.

“Charlie!!  Are you awake yet??  Her voice…even from far away…made my brain hurt.

“I’m going over to Jack’s for some cinnamon rolls…and other stuff….”  Abby’s voice was way too cheery for me this morning…not to mention way too loud.

“I’m up,” I whispered loudly toward my open bedroom door and then I hear the front door slam.  Ouch.

Chapter Seventeen

I sat up completely and put my feet on the wooden floor…it was not freezing cold.  To my delight…Abby had remembered to turn the heat up this morning.

You would think that after living in the frigid state of Minnesota for her entire life, Abby would naturally and even unconsciously realize the importance of heat when the outside temperature is struggling to reach -15 below zero…which was the forecast high for today.  But…you would be thinking incorrectly.

Abby…like me…had spent her entire life…living in the comfort and security of her parent’s house and was not accustomed to the inner-workings of a wildly complicated heating/cooling system…as in…turn the heat on when it is cold and turn the air conditioning on when it is hot.

But…I digress…today the floor was toasty warm and therefore…I was happy.

I stood up.  So far so good.  I turned slowly and glanced at myself in my full-length mirror.  I had hung that mirror when I…surprise, surprise… realized at age 12 I didn’t want to look like a boy any more.

Stella wandered back from the bathroom and sat down next to me.  She also looked at the mirror.

“Even with the waviness of this cheap mirror, I don’t look too bad for a completely hungover 24-year-old,” I said optimistically.

Stella…with her head cocked to the side…seemed to be appraising me.

I smiled down at her, looked back at my reflection and then fluffed my short, brown hair, pulled my little side-burns in front of my just a bit too large ears and patted down my always errant bangs which would never…even in the best of circumstances…lay straight.

I patted my cheeks to add some natural color and looked a little closer at the mirror.  Bloodshot eyes.  For sure…sigh.

“Well, Stella…not completely horrible.  But, I do think I should buy a new mirror.”

“Doesn’t drinking alcohol age a person?”

 

Chapter Eighteen

And with that little caustic comment on my lifestyle, Stella was out the bedroom door, gone in search of breakfast #2 or possibly #3.

Abby was in charge of Stella’s meals.  I was in charge of the “result” of Stella’s meals.

Abby often forgot if she fed Stella so she would just feed her again and quite amazingly…Stella continued to look like a teeny 6-month old kitten.

Let it be noted I would kill for that kind of metabolism…

“Only dogs will eat more than they should,” Abby informed me one day as I commented on her opening a second can of Mighty Mouse cat food for Stella’s morning meal.  “Cats know better and will space their food out.”

Stella spaced her food out all right…as much as she could get…whenever she could get it.

Since I had the day off, I had no firm plans except to try to recover from last night…and maybe think about where Hannah and I would go tonight.

That was actually a no-brainer.  We always went to Doyle’s on Saturday night.    Saturday night was “amateur night”.

For the first hour they encouraged and welcomed members of the early bird audience to come up on stage and sing with the band.

They gave you the words and let you sing your little heart out.

This was the real deal.  They even gave you a live mike…hoping like hell you had a somewhat decent voice.

Every Saturday night…Hannah faithfully put her name in the wicker basket that the band placed on the stage.

Hopeful participants would put their names in and wait…full of excitement.. to be chosen.

Hannah had yet to be chosen…going on two years now…

Personally…I thought it was fixed.  I had heard Hannah sing…and so had members of the band at a private, after-hours  Christmas party a couple of years ago.

I had never…in my whole life…heard “Jingle Bells” sung so completely out of tune as I had that night.

“I don’t understand,” she would whine…week after week.  “Who has this much bad luck?

“I know! I know!”  I was always very sympathetic.  “Maybe next week.”   And I would pat her shoulder…just like I did every week.

“I should just give up…” Hannah would say every week…voice dripping with disappointment…

“Really?” I would carefully ask..

And then…because I loved Hannah so much…I would also always say…

“You know…you have such a…pretty voice…”

…which is why Hannah would be putting her name in the basket tonight.

.

Chapter Nineteen

For some reason (insert Stella The Cat here) my pillow ends up on the floor almost every morning.  I bent down to grab it and my head started to seriously pound.

I quickly sat back down on my bed.  The room was not exactly doing the infamous “drunk spin”…but I definitely felt better sitting down.  Crap.  I am such an idiot.

I tried to remember…did I take 2 aspirin before I went to sleep last night?  Because if I did…I should not have such a bad headache.

This was a classic hangover prevention trick that one of the older reporters had shared with me and Hannah  one morning when we were both miserable from a night of partying.  He swore by it and it actually worked…when I remembered to take the damn pills.

“Maybe I have the flu…Jeez Louise… who hopes for the flu?”  I muttered to myself.

“You are so pathetic,” Stella said as she jumped up on my bed.  “The flu.  Indeed.”

“You could be more sympathetic,” I challenged her.  “I take such good care of you.  You are one of my very best friends.”

“One of…?  Well, that’s nice.  I love…being qualified.”

I patted the little bit of golden hair on Stella’s head and then turned to look at my new hair cut in the mirror.

Back in the 60’s there was a geometric hair style called a “Sassoon” named after Vidal Sassoon, the stylist who had created it.  The cut sported very short hair with sharp V sideburns and 2 deep V’s cut in the back.

It was really radical back then so of course every one had loved it. 

And…apparently it was coming back in style..or so said Seth…my favorite stylist.

He has been cutting my hair for about 4 years, and he was not taking no for an answer.  Seth said I had perfect  “little sticky-out ears” that would look so awesome with this new cut.

“You’re gonna look just like Anne Hathaway…” he ventured…

“Whatever….”  I agreed…you just can’t argue with Seth…and Anna Hathaway looked pretty good.

Seth was adorable and very persuasive.  I loved him dearly.  It was too bad he played for the same team.

I heard the back screen door bang and almost felt the blast of freezing air that came rushing  in as Abby pushed open the inside door.

“I have breakfast!” Abby shouted from the kitchen.

Stella’s ears shot straight up at the word “breakfast” and she jumped off the bed and raced through my bedroom door.

“You just ate!  You’re going to get so fat!”  I hollered after her.

“Not me, kiddo…” she shot back…as she raced down the hallway at warp speed…sliding thru the doorway that led into the dining room…and then…

“Abby!!!!  I’ve been waiting so long for you to come back!!!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake”  said Abby.  “Stop talking to me!!”

I chuckled…even though it hurt…and knew it was time to get moving.

Chapter Twenty

My house was built in the late 1940’s in the south Minneapolis Corcoran neighborhood.  It was super old but mom had always made necessary renovations.

Abby and I had both walked to school and back…everyday single day…from those first scary days in kindergarten to graduation from Hamilton High School.

It was a great neighborhood with lots of little shops and restaurants that somehow had not been swept away by a minor gentrification program a few years ago.

On the corner of the block where I lived was the little flower shop that Abby’s parents owned and operated…soon to be solely run by Abby when her folks headed to Florida and a well-deserved retirement.

We even had a small movie theater…the original one built in the 1950’s…still showing first run movies…just two blocks away.

Mom and dad had bought the house when they were first married.  Then they had me and never moved…I didn’t see myself moving for quite a while either.

Abby was a fantastic house mate…and I dreaded the day that she would move out.

Ralph Cooper and Abby Jones had been dating since 9th grade.  He was now a fledgling lawyer and currently working day and night to pay off college loans.  I’m thinking marriage is about 2 years away.

My front door opened into a 4-season porch and if you turn right and open another door you are in the living room..which led into the dining room with a swinging door (that I will never replace) that allowed access to the kitchen.

There is an eating nook in the kitchen that over looks the back yard.  It’s a style that people are again finding desirable.  I personally think the “open concept” is wearing thin.

Two bedrooms and a bath run parallel to the living room/dining room area…separated  by a long hallway.

Upstairs there are two large rooms and a full bath…with a space for an outside entrance.  I used to play up there when I was a kid.  It was like having my own little apartment.

I thought…hint, hint to Abby and Ralph…it was a perfect place for a young married couple to live as they saved for  buying  their own home.

I very slowly stood again, took a couple of steps and decided the day was starting to look a little brighter.

I slipped on my favorite fuzzy bathrobe.  It was like putting on a cashmere blanket.  I had paid a fortune for it but it was worth it.  I stuffed my feet into slippers and headed to the kitchen in hopes that Abby had left me some coffee.

After a quick trip to the bathroom I headed towards the kitchen.  Then I remembered I had forgotten my little notebook.  I turned and trudged back into my bedroom, picked it up and shoved it in my pocket.

It had become a ritual for me to share with Abby any notes I had taken during my week end,  bar hopping adventures.  That way she could vicariously enjoy “clubbing”  thru my single state while still being faithful and loyal to her beloved  fiance, Ralph.

With a little bit of luck, the jottings of the night before weren’t too insane…I just hoped I could actually read them.

I walked into the kitchen and the wondrous aroma of freshly brewed coffee gave me reason to live yet another day…

Chapter Twenty-One

Abby was standing at our breakfast nook table, unpacking two white bags from Jacks.  They were filled to the top with wonderfully smelling goodies.

Stella was already sitting…and patiently waiting…at her special eating spot on the table.

There was a squirrel racing along the railing of our back porch but right now Stella could care less.  Food was too near her little nose and mouth.

When not eating, Stella would sit nearer the back of the table so she could look out at the squirrels running around the three oak trees that my dad had planted the first year he and my mom had bought the house.

She even has a little cat-bed there…in case she needs a little nap…between meals.

It was kind of cute the way Stella’s tongue would hang out when she was about to eat something really special…like breakfast…or lunch…or dinner…or whenever.

“I just love you so much Abby,” Stella moaned.

“Honestly, Charlie, that cat seems almost human at times when you talk for her.  I could swear she was actually saying something with those meows of hers.”  Abby said.

“I know…right?”  It was odd.   For the past three or four months Stella had started to “meow” whenever I  would ‘talk’ for her.

It was kind of eerie…which is why I did it so much whenever Abby was around…it was fun to wind her up a little…

I looked over at the almost drooling Stella.  I made an attempt to push her little black tongue back into her mouth.  I wonder how rare it is to have a black cat with a black tongue…and a black nose.

“Yeah.  She’s really something…that’s for sure, ” I said.  Then I put a caramel roll on my plate and a tiny, little piece on Stella’s plate.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  My cat has her own plate and she sits on the table in her own spot.  It just happened to start out that way when she was a kitten.

Back then it was just me and Stella and I never had the heart to move her down to her regular dishes on the floor.  Plus…it was much easier to have conversations with her if she was close at hand…

Abby sat down across from me…put a larger piece of roll on the now empty plate in front of Stella…which drew another small, seemingly delighted moan from her.

“So,” said Abby, anything catch your fancy last night?”  She pointed to the notebook I had tossed on the table.

“It was an interesting night, that’s for sure.”  I said thoughtfully.

“I think that I was part of the ‘interesting bit’ towards the end…”

“Well…let the adventure begin.”  said Abby and she took a huge bite out of her eclair.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Older, white-haired man makes fool of himself trying to flirt with young girls.  SO SAD…”  He could be their father”

“Our oh so handsome  bouncer gently removes slightly out-of-control female drinker quietly and efficiently.  Five star to whatever his name is…”

“You aren’t talking about you or Hannah here…right?” asks a worried Abby…her coffee cup pausing halfway to her mouth.

I gave her a withering glance as I looked up from my notebook.

“Hey don’t get so huffy…I just thought I’d ask,”  Abby said with a little smile.

“Hannah can get a little too ‘joyous’…as we all know.  Please continue.”

“Two phony looking but very cute,  guys  about 21-25 enter the bar near closing, looking for a couple of mostly drunk young ladies they could quickly impress for a little action after last call.  They look over at me and Hannah and we both roll our eyes.  They move on and continue looking.”

“Bobby looks at me while he is singing a love song and then he winks at me when he’s done.  I wish he would ask me out!.” 

I hear a low groan from Abby.  She is not at all fond of Bobby, lead singer in Doyle’s house band., The Continentals.

“Jake comes over and sits down.  He takes my hand in his and is just about to ask me something when we hear a loud crash from across the room.  Trouble somewhere and he leaves.”

“He’s married, you know…Hannah and I both agree.” says Abby very pointedly.  “He is absolutely married and you are being a total fool…just saying…”

I ignore her comment completely.

“And that is almost it.”  I pause and close the notebook and take a bite of my roll and glance out at our snow-covered back yard.

It was January in Minnesota and this year we have three or four feet of snow in the backyard.  I was just about to explain the ‘almost’ part…when Abby started talking.

“I have two very important things to say,” said Abby.

“One.  Doesn’t Bobby already have a girlfriend or maybe three?  And…I agree completely with Hannah…who can spot a married man a mile away…Jake is married.”

“Well…” I argued, “Bobby is the lead singer of the band and also extremely good looking…and that means he has lots of girls…you know…like groupies…always hanging around the stage…and him”

“But…I think he really likes me.  He always goes out of his way to say ‘Hi’ when Hannah and I come to Doyle’s for their Wednesday lunch buffet.  Sometimes he even stops practice to come over to talk to us…you can ask Hannah!”

I knew I was sounding pretty lame…and pretty thirteen-oldish…but still…

Abby scoffed…and continued talking.

“And…and the second thing…Jake Marlowe …”

“Stop.”  I ordered, holding up my hand to silence her.

“I know both of you guys have my best interests at heart, blah, blah, blah.  But…just because Jake hasn’t really asked me out on a proper date and just wants to go for a drive down to the Lakes after closing means nothing.”

“I think it would be romantic.  He doesn’t get a lot of free time and I have a job too.  We could really get to know each other.”

I took another bite of my roll and looked defiantly at Abby…who countered…as I knew she would.  She was Abby Jones, after all.

“And yet…you haven’t gone with him ‘down to the lakes’.  Why?”  Abby questioned, tilting her head to the side.  She looked just like Stella.

“I’m not sure, ” I mumbled.  “But I think I will…soon.  I’m really holding out for Bobby.  I know if I go out with Jake, Bobby will never ask me out.  I don’t think they like each other much.  Plus Jake is kind of like Bobby’s boss…so there’s that.”

“But when Bobby asks me out, I’m telling him my real name and where I work!”

I paused and looked out the back window.  A bright red cardinal had landed on the porch railing and was trying to pick up a piece of bread one of the squirrels had dropped.

I turned back to look at Abby who had stood up to go to the refrigerator.

“Anyway…as I was saying before you interrupted me…just before we left Doyle’s last night, it got a little complicated.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

I took a large bite of my second caramel roll, put it down and then…not thinking… pushed the plate with the half-eaten roll on it in Stella’s direction.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Stella doing a super, slow-motion, low crawl toward the abandoned roll, her tongue hanging out in wild anticipation.

“Oh, no you don’t,” I said and moved the plate out of her reach.

“Foiled!” Stella muttered…and then used her dangling tongue to quickly smooth some errant hairs on her front paws.   With her tail twitching in annoyance, she returned to look out the window.

“You know, Abby,” I said.  “This whole cockamamie fake name thing was all your bright idea.”

“I know, I know,” agreed Abby.  “And I still think it’s a great plan…almost as good as my ‘fourth grade mob’ idea…”   Then she grinned from ear to ear.

I also grinned and patted her hand.

“Nothing will ever top the ‘mob incident’…that was pure genius.  You were brilliant.”

“I was, wasn’t I?” Abby agreed.  “And to think I was but a mere child.”

We both laughed at that never to be forgotten event in our lives.

“You should come out with us once in a while,” I said to Abby.  You don’t have to dance or anything.  You don’t even have to drink.”

“Just sit with Hannah and me.  It would be so much fun.  The band at Doyle’s is great.  Your name could be,” and I paused…thinking of some of my favorite names.

“Annabelle,” I said and slapped my hand on the table.  “I love that name.”

“Okay…that’s never going to happen…” Abby said firmly.  “However… you can remember that for my bachelorette party.  We can all go to Doyle’s and I’ll be Annabelle Jones!”

I sighed…thinking of Abby leaving and pushed that sad thought to the back of my brain…

“So…back to me and my problem.  How does someone know my real name, a name that I never use when I am out at the bars?”

“Do you think in addition to knowing my real name…whoever it is also knows I’m a reporter…and that I work for the Journal?”

Chapter Twenty-Five

Abby was silent.  This was a rare occurrence for her.  Then…

“Was there anyone at Doyle’s last night that you ever see at the other bars? ” Abby asked.

“You and Hannah go out every weekend and most Wednesday nights.  Do you always use the phony name/job bit?” she continued.

I answered quickly…”Always.”

Suddenly Abby slapped her hand down on the table.  “By Jove, I’ve got it,” she said….using just a terrible English accent.

“Maybe…maybe it was someone who works at the Journal with you or Hannah…but neither of you knew they were there last night.”   Abby said.

“You know…you could be right…that kind of makes sense. ”  I took another swallow of my now very tepid and therefore unappetizing coffee.

My head was starting to scream at me and I got up to get two aspirin.

Just as Abby had finished putting yet another piece of eclair on Stella’s plate, the front doorbell rang.

All of us just froze in place.  No one came to our house on the weekends…NO ONE.  Even Stella had paused…tongue again hanging out.

Both Abby and I said in unison.  “What the hell?”  I know we were both thinking the same thing…this has to be bad news.

Abby was way more appropriately dressed than I was.. so she went to see who was disturbing our little Saturday morning brunch.  I returned to my place at the table…headache momentarily forgotten.

“I wonder who it is?” whispered Stella.  Never one to miss any action,  she had moved over to be closer to me.

Stella was a very friendly cat. She always loved the few people who came to visit us…but this was Saturday morning on a frigid, cold day in Minnesota.  I think even she thought something wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t know.” I said quietly.   “Why are we whispering?”

I could hear Abby talking and then heard her say, “Hang on”.   She soon appeared back in the kitchen.  She had a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked…eager to have this mystery solved.

“I need a dollar for a tip.”  She opened up the cupboard over the sink and took down the old Apple cookie jar where we kept change and dollar bills.  It made tipping delivery people a snap.

“For what?” I asked.

“For.  A.  Tip.” Abby said evenly…and gave me a look of exasperation.  She then went back to the front door.

I looked at Stella.  “Well, that was rude.”

“You have a killer hangover.  Everything will seem rude today.” she said knowingly.

I heard Abby say ‘thank you’ and then heard her shut the door.  I could feel little trickles of cold air that had filtered back to the kitchen from the opened door.

She walked into the kitchen carrying a long, white, rectangular floral box.  It was heavily wrapped in clear plastic to protect it from the freezing cold.

The label on the box said “Flora’s Fresh Flowers”.  It was very skinny and looked like it could only hold a single flower.

“Who’s it for?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Abby said.  “There was no name on the delivery ticket.  Only an address.  This one.”

“Well, well,” said Stella.  “The plot thickens.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

I gently opened the flap and pulled out a white card.

It said, “Charlie.  I hope this makes you happy.  Seeing you always makes me happy.”

I immediately got tears in my eyes.  I took a deep breath and exhaled a little shakily.

I handed it over to Abby who was impatiently reaching for it.

“NOT SIGNED!!!  IT’S NOT SIGNED!!!.  Abby yelped as she read the card.

“That’s it.  I’m done.”  Stella stood up, stretched quickly and jumped down to the floor.  She headed off to the top of the living room sofa…to begin one of her many daily vigils of the front sidewalk.

“I can’t believe it’s not signed!  What torture!”  Abby disgustedly tossed the card back down on the table, got up and started to clear away the last of the dishes.

I looked at her with indignant shock.

YOU can’s believe it!”  I said.  “YOU can’t believe it…how do you think I feel?”

“For the first time in months I have something… maybe kind of swell…happening to me and…it’s a secret!”  I shook my head in utter exasperation.

But then I looked at that beautiful, delicate rose again.  I picked it up and inhaled the unmistakable scent that only a rose can produce.

I smiled and carefully laid it back in the box.

“Abby…do you know if there’s a smallish vase around…”  I turned toward the sink but Abby had gone.

I got up and walked over to the stove.  I reached up and opened a seldom used cupboard.

“I think this is where mom kept some vases…” I said to myself…since no one else was listening to me…

I rummaged around and behind some larger ones…there was a small bud vase.   It had little pink flowers on it that were kind of faded…but it was the smallest of the lot so it would have to do.

I took it down and checked for any cracks…finding none…I went over to the sink and filled the it with water.

“Why doesn’t he want me to know who he is?” I asked Abby…who had returned to the kitchen.

“Well…I hate to say this…but…maybe he’s a married guy and just wanted to do something nice for you…like maybe Jake?  He probably would have noticed how much you were hurting last night.”

Abby was speaking very carefully, not wanting to upset me too much by using the word “married” and “Jake” in the same sentence.

I carried the vase over to the table, put it down and carefully added the rose and the greenery that had come with it.  I gently touched a yellow petal.

“Or Bobby?”  I mused.  “He did seem to be paying more attention to me than usual last night…or at least I think so.”.

“I just hope it’s not from some creep who’s going to start stalking us!” 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Abby looked at me and then looked towards the living room.  Shaking her head, she said very calmly and without any emotion or even judgement in her voice, “I’m going to get dressed now…just like other normal people do on a Saturday morning.  And  I stress the word normal.”

She got up and left the kitchen without waiting for any more comments from me…or…from Stella.

After a few more minutes of “rose appreciation”, I carefully picked up the vase and headed towards my room.  I put the vase on my dresser where I could see it from my bed and then went to gather my furry, little friend for some mystery solving.

“C’mon kiddo,  we have to talk.”  I picked up a sleeping Stella from the top of the sofa and slung her over my shoulder despite a few protesting groans.

People watching from the top of the sofa was one of her favorite activities.  Naps were a close second.  Since there weren’t a lot of people to watch in the winter…she was getting in a lot of nap time.

“I have no clue, said Stella.  “You do know that I am really you, don’t you?  I mean when we talk?”

“Yes.  I’m not crazy…not yet anyway…I just need to talk out my thoughts and it helps if I can do that with you…me…you…whatever.”

I knew full well that Abby could hear me talking as I headed from the living room  down the hallway and grinned when I heard a loud, expletive loaded groan coming from her room.

“Quiet down in there.  We have to think.” said Stella in a very teeny yet somewhat loud voice.

And then Stella licked my neck…twice.

Chapter Thirty-Two

LATER THAT NIGHT…

I was leaving Doyle’s a good twenty minutes after closing.

Everyone else had cleared out.  I had sent Hannah on her way with her new boyfriend, reassuring her that I was right behind them.  The “new boyfriend” was that cute cop she had met last night.

He was new to the Minneapolis ‘cop shop’…neither Hannah nor I had seen him before….and he was drop dead good-looking.  Hannah was absolutely on fire about him.

She had talked of no one and nothing else all the way to Doyle’s…wondering if he would show up tonight like he had promised.

She had also told him that she would probably be singing with the band.  Oh.  My.

They had been inseparable since the minute we had walked in.

I never got a chance to ask her if she knew who had called out my name last night during my rather sketchy departure.

To be brutally honest…I was a little embarrassed to admit…even to Hannah…that I was drawing a blank about some of last night’s activities.  It’s pretty scary when you don’t remember…

Just as we were all getting up to leave, I realized that I did not have my favorite pen…the one that I always use to take notes.

I told Hannah and her “little detective”…to take off since I was sure I would find it shortly.

I searched my purse again…for the umpteenth time and was not looking forward to pawing thru the rubble on the floor but I knew that was my next mission.

Even the bright white lights they usually put on to hurry us drinkers out into the forgiving darkness…had now been replaced by the bar’s glowing, red security lights.

At most clubs, when the last note had been played, people quickly left in droves.

There were after-hours parties to go to and “romantic” hook-ups that needed completing.  But…I wasn’t going anywhere until I found that damn pen.

It was an old Peterson family tradition to give a 14 KT Gold Cross pen to your son or daughter at their high school graduation.

Even though my dad knew he wouldn’t be able to do this himself…he had died when I was seven…he had instructed my mom to to buy one and give it to me on the day I graduated from Hamilton High School.

I was not leaving Doyle’s without that pen.

As I was searching around underneath the nearby tables, I finally found it under a bunch of grubby napkins.  Gross…

When I stood up from the floor, I felt a little dizzy so I sat down in a nearby chair  and waited for my head to clear.

Chapter Thirty-Six…The Final Chapter

“Charlie!  It’s okay.  I’m a police officer…I’m an undercover cop, MPD.  My name is Mike.  Mike Foster.”  The words were clear and simple and strong…meant to be calming.

His voice…it sounded so familiar…and then it slowly dawned on me.

It was the same voice as the one who had asked me last night if I was “driving home”.  I now remembered Hannah whispering in my ear…

“That Mike is sure a cutie.” Hannah had said, referring to Doyle’s cute , new bouncer as she had guided ‘my drunken self’ out the door.

I slowly turned around and looked up.  It was him.  My mind raced… no wonder he was with all those cops at the court house.  Of course.  He must have seen me and didn’t want to take a chance on blowing his cover.

“Mike…” I murmured under my breath.  “Right…”

He let me stand free for a moment as he put his gun away.  I swayed a little and he grabbed my elbow to steady me.

“Hey, take it easy.” he said softly.

Quiet tears of relief started to stream down my cheeks and I started to shake.  Shock and the freezing cold began taking their toll on me.

Mike pulled me a little nearer and tried to close up my coat, saying soft, comforting words as he fumbled with the buttons.

Then he stopped and took his hands and lifted my face so he could look me in the eyes…

“Charlie.  It’s all over.  You’re safe now.”  He spoke very slowly, carefully choosing his words… to be sure I understood.

But I was so cold.  I couldn’t stop shivering and I couldn’t stop crying.  I just stood there unable to speak or move.

Graphic images I had seen too many times from crime scenes I’d covered the last couple of years were flashing thru my mind.

I knew just how bad this could have been.

“So cold…” I managed to whisper.

Mike gently pulled me next to him.  His jacket was open and he wrapped his arms and his jacket around me.  I could hear sirens in the distance.

“Thank God I was still here,” he said, his voice ragged with emotion.

I sighed and sank into the safety and warmth of his body.

After a few minutes, my tears stopped and I was shaking less.  But I didn’t want to leave the warmth of Mike’s arms.  And he didn’t appear to be in any hurry to let me go.

I pulled back just a little, looked up and asked, “The rose?”

It was the first time I had ever seen Mike Foster smile.  He had a great smile.

  “The End”