Archive for April, 2012
She took a step back, putting all of her weight on her right heel.
“Who?” She said, hearing him the first time, but wanting to buy any moments she could to process the name he had given. She had waited for this call, obsessed over how she would act when she spoke with him again. Whatever part of her being that held memories and bittersweet thoughts was ripped wide open. She felt cold hard droplets of sweat behind her ears.
“Jase. How are you?”
A couple ran past her to see what was going on that required sirens to be blaring as a patrol took over the parking lot.
“I’m fine. I didn’t think-“
“It’s so loud wherever you are.”
“I know. There’s some kind of, I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m just trying to see.” She craned her neck and stood on tiptoes but only saw the backs of heads.
“I miss you,” his voice sounded strong, but she could hear a higher pitch left behind after he said his words, which usually meant he was over-tired.
She closed her eyes. Even if she did miss him, and she was sure she did, somewhere, it wasn’t in the same way that he meant just now.
“Is everything okay, Jase?”
“It’s my mother. She’s very sick.” The phone fell from her hand and onto the pavement. When she picked it up, she noticed a small thunderbolt shaped crack in the upper left corner. She ran her finger over it. “Ala, you there?” She was terrified to get back on the line.
“I’m here. What is it? What does she have?”
“Ovarian cancer. The doctor said…” his voice cracked. Ala bit her tongue. “He didn’t know how long, but there’s nothing else to do.”
“Oh Jase.” She heard him hitting the side of his head like he did whenever he cried. This was from growing up with his veteran father who was cold and cruel. He had called Jase a “sissy” several times in front of her.
“I didn’t mean to do this. I just wanted you to know,” he started to sob. She cried too. She felt the sticky gobs of mascara on her cheeks.
“I’ll be there. I’ll come soon. Alright? Just, go to sleep. Please. Get some rest.”
She hung up and wrapped her arms around herself, crying in the now dark entryway of the clubhouse.
“Ala, there you are.” Danno came up and hugged her. She shivered and he pulled back to look at her. “Are you good? Sorry I was gone for awhile. This place really lit up.” She nodded and put the phone back into her purse. “We wont’ be having dinner here. One of the cooks put a dish with tinfoil on it in the microwave. Nearly torched the whole place.”
“I’m not hungry,” she said, letting him hold her. “I actually have to leave. I’ve gotten some very bad news.”
The hot water hit her square in the face. She coughed and adjusted the shower nozzle. She tried not to think of what she had just done and kept repeating “It’s only two days. It’s ONLY two days”.
Streams of dirt ran down the drain as she shampooed her hair and cleaned underneath her nails. She had gotten a faint sunburn on the apples of her cheeks that stung when she washed her faced.
She wrung her hair of the hot water and carefully stepped out onto the rug that felt like cashmere under her swollen feet. She didn’t even want to look at the blisters from the hike and knew that as soon as she put on any pair of shoes, there would be traces of blood.
Her clothes were still in a disastrous heap but she managed to untangle a stringy halter-top with satin butterflies stitched across the neckline. She fumbled with her makeup and had to start over twice because her mascara was winding up everywhere except on her eyelashes. She hurried downstairs and could not find Danno. She looked out the window and saw that the lights on in the car and someone in the driver’s seat.
She got in beside him. He had changed into a navy blue button down and tan pants. He took her hand and kissed it.
“I’m going to drop off the money at the track. I thought we could eat in the bar.”
“That sounds good.” She was very hungry, having only had the bread with the preserves. She leaned her head on his shoulder and closed her dried out eyes until she heard the horns from the parking lot at Pilkington. There were cars crawling in line for a spot.
“It’s so crowded,” she said.
“It’s a huge night. Stowaway’s in town. This horse has 27 starts, 12 wins, 6 seconds, 4 thirds and has won over seven million dollars throughout it’s career.” She looked at him and he nodded. “He’s made a lot of money for a lot of people.”
He drove to the clubhouse and left the car with a valet. He lead her up the steps into the bar. There was a limber, cross-eyed older man playing the piano and a young lady, wearing a heavy beaded shift dress, singing with a drink in her hand. Glenny was behind the bar pouring while another bartender made change for a couple. Danno waved to them and walked to the back section they had sat in only a few days ago.
Ala climbed into a booth and Danno signaled to Glenny for menus. A runner greeted them and handed them maroon books with all of the specials written in gold script inside.
“Why don’t you decide on drinks for us and I’ll be right back?” He said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
“Sure,” she nodded.
The words blended together and she felt hot and then cold every few moments. She had gone through heat exhaustion a few summers before and feared it was creeping up on her again.
“What can I get you to drink Ms.?” The runner said.
“Something very cold. A julep. And for him too.” She gestured to the empty place at the table.
She took deep breaths and checked to see if she had missed anymore calls. It seemed very tiresome to call anybody back and explain what she had been doing. It would be like telling all of the people she had know her whole life that she was a different person and din’t care what they thought.
The drinks came and Danno was not back yet. She fought the urge to look at her watch, which made everything worse she was waiting for something. She took small sips through her straw. Glenny came over to the table when some of the crowd had broken up onto the terrace to watch the race. He smiled at her.
“The lamb chops are the best in the world.”
“Really? With mint jelly?”
He nodded. She could tell he wanted to sit down, but couldn’t while on duty. He knees seemed to give out every few seconds.
“You wanna wait for him to order?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
He walked away slowly and began talking to a couple of men at a different table. Ala squeezed her fists together and tried to calm down. Danno had to have been gone for at least fifteen minutes by now. All of a sudden, she heard a screaming siren coming from outside. There were shouts and gasps as people craned themselves over the terrace ledge to see what was happening.
She got up and went to the window. She couldn’t see anything unusual, but heard two more sirens approaching. She picked up her purse and walked out of the bar and down the steps. People were pushing past her trying to get in and get out of the club house. She nearly fell but gripped the brass railing and readjusted her shoe.
She got outside and realized she had no way of getting home. Her phone rang. Certain it was Danno, she ripped it from her bag and answered without checking the screen.
“Where are you?” She said, trying not to sound frantic.
“Ala, it’s Jase.”
Flustered that he was standing before her while she had the safe open, even though that was the last thing to be worried about in this situation she had created, she shut it and quickly popped to her feet and smoothed down her shirt.
“I’m not sure really.”
She walked past him, rolling her eyes, and went to the back door where the red nosed man was an inch away from the glass. She opened the door slowly and stepped outside.
“I’m Bruno, the gardener,” he said with some variation of an Eastern European accent.
“You’re staying here, Ms.?”
“Yes. I’m watching the house while Emmanuel’s away on business.”
She could tell her was thinking by the deep creases forming across his small forehead. He had already seen Danno and now he was speaking to her. There was one person too many in the house.
“For how long?”
“A few weeks. Is there an issue?” She said, knowing she was in the wrong and annoyed that she was being found out.
“No Ms. I just wanted to let you know that one of the bushes is dead and I need to replace it.” He held up a shriveled brown sprig with curled up leaves dangling from it.
“Alright.” She blinked at him. She wanted to ask how it died when someone was paid specifically to insure that the bushes stayed alive, but decided it didn’t matter. Bruno looked at her, waiting. “Okay?”
“Okay Ms. Do you have the money for a new bush?”
She didn’t have any cash from Emmanuel. He had left in such a hurry and she was so preoccupied at the time, she hardly remembered anything he told her. She remembered the credit card. She wasn’t about to give it to Bruno though.
“I don’t. I’ll just have to get it myself.”
His eyes widened and looked her up and down.
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
“I’m sure I can manage,” she said, her voice rising.
“It has to be the same kind of bulb Ms.-“
“I will get the right bush Bruno, okay? Now if there’s nothing else you need, I have to get back to what I was in the middle of.”
He nodded. She closed the door and smoothed down her hair. Danno wasn’t in the kitchen. She walked back to the study to find him sitting in the armchair.
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem. He seemed worried.”
“Yes, about some bush. It certainly isn’t an emergency.”
She opened the top drawer of a cabinet and looked through it for a flashlight. She pawed through envelopes and paperclips with no luck.
She walked back into the kitchen and opened each cabinet until remembering that her cell phone screen was very bright. Retrieving the phone from her purse, she saw that she had missed calls from her mother, Gene and Gertrude. She wiped the notifications from the screen and went back to the study. He was still seated in the armchair and paging through one of the oversized antique atlases. She lifted the latch and with a creak, the safe opened once again. She aimed the phone down the deep hole in the floor and still could not see anything.
She planted one hair on the floor and reached down slowly, trembling with fear that she would touch a carcass or worse, a live rodent. All she could feel was dust and then, another latch. She pushed the small bar to the right and lifted. This time she felt paper. She clenched the phone in between her teeth and forced her head into the hole. She could make out stacks of one hundred dollar bills. She neck began to tense up and she pulled up and out of the hole.
She began pulling out stacks. When she got to ten, she stopped. She had never seen so much money in her life. It scared her to be so close to it.
“Get something to put this in,” she said without looking at him. The money looked aged. In movies, she had always seen it look new and neat and perfect. This looked brown and faded. She heard his footsteps and looked up as he handed her a briefcase. She placed the money inside very carefully; fearing that is would disintegrate as it had in her dreams before.
“You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Two days is nothing.” She closed the briefcase and walked over to him. He smiled, about to laugh. “What’s so funny?”
“You look like you’ve cleaned a chimney,” he said, using his finger to wipe dirt from her cheek. “Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll take you to dinner?”
A large, powerful, pulsing knot rose up from her stomach to her rib cage and perched between the bones as Danno drove them back to Emmanuel’s house.
“Wrong”, her brain kept telling her. “Wrong, wrong”. She ignored the message. She seemed to climb outside of her aching, sweating, exhausted body and was watching. She made note of what a beautiful couple she and Danno made. She watched his hands work the wheel steadily. He was quite possibly going to lose his job because of her, and he wasn’t panicked in the slightest.
This time he pulled into the carport. Ala found the keys in her purse and lead him around to the back of the house. She opened the gate and saw a squat khaki clad man was perched by a rose bush snipping away. She stepped backwards quickly, nearly crushing Danno’s foot and closed the gate quietly.
“Is something wrong?” He said.
“I think the gardener’s here,” she said. She peaked over the fence.
“He isn’t supposed to be?”
“I guess he is, but I don’t want to talk to him right now. Let’s go around to the front.”
She basically tiptoed to up the front steps and opened the door. Danno touched the back of her neck and when she turned to face him, he kissed her.
“You don’t have to do this. What I think you’re going to do.”
“It’s fine. How soon will you have it back?”
“As soon as I can get a new access card. Two days max.”
She nodded and looked out of the back window. The gardener was still hard at work on the roses. She walked slowly down the hallway toward the study.
She heard his steps behind her. Maybe he should not go in with her. It was too late though. She opened the door. The books and papers were neatly stacked as they had been the day before. The window had been left open so the room smelled like wisteria. Danno, with hands in his pockets, walked over to an overstuffed brown leather armchair, and had a seat.
“Would you like a drink?” Ala said.
“No, I’m fine thanks.”
She was nervous. Her hands shook. She didn’t know how to stay calm like he did. The doorbell rang.
“Oh great! Who is that?” She said hysterically.
Danno got up.
“I’ll go see. Everything’s okay.”
He brushed past her. Ala quickly got the magnet out from behind the painting. She brought it over to the vase and, nearly spilling the rare sand everywhere, she tipped it until she heard a soft clink, and pulled the magnet up with the key attached. She jammed it into the desk drawer and took out the album.
She flipped through quickly, being careful not to smudge any photographs or tear any of the pages until she saw the list of birthdays. The first birthday, 7-23-47, was someone named Lawrence DeGrello’s birthday. She crawled over to the safe and turned the dial to each number. She lifted the latch and pulled up. The door opened into a deep dark hole in the floor. She tried to peer in without feeling down there first, but had no luck.
Danno came and leaned on the doorframe.
“It’s the gardener. He wants to talk to you.”
Ala chose the door handle to focus on and kept her eyes there.
“Bad?” She almost whispered then waited.
He made a smooth left and kept the same speed.
“When we were asleep, my wallet was stolen.”
“What?” Her eyes darted to his face. He stayed composed. “Stolen?”
“Yes. I woke up and it was gone from my pocket.”
“How could that have happened?”
“We slept for around two hours.”
“And someone just came by and took your wallet?” She was terrified and felt her pockets, which had nothing in them to begin with.
She hadn’t felt violated before. The thought of someone she didn’t know so close, watching them, touching them while they slept made her nauseous. She took a deep breath. Her overreacted was not going to return Danno’s wallet.
“No one was around.”
“Apparently, someone was and we just didn’t see them,” Danno said.
How could someone have been following them when the trails were completely empty? She thought carefully and couldn’t remember a car or any sign that anyone had been there.
“How did they know we were asleep and not just lying there?” She said, near hysterics.
“They took a guess,” he said.
“This is too bizarre.”
“I’m sorry you’re frightened,” he said, putting the back of his hand against her cheek, comforting her, when his wallet had been stolen.
She turned and faced him, crossing one sore leg under the other.
“At least we’re okay. I mean, at least you can get a new driver’s license and cancel your credit cards. Everything is replaceable.”
She could tell he still wanted a cigarette. She got the pack from the glove box and took one out. She placed it between his lips and reached into his pocket to find the lighter. She lit it and rolled down the window.
“The thing is,” he said, puffing through his mouth. “Not everything inside is replaceable.”
“Oh,” she said. She looked out the window as the trees rushed past, making a kaleidoscope of browns and grays with light peaking through.
“There was a code card from the man I work for inside. I was supposed to go to his safe this morning to take out funds for a supplier. And, obviously, I didn’t.”
Ala scrunched up her face. She knew all of this was too good to be true. Behaving as they had brought consequences and now she wasn’t sure she would be able to help him.
“When are you supposed to pay him?”
“Tonight,” he said, tapping the cigarette on the thin glass of the window, dustings of ash flying out the car.
“Are you supposed to give him a lot of money?” She said, unsure of how to ask the question without prying.
“Not a lot, but money I don’t have on hand.”
He squinted in the rearview mirror.
“A hundred thousand.”
Her eyes flew wide open.
“Well, surely you can call your boss and tell him what happened.”
He smiled and looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
“He’s out of town for awhile.”
“The supplier can’t wait?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ll think of something.”
That wasn’t enough. She would be ill with guilt if she didn’t help him with this. It was her fault for being desperate this morning instead of letting him carry on with his day.
She thought of the measly ten thousand she would be getting for doing a lousy job of protecting Emmanuel’s house. He had trusted her and she managed to break the biggest rule on the first day. She thought of all of his careful instructions. A solution arose and punched her with adrenaline. She instantly felt better. Better than she had felt since she could remember.
“I know where you could borrow the money from,” she said with shining eyes.
She could hear before she could see. The sound of waves, but softer and more tangible, like paper being crumbled very slowly. She turned her head to the right and felt the ache from sleeping in an odd position. She turned her head all the way to the left to try and nullify the pain, which never worked. Then she opened her eyes. The sound was the trees, the leaves rather, rustling and blowing while clinging to the branches. The sky was still bright, meaning she couldn’t have slept for that long, in less this was a different day all together.
She rolled over to her side and pushed up to sit. She spotted Danno. He was sitting on one of the slate rocks a few yards away, talking on his cell phone. His pants were still rolled up from the climb and his face had gotten color from being in the sun several hours. She wanted to kiss him. She got to her feet and hobbled over, still weak from the climb and lack of water.
As she approached, Ala saw him pull the phone away from his ear and hold it so that the receiver was directly in front of his mouth. Then he said something very loudly, but the wind made his words inaudible to her. He tapped a button and put the phone back into his pocket. He smoothed back his hair and turned toward her.
A thin smile appeared and he stepped off the rock and met her halfway.
“You were out cold.”
“I know. I was so beat from the climb.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, taking her hand. “I thought it would be a nice way to spend the day.”
“Oh, it was, really,” she said, the fear creeping back that he may be looking for a way to leave her.
“Should we head back?”
This time they walked the outer perimeter of the hill, which was more of a downward ramp, to take their time. Ala could not imagine climbing back down in one piece.
She almost began to cry when the car came into view. She wanted to run, but didn’t risk it, because the boat shoes were sure to fall apart with any added impact.
They got in and Danno turned the air conditioning all the way up. He opened the glove box and took out a pack of cigarette’s that said Shepheard’s Hotel on the gold foil on the front of the pack. He pulled a shiny lighter from his pocket and lit one while it dangled sideways from his lips.
Ala hated smoking more than anything she could think of at that moment. She pushed the button to roll down her window. He turned the air conditioning off.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” she said, trying to sound casual, while also trying to evaluate whether or not the smoking was something she could live with. As if he had asked her to marry him.
“Does it bother you?” He asked, looking straight ahead.
“A little, yes,” Ala said.
She watched his face for a reaction. All she could see were the tiny lines in the crevices of his eyelids raising slightly. He opened the window and tossed the cigarette out. Ala rolled her window up. He turned the air back on.
“What if I told you that I only smoke when something bad happens?” He said, keeping his eyes on the road.