Archive for December, 2012

Excerpt 144


The frigidity stung her skin as she slapped handfuls of water against her face. Some of the water got into her eyes, which caused rapid blinking. What Arlene said couldn’t matter after everything that had happened.  After all, she could’ve been planning to take the wallet herself, if Danno hadn’t first.  Ala never had asked him how he got her wallet, most likely because she didn’t want the answer to be that he stole it.  He should have told her about it, of course.  And then she wouldn’t have had dinner with him.  And she certainly wouldn’t have him now.

She blubbered loudly, realizing she hadn’t even filed the report with Arlene and now the little boy had no chance of escaping his rotten mother. It was all her fault, but she couldn’t face Arlene again.  It made her insides shake to think of speaking to anyone right then.

Grabbing a brittle paper towel from the overstuffed dispenser forced it to tear out in pieces.  She rubbed the paper against her skin until her nose and cheeks were inflamed, then stepped back from the mirror, smoothed down her hair and left the bathroom.  She walked across the promenade toward the clubhouse, wondering if she had unplugged all of the gadgets in Emmanuel’s house and also if she’d turned off the lights.  She had left most of her things at her parent’s house and would have to decide if she wanted to go get them and risk seeing them in the middle of another unnerving gathering.

The bar was empty, besides Glenny wiping down the bronze cash register. She spotted Danno sitting at a patio table on the terrace.  The wind had picked up, forcing the petals of the gardenias in the arrangement on the table to flutter, along with his hair.  She could see that he had ordered a drink, and was halfway through it as he watched the horses trot around the circle with his back to her.  A chill invaded her, as she considered turning and leaving, without saying anything to him.

Her ankles felt heavy and the ceiling seemed to be lowering slowly to eventually press her into the ground.  She wobbled to the closest booth and climbed into a fetal position to rest.  Glenny either didn’t see her or didn’t care. She assumed he would have had to learn to mind his own business working at a bar in a racetrack.  She tried to keep her eyes closed to invite the illusion that she was getting rest.

She could hear several pairs of footsteps coming over, then bodies shifting into the booth next to the one she was trying to nap in. There were a few male voices discussing money, women’s bodies, who was going to win Friday’s fight and other topics that seized Ala’s interest enough to keep her from sleeping.

Her phone began to ring and she heard the men pat their pockets to check if they were getting a phone call.  She sat up and dug her phone out of her purse. Danno was calling her from the terrace outside. She ignored the call and climbed out of the booth.

“Hey,” a ruddy faced man wearing a pinkie ring said, “We didn’t know you were in there.  We would’ve watched our mouths.”

“Oh, no, it’s fine, I must have fallen asleep,” she said, pulling her bag over her shoulder.

“Well, now that you’re awake,” the other man with hair plugs said, “come have a drink with us.”  He motioned her over by cupping his hand and wiggling his fat fingers.

“No, that’s alright. Thanks though,” she was hoping Glenny was watching the interaction, but his head was down as she swept behind the counter.

“Come on, one drink won’t hurt. Let us get to know you. You seem like fun,” the first man said, wiping sweat from his forehead with a cocktail napkin.

“It’s the hair,” the second man said, “That’s a hot, wild look.”

Her face burned with detestation for them and she turned to walk away. She thought of the man throwing clumps of hair he hacked off as she trembled in her underwear.

“Guess we won’t find out if the curtains match the drapes,” one of them said, causing his friend to erupt with laughter and hit the table.

“Hey, don’t walk away when we’re talking to you.  Mangy slut.”

Before her next breath, Ala was back at the table, and in what seemed like a second, had picked up a full glass, smashed it against the booth and was holding the serrated based near the ruddy man’s neck.

White light flashed in front of her as someone was pulling her away from behind.  She turned to see that it was Glenny, whose frail frame was surprisingly strong.  Danno must have rushed inside when hearing the commotion because he was now covering his eye with one hand and examining the bloodied knuckles on his other hand.

The scene was quiet except for the piggish man, now on his feet and screaming in Danno’s face, with dark blood running from his nose.   His friend was on the phone, most likely with the police. Ala dropped the glass and let Glenny walk her away toward the bar.

“I would suggest leaving,” he said.  She watched as the man wound up to punch Danno, who hit him in the stomach before he could, causing him to fall back into the booth.

Rushing over, he took several hundred-dollar bills out of his wallet.  Glenny shook his head in protest, but Danno shoved the money into his apron.  He grabbed Ala’s hand and jerked her out of the bar.

“I just,” she stuttered.

“Don’t talk right now,” he said.  Her whole body was quaking with adrenaline.  She nearly slit the man’s throat or at least could have cut him severely.  They ran through the parking lot to the car.

“Get in the back,” he yelled.

“No!”

He grabbed her arm.

“Get in the backseat and lie down.  You’re going to have a heart attack,” he said, opening the door and shoving her in.  She folded herself onto the hot leather seat, like she had in the booth, and checked her arms for any blood.  She was clean. Danno sped out of the lot, swearing under his breath. She heard the click of the automatic locks.  He thought she was insane and was going to throw herself out the moving car.  She felt like a caged animal and wanted to claw through the interior. “We’ve got to get cleaned up,” he said.

“Can’t we just go?”

“No, we’ll get too much attention.  And I still have work to do. I wasn’t planning on running out of there.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You’re not sorry.  You’re not yourself. Just rest back there.”

She was herself.  There was nothing wrong with what she had done.  She tried to be polite, but those men had tried to rape her with their eyes and words. And she couldn’t let that happen.  One by one, she bit all of her nails off and spit them onto the tattered car rug.  The car stopped and she sat up to look out the window.

They were at The Daschund, a five star hotel Ala had been to only once for a luncheon during her mother’s charity work.  The carport had an ornate gold fountain with stone cherubs that spouted water.  Danno took one suitcase from the trunk, opened Ala’s door and handed the keys to the valet.  He handed her a plastic key card.

“Go up to room 530. I have to make a phone call.”

“Don’t we have to check in?”

“No,” he said as he headed toward reception. The lobby housed a giant chandelier and lounge with plush ivory armchairs.

She found the elevator bank and went to the fifth floor. She walked slowly down the hallway, looking both ways, with the feeling that someone was going to kill her.  She bolted the door behind her and got undressed. She didn’t even bother looking at the accommodations, which was always her favorite part of staying in a hotel.

The hot shower brought such instantaneous comfort that she let go and sobbed again, startled that she could feel so melancholy without any medication.

Heavy pounding on the door made her heart pulse swiftly, and she left the shower running and went to the door without a towel. It could be one of the men from the bar. It could be the man from the house she was locked up in. It could be Bruno. It could be Emmanuel. It could be Gene. It could be her parents.  She crouched into a ball on the carpet.

“Ala, it’s me,” Danno said coolly. “You bolted it.”  She used the knob to pull herself up and opened the door.  He wrapped his arms around her.  “Don’t answer the door without clothes on,” he said.  “I made you an appointment downstairs.”

She walked back into the shower and finished washing the cold sweat away.  She got dressed and helped Danno clean the cut around his eye with the corner of a damp washcloth.  Remarkably there was no discoloration, only some swelling.  She didn’t want to know how many times he had been hit.

“You don’t sell tapestries or whatever,” she said. He kissed her hand.

“No.”

After he showered, they lay in bed under the sheets not talking until it was time for her appointment.  Then he walked her down to the lobby.

“I’ll be right out here waiting,” he said, which made her smile.

The stylist, Raffi, was petite and talked with his hands, which interrupted the work her was doing on her hair, stretching out the appointment and her patience.

“So was this a dare?” He said.

“A dare?”

“Did someone dare you to let someone cut your hair?”

“No,” she said.

“So, you’re in a band?”

“Yes.”

He laughed and coiled pieces of her hair in between in fingers before letting them fall.

“So, what are we doing?” He asked, grinning.

She looked at her whole face in the mirror, turning her chin every way her neck would allow.  She looked terrible, like she had been wrung out and beaten with a paddle.  Her skin was sallow and her eyes were muted, like she was waiting to die.

“Do whatever you think will help,” she said.

“Girl please, you’ve got great features,” he said, squeezing her shoulder.

“Good. Then use them,” she said.

She kept her eyes closed during most of the appointment, but still answered all of Raffi’s questions, mostly with lies.  She could tell her was coloring her hair when she felt the warm globs nearly run into her eyes.  He talked about being from the West Coast, following a man here, being broken hearted when the man had a child with a woman, and now was ultimately grateful because it led him to his dream career.

The whole charade sounded exhausting and Ala sucked in breaths to keep from yawning. She supposed that her stories about the men in her life sounded the same way. The sleepless nights she had because of Jase’s behavior. The confusion and self-doubt she felt because of Gene.  She couldn’t even think about her father’s contribution to her distrust at this point.  And of course, to a traditional person, the relationship with Danno would sound preposterous and completely out of control.

The difference was, that she was choosing every step with him. She couldn’t blame him for anything that she wasn’t happy about. Even if he wasn’t honest about everything, she didn’t feel like he was trying to manipulate her emotions.  Her reactions were very real and didn’t require the drama usually injected into relationships to keep them exciting.  She didn’t want to question everything about him. She didn’t want to think about the whole of her future.  She was just happy to be with him.

“Open your eyes beauty queen!” Raffi squealed.  She looked in the mirror and liked the black hair he had cut so close to her scalp.  Anyone who had known her for years would be very alarmed, and might even think she was a mental patient.  “Let me do your lips,” he said, applying a shade of red so bright that she looked like a ventriloquist dummy.

She waved Danno inside, who didn’t even look twice at the transformation. He paid Raffi, tipping him well over the cost of the makeover.

“Enjoy this one,” Raffi said, winking at Ala. She couldn’t tell if he had thought Danno was attractive, or if he was attracted to his money.

“I got the bags,” he said. “Let’s go.”

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Excerpt 143


After Danno wrote the license plate number on a slip of paper, he folded it into her hand and opened the car door for her. Being hot in the patrol car agitated Ala.  The windows in the back were broken and unable to roll down.  She, however, didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the front seat with Cliff. She watched through the back window as Danno retrieved the folder from the car and locked it.

On the grove, there was a wedding party mingling while a photographer set up to take photographs. The bride was swathed in white chiffon with a floral headpiece.  A plucky woman, most likely her mother, hurried and held a drumstick in front of the bride’s mouth, on which the bride nibbled carefully. The mother then blotted her lips with a napkin. A bridesmaid followed closely behind the bride, fluffing her gown. There was a trainer hooking up horse to a carriage that the groom was already sitting in the back of, smoking a cigar.

Ala pressed her head into the back seat and closed her eyes. She was nauseous from the excitement during the short day so far.  There was the plane she would have to board, filled with stale air, which would also make her queasy.  The car stopped.

“Well, here we are,” Cliff said, opening her door.

“Is this report even going to do any good?” Ala said.

“If the woman comes back here it will.”

The building smelled like heated tar and the hallways needed to be cleaned. Overhead lights buzzed and several flies floated along, seeming to bounce off the walls with no way out.  A woman sat behind a counter, writing out a list and blowing her frizzed blonde curls away from her eyes. There were curly cues of smoke climbing up from a cigarette in ashtray on her desk. 
Since she was the only person that seemed to be around Ala decided to approach.

“I’m here to file a report,” she said.

The woman kept writing for an extra second, hoping Ala would see that she was busy and not disturb her. She turned her head slowly, revealing a scar underneath her eye.

“Oh yeah, Cliff called over.  I’m Arlene.”

“Wow.  Hi, I’ve been meaning to call you and thank you for finding my wallet,” Ala said.

Arlene’s eyes widened as she pushed the notepad aside.

“So, you got your wallet back?”

“Yes. It was dropped off.” She remembered the pang in her stomach she felt when she saw Danno step out of the car for the first time.

Arlene nodded rapidly, picking up her cigarette and inhaling a little too long.

“Sure.  Yeah, of course.  Sometimes people around here will just go ahead and return lost items, if there’s identification.  Just to make it easier.” The last sentence sounded as if Arlene was trying to make herself believe it.

The tiny white hairs, Ala imagined to be on the back of her neck, sprung up.  Her wallet was stolen from this office. Arlene had forgotten, or hoped Ala had picked it up when she was off duty.  Either way, Arlene wasn’t sure the wallet was ever returned, which meant that Danno had taken it without permission.

“I think I left something in the car,” she said, backing away from the desk.

“Oh, let me call Cliff,” Arlene said, picking up the receiver.

Ala turned and left the office, and struggled for air down the hallway.  She saw a restroom and threw her weight against the door.  She turned on a creaking faucet, and made sure the water was cold, before splashing her face.

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