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Excerpt 149


She slammed the pages down on the table.  Both hands shook uncontrollably and she feared she might lose control of her body.  She picked the letter back up and skimmed for keywords, tried looking it over to find where she misread.  The words stayed the same. Danno knew Bruno before he ever knew her.  He knew Emmanuel. He knew where he lived. He never would have come to her town if it weren’t to try to get Emmanuel’s money.

She stood, letting the papers fall to the floor.  Everyone was still working on their computers or talking on their phones.  Men were drinking beer with their suit jackets on the backs of their seats.  There was no earthquake happening except inside of her.  Everything inside was pushing her to go.  Every thought she had was prefaced with “Go now. Take your bag and go.”

If she left, Danno would be worried.  She knew he loved her, which was the worst part.  She knew he didn’t care about the deal or the money. She knew he would die if anything happened to her. She knew their time together changed him, as it had changed her.  It was the worst part because there was love.

She slumped back down in the chair.

“More tea, Miss?” a server asked meekly.

“No, thank you. Just the check.”

“It’s on the account Miss.”

“Yes, okay, thank you.”

He ran his world by signing his name.  His name took care of everything. He lived differently than people who had to apply for credit or hope they could save enough money to retire. He risked a lot, but the reward was living a life that wasn’t confining day after day.

Her chest tightened as she folded the pages and shoved them back into the envelope. She knew Emmanuel was telling the truth, but felt better trying to find holes in his explanation, to prove him wrong.  Why would he still pay her when he knew something, anything, had gone wrong?

She could confront Danno and ask him to tell her the truth. He o course would know that she already knew what the truth was to even ask in the first place. He would know she knew about all of it. What did he do to people who knew too much? Did he kill them or have someone else do it? He wouldn’t actually kill her if he loved her, she thought. The again, she had nearly forgotten that a man burned to death because of her. Self-defense or not, she had taken a life.

He could be the only kind of person with the only kind of life that she could actually build something with. They both did things the way other people didn’t do them. They both felt connected to one another. She wouldn’t be able to find anyone who made her feel that way he had. And he meant the most to her since she was left the country with him and didn’t tell anyone she knew that she was going.

She held her hands out and tried to steady them. When this didn’t work, she did her best to dry her eyes by waving them rapidly.  People began to look at her.  She was the most underdressed in her sundress, damp with sweat,  sandals and sunglasses. She took another cigarette out and lit it.  This time the smoked entered her lungs easier.

“Get up and go. Leave,” she whispered.  She zipped up her bag and swung it over her shoulder.

“Hey, are you smoking?” He said, coming up behind her.

She jumped, sending ashes all over the armchair.

“Just one,” she said, stubbing it out next to the first cigarette she had smoked.

He sat on the coffee table in front of her and took her face into his hands.

“This flight is not going to be as long. Just have a nice dinner, read a little and I’ll be at the gate in no time.”

She nodded and let tears slide down her cheeks, into his hands. He hugged her.

“Come on.  Everything is going to work out.”

He signed the check and took her hand, walking her out with his arm around her.

“I have to use the restroom,” she said.

“Sure. To the right. I’ll wait.

“Do you want to come in with me?” She asked, winking.

 

 

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Excerpt 148


Ala awoke with Danno sleeping with his head on her shoulder.  They had landed in Seoul safely.  Her head was tender from the stress of the turbulence and the sleep she managed to get was not restful. She unbuckled her seat belt and gently climbed over Danno’s seat.  Her legs nearly gave out when her feet hit the floor and she headed toward the restroom.

“Ms., please sit down,” the weary stewardess said slouched in the seat she was still strapped into. Her jacket was off and her eye makeup was smudged.

“I really need to stretch. How much longer until we’re off the plane?” Ala said.

“A few more minutes, when we get word from the captain.”

“We’re on the ground.  I don’t understand the hold up,”

Danno woke up and immediately registered the exchange going on between them.  He got up and took Ala’s hand.

“Let’s just sit down,” he whispered.

“Stop acting like I am crazy.  I have every right to stand up after a whole day on this plane.”

“I know. We’re almost done. Let’s sit.”

She let him pull her back to their seats.  He took her hand into his hands.

“We made it through the plane almost crashing. The last thing we need is for you to be detained in South Korea for mouthing off to a flight attendant.” He kissed her.

She took a compact out of her purse and ran her fingers through her hair, which looked better after she had slept on it. She turned on her phone, even though she knew the staff would take issue with this if they saw her.  She had missed eleven phone calls during the flight and could see the most recent three were from Jase.  Her face grew hot and she leaned forward, afraid she was going to be sick.

“Ala,” Danno rubbed her back. “We can get off now.  Are you okay?”

She nodded and made sure she had all of her things. Their luggage was still in tact there a sense of relief among the passengers that the flight had come to an end without the use of an emergency slide Some of them even thanked the stewardesses while leaving the plane.  Ala walk straight past them without making eye contact.

The waiting area was very hot.  The smell of people who had been on planes and in airports for multiple days overwhelmed her. She and Danno held hands tightly and squeezed through the crowd.

“Are you hungry?” He asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Let’s go the lounge, so I can have a cigarette.”

She wondered how soon into their relationship she could mention that his smoking bothered her. It added to his sex appeal, but now she was concerned about both of them being alive and healthy for years to come.

Danno took out his membership card and showed it to the pretty hostess who was wearing a sea green kimono.  They took two armchairs away from everyone else and ordered some tea. He lit a cigarette and, leaning back in his chair, winked at her.

“Do you think anyone else has had a crazier time than we have?”

What she had learned for sure this summer was that there were crazy people everywhere and that there was no reason to believe that she, or anyone else, was ever safe.

“I’m going to make a phone call,” she said, walking to the window that overlooked the tarmac. She didn’t know what time it was back home, but knew that Jase wouldn’t care when she called even if it was the middle of the night. The phone only rang once.

“Ala?” His voice was badly broken like he had been walking through a blizzard with bronchitis. She knew he had been up drinking.

“Hi. Did I wake you?”

“No, I’ve been up. Where are you?” He said with urgency in his voice.

She bit the side of her cheek.  She always got really honest when she felt like he needed her help.

“Jase, what happened?”

“My mom died.”

She pushed the phone against her ear, picturing Abigail’s face.

“I’m so sorry.”

“She was alone. I don’t know how, but she was all alone when the hospital called. My idiot brother.”

“Oh Jase, I-” She felt her throat constricting, trying to hold back tears.

“Can you come home? Or here? I need you.”

She looked back at Danno who was also on a call. Panic flowed through her aching legs. They were not together anymore, but she knew this day would come and couldn’t imagine not being there.

“I can’t come right now. I’m sorry.”

“Tomorrow then? Please Ala, I’ll never ask you for anything again.”

“I don’t think so, Jase.”

“Where are you that’s so Goddamn important?” He yelled. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Look just please; let me get you a ticket. We can talk when you get here.”

She shook her head.

“I just can’t.”

“I’m always going to be waiting for you,” he said starting to cry. She hung up the phone.

She walked back to Danno, wiping both eyes with her fingers, as he was putting his phone away.

“I love you,” she said, sitting on his lap.

“Are you crying?”

“I just love you.”

“I love you,” he said, pulling her mouth to his mouth. “You’re going to have to board soon. Finish your tea. I’m going to use the restroom and then I’ll walk you to the gate.”

She took her seat and made herself take a sip of tea. It burned her mouth.  She took a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table and lit it.  She inhaled and the smoke seemed to make tiny hatch marks down the back of her throat.  She coughed violently.  Several people dressed in suits looked over at her.  She took another puff and eased back into the chair.

It wasn’t possible to go back for Abigail’s funeral. There would be too much pain and too many people who had known her as someone else. She would be uncomfortable the entire time and Jase would lean on her for more support than she could give. Years later, she could imagine feeling like a heartless person, and if that happened, she would apologize then.

She opened her bag and put her phone away. Emmanuel’s letter was crumpled toward the bottom. She smoothed the pages out on her lap and a smaller slip of paper flittered to the ground. It was a check for ten thousand dollars. She folded it in half and shoved it into her wallet.

She stubbed out her cigarette and continued to read.

“…I am still out of the country and, while I have received disturbing news about my property being disrupted, I am a firm believer in assessing a claim before reacting. This only has to do with the current company you keep, specifically Danno. As someone who has known his character well for years, I feel it is my duty to warn you that you are in danger.”

Sweat spiked up on the back of her neck. She wanted to reread, but had to keep going.

“When I hired Bruno ten years ago, I thought he was a lowly gardener who hadn’t had much luck. Being from my native land, I trusted him without any idea that he was acting as Danno’s informant. I am not going to delve into the kind of business we do, since I have a feeling that in your current situation, time is precious. I can only say that my fortune is spoken of often in my industry’s circles and that the two of them have been working for quite some time to drain my assets.

Apparently Danno and Bruno’s relationship has gone south, and Bruno was not paid what was promised to him. This is where you came in. There aren’t any known people or things in this world that would affect Danno’s decisions, but you apparently have done so. This is not something to be proud of. I am only relieved that you had enough fight in you to stay alive.

Please do whatever you have to and get away from this man. Even if he doesn’t kill you himself, his line of work will. You will have no way of reaching me once I send this letter. I hope that for you and your parent’s sake, you leave this unsavory character’s side and find safety.

Best regards,

Emmanuel”

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt 147


Dear Ala,

Please read this letter in its entirety.  While I know your instinct may be to tear it up, or act as if you’ve never received it, please work against it.  It is imperative you know that I am not writing to you out of anger for what may or may not have happened. I am still out of the country and, while I have received disturbing news about my property being disrupted, I am a firm believer in assessing a claim before reacting. This only has to do with…

Her seat seemed to slump and began to shake suddenly.  Danno woke up and took her hand.  Their tray tables rattled, spilling her ginger ale on her legs, and the seat belt lights blinked incessantly. The stewardess wobbled toward the front of the aisle and picked up the intercom speaker.

First she spoke in Korean and then, Ala assumed, repeated, “Please everyone take your seats and fasten your seat belts. We are experiencing some turbulence and at the captain’s request, please remain in your seats.”

Ala had acquired the bad habit of never wearing her seat belt on flights.  She reached down to find the buckle and the plane shifted again, slamming her forehead against the tray table.

“Oh no, here sit back, let me see,” Danno said, rubbing the spot on her forehead that she knew would later erupt into a bump.

The vibration grew quicker and the stewardesses strapped themselves into the seats parallel to the rows in the front of the cabin.  Ala shoved the letter into her purse and zipped it, making sure all of the compartments were closed.  Her legs shook as she felt her stomach drop, as the plane seemed to turn in the opposite direction.

The intercom came on again and a man’s voice took over.  He spoke Korean in a calming tone, but Ala could tell there was vomit rising in the back of his throat he was trying to keep down.  The speaker cut out before her could repeat himself in English.

A drink cart came crashing down the aisle, slamming into a man’s elbow.  He screamed.

“Put the Goddamn brake on that cart!” He yelled.  A stewardess unstrapped herself from her seat and ran over.  Grabbing the cart handles, she struggled to push it forward. The man got out of his seat to help her.

“I’m sorry Sir. The brake was on.”

An alarm went off and the tension among the few passengers flourished, as the air seemed to tighten around them.  Ala pictured them plunging into the black water and being ripped apart by whatever unseen beings they would disturb.  She felt up and down her seat, trying to find the flotation device.  Danno took her hand.

“Calm down.  The plane isn’t going down.  It’s a storm.” He pointed to the droplets covering her window.  “Don’t waste your energy being hysterical.”

“But it might go down. Everyone is scared,” she said.

“Come here,” he said, wrapping his arm around her. He pulled the blanket up over both of their legs and put his neck pillow behind her back. Even with the awkward armrest jutting into her ribs, she began to feel better.

“Apple,” he whispered.

“What?”

“Apple.”

She looked at him.

“What are you doing?”

“Now you say a food that begins with the letter “B”.” The stewardess reached into the drink cart and pulled out a few ice cubes.  She wrapped them in a napkin and handed them to the man to hold against his elbow. The lights flickered in the cabin. Ala tried to hold in her urine. “Come on,” he said.

“Bologni,” she said. He nodded.

“Chicken Cordon Bleu. That’s two points for me.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I used the letter “c” twice.”

“Fine.  Dagwood Sandwich,” she said.

“What is that?”

“You know, from Blondie. The sandwich that looks like it’s twelve layers of meat and cheese.”

“What’s Blondie?”

“The comic book?  The sandwich enthusiast. My father and I used to read them on weekends.”

Her eyes filled with tears.  She had avoided her parents and now was going to drown in the dark before ever seeing them again. The pressure around her heart made her nervous to move any part of her body.

“Fine, the point is yours under the condition that this so called sandwich has been attempted by someone other than a fictional character.  Éclair.”

“Fettuccini.”

“Gazpacho”

“Haddock.”

“Ice cream.”

An overhead bin opened, tossing a trunk out that burst open when it hit the floor.  A lady screamed and made the sign of the cross against her chest.  Ala closed her eyes.

“Jell-O”

“Hardly a food, but fine.”

“You’re sort of a pain in the ass with this game.”

“I just play fair,” he said, rubbing the palm of her hand. “Kale.”

“Lemongrass.”

The plane veered sharply and straightened out.  The alarm stopped pulsing and the lights stabilized.  Ala was sure they had crashed and that she was watching the scene while dead. The stewardess tried to adjust her cap and walked back to the intercom.

“It seems that we are through the turbulent portion of our flight.  The captain asks that you please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened. We will come through with beverages offerings once we receive clearance.”

“We’re okay,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure I won.”

Ala pinched his forearm and then rested her head against his chest.  She drifted off just as the sun cut through the black sky.

 

 

 

 

 

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segment 47


Gene dropped her off at her house and after he drove off, but before she reached the front door, she let herself begin to sob.  She dropped to her knees on the front lawn and hugged herself.  She was convinced she had to  start fresh, but felt helpless as she tried to muffle the cries from her throat.

She tiptoed upstairs, not wanting to wake her parents to see her tear stained face.  She removed her clothes and decided to sleep in only her panties.  She turned out the light and, not even one minute later, sat straight up in bed and turned the light back  on.  The letter.  She had completely forgotten.  She quietly took it out of the drawer and carefully opened the envelope.

The paper felt like fine cloth and had Emmanuel’s initials embossed in the header.

August 19

Dear Ala,

I’m not for formalities much , so rather than scripting a dense job offer, I thought this would be more personable to read. I hope you find this to be true.

As I mentioned, I am taking on an assignment, which requires me to travel for the next solid month. I have never left my house for such a long block of time. Normally, I have my housekeeper look in while I am gone.  Unfortunately, for reasons I’d prefer not to go into, she will no longer be working for me.

I was taken with your maturity upon meeting you. You strike me as someone who has always been responsible.  I also  like that you live in the neighborhood and are familiar with its residents.

All I require, if you are to house sit, is that you live here for the next month, tend to my plants, bring in the mail, and make sure you are here to let in my aquarist.  I have some valuable artwork, both monetarily and in sentiment, so I would expect you to respect the space.  I am willing to pay you ten thousand dollars for this service to me.  I hope you accept my offer.

Best regards,

Emmanuel

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segment 35


“You’re saying living in the city right now isn’t possible.”

“It’s not part of my plans, no.”

“Well, here,” He said, taking an envelope out of his breast pocket and holding it in front of her.  “All the information is in here.  I would go through it with you, but I’m late for a lunch meeting.”

She took the packet and nodded.

“I’ll read it over.”

“Great,” he said, gesturing to the hallway.  “Let me know if you have any questions.”

She walked down the steps, wondering if she had overacted and seemed ungrateful at his offer.

The sky had grayed during the short visit with Emmanuel and Ala was cold without a sweater.  He lifted a day coat over his shoulders, folded his sunglasses and put them in his pocket.

“Would you like a ride home?”

“No, I’ll be all right.  Thanks.”

They parted and went opposite ways down the block.  Ala suddenly became very aware of the envelope in her hands.  She wanted to rip it open right there and see what Emmanuel could possibly be thinking with his proposal.  She realized he could still see her and knew she would have to wait until she got home.  It was as if having to urinate or scratch an itch. She almost couldn’t control her curiosity.

She walked through the front door and heard clamoring in the kitchen.

“Ala? Is that you?”

“Yes,”  she said, heading in to talk to her mother.  Now the envelope would have to wait. She had wanted to ask where her parents had been all night and all today, but all she cared about was reading what was inside of the envelope.

“Are you still having Gertrude over for dinner?”

Ala had completely forgotten.  Gertrude was her best friend, out of everyone she knew, who she still hadn’t seen sconce moving back. She couldn’t cancel. She rushed up the stairs and locked the letter in her nightstand drawer.  She had to start cooking, so the letter would have to wait.

 

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