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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 146


Her nails scraped against the sealed flap as she looked around to make sure no one was watching her.  Everyone seemed to be concerned about the directions for boarding gates or taking items out of their suitcases to meet the approved weight for checking bags.

Ala thought about calling her parents to let them know she was leaving the country.  She was used to doing so even if she was only leaving the city, and couldn’t imagine their worry when they realized they had no idea where she was. This however, was before their hobby had taken such precedence in their lives.

If she called her parents, and they bothered to pick up the phone, they would try to stop her from getting on the flight. Her father would probably drive to the airport.  They would see Danno and would want to talk to him.  They would think he was trying to coerce her to leave the country.

The seating area was hot and she could feel the bottom of her feet sticking to the leather in her sandals.  She loosened the straps, took them off and stretched her toes.  She ripped the edge of the envelope open slowly.

“Ms.?”

She looked up and saw a security guard towering over her.  He wore a hat that was too small for his head and had a radio in his hand ready to notify someone if he needed help.

“Yes?”

“I have to ask that you put your shoes back on.”

“Why?” She said.

“Well, it’s a public area. And shoes are required for sanitation reasons.”

Ala looked past him at a young woman changing a baby’s diaper on the floor.  A man next to her was sleeping with a stream of drool dripping onto his shirt.  Another man ate from a cardboard container and picked at his ear. It was hard to believe that she could be singled out as being the most disruptive out of these people.

“What about them?” She said, pointing at the group.

“What about them?” He said, shifting his weight, growing impatient.

“They’re clearly not taking sanitation into account.”

“They all have shoes on.”

“You mean to tell me that I can wipe up shit in the middle of this sea of people, but I can’t take my shoes off for a minute?  Even though I’ll have to take them off for security?”  She heard her voice getting sharper.

“Yes,” he said, smiling. His teeth were brown around the gum line and it bothered her. She didn’t like taking criticism from people whom were themselves making the same mistakes. She had always had difficulty with supervisors that she didn’t feel matched her intelligence. Now it made her furious that a man was referring to her as unpolished, when he himself seemed to have poor hygiene habits.

She picked up one of the sandals and stood. Her intention was to smack him across the face with the dirty sole.

“Is there a problem?” Danno said, approaching with the boarding passes.

“Yes.  He won’t let me take my shoes off for a minute even though all of those foul people over there are doing whatever they want.” This she said too loudly and summoned several dirt looks.

Danno smiled at the guard and gently removed the sandal from her hand.  Dropping it to the ground, he said, “Do me a favor and put you shoes on.”

“Why?” She said, knowing that she would be putting them back on, but feeling ashamed that the security guard was going to get his way.

“So we can get on with the trip. Come on. Just do it. Please.”

She rolled her eyes at the guard and sat back down.  Danno nodded at him as he strutted away.  Ala nearly broke one strap by tugging it roughly across her foot. She straightened her dress and swung her purse over her shoulder.

“I got our tickets. There’s only one issue.  We couldn’t get on the same connecting flight from Seoul,” he said.

“Oh really?” She said, deflated.

“You’ll get there before I do.”

“How long will we be apart?”

“About twelve hours.  We’ll be so exhausted at that point, you’ll barely notice. I did my best.”

“I know. Thank you,” she said.

“We are carrying on, so security should be quick.”

She followed him into the snaking line and waited, making sure she did not make eye contact with anyone.

“And how are you today?” A man checking their tickets asked.

“We’re fine, thanks,” Danno said before Ala could respond.  She could tell he felt like she was yanking him into the quicksand with her.  She wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to drug her before they boarded the plane to avoid any confrontations.

They found a table by the window in the club cafe.  The glass slanted forward enough to be able to see planes taking off.  The linens and china were elegant and Ala felt under dressed.  She put on a pair of sunglasses and arranged her hair so that she had more of a side part.

Danno ordered a bottle of white wine for them since it was so hot and a platter of oysters.  Ala worried that her stomach would turn if she had only that before flying and decided to order a chicken salad as well.

“Are you excited?” He said, beaming at her. Among her anxiety, she had forgotten how much she looked forward to spending each day with him.

“I can’t wait to get there,” she said.

“What’s the first thing you want to do?”

“Meet you at your gate.”

“And after that?”

“Visit the Bogyoke Market and buy hats.”

“That’s a great idea.  I read that it’s common for scalps to start frying within the first hour.”

“The book used the term “scalps frying?”

“Of course. Crouton?” He dangled his fork in front of her face.

“No thank you,” she laughed. “But what are you going to do while we’re apart?”

“Work, no doubt.”

“From Asia?”

“Of course.  I used to work out of Guyana years ago.”

“Don’t you think you’ll want a new job?” She said, toying with the hard boiled egg on her plate.

“Well sure, but not until I learn Burmese.”

“What about working in tourism?” She said.  He placed his hand over hers on the table.

“Believe me, you won’t want me to have a different job.  No one will bother us. That’s the beauty of working remotely.”

“Alright,” she said, finishing her wine. He leaned across the table and kissed her.

They lingered at the magazine stand so that they wouldn’t have to pace around the gate.  Ala bought several books and a large blanket.  Danno bought cough drops and a neck pillow.

“My throat always hurts during plane rides.”

“Maybe they’ll serve some nice warm fish soup to soothe you.”

He grabbed her and, pinning her arms to her sides, blew against her neck.

“Stop!” She squealed.

The cashier rolled her eyes as she handed them the bags.

The first six rows of the plane were empty and Ala hoped the stewardess would permit them to move up to first class, even though it was unlikely.  She settled into her window seat as Danno tucked the blanket around her legs.  Takeoff was smooth and the few people on the flight were quiet. Ala drank ginger ale to settle her stomach and was soon asleep.

Waking up, she looked at the black sky out the window.  She liked the idea of flying over the ocean at night, of being midair in the pitch black. Danno was asleep next to her and she was wide-awake. She wanted to wake him and pull him into the bathroom after her, something she had never done. She felt like a restless honeymooner.

A subtitled movie hummed from the screen in front of them but she had no interest.  She took one of the new books from the bag and into page three her eyes began to burn. She took her purse from under her seat and found her lip balm. Applying it, she saw the envelope and took it out.  She finished opening the flap and unfolded the pages.

 

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Excerpt 92


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.”

 

 

 

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