Stolen Love

Written for the 2017 NYC Midnight Short Story challenge, round one.

I was tasked with writing a complete tale in a week given these prompts:

Romantic Comedy, a baker, kleptomania.

I’ve read two of the stories in my group, (Grp. 23,) and both follow the same logic, one is somewhat similar to mine, the other is, unfortunately for me, hilarious. Thankfully at least three of us move on to round two.

Comments and shares are welcome.

Stolen Love

By Miguel A. Rueda (Wayne Hills.)

Synopsis:

A shy woman pilfers items from a local baker to satisfy her desire to be with him. Meanwhile, a lonely baker allows a woman to steal from him in order to keep her close to him.

Luciana ‘Lulu,’ Migliaccio’s home resembled the aftermath of a small Midwestern town following a level-5 tornado crammed into a twenty by twenty studio apartment. But the objects on the table near the door were arranged in precise, matrix-like order.

Stale cookies—sugar and with various fillings—lined the front edge; dehydrated donuts—previously jelly or crème filled—occupied the next row; and several small display signs—one declaring a “2-for-1” sale, another a “Baker’s Dozen” special—were against the wall. The arrangement created a tiered effect around the table’s focal point, a framed newspaper clipping.

Picking up the picture, she gazed at the man standing in front of ‘DaVinci’s Italian Bakery.’ The article’s headline read, “Enzo DaVinci Carries on Family Tradition in Brother’s Memory.” She held the thin wooden frame with her fingertips so as not to dislodge any of the paint pulled from the wall when she had stolen it. The memento, along with everything else on the table, had been taken from DaVinci’s.

The smell of anise floated into her apartment. “Enzo must be making biscotti,” she muttered.

When baked, the extract produced a distinct aroma that comforted her. She loved to dunk the oblong biscuit in coffee and let the hard shell soften. She closed her eyes and imagined the texture of the dough melting against her tongue, the feel of the softened hazelnuts filling her mouth. She smiled at the thought. It was heaven.

She opened her eyes, kissed the glass, and placed the frame back on the table. She put on her bright-red overcoat and left her apartment. Which was one floor above the kitchen of DaVinci’s bakery.

Enzo was indeed making biscotti. He had just pulled out the long flat loaves to let them cool before slicing them into their familiar shapes and returning them to the oven. This process gave the twice-baked cookie its literal name.

DaVinci’s front half had tables and display cases with a one-way mirror separating it from the kitchen so that Enzo could see what was going on while he worked. The entire store took up a third of a block with the entrance to the apartments above the stores at the opposite end.

He inhaled deeply and let his mind return to the small town near Sicily where he grew up. His grandmother had lived in the tiny kitchen of the apartment on the second floor of his parents’ home. She gifted him his love of baking, especially bread and desserts.  Food made her happy, which made him happy. In his mind, the scent was the smell of home—of love—of eternity.

“Uncle Enzo.” The squeak and subsequent thud of the door separating the kitchen and retail spaces broke Enzo’s daydream. “She’s back.”

Even though he had lived in the United States for the last decade, Enzo spoke with a thick Italian accent. It added a poetic lilt to everything he said. “Who is back, Gio?”

“That woman who keeps shoplifting. The fat lady….”

Basta, Giovanni! Do not disrespect anyone. Your Nonna looks the same way, no?”

Gio nodded, “Yes uncle, you’re right.”

Enzo peered into the shop. She stood by the door like a mouse poking her head through a hole checking for a cat, ready to flee at the first sign of danger.

Enzo said, “That woman is the perfect woman, Gio. She is, eh, Rubenesque.”

Gio’s face skewed. “Ruben-who?”

“Rubenesque. Like the woman’s body painted by Rubens? You are not taught this in your fancy college?”

“Do you mean, Rubik’s, like a Rubik’s cube?”

Enzo glared at Gio. “Si’, nephew. I mean she is a Rubik’s Cube.” Shaking his head he looked back at her, “She is not a square. What person is square?”

Gio mumbled, “Well, you’re a bit of a square.”

Enzo threw a handful of flour at Gio. “Kids today, no respect. What with your, eh, Facepage and constant tweetering.” He pointed to Gio, “Go out there. Apologize to that pretty lady.”

“Um, no uncle. I’m not doing that. What would I even say? I’m sorry I think you need to lose a few pounds but my uncle thinks you’re cute?”

Enzo blushed, “No, no, no, do not mention me!” He thought for a moment. “Ah, tell her she won something. A, eh, free coffee for being our hundredth customer today. Go. And ask her name.”

Gio smirked, “You want me to ask her name? Why would I….” Realization came to him. “Oh, you do like her. That’s why you let her get away with taking stuff.”

“Gio, stop. That is absurd.”

“Oh really, unc? I’ve known you ever since my pop got sick and you came to help us keep the bakery. You weren’t married in Italy, and you’ve never dated here. You’re always in here, baking. You took care of us when my dad passed away, but we’re good now. I’ve seen the way you look at her. Go ask her out.”

Enzo looked at Gio, then back out the window, “Okay, nephew, I will do that.” He wiped his hands on his apron, then ran his fingers through his hair, adding in more flour than he wiped away. He took a deep breath and walked out.

When he opened the door, Lulu was trying to slide a plate of cellophane-wrapped cookies under her coat. The hinges’ squeal drew Lulu’s attention. When she saw Enzo looking at her, she dropped the cookies and ran out.

“Wait!” Enzo rushed after her.

He picked up the plate and followed her. He saw a flash of red as she ducked into the entrance for the apartments. Hurrying through after her, he found a second, locked door leading into the building.

He looked around and saw an intercom unit. A quarter-sized glass bubble sat atop a mesh grill covering the speaker. Four handwritten name tags sat beneath it: Sam Cohen, another with indecipherable Chinese lettering, a third that had several small bats and a skull sketched onto it, and finally, in perfect script, the name Lulu Migliaccio.

Guessing that it had to be her, he pushed, and believing it was necessary, held the button next to her name. The electronic ringing from the speaker stopped when a small lightbulb inside the button lit up.

He heard a woman’s voice, out of breath, quiet and sounding far away, “Hello, can I help you?”

Ciao. Eh, hello Signorina Migliaccio. This is Enzo DaVinci from the bakery. You dropped your struffoli.” He released the button.

She had heard him speak in the bakery, but he’d never said her name. When he pronounced, Migliaccio with a proper Italian accent, it sounded operatic. She stared at Enzo on the small monitor set into the wall above her shrine to him. His voice, deep and exotic, wrapped her in a warm blanket of love. Her mind drifted on the possibilities.

Enzo placed the cookies on the package shelf below the mailboxes and pushed the button. “Hello. Eh, Miss Lulu, are you still there?”

His voice pulled her back to the present.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Your cookies are left by the door. Eh, if you are free, I would like you to join me at eight o’clock tonight for coffee and dessert.” He released the button. Then quickly, and unnecessarily, he pushed it again, “My, eh, treat.”

He stepped back and waited for her response.

Lulu watched him fidget. In the mirrored wall of the lobby, he noticed his hair was speckled with clumps of dough and streaks of flour. He licked his fingers and tried to brush it away, succeeding only in making it stick out at odd angles in some places and plastering against his scalp in others. She laughed at the short, chubby man on the screen who had no idea she could see him.

“Enzo, yes. I would be happy to.”

She saw him smile and reach for the button. He paused and, unaware she could hear, whispered, “Vincenzo DaVinci, you are going to marry this woman.”

He pushed the button, “Thank you. I will see you tonight.”

In the weeks before that evening, Enzo had watched her from behind his mirrored partition. Every morning as she walked past the store to the bus stop on the corner, she glanced in. If it were empty, she would open the door and grab anything close enough to steal without having to enter. Enzo began to leave items near the entrance, each day moving them a little farther inside. One day, she had made it halfway to the counter when someone walked in behind her. Startled, she turned and scurried out, only stopping long enough to grab a framed newspaper article off the wall.

Since that day, he had vowed to confront her. Not about the thefts, but about his feelings for her. Despite her size, he knew she was invisible to all those around her but him; he saw her as demure and fragile. They had to be alike: lonely, but too shy to do anything about it.

Enzo closed early that evening, returned home and showered; making sure that his hair was combed neatly and remiss of extraneous baking supplies. At eight o’clock, he walked to her apartment and pressed the intercom. It rang only once. “Hello, Enzo. I’ll be right down.”

“Si’, I will wait.” He released the button and waited a full fifteen minutes before reaching to press it again.

A familiar fragrance stopped him. He caught a whiff of Biagiotti Roma, the same perfume his grandmother wore. Lulu opened the door. The voluptuous beauty he had been searching for all of his adult life stood before him. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light. His voice barely audible, he said, “Buona sera.” He coughed to regain the power of speech. “Eh, good evening, Lulu.” He held out his arm for her to hold as they walked back to the bakery.

He had set a table up in the center of his kitchen; he always felt most secure surrounded by the equipment and tools he loved. They talked, nervously at first since they knew virtually nothing about each other. Neither could admit they had secretly been stalking the other.

He had made mini-cannolis overflowing with a vanilla-bean-infused ricotta filling. By the end of the evening, they had made plans to meet the next night.

Enzo walked her home and returned to his kitchen. He wasn’t surprised when he found that one of the espresso demitasses was missing. He looked up toward the apartment above him and blew a kiss.

“One day, all of this will belong to you. No matter if you take it piece by piece or all at once.”

They continued to meet every night at the same time. Enzo would make special versions of the desserts that made the bakery popular. Cannoncini filled with dark-chocolate mousse, linzer cookies with raspberry jam that had a perfect balance of sweet and tart, each tiny seed exploded with flavor. Enzo always served them in odd numbers so that Lulu could have the last one.

At end of their first week, Lulu stopped stealing from the bakery. That evening, she had snuck out with a half-filled silver creamer in her purse. She had been nervous, and secretly excited, as he walked her home. Inside her apartment, she looked at the table she had piled with everything she had pilfered and realized that she no longer needed that thrill to feel connected to him. She now had all of him.

She threw away everything with the exception of the framed newspaper. She had other plans for that.

On their one-month anniversary, Enzo set the table with a pure-white tablecloth, linen napkins, and two slender ivory candles in silver candlesticks. He replaced the usual porcelain plates with fine Italian china that he had shipped from his hometown. In the center of the table sat a plate of seven pignoli cookies. He baked the patterns of the small pine nuts into the cookies in pairs: two stars, two squares, and two circles. The seventh unique shape lay hidden beneath the others.

Lulu arrived, carrying a flat, rectangular box.

When she saw the special setting, she said, “Enzo, this is beautiful, I mean, bellissimo.” She had been studying Italian using a book that she had actually paid for. “Is this a special occasion?”

Si’ Lulu, it is.” He pointed to the package. “You have something special for me?”

“Oh, this? Yes. Perhaps we should sit.”

Enzo held the chair for her—just as he did every night—then sat and poured them both coffee.

“Enzo, before you open this, there is something you need to know.” She handed him the box. “I have a problem that I’m working on. I steal things. Little things, nothing big or expensive.”

Enzo chuckled. “Mio amore, eh, my love, I know. I have always known.”

He opened the box. He saw the picture she had taken from his wall.

She had reframed the clipping in an ornate gold frame she had purchased from an antique store.

“This is beautiful. Grazia.

“But Enzo, I…. “

“No.” Enzo reached across the table and placed his finger on her lips. “No more talk of the past. Tonight is about the future.”

Embarrassed to make eye contact with the man to whom she had just confessed her darkest secret, a secret he had accepted without question. Tears welled in her eyes. She tasted a cookie. The inner dough was soft and moist, the pignoli supple on her tongue. They reached the seventh, hidden cookie. Slightly larger than the others, the toasted nuts were set in the shape of a heart.

Enzo smiled and played the game he did every night. “I am full, Lulu. You take the last.”

She looked at the remaining cookie, the candlelight flickering off the glaze baked onto its surface. She knew that each pine-nut had been touched by Enzo’s loving hands. She began to cry.

Enzo’s smile fell, he started to stand, “Mio amore, what is wrong?”

Lulu stopped him, “Sit, I’m okay. It’s just so beautiful, everything. You’re just so lovely to me.”

She picked up the cookie and bit it in half.

She chewed once. Stopped. Looked at Enzo.

He rose and stepped around the table, kneeled and took her hand.

Signorina Luciana Migliaccio. Mi vuoi sposare? Lulu, my love, marry me.”

The musical poetry of his words, spoken with his beautiful accent, overwhelmed her. She began to shake. Between the excitement and emotion of the moment, she started coughing. Then she swallowed.

Enzo jumped up. “Lulu, did you…?”

Lulu grabbed her throat. She looked as though somehow she could find a way to jump back in time.

He took her hand. “Don’t worry, we will get help.” He led her to the door, stopping before opening it. “Lulu, I have to know.” He looked into her eyes, “Will you?”

No longer concerned about her predicament, she calmed. “Si’, Vincenzo DaVinci. Ti amo.”

My 9-11 memory

Cloudless blue sky, comfortable temperature, low humidity. The kind of day that when you walk outside, you place it on your mental, Top-10 days of the year. That’s the way my Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 had started. That’s the morning everyone in my town, fifteen miles due west of midtown Manhattan, started that day. We live within view of the iconic New York skyline, so close we took it for granted, we believed that since it’s always been there, it always would be.

At the time, I worked for ADT as a Systems Manager. That’s a fancy name for the one in charge of large integrated security and fire alarm installations. We had been at the Sheraton hotel across from Giants stadium for a couple of weeks. The hotel is ten miles from New York.

One of my guys told me that a plane had hit one of the towers. We thought it had to be small plane, like a Cessna, anything bigger would be impossible. The TVs in the hotel lobby were switched to a local news channel and the reporters were trying to make sense of it. No one could confirm what size plane had hit the tower, but from the smoke and flames, we all knew it had to something bigger. It occurred to me that we would be able to see it from the roof. The hotel is 21 stories, there are none taller between it and New York. From the roof, there is an unobstructed view to the city.

We took the elevator up, then climbed the two flights up to the access door. We reached the east corner and saw the smoke, could make out licks of flame from the edges. I called my wife, she worked at a building in Newark that I thought might also have a clear view. I regret this, because she too saw what happened next.

My call-waiting beeped and I saw it was my boss from the ADT office. I hung up with my wife and picked him up. He said they had rigged up a TV with rabbit ears and although the reception was grainy, they were watching the news cameras of the fire. He told me that the news report was that it was a big plane, a jet out of Newark airport. We talked about how crazy that was, how there’s no way that could have been an accident. In the distance, south of where we stood, I saw a jet flying toward the smoke. I began to narrate on the phone what I saw.

“There’s another jet coming.

He’s heading toward NY. Maybe he’s trying to get a better look. Not that makes sense but why else would he be going that way.

He’s still going that way, he’s heading right toward…”

I fell to my knees, I’d always seen that in movies and thought it was a contrived reaction, but I couldn’t hold up my own weight. My brain couldn’t handle what I had just seen.

A jet flew into the side of the second tower, and a ball of flame came out the other side.

You’ve seen the video, or maybe watched it happen live on a newsbreak on a small screen with just the plane and the building. We saw it in context of a beautifully clear day, the sun on our shoulders standing on that roof  with the rest of the New York skyline in view. A panorama of peaceful beauty framing the senseless horror of innocent people being sacrificed for what we didn’t know.

The next day my boss told me that he had put me on speakerphone so everyone could hear me and my voice reminded him of the reporter narrating the Hindenburg exploding. He said they felt the emotion and the whole office was in tears.

I looked behind me and my three coworkers had split as soon as the plane hit. They were getting out of the building. I stayed. I watched.

I called my wife and she was in tears, she had seen it too. I wish I hadn’t called her, maybe nobody there would have told her to look, maybe she wouldn’t have it engrained in her mind the way it is in mine. Maybe her dreams would have been spared.

I told her to go home. I was going to wait. Worst case I could walk home from there, only five miles, that’s nothing on such a beautiful day.

From other calls to and from my boss, I learned that there were other planes, other targets, other deaths. The FAA ordered all planes down wherever they were. Which means something unique about where we live, this close to three major and several minor airports.

You know how in movies that want to show how the future skies around big cities have spaceships flying to and fro, as though these aircraft have taken the place of earthbound vehicles? Those depictions crack me up, because that’s already our present. At any given time, we can look up and see no fewer than four, sometimes as many as ten airplanes and/or helicopters zooming along. We don’t even need to look to know they are there, even on the cloudiest of days we hear their rumbles, sometimes right overhead, other times off in the distance like a faraway thunderstorm. The sound of them is ever present. Mix that sound with NJ State Route 3 less than a mile from my house, it’s a main highway between the Lincoln tunnel carrying thousands of cars a day in and out of New York City, and the entire country to the west, and it’s never quiet here.

Except on this day. Silence. I remember thinking that must be what it’s like for most of our country on any random Tuesday afternoon. I’m not one for clichés, but in this case it’s appropriate, the silence was deafening. There were no planes, no cars on the highway, people didn’t know where they would strike next so nobody was on Rt. 3.

I watched a helicopter try to take off less than mile from where I stood, from out of nowhere a fighter jet swooped down from the sky forcing the helicopter back down. As swiftly as it appeared, it shot straight up and was gone into the clear-blue sky. It vanished.

Then the first tower fell. Collapsing into itself as flames, smoke, dust cascaded up into the sky. I knew there had to be firefighters and police in there. They would be trying to put it out, trying to save those trapped. When the second mimicked the first, I left. There was nothing left to see, no hope of the smoke suddenly stopping and then everything would be okay. And I was still standing on the tallest building for miles.

They burned for two weeks, we saw the smoke every day, when the wind was coming in off the Atlantic we could smell it. I knew guys who were there, I wanted to go, to help. But I knew there were men more qualified than I helping, and I suspected that the news reports that claimed the air was safe were bullshit. I have friends who went anyway, they’re all gone now. Victims of mysterious cancers and lung infections, years after they went to help people they didn’t know.

I had a couple guys in a training class in California who were supposed to come home later that day. With all flights cancelled indefinitely, they drove their rental car back. They called Hertz and said that’s what they were going to do, the agent told them they couldn’t, to bring the car back. My guy told me he said, “Sure, it’ll be in New Jersey tomorrow, go get it.” They drove straight through in a day and half.

Since then, we’ve learned who did it. The heroes who perished in New York, DC and in a field in Pennsylvania. Ten years later we got the man behind the attacks, but we’re still fighting, our boys are still dying. Two days ago a 29 year old neighbor, a veteran of Afghanistan, killed himself in his backyard. His mother found him.

I heard an NPR report that said the people in charge think this may go on for another ten to twenty years. Two more decades of our children and children’s children fighting to overcome this threat. There’s got to be another way.

Peace to you all, never forget.

NYC Midnight 2015 Flash. Round 2-Group 24 Crime Caper

A Grandfather’s Promise.

A kidnap victim learns the reason behind the crime. He vows to help his captor though hard times, and get an old woman a snack.

“I am Drummond St. Clair!” The boy struggled against the rope that restrained him in the Victorian chair. His breath frosted the air as he spoke, “My grandpapa was the first Earl of Saanich.”

“Sandwich?” The old woman who sat across the dusty storage room of Grey’s Classic Antiques asked. “I could eat.”

“No, Nini,” Her grandson, Clyde said from beside the boy. “Not sandwich. Saanich. Them’s this toff’s people who are gonna pay up, or we gonna make sandwiches out of him.”

Clyde poked his knife into Drummond’s imported Italian overcoat, then simulated slitting his own neck.

“You’ll hang for this,” he shook the chair. “If you think you’ll profit from this, you’re daft.”

“Yes, I does feel a draught.” Nini said.

“No, Nini. Daft, not a drau– Oh bother.” Clyde sheathed his knife. “Me Nini’s cold. Consider this a down payment.” He snatched the scarf from the Drummond’s neck and crossed the room.

“Thank you.” She slipped the smooth silk between her fingers. “Oh no, Clyde this is too nice. We cannot afford this.”

“It’s okay, Nini. Soon we’ll be gitting all the nice things you want. Maybe git out to the country, buy us a bunch of cows.”

“A herd.” Drummond said.

“Heard a what?” Clyde asked.

“A group of cattle is called a herd of cows.”

“Of course I have heard of cows.” Nini replied.

“We ain’t daft.” Clyde added.

“No dear, I don’t feel a draught anymore.” Nini said.

“No—” He rolled his eyes and pursed his lips. “Okay, Nini. That’s good.”

“Why are you doing this?” Drummond asked. “Why don’t you simply sell all this old junk and move?”

“It ain’t that easy, you bleedin’ toff,” Clyde said as he looked back. “Since Pops passed, it’s just me and me Nini. Now she ain’t got the good sense God gave her, and she ain’t doin’ too well otherwise.”

“Petition the county for assistance. There’s support if you need it.”

“We ain’t taken welfare. Sides, your family owes us, you wouldn’t exist if it ain’t for Pops, so shuts yer trap. I got a letter to deliver.”

Clyde kissed his grandmother on the cheek. “I’ll be back in a trice, Nini. Don’ lissen to this tosser any while I’m gone. I just need to drop off a post.” He stopped as he passed Drummond, patted his knife, drew his thumb across his neck, and left through the curtain between the back room and the main store.

The bell jangled above the front door.

“Madam, my family is very powerful in these lands. Release me and I’ll see that no harm comes to you. You’ve had no part in his criminal act.” He pulled on his arms bound to the chair. “And what a heinous crime it is.”

“What time it is? Three o’clock young man. Are you and Clyde still playing your game? His Mum and Dad should be home soon. They stepped out for a pint to celebrate the new King.”

“Madam?” Drummond’s face pinched. “We haven’t had a new King since George the Sixth. That was five years ago.”

“Oh, I cannot let you go. Clyde would be so disappointed if you didn’t say farewell. Best you wait until he returns. He’s been so lonely since his grandpa passed. He was a good man, my husband. A hero. Went to fight in Austria during that nasty business on the continent. Came back with a gammy leg and one eye.”

“Austria? My grandpapa commanded a regiment there. They fought together, surely.”

“M’name’s not Shirley, sir. ‘Tis Gwendolyn Scottsdale Grey McTavish.”

Drummond eyes blinked with recognition of the name. “McTavish? Was your husband, Gregory McTavish?”

“No sir, m’name’s, Scottsdale Grey McTavish.” She bowed her head, and using her right hand did the sign of the cross, “Bless my poor Gregory’s soul.”

“I believe your husband saved my grandpapa’s life in the battle of Isonzo. His company fought so valiantly, the Crown deeded my grandfather this land. Along with the title, Earl of Saanich”

“Yes please, a sandwich sounds nice.”

“Madam, my family does indeed owe yours a great debt.” Drummond raised his voice, “My game with your grandson is indeed done. Untie me and I’ll await his return.”

“Very well, young man. But there’s no need to shout.” Each step seemed an eternity to the captive Drummond as she rose and crossed the room, unbound him, and returned to the loveseat that matched the chair to which he had been tied.

Now freed, he recognized the upholstered fabric of the furniture.

The sound of the bell alerted Drummond to his kidnapper’s return.

“I’m back, Nini.” Clyde called from the front of the store.

“I say, my good man. It seems your—” Drummond looked at the old woman’s tattered clothes, heard the clicking knitting needles in her hands. She had no comprehension of what was going on in her family’s closed antique store. His tone softened, “Your… Nini, and I have come to an understanding.”

“Nini!” Clyde ran into the storeroom, knife in hand, and saw that his captive had been untied.

Drummond held up his open hands, “Wait, I understand. I beseech you, hear me out.”

Clyde halted, but did not sheath his weapon. He looked at his Nini, seated where she had been when he left. Seated where she had been throughout the year since his pops had died.

“Our grandfathers were comrades during the war. Gregory McTavish carried my grandpapa from atop a mountain during a blizzard. It cost him all the toes on his right foot and the sight in one eye. My grandpapa vowed to repay that debt. For years, this store was given all of our old furnishings to sell. When he died, my father, the new Earl, stopped that tradition and it has cost your family dearly.”

Drummond turned to Nini, “I promise you justice, madam. It is my duty as heir to the Earl of Saanich.”

“I could eat.”

—End—

2015 NYC Midnight Flash-fiction competition. The Trumpeter’s Song.

They gave me 5 points for this. Am I delusional in thinking this story hits all the criteria?
I really don’t know what the judges are looking for

Group 24-Genre:Historical Fiction-Location: A horse track-Object-A rocking chair.

The Trumpeter’s Song.

Synopsis: In the United States during the turbulent sixties, a plan is hatched to bring about the fall of America’s Camelot.

***

     In a smoke-filled office overlooking the thoroughbred track at Monmouth Park, New Jersey, a man in a well-tailored suit is smoking a Cuban cigar. The faraway sound of a trumpet calling horses to the gates draws his attention away from a stack of ledger sheets piled on his mahogany desk.

The office is paneled in dark oak, thick ornate carpeting covers the floor. Large panes of glass take up one wall creating a window overlooking the horses on the dirt oval below. The muffled starting bell and the frenzied call of the track announcer filter through the opening. Glancing at a calendar on the wall to his left, he picks up and dials the phone.

The clattering of a telephone breaks the silence in another oval, this one, an office located in Washington DC.

A Boston-Irish voice answers. “This is John.”

“How ya’ doin’, Johnny. Hoffa here,” replies the caller.

“I know who it is, I recognize your nasal-Jersey accent. What do you want?”

“Just want what ya’ promised, Mr. President. Secretary of Labor. Ya’ fuhget it was my men who got the vote out for ya’ last election? I’m reminding you of the fact that I’m still waiting on your call. My patience is wearing thin.”

“Hoffa, you can’t threaten the President of United States.”

“Whoa, Johnny, don’t mistake my intention. I’m a Jersey boy. We don’t make threats. We make promises. And then we keep them, unlike ya’ Boston jack-offs.”

John clenches his teeth, takes a deep breath and responds, “You know where I am Jimmy? I’m relaxing in my father’s chair. The rocker the Bethlehem Steel unions gave him after World War One because he knew how to play the game. But you break the rules, Jimmy. The Teamsters aren’t enough for you, you’re running more schemes than my people can keep a lid on. You’d never be confirmed by Congress. And more importantly, I can’t trust you.”

“Ya’ trusted me enough to take care of your little problem in L.A. Even the head-cheese of America can’t bang every big-boobed slut that sings Happy Birthday to him without repercussions. She thought she could bring ya’ down but she didn’t have the means to. Well, I’ve got the means and the balls to do it.”

John’s legs tighten, rocking him back in the chair. Clenching his free hand into a fist, he shakes it at the handset. He takes another deep breath, exhales away from the phone’s mouthpiece, rolls forward, and places his elbows on his knees. “You were compensated for that. You have control of labor unions that aren’t even in your God-damned state. We’re square.”

“Yes-sir, on that deal we are. But I want more.”

Muted cheers trickle in from the track.

He continues. “Look, I’m not asking for something for nuthin’. Don’t forget I’m a man of many talents. Who got ya’ this secret phone line? I did. My men in the CWA set it up without a peep to anybody. And now I got something you’ve been aching to get done since your CIA boys botched that island invasion back in sixty-one.”

Taking a long pull on the cigar, Hoffa blows a series of smoke rings over the desk. “Whatta ya’ say, Commander-in-Chief? Shall we find a way to bypass those pesky hearings?”

“I say go to Hell, Hoffa. I’m done dealing with you. Next time you hear from me, it’ll be through my brother.”

Slamming down the phone, John rises, walks to his desk, and depresses the intercom.

“Mrs. Lincoln, get Robert on the line. I’ve got an issue to discuss with him.”
Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln, personal secretary to the President, and proud member of the Communication Workers of America, makes the call and connects the Attorney General to his boss. Neither man notices that she never disconnects her headset.

Minutes later, a telephone rings, drowning out the sound of ‘First Call’ for the start of the afternoon’s next race.

“Hoffa here.” Listening, he starts to take notes.

“Hello Lincoln.”

“Yeah, we talked.”

“He called Bobby and said that, did he?”

“He’s got a trip to Texas soon, doesn’t he?”

“No, nothing to be concerned with. I may send him a gift. Special delivery.”

“Thanks, Lincoln. You just take care of your father, we’ll take care of his medical bills. G’nite.”

Jimmy flips through a small black notebook, and dials a private number into the offices of the Dallas Service Employees Local #5.”

“Ruby, Hoffa here. How’s that nightclub we set ya’ up with working out? You’re cleaning up a lot of money for us, and we’re grateful.”

Jimmy begins creating a to-do list.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing for your family, us helping you out with those debts of yours. Ya’ really need to learn how to pick the ponies better. Look, Jack, I didn’t call just to shoot the shit with ya’. I’d like to say it’s a favor I’m asking, but it needs to be done, and you’re our man in Texas. We need someone gone, it’s best for our Union brothers, and that means it’s good for America.”

“No, I can’t be more specific, secret phone line or no. Let’s just say they’ll be a lotta tears and a State funeral when we’re done. The man welched on a deal. Y’know I can’t let anyone get away with that.”

“Yeah, we’ll need a patsy. He’s gotta be believable and he’s gotta go away quick before he can talk. Who’ve you got?”

“An ex-Marine? I thought once a Mar–.”

“Oh, he defected? Didn’t know anyone went that way. Thought they only came over to us.”

“He sounds perfect. I’ll place a call to the local PBA and get the cleanup handled. And look, anytime you want a tip, just call. I’ll put the fix in for ya’.”

“Fuhget about it. Goodbye Jack.”

As the sun sets on the track, the trumpeter’s song announces the day’s final race.

End

A Writer’s Dream.

Had a writer’s dream last night.

I was a writer in a ’50s era TV show. A weekly drama with a set cast that performed a different story every week.
I was teamed with a woman–who as best I can guess was a compilation of several female friends in the FB writer’s groups I’m in.
Although I usually dream in color, everything was black and white. Dressed as characters in the shows from that era–she in a long-sleeved full length dress, while I wore a solid grey suit with a white shirt and tie–we were collecting checks for the past week and were trying to find inspiration for the next week’s story.
I was then in a car driving to the Hollywood Sheraton. The car is a 1954 Pontiac Star Chief–I’m using this car in a story I’m writing in my non-dreaming life. The Sheraton, must be Hollywood because that’s where I was dreaming to be, and the Sheraton because I was just at one yesterday on a rescue transport.
I pulled in the front entrance to the hotel which had a small strip mall as part of the parking lot.I parked near the back of the mall and entered a small nondescript office, and this is why I’m sharing this dream.
The office’s interior resembled a stereotypical doctor’s waiting room, several chairs and couches, unmarked doors spaced throughout the room. Sitting on the furniture were faceless people, their clothes and skin the same shade of fuzzy gray. More of these, blank-slate people, were milling about, entering doors, coming out of others. They weren’t doing anything.
I was studying them, trying to figure out why they were there? Why were two sitting together, and why were others apart? What was in the doors? What were they thinking? Why did they HAVE to be here?
I started yelling at them.
“I need a story. Don’t just sit there.”
I ran up to one and screamed in it’s blank face.
“Do something compelling.”
Then I woke up.
I peeked behind the curtain of my mind and have seen what happens when I ask my muse to show me a movie that I can write a story about.
Thought I’d share this, at the very least maybe my future therapist can use it to explain my condition.