The Ripple Effect

Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Monday, March 15, 2010

“Hey. My name is Daryl. Ever since I was a little kid, my parents have known I was special. Somehow, I was born with a natural sense of how people and events relate to each other, with an overview and a sense of anticipation that are uncanny for their accuracy, and flat out spooky in the way they enabled me to manipulate other kids and my parents. (Sorry Mom and Dad. I love you, but I am what I am.)”

“As it turns out, I’m even better working with perfect strangers. It’s not so much deception that I practice… Anyone can lie. .. as it is the patience and skill with which I come at a problem, from a distance. In fact, so remarkable are my abilities, the things I do and the way I do them have become known as…

Ripple, in case you haven’t guessed, is my family name. Need help? Ask around. No one does word-of-mouth better than me.”

————————-

“So,” the man asked, standing there in his expensive suit, behind is glass desk in the corner office where he spent way too much time, looking at the business card he was holding, “what exactly is ‘The Ripple Effect’? He was skeptical, to put it mildly.

“Uh, actually it’s more like a domino effect, but my last name is ‘Ripple.’ That’s why I call it the ‘Ripple Effect.’ …because my name is ‘Ripple.’”

“I get it.” From his expression, the man was wondering if was wasting his time, but then
Daryl, who tended to over-talk, wasn’t done yet.

“I throw a stone or two into the pond of gossip, with strangely predictable results. I’m a personality savant. An empath who instinctively gets the underlying reasons people do what they do, even when they don’t. I play pool with people’s emotions, thinking three, four, five shots ahead. I…”

“Daryl? ..Mr. Ripple?” The man interrupted.

“What?”

“You’re what, 16 years old?”

“Seventeen actually, but I have a certain maturity, a poise beyond my nominal age. ..Actually,” Daryl continued, worried he wasn’t going to make the sale, “my youthful appearance is one of the reasons I’m so good at what I do. No one notices me. No one sees me coming. No one,” Daryl paused, starting to rethink his next few words before he said them, “takes me seriously,” which, unfortunately, came out sounding more like a question than a matter of fact.

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

Detecting a note of sarcasm in his client’s voice, Daryl decided to focus on the business at hand. “So,” he picked up a framed picture from the man’s desk, “as I understand it, your daughter is flirting with the trainer at the gym where she works out, and you’re concerned that…”

“My wife. …That’s my wife we’re talking about.”

“Of course.”

“To tell you truth,” the man confessed in a slightly threatening tone, “I’ll be surprised if you can pull this off. ..Frankly, I’d be surprised if you could pull off your shorts in an emergency, but then you come highly recommended. It’s a small job I need done discreetly, and invisibly. She can’t know I had anything to do with it.”

“I’m your man,” Daryl responded, his voice breaking just a bit as it was prone to do whenever he was trying to make statement. “I’m,” Daryl coughed slightly to clear his throat, “I’m… fine. ..Is that the information I requested,” Daryl asked him, pointing to a large envelope on the man’s desk on which someone had written Daryl’s name.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, the man took a breath. “Yes, including the half, the $500 up front. ..You’re expensive.”

Daryl answered slowly, deliberately, without even a whiff of uncertainty. “That’s because ..I’m very good ..at what I do.” Reaching for the envelope, he slid it off the surface of the desk, being careful not to leave any finger prints on the glass. Daryl was a stickler for details like that, not because he was worried about his prints being here and there, but because his mother was always cleaning the house, and he couldn’t help himself.

“And if I don’t pay you the other half?” The man was curious. “If I don’t like the job you’ve done for me?”

“You’ll pay me.”

Troubled by the confident sound of Daryl’s response, and not accustomed to people talking to him that way, the man had to ask, “Sure, of course I will, but what exactly will happen to me if I don’t?”

“Happen to you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Daryl stopped short of threatening to use his considerable talents to collect, “you’ll probably feel bad, and with all the crap going on in your life, who wants one more thing to feel bad about?” It was a gutsy response, delivered with a seriousness the man respected, and that was that. No shaking of hands. No final words.

“Hey,” the man called to Daryl on his way out the door to his office. “How long will this take? When will I hear from you again?”

“Just a few days. I’ll call or email you.” And Daryl left. It was time to get to work.

————————-

The following morning, the man got a call: “Your wife will be at the gym this afternoon, between 1 and 2 PM. By the way, her trainer breaks for lunch at 2, too. ..at 2, also. Whatever. Meet me at 1:45 across the street from the side of the building where her gym is on the second floor, where we can see her working out.”

Later that afternoon at 1:45 PM exactly, across the street from the wife’s gym…

“What if she sees us?”

“Trust me. She’s not paying attention. ..Is that her?” Daryl pointed up and at the man and woman talking to each other, standing way too close together.”

“Yeah.”

“The guy who just took the towel off her shoulder to wipe his face, the one with all the teeth and no body fat…” (The glass was clear, and the side street narrow.) “Here,” Daryl handed the man the compact, but powerful binoculars he always carried with him, “try these.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s her trainer.”

“The trainers there don’t wear t-shirts?”

“If you had his chest, would you?”

“Okay,” the man turned to look at Daryl, “I get your point. …Actually, no I don’t. What am I doing here?”

“You’re here for me to give you a chance. I’m going to hang around and see where they go, just to be sure. From what I can tell, this is still just some innocent flirting, but I need to make sure. The question is, are you sure you want me to stop this, or should I walk away and let nature, and your marriage, take its course?”

The man thought for a moment, reflecting on the life he and his wife had built over the years, thinking about the beautiful teenage daughter and her younger brother they had raised together. “Do what I hired you to do. Whatever’s going on here, it’s more my fault, than hers.”

Seeing the despair in his client’s eyes, Daryl reassured him. “This isn’t over yet. Not even close. ..You get back to work, and I’ll call you later.”

The man looked up to the window where he could see the two of them laughing about something, his wife in her tank top, the trainer combing his longish blonde hair with his fingers, and then back at Daryl, said nothing and left.

————————–

3 PM that afternoon, at an upscale, downtown salon where the wife is there for her regular appointment. Five feet to her side, a very attractive, maybe-30 woman engages her hairdresser in an excited conversation while getting prepped for a haircut…

“I need this to be perfect!”

“Oh yeah,” Nora, the stylist, had seen that look on her customers’ faces before. “Let me guess… You’ve got a shot at a guy you pretty much thought wasn’t an option?”

“Hey, you’re good. A couple of weeks ago, I got reassigned to work on the team that’s going to be marketing that new condo complex on the river, the one with the live music bar.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there.” (Nora didn’t know it, of course, but it was Daryl’s client, the one in the corner office, whose team had landed that account – the same client whose wife, just a few feet away, was listening intently, pretending to read the magazine she was holding, waiting for her own stylist to arrive.)

“Well, the senior guy in charge…”

“He’s single?”

“No,” she stammered just a bit. “..No, but the really good ones seldom are. …Hey, don’t give me that look. Help me out here. If his marriage is solid, his wife’s got nothing to…”

“Hey.” Jessica was the co-owner of the shop, the real artist of the two whose partner was the one with the head for business. Jessica was the only one Daryl’s client’s wife would let touch her hair. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No problem. I’ll let you make it up to me.”

“Yeah, how’s that?”

“I need a makeover,” the wife mused, holding out and squeezing her fashionably long auburn curls while catching a glance at the young woman next to her. “How long have I had all this?”

“So what d’you wanna do about it?”

“Make it short. Surprise me. ..If it doesn’t work out, I can always grow it back.”

“Here,” Jessica spun the wife around and away from the mirror over the sink where the assistant had washed her hair. “Like they do on TV, keep your eyes on me until we’re done.”

And the wife laughed, nervous with anticipation.

————————-

Two days later, 10 AM in the food court of the downtown mall near Daryl’s client’s office, at a small table in front of the Auntie Anne’s, just open for business…

“Want one?” Daryl offered his client a cinnamon pretzel stick, looking over at the girl behind the counter who waved back at him with friendly smile.

“No thanks. …Here. It’s the other half of your money, plus expenses.”

“What’s happened?” Daryl asked as if he didn’t know.

“My wife stopped by my office yesterday. It was a surprise to take me out to lunch, something she hasn’t done for, I don’t know, a couple of years. We talked about all sorts of stuff, for a good couple of hours.”

“You didn’t take a few calls, rush back to the office?”

“No. ..Turns out she’s changing gyms. Her new trainer’s a woman. ..I don’t suppose you had anything to do with that?”

“Well, it may have been the flowers I sent with the ‘Thanks for a wonderful evening. See you tonight. Love, Charles’ note the delivery boy read out loud to her trainer – in front of her, while he was still, you know, at the gym training your wife. ..That, and I splurged to have my cousin, she’s taking acting classes, get her hair done at the beauty shop your wife uses.”

The point about the flowers, the man understood. The cousin getting her hair done didn’t make any sense. “Whatever, it seems to have worked.”

“..Now call your wife and invite her for a nooner.”

“What?”

“Jeez. …Pick up the phone. You do have a cell phone don’t you? That condo complex you represent has a hotel, doesn’t it? …A small bottle of champagne, maybe some roses would be nice.”

The man got Daryl’s point and slid the envelope with the cash across the table toward him. “Thanks.”

“Mmm.” Daryl nodded his head, his mouth too full of cinnamon sticks to be more eloquent.

————————-

Two hours later, at a Panda Express a few blocks away.

“Hi.” Daryl slid over and stood up from the corner booth where he was nursing a plate of string bean chicken and a half-eaten egg roll. “Can I get you a lemonade or something?”

“No thanks,” his client’s wife smiled and pulled herself into the other side. “I don’t have much time. I just wanted to thank you for your help. …Here,” she said, reaching into the purse in her lap, taking out $500 in cash, still in the bank’s ATM envelope. “Here’s the other half of what I owe you.”

“Things are working out okay for you?” He asked, even though he knew the answer.

“Yeah. Starting the rumor and staging that scene with your cousin’s boyfriend… He’s gorgeous, by the way,” she giggled like the young woman still inside her, blushing just a bit.

“Oh, he’s good looking, alright. Works as a model, forever hoping for the big underwear billboard.”

“It was a great idea, ..like hiring you.”

“Hey. It’s what I do.”

“I’ve got to be somewhere.” Smiling at him, she moved over and got up to leave, but then stopped for a moment. “You know, Daryl, I’ve got a daughter about your age if you’re ever interested.”

“Thanks. I… I appreciate the offer, but I think it’d be a little awkward.”

“Sure. ..See you around.”

————————-

Later that evening, at Daryl’s clients’ house, the wife in the kitchen making something special she’d seen on Food TV, the husband working on a his signature Cobb salad…

“Hey guys,” their daughter bounced down the back stairs, her little brother right behind her. “Cheryl’s picking me up. We’re dropping Mike off at Bobby’s for a sleepover, and then we’re catching a movie and having our own little party back at her place.”

“You’re not staying for dinner?” the wife asked, pretending to be disappointed, while her husband smiled to himself, not bothering to look up from the perfect avocado he was slicing.

“Nah,” the daughter responded, intent on giving her parents have the night off together. To tell you the truth, I’m Food TVd up to here. Tonight, it’s…”

“Beep.” The horn was Cheryl’s.

“…cheeseburger sliders and steak fries,” and she blew them an air kiss and ran down the hallway to the front door.

They dropped Mike off at his friend’s house, and arrived at the parking lot at the PG-13 rated roadhouse where the burgers were great, and rock ‘n roll even better. “We’ll see you inside,” Cheryl told the daughter, letting her out, and then driving away to park in the open space near where Cheryl’s boyfriend was waiting for her. There, standing alone in the parking lot, the daughter turned to look around when the lights of one of the cars, parked in the open under one of the lampposts, flashed at her. Almost running over to it, she opened the passenger door and got in.

“Hey, Daryl,” she said to the driver.

“Hey,” he said back, and the two of them moved toward each other, kissing again and again, the way they do in the movies, sort of, but with more noise and saliva.

Almost breathless, the daughter pushed back. “You know, my hiring you turns out to have been a pretty good idea,” she smiled, her eyes locked on Daryl’s. “My parents are back in love with each other, for now at least,” she admitted, raising her eyebrows. “..Let’s go inside and get something to eat, and then,” she reached up and touched the side of Daryl’s face, her voice lower with anticipation “..and then maybe we can go somewhere I can pay you the other half of your fee.”

————————-

“Hey. It’s me again.”

“Like I said at the beginning of this story, my name is Daryl. For as long as I can remember, I’ve known I was special. Thing is, there are situations when being special can be a drag, but then sometimes… sometimes there are real advantages to being me.”

-wf

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(I write the WordFeeder blog.)  All rights reserved.
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