Short Fiction for Guests of the Wordfeeder
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
There was, he had decided some time ago on the day they had started sleeping together, no more friendly greeting than a beautiful woman calling out to you from her shower. They weren’t lovers, not exactly, just friends who had sex occasionally. It was the casual pleasure of it all that he found so irresistible, that made him so glad he’d rented her the cabin next door.
Years ago, when his grandparents bought the land along the bayside of the ocean inlet, their family and friends thought it was a nice thing, but a waste of money. So far off the beaten path, the only way there was a dirt road that stopped at the dunes, a good mile from where they built the small cottages so close to each other, one for themselves and, later, another for Jaime’s parents. Over the years they’d built more, a total of twenty, renting the others out whenever they could find a tenant which wasn’t often then, but pretty much all the time now that the ocean side of the peninsula was crowded with condos, hotels, stores and clubs. Most of his grandfather’s property, several times the land occupied by the cottages, remained wild and untouched by development.
Decades after his grandparents first vacationed there, Jaime was his family’s sole survivor. A good guy addicted to writing, he lived there year around, essentially for free, enjoying the quiet of the bayside and the easy going excitement of the ocean city nearby. He wrote mostly screenplays, perfecting his art in lazy anticipation of the story he was sure some Hollywood producer would buy someday.
The cabins were small, one bedroom each, a great room including the kitchen, and a single bathroom with a high, wide window, hinged at the top, that opened to air the room out. There was only six feet between the cabins. Every other one had its floor plan flipped so that the shower windows lined up. That wasn’t on purpose. It just turned out that way.
“Hi, Mary.” Jaime opened his window as high as it would go to see her washing her hair, rested his left arm flat on the sill and his chin on the heel of his right hand.
Waiting for the shampoo to rinse off her face, she smiled while she slicked back her dark brown hair. “Why is it, do you think, that we shower the same time every day?”
“I think it’s a miracle,” he smiled back at her. “If I were God and wanted to do something nice for Jaime, this would be it.”
“Are you alone this morning?” she asked him, continuing with her shower as if it really wasn’t that important. “..Still pining for that red head? You know, it doesn’t do a girl’s ego good to make love to man while he thinking about someone else.”
“I am, alone, and so so sorry if I ever gave you that impression.”
“Given a chance, I’m pretty sure I can make you forget her.”
“Are you kidding? Given a chance, I’m pretty sure you could make me forget my name. ..and that’s a chance I’m willing to take.”
Mary laughed back at him, her eyes obviously caring about this guy in a way a person can’t fake.
Sensing an opportunity, Jamie invited her over. “..Care to join me? I think I read that two people showering together use only seventy two percent of the total water they would use separately.”
“Seventy two percent. Really?”
“Well, of course, it depends on what you do in the shower and how long it takes to do it.”
“I think you’re making that up.”
“Don’t be ridicu..”
“Hi, Jaime.” Another woman shoved her way onto Mary’s window sill. “I’m Clara. Mary and I are friends.”
“No kidding. That probably explains why you’re showering together. ..Mary, you didn’t tell me you had company.”
“And you thought I didn’t take water conservation seriously. ..Do you still have that lemon body wash I brought over the other day?”
“I do. Wait. I’ll get it for you.” He disappeared for a moment. “..Here.” Pulling himself up onto the tile of his window sill, Jaime held onto the cap of the bottle while Mary did the same through her window, exposing herself in the process which, to be honest, was the whole point of the exchange, while Clara held onto her friend’s butt.
“My pleas..” but then he stopped and turned to look over his shoulder. “Hold on. I think there’s someone at my door. See you guys later,” he waved at them, watching Mary blow him a kiss while he closed and locked his glass window. Turning off the shower, he pushed the curtain aside, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around him while shouting, as the knocking on his front door continued, “Hold on! I’m coming,” and then thought to himself, but out loud, “Did I order anything?”
Walking quickly, but being careful to stay on the wide plank floors so as not to drip on the rug in the middle of his little great room, Jaime made it to his front door just as the second round of knocking stopped. Peering through one of the side panel windows, he saw a woman, somewhere in her late twenties, shoulder length brown hair, dark rimmed glasses, wearing a business suit, heels included, studying something on the face of her phone. (There were no sidewalks or pavements leading up to the cottages. Walking around on heels couldn’t have been easy.) Tapping on the window with his first finger while his other hand was busy keeping the towel around his waist up, he signaled for her to wait. “Give me a couple minutes. I’ll be right back.”
She looked up at him, smiling politely with her lips.
Running back to his room, Jaime toweled off his hair, pulled on some jockey shorts, jeans and his favorite “Next Contestant” t-shirt – It was some kind of political statement. – grabbing some sweat socks and his Nike’s which he didn’t bother to put on jogging back and opening the door. “Hey. Can I help you?”
“I think I may want to hire you. You’re a detective, aren’t you.”
“Uh, sure. Part-time, but yes. Com’on in. ..Sorry about the wet look,” Jaime apologized while she made her way past him, gesturing with the shoes he was still holding toward his couch. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.” As she walked past him, the light perfume she was wearing smelled familiar.
Turning in front of the couch, but not sitting down, she got right to the point. “I need help finding someone,” she explained nervously. “Robert, the bartender at Stella’s, ..”
“Bobby. Everyone calls him Bobby. ..You know, there’s something..”
“You can probably tell, I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“I was just going to say..”
“Please.” She took a second to calm herself down. “Let me get this out.”
Jaime had plopped down on the leather ottoman in front of the easy chair across from the couch to put on his sox and shoes. “Sure. Sit down,” he told her, brushing something off the bottom of his left foot. ‘Can I get you something, maybe some lemonade?”
The woman nodded a polite, “No,” to the lemonade that is, and started talking. “Several weeks ago..”
“Excuse me. Uh, could we start with your name?”
“Of course. I’m Louise Jenson. ..You are a detective, aren’t you?”
“Actually, I’m a writer, but,” Jaime smiled, hoping to make her comfortable, “I do detect stuff. Detecting is my day job, so to speak.”
Her face seemed blank, too intent on forming what she had to say to listen to what he was saying.
“Mostly research. Nothing like you see on TV and in the movies.”
“But you’re licensed? My uncle wanted me to make sure you were licensed.”
“Yes, I am. Let me get my wallet,” he reassured her, starting to get up. “I’ll get my ID for you.”
“Later,” she waived him back into his seat with two quick swipes of her hand. “You can show me later.”
Jaime sat back down, thinking it time to just be quiet and listen to his prospective client.
“As I was saying, a few weeks ago I was in-town, on the ocean side, for meetings with some clients looking for real estate to develop. I’m a realtor. Commercial properties. ..Here,” she paused for a moment to reach into the small side pocket on her suit jacket. Taking out a sterling silver case with her initials on it, she opened it and handed him a card.
“The meeting,” she continued, “didn’t go well. They have money, plenty of it, but weren’t interested in what I was pitching. It was late when they left, and I was wiped. Didn’t want to drive back. Couldn’t find a room – It was beautiful that weekend and the place was mobbed. – so I decided to stay over at a friend’s company condo which was down the block from Stella’s. It’s a club on the beach, the one where Robert works.”
“Yeah, I know the place.”
“I went in. There was some huge party underway with a really good, really loud band. I took off my glasses. I don’t know why, which is a real problem because I can’t see well without them.”
“That’s probably why you took them off, to lose yourself in the crowd I mean. ..Sorry, that was the writer in me talking. Have you considered contacts?” Yes, it was a dumb question, but he was just making conversation.
“..Sat down at the bar, started drinking and..” She stopped to take time to sigh.
“I don’t know. Sounds trite, I don’t know, corny, but I met this really great guy. Very light blonde hair that didn’t make any sense.”
“His eyebrows were dark like yours. Almost shy, but we got past that in a hurry.”
“Yeah, frozen banana daiquiris will do that to you.”
“How did you know what we were drinking?”
“Uh, I didn’t. I just like the way they taste.”
“Me, too. Hm. ..One thing led to another and, the next thing I know, I’m waking up in the condo, naked..” She swallowed away her embarrassment.
“It’s okay. We’re adults. I get it.”
“..getting out of bed, stepping on a note the guy left for me. “Out for bagels. Be right back.” Two hours later, I gave up waiting and left.”
“What night was that, precisely?” Jaime asked, but she ignored him.
“Anyway, I figured it was just another.. You know, and I forgot about it. At least that was the idea. Turns out, I can’t forget. But then a can’t really remember either.” She paused. “I don’t get out much.”
“Can I talk yet?” Jaime got up and sat next to his client, close enough to be personal, far enough away not to be too close and so that he could turn to face her.
Again, she ignored him. “I want you to find the guy. ..I’ve allocated $300 to do that. I figure, assuming he’s a local, it should be easy. If not, I’m not spending anymore.”
“Will you take the job? ..Half up front, the other half when you’re done?” She reached into her purse, taking out her checkbook while she waited for an answer.
“Louise, I have some questions.”
“Please, it’s Jen. My friends call me Jen.”
Jaime didn’t react.
“Jaime. ..This hair,” he asked her, starting to reach out for it where it touched her shoulder, but then stopped short, not wanting to creep her out.
“What about it?” she asked self-consciously, touching it for him.
“Was it red? ..Did it use’ to be red?”
“Well, yes, for a while. Why.. Why did you..”
“It was me.”
“Who was you?”
“I’m the guy you met at the bar. My hair was blonde. I.. I lost a bet with some friends. They wanted me to cut it off, but settled for bleaching it. ..It seemed funny at the time. ..That morning, I went out for bagels, but ran into the husband of a women who’d hired me to follow him. I didn’t know your number. It got messy, and by the time I got back, you were gone. You were staying in a friend’s company’s corporate apartment, and all I had was ‘Jen’ with red hair, green eyes and a smile I can’t get out of my head.”
“Jaaay-meee? ..Jaime, are you in there?” It was Mary, the following morning, the window of her shower wide open, calling to her friend and occasional lover.
The opposite window opened a second later. “Jaime’s..” the woman answering stopped to giggle. “Wait a minute.” Reaching somewhere, she came back up wearing dark rimmed glasses. Wiping the shower drops off the lenses, she finished her sentence. “Jaime’s..” she’s searched for a word, “busy.” She smiled very broadly. “I’m Jen. Can I help you?”
“Mary. I’m Mary. ..Wait a minute. Wasn’t that Jaime walking behind you?
“So that’s where he went?” She was kidding, of course. “Didn’t see him standing there without my glasses.”
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood, Jen. Maybe, when Jamie isn’t so ‘busy,’ the two of us..”
“What about me?” Clara pushed Mary over so that they could share the their sill.
“Maybe,” Mary corrected herself, “the three of us could, I don’t know, have a couple of beers and some of those mini tacos they sell at Juan’s?”
“Which Juan is that?” Carla thought she was hysterical and inadvertently snorted up some water. “Ooops. Get it,” she asked Mary who was laughing while pretending to think it was stupid. “Which Juan?” and then they both laughed.
“You want to have lunch?” Jen asked, apparently surprised at how friendly they were.
“What for?” Jamie showed up suddenly, one hand around Jen shoulder, the other flush against the tile wall next to the window.
“To talk about you,” Mary told him. “What else would we have in common?”
Turned out, they didn’t make lunch, but settled for Happy Hour instead. Juan’s was a tacky place where the locals felt comfortable and the food was surprisingly good ever since that Jewish couple had bought the place a few years ago when they retired. (Word was it had something to do with the chicken fat they used on the grill.) The three women sat around a table on the deck, the noise of the cars and people walking by on their way back from the ocean drowning out their conversation to anyone who wasn’t a part of it.
“So how long do you think you have to get the listing?” Mary asked Jen while Carla played with the condensation on her bottle of beer.
“The developer is okay, still pretending to look at a couple of other properties even though the Weiss estate is their only option for a complex as large as they’re planning. In a week or two, I’ll have them contact Jaime, asking if he has representation.”
“Do you really think,” Carla shoved what was left of a grilled shrimp taco into her mouth, “he’ll agree to sell?”
“..and give you the listing?” Mary added.
“Are you kidding,” Jen smiled. “The man’s in love.”
“In-sex is more like it,” Carla looked up to clarify the situation. “First Mary gets to know him,
and now you. I’ve never seen a guy so happy.”
“Sleeping with a guy for money,” Mary shook her head. “So what exactly does that make us?”
“Hey,” Jen somehow thought it was important to add, “he’s good, no kidding, pretty good and that’s a solid six figure commission we’re talking about, times two including the kickback. Hell, for that kind of money, I’d consider marrying the..”
“What?” Mary interrupted, noticing Carla seemed less than her usual slaphappy self. “You feeling sorry for the guy? He’ll get millions, and I’m going to have the developer offer him a condo of his choice, within reason, that’ll seem like I negotiated for him. Not to mention, I’ll..”
“We’ll,” Mary finished Jen’s sentence for her, “be banging his brains out.”
“Hey, Bobby.” Jaime, hands in the pockets of the light jacket he was wearing, walked into Stella’s and said hello to his favorite bartender. The girls were several blocks away and wouldn’t know he was there.
Bobby didn’t say anything, just pointed with the hand in which he was holding a towel at booth toward the back where a man in his forties and a younger woman, both dressed like locals, were nursing some beer, chips and guacamole.
“Hi,” the man looked up to greet him. “Have a seat. We’ll make this quick.”
Jaime sat down. “Don’t worry. Hey, Wendy,” he looked at the woman while he slid to the middle of the bench on his side of the table. “Good to see you again. ..People’ll just think you’re clients. Confidential business, whatever. ..So you’ve been listening?”
“Yeah,” the man, a senior Detective with the state police, answered, “the bugs are well placed.
“You spend a lot of time in the shower,” Wendy, also a Detective, but a relatively new one, laughed when she said it.
“I know,” Jaime laughed back at her, looking at his fingers, rubbing them with his thumbs. “We need to wrap this before I shrivel up.”
“From the sound of things,” the man added, “those may not be the only body parts you need to worry about.”
“Whoa,” Jaime sat back, pushing on the edge of the table. “That was harsh. Just doing my duty to catch the bad guys.”
“Right,” the man responded sarcastically, and then got down to business. “As far as we can tell, your sale..”
“Which we’re not really doing,” Jaime wanted to make that point clear. “I don’t want any legal mess, anything tying up my property when this is over.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the Detective told him, although it wasn’t a very reassuring response. “We’ve found another job they did which makes your deal the forth time, at least, that they’ve done this.”
“The first three property owners,” it was Wendy talking, “are married and aren’t willing to cooperate voluntarily for obvious reasons. Two of them are prominent and it’s a little messy working with them.”
“Are you sure,” Jaime asked the two state police Detectives, “they’re getting a kickback? I mean, if they don’t, there’s no case for fraud. Just a real estate agent and her team sleeping with a guy to encourage business.”
“We’re sure.” The man answered.
“How do you know?”
“You just worry about your end.” The man clearly didn’t think it was any of Jaime’s business. “So far you’re playing it perfectly.”
“Here,” Wendy wrote a number on her napkin. “John’s going back, but I’ll be staying on until the show’s over. Here’s the temporary cell number I’ll be using. You call if you need anything. ..You know we want these people, especially the developer and the appraisers who are in on it. Just be careful you don’t underestimate them.”
“Thanks.” Jaime folded it up and jammed it into his front pocket, slid over and stood up. “I’ve got to meet Jen for dinner, and Mary wants to talk to me.”
Both Detectives looked up at him. “Hey,” Jaime held up his hands, anticipating their comments, “this isn’t as much fun as you’re thinking. ..Not even close.” They kept staring at him. “This is.. It’s..” But then he gave up, “I’ll see you later,” and left.
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