The Retirement Speech

As a young man, really a skinny teenager, Bob got his first job at A&P.

The great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. Grocery stores were much smaller in scale; maybe one fourth the size at best. There were fresh meats, vegetables, Coke, Pepsi, Hostess Cup Cakes, and only two isles of canned goods and staples. Bob wore a black apron, stocked shelves, checked people at the register, and packed paper bags. He did all that with a smile and positive attitude as he crammed all that activity into hours after school and on Saturdays. Sundays he had free time since stores then closed on Sunday.

There was a method to his madness for unpacking boxes and packing shopping bags, while his classmates played football. He had his eye on something more important. The girl from class that lived in a more expensive neighborhood appreciated movies, and movies were not cheap. Sandy, that’s the girl’s name, was worth it. Sandy Carson was the tiny quiet girl three rows over in home room at school. Each morning before the day of classroom changes, she would smile at Bob. Big blue eyes reflected sunlight once hidden deep in her according to Bob. One morning, he caught up with Sandy on the way to her first class, “Hey,” he said and swallowed hard to lock away any fear before asking, “There’s a new movie out this weekend.”

“Is that so?” She teased and found it a challenge to manage her smile, as she looked up at Bob with enough timidity to coax more from her admirer.

“It’s The Sound of Music. They’re showing it up at Willow Lawn.”

“That a fact?” She nearly whispered in his pause. “I like Julie Andrews.”

“You want to go? I mean with me?”

“Yes, I’d love to.”

Willow Lawn Shopping Center on West Broad Street was unique with a miniature shining arch made in the shape of the newly constructed Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, but far smaller than the six hundred-thirty foot symbol of the Louisiana Purchase. The Willow Lawn arch may have been more American with the bold Arial Font letters intersected within and across the span of the thing announcing loudly Willow Lawn. The shopping center was also cavalier in being an ‘outdoor mall’ where patrons dressed for the weather, as they shopped between Miller and Rhoads, J.C. Penny, G.C. Murphy and a list of specialty stores where the rich kids in the west end shopped for the latest styles Bob could not afford. The movie theater on the back side of the building was Richmond’s first to show 70mm wide screen films.

Bob and Sandy shared popcorn with extra butter through the coming attractions and slide projector ads for the barbeque place nearby. Once the opening credits rolled by, the large screen unfolded scenery of mountain vistas that took Sandy’s breath away as Bob sat mesmerized by Sandy. Julie Andrews, her flock of children and Christopher Plummer could not compete as far as Bob was concerned. This was the beginning for Bob.

Monday morning he was still buzzing when the class clown sought center stage for his own amusement made a joke about the new movie, “The Sound of Mucous.” Bob shut him down. By standing up to the joker and rebuking the insult, Bob rose significantly in the opinion of Sandy Carson. Long lasting relationships grow from encounters such as this, and it may have been prophetic since the ‘hills are alive’ rang out for a record breaking eighty-six week run; the theater’s most successful booking in its history. During that year and a half, Bob asked Sandy to be his wife, and she said yes. In the days leading up to that proposal, Bob drafted statement after statement that he thought best to influence Sandy’s decision. He felt the same choking fear he had experienced the first time he managed the tenacity to ask for the first date. Books of poems from the library fell short of the words he would choose. Long drives through Chickahominy Swamp out in Hanover County in his 1955 Chevy listening to the radio also could not deliver the message that he believed Sandy deserved. The Righteous Brothers Unchained Melodyhad some nice thoughts. My Girl with the Temptations had a nice melody, but referring to Sandy as a girl, much less using such a possessive statement, would not reflect the stature of the person he saw in Sandy. Elvis with Can’t Help Falling in Love was a true enough way to describe how Bob felt about Sandy, but somehow seemed cheesy and contrived. Maybe love songs would not be the best source to prepare him for such a speech. He thought there may be some quotes from best sellers, so he searched the three by five index cards at the library and some big titles that caught his imagination such as West Side Story. He knew Sandy liked the movie musical; maybe a dive into the novel would jumpstart his imagination. Well, that fell off the list fast with prose that mentioned, ‘Of course there were broads…For a real bright, gone chick…” Bob realized the music in the movie was better when it came to Sandy.

Poems, music, literature all failed at the daunting task in front of Bob to craft the perfect proposal. He sat at the dining room table opposite his older brother as they made attempts at homework. Bob’s older brother was a freshman at the University of Richmond, which was up in the west end nestled away in neighborhoods with large houses and rolling landscaped yards, “What are you daydreaming about?” His brother asked.

“I am hung up.”

“History, math, or what?”

“Sandy.”

“Oh,” I see said the older and wiser.

“You’re engaged,” said Bob. “How did you propose?”

“Look,” said the brother. “It’s not that big of a deal. Just ask. The worst that can happen is she says no.”

“That would kill me.”

“Well, not asking ain’t gonna’ make it any better.”

The final bell of the day rang louder than usual that Friday as Sandy approached Bob, “Movie tonight?”

“Sure. I have a stop to make on the way home, if that’s okay?”

Bob showed some unusual nervousness when he open the passenger door to his two tone 55 Chevy. It was a straight stick, so he paid a lot of attention to handling the clutch just right when they took off from the school parking lot.

“Where are we headed?” She asked.

“Something special. It may be useful in history class.”

Once explained, Bob then became very quiet. They drove out Laburnum past the empty fairgrounds, “That was fun last year she said.”

He was quiet.

“You liked the double Ferris wheel,” she added.

His focus was on the road and shifting from second to third on the column stick shift. They approached the stoplight at Mechanicsville Turnpike where Dunn’s Barbeque was a landmark, “They have good onion rings,” she said. “But, I like Bills Barbeque better. Especially their French Apple Pie.”

Bob made the left turn. Sandy looked out her passenger side window and twisted her lips to one side thinking of something to say that would get Bob talking. Small commercial buildings stacked in some Monopoly game avenue on the right offered no topic. The stoplight at Neale caught them and the site of Henrico Plaza on the left gave cause to her comment, “Another shopping center. Who has all that money?”

At that moment retail expansion was not on Bob’s mind. Someday the urban sprawl may own his thinking, but today it was all Sandy. The light changed and the scenery changed to a wooded landscape. Hardwoods and evergreens shared the ground, “I’ll bet the fall colors here are beautiful,” she said.

The big brick church on the left sat upon the edge of a drop off in the road as some landmark at the rim of some vast valley. A historic marker posted by a gravel turn off read, ‘OUTER FORTIFICATIONS. ON THE HILLTOPS HERE RAN THE OUTER LINE OF RICHMOND FORTIFICATIONS 1862-1865.’

Bob turned into the gravel path quickly making the sign hard to read, “Outer fornications?” Sandy questioned.

Finally she got to Bob, and he laughed loudly, “No, fortifications. Down the valley there was a lot of Civil War action.”

Such innocent mistaken comments endured Sandy to Bob even deeper.

“We’re stopping?” She asked.

“Great view here. Special place.”

“Here we go.”

They walked out the path to the wooded observation point, “Beautiful. The view,” She said.

“Life changing events happened here. Right down there over twenty thousand Confederate men got ready for the Seven Days Battle. Right up here, its possible Robert E. Lee looked out over the gathering.”

“Hard to imagine. All those men; boys really. All that horrible awful past.”

Bob began to rethink his choice for a scenic place to offer his proposal. Then she said, “That’s why it’s more important to think about the future.”

“True,” he agreed.

“You ever think about our future?” She asked.

“All the time.”

“Then, why don’t we just get married?”

Bob stood shocked after all that worry and preparation. Sandy made his life so much easier with just six words.

Once their plans were set, it was also decided during that year that Bob would save his A&P paychecks for college. His post war middleclass family with three brothers and a sister had no means to get him there. Bob was motivated enough with Sandy at his side to earn his degree in business and upon graduation had offers to move into finance, but he turned it down. Instead he continued to work for the grocer. He knew that a changing landscape that became dotted with more and more Willow Lawns that the food industry would embrace revolutionary change as well. Over time, the great A&P faded as new bigger stores added isle upon isle loaded with tens of thousands of products, and each of those producers fought for better shelf space and had to come to Bob. Those early lessons in the produce section at minimum wage prepared Bob for maximum success.

Years later, Bob and Sandy had more than enough money to see as many movies as they liked along with enjoying a rich and rewarding life raising and educating their children. Then the day came somewhere around the turning of centuries brought Bob to the time he would begin preparing a retirement speech. There were many subordinates busy crafting just the right message for the retiring CEO to deliver. His words would be the encouragement for nearly fifty thousand employees and remarks could drive stock prices up or down. Bob had been part of many major changes in the food industry. Computerized bar code systems, inventory management, pricing strategies, the move from bulky newspaper inserts and bulk mail circulars to online shopping; Bob was part of it all. His subordinates frustrated hours and exhausted energy on staff meeting after staff meeting to be sure the words Bob would speak would have maximum impact on stock holders.

The day came. Cameras and news crews from business channels flocked to the Greater Richmond Convention Center for the presentation at the annual stock holders meeting. Bob’s leadership in the food industry was big news and the right positioning could make or break careers of the executives in his inner circle. A big deal.

Event planners had orchestrated a massive rock star energized show. Videos filled the back drop of the stage showing the evolution from black apron to black suit and shopping carts stacked in rows, to the shopping cart emblem from the website. The stage was set for Bob’s big moment.

The lights over the audience faded. He approached center stage for thunderous applause. The noise quieted. He began, “Years ago my big brother gave me sound advice about a young girl.”

Yeah that’s a good stock tip, must have been the thoughts of sweating executives hanging on his words, “My brother posed a question about what was the worst that could happen. Then he explained the high cost of not trying.”

Bob pauses and paces the way powerful CEOs own the stage, “Then the young girl changed my life with six words when she said, ‘Why don’t we just get married.”

He smiled and nodded, “Best six words I ever heard.”

Bob walked back from the footlights, “Now, there has been a great deal of work and nerves put into this last speech of mine. I think all the worry about what to say is just that; worry. Fact is, the work you do today creates the future. Legacy of the individual means nothing. So, thank you for being here for my retirement and this is my final speech and it’s only six words. Been fun. I’m done. Gotta’ run.”

Lunch at Ta-boo

“Lunch at Ta-boo on Worth Avenue.” Just saying the line out loud makes one feel superior, even if you can’t quite justify seventy five dollars for the caviar appetizer at the top of the lunch menu on your company credit card. Mara, the real estate broker sat as lioness in the booth with her back to the Zebra upholstered throne. In another day and time, she could be seen sucking the bone tip of a vintage enameled cloisonné gold cigarette holder delicately positioning the fourteen karat gold band between her ivory fingers blowing smoke from her puckered lips at the room. Now that no smoking rules had deprived her of such pomp, she instead gently kissed the rim of a Martini glass as she waited for her client. Five pear shaped Winston Cluster diamonds clung to her earlobes and caught brief flashes of light as her head turned to meet the prospect.

Martin showed up in his self important rush explaining how being fifteen minutes late was someone else’s fault. “Martin,” Mara said, as she held the stem of her Martini glass and refusing to stand to greet her new customer. “I like that name.”

Martin had dyed black hair with just a hint of silver at the temple and sideburns, and as he sat he seemed to enjoy brushing his slight wave off his forehead calling attention to his fastidious mannerisms. Mara took note of his cashmere and silk sport coat with the checkered pattern in shades of gray over his black silk tee shirt. He adjusted monogrammed gold cuff link on the sleeve of his left arm as he sat and offered, “I was told that you are the only broker to handle a purchase here.”

“There have been good years,” she said.

“My friend told me that you have a way of finding properties that are not on the market. Is that true?”

“Depends on your must have list.”

“The main concern is the right address.”

“What could be a bad address on our little island paradise?”

“In my circle, celebrity has a value.”

“No shit,” Mara said and laughed. “You and everyone else that crosses the Royal Park Bridge. What I need to know is, do you want a one bedroom condo for half a million or Ocean Boulevard from forty five million?”

“This purchase is the third leg of my triangle. So, single family at least four bedrooms.”

“I know of one property in the ten million range on El Vedado, but its five bedrooms.”

“Where’s that?”

“Right around the corner. It’s on one of the famous El streets lined with mansions built by the old guard.”

“Tell me about the neighbors.”

“When you say the third leg of your triangle, I assume you already own in the Hamptons and New York.”

This was a trick Mara practiced with clients to get them talking about themselves as she already had the answers. She always researched potential clients before meeting them. There’s no way she’d be sitting in Ta-boo with some no load that wanted a tour. Mara knew that Martin had married into a family fortune, and his only claim to fame was his charm, charisma, and good looks even if his frame was more boyish. She had to figure he must be good in bed as well. Mara held the cards in this conversation. She knew already the family portrait looming over the fireplace mantle in the Hamptons screamed WASP with parents and children decked out in the latest Dior and Gucci garb. She jousted at Martin to get him to admit to some prejudice lurking behind his blue eyes. She knew he wanted a broker that knew the old guard gambits to ferret out the addresses where Jews could fit in or stand out to piss off the old farts that had deep roots here. She would not play along. Instead, she took a matchbook from her purse.

“That’s rare,” he said. “A matchbook from Ta-boo, they still hand these out?”

“I’ve collected matchbooks for years. I have quite the rare collection at home. Hobbyists that collect these things are called phillumenists. That’s supposed to mean lovers of light. I think of all my matchbooks as a just a collection of lovers. When I was younger, I always kept restaurant matchbooks from dates that gave me a good poke.”

She wrote something on the inside cover and handed it to Martin, “No good for smoking in restaurants today, but these are special.”

Martin fingered the gold embossed logo that said all that needed to be said. ‘Ta-boo’. He looked inside to see Mara had written an address and a number.

“That’s it?”

“What? You expect some brochure or listing presentation. That stuff is for losers. I don’t deal paper; I deal mansions. Check it out. Let me know. If you like the address, I’ll get you in.”

 

After lunch, Martin followed Mara’s direction to hang a right from Worth Avenue to South County Road also known as Highway A1A. The drive took him past the private Everglades Club whose elite members never have to worry about tee times or worrisome undesirable types found across the bridges. The El streets presented the perfect enclave of historic homes for Martin; the one final finishing touch for his triangle. He turned at the ‘Dead End” sign where the tall hedges of El Vedado guarded the secrets of the Mizner mansions. Finally the address he sought came into view with just barely the second story of the mansion peeking over palm trees and framed at street level by two ancient Banyan trees. The circular drive outside the guard wall provided a place where Martin could park and take in the only view he could have without Mara paving the way. He sat with car windows down feeling the warm salt breeze and listening to palm fronds sway above him. He opened the match book to call Mara and stared at the paper matches lined up like little soldiers around Buckingham Palace; perfect stiff and in place. He decided to try one; see if it worked. Using his thumb and forefinger he peeled the first paper match back from the row that makes up the comb of igniters. With the first match out, he struck the read head against the black strip of the striker. The smell of sulphur filled his nostrils as the match flashed for an instant. The match did not burn down; just flashed. With that exact instant he felt he heard in his mind a voice that said, “I know what you did.”

Martin dismissed the idea and threw the match out. The electric gate began to open and to avoid confrontation; he started his Mercedes and zipped out the opposite entry of the circular drive before any existing vehicle would catch him snooping. He headed back out the dead end to retreat and glanced in the rear view to catch the view of the Bentley leaving the mansion. Headed north on South County Road the route led back toward Worth Avenue. Just before the bend in Highway A1A, he turned into the drive at the Colony Hotel; his hangout while shopping his next purchase. Martin enjoyed slipping the valet a twenty with instructions to park his Mercedes out of the way of any dings or scratches, as if the valet cared about some Mercedes in a parking lot of Bentleys and Rolls. “Mr. Lieberman,” he greeted Martin with reserved courtesy. “I trust your ventures around town have been successful to date?”

Martin nodded and made his way in past the two doormen outfitted in bright white Bermuda shorts and sockless sneakers, “Welcome back Mr. Lieberman.”

Martin forced a slight smile as he brushed that damn bang off to the right side of his forehead in some ritual to stake out his territory.  Once in the lobby, the guy made his way past overstuffed easy chairs; each decorated with large palm leaves upholstery. The bar tender at the pool bar nodded a polite welcome when Martin navigated the way around the Florida shaped basin to sequester in the villa he rented for the month. Double French doors open to the living room and kitchen Martin would never use; the only use for a villa was to reference to those he would intimidate in negotiations. “Report back to me at my villa,” or “You can reach me at my villa for the month,” lines dropped here and there would establish Martin as a player that meant business.

Later that night the buzz from the restaurant by the pool became quiet, and ocean breezes warmed the air from the Atlantic a mere five hundred-sixty five feet east on Hammon Avenue. Rolling surf echoed off the pink stucco walls and terracotta barrel tiled roof tops along the avenue filling the void left by street noises of shoppers and late nighters making rounds. Martin searched for amusement in his loneliness. He thought of his wife and the way he had won her away from the five siblings that were all anxious to inherit the riches their father had accumulated throughout a tough won life as a builder and developer. Her father, a big boisterous man, had accomplished real tangible evidence of his efforts with buildings that rose his name above skylines in cities across the country. The one place he did not make a move was this tiny island, and now it was Martin that would create a legacy; albeit from his wife’s money. His triangle, his legacy, his winnings, even if the success was only in his own mind.

He thought of Mara, the broker. The way she looked, the way she claimed her dates had given her a good poke, the thought of her demeanor and something tempting from her that comes from an older woman whose number of matchbooks presented a formidable challenge. Martin wondered how he would measure up. Then those matchbooks, what of them he wondered. He took the packet from his pocket and stared at the Ta-boo logo. That strange inanimate object wanted something of him. The force made Martin take another stem and strike it against the black strip, and just as before it flashed for only a second and in that instant, once again the voice, “I know what you did.”

A third match ignited and once again, “I know what you did.”

He closed the cover and threw the packet onto the coffee table.

Restless nights are no strange masters to Martin Lieberman. He doesn’t sleep well. Many hours with visits from the succubus and anima have come with the moon; nevertheless the flash of inspiration that claimed ‘I know what you did’ was a new occurrence.

 

Breakfast was served on the patio. Martin wanted something lighter than the Colony Hotel Breakfast complete with meats and grilled tomato. Instead, a small fruit platter with coffee did the trick. A headline on the morning paper caught his eye as he read, ‘New Lead in 75 Year Old Murder.’ The cold case revealed the bludgeoning murder of the father of five in one of the El Street mansions. The most obvious defendant back then was the son-in-law known around town as a dandy married for money that introduced himself at the most posh balls and evenings with various names that all began with ‘Count.’ The case was thrown out and his wife, one of five children, named Nancy stuck by him throughout the ordeal never thinking for a moment the man who won her and her family fortune could never be so brutal. The murder case remained cold for over seven decades, yet the article did not give exact details about the newly discovered evidence.

The story shook Martin. He left his coffee to rush back to his villa to recover the matchbook with the address. Fact checking the article, the address was the same. The looming second story sandwiched in view between two Banyan trees was one in the same. In his mind’s eye, he remembered the winged letter ‘B’ of the hood ornament of the Bentley that chased him away the day before. That chrome emblem in the style of the classic 1940 vintage Bentleys. This was a detail that had escaped his view until seeing it large in his rearview mirror from memory.

Martin put the matchbook in his pocket and was off to the real estate office tucked neatly behind an archway covered in bougainvillea on Worth Avenue where he planned on Mara getting him into the mansion on El Vedado.  The discrete sign in the reception showcased the office was represented in New York, the Hamptons, and Palm Beach. “Hello,” Martin said with his particular air, “Please let Mara know that Martin is here.”

“Mara?”

“Yes, we met yesterday and she told me about a property on El Vedado.”

“There must be a mistake.”

Martin revealed the match book and showed the receptionist the address. Where as, she opened a screen on the desktop and reported, “There’s no listing on El Vedado.”

“That makes sence,” he said. “Mara said she had a way of knowing about properties not yet on the market.”

“Give me a moment,” she said and called the broker to the front desk.

A very highly accessorized woman introduced herself, “You are looking for a property?”

“Yes, I met with Mara yesterday.”

“There must be some confusion over names; there is no Mara on staff here. However, there was a woman named Mara that was daughter to our founding broker. But that was back in the forties.”

“You mean as in the 1940s?”

“Yes.”

“But, she was not a broker?”

“No she was the broker’s daughter. She was actually one of five children.”

Martin took in the explanation and watched the puzzled face of the broker, “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Whatever happened to the broker, the founder?”

 

Martin Lieberman wanted people to notice. New York, the Hamptons, and then Palm Beach. The three corners of his own private Bermuda Triangle instead of the triangle of the rich and famous. A simple matchbook from a woman stolen from another time gave him a clue of what should have been seen as a warning. Martin’s dream would come true as people would talk of him during long lunches at Ta-boo. The problem for Martin would be those conversations would be idle gossip about the guy married to money with no accomplishments of his own. Pressure of that magnitude for the average poser is enough to drive a man to murder.

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Hotel California

The bellhop smiled a youthful grin as he held the gold push bar of the luggage cart, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”

Amanda appeared to be a very pretty expensively accessorized thirtyish travelling business woman. Her tight frame rose three and a half inches above the marble floor in her Manolo Blahnik creation. Magazines call the designer the holy man of heels, a term ironic in that the women who wear them seem to be least holy persons to sport such fashion. This pair of pumps in open toe with straps that wrap her ankles suggests bondage topped off with diamond crusted buckles. The soft blue velvet matched her blue suit tailored to own any room she entered. The young man, very happy with his task, ushers her to the elevator and announces, “Room thirteen thirty-three.”

“Thirteen? Isn’t that the unlucky floor number never used in high rises?”

“Yeah, the room is duly noted as fourteen thirty-three, but I don’t buy all the superstition.”

“Oh, a realist are you?”

He smiled and raised his eyebrows in enough of a small arch to make his point.

Once past the boringness of the elevator rising to stop, the sliding of the door, and the unveiling of the hall, he leads Amanda to the suite’s double entry doors, “Ready?” he asks.

The grand entrance unwraps her present with a breath taking corner window view of the Santa Monica Pier below. Turquoise floor to ceiling drapes carry the theme of the building’s art deco facade inside. Cool colors to pull the feel of the Pacific vista into the living room area closed off by French doors that lead to the king size bed.

“Will you be with us long?”

She answered, “That depends.”

With that, she slipped him a folded fifty and ushered him away.

She then opened her Louis Vuitton to retrieve her  phone and texted, “Ok, I’m here.”

The return, “Meet you in the lounge.”

He strolled in with the sunset behind him dressed casual, except for the brass G G logo showing off his Gucci loafers. Any guy that can afford seven-fifty a pair can afford to buy drinks and dinner, “Hello,” he utters to Amanda.

She removed her Bulgari sun glasses showing him the diamond inset on the gold frame before letting him soak in her eye contact. She wanted his attention.

“I’m Stephen.”

“I guessed.”

He sat and arranged the dinnerware before asking, “Have you done this before?”

“Do I look like a virgin?”

He chuckled back, “I would say you know what you are doing.”

“Of course,” she said back and sipped her Chateau Blanc. “You know why they call it virgin wool?”

“Why?”

Amada puts her glass down, “Ugly sheep.”

Stephen’s head jarred back in laugher, “That’s something you will never have to worry about.”

The moon had risen just over the blackness that a once sundrenched ocean becomes when night falls over the Hotel California. The flashing round Ferris wheel on the pier could be the source of light reflected in the white globe hanging in the sky. Distant crowd noise had become a murmur and traffic on Ocean Blvd nearly non-existent. Amanda had earned her living. Stephen was in the bath; shower running. She noticed his laptop open with a screen saver of a manicured clean cut woman with two kids; his family somewhere over the far side of Temescal Canyon Road in a three thousand square foot home where he should have everything he ever wanted. But, instead he was here on Ocean Blvd with Amanda; a beauty he had never met and had nothing in common, except for the hunger satisfied in room thirteen thirty-three.

Amanda left the king size and found her way back to the living room side table where her white powder was neatly spread among the remains of tracks now inhaled. Stephen had found that powder to be more than he wanted. He could not get enough, “Another track?’ she had asked. “Be careful. This is the good stuff.”

“You bet,” he said. “Hit me again.” He repeated that over and over.

Her hair hung down in a long tail over her shoulder as she leaned in for one more snort one more time. The numbness she needed to survive could only come from losers like Stephen. Enough times such as this, and she had developed a special kind of hate toward the selfish assholes that can never get enough of someone else. She may be high priced and in demand of those Sunset Strip jack offs, but the reward had grown empty. The time had come she devoured and loved the coke in her life. It was time when doing anything was too much.

Her text message rang, “You back yet?”

“No. This damn guy wouldn’t stop the coke. I thought I would never finish him. Finally, he’s now in the shower.”

The shower kept running. Stephen must have been trying to wash away whatever of Amanda had become distasteful. The very idea of Stephen, Mark, William, John, or whatever name popped up on her screen made her feel sick. She looked again at his laptop. The smiling faces of those who knew nothing of the person he was. She opened his email. That letter to her about his business trip flipped some switch in Amanda’s mind. From her return email, Amanda read where the wife had told him of the kid’s school day and her chance to unwind. Amanda hit ‘Reply All’ and typed, “See you soon” and attached a link to Amanda’s escort website. The curser flashed twice and she pushed ‘Send’.

Amanda then closed the laptop, gathered her things, and opened the door to the hall that would take her away from Hotel California. She stepped into the hall, but it was no longer what it had once been. The four walls made up nothing more than a room; an empty room with no other doors and no elevator. She turned back and the room number on the door Thirteen Thirty-Three was clearly in the same place where the normal fourteen thirty-three would be. Thirteen. She went back into the room and could hear the shower still running. Amanda went into the bathroom and the naked Stephen was in a fetal position on the shower floor with streams of water bouncing off him.

“Damn,” she said. “Stephen, get up.”

There was no movement; just the water running over him.

She leaned into the shower and shook him. Nothing. The water was falling over Amanda, sending her long brown hair down in soaked tangled curls over her wet shoulders. “Stephen!” she yelled then she heard, “Amanda.”

Again, “Amanda, get up.”

She could hear her name being shouted, but could not move. Every inch of her felt trapped. Her name again pierced the darkness, but her eyes would not open.

“Amanda, you have to get out of the rain. Amanda, get back in your tent.”

The glamour of high rises and thrill of men with power had taken the toll. Amanda found hell in her own version of Hotel California in her makeshift tent on a back street of Santa Monica with just the far off site of the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier going dark in the early dawn before the sun.

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