Another Case of Miss Apprehension

Hollywood Hills

Darcy Clyne was good, very good. Throughout her career as skip tracer, bounty hunter and private detective, she’d never failed to corral her target, be it a person with outstanding debts, serving a a process on some shadowy party of the second part in a legal proceeding, a bail jumper, a wanted criminal, or any other missing person.

She was so good at it, the cops, creeps and cons called her Miss Apprehension.

But her latest case, finding the Academy Award-winning actor Bruce Wilson, who had disappeared just before production was to begin on Mammoth Studies next blockbuster, Deafening Silence, was not what she thought it would be.

“Ms. Clyne, we have secured your services because of your reputation for success and discretion. True, we have insured  his participation in our film, but we want Wilson, we need Wilson, to make this film the success we think it will be. News of Bruce Wilson’s disappearance should by no means leak out to the press or even the prying ears and whispering lips of people inside the industry. In other words, I don’t want to see anything about him in the news or hear it in my club’s restroom until we have him in front of a camera again,” Deafening Silence’s executive producer Sig Schulmann said in their sole meeting at his Bel Air estate.

“Of course, Mr. Schulmann. Our catch rate is only part of the services you’re purchasing. Our ability to do it under the public radar, even here in LA, is what you’re paying for,” Darcy said from across an umbrellaed table next to Schulmann’s pool.

“We’re already working on some leads.”

“Oh, really? What is it you’ve found,” Schulmann asked, leaning forward conspiratorially.

“As I said, Mr. Schulmann, discretion and ‘remaining above the fray,’ if you will, including our clients’, is paramount to our success and your satisfaction with our services. You probably think that’s a unique way of doing business, but that’s the business I’m in. I shall give you what updates I feel we can share as we progress with our investigation and search for Mr. Wilson,” Darcy said, extending her hand to Schulmann’s and giving it a firm shake.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, my colleagues and I have some ground to make up. Wilson’s had three days off the grid and even these days a trail can grow cold in 48 hours,” Darcy said. “I’ll see myself out.”

On her way to her car, Darcy passed three servants, each of whom saw her approach and then averted their eyes or immediately busied themselves with polishing the unblemished, dusting the already mirror-like or entering a side room and closing and locking the door behind them with a loud click.

“The exit is this way, Miss,” a smarmy major-domo said, swooping in to take Darcy’s elbow and steer her down the hall and through the front door.

Jesus, F. Scott Fitzgerald was right even before he got out here and drank himself to death, the rich ARE different, Darcy thought as she climbed into her rental Mustang. At what she was charging Schulmann and Mammoth, plus per diem and expenses, she didn’t think the black Shelby GT350 was out of line for the market or the circles in which she would be investigating.

A call to her New York office had come up with Wilson’s phone and text records. In a case like this, privacy laws were made to be hopscotched. In the days before his disappearance, Wilson had made ten calls to Mammoth and Schulmann and had not answered thirty calls after that from the producer and his studio.

His text history was rich in language, participants and local geography. His girlfriend showed up here and there in cryptic, if only mildly affectionate language. Maryse Langois was a Canadian actress who had little public or professional profile before their relationship began four months ago. Now she was a daily subject for paps and gossips from Hollywood to cyberspace.

Another frequent correspondent was one Alessandra DeGrade, who ran a West Hollywood club called Willy O’Wōntshie.

And, of course there was Sig Schulmann, whose last three texts,  after his last phone calls to Wilson, were all related to holding off on Wilson’s “ vanity project” something until after the release of Deafening Silence.

“I’m gonna check Wilson’s crib first,” Darcy told her associate Ben Pierce, who was working the electronic and cyber end of the investigation from New York.

“Gotcha, Boss,” Ben said. “But no souvenirs, unless they’re pertinent to our investigation, of course” he said with a laugh.

Wilson lived in a glass-encased palace in a Hollywood Hills gated community called Beverly Ridge Estates, where the starter homes went for $19 million. Schulmann’s studio owned the property, which Wilson lived rent-free, a perk many cash cows were only too happy to enjoy.

With Schulmann’s call ahead and key card, Darcy entered Wilson’s home and found it to be furnished in not in Southwestern chic, nor mid-Century modern, but antiques and exclusive stuff from French Heritage in shades of gold and white and pastels of pink and blue.

“Ms. Langois seems to have made herself the home she has always aspired to, it would appear.” Darcy said aloud, which was how she conducted searches since her brother and partner Lonny Clyne was killed by a bail jumper two years ago. “What say we check the boudoir, eh, Lon?” she said.

The master bedroom was another museum-quality show-piece. Darcy checked one of the closets and found full of the slender Wilson’s trademark black outfits from high-end Italian and American designers. On the other side of the room, the closet, which Darcy thought would fit the Mustang, was full of exclusive couture outfits, lingerie and slick club clothes that no doubt were the pride of Ms. Langois’ recent fame and notoriety.

“Nothing much to offer here, Lon, unless I was interested in boosting enough product to retire to St. Maarten’s after we find this bird. Let’s check next door,” Darcy said.

This second bedroom was different from the first, appointed in the mid-century modern she expected to find elsewhere. It’s closet was filled with more of Ms. Langois’ wardrobe, though a look at a few of the dresses left Darcy with a new set of questions.

“Where’s the babe, Lonny? Why isn’t she here pining over her man? Let’s see if we can drum up the Mademoiselle Langois and see how’s she’s holding up in her time of woe and distress<“ Darcy said and headed the Mustang down into Hollywood.

A call to Schulmann, revealed that Langois had left Los Angeles a week before Wilson’s disappearance to film a movie in New Zealand.

“Can I reach her by phone?” Darcy asked.

“I doubt it,” Schulmann said. “We’ve tried and it’s a comeback project by that Australian wunderkind, Pearce, and he’s keeping it an airtight closed set, and I mean the whole project. Totally hush-hush,” Schulmann said. And that was that for Darcy’s most obvious lead to Wilson’s whereabouts.

“Okay, Lonny, let’s head on down to Willy O’Wōntshie’s and have a tête-à-tête with Ms. DeGrade,” Darcy said as she smoothed the Mustang onto the 8000 block of Sunset Boulevard.

Parking in the rear, even before the valet had set up shop, Darcy entered the club through the delivery entrance and slipped through the kitchen and into the main room, where dancers were rehearsing for a new show billed for that night.

Tall, thin and exquisitely costumed and made up women were being put through their routine by another woman who sat between the stage and the bar.

“Who the fuck let this civilian in?” Darcy heard her saying a very loud and raspy voice. A large, angry-looking man burst from the dark outside the stage lights and approached Darcy.

“Show’s not until 10:00, lady. You gotta leave. Now!” Darcy heard as the bouncer reached out to grab her arm.

Darcy grabbed the beefy heavily tattooed arm and used the bouncer’s momentum to enhance the power of her knee-strike to the temple. No more bouncer for a few minutes.

“My name’s Darcy Clyne and I’m a PI working for Sig Schulmann and Mammoth Pictures. I’m looking for Alessandra DeGrade to ask her a couple of questions about Bruce Wilson.

“Take ten, ladies,” the raspy voice sounded from the silhouette standing in front of the bar. “I don’t have anything I can tell you, Ms. Clyne, other than I’m looking for Bruce, too. Eddy, would you see to Odin and tell her she’s back to parking cars tonight?”

Darcy walked up to the Amazonian six-footer who now leaned her hip against the bar, extended her hand and said,” Ms. DeGrade?”

“The woman held up both hands in somewhat feigned fear and said, “I hope you’ll excuse me if I eschew the proprieties, Miss…”

“Clyne, Darcy Clyne.”

“Miss Clyne. But I’m beside myself over Bruce’s disappearance, too. I haven’t seen or heard from him in almost a week and I’m worried sick something’s happened to him. Something serious this time.”

“This time?”

“Well Bruce has had…issues…in the past and I thought I’d helped him get it together since we…well…”

“I see,” Darcy said. “Then the Langois relationship is just…”

“A business transaction, shall we say?

“And those beautiful clothes in master Bedroom’s the second closet are yours.”

“Guilty as charged, but only of having a fabulous wardrobe as befitting the lady of the manor.”

“Gotcha. I thought something was fishy when I found those size twos in the next-door bedroom. No offense, Ms. DeGrade,” Darcy said.

“Call me Alley, please. Have you found anything new about Bruce? I know he was having a terrible time with that bastard Schulmann.”

“About what?”

“Bruce just thought it was time, you know? His career is winding down and he’s made his gazillions. He just doesn’t want to keep up with this career-long role they’ve made him play,” DeGrade said.

“The fact he’s gay and you and he are…?”

“Engaged, actually,” DeGrade said and began to cry. “I’m so worried. I’ve stopped him twice from killing himself. He told me I was the only reason he hadn’t since then. But Schulmann  needs this last big score himself. Mammoth lost big on that last Cruise flick. He and the Scios take a huge cut up front and on the back-end. And that left mammoth on its heels.”

“I see. You don’t think Bruce would attempt to take his own life again, do you? It sounds like he was ready to make that huge leap and you two were ready to make that commitment for good.”

“No, I’m sure he wouldn’t. Like I said, he loves me and he’s ready to come out. No more closets, no locked up secrets.”

“I think I may have figured out something, Alley. Do you have any time over the next few hours?” Darcy said.

“Place opens at 8:00 and the show starts at 10:00. I really need to be back here by 6:00, but the is more important than any club or show. You’ve got me as long as you need me. Let me fetch my purse.”

Darcy and Alley DeGrade drove back to Schulmann’s estate. She made a call on the way, informing Schulmann she believed she’d found a real lead and wanted to discuss it with him in private.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to bring a confidential informant with me,” Darcy said.

“Informant?” Schulmann said. “Uh, of course. Anything to get this horrible affair over and bring Bruce back.”

“You know where he is, don’t you” Alley DeGrade said, hope shining on her face.

“Pretty sure I do, but I’m going to need your help.”

“I’ll do whatever you need.”

Darcy made one more phone call to an old friend before they arrived.

They were met by Schulmann’s major-domo in the entrance atrium, who quailed when he saw Alessandra with Darcy.

“Ms. Clyne, just what kind of freak show are you bringing into Mist Schulmann’s home?” he blustered.

“Nip it, Jeeves. The lady and I have business with your boss. now take us to him.”

“This way, please,” he said, sounding none to pleased and all too scared.

Schulmann met them in the hallway on the way to the pool patio. His expression of confident concern collapsed and was rebuilt as nervous anger.

“What is this…person…doing her, Ms. Clyne? We don’t have time for a burlesque. I have a movie to start filming in ten days,” he said.

“Ms. DeGrade has informed me that you and Mr. Wilson had been having harsh words about this project and where he wished to take his career, Mr Schulmann. Is that correct?” Darcy said, looking over the producer’s shoulder to the gold face of an 18th Century Seth Thomas clock against the wall.

“Temperamental these artists, Ms. Clyne. I hope I don’t have to explain that to you,” he said.

“Yeah, ego and demands and possible drug relapses and even some silly personal quirk could cost millions. I mean, you even insured Bruce’s being ready to go before you even had the production buttoned down. Am i right?”

“He is known as a professional, a fine actor, but has been much distracted of late.” Schulmann glanced at Alessandra.

“You know where Bruce is, don’t you, Schulmann?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I hire you if I knew that? He’s the indispensable man for this production. If we don’t have him, well…”

“I believe the insurance pays something like $200 million?”

“The cost of doing business these days, Ms. Clyne. Now I thought you said you had real information for me.”

“Yes, Ms DeGrade informs me she and Wilson have an intimate relationship. More than that, actually.”

“Preposterous. Why would one of Hollywood’s greatest action stars have a relationship with some WeHo drag queen. I think your services will no longer be needed, Ms. Clyne,” Schulmann said and turned toward the locked room to his right.

“Just hold on a second, Schulmann,” Darcy said. She pushed back her coat and placed her hands on her hips, exposing her holstered Beretta PX4 Storm Compact pistol.

At that, Alessandra grabbed the pistol and pointed it at Darcy.

“I didn’t come her to be bullshitted by you, you little bitch. Or by this pompous crook, either,” she said. She wagged the gun to move Darcy over toward Schulmann and his man.

“Now, if someone doesn’t tell me where my Bruce is I shoot this arrogant queen first,” pointing to the major-domo, then Miss Bitch here. I’ll save the last for you, Schulmann. I think you know exactly where Bruce is.”

“Calm down, Alley. I’ve got this under control.”

“Bullshit. I want my fiancé and I want him now! You know, I think I’ll skip the preliminaries and start with the one with the most to lose. And I mean LOSE. What do you say Schulmann? Everyone on your knees.”

Alessandra pushed the muzzle to the pistol to Schulmann’s temple and sobbed, “What have you donate my fiancé, Sig?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. For all I know, you’re the reason he’s disappeared,” Schulmann said.

Alessandra pulled the muzzle of the Beretta from Schulmann’s temple, leaving a 9mm red circle in the skin. She pivoted and squeezed a round off into the face-off the Seth Thomas.

She brought the hot barrel back to Schulmann’s head again and said, “Last chance Sig. If I don’t have Bruce, I’ve got nothing live for, so I’ve got nothing to lose in killing you right here, right now. So you’ve got five seconds to tell me. Five, four…”

“Let’s be reasonable, my dear. You know why I couldn’t let him make that announcement before the film premiered.” Sweat beaded oh Schulmann’s forehead, dripping onto the pistol.

“…three, two…”

“I needed the insurance and the carrier made me hire Clyne. We were desperate  and couldn’t afford for Bruce to be found until after the carrier paid off. But I wasn’t sure how to keep him out of the way. I’m sorry.”

“If you killed him, you bastard…” She pushed harder and Schulmann’s eyes teared.

“He’s in the basement. I couldn’t kill him. He’s behind the bar in that room on the right. Just don’t shoot!”

The butler made his move and Darcy caught him in the throat with a punch she’d trained a decade to make lethal or just shy of it.

“Open the door, Schulmann,” Darcy said. “It’s over. My old friend Lieutenant Galea from major crimes is waiting in the entry, listening to the whole thing. Now open the doors and let Wilson go home to his partner, his fiancé.”

Galea had Schulmann wrapped up and held for kidnapping, assault, unlawful imprisonment, insurance fraud, the list was as long as his potential stretch in Chino.

Two weeks later, Bruce Wilson announced he was taking time off from his film career, not to enter a hospital for the euphemistic “exhaustion” following his kidnapping or for rehab, but to begin the life he cutoff too long with his fiancé, Alex DiGrasse.

Darcy Clyne attended their Malibu wedding. She told them she regretted her misapprehension of Schulmann’s nefarious motives, and how that slowed down finding Bruce Wilson and freeing him from the very real potential of his death.

But, owing to ‘the award-winning performance of Miss Alessandra DeGrade as Best Actress in a Supporting Role,’ Darcy was able to keep her perfect record intact, as well as he own professional name as Miss Apprehension.

Here’s Day13’s very long (for an online story) Story-a-Day response to writer Tony Conaway’s prompt for a story  revolving around misapprehension. In this case, it was Darcy’s misapprehension of Sig Schulmann’s motives. Should I ever return to this story and this character, I can see a revision easily turning this into a 5,000-plus word story. Hope I hit the mark for Day 13.

Misreading Between the Lines

It’s no wonder why most of us hate Mondays. Returning to the scene of that continuous crime. Your individuality and humanity lying there on your desk surrounded by its taped outline.

But by 2:30 PM Friday, I was looking forward to Monday, not because I’m some kind of 9:00 to 5:00 masochist, but because it meant I had survived the weekend.

It was after taking one of my decompression walks by the river—the one that always called to me from ninety feet beneath the pedestrian bridge, “C’mon in, the water’s fine!”—I returned to my office to find this message written in a spooky red script on the wall-hung whiteboard upon which I brainstormed plots against the ultimate plotter:

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday.

No signature, of course. I mean why would someone sign such a non sequitur to the statements I’d left on it when I left for my walk:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow’d.~ Iago

I had no idea who defiled my little nook in the office library. It was a space I’d carved out for myself because it kept me from having to listen to the masturbatory ravings and sycophantic mewling of my supervisor, Grant Godfrey.

There had been days in my time under his alleged supervision, though he was more overseer, when I would lift my depression-heavy head from its drool puddle on the desk and begin the staggering trek down to his office, where I sought to confront him, then grasp him in a strong hug of brotherhood. This embrace, preceded my throwing both of us out the fifth floor window to the pavement below. Didn’t matter which of us died. Either or both would do. I saw it as a Win-Win.

But I’d always run out of gas by the time I’d reach his office door and slink back to my quiet space by the water cooler and the collected monthly board proceedings from 1948 to present.

Who the hell left this message? You really can’t recognize whose handwriting it is on a blackboard or whiteboard. It’s larger, vertical and perhaps more legible than any note or signature they might give you.

I walked to the librarian’s desk and asked, “Janie, you see anyone slink into my sanctum sanctorum while I was out?”

“Nope, but I was down on 3 where they had cake for Annie B. She’s retiring AND getting a chin lift next week,” she said.

“Oooh, The Villages here she comes?” I said, my hands up and shaking like I was scared. If I was a guy in that Florida retirement community, I would be.

I thanked Janie and wandered across the hall to my friend Phil’s office in Legal. He was a jokester with a view of humanity and bureaucracy about three and a half levels below mine.

“You didn’t leave that message on my whiteboard, did you, Phil?”

“Joey!” he exclaimed, for he always exclaimed, never spoke, the name I let only three people outside my immediate family call me. “Nah, I was down in Human Resources checking how many weeks until I’m eligible for retirement. What’s it say?”

“You too?” I said. I’d been doing that since Grant usurped the position of my supervisor when my sainted boss, Jack Peters retired. “Retirement seems to be our biggest seller these days.”

I told Phil what the message said.

“Hmmm, cryptic. You think it might have been The Despicable One? He’s certainly not above screwing with your mind.”

“I dunno, he’d want to watch my reaction. No one was near my space when I got back,” I said.

“You could always ask him if he left this vile intimidation message,” Phil said.

“I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s just that someone came into my space, erased my quote on the whiteboard and left that message in its place. Maybe I will mosey down to Mahogany Row and kick the over-inflated tires,” I said.

When you want to deal with executives, the rule of thumb I established back in my reporter days was to develop relationships with the angelic keepers at the pearly gates——the secretaries. Yeah, I know. And Satan was an angel, too.

I decided to start at the top, the most, shall we say senior secretary in the exec wing, Donna McKenna. She’d been assistant to the previous Director, but when new leadership came in, her boss was swept out. So she took two steps down to the Assistant Director of Not Much.

“Hi, Donna. That a new picture of the grandkids there?” I asked, figuring there were not enough o’s in “smooooth” to describe my rapport with these non-coms who essentially ran this joint. And Mary was the Senior Master Sergeant, despite the fact that the new director’s hot secretary considered herself queen of the hop.

“Same picture as the last time you blew smoke up my skirt. What do you want, Joseph?” she said with her ex-smoker’s rasp.

“Was wondering if you heard if anyone,” I nodded toward The Despicable One’s office, “was down in my office trying to fuck with me.” I told her what I’d found she I returned from lunch and it was like talking to one of the guys in the locker room.

“How the hell would I know? I’m not his keeper,” she said in a combination of annoyance and relief.

“You know lots and you hear even more. You’re the Oracle of the Fifth Floor,” I said. “I trust your knowledge, instincts and counsel.”

“Excuse me while I hose the bullshit off my keyboard. I only know he was talking to his buddy Tom over there. Yucking it up about giving you some crap assignment like letting out his dog at lunch or picking up his laundry. You know, something demeaning because he’s afraid of you.”

“He has no idea,” I said, recalling my flight and drop of fancy fantasy of his demise.

“But he’s been down here kissing director asses and stomping on everyone under him, which is everyone, all day. Never even left for lunch. Princess over there picked it up for him and peerless leader.”

I was in thrall of her supreme bitterness. Olympian in her acerbity.

“Okay, thanks. I can’t see anyone else trying to mess with me like that,” I said.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Joseph. No one around here gives a shit anymore. We’re old and have snakes of x’s winding around our calendars all aiming for that last ring that circles our getting out of here before another purge or he takes over,” Donna nodded toward Grant’s office.

I decided to wander back to the office and erase the offending mystery from my wall and my memory. I figured a few beers would help.

When I arrived back in my lair, the afternoon sun was pouring through the door-to-ceiling windows like a prism and beginning to bake everything.

And there, captured in the otherworldly rainbow light, was my criminal conspirator, Tess Blake. She’d been Grant’s speed bag to my heavy in relation to his training for taking over the hearts and minds of the proletariat on floors 1 though 5. She had been lucky enough to transfer out, but stopped by a lot to talk to me and other friends so unlucky to have been left behind.

“Did you see my note?” she said she saw me coming.

“What note? You leave it on my desk or chair?”

“No. silly. The note I left to remind you to fully water the peace lily and spider plant I left in your care over on the sunny side of the building,” she said, not realizing the extent of my animus and paranoia where Grant came into play.

“Um, that note was from you?”

“Yeah, I wanted to make sure you knew what to do for Hortense and Edgar here before you take off and to wish you a happy weekend.”

“I see…” I said my face heating from the sun outside and embarrassment within.

“So will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Hydrate and have a great weekend.”

“Only if you help,” I said.

“Sure, let me get the watering…”

“Already did that before my walk, incase I didn’t come back. I meant why don’t you come help me hydrate at the Blue Bayou and help ensure I get this weekend off to a good start.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. Let me just close the blinds a little bit and run over to Legal and get my stuff,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, that’d be great.”

As she closed the door, I grabbed my green marker and drew a flower on the whiteboard. Beneath it I wrote:

There is that in the glance of a flower which may at times control the greatest of creation’s braggart lords.~ John Muir

I guess my own suspicions and fears had conspired to scare me into seeing something sinister where there was nothing but nothing. I had met the enemy and it was me.

Story-a-Day May Day 5’s fluffy bit of desperation. It’s based on the premise of finding that first statement on the whiteboard in your office. Started this late and finished before midnight. I’m done until I see you all tomorrow. Another chance to get it right.

Recreating Recall of the Priceless

Age can be a terrible thing, what it can do
to a man’s body and mind that he once thought
invulnerable to the degradation of disease
and his own misuse over time.
But along comes the day when his shoes
become too far away to tie and the chasm
so great between the desire to remember and
the clear view of actual recall, it renders
memory nothing more than a museum ravaged
by the temblors of time. Now the picture
I hung of you is not much more than a frame
surrounding empty desire, one I must fill
or you’ll finally be lost to me forever.
And so I scour this shattered space for bits
of the ancient and arcane. With pieces of lapis
set in shards of Delft blue glass I fashion
your eyes, with flaxen threads of fine
Irish linen and crushed Etruscan alabaster
I formed your face, and with countless strands
of gold and brown silk, your hair. It’s an
imperfect portrait, true. Though, created
from treasured bits of my life and the echoing
music of your voice, I once again can hang
my invaluable memory of priceless you.

For Day 19 of NaPoWriMo, a piece made of the combined prompts of Writers Digest and NaPoWriMo.net — a memory poem and a creation poem. I like to think of this as my imaginary life imitating their art.

The Search Continues

I’ve been searching for something
my whole life, but if you stopped
and asked what my goal, my hoped-for was,
I’d likely give you the same kind
of twitchy, unfocused look as
any other liar. I’d give you some answer,
firm as granite or flimsy as fog.
But, in truth, that answer’s proven
as elusive, as out-of-reach as
that for which I’ve searched.

It’s worn me down over all this time,
and the only truth I’ve ever found
is this: Life’s one long crawl
toward a shiny something that
turns out to be nothing more
than a mirror reflecting the fact
I’ve spent my life digging
for nothing more than a clear look
at who I am and what I’ve become.
And I haven’t captured that yet.

Dramatis Personæ

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The man emerged from Grand Central Station, ran through puddles reflecting city lights to the line of cabs, jerked open the door of one and jumped from the rain into its back seat. The cabbie, texting his girlfriend in Queens, jumped a bit in surprise. He got a little more startled by that sort of thing lately. Didn’t used to, but now he did. You could never be too sure about anyone anymore, he would say.

In the rear view mirror he sized up a typical out-of-town business type, probably upstate insurance or real estate, just a little wetter than usual.

“Hey, buddy, you want to quit shaking that little umbrella back there? You don’t see me blowing exhaust into your office, do you?” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” the out-of-towner said.

“Yeah, well…So where we going?” He usually didn’t have to ask. In this town people get off the train knowing they’ve got to be somewhere ten minutes or ten years ago. From the looks of this fare–late 20s, not really expensive raincoat, white shirt, red tie, phony Ivy, like maybe Syracuse or Albany–the hack figured he would say Fulton, John, or William Street, something in the insurance district. Not cool enough for Wall Street. Not flashy enough for Broadway. Not hipster enough for Chelsea. Besides, he thought, the last two types would have taken the subway and he’d have never have them dripping on the back seat.

“Um, I’m not sure, actually,” the fare said.

“Look, bud, you can’t sit back there just to get out of the rain. There’s a nice coffee shop back inside the station and another twenty in every direction you look. Unless you’ve got somewhere you know where to go, I ‘m sure I got other fares who know where they’re supposed to be delivered.”

“Actually, I’m looking for a woman.”

“Whoa, pal! I don’t know what you’ve heard, but every hack in this town ain’t got a deal with the The Emperor’s Club. You can still find a pro at any of the bars that are probably next door to all those coffee shops I told you about. Come to think of it, you could find a few semi-pros inside those coffee shops.”

“Oh, no. Not that kind of…of course, not that…I’m sure not…”

“Sir, please,” the cabbie, a part time waiter-writer named Gianetti according to his hack license, turned to the rear and said. “While you’re still fairly young? Shit or get off my pot.”

“Look, I met this girl two months ago on-line. Very pretty. Very friendly. She said she worked here in the city. I don’t work here. I’m from Albany. I know her name, but not an address. I know, I know. Really, I’m not a stalker. She said it would be great to meet someday. I thought I’d surprise her and visit the City. Call her when I got here. And then I went and left my phone on the shuttle to Beacon. That’s where I caught the Metro North to here. For all I know she’s been trying to call me, you know? And…”

“Is there some point to this poignant tale of lost love, other than you need a new phone, I need another fare, and we’re all looking to get laid in this hopeless, heartless city?” Gianetti said.

“Of course,” the young man replied. “She said she worked at a big law firm. Heather said–that’s her name, Heather, Heather Townsend–Heather said she worked for Plotkin, Webster, Something. Or Something, Taylor, Plotsky. Pinckney, Something, Something? Her Facebook page show’s she’s about 25, brown hair, gorgeous brown…”

“Buddy? Excuse me again? But there’s only about four or four and a half million women in this town. Another couple million come to work here each day. I mean I seen ’em all over the past five years, but I can’t say I’ve ever met a Heather Plotkin.”
“Townshend. Heather Townsend. She..”

“Whatever. Look, you got an address for this babe’s…this girl’s law firm?” he said.

“Oh, sure. Sorry,” he said, fumbled in the pocket of his Burberry knock-off (Gianetti could tell because, as he would tell some of his fares, “I know these things.”) and pulled out a sheet of paper folded in quarters. It looked like a leftover miniature taco, oozing black and red.

“Oh man, I must have gotten it wet running from the station to your cab. Shit!”

“You ain’t kidding, mister.”

“I’m sure it was on 6th Avenue and one of those 40-something streets, 42nd, 43rd, 47th, one of those” he said. “Look I’ll pay whatever it costs to find her.”

“Well, at least that’ll keep us out of Harlem…maybe. You’re sure it wasn’t 142nd, right? Long as you’re paying, I’ll drive.” Gianetti hit the meter and deftly pulled into traffic.

“Look, pal, I’m no romantic. I’ve seen the best and worst of people in my rear view mirror for the past five years. Seen them hug, punch, kiss, yell, sing, cry, fuck. Some nights all in the same fare. Even had one die back there. So nothing really surprises me anymore.”

Gianetti was pretty sure this guy was dopey or delusional, probably both, but it was a slow day and a fare’s a fare. Especially with his rent due Friday. At the stop light, Gianetti pulled out his phone and searched for law firms on 6th Avenue. There’s only about twelve fucking thousand, he thought.

“You don’t get outta Albany much, do you, pal?”

“No, just north and west, for the..uh, you know, business.”

“Figures,” Gianetti said under his breath.

“What say? Oh, and the name’s Michael. Michael Behan. Folks call me Mickey, though. Don’t ask,” he laughed and waved his hand at the back of Gianetti’s head like guys do when they actually want you to ask.

“Okay, I won’t,” the hack said to Mickey Behan’s disappointment.

Gianetti promised himself he wouldn’t rip this kid off. Even though he seemed as dim as the inside of a confessional, he was a fare, and he remembered when he came to this town for love from a place even more folksy than Albany, New York.

At the next stop, Gianetti scrolled down the list of law offices to the P’s.

“Why are we on Avenue of the Americas?” Mickey asked.

“Buddy, 6th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas are the same thing depending where we are. And there’s no Plotkin, no Webster, no Pinckney. There is a Day Pitney, though. But they’re on Times Square”

“Hmmm, I’m not sure. Maybe.”

“There is a Patterson Bellknap Webb & Tyler on…”

“That’s it,” Mickey cried, leaning into the between-seats plastic shield. “How far away?”

“Behind us a half-block and on this very street, actually,” Gianetti said. He pointed to the towering silver building shining in the rays of sun that had just broken through the clouds.

“That’s the Grace Building, 1114 6th. Says Patterson Bellknap’s on the 22nd and 23rd floors.”

“Aw, man. Thanks a million,” Mickey said. He reached for the door handle to exit the cab and heard Gianetti clear his throat.

“Whoa, there, Romeo. The meter says you owe me fifteen bucks. Sorry, but that’s how it is in this town.

“Wha..? Fifteen? For three blocks? Fine, fine, no problem. Here’s twenty. Keep the change.”

“I should think so,” Gianetti said.

“Thanks a million, really.”

Mickey jumped out of the cab in front of the Starbucks on the corner of 42nd and 6th and walked briskly back down the block toward Grand Central, checking his look in each store window along the way. When he reached the entrance to the Grace Building, he smoothed his hair in his reflection as he peered within. There, in the lobby, he saw a reception area and three guards between the entrance and the banks of elevators.

“Holy shit,” Mickey whispered through his teeth. “This is really some joint. Heather must be something really special.” Pushing his way through the heavy glass doors, Mickey shuffled up to the reception area and stood behind three men speaking what he thought sounded like Arabic. He scanned the marble walls with their brass fittings.

He had just about finished his reconnoiter when he heard…
“Sir? Can I help you, sir?”

On the left side of the reception desk, past the blue velvet rope, Mickey saw a 40-ish black woman peering at him over her glasses. She smiled a practiced smile and said, “How can I help you?”

Mickey scuffed up against the brass post upon which the rope was attached, giving it a bit of a half-spin totter, grabbed it and returned it to a steady position a few inches left of its original spot and walked his red face to address the receptionist with as much aplomb as he could muster.

“Uh, yes. I would like to see Ms. Townsend, please. She’s with Patterson Bellknap.”

“Yes, sir. Do you have an appointment?”

“Umm, no. But we’re good friends. Just let her know Michael Behan from Albany is here to see her.”

Dropping her chin to touch her orange and green patterned silk scarf and peering over her glasses once again, the receptionist caught the eye of the building security man standing just behind Mickey and raised her eyebrows. Mickey turned and looked over his shoulder and saw the guard sizing him up, for just what he wasn’t sure.

“Yes, sir. Let me ring Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant,” the receptionist said as Mickey and the guard exchanged glances. “Would you please take a seat over there?” She pointed to a row of benches near the left-side wall.

Mickey knew the guard was now keeping a closer eye on him as both moved to the side.

Within five minutes, a young woman exited one of the elevators and walked to the reception area and talked to the receptionist, who pointed to Mickey and then raised her chin toward the nearby guard.

The young woman slowly walked toward Mickey, who felt she was checking him for weapons or worse.

“Sir, I’m Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant’s secretary. We have no record of your having an appointment with us, nor does Ms. Tomlinson  know a Michael Behan. If you would like to see…”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Tomlinson?” Mickey said. “I’ve been speaking with Ms. Townsend–Townsend–for some time now. We are very good friends. Do you understand? There must be some mistake.”

“No mistake, sir. Dealing with international clients on very detailed subjects like intellectual property, we make a point of not making mistakes.”

“But..”

“Thank you, sir, but unless you have some business with Patterson Bellknap I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“But…”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“But…”

Mickey sagged and was about to make another plea as the young woman turned and clicked away on the marble floor tiles in what Gianetti would recognize as Jimmy Choo pumps, definitely not knock-offs.

“Sir?”

Mickey heard a deep, authoritative voice behind him. Startled, he turned and stared directly into the red tie of the navy-blazered security guard, who was at least a head taller than Mickey.

“If you don’t have any more business here in the Grace Building, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to please leave the premises. I’m sure you understand.” He smiled that polite kind of smile cops do that carries the inference of an impersonal dose of personal injury.

“Sure, sorry. I just don’t know why…”

“Sir?”

“Um, yeah. Have a nice day.”

“You, too, sir,” the security man said with a bare touch of professional sincerity.

Out on 42nd Street again, Mickey, jaywalked through the stop-and-go heartbeat of the city’s vehicular circulation, pulled his raincoat beneath him and sat on one of the upper steps of the broad stairway entering Bryant Park.

“What the hell was that?” he said to himself.

Mickey counted up the front of the building 22 floors and scanned the shining section of glass facade right to left and back again on the 23rd floor.

“Wonder which is hers?” he said.

Mickey had planned to meet with Heather and maybe have lunch, but it was still only 11:00 or so. He had a return ticket for the 5:15 PM to the Beacon train station where he’d catch the shuttle to Albany. He stewed that he had nothing to do for the next six hours. He recalled the cabbie mention a coffee shop everywhere you look and the Starbucks down the block where he left the cab.

“Might as well get a cup. I’m sure that’ll cost ten bucks around here,” he mumbled as he walked along the length of the park to the corner of 6th and crossed to the Starbucks.
The smell of coffee and the sound of busy people refueling on caffeine revived his spirits a bit, even though he was tenth in line to place his order. Mickey noticed the speed and no-nonsense attitude of the crew behind the counter and the light-speed clickity-clack, whirr and milk steamer shhh of the two girls working the barrista station. He looked back toward the end of the line and saw the secretary who had just shooed him from the Grace Building entering the shop. She noticed him, too, but made a point of looking right through him to the menu board.

“Yes?” the smiling young Hispanic woman in the green apron said as the two guys in front of Mickey went to wait for their Americanos. Despite her rictus smile, there was no mistaking the tone of voice wordlessly expressing her interest in moving this line along.

“Uhhh…”

Her smile turned to a thin line.

“Oh, right. Venti double hazelnut latte, please.”
“$9.43, sir.”

“I fucking knew it,” Mickey mumbled as he handed her his card and she slid it through the reader. He tossed a buck in the near-empty left-hand tip jar that signified he supported a strict interpretation of his Second Amendment rights.

He watched the barristas crank out the capuchinos, caramel macchiatos, and another pair of lattes. When his order was completed, the barrista looked up to hand it over. Her eyes opened wide and she nearly dropped the cup.

“Michael!” she said.

Mickey looked up as he grasped the cup and saw what may have been the face of the woman he had traveled to New York to see.
“Heather?”

He saw a name tag on her apron. Sure enough, it read: Heather. But she didn’t look exactly like the young woman whose face he’d been messaging to on Facebook for the past weeks.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Wait right there. Clarissa can I get my break soon?”

The Hispanic woman looked at the line, dwindled to seven, and three people waiting for their espresso drinks, including the secretary, who stood over by the cream and sugar station out of Mickey’s sight.

“11:30,” said the shift manager.

“Michael please wait. I’d like to explain.”

Mickey found an empty seat next to the door and sipped his latte, never looking up as the secretary scurried past his irritating annoyance. The cool air coming through the doorway as she left felt good on Mickey’s red face.

He stood up as a women in her mid-30s approached. No longer was there longish brown hair, but rather an asymmetric cut short on one side and almost buzzed off on the other. She was putting on her jacket when he noticed the tattoos stretching their flora and fauna down her arms from beneath the short sleeves of her top.

“I’ve only got ten minutes. Please walk with me outside,” she said.

Mickey stood and pushed through the door, allowing it to close on Heather. Outside, he stared across 42nd street and at the traffic.

“Michael?” Heather said.

“How dare you try to fool me like this?” Mickey said. He couldn’t look in her eyes. “I traveled all the way from Albany to see you, or who I thought was you, spent over two hundred fucking bucks, am embarrassed and tossed out on my ass by security in the Grace Building, and now I find you’re not an attorney at all. You’re a coffee girl at fucking Starbucks.”

“I didn’t think a vice president of a big dairy company would talk to me if you knew I was a wannabe theater MFA from Beekmantown. I play a lot of roles and I never thought you’d leave your office to come down here, especially on a Tuesday. I was going to tell you eventually…”

“You lied to me. My friends said, ‘Why would some lawyer from New York want to strike up a relationship with you, a…dairy guy from Albany?'”

“What difference does it make, Michael? Really. Didn’t we have that connection? You felt it, admit it.”

“How can I face everyone back home? They were right, you can’t believe anything on-line. Look, I’m sure you’re a nice, talented girl, but I can’t abide a liar. If I can’t trust you, I can’t have any sort of relationship with you?”

“Who said anything about a relationship?”

“Isn’t that where this was all heading?”

“Umm, not like that kind of relationship. I mean, I think you’re very nice and we really hit it off, but don’t you think it’s a little premature to be talking a relationship. I mean I’ve only just this week got a play…”

“Yeah, gotta play. And I gotta go. My train’s leaving in an hour and I’ve got to get over to Penn Station. Look, I’m sorry this all happened. All very embarrassing, but I think it’s best if we just forget about all this,” Mickey waved his hands back at the Grace Building, over Heather’s head at the Starbucks and then straight up in the air.

“I’m sorry, Michael. I really like you and I’d like to get to know you better. I was so surprised someone in your field knows a lot about theater and…”

“Yeah, I thought you were some Renaissance woman. Attorney, artist, traveler. Christ, what a dope! Goodbye, Heather. Is that really your name?” He extended his hand.

“Yeah, Heather’s my real name,” she said, grasping his hand and noticing its roughness and its perma-stained knuckles and nails like that of a workman’s. She shook her head and wondered why Mickey was headed east on 42nd Street toward Grand Central when Penn Station was nine blocks south on 6th Avenue.

Jenny Grandjean, following the instruction of her acting teacher to chronicle each bit of emotional and sensory experience of her life to mine and in turn inhabit in some future role, fished in the pocket of her green apron and pulled a little notebook from her pocket. She scribbled in it for a minute, looked back up 42nd Street, shrugged, sighed a contented sigh and went back into Starbucks.

On the page it read: Character study: As M left her in their hotel room for the last time, returning to his wife and her fortune, Heather lay across their bed, taking in the smell of him, recalling the effect of his rough but gentle hands upon her shivering skin, feeling the heat of their passion leave the sheets just as he left her arms, her face burned with the knowledge their love was madness, but it was a beautiful madness…

Here’s a too-long draft of a story I wrote for Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt. which asked for a story revolving around the phrase,  “It was a mad and beautiful thing … “ This one was struggle, not just with coming up with a story, but with wandering around New York City in the street view of Google Maps. Hopefully you didn’t need a map to find your way through my story, yourself.

Ever Falling for Some Something

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All our lives
some search
for some something,
some even finding it.
All our lives we quest,
only to find it was
merely the flash
enticed us and
our hoped-for’s
were naught but
glittering attractions
of no substance
glinting upon our
blinking hearts.

All my life
I’ve searched
for the maybe,
occasionally
catching it
or you.
But I never
got it right,
never matching
escape velocities,
ending up with fingers
and feelings scorched,
dropping back to earth
like a cigarette butt
tossed in fiery failure.

I couldn’t hold on,
making the grasp
a step too late,
finding I couldn’t
hold onto my own
mirrored smoke.
Perhaps I should give up
my searching ways,
but I can’t because
maybe the next one,
or the next, or …
well, it might be
the one I finally
get right.

There’s always tomorrow. Isn’t there? Maybe, in the long run, it’s not some something or someone , but the search I really search for.

Alone…All…Alone

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In a way, we are always alone.
Born alone, live alone.
Sit in a desk, a car, a predicament…
alone. Wed alone, lie in bed alone,
end up dead alone.
There may be others surrounding us,
many or just The One, but they’re
there
and we are
here.

A forest is nothing more than
a community of single trees,
each sustaining itself,
pushing out its own green,
dropping its own gold,
drawing rings around its heart
to keep count its solitary days.

But they each share this soil,
sip from the same water,
lean away as one from the same breeze,
hum the same rattling anthem
until falling, each with only themselves
to experience the drop and decay
as only it can.

In that respect we share so much
with one another, this solitude
within the thrashing, crashing days
and nights spent touching and being touched,
sleeping with only our own consciousness
even as we lie wrapped in another’s arms.

In our everyday looking from inside
at all those outside who are looking at us,
we can feel some peace knowing,
in our insular, armored,
outward seeking, inward keeping,
reflective, selective, selfish, selfless,
and unique aloneness,
we are not alone.