Where Stars Go

pond

“Where do stars go during the day, Mommy?”

“Where do stars go?” his mother repeated the question. She scanned the blue sky. They sat in a field of tall grass that swayed in the breeze like dancing snakes. The boy’s mother sat in her long, black dress, her knees up, her arms hugging her shins. The boy sat the same way in his black suit and clip-on tie. “The stars go away during the day,” his mother answered.

“Where are the stars now?” the boy asked, squinting at his mother in the sunlight. The autumn breeze teased his hair and caressed his cheeks—the same way his mother often did.

“The sun came out and they all went home,” she said.

“Are they a-scared of the sun?”

“No, they aren’t afraid of the sun. They just know he’s big enough to light the sky by himself, and when he’s there, they can all go home and play.”

The boy sat, looking at the sky. He remembered the hugs and kisses from earlier that day. People were crying. People told him he was such a brave little boy and now he was the man of the house. They marveled at how big he was getting. They messed his hair and pinched his cheeks. They had tears in their eyes. His mother led him to see his father. His father was sleeping. They knelt. He folded his hands like hers.

“Why’s Daddy sleeping?” he asked.

“Because Daddy got sick. And now he’s resting because he has to go away for a very long time.”

Then everyone stood around a big, wooden box. They listened to a man speaking big words with a big voice.

“Where’s Daddy going?” the boy whispered to his mother as the man spoke.

“Daddy has to go to heaven, dear,” his mother answered.

“Where’s that?”

“Heaven is with the stars,” she answered.

The boy sat in the field with his mother. He put his hand between him and the sun. He held the sun. It glowed red between his fingers. He was bigger than the sun.

“Where’s home, Mommy?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where’s the stars’ home?”

The boy’s mother sat silent. Then she pointed to a clear pond nestled in the field. It shimmered like glass. “Some live in that pond,” she said.

Atop the water, billions of stars danced and jumped. They ran across the surface with brilliant, white fire. They twinkled and winked more intense than the boy had ever seen them do in the sky.

“What do they play, Mommy?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask one.”

“Why haven’t you asked one?”

“I’ve never been able to catch one.”

“Will Daddy play with them?”

“I’m sure he will, dear,” she answered. Her eyes shimmered like the pond.

“Can I ask them what they play?”

“Do you think you can catch one?”

The boy looked at the pond. The stars dashed back and forth like speeding fireflies. They left streaked trails behind them. The boy looked up at his mother and nodded. “Yeah, I can catch one.”

“Be careful.”

“I will.”

The boy stood on his short legs and ran toward the pond. The long grass brushed his knees. As he approached the pond, the stars darted away from and toward one another, engaged in a sort of tag or dance. The boy’s breaths deepened. His legs worked as hard as they could. The sun warmed his face and hair. As he neared the water’s edge, the stars moved away from him, cowering to the far end of the pond. “Wait,” the boy called as he reached the edge of the water. “What do you play?” he hollered over the pond. The stars continued to dance and jump and skip across the water’s surface. “What do you play?”

The End

 

The Doppler Effect

DopplerThe faster he ran, the faster the breeze. His feet crackled and popped the fallen leaves and thin twigs. He stopped, the breeze stopped.

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEouououou…” the sound rose and fell in his chest and throat.

“Paul!” his mother’s voice called. It was a far voice.

His finger streaked in front of his eyes like a supercharged windshield wiper. It created dark trails.

“Paul!” his mother’s far-off voice called.

He ran. The shades of fire hanging from the trees’ limbs blurred into a wall of bleeding hues.

The Doppler Effect is…

The Doppler…

The Dop…

Dop…

The Doppler…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

He stopped running. The breeze stopped.

He saw Mr. Hayward. Mr. Hayward looked at him.

Mr. Hay-ward. Hay-ward.

Mr. Hayward had brown eyes. This time, Mr. Hayward’s teeth weren’t showing.

Mr. Hayward was on top of the girl from downstairs.

Cin-dy. Cin-dy.

The Doppler Effect is a change in a sound’s frequency…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

The girl’s eyes were blue. Her eyes did not blink.

Mr. Hayward held his hand over the girl’s face.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The breeze rushed by his face. The leaves’ colors blurred in bleeding, fiery hues. His feet struggled to keep up with his body.

“ReeeEEEEouououou!”

The girl’s eyes were blue. They did not blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the little girl.

The girl’s eyes were blue.

Mr. Hay-ward.

The Doppler…

“ReeeEEE…”

His mother stood before him. Her face was close. Her breath was warm. “Paul,” his mother’s voice said. Her voice hurt his ears. “You don’t run on me like that. You don’t…” Her face moved away. Her voice wasn’t loud anymore. “You need to stop…” she signed the final word, hitting her hands together as if cutting something, “…when someone says, stop.” She cut her hands together again.

His finger streaked across his vision like a supercharged windshield wiper. His finger stopped and his hand was in his mother’s hand.

“Okay, it’s time to go home.” Her voice rose and fell like the Doppler Effect.

The Doppler Effect…

The Doppler…

Doppler…

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He squeezed his mother’s hand with both of his. He and his mother stopped walking. He squeezed her hand harder.

“ReeeEE—”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“—Eouououou!” He tried to breathe out Mr. Hayward. He squeezed harder.

“Paul, let go,” his mother’s voice said with her Doppler voice.

He squeezed harder.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul, you need to let go,” his mother’s voice said as she pried at his hands.

He found her arm between his teeth and he bit down.

***

A goes with the As. He stacked the wooden tiles into neat columns, creating a tiny city of teetering skyscrapers. The M goes on top of the M, atop the M pile.

Doppler…

“ReeeEEEouououu…”

“You need to sort the tiles quietly,” his mother’s voice said.

The S goes on the Ss. The D goes on the table. O. P. P. L. E. R.

The Doppler Effect…

His mother appeared. She mixed the letters into the pile of tiles. “You need to finish sorting the letters before you watch your video.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The girl had blue eyes.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He knocked the wooden tiles onto the floor and jumped.

“Pick up the tiles,” his mother’s voice said. She pointed to the floor.

He tried to grab his mother’s arm to squeeze and squeeze.

“Pick up the tiles,” said his mother’s voice.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He tried to hold his mother’s arm.

Fingers buried into his skin like a bird’s talons, piercing and poking and pushing him sharply.

“Pick up the tiles,” his mother’s voice said. She pointed to the letters on the floor.

He picked up the tiles. He put the tiles on the table. He sat at the table.

The E went on top of the Es. The M went on the M pile.

He arranged the tiles into an order his father once showed him.

“Paul,” his mother’s voice said. “I told you to stack the…” She stopped. “Aw. Thank you.” Her voice’s frequency rose high.

His mother hugged him. It got very tight. He squirmed away.

I LOVE MOMMY was ordered in a line on the table.

The words put into that order brought a hug. The letters looking like: DRINK brought juice. SNACK brought food. HURT brought comfort. DOPPLER brought…

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

“Paul, stack the tiles and then you can watch your video,” his mother’s voice said.

He finished stacking the tiles.

He went to the television.

He pressed the small, sleeping, white triangle. The voice said: “The Doppler Effect is a change in a sound’s frequency, the pitch rising as the sound waves approach, and then lowering as the waves travel away.”

A train barreled toward him, its whistle blowing: ReeeEEE, rising in pitch, and then, ouououou… dissipating when it passed.

He pressed the button: RR.

“The Doppler Effect is…”

His finger streaked in front of the screen.

There was a knocking.

His mother opened the door.

Mr. Hayward walked in through the door.

Mr. Hay-ward.

“The Doppler Effect is a change in a sounds frequency…”

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

ReeeEEEouououou…

“Hi, Burt,” his mother’s voice said.

“Hi, Carol,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said.

Mr. Hay-ward. Hay-ward. What color are Mr. Hay-ward’s eyes? Mr. Hay-ward lives in the building. If you need help, you go and see Mr. Hay-ward.

“The Doppler Effect…”

Press: RR.

“The Doppler…”

“The Dopp…”

“The Dopp…”

“Paul, don’t you want to say hello to Mr. Hay-ward?” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing. “Hello, Paully.”

What color are Mr. Hay-ward’s eyes?

The girl’s eyes were blue.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He felt himself jumping, his body rising and falling, his toes applauding the floor. Each time he landed jarred his body. He grunted shouts with each jump, creating a rhythmic drumbeat with his voice. “Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He tried to shake out Mr. Hayward.

“Paul. Paul,” his mother’s voice called. “Why don’t you watch your video?”

The train made its call: ReeeEEEouououou…

“He’s upset about something today,” his mother’s voice said. “Wait here and I’ll grab you the rent check.”

“The Doppler Effect…”

“The Dopp…”

Mr. Hayward was kneeling beside him. Mr. Hayward’s face was before his. Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing. But not the way they usually did.

“Now, you look here you little retard,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said. “I know you can’t talk, and you keep it that way. Got it?”

“The Doppler Effect…”

“The Dopp…”

Mr. Hayward took away the RR.

“Listen to me, you little shit, don’t ever think about telling anyone what you saw today. I’ll kill you, got it? I’ll…”

Mr. Hayward’s teeth showed the way they usually did.

“Oh, look Paully, here comes the choo-choo,” Mr. Hayward’s voice said, rising like the train’s whistle.

“Here you go, Burt,” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward put the RR back in his hand.

“The Doppler Effect…”

“Thanks, Carol. Well, I’ll be seeing you then. See-ya later, Paully, buddy.”

“Paul, don’t you want to say goodbye to Mr. Hay-ward?” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward’s teeth were showing.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He grabbed Mr. Hayward’s arm with both hands and squeezed and squeezed.

“Okay, Paul, you need to let go,” said his mother’s voice.

“Whoa there, Paully buddy, I’m gonna need that arm.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“ReeeEEEououou…”

Mr. Hayward’s arm was between Paul’s teeth and he bit and bit.

***

The fork scoops the food into your mouth.

He tasted the sweetness of the chicken.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into Paul today,” his mother’s voice said. “It seems like I had him stacking Scrabble blocks all day.”

“Really?” his father’s voice said.

“He bit me and Mr. Hayward,” his mother’s voice said. There was no frequency change in her voice.

“ReeeEEEouououuou…”

“Paul,” his father’s voice said. “We eat our meals quietly.”

Paul stopped.

“He was really upset about something,” his mother’s voice said.

The fork scoops the food into your mouth.

He tasted the sweetness of the chicken.

“Where did he bite you?” his father’s voice said.

“On the arm,” his mother’s voice said.

“No,” his father’s teeth showed. “Where did he bite you, geographically speaking?”

“In the woods out back,” his mother’s voice said. “He bolted again. He bit me on the way home. He got pretty far this time. He was in the Price House’s yard.”

“He always gets riled up when he’s been running like that,” his father’s voice said.

“But he’s never had a problem with Mr. Hayward,” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward has brown eyes.

“And he was watching his video when it happened. He usually never gets upset when the video’s on,” his mother’s voice said.

The Doppler Effect…

“ReeeEEEououou…”

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

He stopped.

“Did he break either of your skins?” his father’s voice said.

“No,” his mother’s voice said. “But mine hurt, so I know it must have really hurt Mr. Hayward.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

The girl’s eyes didn’t blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He was jumping again, and grunting his drumbeat breaths.

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He kept jumping.

“Paul,” his father’s voice said.

But he couldn’t stop.

***

The spoon scoops food into your mouth.

He tasted the sogginess of the cereal.

His mother put a stack of pages on the table beside him.

He saw Cindy.

Cin-dy.

Local Girl found dead.

Her eyes were gray.

Her eyes didn’t blink.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He was jumping beside his chair.

“Paul,” his mother’s voice said. “Paul, eat your breakfast.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul…”

He had his mother’s arm and he squeezed.

“Paul…”

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…”

“Paul…” his mother’s voice said. The sound of wooden tiles pouring onto the table hurt his ears.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…” He jumped and jumped and jumped.

“Paul…”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He jumped.

Fingers poked and buried into his skin.

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah…”

“Paul…” his mother’s voice said.

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Sort the letters,” her voice rose in frequency.

The Dopp—Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

“Paul, sort.”

Mr. Hayward hurt the girl.

He knocked the tiles onto the floor.

“Paul, pick up the letters,” his mother’s voice said, rising in pitch.

The Doppler Effect is …

“ReeeEEEouououou…”

He picked up the letters.

“Paul, sort,” his mother’s voice said.

He sorted.

E on E. D on D. M on M.

Cin-dy.

Cindy had blue eyes.

F on F. E on E. S on S.

His mother went away with the bowl of cereal. He sorted. The dishes made a loud noise in the sink.

He arranged the letters. He put them in order. The letters stretched across the table beside the picture of Cin-dy.

He heard a sound like air rushing from his mother. She stood beside him. Her hand covered her mouth.

Sprawled across the table were the ordered letters: MR HAYWARD HURT THE GIRL.

The End

Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 2—Trick or B and E

Reflections Echoes and the Mechanical SharkContinued from: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 1—Martha’s Price

They shot into the backyard in a crouching run—dressed in camouflage and all black, even painting their faces. They told their parents that they were trick-or-treating as commandos. Reaching the Price house, they sat beneath a window. Other than crickets chirping in the surrounding bushes, the night was silent.

Phineas wondered what Cousin Jimmy was thinking about all this. Did he think Phineas was a bold hero or a stupid hoodlum? Judging from Jimmy’s reaction to the tale of Martha Price and her Poe-like demise, Phineas’s image was probably holding up just fine. Besides, what else would they be doing tonight? Actually go trick-or-treating? Watch horror movies and wait for their younger siblings to come home so they could steal their Halloween candy? No thanks. Phineas would rather go for, as his hero, Indiana Jones, once said, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

“Ready?” Phineas said to the other boys. No one answered.

Most kids on the island knew that the house’s windows were never locked, as if Martha wanted to encourage intruders. Peter gave Phineas a boost, and Phineas opened the window. The house gasped, as if letting out a breath it had been holding for centuries. Phineas peeked in the window. The room was empty. The full moon reflected across the floor and onto the far wall.

Phineas climbed in through the window, sliding over the sill and coming to rest, face first, on the floor.

The place smelled like death.

No. It smells like dust, he assured himself.

He climbed to his feet and surveyed the darkness. No glowing eyes in the room’s doorways. No maniacs charging from the dark with chainsaws. And no Martha.

Phineas popped his head back out the window. “Boo,” he said in a low voice.

His friends gasped. Phineas laughed. “C’mon,” he said.

One at a time, the other boys climbed into the room. They stood in silence, their eyes darting in the dim moonlight.

Phineas held up his hands in a halting manner. “Wait.” he said.

They all froze.

“Did you hear that?” Phineas said.

“No. What was it?” Ralph said.

“I farted,” Phineas said.

The other boys murmured curses.

Phineas pulled a flashlight from his backpack. “All right,” he said, clicking on the light, “I’m going to look around. Who’s coming?”

The other boys glanced at one another, none looking as if he was going to volunteer.

“Figures,” Phineas said. “Fine. You girls stay here and knit, I’ll check the place out.” He walked off with the flashlight’s beam bouncing before him.

Phineas stepped into a foyer, the moonlight spilling through windows like silver fog. Several rooms branched off from the room, and a sweeping stairway climbed into the darkness. The flashlight’s beam brought to life a strange sense of movement, dancing shadows and silhouettes. The shadow of the stairway’s globe-topped banister created an especially lifelike specter ascending and descending the steps.

Phineas peeked into the room to his left, flashing the beam of light across the walls, just to make sure there was no one in there. But there was someone in there, and Phineas’s gasp echoed in the darkness like a gale. On the room’s far side, he saw the fiery face of a glowing, pale specter that looked just like… him. It was Phineas’s own flashlight-lit image mirrored in glass. He pointed the beam at the glass doors of an inlaid hutch. He took a deep breath, scolding himself for almost screaming. He didn’t want to admit it, but it would have been a very girly scream at that, and it was a stupid reflection the whole time. The mechanical shark almost got the better of him, and for a moment, his own reflection had become Martha Price.

He scanned the rest of the room with his flashlight, careful not to look toward those glass doors again. He then returned to the foyer. He’d long envisioned finding his prize upstairs. Thinking long and hard of where the captain would have hid the brooch, Phineas had already ruled out the servant’s quarters—which was a large wing off the house’s vast kitchen. Phineas figured the captain would never trust such a treasure in a place where the hired help could stumble upon it—accidently or otherwise. And for that matter, Phineas could rule out the kitchen, too. The two places Phineas thought most likely the brooch’s final resting place—final, that is, until he found it—were the captain’s study and the master bedroom. Phineas and his friends had actually entered the house by the study, so he figured he’d check there later, should his search upstairs prove futile. Besides, he didn’t want to go poking around the study with his friends there only to have to slink into the other rooms empty-handed if it wasn’t there. He wanted a flare for dramatics. To return triumphantly with the brooch.

Phineas stepped forward to the stairs’ bottom step. He paused a moment, and then began to climb the stairway, stopping a few times, pushing the lingering shock of the dining room from his mind, assuring himself that it had only been a reflection of himself in glass, and that the sounds behind him now were just echoes of his own footfalls. There was no ghost in the dining room, and there was not someone following him up the stairs. He glanced back over his shoulder, whispering, “Just reflections and echoes.”

His heart was pounding, and his arms and legs felt weak. He suddenly wanted to run. He wanted to get out of the house. He wanted to…

He stopped. Stopped his footfalls up the steps. Stopped his spinning thoughts. Would Indiana Jones be scared by reflections and echoes? No way. Nothing’s supposed to get in the way of one’s quest for fortune and glory—not reflections, or echoes, or dart-blowing natives and face-melting Nazis. And certainly not the mechanical shark. Suck it up, buttercup. After all, he’d already proved his muster by winning other adventurous bets. Like camping a night in the supposedly haunted Parson’s Woods, or staring into the Old Stone Church’s stained glass window—which everyone (everyone who is dumb, that is) knows can steal the souls of children and adults alike. This was no different. There were no ghosts in the haunted woods, and no stolen souls in the Stone Church’s stained glass windows. And the reason why was because there are no ghosts, period. Phineas took a deep breath, slowing his heart, conjuring his strength back into his limbs, and he continued up the steps.

He reached the top of the stairway and slashed at the darkness with the flashlight. Countless doorways sneered in the dancing light like the snouts of snarling dogs. He started down the hall, shadows scurrying into corners, the light from his flashlight refracting off curtains of dust. The house was breathing, he was sure of it. It was all around him, whispering, echoed breaths.

A doorway waited at the end of the hall like the opening of a crypt. Phineas continued to creep down the hall toward the room he imagined to be the Price’s master bedroom. He reached the end of the hallway and he peered into the room, dueling the dark with his flashlight. The light caught hold of nothing but far off walls and the wood floor of a sprawling abode. Phineas entered the darkness like a boot sinking into deep mud. He walked around the space, imagining where furniture would have been—a dresser, a wardrobe, a bed where Captain Price entertained his young bride. And she entertained the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. Phineas’s footfalls were as careful as a stalking leopard’s.

Clack-clack.

Phineas stopped.

He rewound his steps. Then, very slowly, he stepped forward again,

Clack

leaning all his weight forward,

Clack.

There was a hollow, rattling sound where a floorboard shifted.

Clack-clack.

Phineas set the flashlight on the floor, and he clawed at the board with both hands. The board didn’t budge. But a great adventurer wouldn’t have come unprepared for such an obstacle. Indy had his bullwhip, and revolver, and Stetson hat, and what adventurer would be worth his weight without his trusty knife? Phineas retrieved his jackknife from his backpack, unfolding its blade with a click. He pried at the edge of the board, reaching with his fingers to lift it, but it fell back into place. Undaunted, he dug with his blade again, the board’s edge lifting, his fingers finding a purchase, and he was able to remove the board from its place in the floor. He shined the light into the opening.

And there it was. The tiny ivory profile of a woman. Phineas rubbed his fingers together, licked his lips, and he carefully retrieved his treasure. Fortune and glory was his. He would become as much of a legend as Martha Price herself. He stood silent a moment. The house was quiet, even its echoed breathing seeming to cease. The house didn’t seem to know, or care, that he had removed its most hallowed treasure. The flashlight’s beam gave the illusion of movement to the cameo. Or was the figure actually moving? Were the stories about the brooch true? Would it talk to him at any moment?

Yeah right, Phineas Wilkes snorted with a sly grin.

He couldn’t wait to see the look on Steven Mitchner’s face, and the rest of the sixth grade’s faces, when he produced Martha Price’s lost brooch. And maybe, just maybe, he’d tell them that it was moving, and that it did speak. Phineas froze, cocking his head, his hand tightening on the brooch. He held his breath, listening. Something knocked, far off, in another part of the house. A steady thumping. Perhaps a wayward trick-or-treater. Or more likely his idiot friends downstairs. They were either trying to scare him, or trying to signal him for some reason. Maybe someone was coming. Whatever the reason, it was time to go. For one thing, he had his prize, and for another, if those knuckleheads downstairs weren’t causing the thumping themselves, then he’d have to get them out of there before they scared themselves so badly that their underwear would never come clean.

Continued in: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 3—Bumps in the Night

Nocking the List: Part 5 — Infamy

Hitler

Infamy Card #1: Führer Brain Cells

Continued from: Nocking the List: Part 4 — Too Easy 

They were in his car, an old Crown Vic (like eighties era), the thing meticulous on its upkeep. They were driving over a long bridge toward Mystic Island. Laughter filled the car, the two of them laughing at something about American Idol—which he seemed to know an amazing amount about—but Sophie had a sudden, anxious stomach-drop crossing the middle of the bridge. The bridge was endless and dark, a big metal latticework with no discernible beginning or end. She felt like a swimmer realizing she’d just swum past the point of no return. There was only forward now, and she wasn’t quite sure what the far shore looked like. When they made it off the bridge and onto the island, Sophie noticed that the place seemed a potpourri of different eras, as if they were driving along a school textbook’s timeline of the Twentieth Century. Sophie said to Carl, in her giggling, ain’t-we-so-fun voice, “So this is the famous mystic Island.”

“I don’t know about famous. Infamous is probably more like it.”

“It seems to be in the middle of nowhere.”

“Well, it is an island,” he said with a shrug.

Carl pulled his car into his driveway. Sophie’s stomach inexplicably dropped again. His house was at the end of a sparse street with a seeming wall of black behind it.

As they walked from the car to the house, Sophie said, again in her giggling, ain’t-we-so-fun voice, “Your house seems in the middle of nowhere.”

She noticed a slight weave in Carl’s gate from the two Scotches he had at the bar. This was good. “Yeah,” he said, “my property butts up against Parson’s Woods, so there’s a lot of trees around. It only appears to be in the middle of nowhere, but the woods are pretty thick. Don’t worry, though, we aren’t that far from the bridge,” he added. Sophie knew where this was going. He had already resolved himself to the fact that she wouldn’t be staying the night. Some part of him couldn’t even believe his good luck that this smoking hot chick was in his house at the moment, and he was already preparing for rejection. “So, you know, it’s not a long cab ride back to where you are staying, or I can give you a ride, although…” He teetered a little where he stood as if failing a field sobriety test, “…I’m a little drunk at the moment.”

“Well,” Sophie said, “We’ll just have to see where this night takes us.” She gave him a seductive look, but not too come-fuck-me-like, she needed him to still think he needed to work for it. Although, the poor schmuck would find that “it” never came. She preferred not to get physical if at all possible. Sometimes, like with the aggressive, good looking banker types, it was necessary. But she tried to avoid it. Especially with the dweebs, like this guy.

Carl opened his front door and led her into the living room. She quickly sized up the room. It was scarcely decorated, but very neat. There was a beige carpet on an old wooden floor. Mismatched furniture. Obviously no wife in this picture. They were laughing again at some inane thing, and Sophie tried to keep the laughter going, launching into one of those drunken giggle fits young, silly girls are known to have. She was not drunk, of course, nor was she silly. She was just loosening him up, making everything seem much more fun than it was. Which wasn’t hard to do, seeing as he didn’t seem the type that had fun too often anyway. At least he wasn’t ultra-painfully boring. Or ugly. It was more that he was charismatically challenged. He had dark hair, standard haircut. He wasn’t fat, but not in shape either. He had a jutting chin that wasn’t so much strong, but more clenched. There was a strange lost puppy way to him. Sophie thought it brought about a sense of pity for his apparent loneliness. But she felt wary of that loneliness, too.

He motioned to the couch. “Have a seat.”

Sophie sat on the couch.

There was a chess set on the coffee table, hand-carved wooden pieces, the board folding into a box. Sophie picked up the bishop and began discretely caressing the piece in her fingers. “I like this,” she said.

Her caressing of the phallic piece was supposed to turn him on a little, but instead, Carl said, “The chess set? You play?” Something told her she could have outright blown the piece and he’d still have asked her if she played chess.

“I can play,” she said.

“You any good?”

“I can hold my own in just about any game, Carl.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“Maybe,” she said coyly.

“You really want to play chess?” he asked.

She paused a moment, biting back sarcasm. The guy couldn’t catch a double entendre if it was lubricated with every sexual euphemism and rammed up his rectum. She offered an easy-going grin and said, “No, Carl, not now.”

He looked disappointed for a moment. “Too bad,” he said. “It’s hard to find anyone that’s a challenge.”

“Well, I’m certainly a challenge,” Sophie said.

“Sure you don’t want to play?”

No, she did not want to play fucking chess. Was this really his idea of foreplay? “No, I’m quite sure,” she said sweetly. “What I want, Carl, is a drink. Got anything?”

“I have whiskey.”

“Whiskey’s good.”

Carl said, “I don’t drink often. Don’t even think the bottle’s been opened.”

“Well there’s a first time for everything.”

“It was a gift. I generally don’t go out and buy booze.”

“Carl, get the drinks,” Sophie said playfully, not wanting him to feel he was being scolded, or that she was implying just how annoyingly boring he was now being.

He grinned, as if realizing how annoyingly boring he was all on his own. She liked this. It showed that her tone was working. She always tried to make everything her marks did and thought seem like it was their idea, or that it was the product of their own mind. Carl turned and walked off into the kitchen.

Sophie immediately began a cursory sweep of the living room, knowing that, most likely, there were no treasures to be found there. No sign of expensive trinkets or knick-knacks. She had a feeling that whatever was worth taking was somewhere else in the house.

There was an old stereo system with big speakers and a turntable CD changer. A book case with history books, a framed diploma, and pictures. Her attention shifted to the pictures of Carl with a boy of about eleven. In all the pictures, Carl had a big, goofball smile on his face. The boy had an absolute, deadpan expression. Sophie had seen this scenario often enough—dad trying to play comedian to the perpetual straight man of adolescence. “You have a son?” she called toward the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he called back.

“Where is he?”

“Lives with his mother.”

She flipped through a few books in the bookshelf, searching for publication dates or signatures. Nothing. She called toward the kitchen, “I can’t wait to see your…” Her voice dropped off when Carl returned with the drinks.

“My son?” he said, as if taken back a little.

“Your collection,” she said with a big smile. “The memorabilia. The Infamy Cards. I can’t wait to see them.” She didn’t know what the hell Infamy Cards were, but if they’re as valuable as the Google search said they were, she couldn’t wait to see them.

“Oh, yeah, right,” he said, as if forgetting that it was the whole reason they were there in the first place. He handed her a drink, saying, “I had ginger ale, so I made… Is whiskey and ginger ale even called anything?”

“Highball,” she said.

“I made highballs, then,” he said, sounding impressed with himself.

“Perfect,” she said, clinking her glass with his.

“Cheers,” he said with an awkward smile that made the word seem like a foreign language to him.

“Cheers,” Sophie said. She drained her glass.

He regarded her with a gaping expression.

She said, “You’re gonna need to keep up if you’re going to hang with me, Carl.”

Carl looked at his drink like it was hemlock. He drained it with some difficulty, coughing when he was finished. “Jesus,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t drink often.”

Sophie said, “Why don’t you grab the whiskey bottle and the memorabilia and we can get this party started.”

Continued in: Nocking the List: Part 6 — Avon Fraulein 

Nocking the List: Part 4 — Too Easy

GirlContinued from: Nocking the List: Part 3 — No Balls

Carl glanced out the bookstore’s window. The sidewalk outside the store was bustling. Carl rarely left the island like this, heading into the city. He stood beside an expanse of magazines on display. Here, he could keep an eye on the sidewalk outside while remaining semi-hidden. This area of the store always catered to lurking customers, some with a few minutes to kill while waiting for a companion to finish browsing for books, others just wanting to be alone. Beside Carl, a twenty-something scratched at his beard with one hand and pulled an issue of High Times with his other. An older man swiveled his head this way and that before snatching the last copy of Maxim, the guy retreating to the edge of the magazine rack—for what, Carl didn’t want to know. Two teenage girls stood a few feet away from Carl, the girls regarding a teen pop magazine, the two of them jockeying for position to view the pictures of prepubescent idols. Carl saw that the girls were looking at pictures of the Jonas Brothers. He grabbed a car magazine from the rack and started flipping through it. He scanned the pages of jacked-up muscle cars and new-age Italian sports cars as he edged toward the girls. They were gushing over the magazine, one girl saying, “…his hair…” the other saying, “…I would do anything for that to happen…” until one of the girls spotted Carl drifting toward them. The girl nudged her friend, the other girl looking up at Carl. He was now standing beside them. The girls set the magazine down and rushed away into other parts of the store.

Carl grabbed the magazine the girls were looking at. The aroma of their cheap perfume lingered around him—fruity, floral, cheap. He devoured the pictures of the pop stars, and he unfurled the pull-out poster of Clay Aiken stapled into the center of the magazine, imagining it was an action shot of himself, the microphone stand riding between his legs, one hand gripping the mic, the other hand extending out to the adoring crowd, index finger curling backward to invite them all to love him. He felt eyes upon him, and he suddenly realized it was not the eyes of an adoring crowd. He looked up to find a man staring at him, an issue of Field and Stream having gone limp in the man’s hand. Carl said, “What?”

The man shook his head and walked away.

Before Carl had a chance to return his attention to the poster, something from outside the store’s window caught his attention. Out on the sidewalk, a beautiful girl with raven black hair and flawless tan skin passed the store. Carl watched after her absentmindedly, wondering why the girl looked familiar, wondering for a moment if she was a celebrity, but then he remembered the Craigslist ad. Carl returned the magazine to the rack, noticing a line drawing of a female figure had fallen to the floor at his feet. He paid it no mind and he darted out of the bookstore.

He looked down the sidewalk. It was littered with casual daytime pedestrian traffic—an elderly woman pushing a stroller, a smartly dressed young man waiting patiently with a plastic bag opened in his hand while his dog squatted on an island of grass. Beyond them, Carl could see the young woman ducking inside a restaurant. He followed in her wake.

Inside the restaurant, Carl hesitated a moment in the darkened foyer. Red Velvety curtains shrouded a small podium where a hostess was having a conversation with one of the waitresses. Carl stood there and fingered a cup of toothpicks, taking inventory of the other items on the podium lip—matchbooks, business cards, a bowl of Starlite Mints. Finally, mid-conversation, the hostess turned to Carl and asked him, “Just one?”

“What?” Carl said, realizing that the word sounded more edgy and more confused than intended.

The waitress standing beside the hostess stared blankly at Carl, but the hostess didn’t break her smile. She said, “Just you today, sir?”

“No,” Carl said, again sounding annoyed, as if she had suggested some asinine premise. He tipped the toothpicks a little too far, and they spilled from the pedestal. He looked down at the pile of toothpicks and then moved past the hostess. He stepped into the bar area of the restaurant.

Carl scanned the room, a seed of panic germinating in his mid-section. He suddenly wondered what the hell he was doing there, meeting some beautiful girl on a blind date. He was gripped with a sudden need to run from the restaurant, but his eyes fell on the girl with the black hair, and he was frozen in place. She was sitting alone at a table. He started toward her, but then stopped, again gripped by an overwhelming urge to run away. It was similar to the feeling he had before bolting from Vincent Stone’s office, but he recognized the motivations behind the two feelings greatly differing. When he took off from the lawyer’s office, he was nudged forward by anger. Here, in the restaurant, it was something closer to fear that invoked the need for a quick exit. He wasn’t the guy who approached strange women like this. He stood, still, contemplating his next move. He regarded the people seated at the bar. They seemed to know what they were doing there, chatting in easygoing, confident manners. An older woman was drumming her fingers on the bar beside the stem of her martini glass while a portly gentleman, wearing self-importance on his sleeve, driveled on with some story. A pair of robust young women cackled and hollered comments across the shiny bar top at the bartender. Carl watched the bartender flash an obligated smile toward them, and as he did so, Carl spotted something that some might call an omen. The bartender was in the midst of pouring a glass of wine from a bottle. The bottle had the design of Klimt’s The Kiss on the label. The bartender handed the glass of wine to the waitress that had been talking to the hostess a moment before. The waitress brought the glass over to the raven-haired girl.

Carl took a deep breath and tried to make sense of this omen, still waffling on his decision to stay or flee. The raven-haired girl smiled and thanked the waitress, and then she looked over toward Carl. She cocked her head in a questioning manner.

By instinct, Carl walked toward her, but as he neared the table, he was suddenly unable to summon any words, he had become lost for a moment in the girls beautiful, light eyes.

She cocked her head again and said, “Carl?”

“Stacey?” he said to her.

“Yes,” she said.

Of course, her name was not Stacey. Her name was Sophie Monroe.

Silence hung between them for a moment. Carl wanted something witty to say, but he had nothing, just dumb silence.

The girl said, “Hey, what’s up?” She said it very nonchalantly, like they’d known each other for years. Carl liked that, and he felt a little more at ease. She stood and leaned toward him as if going to give him a hug, and there he was with his hand held out to be shaken. She stopped and adjusted to the handshake, while Carl leaned in for the hug. They both laughed as they met in an awkward embrace. She then motioned to the chair across from her and said, “Have a seat.”

Carl stood beside the table, still unable to respond as the waitress reappeared at the table, the waitress saying to Stacey/Sophie, “He want something?”

Carl, still standing beside the table, glared at the waitress and said, “He wants a scotch and water.”

The waitress, still not acknowledging Carl, walked away toward the bar.

Carl sat down across from Sophie, still unable to think of anything worthwhile to say. Thankfully, she broke the ice, saying, “Right on time, Carl. I respect a punctual man.”

He shrugged, saying, “Yeah, well.” Nothing more came to mind. His hands were clammy and he spun them in the white napkin of the table’s setting. His mind was spinning with questions: How did it come to this? How could he have wasted so many years with Mandy and let himself wind up an out of shape, socially-deprived nitwit chasing girls from internet ads? And how did he end up with a girl like this from an internet ad? And how long until he sent her running?

After another awkward silence, the girl made an attempt at small-talk, the girl saying, “So, what exactly does a guy like Carl White do?”

Carl began to say, “Well, I…” But he was cut short as the waitress placed the Scotch in front of him.

Without a word, the waitress walked off toward the bar, and the girl across from Carl focused her attention on him again. Her eyes seemed to acknowledge his struggle for communication, and she invited him to continue. The expression reminded Carl of Jane Goodall speaking to a chimp. She said, “So where were we?”

Carl tried to build the conversation again from the ground up, aching to gain some confidence. He said, “We were at the usual get to know you chit-chat, I guess.”

“Okay, so, let’s see, you’re from an island originally?”

“Yeah. Mystic Island. It isn’t far from here. Small community. Nice. Where are you from again?”

“Pittsburgh, born and raised.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. And what is it you do there?” Carl asked.

“Bartender.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

“All right, I guess. At least, when they can keep me from dancing on the bar top it’s all right.”

“Really? You dance on the bar?”

“No, Carl, I was just making a joke,” Sophie said.

“Oh.” There was more awkward silence. Carl finally said, “So what brings you to this area?”

“Just visiting. I wanted to check out the historical sites and all.”

Carl perked in his seat. “Really?” he said.

“Oh, yeah. I love history. Especially Revolutionary War stuff. I mean, to think, birth of a nation and all that.”

“That’s amazing,” Carl said. “I’m a huge history buff. Especially military history.”

“Yeah. I know. You mentioned something about that when we spoke on the phone the other night. You collect historical memorabilia and such, right?”

“Yeah. I have some great pieces.”

“I’d love to see them.”

“Why didn’t you mention anything about being into history when we spoke on the phone?” Carl asked.

“I did. Remember?”

Carl shook his head, feeling a flush of heat in his face, a fusion of embarrassment and Scotch.

Sophie laughed. “First you don’t remember where I’m from, now you don’t remember that I love history. Real observant, Carl.”

“For some reason I thought you were from Ohio. And I don’t know why I don’t remember the history bit. I must’ve been nervous. I don’t really respond to those Craigslist ads.”

“I guess that’s understandable. So, do you have any recommendations for what historical sites to see? I’m not even sure where to begin. I feel like I need a personal assistant just to navigate it all.”

Carl perked even more in his seat, his voice beginning to wind in speed, “Well this is certainly the place for history, especially Revolutionary War era history, and there’s…” As he spoke, he envisioned himself with this girl, making love in a pile of war memorabilia. And then a sudden dread came over him. How does he get this girl to his house? “Hey, have you ever heard of Mystic Island?”

“Um, yeah, Carl, you just said it’s where you’re from.”

Carl flushed again, but his voice kept speaking, seemingly independent of his brain, “Well there is a ton of history there, right back to when the Indians populated it, and then there’s some colonial era stuff, some Civil War era stuff. It’s also been voted by several paranormal societies and publications as one of the most haunted places in America. If you believe in that kind of stuff. But the structures on the island are very cool. A lot of Victorian type stuff from when the residents thought it was going to become some great metropolitan hub. And even though that plan failed, a lot of the structures have stayed the same to this day. A huge hospital and prison, both of which are still used today. There are old churches with more legends surrounding them than can be counted. Captain’s houses, like Captain Price and Captain Damon, and the wreck of the Dutch Horse, and then there’s a lighthouse, and even haunted woods where kids have disappeared for hundreds of years…” Carl stopped.

Sophie was staring at him before saying, “Wow, that sure was a lot of information, Carl.”

Carl looked down at the table. “Sorry. I can get a little carried away at times.”

“So what’s some of the historical memorabilia that you have?”

“Mostly World War II pieces. I have some Nazi pieces that are pretty valuable with the skin-head crowd.”

Sophie twisted her expression. “Skinheads?” The twisted face was a bit of an act on her part. Of course she knew skinheads would be the ones collecting that stuff. Who else would want it?

“Not that I like skin-heads,” Carl said. The words sounded forced and ridiculous to his ears. After all, he thought, who does like skinheads? Or, at least, who would proclaim that they do on a first date? “But they can really drive up the value of some of the pieces,” Carl said. “I also have Infamy Cards.” He said this with an air of self-importance.

“I’d love to see them.”

“Really?” Carl’s voice cracked slightly.

“Of course I would,” the girl said.

For a moment, Carl was twelve years old all over again, and the hot cheerleader was thrusting her cleavage his way, asking if she can copy his homework. And, even though he knew she’d never look at him until the next time she needed to copy his work, he obliged. But this was different. This girl seemed to have sincere interest in what he was saying.

“You sound surprised by that,” the girl said.

“Not many girls are interested in that kind of stuff.”

“Well, I’m not like many girls.”

Carl said as if to himself, “I guess not.”

“So how about it?” Sophie said, “You want to show me your goods, Carl?”

Carl probably should have listened to his inner voice, which at that moment was saying , That was way too easy.

Continued in:

Nocking the List: Part 3 — No Balls

Babe RuthContinued from: Nocking the List: Part 2 — A Menu of Anything

At least he was good looking. Which was helpful. The good looking ones tend to be the easiest. Well, the good looking ones and the really dweeby ones. The good looking ones are good because they can’t imagine that anyone would dream of scamming them. The dweebs are good because they are too caught up in the fantasy of a hot girl having somehow gone all Beauty and Beast on them—her seeing past their boring exterior to that heart of gold shit—that they never allow that fantasy to dissolve enough to believe that they’d been had. So, yeah, John Thompson was a good looking one, although good looking with muted charisma—think a Clive Owen paint-by numbers that has yet to be filled in with any color (or, think Clive Owen). And John Thompson was rich. Very rich. All he talked about was how he’d fleeced some so-and-so with a short sale, or scammed whomever with some put option. At one point, he even said about one of these deals: “The sucker never saw it coming.” Sophie liked to think that someday that would be John Thompson’s epitaph: “Sucker never saw it coming.”

Meet Sophie Monroe, a package of contradictions. Elegant in her athleticism, boyish in her femininity, and harsh in her sweetness. John Thompson had seen a very similar ad on Craigslist as Carl had seen. Young girl in town for a night, looking for someone with whom to have drinks. And, although the picture Carl saw of Sophie on her Craigslist ad was of a dark-haired girl, this night, with John Thompson, she was blond. So the now-blond Sophie and John pulled up to a big Colonial house in Greenwich. Brick façade, manicured lawn, three-car garage. They pulled up to the house in a Jag. A fucking Jag, Sophie thought. Not a Porsche. Not a Beemer or a Benz or something with actual high performance capability. A Jag. The ultimate in poser, look-at-me status symbols.

Sophie and John climbed from the Jag and stumbled up the walkway toward the house. At the bar earlier, it was John’s plan to get Sophie drunk by challenging her to shot after shot of Patron, John even suggesting body-shots for the last one. Which Sophie accepted. She was even sure to blow a puff of extra-warm air on his neck before licking the salt off of it. But the asshole didn’t realize that she could hold her liquor far better than he could. Hell, she could drink Jose Cuervo under the table, if need be.

So from the Jag, they made it to the front door of what John called his Pad. That’s what he called it. His “Pad.” John was the type of guy that liked to invent hip, insider lingo—John-speak, if you will—and this lingo broke most things down to three letter catch phrases. The Pad. The Jag. He even called the Patron, “Ron.” “Wanna do a shot of Ron?” “Another shot of Ron?” Sophie wanted to say to him, “Who the fuck is Ron?” But instead, she smiled and said, “Absolutely. Another shot of Ron it is.”

At the front door of his Pad, John dropped his keys and, with Sophie hanging in his arms, he retrieved them with limited dexterity. As they stood from the stoop, Sophie slumped a little in his grasp. This slump was by design, of course.

“Whoa,” John said to her, “You okay?”

“I’m great,” she said with a big, goofy, drunken smile. “Just drunk.”

Just drunk: the mating call to assholes. Now, some men would find this situation blurring ethical lines, and at this point, a look of moral crisis would come into some men’s eyes. Other men would have a look of disappointment, knowing that they wouldn’t actually take advantage of a drunken young lady. The really decent guys would immediately turn back for the car, saying that they’d bring the girl home right away. But not John. John closed deals. And John got a look in his eyes like he’d just hit the fucking lottery.

By the way, those decent guys that offer to drive drunken girls home, those are the ones Sophie avoids.

So John was finally able to gain his and Sophie’s balance, and he fumbled the house key into its lock, unlocking the door and kicking it open. Before they even crossed the threshold, a Shih Tzu bolted up to them, its plumed tail wagging, the thing jumping around as if being electrocuted by its excitement.

A Shih Tzu: the final confirmation that there is a Mrs. John Thompson. Sophie figured it wasn’t enough that John lived in Greenwich rather than Manhattan, or that he lived in a house twice the size than is needed for a bachelor, but he owned a Shih Tzu. There are only two types of men that own Shih Tzu: men who are gay, and men who are married. Although none of this was necessary for Sophie to deduce John’s marital status, mind you. The fact that he answered her ad on Craigslist was proof enough. The good looking ones are always married. Why else would they be answering a Craigslist ad in the first place?

Sophie bent down to greet the dog, saying, “Hey. Cute dog.”

She knew Shih Tzu tend to be little bitches. Like their owners. And she half expected the thing to bite her. The dog backed away from her for a moment, growling, and then it approached her again to be petted.

“Yeah, that’s Wee.”

“Wee?”

“Well, Stewie. But I like to call him Wee.”

“Of course you do.”

Wee? How about Stu, that’s only three letters? But, no, pretentious prick goes with Wee.

Sophie stood from petting Wee and she regarded the house. The place was meticulously decorated. Another sign of his being married.

“I like the pad,” Sophie said, staggering drunkenly into the living room.

“Yeah? You really like it?”

Sophie turned toward John, pretending to stumble, and she lunged into his arms, saying, “It goes with your car.”

“John grinned and said, “Yeah? Well, the Jag’s for fun. The house is a necessity.”

Sophie plastered another goofy smile on her face and said, “We can have fun in the house, too.”

John smirked and pulled her up to his lips for a kiss. The kiss was tender at first, but then he opened his mouth to obtain her tongue. Sophie pulled away, leaning a little off balance, and she said, “I could use a drink.”

John smiled, that lottery-winning look back in his eyes, and he said, “All right. I can provide that.” He then kissed her on the forehead and walked off for the kitchen.

Sophie watched him leave the room, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. She turned her attention to the living room, making a slow, circling sweep of the space, inventorying the furnishings, the gizmos and the trinkets, the different knick-knacks on the shelves. She called toward the kitchen, “This really is a nice place.”

John called from the kitchen. “Thanks.” He then called, “Is wine okay?”

“Wine’s perfect,” Sophie called. She spotted a bookcase in a side nook of the room. As she headed toward the bookcase, she felt someone watching her. She looked down to find Stewie at her feet. She bent over and quickly scruffed the top of the dog’s head before returning her attention to the bookcase’s contents. She was not surprised to spot a locket-sized framed wedding picture of John with a high-strung-looking woman. Sophie figured John had removed all the pictures of the wife, or children if there were any, but he must have missed this one. Sophie looked down at Stewie and smirked. But the dog didn’t really seem to give a shit about his master’s infidelity.

John called from the kitchen, “I’ll open a ninety-four Stags Leap. Got three bottles. Hard to find. They’re about four-hundred bucks a bottle.” He paused a moment and then said, “Hey, four hundred bucks for a bottle of Stags Leap. Get it?”

“Yeah, that’s funny,” Sophie called. She looked down at the dog and raised her eyebrows, saying, “Is he for real?” The dog cocked its head, looking as if he really didn’t give a shit that his master was a doofus either. Sophie called toward the kitchen, “Four hundred bucks, you say?”

John returned from the kitchen with two glasses of red wine. He handed one of the glasses to Sophie, and he said, “Yeah, I got them at auction, along with an eighty-five Cristal worth a cool G.” He clinked her wine glass and they each took a sip. “Smooth, no?” he said.

“Quite,” Sophie said. They took another sip. Sophie said, “So what’s the story with your balls?”

“Excuse me?”

Sophie motioned to three baseballs that were on the bookcase. She said, “You’ve got these baseballs here.” She picked one of the balls up, saying, “Doesn’t really go with the rest of the pad.”

John grimaced, as if Sophie had grabbed one of his actual balls, and he took the baseball from her, saying, “Those baseballs are worth a fortune. Signed by Ruth, Maris, and McGwire, all from the years they broke the homerun record.”

Of course she knew what the balls were, and it was no accident that she had picked up the Ruth ball, knowing it would elicit the most anxious response from him.

“Oh, so sorry,” she said in her best I’m just a stupid girl voice.

John returned the Babe Ruth ball to the bookcase as if it was plutonium. He said, “I’m still trying to get a Bonds.”

“Oh yeah? Whoever that is,” Sophie said, again with her just a girl voice.

“You don’t know who Bonds is?” he said with faux shock.

Of course I know who Bonds is, dipshit. “James Bond?”

“Um, no, Barry Bonds.”

“Oh. Right.”

They sipped their wine again, and then Sophie said, “Hard to believe that such a successful guy like you would need to answer an ad on Craigslist for a date.”

John shrugged and said, “What can I say? The price of success can sometimes be loneliness.”

Sophie kind of almost threw up in her mouth, and part of her just wanted to douse him in the Stags Leap. Instead, she allowed her gaze to drift toward the wedding picture on the bookcase, eliciting another anxious response from John. He quickly took the glass of wine from Sophie’s hand and set the two glasses on the coffee table. He said, “Why don’t we sit on the couch?”

Sophie let that big, goofy smile slip onto her face again and said, “I was thinking more like, how about we hit the sack.”

It doesn’t take long before they’re rolling around on the bed in Mr. and Mrs. Thompson’s bedroom. Sophie was wearing nothing but a pair of boyshort panties and a spaghetti string top. John was wearing his silk boxers and black, knee-high dress socks. Sophie would always make them keep on their socks. Something about the goofiness of a guy stripped down to nothing but his dress socks cracked her up.

While they were making out, John stopped and said, “Hard to believe that a smoking hot girl like you needed to post an ad on Craigslist for a date.”

Sophie said, “Well, sometimes the price of adventure is taking a chance.”

“Just how much adventure are you looking for?”

“Why? Are you feeling adventurous?” Sophie asked.

“Definitely.”

She smiled and flicked the hair of her blond wig from her face. Glancing around the room, she seemed to spot something, and she darted from the bed to the room’s curtains. She’d actually spotted the ties on the curtains when she first entered the room, and she knew exactly what she was going to do with them, but still, she acted as if the notion had just popped into her head. She pulled free the ties, and turned back toward John. She held the ties in her fingers as if about to create a cat’s cradle, and she said with the most child-like smile she could muster, “Ever been tied up?”

It was Sophie’s experience that when a hot girl flashes a child-like smile and uses a baby-doll voice, she can ask a man to do anything, especially if that anything has an element of kink to it. John, lying there, half-mast, looked as if he was about to pop right out of his boxers. But this excitement that guys have is always tinged with trepidation, as if the asshole is nervous that he won’t be able to keep up or handle it. And John deflected the proposal by saying, “From what I’ve seen so far, maybe I should do the tying.”

Yeah, John would like that. If he couldn’t subdue her with the alcohol, subdue her with bondage.

Sophie darted back to the bed. “Nope. You’re first,” she said, and then added for good measure, “because you’re such a bad, bad boy.” She said this in another baby-doll voice, and of course John’s hands came up immediately to be tied. And there you have it. That’s the exact moment that John gave up complete control to a stranger he’d just met on Craigslist. Imagine that, a master of the universe that buys and sells the lives of thousands of naive investors gets undone by a baby-doll voice.

John grinned and placed his writs against the headrest of the bed. Sophie tied one wrist, all the time teasing him with blown kisses. John growled like a tiger, feigning scratches with his free hand. Sophie tied his other hand and then stepped back to inspect her work. She scrunched up her face in a displeased look and glanced around the room as if something more was missing. And, again, she knew what that something was the whole time. “Here we go,” she said, darting to the end of the bed and snatching up John’s discarded shirt. She returned to the bed and blindfolded Mr. Put-option, and she wondered how much he’d have made if he’d shorted this date.

“Don’t move, tiger,” she said.

John purred.

Sophie stepped back and took a moment to enjoy the sight. She regarded John as if he was the Grand Canyon. Couldn’t get much better. Millionaire adulterer bound to his king-size bed with curtain ties, blindfolded with his own shirt, erection trying to free itself from his silk shorts. And, of course, there were the black, knee-high socks. Perfect.

Sophie gathered up her clothes and began to dress.

John, still blindfolded, cocked his head and said, “What are you doing?”

“Getting ready,” she said. “Now, don’t you move, tiger.”

“Where are you going?” he said, sounding as if the first bloom of premature blue balls was about to hit him.

She slipped on the last of her clothing and started toward the door, saying, “I’m going to get the wine.”

She bounded down the stairs.

Stewie was waiting at the foot of the steps, the dog’s tail a blur, the thing eager for attention. Sophie darted into the living room with the dog at her feet, almost tripping over the thing. She grabbed her pocketbook, an over-sized leather bag she’d left on the couch. She took the bag into the kitchen, where she found two wine refrigerators. You know, the pretentious Sharper Image, yuppie specials. She opened the refrigerators and picked out the remaining bottles of Stags Leap and the bottle of Cristal. She also found a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon, and she was surprised the asshole hadn’t served her the beverage with three letters to its name. Want some Dom? I have plenty of Dom. We can take my Jag to the Pad for some Dom.

As she stood from the wine refrigerators, the bottles clinking in her bag, she almost stepped on Stewie. She looked down at the dog, the thing looking up at her as if wondering why she was taking his buddy’s wine, and she said to the dog, “Don’t look at me like that. You know he’s an asshole.”

John called from upstairs, the blue balls probably taking full effect, “Hey, baby, where are you?”

She called toward the ceiling, “Just getting some goodies, tiger.”

He called down, “There’s whipped cream in the fridge, how about I be your dessert tonight?”

Sophie looked down at Stewie, asking the dog, “Seriously?”

Stewie cocked his head, his tail going nuts again.

John called, “C’mon, baby, I got a sweet treat for you right here. All it needs is a little whipped cream, and you can be the cherry on top.”

Sophie scrunched up her face, saying “Ew.” She then looked down at the dog and said, “See? Asshole.” She walked over to the stairs and called up, “Be right there, tiger.”

She returned to the kitchen, walking to the refrigerator—one of those industrial, silver monstrosities that belong in a restaurant—and she rifled through the trendy condiments and cooking sherries to find the whipped cream.

She started back toward the stairs, shaking the canister and saying to the dog at her feet, “C’mon, Stewie.”

She returned to the master bedroom with the dog, finding the eager John writhing on the bed in anticipation. She said to him, “I got a surprise for you, tiger.”

“Oh, yeah, baby?” he said, offering his tiger growl again.

“Oh, yeah,” Sophie said. She sprayed the whipped cream on his dick, which was now fully erect and sticking out of the fly of his boxers. The guy groaned with delight. And she said, “Ready, tiger?”

“Oh, yeah, baby.”

Sophie bent down and picked up Stewie, putting the dog on the bed. And, of course, the dog immediately went to town on the whipped cream. John began groaning in ecstasy, saying, “Oh, yeah, baby.”

Sophie tilted her head, watching man and dog, and she covered her mouth with her hand. The scene belonged in a museum, a true masterpiece. She could have enjoyed this sight all night, but it was time to get going. She headed back down the stairs, and as she reached the bottom step, she heard John yell, “Hey, wait a minute, hey.”

Sophie ran into the kitchen, retrieving the bag with the wine. Then she went to the bookcase in the living room, all the time listening to John yelling from upstairs, “Stewie, no. Stewie, stop.”

She took John’s baseballs from the bookcase, placing them in her bag along with a few other expensive looking knick-knacks.

John was yelling, “Hey, Shauna, where did you go? This isn’t funny.”

Sophie headed to the door, laughing. For one thing, her name wasn’t Shauna. And what’s more, it was funny.

Continued in: Nocking the List: Part 4 — Too Easy

Nocking the List: Part 2 — A Menu of Anything

mystic-island-map-v2_03Continued from: Nocking the List: Part 1— The Pen is Mightier Than the Nag 

Carl sat at his computer, staring at Klimt’s The Kiss on the screen. His mind was unable to abandon it. He was prisoner to the image since he’d huffed out of Stone’s office, and now that he had his own private Google copy before him, he couldn’t stop staring. The man in the painting seemed to be smothering the woman against her will. But the look of bliss on her face betrayed this idea. It was more that she was willingly submitting to the protective cocoon he shared with her. Carl played these diametric possibilities in his mind, wishing to be invited into the painting, to know their passion atop the apron of blooming flowers. The painting had the addictive allurement of internet porn, Carl staring at the image on the screen until his eyes got crossed up in the pixels. Carl had always resisted the simplistic ease of porn—just one more way to take a stoic stand against his apparent lack of sexuality. But this picture was different. Fine art porn. His fingers drummed beside the mouse along to a Clay Aiken song on the stereo, and he began to imagine himself in bed, a beautiful girl nestled in his arms like the girl in the painting, his lips nuzzled into her cheek.

Suddenly, as if his hand was independent of himself, he opened a new window on the computer screen, creating a new search for: SINGLE WOMEN DATING.

The instant infinite results on the screen were overwhelming. He could choose anything his fantasies required, from race to fetish to religion to political orientation. Comparability to works of fine art? He supposed this was not an option. And he began to wonder if he really wanted to put forth the effort of trying to build his perfect girl with a template of interests and desires on a dating site. What he really wanted was to find a diamond in the ruff, so to speak. Stumble across that perfect woman and fall into her arms as if accidently. He wanted to find Klimt’s passion, not try to manufacture that passion. His independent hands clicked on a link for Craigslist.

A menu of anything popped up on the screen. Anything from cars to furniture, to activities, forums, jobs, computers, haiku, diets, crafts, events, personals. He stopped. WOMEN SEEKING MEN. He clicked. Several descriptive taglines stretched along a sea of white. Some of them were straightforward and filthy, such as the amateur poet who proclaimed: “On top or from behind, they’re both all right, as long as I find that you can give it morning noon and night.” Others were timid and simple. “Searching for a decent man.” Carl wondered if Mandy would ever advertise on one of these sites. That would be a hoot if he responded and it turned out to be her. If You Like Piña Coladas-style. Yeah, a real hoot, he thought. That would probably be the day he shot himself in the head or jumped off a bridge. The day fate confirmed that Mandy was his one true match.

Carl spent a few minutes reading dozens of these posts before the perfect hook caught his eye. It read: “WILL BE IN TOWN FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS. LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO HAVE DRINKS WITH.”

Carl clicked on the link and read part of the message out loud—a new Clay Aiken song scoring the statement. “Looking for Someone.” The three words tugged at some deep-rooted part of him with breathtaking torque. Carl scrolled down to the attached photo. Another high-torque pull at that deep rooted part of him. The girl in the picture was stunning. Not the type of woman he expected searching for companionship on the salacious listings of Craigslist. Raven black hair, tanned skin, gray eyes. He stared at those eyes, almost convinced that she was looking back at him, and that they were sharing a moment in the digital universe. His mind began superimposing his and her faces onto the The Kiss. He imagined her falling limply into his embrace as he pulled her from the computer screen, rescuing her from loneliness. He absorbed her image for a while until the den became silent, the Clay Aiken CD ending.

After several minutes, Carl broke his gaze from the computer screen and he glanced around the den, his eyes shifting to the shelves of war memorabilia scattered about the room. What Mandy called his bullshit clutter. Carl then looked above his computer screen. A silver doorknocker in the shape of an eagle and swastika hung on the wall. A relic from his great uncle’s service in World War II. A hideous symbol with a funny story. Carl was suddenly filled with giddiness, and he found himself saying out loud, in a high, womanly voice, “Knock-knock. Avon Fräulein calling.” Carl clicked on the reply button to the Craigslist post, and he responded to the girl with the gray eyes, who would be in town for a few days and was looking for someone with which to have drinks.

The girl with the gray eyes would, in fact, be in town in the coming days. But at that moment, when Carl responded to her ad, she was in Connecticut. She was on a date with a man named Bob. Her name was Sophie Monroe. But Bob knew her as Shawna.

Continued in: Nocking the List: Part 3 — No Balls