Peter Napoletano decides he has one partner too many

Here’s another look at the incredibly dangerous Peter Napoletano…

Enjoy

An excerpt from Rogue Elephants

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Peter Napoletano was waiting in his office at the Bull Shot Lounge for Art Rhoades to arrive for their hastily arranged meeting and was appalled at how truly stupid Jimmy Tosca could be.  LaPone was searching in Oregon for the elusive Jonathan Tyne and since Jimmy had already paid a hundred and seventy big, he was not being shy about giving LaPone advice.  His latest bit of wisdom was for LaPone to lean on the girlfriend, Catherine Duvall and the ex-wife, Madeleine Valdés-Obregón, to get from them the location of Tyne’s Oregon ranch.  And Peter had to agree, leaning on the Duvall cunt was not a bad idea, he was contemplating doing it himself, but messing with Valdés-Obregón was insanity.  Insanity because she probably didn’t know the location of his ranch since Peter already knew she had never lived there with Tyne.  Worse than insanity for the heat whacking her would bring down upon them.

Peter was convinced Duvall could reveal Tyne’s whereabouts, since he believed she had visited him at his ranch over Christmas past.  And whacking her afterwards would present few problems.  The standard way to eliminate a woman deemed disposable was to give her a hot shot of nearly pure heroin.  Peter had done it several times and LaPone was a master of the technique.  He was never without a kit or two, just in case.  The heroin always contained a trace of lactose – milk sugar – to suggest the person doing the cutting had made a simple mistake.  And in Duvall’s case three phone calls to Montreal, New York and Seattle would guarantee arrest records for using and prostitution dating back to her college days so that when her corpse was found with a needle in its arm everyone would believe she ODed.

Not so Valdés-Obregón.  There is no way anyone would believe that lady used heroin, certainly not her husband who probably had her background checked out before he married her.  Even Jimmy knew that much since he was pressuring LaPone to make her death look like an accident.  In Peter’s opinion this was very bad thinking since staging accidents that would pass police and insurance scrutiny was not LaPone’s long suit.  He would surely make some mistake and if Charles Eversoll, her current husband, even suspected foul play the heat he could bring to bear would be felt from coast to coast.  If Tyne’s ex-wife turned up dead, because of the public death threat someone close to Jimmy had made against Tyne, perhaps Jimmy himself, Jimmy would be a prime suspect.  No way that could just be a coincidence.  And Jimmy was either forgetting or he did not know how much money his brother had invested in Eversoll’s hedge fund, Twenty First Century Fund.  Knowing how smart Francesco was and how dumb it was becoming increasingly apparent Jimmy is, he probably doesn’t know because Francesco didn’t trust him with the information.

That afternoon Peter was scheduled to fly to New York to discuss Jimmy with Tino Cassili.  He was ruminating about what to do about Jimmy when Rhoades knocked on his office door.  Peter invited Art to avail himself of whatever he wanted to drink from the built-in bar and asked him to pour a couple of inches of Dewar’s Signature over ice for him.  Rhoades chose Pellegrino bottled water from the built-in refrigerator.  When he was seated in front of Peter’s ultra-modern glass and stainless-steel desk he said, “You sounded a little upset on the phone.  Is there a problem?”

“The problem is Jimmy.  He’s off the reservation in this Tyne matter and I’m in the middle.  I agreed to run interference for him to the commission but now he’s using me as a conduit to LaPone.  If that isn’t bad enough some of the things he’s telling LaPone to do are incredibly stupid.”

“Can he do that, give LaPone instructions?”

“Yes, because he paid both the commission’s fee and the up-front money LaPone demanded.  I’ve tried telling him LaPone does not need his help but it’s like talking to a wall.  But that’s not what I want to discuss with you.  Last night you said you had some information about Tyne and I meant to follow up with you but this shit with Jimmy keeps happening.  So, what about Tyne?”

“I ran into him the other day at a gas station in Seattle.”

“You’re sure it was Tyne?”

“Absolutely.  I remembered him from Bend and he remembered me.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“Continuing as Catherine Duvall’s accompanist in Bend when we reopen; he again refused and then I asked whether he was seeing Catherine.  He said he has not worked with her professionally since the fire in September.”

“Did you believe him?”

“I tried to trap him by reminding him that as Michael Ware he made a CD with Duvall that she is hawking to restaurant patrons.  He was aware, he said, she had made the CD but denied he was the pianist she worked with.  Said the guy’s name was Felix Merak, someone Catherine knew from her time in musical theatre in New York.  He reminded me of the conversation we had about chemical-based sprinkler systems and pointed out how little Catherine and I paid him to accompany her.  He said in the beginning he thought it would be fun playing for her but it wound up costing more than it was worth.”

“What do you think he meant by that?”

“Possibly that Catherine wasn’t putting out for him as he thought she would.  He had a woman with him in the car, a very attractive Asian woman.  When I asked about Catherine his eyes went reflexively to the woman and he said he has been a little distracted.  That’s how he put it – a little distracted.”

“This woman; was she as good looking as Duvall?”

“Better and at least ten years younger.”

“Do you think he is this Felix Merak?”

“The picture of Merak on the CD jacket is definitely not Tyne.  As far as being able to tell by listening to the music, I can’t.”

“What kind of car was he driving?”

“A Chrysler rental.”

“You’re sure it was a rental?”

“Yep, I’m certain, it had an Enterprise sticker on the rear bumper.”

“A rental, eh; that means he flew to Seattle, probably from Redmond or Portland on either American Eagle or Southwest.  Did you write down the license plate number?”

“No, when I saw it was a rental I figured it was a waste of time.”

“Not true.  With the license number I could get information on his contract and maybe learn when he’s flying back to Oregon.  It would be easier with the plate number but if he flew commercial I can get his schedule, but if this sort of thing ever happens again, write down the fucking plate number.”

“It’s possible we might see him in Redmond or Bend, maybe even here in Berkeley in the coming days.  When I asked how long he was staying he said something vague about being there for a couple of days so I comped him the cover and dinner for two, good in any of our restaurants.  I gave him one of my business cards and told him to make a reservation and then hand the card to the maître ď.”

“Did he say whether he would use it?”

“No but he thanked me and put the card in his pocket.  I’ll let you know if he makes a reservation.”

“That was good thinking.  Did you ask where he was staying?”

“I did; he said at a hotel downtown but he would not say which one.”

“Did he say why he was in Seattle?”

“Some technical conference at UW, something like YAPC, whatever that is?”

Peter entered YAPC in the Google search field in his browser and learned that YAPC was an annual Perl conference this year held at the University of Washington April 5-7 in Seattle.  He searched in the YAPC page for Tyne and then Ware and discovered that M. Ware was scheduled to present a paper entitled, Using the Perl Debugger to Debug Apache mod-perl in Real-time the second day of the conference.

“Was this woman a nerd?”

“If she was she’s the best looking nerd I’ve ever seen.  Long black hair, huge dark eyes, nice tits and the little skirt she was wearing barely covered her jewels.”

“You saw a lot for a casual encounter at a gas station?”

“Well, from where I was standing the view of her in the passenger seat couldn’t have been better and naturally I was curious.”

“Un-huh; checked out the quiff okay but couldn’t get the goddamn plate number.”

“I mentioned to Catherine that I had seen him.  She was interested until I told her he had again declined our Bend offer.  After that she couldn’t have been more indifferent.  She said she has not seen him since he was released from the hospital, after the fire.”

“You mean after that fiasco with Nicky Parma?”

“Yeah, that’s what put him in the hospital.”

“And the broad you were shagging Dellacroce had to deal with… all because you couldn’t operate a fuckin’ answering machine.”

“Well, who uses an answering machine any more?  There are services for that… all the phone companies have them.”

“Are you fucking her?”

“No but not for want of trying.  She keeps turning me down even when I made it pretty clear to her that she would’ve had a contract a lot sooner if she’d been a little friendlier.”

“Stupid bitch.  How about the staff?  Do you know if any of them are fucking her?”

“I don’t see her hanging out with any of them and I’ve never seen her leave with anyone.”

“Is she a dyke?”

“I suppose that’s a possibility – or that she’s bi – but I think there was a man in Bend she was seeing and the pianist she came to Bend with was fucking her, of that I’m sure because he bragged about it.”  Here Art hesitated and looked away for a moment and Peter thought he intended to say more but was holding back for some reason.  Finally he said, “I didn’t tell you this when we hired her but I knew her before… some years ago… in ‘93, if I recall…”

“You mean you were fuckin’ her then but you’re not fuckin’ her now.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah… that’s what I’m saying.  I met her at a writers’ workshop at USF, just after I published my second novel.  She knew me back then as Andrew Carr, the name, my pseudonym, I write under.  She was recently divorced and feeling sorry for herself so… I dazzled her with my footwork and we had a thing.”

“Art, she was old even then.  She must have been pushing forty?”

“Well, yes… but she has a great body, does these crazy-intense workouts, just like you, she’s smart and pretty good in the sack…”

“No tits.”

“They’re small, sure, but she has great nipples… and…”

“Yes, and?”

“I just liked fucking her.”

“She suck your dick?”

“Man, did she ever.  One of the best I’ve ever had.”

“So what ended it?”

“She has this bourgeois notion about commitment…”

“She actually expected you to marry her?”

“No, but she expected me to keep it exclusive with her.  It ended when she caught me with another woman… and yeah, a woman younger than her.  So… it didn’t last long but there’s no question in my mind she likes men.  I’ve never seen her being cozy with any women.”

“So whom is she saving it for?  Apparently someone not connected with what she does for a living.  That could be Tyne or some other person we don’t know about.”

“I mentioned the woman Tyne was with to her and there was no reaction.”

“Or there was and you didn’t pick up on it.  It could have been something as subtle as a change in the width of her pupils and if you weren’t watching for it you could have missed it.”

“Yes, that is possible.”

“Write down her address in California.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put a watch on her.  If she’s seeing him on the q.t., I’ll find out.”

“You wouldn’t hurt her would you?  I mean, she’s a nice broad and her act is sold out every night.  It would be a shame to ruin that,” his voice rising in alarm.

“Relax; I’m just going to watch her, to see whether Tyne is seeing her.”

Rhoades went to Peter’s desk and wrote down Catherine’s address on one of his business cards.  He extended the card to Napoletano who ignored it so he set it on the corner of his desk.  Napoletano finished his Scotch and then rose to replenish his glass and when he returned to his chair pocketed the card.

“I’ve been meaning to discuss something else with you and this is as good a time as any.  How familiar are you with our limited partnership agreements, specifically the provisions for succession and dissolution of partnership assets if a partner dies?”

“I know we included language to prevent an estate from forcing us to liquidate after the death of a partner.  If I remember correctly Francesco and Jimmy were both very insistent that the agreements have that language, I suspect because they secretly trusted each other least of all.”

“Yes, well I got to thinking about how Jimmy is the only Tosca left…”

“Aren’t you forgetting Sarah?”

“I should have said Jimmy is the only male Tosca left besides which Sarah knows absolutely nothing about Francesco’s investment holdings.  He never trusted her to keep her mouth shut so he told her almost nothing about what he was doing.  Before her heart attack she was the queen bee of all the guinea broads who moved out here from New York and settled in San Leandro and Castro Valley.  He knew she talked too much, couldn’t get her to stop so he told her nothing.

“Anyway, as I said I got curious so I had my attorney review the Blue Flame limited partnership agreements and he confirmed what I suspected.”

“And what was that?”

“That you and I, as surviving partners, would own on a pro rata basis Saratoga’s holdings… if and when Jimmy passes… that is, if we don’t liquidate the underlying assets.  If we did liquidate we would have to pay to the two estates the dollar value of their realized holdings.”

“Jimmy must have a will?”

“He does but he told me that after his wife died he changed it to leave everything to Sarah and Junior.”

“Which means Sarah inherits everything.”

“You know, Sarah would think she died and went to heaven if we sold off one of the limited partnerships, say that Arizona strip mall that we can’t seem to keep fully occupied, and gave her, say a million and paid the taxes on the distribution.  She would go off on one of her extended cruises and in a year or two probably succumb to another heart attack at which time you and I would own everything.  In fact, we could make up a story that in order to pay her the money and resolve some pending estate tax issues she would have to sign over the rights to the other limited partnerships or they would have to be sold off at fire-sale prices to avoid paying the deferred taxes.  She would look at the million tax-free bird in the hand versus the questionable future likelihood of realizing anything from the sale of the other assets, especially if you explained how much in taxes we would have to pay if we liquidated early, and take the money and run.”

“The only problem with that scenario is that Jimmy is as healthy as a horse.  Sarah may not have many years left but the same can’t be said about Jimmy.”

“Yeah, that is a problem… isn’t it?”

Rhoades stared at him for a moment fully comprehending what Peter was hinting at and finally said, “Regicide is a very, very dangerous exercise frowned on in the extreme by the other crowned heads.  Jimmy may not be the best godfather but he’s our godfather and he has a great many friends back east who would take a very dim view of his untimely passing, particularly if it wasn’t by natural causes.  If the job were done by a known associate the details would eventually get back to Jimmy’s friends who would send their own messengers to demonstrate that regicide doesn’t pay.”

“I wasn’t thinking of using a known associate.”

“You’re not thinking of Tyne, are you?  Peter, he’s just a lucky amateur whose days are numbered.  When LaPone finds him that will be the last we will ever hear of Mr. Tyne.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right but wouldn’t it be slick if before LaPone finished off Tyne, Tyne could solve our problem with Jimmy?  Jimmy’s friends would wring their hands and cluck their tongues but with Tyne disposed of life would go on and as a bonus, I would take over the Tosca businesses in the Bay Area.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Yeah, with Dellacroce gone I’m the logical choice.  I know more about what’s going on than anyone other that Donnie Apia and he and I go way back, in fact, we made our bones together.  He knows he could not run things without Jimmy to tell him what to do and he would transfer that loyalty to me if he knew he would always be the number two.”

“Well, I wish you luck but that is too risky for me.  If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want any part of getting Tyne to whack Jimmy.”

“But you will cooperate with me regarding the limited partnerships?”

“Of course, on that you can be sure we are of one mind.  I just can’t get involved in any of these operational matters.  Indeed, I would lose my usefulness to all concerned if I ever strayed from doing anything other than managing Blue Flame’s investments.”

Peter refilled Rhoades’ glass and his own and they clicked glasses and drank and Peter said, “Here’s to fewer partners and none named Tosca.”

Jonathan Tyne’s formidable opposition

What Jonathan Tyne is up against

This excerpt from Rogue Elephants shows what Jonathan Tyne is up against.  It needs no further explanation from me; the piece stands on its own.  Enjoy.

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Peter Napoletano’s patience with Jimmy Tosca’s vendetta against Jonathan Tyne had just about run out its string. What happened to Tyne, whether he lived or died, was of no consequence to Peter. Jimmy wanted Tyne dead, had paid good money to make it happen and Peter had done his part but now Jimmy was involving other people. Tyne’s girlfriend for one, who also was of no consequence to Peter but also his ex-wife, who was now the wife of someone who did matter to Peter and should matter to Jimmy if he had half a brain. Jimmy wanted Tyne dead, yesterday, and since Tyne was proving difficult to locate, Jimmy was getting impatient and was beginning to act irrationally and Peter, who had sponsored Jimmy to the commission, had vouched for him that he was a serious man to be taken seriously, was in the middle of what promised to be a clusterfuck of truly Biblical proportions. Or so Peter thought as he reviewed for the sixth or seventh time the e-mails passing through his computer between Jimmy and Rocco LaPone.

. . .

At forty-nine Peter Anthony Napoletano was at the height of his physical and sexual vigor. Tanned and incredibly strong – power-lifter strong – at five-nine, two hundred five pounds he could bench press two-fifty in sets of five and dead lift twice his body weight. He also swam, not in the 30 by 50 foot pool favored by his guests at his walled estate in the Oakland Hills, but in a separate device called an Endless pool, something like a water-borne treadmill capable of generating a 3 mph current. He did a pretty decent crawl for an hour at least three times per week at the fastest setting. Married five years to Jennifer, a statuesque former Las Vegas showgirl fifteen years his junior, he boasted to his drinking pals he could keep her satisfied without any pharmaceutical help, whenever they commented, politely and respectfully of course, what a lucky guy he was to have such a drop-dead gorgeous wife. Peter was born blond and at forty had gone prematurely gray. Now, his hair almost white but still thick, Jennifer often teased him that he looked the way John Kennedy would have looked had he lived. Peter’s response was always the same: that Kennedy never looked as good on his best day.

Peter, a made guy since age twenty-nine, worked for and was the most important protégé of Tino Cassili, the boss of New Jersey.  Born in “Little Italy” in the Bronx walking distance from Fordham University, he attended Fordham Prep and then the university on a football scholarship.  Tino Cassili became his benefactor after his father’s death when Peter was fourteen.  Peter never knew exactly what his father did for Mr. Cassili but after his father died in a construction accident, Cassili acted as if he was somehow responsible for him.  His father fell four stories to his death at a construction high-rise, which made no sense to Peter since whatever else he was, his father was not a construction worker.

Peter studied statistics and probability at Fordham and was a three-year starter for the Rams at offensive right guard.  He was a ferocious blocker and in his senior year was named to the AP’s Little All-America team, which was doubly impressive since he was a straight-A student.  Too small for the NFL even as a fullback, he tried his hand at semi-pro ball.  In 1972 and 1973 he played for the New England Colonials, a team affiliated with the Boston Patriots, of the short-lived Atlantic Coast Football League until his second concussion in the ‘73 league championship game ended his playing career.  In that game the Colonials beat the Bridgeport Jets 41 to 17 but Peter had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter.  It was then, organized sports behind him, that he went to work for Tino Cassili.  Cassili put up fifty grand and taught Peter the basics of being a shylock.  Always a quick study, in five years Peter had run that seed money up to a half-million dollar book.  It was time, so Cassili reasoned, to either induct him into the family or put him to work in some legitimate place in his vast enterprises.  Everyone knew that the ultimate test was whether a soldier would whack someone if his superior ordered him to do it.  That year an opportunity presented itself that set Napoletano on his life’s path.  Peter never looked back.

He killed his first man and became “made” – made his bones as it were – on the order of one of Cassili’s top lieutenants, the underboss Peter actually worked for, as a test of his courage and commitment.  The guy’s mistress had cheated on him with another made guy, the penalty for which posed a serious problem for all concerned since to kill a made member without permission was forbidden.  The offended mobster wanted the harshest retribution meted out.  He wanted the guy’s dick and balls to rub the babe’s nose in, force her to take the bloody severed organ in her mouth before he kicked her ass and turned her out on the street.  Cassili was agreeable but he also wanted to see whether Peter had the stones to do the hit.  If he couldn’t the cuckold would whack them both on the widely held assumption that an undercover cop or potential informer would never kill a guy no matter who ordered the hit.  He might talk about it, however; talk about what he was asked to do.

As mediator Cassili arranged a meet, ostensibly to “work things out.”  Peter sucker punched the guy and they held him down while he separated him from his manhood.  Peter grasped the man’s penis and testicles in his hand, stretched them out and with one swipe with an incredibly sharp knife made the guy a eunuch.  Worse than a eunuch, he was bleeding like a stuck pig and would have bled to death had not Peter ended his agony with a backhanded swipe aimed at his jugular.  Peter preferred the knife and the exercise was as much a learning experience for him as it was a test of his bonafides.  Over the years he did four more men with that throat slash and one woman with an equally gruesome mutilation of her sexual organs.  Peter wasn’t a sicko, he didn’t relish giving pain but he wanted information from the woman’s husband and the fastest, surest way to get it was to make the guy watch what he did to his wife.

Over the nearly two decades since that seminal undertaking Peter developed two specialties that proved invaluable to the Cassili organization.  The first was an uncanny knack for recruiting professional assassins; all of Peter’s men as they came to be known were good but six in the last dozen years were without peer.  These were on call to any Cassili affiliate that had the price of admission.  Not only was the deployment of these men lucrative but it gradually allowed Cassili to become the arbiter of who got whacked, not just in New Jersey but on both coasts as well as Chicago and Las Vegas.  Peter’s latest was a man named LaPone, a freelancer currently on assignment in Oregon, hunting the elusive Jonathan Tyne.

His second was a logistical masterstroke even more valuable to Cassili and friends; a money laundering pipeline to a bank he established in the Caymans.  The key component was a bottled water plant he owned in Pennsylvania.  The plant shipped tons of bottled water to the West Indies and secreted within many of the pallets were bundles of cash.  To get the cash to the bottling plant Peter used his own trucks.  He owned six trucking companies in the three West-coast states as well as financial stakes in three companies that supplied materials to the plant.  From Advanced Plastics Research, Inc., in Beaverton, Oregon the plant bought drums of PETE pellets, polyethylene terephthalate, used to make unbreakable polycarbonate bottles.  From Aurora Paper in Menlo Park, California the plant purchased its paper packaging products and from Superior Industrial Supply of Tacoma, Washington, sulfur dioxide used to disinfect and sanitize the bottling equipment.  All nine companies were profitable in their own right but it was their ability to conceal large quantities of cash in the trucks carrying supplies to the water plant that made them invaluable.  Peter took a commission from each phase of the pipeline some of which he shared with Cassili.  He was, without question Cassili’s most profitable money-maker.  For the Toscas he also took a cut from the investments made with the laundered money coming back into the country from his bank since he had connected them with his financial partner, Arthur Rhoades.

Ostensibly Peter had been sent west to “round off the corners” to help the Toscas make a success of the wholesale cocaine distribution business.  His real mandate was to look after Cassili’s interest, to make sure Tino got an honest count.  For thirty points Cassili had advanced Francesco and Jimmy Tosca five million bucks to get their fledgeling operation off the ground.  Peter had overseen the early negotiations with the Sinaloa cartel, the source of the cocaine and, of course, controlled getting the cash offshore.  With Arthur Rhoades he packaged real estate investment partnerships that made all of them millionaires many times over.  Rhoades was worth at least 300 million while Peter’s net worth was somewhere between forty and fifty million.  Tino Cassili, at seventy, was a billionaire and owed much of his wealth to Peter Napoletano.

. . .

Peter was waiting in his office at the Bull Shot Lounge for Art Rhoades to arrive for their hastily arranged meeting and was appalled at how truly stupid Jimmy could be.  LaPone was searching in Oregon for the elusive Jonathan Tyne and since Jimmy had already paid a hundred and seventy big, he was not being shy about giving LaPone advice.  His latest bit of wisdom was for LaPone to lean on the girlfriend, Catherine Duvall and the ex-wife, Madeleine Valdés-Obregón, to get from them the location of Tyne’s Oregon ranch.  And Peter had to agree, leaning on the Duvall cunt was not a bad idea, he was contemplating doing it himself, but messing with Valdés-Obregón was insanity.  Insanity because she probably didn’t know the location of his ranch since Peter already knew she had never lived there with Tyne.  Worse than insanity for the heat whacking her would bring down upon them.

Peter was convinced Duvall could reveal Tyne’s whereabouts, since he believed she had visited him at his ranch over Christmas past.  And whacking her afterwards would present few problems.  The standard way to eliminate a woman deemed disposable was to give her a hot shot of nearly pure heroin.  Peter had done it several times and LaPone was a master of the technique.  He was never without a kit or two, just in case.  The heroin always contained a trace of lactose – milk sugar – to suggest the person doing the cutting had made a simple mistake.  And in Duvall’s case three phone calls to Montreal, New York and Seattle would guarantee arrest records for using and prostitution dating back to her college days so that when her corpse was found with a needle in its arm everyone would believe she ODed.

Not so Valdés-Obregón.  There is no way anyone would believe that lady used heroin, certainly not her husband who probably had her background checked out before he married her.  Even Jimmy knew that much since he was pressuring LaPone to make her death look like an accident.  In Peter’s opinion this was very bad thinking since staging accidents that would pass police and insurance scrutiny was not LaPone’s long suit.  He would surely make some mistake and if Charles Eversoll, her current husband, even suspected foul play the heat he could bring to bear would be felt from coast to coast.  If Tyne’s ex-wife turned up dead, because of the public death threat someone close to Jimmy had made against Tyne, perhaps Jimmy himself, Jimmy would be a prime suspect.  No way that could just be a coincidence.  And Jimmy was either forgetting or he did not know how much money his brother had invested in Eversoll’s hedge fund, Twenty First Century Fund.  Knowing how smart Francesco was and how dumb it was becoming increasingly apparent Jimmy is, he probably doesn’t know because Francesco didn’t trust him with the information.

That afternoon Peter was scheduled to fly to New York to discuss Jimmy with Tino Cassili.  He was ruminating about what to do about Jimmy when Rhoades knocked on his office door.  Peter invited Art to avail himself of whatever he wanted to drink from the built-in bar and asked him to pour a couple of inches of Dewar’s Signature over ice for him.  Rhoades chose Pellegrino bottled water from the built-in refrigerator.  When he was seated in front of Peter’s ultra-modern glass and stainless-steel desk he said, “You sounded a little upset on the phone.  Is there a problem?”

“The problem is Jimmy.  He’s off the reservation in this Tyne matter and I’m in the middle.  I agreed to run interference for him to the commission but now he’s using me as a conduit to LaPone.  If that isn’t bad enough some of the things he’s telling LaPone to do are incredibly stupid.”

“Can he do that, give LaPone instructions?”

“Yes, because he paid both the commission’s fee and the up-front money LaPone demanded.  I’ve tried telling him LaPone does not need his help but it’s like talking to a wall.  But that’s not what I want to discuss with you.  Last night you said you had some information about Tyne and I meant to follow up with you but this shit with Jimmy keeps happening.  So, what about Tyne?”

“I ran into him the other day at a gas station in Seattle.”

“You’re sure it was Tyne?”

“Absolutely.  I remembered him from Bend and he remembered me.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“Continuing as Catherine Duvall’s accompanist in Bend when we reopen; he again refused and then I asked whether he was seeing Catherine.  He said he has not worked with her professionally since the fire in September.”

“Did you believe him?”

“I tried to trap him by reminding him that as Michael Ware he made a CD with Duvall that she is hawking to restaurant patrons. He was aware, he said, she had made the CD but denied he was the pianist she worked with. Said his name was Felix Merak, someone Catherine knew from her time in musical theatre in New York. He reminded me of the conversation we had about chemical-based sprinkler systems and pointed out how little Catherine and I paid him to accompany her. He said in the beginning he thought it would be fun playing for her but it wound up costing more than it was worth.”

“What do you think he meant by that?”

“Possibly that Catherine wasn’t putting out for him as he thought she would. He had a woman with him in the car, a very attractive Asian woman. When I asked about Catherine his eyes went reflexively to the woman and he said he has been a little distracted. That’s how he put it – a little distracted.”

“This woman; was she as good looking as Duvall?”

“Better and at least ten years younger.”

“Do you think he is this Felix Merak?”

“The picture of Merak on the CD jacket is definitely not Tyne. As far as being able to tell by listening to the music, I can’t.”

“What kind of car was he driving?”

“A Chrysler rental.”

“You’re sure it was a rental?”

“Yep, I’m certain, it had an Enterprise sticker on the rear bumper.”

“A rental, eh; that means he flew to Seattle, probably from Redmond or Portland on either American Eagle or Southwest.  Did you write down the license plate number?”

“No, when I saw it was a rental I figured it was a waste of time.”

“Not true.  With the license number I could get information on his contract and maybe learn when he’s flying back to Oregon.  It would be easier with the plate number but if he flew commercial I can get his schedule, but if this sort of thing ever happens again, write down the fucking plate number.”

“It’s possible we might see him in Redmond or Bend, maybe even here in Berkeley in the coming days.  When I asked how long he was staying he said something vague about being there for a couple of days so I comped him the cover and dinner for two, good in any of our restaurants.  I gave him one of my business cards and told him to make a reservation and then hand the card to the maitre d.”

“Did he say whether he would use it?”

“No but he thanked me and put the card in his pocket.  I’ll let you know if he makes a reservation.”

“That was good thinking.  Did you ask where he was staying?”

“I did; he said at a hotel downtown but he would not say which one.”

“Did he say why he was in Seattle?”

“Some technical conference at UW, something like YAPC, whatever that is?”

Peter entered YAPC in the Google search field in his browser and learned that YAPC was an annual Perl conference this year held at the University of Washington April 5-7 in Seattle.  He searched in the YAPC page for Tyne and then Ware and discovered that M. Ware was scheduled to present a paper entitled, Using the Perl Debugger to Debug Apache mod-perl in Real-time the second day of the conference.

“Was this woman a nerd?”

“If she was she’s the best looking nerd I’ve ever seen.  Long black hair, huge dark eyes, nice tits and the little skirt she was wearing barely covered her jewels.”

“You saw a lot for a casual encounter at a gas station?”

“Well, from where I was standing the view of her in the passenger seat couldn’t have been better and naturally I was curious.”

“Un-huh; checked out the quiff okay but couldn’t get the goddamn plate number.”

“I mentioned to Catherine that I had seen him. She was interested until I told her he had again declined our Bend offer.  After that she couldn’t have been more indifferent. She said she has not seen him since he was released from the hospital, after the fire.”

“You mean after that fiasco with Nicky Parma?”

“Yeah, that’s what put him in the hospital.”

“And the broad you were shagging Dellacroce had to deal with… all because you couldn’t operate a fuckin’ answering machine.”

“Well, who uses an answering machine any more? There are services for that… all the phone companies have them.”

“Are you fucking her?”

“No but not for want of trying.  She keeps turning me down even when I made it pretty clear to her that she would’ve had a contract a lot sooner if she’d been a little friendlier.”

“Stupid bitch.  How about the staff?  Do you know if any of them are fucking her?”

“I don’t see her hanging out with any of them and I’ve never seen her leave with anyone.”

“Is she a dyke?”

“I suppose that’s a possibility – or that she’s bi – but I think there was a man in Bend she was seeing and the pianist she came to Bend with was fucking her, of that I’m sure because he bragged about it.”  Here Art hesitated and looked away for a moment and Peter thought he intended to say more but was holding back for some reason.  Finally he said, “I didn’t tell you this when we hired her but I knew her before… some years ago… in ‘93, if I recall…”

“You mean you were fuckin’ her then but you’re not fuckin’ her now.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah… that’s what I’m saying.  I met her at a writers’ workshop at USF, just after I published my second novel.  She knew me back then as Andrew Carr, the name, my pseudonym, I write under.  She was recently divorced and feeling sorry for herself so… I dazzled her with my footwork and we had a thing.”

“Art, she was old even then.  She must have been pushing forty?”

“Well, yes… but she has a great body, does these crazy-intense workouts, just like you, she’s smart and pretty good in the sack…”

“No tits.”

“They’re small, sure, but she has great nipples… and…”

“Yes, and?”

“I just liked fucking her.”

“She suck your dick?”

“Man, did she ever.  One of the best I’ve ever had.”

“So what ended it?”

“She has this bourgeois notion about commitment…”

“She actually expected you to marry her?”

“No, but she expected me to keep it exclusive with her.  It ended when she caught me with another woman… and yeah, a woman younger than her.  So… it didn’t last long but there’s no question in my mind she likes men.  I’ve never seen her being cozy with any women.”

“So whom is she saving it for?  Apparently someone not connected with what she does for a living.  That could be Tyne or some other person we don’t know about.”

“I mentioned the woman Tyne was with to her and there was no reaction.”

“Or there was and you didn’t pick up on it.  It could have been something as subtle as a change in the width of her pupils and if you weren’t watching for it you could have missed it.”

“Yes, that is possible.”

“Write down her address in California.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put a watch on her.  If she’s seeing him on the q.t., I’ll find out.”

“You wouldn’t hurt her would you?  I mean, she’s a nice broad and her act is sold out every night.  It would be a shame to ruin that,” his voice rising in alarm.

“Relax; I’m just going to watch her, to see whether Tyne is seeing her.”

Rhoades went to Peter’s desk and wrote down Catherine’s address on one of his business cards.  He extended the card to Napoletano who ignored it so he set it on the corner of his desk.  Napoletano finished his Scotch and then rose to replenish his glass and when he returned to his chair pocketed the card.

“I’ve been meaning to discuss something else with you and this is as good a time as any.  How familiar are you with our limited partnership agreements, specifically the provisions for succession and dissolution of partnership assets if a partner dies?”

“I know we included language to prevent an estate from forcing us to liquidate partnership assets if a partner should die.  If I remember correctly Francesco and Jimmy were both very insistent that the agreements have that language, I suspect because they secretly trusted each other least of all.”

“Yes, well I got to thinking about how Jimmy is the only Tosca left…”

“Aren’t you forgetting Sarah?”

“I should have said Jimmy is the only male Tosca left besides which Sarah knows absolutely nothing about Francesco’s investment holdings.  He never trusted her to keep her mouth shut so he told her almost nothing about what he was doing.  Before her heart attack she was the queen bee of all the guinea broads who moved out here from New York and settled in San Leandro and Castro Valley.  He knew she talked too much, couldn’t get her to stop so he told her nothing.

“Anyway, as I said I got curious so I had my attorney review the Blue Flame limited partnership agreements and he confirmed what I suspected.”

“And what was that?”

“That you and I, as surviving partners, would own on a pro rata basis Saratoga’s holdings… if and when Jimmy passes… that is, if we don’t liquidate the underlying assets.  If we did liquidate we would have to pay to the two estates the dollar value of their realized holdings.”

“Jimmy must have a will?”

“He does but he told me that after his wife died he changed it to leave everything to Sarah and Junior.”

“Which means Sarah inherits everything.”

“You know, Sarah would think she died and went to heaven if we sold off one of the limited partnerships, say that Arizona strip mall that we can’t seem to keep fully occupied, and gave her, say a million and paid the taxes on the distribution.  She would go off on one of her extended cruises and in a year or two probably succumb to another heart attack at which time you and I would own everything.  In fact, we could make up a story that in order to pay her the money and resolve some pending estate tax issues she would have to sign over the rights to the other limited partnerships or they would have to be sold off at fire-sale prices to avoid paying the deferred taxes.  She would look at the million tax-free bird in the hand versus the questionable future likelihood of realizing anything from the sale of the other assets, especially if you explained how much in taxes we would have to pay if we liquidated early, and take the money and run.”

“The only problem with that scenario is that Jimmy is as healthy as a horse.  Sarah may not have many years left but the same can’t be said about Jimmy.”

“Yes, that is a problem… isn’t it?”

Rhoades stared at him for a moment fully comprehending what Peter was hinting at and finally said, “Regicide is a very, very dangerous exercise frowned on in the extreme by the other crowned heads.  Jimmy may not be the best godfather but he’s our godfather and he has a great many friends back east who would take a very dim view of his untimely passing, particularly if it wasn’t by natural causes.  If the job were done by a known associate the details would eventually get back to Jimmy’s friends who would send their own messengers to demonstrate that regicide doesn’t pay.”

“I wasn’t thinking of using a known associate.”

“You’re not thinking of Tyne, are you?  Peter, he’s just a lucky amateur whose days are numbered.  When LaPone finds him that will be the last we will ever hear of Mr. Tyne.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right but wouldn’t it be slick if before LaPone finished off Tyne, Tyne could solve our problem with Jimmy?  Jimmy’s friends would wring their hands and cluck their tongues but with Tyne disposed of life would go on and as a bonus, I would take over the Tosca businesses in the Bay Area.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Yes, with Dellacroce gone I’m the logical choice.  I know more about what’s going on than anyone other that Donnie Apia and he and I go way back, in fact, we made our bones together.  He knows he could not run things without Jimmy to tell him what to do and he would transfer that loyalty to me if he knew he would always be the number two.”

“Well, I wish you luck but that is too risky for me.  If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want any part of getting Tyne to whack Jimmy.”

“But you will cooperate with me regarding the limited partnerships?”

“Of course, on that you can be sure we are of one mind.  I just can’t get involved in any of these operational matters.  Indeed, I would lose my usefulness to all concerned if I ever strayed from doing anything other than managing Blue Flame’s investments.”

Peter refilled Rhoades’ glass and his own and they clicked glasses and drank and Peter said, “Here’s to fewer partners and none named Tosca.”

Girl talk, three awesome cougars dissing an insufferably arrogant man

Girl talk, written by a man; a very dangerous undertaking

This one especially is for my European friends. It’s almost ready. I’m still revising and editing it so please be patient. It’s not easy for a man, this man to be sure, to write really good women’s dialogue. The scene is a coffee shop where three awesome, take-no-prisoners, mature creatures of the female persuasion are discussing the new man in one of their lives. All in their forties, one divorced, the other two single by choice. I suppose I could copy Nin or James but plagiarizing them or any other author is not what I do.

Update: Sunday, February 9, 2014, 9:15 P.M. CST

Well, here it is. I wrote this scene more than a year ago and it’s undergone steady revision and edits since. After all, I’m just a stupid man struggling to write the way women think, the way they talk among themselves when there are no men present. Please tell me what I got wrong? Hey ladies, the Internet is anonymous so you can tell me the truth without giving away any of the sisterhood’s secrets. I’m a good writer so if I know what to fix, I’ll fix it. Enjoy.

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G A B R I E L L E

Gabrielle Helm leaned over and rested her forearms on her quivering thighs and waited for the nauseous feeling to pass.  She was absolutely certain if the dance routine Catherine Duvall was leading had gone on one minute longer she would have tossed her cookies.  For the last half hour Catherine had those who had them switch to optional Latin-style ballroom shoes with 2-inch heels and suede soles and had them moving their hips in ways she never imagined a woman’s hips could move.  For the last ten minutes, to blot out the pain, she fantasized moving her hips that way while straddling Freddy-pooh and she knew, beyond all doubt he would say he’d died and gone to heaven.

Catherine was a cruel, sadistic, merciless slave driver.  Gabrielle couldn’t imagine a Marine drill instructor being any tougher, except the soft-spoken Catherine never shouted, never exhorted them with curses, kicks, slaps or insults the way she’d heard the DIs did.  She just intimated them with her incredible moves and complex choreography.

Whenever Gabrielle wanted to punish herself for the sins of gluttony, sloth and indolence she signed up for one of these classes but this one was like nothing she had ever experienced.  Four months ago eighteen of them had registered, paid the stiff enrollment fee and within two weeks the class had attrited down to ten.  A month later two more joined them and these twelve survivors had all been diligent and enthusiastic exercise junkies, otherwise known as masochists.  She wondered, for the umpteenth time whether all this pain was worth it, and then she remembered that since enrolling in Catherine’s advanced aerobics with jazz dance class she’d finally lost the ten pounds she hadn’t been able to lose since college.  Now, at forty-two she was incredibly fit and looked better than she had ever looked in her entire life, thanks to Catherine and her thrice weekly killer workouts.

Gabrielle, or Gaby as she liked to be called, was a five-eight, athletically slender, ash blonde with striking green eyes.  She was also one of Bend’s movers and shakers – she had an MBA degree in marketing and a B.A. in political science, both from OSU, and worked as a political fundraiser for the mayor, Jeffrey Boone, and she was particularly good at it.  Mayor Boone, a partner in a Bend law firm and a two-term member of the Bend city council, wanted to be Congressman Boone or possibly Governor Boone and she was going to help him get there and looking good, which in her case was an understatement, didn’t hurt one little bit.

Her breathing finally back to normal, she walked to the table alongside the wall, removed the shoes and cracked a chilled bottle of water.  She closed her eyes and pressed the cold bottle to her cheeks, then downed half of it before setting it down.  She then used one of the luxury towels the club provided to blot the perspiration from her arms, neck and face, careful not to smudge her eye makeup, the only makeup she dared wear to one of Catherine’s classes.  She’d done that just once, wore foundation and blush and it was a soggy mess well before the session ended.  She thought about a shower but Catherine almost never showered at the club, since she usually rode her bike to the fitness center, and Gaby wanted to talk to her.  She motioned to her friend Sharon Robinette to join her and she sidled up to Catherine, who was also drying her flushed, sweaty and makeup-free face.  They waited patiently while she unpinned her longer-than-shoulder-length hair, made a somewhat successful attempt to dry it, brushed out the worst of the tangles and pinned it back up again.

Sharon wasn’t a Bend mover and shaker, at least not yet.  Mostly she sold upscale real estate, very successfully, but without making a big deal about it.  Originally from Sydney, Australia, she had recently become a U.S. citizen.  It was her younger sister Jennifer who was the mover and shaker, or to be precise, it was her husband who was.  He was Kenneth Lilja, currently Oregon’s congressman from the 2nd congressional district.  Sharon may not have had Gaby’s political clout and influence – she wasn’t especially fond of her brother-in-law and made a point of not mentioning to anyone the identity of her famous in-law – but she more than made up for it with looks to spare.  Several years younger than Gaby and shorter by four inches, with auburn hair, she was just as fit and attracted just as many envious looks from women and admiring looks from men, as did her friend.

“Got anywhere you absolutely have to be in the next hour?” Gaby said to Catherine.

Catherine glanced at the wall clock, saw it was 11:35 A.M. and said, “Nope, what do you have in mind?”

“A little girl talk.  Let’s go have coffee at the new Starbucks on 9th and Greenwood.  I’ll buy and it’s only a couple of blocks away.”

“Didn’t know there was a Starbucks there?”

“It just opened, where a 7-Eleven used to be.  Perfect location; gets everyone coming into town on Greenwood.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you two there . . . in ten minutes or so.”

Catherine didn’t bother to change back into her riding duds, not for the three or four blocks to Starbucks nor the five blocks from the coffee house to her condo.  When she reached the corner of 8th and Greenwood the eastbound traffic was heavy, a steady stream of cars and trucks, so she slipped in alongside the flow pedaling just fast enough not to wobble.  Catherine ignored the whistles and the Hey baby, what’s happening.  Once she’d made the mistake of flipping the bird to some redneck in a pickup truck and he’d stopped and got out and wanted to fight.  The only thing that saved her was he couldn’t follow where she fled on the bike.  Now whenever she was hassled she avoided making eye contact, kept her middle finger to herself and her mouth shut.

She glanced to her left and saw the familiar green motif and it came as a surprise because for nearly seven months, every time she’d driven to the restaurant from her condo, admittedly from north of Greenwood, she’d turned right at this intersection and had not noticed what was being constructed less than one block over.  Good to know she had a Starbucks within walking distance of where she lived but in truth, with her espresso machine she could make coffee drinks as good as the Starbucks baristas could.  When the last car passed her near 10th she crossed over and did a U-turn and came back the opposite way.  When she arrived at the café she chained her bike where she was sure she could see it.  The four outdoor tables under the green umbrellas were all in use so she went inside.  The other women were already there, waiting for her, sitting at a table for four near the rear.  She pushed her sunglasses up in the tangle that was her hair, ordered a Coffee Frappuccino and joined them but she asked them to move to a different table close to a window where she could keep an eye on her expensive bicycle.  Gaby wasted little time; she began almost before Catherine was settled in her chair with, “So, tell us about your new accompanist?”

“Don’t have a new accompanist, at least not yet.”

“Catherine, I was there yesterday, at happy hour. I heard him play.  In fact, I requested a Jimmy Webb song and he played ‘Highwayman’ for me.  He’s fantastic, especially the way he makes a harmonica wail . . . and in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s quite the hunk.  Are you saying you aren’t going to hire him?”

“It’s in the works but quite frankly, he’s an incredibly arrogant asshole and I’m not sure I can deal with all his bullshit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Michael Ware.”

End of discussion, that’s all she said and she busied herself with her frap.  After a moment Gaby said, somewhat impatiently, “Come on Catherine, don’t make us drag it out of you . . . we want to hear all the gory details.  For example, is he married?”

Okay . . . he’s divorced, late forties, he’s not a professional musician . . . he’s some sort of computer consultant, has a hobby ranch somewhere in eastern Oregon and he travels a lot.  Lydia Conti seems to know him well, his ex-wife too – her name is Madeleine, by the way, and she’s Spanish . . . or Spanish-Italian, according to Lydia – as I guess when they were married they lived somewhere in Deschutes County, near Bend but not in town, and they were regulars at the restaurant.”

“How long has he been divorced?”

“I think about four years.”

“Okay, so what’s the downside?” said Gaby.  Sharon said nothing but was taking it all in.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more arrogant man.  Thinks he’s God’s gift to women and like a hound dog on the scent of a bitch in heat, is constantly on the make.  He turns every question, every comment into an opportunity to hit on me.  Do you know what that asshole said to me?  He said I look like a fifteen-minute girl.  Like a fool I asked what that was and he said it was a woman who craved sex every fifteen minutes, and the best match-up for one of those was an oral guy who knows how to play the harmonica.”

They all started laughing and Gaby said, “He really said that?”

“Yes, and he even used Taoism to explain the benefits of mutual oral sex . . . something about how exchanging sexual fluids enhances one’s ch’i.”  Catherine couldn’t suppress a smile and then she began laughing.  She pressed her fingers to her temples and rested her elbow on the table and laughed, uncontrollably, biting her thumb to keep from blurting out the sound of her laughter.  Finally, when she again got herself under control she said, “I’m sorry.  It was just so funny.  Of course, at the time it came as such a shock that a man I barely know would speak to me that way, I was speechless . . . literally.  Now, when I think of what he said I can’t help laughing,” and she again went into a paroxysm of laughter.

Finally, her laughing jag over, she said, “And I also heard all about how he uses the piano to hit on what he calls piano groupies.  That’s what he was doing last night during happy hour, only I spoiled his act when I seated him earlier than he expected.  What kind of fool comes to Di Giorgio’s on a Friday during pro-am without a reservation and then asks if he can play the piano?  He didn’t care whether he got a table; all he cared about was getting access to the keyboard so he could work his game on some impressionable woman.”

“Ramona Gerry was coming on to him, right in front of her husband only she’s far from impressionable.  She just likes to fuck . . . anything in pants.”

“But she’s married and he told me he doesn’t fool around with married women.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I’m not sure.  He’s seen the ring I wear so he must think I’m married but he won’t stop hitting on me.”

“You aren’t married, are you?”

“No, I wear it at work to avoid being hit on.  Mostly it works but some guys just don’t care.  Nothing short of rude and crude will shut them down, and then they always get mean and nasty.  Men are such pigs and the married ones are the worst.”

“How long have you been divorced?”

“It was in ’91 so . . . almost eight years.”

“Are you seeing someone, regularly?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is?  He’s single; you’re single.  He plays the piano and the harmonica, brilliantly.  How long have you been looking for a replacement for Eddie . . . two months, three months?”

“Four.”

Four; damn . . . Catherine, you need him and from what I saw last night, he’s very attractive.  Knows how to dress, has a good build, a ponytail no less; and you say he’s an oral guy – ooh la, la.  Surely you know how to put someone like that in a box and keep him doing what you want him to do?  After all, he’s just a stupid man and any man can be led around by his cock.”

“Except that’s not the way I want this to work.  I want to keep my personal life separate from my professional life.  I tried mixing the two, several times, and it doesn’t work . . . at least not for me.”

Catherine raised her coffee cup to her lips, shook it and discovered it was empty. “I think I need a refill,” as she stood. “Anyone else?” When neither responded, she said, “He did say something I can’t stop thinking about.” Slowly, she sat down and continued, in a voice so soft the other women had to lean forward to hear. “I can’t help thinking that deep down there just might be a somewhat decent human being under all his bullshit.”

She paused as if to gather her thoughts, then she said, “I was in his face about why he came to Di Giorgio’s last night and he admitted he plays in public places to meet women. He does it, he said, because after his wife divorced him, he discovered how effective it is. Unfortunately, so he said, most of the women he meets are married and cheating on their husbands. He said he never cheated on her and he wasn’t sure whether she had cheated on him but she probably had. She’s remarried now, but . . . so he said, he still loves her and would go back to her in a heartbeat if he could.”

“How long were they married; did he say?” said Sharon.

“Almost nineteen years.”

“Any children?”

“Nope.”

“Did he say why she divorced him?”

“Some sort of crisis, but he didn’t say what it was. He said he failed her.”

“He actually admitted he was at fault?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ve known a number of divorced men and it’s never their fault. It’s always the woman’s fault.”

“Like the one you’re currently dating? Down girl,” said Gaby. “Catherine has first dibs on this guy.”

“Stay out of this, Gaby. You heard her say she doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure.”

“What a bunch of hooey,” said Gaby. “Like the words the Bard had come out of Gertrude’s mouth, ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ If she hires him and they work well together, you can bet they’ll be sleeping together.”

“Hey, cool it, both of you,” said Catherine. “I’m not interested in him that way, so if you are, go for it. You just might be exactly what he’s looking for. Right after the divorce, when he first started hanging out in piano bars, he said he was not shy about getting it on with married women. If their husbands couldn’t keep them satisfied, they got what they deserved. That’s an exact quote, by the way. But, he said, eventually that got old and he stopped, but he still plays in places like Di Giorgio’s, hoping he’ll meet women who are quote, free to choose, unquote. That’s how he put it, free to choose.

“So, I asked him if he was just looking for the next Mrs. Ware and he said he wasn’t interested in ownership, just exclusivity. I asked him if he really believes he can have exclusivity without ownership and that’s when he said the thing I can’t stop thinking about.”

She paused for a moment and then she said, “he said . . . hang on a sec; I want to get this exactly right . . . he said ‘Ownership can be a straitjacket while . . . while exclusivity is a state of mind. We know ownership doesn’t guarantee exclusivity and . . . and with the right state of mind, it isn’t necessary.’ I’ve been there so what he said hit me where I live. Since, he said, he’d been so successful with married cheaters, I asked him why exclusivity is so important to him, and he talked at length. I won’t go into that, not because it wasn’t interesting, it was, but what was more interesting to me was this notion that exclusivity is more important than ownership.”

Again she paused to gather her thoughts and then she said, “I subscribe to several Internet sites where you can check text for plagiarism. As a writer, I can’t afford to let even a whiff of plagiarism slip into my work, even accidentally. So, last night I checked all of them to see whether he lifted those ideas from some book. I could find nothing that even comes close. So, I guess I’ll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt until I learn otherwise.”

They glared at each other, but neither Gaby nor Sharon had anything more to say. Finally, after Catherine had been silent for a moment, Gaby said, “Well kiddo, I sure hope you know what you’re doing. This Ware smells like trouble.”

. . .

The chime over the entrance door sounded its distinctive ringtone and they all turned to see the man who just walked in.  They all craned their heads; sitting in front of a window they’d all seen him ride up on a bicycle, lock it in the bike rack next to Catherine’s and Catherine noted that he’d checked out hers.  It annoyed her that without permission he’d bent down and manipulated the rear derailleur on her very expensive bicycle.

“Well speak of the devil . . . or if not the devil, a Willie Nelson wannabe,” said Gaby.  “Guess who just walked in?”

Catherine noted Michael had swapped the Forty Niners cap for a red and blue paisley bandana tied around his forehead.  He was still wearing black spandex cycling shorts and the blue and gold jersey, now with the sleeves pushed up revealing muscular forearms, and he had his backpack, really a book-bag made of black nylon, the kind they hand out at conferences to carry the swag, slung over one shoulder.  His had JavaOne, Sun microsystems, ZD and COMDEX & FORUMS embroidered on the front.  Standing up, free of the bicycle saddle she got for the first time a really good look at his legs and the bulge between them.  An image of Nurayev at his best flashed in her mind’s eye.  She felt the heat begin in her loins and spread upward until her neck and face were flushed.  She dismissed it as a hot flash until she felt the familiar wetness between her legs.

To cover her discomfort she said, without being prompted, “We ran into each other on the Larkspur and I didn’t recognize him at the time but I watched him early this morning running sprints on the Senior High track.”

“Sprints?  He was running sprints?”

“Yes, I watched him run three 220-yard sprints and he’s very fast for a man his age.  I don’t know how many he ran but he was there before I arrived and was still there after I left.”

“He’s about our age, isn’t he?  Early forties?” said Gaby.

“I think he’s older than us but I don’t know by how much.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I do believe he’s got an erection. That barista has boobs out to here and he’s ogling her. And look at those legs,” said Sharon. “My God, he’s got beautiful legs . . . except for that scar. Well Catherine, you snooze you lose. I’m free to choose and I want one of those and if you aren’t interested, I sure am.”

Gaby now studied the man’s legs too and after a moment she said, “No, he’s not erect.  It’s those spandex shorts.  They have some sort of cup that holds his jewels in a tight ball . . . sort of like when a woman wears a bra with the cups one size too small.  Like a male ballet dancer, right Catherine?”

“How would I know?”

“Come on Catherine, you’ve danced professionally.  You must have seen lots of male dancers wearing tights that show off their equipment?  I’ll bet when they pas de deux the girls grope the boys just like the boys grope the girls?  I would.”

“I gave up ballet for jazz when I was seventeen.”

“Oh, why was that?”

“My toes couldn’t take the pounding.”

After a moment Gaby said, “I’ll be damned; he has the scars of a bullet wound on his left leg.”

Catherine too stared at Michael’s legs and wasn’t exactly sure to what Gaby was referring.  “What are you talking about?”

“Excuse me for a moment.  I want to be sure,” as she got up and walked behind the man, studying his legs from the rear, and covered herself by ordering refills for their coffees.  When she returned to the others she said, “I’m sure.  He has the scars of what’s called a through-and-through.  Bullet went in the rear and came out the front.”

“How do you know what he has is from a bullet?” said Sharon.

“I used to date a cop in Phoenix.  He had one too, only his was side-to-side.  Trust me, I saw it close up, many times,” which made them all giggle like naughty schoolgirls.

“When I asked him why, at his age he ran sprints, he said when he was younger he’d had to do serious rehab to repair an injured leg.  I assumed he was referring to an accident.  He didn’t mention he’d been shot.”

“Let’s have some fun with Mr. Ware?  Call him over and introduce us.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put the SOB in his place, something you obviously failed to do.”

“Gaby, I’m still undecided about whether to hire him.  Please don’t screw that up?”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll have him eating out of my hand before we finish our lattes.”

Catherine now said, with steel in her voice, “Gaby, not one word about these notions of exclusivity and ownership. I don’t care what else you talk about, but not that. Gaby! I mean it, not one word.”

“Okay! I promise, okay?”

Catherine shook her head and wagged her finger at her friend, but said nothing more.

. . .

Catherine had already made eye contact with Michael and assumed he would come over to their table but she caught his eye again, waved and beckoned him to join them.  She knew from personal experience Gaby could be hell on wheels and she briefly considering introducing them to Michael and then making some excuse to leave just in case Gaby made a butch of it.  If she wasn’t there when it happened then Michael couldn’t blame her for anything Gaby said or did and she could always find out later what went down.  But she was curious to see how Michael would react to being dismantled by Gaby.  She could do it too, when the man deserved it, but she had never set out to be that deliberately bitchy, well . . . almost never.  When he joined them he brought the coffees that Gaby had ordered with him.  He set them on the table but remained standing, with Gaby on his left and Catherine on his right.

Catherine said, “Michael Ware, please say hello to Gabrielle Helm and Sharon Robinette,” and she gestured to each woman in turn as she said her name.

“Gaby,” as Gabrielle offered her hand.  Sharon smiled but did not offer to shake hands.

Tyne took the woman’s hand, nodded at her and Sharon and said “Ladies.”

“Please join us?” said Catherine.

Tyne set his backpack alongside the chair between Gaby and Catherine and sat down, and he noticed almost immediately the woman was staring at his left leg.  The hem of his shorts ended just above a star-shaped scar, shiny and hairless, the size of a quarter and up-close you could also see the white line from a surgical incision through its center.  Without being obvious about it he rearranged himself to give her a good look.  He wondered how she would resolve the dichotomy: curiosity about the scar and reticence about mentioning it.  Most people who saw it starred but said nothing.

He decided to take the initiative, so he said, “Did y’all see how good our two bikes look together, Catherine’s and mine, side by side, like they were made for each other, like Catherine and I are made for each other, only she’s too fucking uptight to acknowledge what is otherwise an inescapable fact of nature?  She thinks it’s wrong for a couple to perform together – that’s my take on the state of her world, by the way, admittedly after fewer than twenty-four hours, but I have a nose for these things, no doubt like the hound dog you guys think I am – but me thinks the music we’ll make together will be better, like the love we’ll make will be better when we remember the music, play it back in our heads while we’re doing it.  The audience is merely a voyeur eavesdropping on the parts us lovers will let them see.”

Before any of them could say anything, maybe because he’d stunned them into silence, he said, “Of course, a pink bike, no a matte pink bike – someone suggested I should make lists and my latest says try to be less crude . . .” and he winked at Catherine when he said this, “dubbed Genesisters no less – mine is a Genesis, get it? – is so fucking dumb as to be offensive especially coming from Gary Fisher Bicycles.  Gary is an old hippy with a ponytail, like me, and granny glasses, so he certainly isn’t chauvinistic but someone in his company, probably some marketing asshole sure the hell is.  Had Catherine asked me for my advice I would have recommended the hardtail version of that bike but a Fisher full suspension is as good as that type gets and I suppose is easier on the butt, hers being so sweet.

“By the way, some folks call what I just said TMI but I know you gals were talking about me so I thought I’d get in some bullshit of my own, first, to sort of disarm y’all.  Do you two ride,” and he gestured at the two women he’d just met, “or do you just boogie, with Catherine, that is?  Perhaps we can all ride together?”

He looked for acknowledgement but got only bemused negative head shakes from the two women.

“Pity.  Or perhaps I should join Catherine’s class?  I’m pretty fit so I can probably keep up with y’all, once I learn the moves.  I can’t remember the last time I was in the company of three stone foxes.  Are all the others in your class as hot as you two?”

The three women were all exchanging knowing looks, like they were listening to the village idiot; either that or they were all trying to keep from laughing.

“My class is not open to men; we women have to have a place to get away from guys and my experience has been guys just can’t cut it,” said Catherine.

“Uh-huh,” and he nodded and again winked at her.

“Mike . . . may I call you Mike?” said Gaby.

“I prefer Michael.”

“Okay, Michael it is.  I was in Di Giorgio’s last night, in the High Desert Lounge, during happy hour.  You play extremely well.  I particularly liked the harmonica solo you did on ‘Alfie.’ ”

“That’s what we call the piano bar,” said Catherine.

“Thank you.  Had you stayed later you would have heard me do Carly Simon’s ‘Better Not Tell Her’ for Catherine.  It has a Spanish guitar solo that I’ve adapted to the harp.  I think you would have liked it even more than my ‘Alfie.’ ”

“I liked them both,” said Catherine.

“Tell me Michael, those three women that were sitting at the piano; were you hitting on them?”

Tyne glanced at Catherine, who returned his glance with a neutral expression.  He looked back at Gaby and said, “The younger one, Cali or Kelly – there was too much noise in the bar to get her name – was an airhead; way too young for me.  Mona, nice looking woman, good tits, was married and as Catherine probably told you, I don’t fool around with married women.  Jane, the oldest was too old, so no, I wasn’t hitting on them.  Now had you joined our happy little group, I’m sure I would have hit on you.”

“I was with my boyfriend.”

“I would have hit on you anyway.”

“Oh; he might have objected to that.  Might have whupped your ass.”

“You think so, huh?  Truly?  ‘Cause I think it’s doubtful.”

“Well, if we ever come in again when you’re playing, better be careful.  You are going to join Catherine’s act, aren’t you?”

“She hasn’t asked me yet and I’m undecided whether I want to work with her.  She’s so fucking uptight she must have the biggest damn cob up her ass.  I don’t think the chemistry between us is right.”

“That’s because you think your do-do doesn’t stink,” said Catherine.

Tyne started laughing.  He couldn’t help himself.  He laughed and laughed, tried to stop and couldn’t and his laughter was contagious, because all the women, even Catherine began to laugh too.  When they finally stopped Tyne said, “That is priceless.  My do-do doesn’t stink.  That’s the best put-down I’ve heard in years, maybe ever.  I love it . . . and her for having the stones to say it,” and he laughed again but only momentarily.  He stopped laughing but he couldn’t stop smiling and several times in the next few minutes he covered his mouth with his hand and chuckled silently to himself.

“You play to hit on women, don’t you?”

“Nope.  Takes way too much energy.  I prefer to have women hit on me and yes, that’s why I play.”

“How well does it work?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out, except don’t tell your boyfriend.  He might whup your ass.”

“You’re really on a roll, aren’t you?  One real slick arrogant smart-ass,” said Gaby.  Catherine was having a hard time keeping a straight face.  She was enjoying the barbed exchanges, could see Gaby was getting pissed and she was glad she hadn’t left.  Michael, she decided, could take care of himself.

“Well dear, you bring out the best in me . . . or is it the worst?”

“Michael, Catherine tells us you are a student of Taoism. Is that true?”

Tyne smiled, patted Catherine’s arm and said, “Good for you, dear. I was hoping that discussion would . . . resonate . . . with you. I can see it did.”

To Gaby he said, “Not a student, per se, but some of the more lyrical passages seem to speak directly to me, especially those that deal with maintaining and enhancing one’s ch’i.”

“Such as?”

“Such as . . . yoni worship. Taoism argues that it leads directly to longevity and vitality. I don’t really know . . . none of us do . . . how long I’ve got left but it certainly makes me feel like a twenty-year-old. When they elect me president . . . or better yet, emperor of the world I will issue a proclamation that every woman have a dozen yoni worshipers at her permanent beck and call. You would concur that that’s a good thing, wouldn’t you? Just think, no more wars, just lots and lots of yoni love. Except . . . and he shook his head in a show of dismay, “. . . except the yoni lovers would make war among themselves over the prettiest yonis. I could write a song . . .

She didn’t let him finish; “Michael, isn’t yoni a Sanskrit word? And, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t Taoism Chinese? You seem to be confusing the Kama Sutra with the Tao. Only the dumbest of dumb piano groupies, the ones who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, will buy into your bullshit when you make that mistake, ya dig?”

“That’s very good. I’m impressed. Perhaps I have more in common with you than Catherine?”

“Not if we were the last two people alive on planet earth.”

“Probably the entire universe, right?”

“You got it, Ace.”

“Think of them as compatible metaphors except Taoism is much more ambiguous . . . perhaps that’s not the right word . . . more esoteric . . . more . . . figurative than literal. One would have to be a Chinese scholar and fluent in Mandarin to comprehend anything other than the English translations. Even yin and yang . . . and yin, the closest the Tao comes to the Sanskrit word for vulva, yoni . . . are difficult, almost impossible for an occidental to understand. Yin and yang can mean, metaphorically, whatever you want them to mean while yoni and lingam are unambiguous. And since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . .

“Oh, which languages do you speak . . . besides trailer trash?”

He stared at her, intently, hoping to make her blink or look away but she didn’t. She looked back just as intently. What the hell is going on, he thought. Why is this woman so angry . . . or is it some sort of game? He looked at the other two women in turn and saw the same sort of smirk, as if they were both expecting some reaction, especially Catherine. Obviously, Catherine told them something about me and it’s some sort of test . . . or possibly this one is teaching her friends the proper way to handle someone like me. He decided to have some fun with them, so he said, “I’m wondering if interrupting is some kind of girl thing. My ex-wife did it all the time and it drove me up the wall. Last night Catherine did it a bunch of times and now you. The Guide says it should be nipped in the bud at the earliest possible moment. To her credit Catherine and I are working on the problem . . . sort of, and I guess now I’ll have to work on you too.”

“Guide? What guide?”

“Why, The Guide, especially chapter XII, Concerning girlfriends, wives and mistresses, and the proper management thereof.” It was difficult but he managed to keep a straight face by biting his lower lip.

“Liar, liar, pants are on fire. I don’t believe there is such a book. Who wrote it?”

Why Nicolò Machiavelli, of course, in . . . 1514 or ‘15, during that period after the restoration of the Medicis when he was sucking up to Lorenzo the Magnificent, trying to get back in his good graces. I got my copy in Florence on my last trip to Italy,” and he looked at Catherine and said, “it was during that bicycle trip I told you about.”

Gaby stared back and he could see he’d hooked her. He was sure she wasn’t buying what he said but she was at least temporarily without a comeback. He looked again at Catherine and then at Sharon and saw, what . . . amusement? . . . or something equally interesting. He loved fucking with a woman’s head and this one seemed to have promise, so he continued, “It was his companion work to The Prince, but much less well known. In fact, it’s only recently been translated from the Italian . . . La Guida. And chapter XII is, Per quanto riguarda fidanzate, mogli e amanti, e la corretta gestione della stessa.”

“You speak Italian?”

“My ex-wife is Spanish-Italian so over the years I’ve picked up some Italian. My vocabulary is somewhat limited but I can manage basic conversational speech, especially the kind that passes between men and women.”

“But I’m neither your girlfriend or wife, and certainly not a lover.”

Hmm, he thought, she speaks Italian. But how well? “Yet. And I think in this context amanti best translates as mistresses.”

Gaby’s eyes flashed, her lower lip quivered and then she pressed her lips together in a thin line, her anger, it seemed to him, ratcheted up another notch. She obviously does not like to be corrected, he thought.

“Yet? What the fu . . . what is that supposed to mean?”

Ancora? Che cazzo è che dovrebbe significare? The Guide says it’s okay to say fuck. It says men should speak to women the same way they speak to men and women should be encouraged to do the same. The Guide encourages clarity in speech . . . for both men and women. Yet, or ancora . . . means you aren’t my girlfriend, wife or mistress, yet. I can’t speak for Sharon . . . yet, but it’s obvious neither you nor Catherine have ever been with an Italian man; neither of you have been properly trained. Best that that training commence immediately, so, in future, please restrain your natural impulse to interrupt me, especially when I’m about to say something profound.”

“Ware isn’t Italian. Isn’t it Irish?”

Esatto, cara Gabrielle. But managing women is an Italian art form and I am a diligent student of the genre.”

He could see she was furious but before she could respond, he continued, “As I was saying . . . since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . . I chose to adopt yoni as my preferred word for pussy. Many women are uncomfortable, at least at first, hearing or using that word. I’ve not met one yet who was uncomfortable with yoni, but if anyone can teach me a Chinese word that is as evocative as yoni, I’ll gladly use it.”

“Which languages do you speak . . . other than Italian?” this from Sharon, her first comment since he sat down with them. He noted a lovely Australian, or possibly New Zealand, accent.

“Officially, Spanish, French and Vietnamese, the latter taught to me by the Navy and not because they wanted me to join the diplomatic corps. My Latin is very rusty, certainly no fault of the nuns at St. Ignatius. I also know some Gaelic, from my mother, mostly the greetings the Irish use when formally calling on a friend or neighbor.”

“Sharon, you speak Spanish, don’t you?” said Gaby.

“I’m a little rusty, too, but I can usually understand what someone says, if they speak slowly and distinctly.”

“Okay Ace, say something in Spanish . . . if you can?”

Tyne studied her face and holding eye contact, he said, “Okay . . . let’s see. It has to be in context, apropos of what we’re discussing.” He thought for a moment and then said, “I’m sure you’ll appreciate this: Usted es una mamá caliente, pero usted tiene la lengua de una víbora.” For Sharon’s benefit he spoke slowly and precisely, with his best Hispanic accent.

Sharon paused long enough to do the translation in her head and then began laughing. She went into the same sort of laughing jag that Catherine earlier had had. It took her several minutes to get herself under control, but even after she did, she could not help smiling to herself.

Tyne then said, “Catherine dear, I’ll bet you speak French, right?”

“Yes, French is my first language.”

“Here’s what I said in French: Vous êtes une maman chaude, mais vous avez la langue d’une vipère.”

Catherine made a wry face, as if Tyne had said something repulsive, and then she said, “What a weird accent.”

“It’s the accent of my French teacher, a woman born in Saigon. Talk among yourselves and satisfy yourselves that I said the same thing in both languages.”

Catherine conferred with Sharon but they kept their brief conversation private from Gaby. When they were done Catherine said, “They were the same . . . except . . . except your accent is like nothing I’ve ever heard before.”

“But you understood what I said, so it couldn’t have been that awful.”

“It wasn’t awful . . . it was just . . . it was just very different.”

“You’ve obviously never traveled to Vietnam, have you?”

There was a noticeable pause and then she said, “No . . . I never have.”

“Something about a viper?” said Gaby. “How is that in context?”

“Sharon dear, was what I said in context?”

Sharon looked off into the distance, pursed her lips, finally smiled and nodded her head.

“I could say it in Vietnamese too but none of you would understand. Oh, what the hell: Bạn là một . . . mama . . . nóng nhưng bạn phải lưỡi của một con rắn. Vietnamese is a relatively small language so if there is no suitable Vietnamese word, or one doesn’t know it, one simply inserts a suitable English or better yet, French word. Gaby dear, don’t you know any language other than English?”

“I’m fluent in German and nearly so in Italian. That’s how I picked up on the words in Spanish and French for viper. They all have the same origin. I also understood all your bullshit about this so-called guide, we all know doesn’t exist. You’re such an asshole; you made that up to screw . . . to fuck with my head, didn’t you?”

“Fucking with women’s heads is my favorite pastime. It’s never meant to hurt or do harm . . . it’s fun, although I can get mean and nasty, if the situation warrants mean and nasty . . . just like you, dear. Try this one on for size. Give me a sec to get the verbs right . . . Tu sei uno . . . hot mama ma si ha . . . ha la lingua di una vipera.”

If looks could really kill Tyne would now be quite dead. Gaby said, “Given half a chance I’d use it on your jugular.”

“Me thinks you’d use it on a different part of my anatomy . . . if you could.” He didn’t wait for the answer her angry face told him she was about to deliver. “There’s this great scene in Hombre, one of my favorite films, where Diane Cilento’s character says: ‘And if you’re wondering whether I’m carrying a gun, I’m not, my tongue is my only weapon.’ And Richard Boone’s character says, ‘And it’s deadly.’ Great scene. I never tire of watching Cilento in action. Her Jessie is a marvelous character. Gaby sort of reminds me of Diane. I wanted to use adder, to capture just how deadly Gaby’s tongue is – you are one hot mama but you have the tongue of an adder – but I couldn’t think of the Spanish or French words for it. There’s una culebra, but snake is too generic. I’m thinking maybe there isn’t one.”

¿Cómo más agudo que el colmillo de una serpiente que es tener un hijo ingrato,” said Sharon.

“That’s the famous line from Shakespeare’s King Lear: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ Una serpiente, that’s good but it too misses the mark, since Lear punished Cordelia for being ungrateful, but putting her husband ahead of her father is not the same as being deadly.”

Comment plus nette que la dent d’un serpent, il est d’avoir un enfant ingrat,” said Catherine.

“There’s that serpent again, d’un serpent. I guess viper is most apt.”

“Where did you learn your Spanish? You’re accent sounds like northern Spain, perhaps Basque?” said Sharon.

“Yes, Raul and Olivia are both Basque by way of New Mexico. I have this friend . . . no, he’s more like my brother . . . and I wanted to speak with him, and later with his wife in their language rather than mine. I have a good ear for languages and I pick up the accent of whomever I’m speaking with if I spend any amount of time with them. Do I hear a bit of Oz in yours?”

“Yes, I’m Australian but I have dual citizenship.”

“Where did you learn to speak Spanish?”

“In Granada, at the university. I won a scholarship for a year abroad. I was working on my masters in political history at ANU in Canberra. My thesis was on fascism and I could have chosen to study in either Italy or Spain. I was most interested in Franco and the Civil War so I chose Spain and I liked it so well I stayed for an extra year.“

“I loved the month I spent in New South Wales in late ‘68 and early ‘69.”

“Really? Perhaps if you hook up with Catherine, I’m sure we will . . . we will run into each other . . . and you can tell me that story?”

“My goodness, I have something in common with each of you. How fortuitous it was to stop here this morning for coffee. I almost didn’t. Moving right along . . . regardless what you call it . . . yoni worship or goddess worship or pussy worship, whatever . . . it’s my point of view and therefore I’m free to pick the best of whatever philosophy appeals to me, ya dig? Even the early Christians, the Gnostics, called their religion Synesaktism, which means The Way of Shaktism, which is another term for Tantric yoni worship. Every culture expresses some form of that particular activity. If you, dear Gaby, had less anger and more wit you would appreciate what a good thing you have going. Forget the penis envy and cultivate your own stable of yoni groupies.”

“I need advice from you like I need a hole in my head.”

You could cut the sarcasm with a knife. For a moment all was quiet on the western front. In that moment, what novelists call a pregnant pause, despite Gaby’s hostility, he began to feel optimistic about this apparently chance meeting. The Australian woman had been more than civil. She had undoubtedly heard the same things from Catherine that Gaby had and it hadn’t poisoned her well. He was thinking a discreet follow-up with her might be rewarding. And Catherine too seemed to have mellowed. Her body language was much more relaxed than when she had fired her do-do warning salvo. Only Gaby, it seemed, had not been charmed. Oh well, he though, perhaps a sincere apology might still salvage the moment.

Finally, since no one else would speak, Tyne, looking intently in Gaby’s eyes, said, “Someday . . . perhaps you’ll tell me exactly what bad thing I did to make you so angry. Or was it something I did to Catherine? Whatever it was, I sincerely apologize.”

Before Gaby or Catherine could speak, Sharon said, “Yo podría estar interesado . . . si no es Catalina.”

He held eye contact with the woman for a long moment, his face as neutral as he could make it, and then he said, “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Michael, that scar on your leg . . . it’s from a bullet, isn’t it?” this from Gaby, and her tone was even less friendly than before. Alas, he thought, my mea culpa didn’t work.

Well, she finally got to it. He was beginning to think she was going to let it pass; just busting his balls getting her jollies based on what she’d heard from Catherine. “You’re very observant. Yes it is.”

“I thought so.  Well, either you’re an ex-cop; an ex-con or you got it serving in the military.  Which is it?”

“Well, I’m not an ex-cop.”

“But you could be an ex-con?  You certainly have the hairdo for one only I would expect to see tats too.”

“Could be I have them where they don’t show.”  He sipped his coffee and studied her face, in silence.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“How did you get those scars?  Inquiring minds want to know.”

“If I tell you, what’s in it for me?”

“Satisfaction.”

“You offering me some satisfaction? I’d rather have ch’i but I’ll settle for satisfaction . . . from you.”

“Not a chance.”

“What are you offering?”

“Nothing; the satisfaction I’m talking about is what comes from coming clean . . . being honest.”

“It isn’t being dishonest not to discuss with a perfect stranger something that isn’t any of her business.  Now if we were lovers . . . I’d probably answer, reasonably truthfully, any question you asked.  Are you auditioning for the part?”

“Not hardly; would you answer that question if Catherine asked it?”

“Maybe . . . but there’d still have to be a consideration.  Why don’t you tell me, in words a six year old would understand, exactly why you need to know – that is, unless you’re just having some fun busting my balls?”

“You look like trouble, with a capital T and I’m concerned, for Catherine.”

“She looks like she can take care of herself.”

“She’s vulnerable . . . and we don’t want to see some slick SOB take advantage of her, now do we?”

“I guess where you went to school they didn’t teach that in debate you lose points when you resort to name calling.  Let’s see; Ace, Slick, smart-ass, SOB . . . did I miss any?  I assume you did go to school?”

“I have a B.A. and an MBA from OSU.  Did you go to school?”

“I graduated from St. Ignatius High in Chicago.”

“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”

“Before I answer your question, may I ask what you do?”

“I’m a political fund raiser.  I work for the mayor.”

“His name’s Boone, right?”

“Yes, Jeffrey Boone.”

“And he’s a Republican?”

“Yes, he is.”

“And you’re a Republican too, right?”

“Duh; well it wouldn’t really work very well if I was a Democrat, now would it?”

“I wouldn’t know, having never been a political bag man . . . or is it bag woman, when a woman does it?  No, bad analogy, since a bag lady is a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart and scrounging for spare change.”

“We’re all waiting for an answer.”

They stared at each other for a full minute and then Tyne said, “Did it ever occur to you that I might not relish tearing the scab off something I’ve tried to forget, with the likes of you?”

“Nice try Ace but we’re still waiting for an answer.”

“I can see you’re the ringleader here but you’re all in this together?” and he twirled his finger to indicate he meant all three of them.  He saw Catherine close her eyes and thought he saw her shake her head no, but ever so slightly; perhaps he only imagined it . . . or was hoping she wasn’t?  The other woman, Sharon, sipped her coffee but he thought he saw the trace of a smirk hiding behind her cup – an expression that could mean almost anything.

I’m waiting for an answer.”

For the last several minutes he’d been studying the three women, comparing their physical attributes, which were prominently on display inside their revealing shorts and jog bra halter-tops.  They were all mature women; in their forties or close to it.  All were very lean and fit looking, which figured since Catherine taught an advanced aerobics class and these were obviously two of her students.  What puzzled him was that Gaby, to a greater extent but Sharon too had very large breasts, high and full and voluptuous, Ds for sure, while compared to them Catherine was flat chested.  Well, not totally but her breasts were much smaller, no larger than Bs, and they didn’t exactly sag but they didn’t stand at attention either, the way the others’ did.  And then it struck him why that was.

“Well Gaby, I’m a fair guy so I’ll make you a deal, since we’re discussing scars.  You tell me all about those two little scars on the underside of your tits and I’ll tell you about mine?”

A slight tightening of her jaw and pressing her lips together in a thin line were her only reactions.  “What makes you think I have scars like that?”

“Come on girl, you’re almost as lean as a runway model and from the looks of your ankles you’ve always been lean.  You’re too lean to have tits as big as those,” and he pointed at Gaby’s breasts.  “They’re surgically enhanced or I’ve never seen a pair of plastic tits.”

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?  Well, there’s one way to prove who’s right and who’s wrong.  Unless of course you don’t really want to know how I got mine?”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Tyne stared at her for a moment and she stared back, her eyes fixed on his.  She was good but Tyne knew he was better at the eyeball-to-eyeball game, and he’d seen something, a very slight flutter of her eyelids when he’d used the phrase plastic tits.  Slowly, without taking his eyes from hers, he took out his wallet and counted out ten, twenty-dollar bills and said, “Two hundred bucks says you’ve got those scars.”  She didn’t budge so Tyne took out his checkbook and a pen from the backpack and wrote out a check to Jeffrey Boone, Committee to Reelect, for two thousand dollars, signed it and placed in on top of the stack of currency and said, “For your boss’ reelection and all you have to do to earn it is prove you don’t have those scars.”

She tried to stare him down and when she couldn’t she said, “You sorry son of a bitch,” and then she slapped him.

She rose from her chair but he stopped her from leaving by touching her forearm, ever so gently, with just the tips of his fingers, and said, “Sit . . . please; you’re going to want to hear this.  By the way, that was a pretty good slap.  You get one . . . and only one, for free.”

She stared at him with a look that could kill, and then she sat.

“Well Gaby dear, you had your chance to make some rain for Boone and you blew it, but you’re just wetting your fucking pants to know whether I’m a felon or not and far be it from me to disappoint you.  Give me your hand.”

When she made no move to respond he said, “Give me your fucking hand.  I promise I won’t hurt you.”

She finally offered him her right hand.  He grasped it, tightly enough so she couldn’t pull it free and pressed her fingers against the scar on the back of his leg.  “It’s a souvenir from Southeast Asia.  Here’s where the bullet went in,” and then he pressed her fingers to the front of his thigh and said, “and here’s where it came out.  As you can see, it’s a coward’s wound.  I got it running away, just as fast as my little legs would go but obviously I wasn’t fast enough.  The man, or boy, or woman . . . whatever . . . who shot me, an unsung and unlamented NLF soldier, was a pretty good shot and lucky for me he wasn’t a better shot.  Perhaps I should have zigged right instead of left or if the A-1 pilot that deep-fried him extra crispy had arrived sixty seconds sooner I might not have been wounded at all.  He was unlamented because there isn’t much left after a napalm barbeque.”

She pulled her hand away and wiped the perspiration from her palm on her shorts and gathered her purse to leave.

“You don’t have to leave; I’m leaving.  Have a prior engagement and can’t be late.”  Tyne put the money and the check in his wallet and said, not looking at her, almost as an afterthought, “Good Republican that you are, I’ll bet Kissinger and Nixon were your heroes?”

“Kissinger certainly and Nixon before Watergate . . . but Ronnie Reagan is my real hero.”

Ronnie huh?  That figures.”  He now turned to her, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Well Gaby, when it’s my turn to run the world I’m going to haul that fucking Nazi Kissinger before the International Military Tribunal at The Hague for what he did and try his ass as a war criminal.  Most, if not all Republicans aren’t much better.  Scratch a Republican and under the skin you’ll find a fucking fascist.  For my part, I regret deeply that I was involved and had I known then what I know today I would have burned my draft card and taken the consequences.  And as for you, a little while ago I gave some thought to asking you to return with me to my motel, since Catherine is playing hard to get and won’t.  Quite possibly you would have said yes.  But my dick leans too far to the left to ever fit comfortably inside you.  Here’s a flash for you lady: it’s none of your fucking business how I got those scars; you dig?  Now if you ladies will excuse me, I need to go put on some cologne or deodorant to mask the smell of my do-do.”

He left the coffee house and was bent over unlocking his bicycle when Catherine jerked his arm so sharply he had to stand to face her to keep from falling backwards.

“How dare you speak to Gaby and me in front of Sharon and those other big ears that way?  I want you to get your ass back in there and apologize to her.”

“She asked for it.  I tried to get her to leave it alone but she wouldn’t.  That bitch doesn’t care about my scars and how I got them; she was just trying to put me down, probably because of things she heard about me from you.  You’re the one who should apologize, for sharing what I told you in confidence with them.”

“I didn’t tell her about your scars.  She told me.  She and Sharon both saw them when you walked in.”

“I don’t give a fuck who saw what.  I’d sooner cut off my leg than apologize to that fascist cunt, and my advice to you is to leave it alone.”

“Gaby is no fascist and I’m really starting to wonder if you’re playing with a full deck.”

“You are huh?  Well I don’t owe you an explanation any more than I do her or anyone else but I’ll tell you this much.  You’re probably old enough to remember: Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?  And: One, two, three four!  We don’t want your fucking war!   Well, after I finished rehab and left the Navy in ’71 I returned to Illinois for my senior year, and what I heard was: Baby killer, baby killer, how many babies did you kill today?  I’ve never felt as isolated and alone as I did that year and I came that close,” and he held up his finger and thumb to indicate a very small space, “to eating my gun.  Now leave it alone.”

“ Look, I’m sorry you had to serve but she didn’t send you and neither did I.  If you don’t go back in there and apologize, then we’re through before we even get started.”

“So be it but the shame of it is, no one sent me.  I was so fucking stupid I volunteered.  Let’s skip the 2 P.M. meeting,” and as he said this he rode off without looking back.

Some thoughts on writing from the fiction trenches

Character development through dialogue and using POV to convey emotion

Many fiction writers fall victim to said-isms. What are said-isms? They are the attribution tags attached to lines of dialogue that identify who’s speaking. The least intrusive – and all are intrusive; they are, as the master Elmore Leonard wrote in 10 Rules of Writing, “…the writer sticking his nose in.” to tell the reader something about that dialogue the reader can’t figure out for herself – is said.  The best dialogue has no tag line and if well-written, in the context of the scene, often is not needed to identify the speaker. But sometimes an attribute tag is useful, even necessary especially if there are three or more speakers in the scene.

Using anything other than said is fraught with peril despite what you may have learned in English composition. If you’re smart you’ll burn that list of said-look-alikes your teacher gave you.  Worst of all; using an adverb in an attribution tag to convey emotion. Adverbs have their place in language but should be used sparingly in fiction and never, never in attribution tags. In fact, a good writer should count adverbs and maybe one every hundred words or so is acceptable… but as I said, and it bears repeating, never in an attribution tag. I comb through my writing during one of my editing passes looking for adverbs. I call it, what else: the adverb hunt, shoot to kill on sight.

(Full disclosure: three in the 227 words in the previous two paragraphs.)

Consider the following:

“You arrogant SOB… how dare you speak to me that way?” she shouted at him, menacingly.

“I’ll speak to you any damn way I please,” the man hissed, taken aback by the woman’s vehemence.

Disgusting isn’t it? Well, maybe disgusting is too harsh, since you see it all the time… but boring, right?  We’ll return to these lines, to re-write them, but first I want to talk about character development using dialogue and point-of-view (POV).

Using point of view in fiction

We want to know about the characters in the stories we read – their past, present and future. The protagonists, male and female, are most important but so are their antagonists. In fact, it may be more important to develop the antagonists, or at least as important, so that when the hero overcomes them, we are impressed that she was able to prevail over these vicious cretins. To grab us and hold our attention she has to defeat really bad people, so, we have to know something about them, not just that they are bad.

Certainly, we can do that with back-story. What is back-story? It’s that pause in the dialogue or the narrative when the writer tells us something he thinks we should know, to understand the scene, about something that happened to one of our characters in the past. Not the immediate past – the early part of the current scene – but in the distant past, which could be a previous scene or more often, the past before anything in the current story. Here is an example of the latter from Affirmative Action.

Catherine heard Anita Bellamy’s voice in her ear: Nothing good can come from dredging that up.  She stared at him for a long time, contempt obvious to Tyne in her eyes, and then she said, “What’s a VSM?”

The previous scene in this bit of back-story occurred perhaps thirty pages earlier and Anita’s words in that scene, the words in italics, are reminders to Catherine of what she ought not do. The POV is Tyne’s, not Catherine’s, so we don’t know what she has in mind. Since the scene is written in his POV, we learn what he thinks she might be thinking, not what she is actually thinking. The look of contempt is for him to see, not for me to ram down your throats with an attribute tag such as:

Catherine heard Anita Bellamy’s voice in her ear: Nothing good can come from dredging that up.  She stared at him for a long time and then she said, contemptuously, “What’s a VSM?”

If the scene were written in her POV, then we might learn that she feels contempt for Tyne but we could still convey that emotion without an adverb.

Catherine heard Anita Bellamy’s voice in her ear: Nothing good can come from dredging that up.  She knew she should heed Dr. Bellamy’s advice but the look on his face, that arrogant smirk she’d come to hate made her want to hurt him, so she said, “What’s a VSM?”

* * *

Remember I said we’d return to those two lines and have a go at rewriting them?

From the man’s POV:

“You arrogant SOB… how dare you speak to me that way?”

People at tables nearby were staring at them; she’d shouted in his face. He actually thought she might slap him.

“I’ll speak to you any damn way I please,” he said.  He wasn’t about to take any crap from her.

From the woman’s POV:

“You arrogant SOB… how dare you speak to me that way?” She’d had about as much of his bullshit as she could stand.  She didn’t care that people were beginning to stare. She could see she’d made him angry… tough.

“I’ll speak to you any damn way I please,” he said.

Point of view and how it can work with dialogue

When we interact with people we watch their faces, especially their eyes and their body language for clues to what they’re thinking. We can’t know what they’re thinking – we can’t read their minds – but we try to infer what they are thinking from what we see and hear. In film the camera sees both character’s faces and if the actors have expressive faces – think of Jack Nicholson – we can usually tell what they’re thinking. In fiction we can write in third-person omniscient and get into the heads of every character. It’s a technique some writers use to tell rather than to show. I think it’s a bad technique and leads to uninspired writing. Plays hell with suspense too. Destroys the power of the scene to surprise.

I never use TPO; instead, I write each scene in the point of view of one of the characters. That way, I can get inside his or her head, interpret what that character sees and hears and how she reacts to it, much the way we do in real-life conversations. I use it to tell what one, and only one, character is thinking, what one character feels about what she sees and hears and let you figure out for yourselves what the other characters are up to. In that sense, my writing is not at all like film, more like real-world conversations between real people.  I emphasize dialogue, play-like, rather than screenplay-like which emphasizes visuals.

Point of view can change, though never within a scene. Within a chapter there can be several scenes, each written in a different character’s point of view. A fairly standard way in print to signal a point of view change, the one I use, is to insert one blank line and not indent the first paragraph of the new POV’s prose. (Author’s note: in HTML indenting every paragraph, every line of dialogue when there is a speaker change is a pain without CSS, so in posts such as this I forgo indention in favor of double-space.)  Some writers use small graphics to signal POV change, for example: three asterisks centered on the page. Pick your poison and use it consistently is my motto. I like my technique because it is unobtrusive. Some readers may not even notice the transition, which is not a bad effect. However, never, never disclose what a character is thinking if the scene is not written in that character’s POV… unless of course you’re writing in TPO.

And lest you think choosing a scene POV and adhering to it solves all dialogue problems, ever see an author write a scene in which two people are arguing, speaking at the same time? Writing that ping-pong back and forth with separate indented instances of speech, even with the use of ellipses, …, to indicate interruption doesn’t work because they aren’t interrupting each other. They are speaking without listening. Sorry to say, we do that more often than you might think. Granted, in a novel it doesn’t happen very often; for dramatic effect only when two important characters are arguing almost to the point of blows, but when it does, here’s how I handle that conundrum, and always, from the POV of one of them.

The argument was getting heated. Tyne could see Catherine wasn’t listening. She was riding her usual hobbyhorse and nothing he said seemed to be getting through to her. He was saying, “… you know that isn’t what I said. You are so fucking stubborn. Can you please stop talking long enough for me say something?” while she was saying; “… you promised me… you promised… that you wouldn’t interfere. When we started working together you agreed that I would make all of the decisions about content, and you would do it my way. Now, just like every other fucking man I’ve worked with, you want to take control. Well, I won’t have it.” Neither was listening to the other. Finally, Tyne did the only thing he could do. He stopped speaking and let Catherine rant on until she ran out of breadth. Then he said, “Are you done? Can I say something?”

Whoa now, that scene is written in Tyne’s POV. Don’t assume I’m a chauvinist, that the man is always right and the woman always wrong just because I wrote that scene that way. If I had written it in Catherine’s POV, she would have been the reasonable one who managed to bring the argument under control, before it got out of hand. Note how carefully that paragraph is constructed, to not include any of Catherine’s thoughts. Correct use of POV asserts we can only get inside the head of one of these characters. Also, the use of ellipses at the beginning of each speaker’s speech implies more of their argument preceded these fragments. The point is not to focus on their exact words, since neither was listening to the other, but to depict a shouting match getting out of hand. They get to say the important parts again and when they do, then and only then will we learn what the argument is all about. Character development most certainly includes how the important characters relate to each other, and if they fight, we need to know that… and how they fight… and about what.

Here’s another author’s take on that problem: from James Jones’ Whistle, pg 142, the third book in his monumental World War II trilogy that includes From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. It’s written without dialogue in Winch’s POV.

They both started to talk at once. Then Landers shut up, and Strange went on alone. But Winch held up a hand and stopped him. He already knew all the background, he told them. The last he’d heard, this Col Baker had requested authority to take off the leg. Col Stevens had not yet given the okay. The other doctors all seemed to agree with Baker.

I prefer to include bits of dialogue in such a scene. Using dialogue and scene POV we see how the two characters relate to one another. In the Jones’ example we learn nothing about the relationships between the three men. Furthermore, Jones wrote that scene in TPO so we learn in previous and subsequent paragraphs what each man is thinking. Well, Jones is published and I’m not so of the two of us, his approach would seem to be more appropriate… except I’m not convinced. What do you think?

So, now that we know what scene POV is all about, here’s an extended example of how to use it in dialogue – much more effective than using adverbs to convey emotion. The POV is Tyne’s and we see how he reacts, what he’s thinking while being interrogated.  We never see what any of the cops are thinking because the scene was not written in any of their POVs.  We, and Tyne, have to infer what they are thinking from what they say and do.  What Tyne is thinking or what he observes is in red.

* * *

They held him in the cage without food or water all that night and part of the next day… until almost noon, then he was ordered to stand with his back to the door while they handcuffed him again, and shackled his ankles, after which he was frog-marched by two officers to an interrogation room.  The room had a metal table with metal chairs on two sides.  The only objects on the table were a standard black desk telephone sitting on a thick phonebook.  They directed him to sit and the handcuff on his right wrist was removed and locked to a ring on the left side of the chair.  Tyne noticed that the table and the chair he was sitting on were screwed to the floor.  A heavyset plain-clothes officer in his shirtsleeves placed a yellow legal pad and a ballpoint pen in front of him and read to Tyne from a plastic coated card his constitutional right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning.  He asked Tyne whether he understood his rights and wished to waive his right to remain silent.  Tyne nodded and said, “Am I being charged with a crime?”

“That depends on you.”

“What does that mean?”

“Tell us what you did in the restaurant.”

“I already have.”

“Tell it again.”

Tell it again?  How many times am I going to have to tell these assholes what happened?  Isn’t what happened obvious… unless…?  “How about some coffee, or at least some water?  I haven’t had anything to drink since late last night.”

Harris, who was leaning on the wall near the door stepped outside briefly and returned with a Styrofoam cup of coffee and handed it to Tyne.

Tyne was sitting with his right elbow on the table, his chin resting on his knuckles and he made no move to take the cup.  He stared at the cop who stared back and after a brief standoff Harris set the cup down in front of him.

Tyne smiled slightly and took several swallows.  The hot coffee burned his lips but it was fresh and aromatic.  “Hot, hot, hot, but not bad, thanks.  My friend Robert Ames and I were having dinner at Pietro’s…”

“What time did you arrive at the restaurant?”

Tyne smiled to himself and shook his head.  Games… they’re gonna play head games and they aren’t very good at them.  They want me to tell it but they won’t let me tell it my way.

“I didn’t look at my watch but about 8:15 I think.  Bob picked me up at the Ordway Building at eight and it takes about that long to drive to Pietro’s.”

“You two queens?” said the cop who had read Tyne his rights.

Tyne studied the fat cop’s face.  Deadpan… no emotion… not even the hint of a smirk, he thought.  Was it a serious question…?  Maybe, or maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me, get me pissed off like he does every dumb schmuck he interrogates?  And the city actually pays these people to catch the bad guys…?

“No, asshole, he’s… was my boss as well as my friend.”

“You watch your fuckin’ mouth or I’ll…” he lunged at Tyne but another officer grabbed his arm.

“You were saying?” said Harris.

So, now we know, he thought; the fat cop is the bad cop and this other one’s the good cop… what a pair of dorks to draw to.  Tyne had been about to throw the hot coffee at the cop’s face had he come over the table.  He counted to twenty to himself, slowly, breathing deeply, and then said:

“We were discussing a new project he wanted me to take on when three guys wearing stocking masks dragged these two other guys inside, sat them at a table, pushed their heads down and shot them both in the back of the head.  Very business-like… very efficient, two shots each.  I doubt it took them more than thirty seconds.  One of them had a quiet pistol.  The other one… well, the reports scared the shit out of everyone… well, maybe not literally but they got everyone’s attention.  There were two others in the room at the time – Pietro D’Agostino, the owner and his granddaughter… her name is Anna Pryor…”

“You’re sure one of the shooters used a silenced pistol?”

“I believe the correct term is suppressed… and yes, I’m sure.”

“You know what one looks like?”

“That big can hanging off the end of the barrel was unmistakable.”

“Did he screw it on before he fired or was it already attached?”

“The latter.”

“Then what happened?”

* * *

You may be wondering why Tyne isn’t terrified of being questioned by police?  Besides believing he is innocent of any crime, until the cops tell him otherwise, I’ve already dropped several hints in back-story that Tyne isn’t your ordinary Joe Six-pack.  Later in the story we will learn that during the Vietnam War he was a naval intelligence officer.  He was trained to beat the box and is better at interrogating prisoners than these guys will be on their best day… but that is yet to come.  Notice I mix first and third person in rendering what Tyne is thinking.  I think this enhances authenticity in POV.  It’s what we do when we have mental conversations with ourselves.

Thomas Docheri’s rules of writing fiction

To recap, here are the rules I use when I write fiction:

  • Write every scene in the point of view of a single character, typically, that scene’s most important character.  It may not be a protagonist.  That’s why for me writing women is so challenging.
  • Never use any verb other than said in attribution tags and then only when not using said would confuse the reader as to who is speaking.  And never, never, never, on pain of being drummed out of the IFWC (International Fiction Writers’ Conference), use an adverb in an attribution tag to add emotion.  Instead, use POV.
  • Use adverbs sparingly in other parts of the story.  My rule, granted, perfectly arbitrary, is no more than one adverb every 100 words of narrative.
  • Write in the active voice unless there is a good reason to use the passive voice.  When you discover, during editing, that you slipped into the passive voice inadvertently, try the sentence using an active verb.  If you still think the passive voice is correct in context, well… at least you will have thought about it and made a conscious decision to use the passive voice.
  • Minimize the use of the verb to be.  I count verbs and try for a ratio of eight to one… no more than one instance of any form of to be for every eight active verbs.  Thank you Constance Hale for this suggestion.
  • Sprinkle back-story throughout the narrative rather than in one big dump.  A little of that goes a long way and too much is just TMI.  And rather than just dropping narrative back-story anywhere – which is okay but less than optimal – put the back-story in dialogue.  People love to talk about themselves and when we meet someone new; we want to learn everything we can about that person… so, we ask questions.  Let each character tell as much or as little about herself as she wishes, in dialogue.
  • Read dialogue out loud, to hear the rhythm and sound of speech. You’ll be amazed at how different it sounds in your ear from the way you think it sounds when you see it in print. Remember too, English speakers, regardless which regional dialect they speak, speak in contractions. Few have the time, or think they have the time to say he is rather the he’s or they are instead of they’re.
  • The story is not finished until the publisher’s final galley, so… edit, edit, edit.
  • Finally, rules were meant to be broken. I break mine when I think there is a good reason to do so. I rely for this on the Fiction Writer’s Bill of Rights.

Let’s analyze this passage from Affirmative Action. I’ll annotate in red the different literary techniques I’ve used, based on my rules, to develop character.  The scene is written in Tyne’s POV.

* * *

Jonathan Tyne was packing when the landline phone in his room rang.  He glanced at the clock radio; it was 11:33 P.M.  It must be a wrong number, he mused.  He hadn’t given his room number to anyone; in fact, he could not remember telling anyone where he was staying.  He decided to ignore it but it kept ringing; five, six, seven times.  He finally picked up the handset and said, “Yes?”

Said #1.  It’s the first piece of dialogue in the scene so it’s necessary.

“We should talk?”

He recognized Catherine’s voice as she must have recognized his.  “The only thing I have to say to you is best of luck in Seattle.”

His POV: he recognized her voice and assumes she must have recognized his.

“Okay, I’ll talk and you listen?”

“I’m listening.”

“What I have to say would be best said in private?”

“Where are you?”

“In the lobby.  They wouldn’t tell me your room number so I had to call you on the house phone.”

“Room 233.  Directly across the parking lot and take the stairs on your right.”

Tyne was wearing cargo shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops.  He decided he was dressed well enough to receive company so he stepped out on the balcony.  He leaned on the railing and watched Catherine cross the parking lot: wondered what she wanted to talk about; wondered if what she really wanted was sex, probably not; wondered if she was going to pitch him to come with her to Seattle.  Unlikely, if she intended to hook up with her ex.  He waved and pointed to the stairs and a moment later she was standing beside him.

Standing erect, relaxed, hands in front pockets, gazing at her face giving her his full attention, his face expressionless: “How did you find me?  I told no one where I’m staying.”

More POV.  He wondered… three instances of wondered.  We’re inside his head, big time.

“That figures.  I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone I was staying here.”

“Why’s that?”

She held her arms out, palms up, looked from side to side as if to say look at this place; “It’s a dump.  I called around.  It’s the last place I called.  I was just about to give up and then I thought, what the hell.  You sure look like you can afford better.”

As if to say… This is an implicit observation made in Tyne’s POV, something he sees.

“Not up to your standard?”

“This place has a standard?”

“The desk clerk made you call on the house phone.  I approve of that.  What do you want?”

“That’s not very friendly.”

“We’re not friends.  You said so yourself.”

She ignored this.  Instead, she tapped her glasses and said, “I see you wear glasses too.”  He’d removed his contact lenses and was wearing metal-framed bifocals.  Hers were metal-framed too but more oval than his, softer and less severe, and as a concession to vanity, were no-line progressives.

She ignored this… and, said #2.  She ignored Tyne’s sarcastic remark.  He’s having a dig at something she said in a previous scene.  He can only surmise why she didn’t react.

“And contacts,” he said.

Said #3, well into the scene with only three.

“Me too.”

“You have such beautiful eyes.  Does the color come from the lenses or is it you?”

“My lenses have a very slight bluish tint so I can see them if I drop them.”

“Mine too, only the tint is green.”

“Why did you rush off without a word?”

“I hate crowds.  You were being mauled and I got tired of waiting.  I told you I’d give you my best and then we’d go our separate ways.  Did I fail to live up to that promise?”

“No, you were magnificent.”

“So, what’s on your mind?”

He noted her red and white McGill hoodie, faded jeans, her red-painted toes peeping out from some sort of high-heeled sandals.  The red toenails made him suddenly remember another woman’s feet.  Small feet, he thought, like Madeleine’s.  Pretty feet, he’d called them.  She’d liked the way he’d massaged them… and the way he’d sucked her toes and other interesting parts of her anatomy, after dinner, making her swoon, almost always making her unbuckle his pants.  He wondered whether this woman liked having her feet rubbed too.

Narrative back-story, and POV.

“Is there something about my shoes?  You seem fascinated by them.”  She tugged her jeans so the fabric was taut showing her ankles.

“Your nail polish brought back fond memories of something my ex and I did almost every night, especially on nights I cooked.   She loved it when I rubbed her feet and she has such pretty feet, and when I sucked her toes.  And I think I may have told you, she was a ten-minute girl… well, maybe eleven towards the end.  Anyway, to get our engines revving I’d play ‘Alfie’on her…”

Dialogue back-story.  Back-story can work either way.

“It’s chilly out here.”

She interrupts him.  That’s what three dots, the ellipses, means.

So, that’s what this is about; she wants me to fuck her.  Well, why not, one time, bon voyage Seattle?  Make her toes curl; give her something to remember me by.  “It gets cold in the desert at night even in summer.”  With a sly, mischievous look on his face he held the door to his room open and gestured for her to enter.

It’s chilly out here.  Is that a hint or what?  More of Tyne’s POV; a woman Tyne desires – he hit on her, in fact, several times – comes to his motel room at midnight.  What else other than sex could she have in mind?

She shook her head and said, “Let’s go for a ride?”

Said #4.  Have you had any difficulty knowing who’s speaking?

He stared at her, tried to read what she was thinking.  She’s too old to fuck in the back seat of a car, so, not sex.  He looked down at his clothes and said, “I could use some coffee.  Perhaps that Starbucks on Greenwood is still open?”

Said #5; only five in 36 discrete pieces of dialogue.  He still doesn’t know what she really wants, nor do we.

“We can check.  It’s on the way to where I want to go.”

“It is chilly.  Let me put on some sweats.”

She nodded and he went back inside.  He opened the zippered pistol case and slipped his 9-millimeter into its IWB holster, stuffed it inside his shorts over his appendix, threaded his belt through the loop and buckled it.  He then pulled on a set of sweats, socks and running shoes.  He left the lights on and made sure the door was locked and then followed Catherine to her car.

As always, your comments are most welcome.