I am not the most inconspicuous of thieves. I barely escaped with my life this time. And trust me, a few backspaces by the author and I do indeed cease to exist.
You all owe me BIG for nabbing the Chapter 3 of the still unfinished, still untitled Lesbian Adventure Club: Book 10!
As Clyde uncorked the cognac, my eyes did a circuit of the room for the thirtieth time. Convinced I had overlooked neither the obvious nor the obscure, I conceded that Alberta had wordlessly taken leave. Maybe she needed the bathroom. Maybe she went screaming down the street in pursuit of Earl. Maybe she had a severe aversion to cognac. Maybe I had no clue where she had gone. The best I could do was trust they hadn’t turned her into a corpse; I would not have liked that, fiction or not. Kidnapping crossed my mind, and I promptly decided I didn’t want to entertain that idea either. I resolved to give her five minutes before my busybody self embarked on a mission of making sure nothing was wrong.
Soon, Clyde got to me, and I outstretched our glasses. "Easy on this one, Clyde," I said, wobbling the goblet in my left hand.
Knowingly, he nodded. "Best to stay sober in this situation," he recommended with a smile that upturned but one side of his mouth.
As he leaned closer to pour, I quietly inquired, "Do you know what’s going on, Denny?"
He shook his head. "They wouldn’t trust us. They said telling Noelle was the same as telling Holly, and telling Holly… Well, you get the idea." He finished pouring and added, "Good luck, Kate." Then he moved on to Joan, and the two of them started chatting up a sibling storm.
I eased back into my spot on the couch and took a sip of the amber beverage, far from amused when my throat burned closed and threatened to refuse entry. Finally, I successfully swallowed.
Nearly watering, my eyes scanned again, and this time, I saw Alberta. With an incredibly cocky smile, she sauntered through the room, took a seat next to me, and proceeded to bob a tea bag in the cup she held.
Curious as hell, I took a whiff. "Earl!" I gasped. When she smugly nodded, I asked, "Where the hell did you find him?"
"I didn’t find him," she quietly replied. "I found my connections." She snickered and tilted close enough to whisper, "I have enough tea bags stashed in my bra for the entire weekend."
"In your bra?" I whisper-shrieked. "You let Earl in your bra?"
"I’m not taking any chances," she asserted. "They’re up to no good. If it’s illegal, they could confiscate it. I would not put it past them. Then, what do I do?"
"But in your bra?" I admit it: I looked. I perused the white button shirt inside the pinstripe frame. She didn’t look misshapen. She didn’t look as though her cups were about to runneth over. There was nothing flow-thru peeking out her blessed cleavage. No, she just looked as damn good as she always did. So where the hell was Earl hiding? What the hell was he doing in there? Jesus, I was jealous of a tea bag!
"Do you want to get them out of there?" I asked. "I’ll put them in my pockets and keep them safe for you."
"Oh, good thinking," she sarcastically replied with a swat. "No one would ever suspect you’d be hiding Earl for me."
Good point. They’d know. If I had traded my ethics for those green eyes, being her mule would have been nothing. Still.
Dying to know, I probed, "Who or what are your connections, honey?"
She laughed, and her eyes sparkled with deviousness. "You know the boss Bonnie just mentioned?" When I affirmed, she said, "It seems I am that boss."
"Holy shit! You’re the boss of bootleggers and bank robbers?"
Oddly, she seemed delighted with her role. Then, she went serious and said, "I’m trying to figure out what they’re up to. Kate, how does Heady Heaper fit into this?"
I wasn’t sure of the acceptability of opening my mouth. But wasn’t the point of this whole endeavor to discover things about the strangers in a room, to unravel whatever mystery they had dropped us into? Hoping to hell I wasn’t breaking any rules, I whisper-admitted, "I apparently provide you with alibis through my gossip column."
She squeezed my arm. "You love me," she said, smiling. "Even though I’m a crook, you love me."
"I do love you," I affirmed. "But I don’t know whether you love me. I wish I knew that." Suddenly, the reality of our unreality gripped me. "Honey, if they outlawed cigarettes, can you and your connections get me some?"
Before she had a chance to answer either the question of Alberta’s love for Heady or my source of nicotine, Bonnie and Clyde began hugging and kissing goodbyes. Everyone was on her feet to thank them. A few even begged them to stay, but the pleas only seemed to render them panic-stricken.
As soon as they reached the foyer to make their getaway, Girl Friday shouted, "All right, all right, one little bit of business to see to and then you’re off the hook for the night."
After attention was had, Mayor Alison said, "While the mayor’s mansion is rather large, it does not have enough bedrooms to accommodate eight guests who are all strangers. You’re going to have to bunk up."
Bunk up: I liked the sound of that. I wanted to bunk up to Alberta—at least after Earl vacated the premises. Excitedly, I turned to her, and she winked. I reciprocated as my lecherous mind debated whether I wanted her pinstripes on or off when I brought her atop me and into my arms. The fedora had to go; that much I knew for certain.
"We’ll draw names," Girl Friday announced.
Draw names? What the—
Instantly, the mayor pulled a piece of paper from the snifter Girl Friday handed to her and read, "Vanna Sully and—" Quickly, she pulled another. "Carolina O. Reef."
Instinctively all eyes shot to Shovel and the monstrous vein protruding from her forehead. I thought for sure the dick was going to blow.
She wailed, "For shit’s sake, Susan gets to sleep with Holly? I don’t? Christ, I’d rather be a corpse." Her head bowed in defeat, and Carolina slipped her arm around her and rested her head on her back.
Completing ignoring the shattering of hearts, the mayor pulled another name. "Alberta Cojones and—"
I crossed all my frickin’ digits so hard it hurt. Come on! Come on! Heady Heaper!
Shit! Talk about being put to bed with a Shovel! Shit! Goddamn it! Shit!
After snatching another name, the mayor said, "Amah Fraud and—" A second later came, "Joan Evves."
"And that leaves…" Girl Friday began, but I neither needed nor wanted to hear it. "Heady Heaper and … Gertie Stone."
Shit! Shit! Shit! I loved Ginny and all, but seriously, I did not want to sleep with her.
"You’re kidding, right?" Alberta challenged. "I want the gossip columnist."
"And I want the teacher."
"And I want—"
The mayor raised a halting hand, and she and her aide simply shook their heads. Apparently, that proved our cue to exchange glances of downright shock and dismay.
Girl Friday unsympathetically reminded, "Just please remember that you said you’d go along with whatever we decided to do. We’ll be trusting you."
We did not get a chance to argue or even contemplate rescinding the offer. Instead, the mayor said, "The rest of the evening is yours to do with whatever you will—or at least what eight strangers would do together."
The first thing on everyone’s list—except for Mimosa-Head Vanna and the Earl lover—was to take a swig of cognac. It seemed the only sensible thing to do.
Then, Girl Friday informed us of access to board games, movies, snacks, a hot tub—whatever we wanted, and yet, their villainous smiles led me to believe they knew exactly what we wanted. What I wanted wore pinstripes and a bra padded with the lucky Earl Grey. I remembered what Claudia said once: these weekends pushed us together at the same time they kept us apart. That seemed so incredibly obvious in the moment … and intentional.
After some ineffectual grumbling, they herded us up the staircase. With each step I took, I sensed the good weekend slowly morphing into something quite different. But, I still wasn’t sure quite what that was.
Once we all gathered at the top of the stairs, Girl Friday announced room assignments, pointing to doors and calling out bunkmate names. She informed, "Your things are already in your rooms, thanks to Fritz. Please feel free to change into swimming suits, sweats, pajamas—whatever you’d like, whatever would lend to your nice relaxing weekend at the mayor’s mansion."
Shovel cleared her throat very loudly, and when all eyes turned to her, she dared, "If we just drew names not two minutes ago, how did Fritz know where to put our things?"
"Um… Um…" the mayor fumbled and looked to Girl Friday, whose whole body shook with poorly suppressed laughter.
"Al, I told you we shouldn’t have made her a detective. I said waitress, but oh no, you just had to make her a detective. Nothing will get by her."
"Sorry," the mayor defended with a giggle while we all stared in disbelief—okay, maybe not true disbelief. Somewhere inside we had to have expected as much.
Shovel shook her head, and the laughing government officials descended the staircase.
"What are they up to, Laura?" Amah Fraud asked in a loud whisper. "You had to have figured it out by now. You are the detective."
"Detective," she affirmed. "Not mindreader. Just keep your eyes open. Play their silly game, but keep your eyes open."
We all nodded and then discussed who was going hot-tubbing and who was not.
I was about to enter my assigned room when Shovel grabbed my arm. "Meet me downstairs by the front door in ten minutes, Heaper. We’ll sneak out for a cigarette."
I told her I gladly would, but I also feared I’d be stuffing my bra with illegal cigarettes in no time. The air of mystery they created had become a fog of mistrust.
Unsure if I wanted to soak my newly minted appendectomy scar in a hot tub, I opted for a swimsuit, sweatpants, and a T-shirt. All the while Gertie and I changed, she asked questions about Alberta, and I hopelessly tried to determine the goings-on in her coffeehouse’s back room. Aware we both sucked at subtle interrogation, the conversation shifted to how I was doing with my schoolwork and the new journalism professor.
Stealthily, I headed downstairs and found Shovel coming out of the study. She hurried to me, and we quietly headed to the front door. I grabbed my jacket, and she had just reached for the doorknob when Girl Friday magically appeared. My heart sunk, and we stopped dead in our tracks.
"It’s cold out," she matter-of-factly said, and I braced. "If you’re going out to smoke, use the back of the garage." She pointed to a door on the side wall. "There’s a space heater waiting for you so you don’t freeze to death."
Mouths agape, we stared at her a full twenty seconds before nodding and slinking to the door.
Once in the dark garage, we simultaneously smacked each other and started laughing at our needless fear.
"Shitheads," she said.
"No shit," I easily concurred.
We groped until we found a light switch and then hurried to the back door. Shovel opened it while I turned on the heater. Then, we lit up and leaned against either side of the doorframe—half in, half out, half heated, half chilled. I peered upward into the winter’s night, finding no moon in the starry sky.
I expected us to talk, but we didn’t. The silence wasn’t exactly strained, but it wasn’t the amiable kind we were used to. Maybe we were strangers; at least in this particular situation we were. I found myself orating about trust inside my mind.
Suddenly, she elbowed me and then pointed with her head. I shoved my own further outdoors and saw the mayor, the butler, and the chef in the midst of a very animated conversation, one we could not hear. Then, Mayor Alison madly pointed, and as if on command, Fritz and Swede headed down a path, entered a shed, and closed the door behind them. When the shed’s light went on, Alison went back in the house. Half a cigarette passed before the light went out, the door opened, and Fritz and Swede made a mad dash back to the house.
"What the hell was that about?" I asked the dick, but the dick had no clue.
As we snuffed out our cigarettes in the awaiting coffee can, I sensed her cogs burning as hot as Alberta’s. I knew I possessed the abilities of neither a sleuth nor an anal retentive beauty, so then and there, I decided to be mindful of whatever they were mindful of. I was certain that would greatly up my odds of figuring out what the hell was going on. Something had to.
We headed back into the house and promptly ran into Alberta.
"There you are!" She rushed me, scanned for the Big Sister regime, and quickly gave me a kiss.
"Cheaters!" Shovel barked.
Alberta advised, "Try the kitchen, Miss Shovel. Carolina’s looking for something to wet her whistle."
In a flash, the dick took off, hot on the trail of a whistle.
Alberta took my hands, and those green eyes twinkled into mine. "Come into the hot tub with me, Heady."
"What about Earl?" I asked as I jealously ogled once more. "That would be one big-ass cup of tea."
"I took care of Earl." She tugged. "Please, Heady?" A very non-gangsteresque pout appeared.
I laughed. "You like this stranger thing, Alberta. Are you like this with all strangers?"
She assured, "Just the gossipy cute ones," and beseeched me again to join her.
Was it at all possible to resist her?
Moments later, we were climbing into the hot tub with Joan and Vanna while Gertie and Amah looked on from a nearby bench under a tall ficus tree. The mayor and Girl Friday were nowhere to be seen, and I figured the artist and the dick were somewhere whistling Dixie.
I had just gotten settled when the mayor burst into the room. She stared right at me and announced, "Your editor’s at the front door. He needs to speak with you immediately."
"My editor!" Startled, rattled, and completely unnerved, I reverse belly-flopped out of the water. "Jesus, how the hell did he know I was here? Holy shit, he can’t see me looking like this!"
Frantically, I evacuated the tub and slipped into my clothes while Alberta offered calming assurances. I flew out the door while my swimsuit did its best to make me look incontinent. Running the trusty comb-fingers through my hair, I hightailed it to the foyer. After a deep, bracing breath, I rounded the corner only to discover a young man I had never seen before. To his gaudy name tag my eyes raced: Rhett Haring. This guy was so not my editor.
"Ah, Heady," he acknowledged with utmost authority. "I’m sorry to disturb your nice relaxing weekend at the mayor’s mansion, but I’ve got copy from the morning edition." He thrust a tear sheet at me and added, "Any problems with the story, you know what to do."
Dumbfounded, I stared at him as he turned and quickly exited. When the door closed, I glanced to the story’s headline: Feds nab the delinquent duo! I had just begun to read when a clearing throat seized my attention.
From behind me, the mayor said, "Miss Heaper, if that’s news from the outside world, it might be better if you shared it with everyone."
"Come with us," Girl Friday instructed.
I wanted to wallop them for having scared the shit out of me, but instead, I wordlessly followed them back to the hot tub room.
I entered, and all eyes turned to me.
Claudia instantly quizzed, "Is everything all right, Kate? What did he want?"
I rolled my eyes. "It was Heady’s editor, not mine." As they tried not to snicker, I described the bizarre encounter and the mayor’s directive.
"Then read it, Heaper," the whistling dick commanded. "You can read as well as write, can’t you?"
I shot her a dirty look, took a breath, and read aloud.
The Feds, hot on the trail of the mischievous Bonnie and Clyde, proved lucky last night when they spotted them leaving the mayor’s mansion. A low-speed chase ensued, but G-men eventually trapped them in the alley behind The Lost Generation, where they believe the bootlegging couple was about to make a delivery. After a short but colorful shootout, a red-faced Clyde surrendered his paintball gun and was immediately taken into custody. Bonnie, on the other hand, refused to go down without a lengthy fight, sending 13 agents to Nelson’s Furniture Stripping and Paint Removal Shop before her hopper finally emptied. You can bet she won’t be taking the rap for her bosses and going quietly to the hotsquat in the big house. Can you say ‘snitch’?
At this time, it is still unclear exactly what Bonnie and Clyde were doing at the mayor’s mansion. All we know for certain is that a strange mix of guests arrived there last evening: artist and collector, Carolina O. Reef; teacher, Vanna Sully, activist, Joan Evves; private detective, Samantha Shovel; coffeehouse owner, Gertie Stone; the out-on-bail Dr. Amah Fraud; and another Fed favorite, Alberta Cojones.
Lucky for the Journal, our own Heady Heaper is also one of the mayor’s guests. If she escapes with her life and liberty, what a column the Monday morning Trash Heap will be!