VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 107 POSTED ON: 12/30/2012
THICK AS A “Sasho Stamerov” Mystery Written by Shuggie Lee Translated from the Bulgarian by Vanessa Lee Raymond In loving memory of Scoobie Doo Raymond We’re not us without you. This work of utter literary supremacy would not exist if not for • My loving “husband” • 2 bad Bulgarian kitties ⇒ For the snuggles, the slobbers, the over-the-top cuteness, and the general inspiration/distraction • Homer ⇒ for my first lessons in superlatives • Daddio “Santa Claus” Raymond ⇒ Every writer needs a word-count Nemesis • My mom ⇒ And her perfectly timed care packages • Alison Beetlejuice ⇒ Head cheerleader • Jesse “Steve” Ruffes ⇒ Expert extraordinaire • Snacks & Beverages of epic proportions ⇒ Jasmine tea, Earl Grey tea, pumpkin chili espresso brownies, and kettle corn • ITunes shuffle & foodgawker.com • And other iconic figures in my life: ⇒ Laura, Dolly, Mariah, Haley, Maryam, Phillip, Henrietta, Scotti, Blaire, and Chuck THICK AS 1 IN LOVING MEMORY OF 2 THIS WORK 3 SASHO 5 BRIT BRIT 25 SASHO 30 SCOTTI 33 SASHO 34 BRIT BRIT 47 SCOTTI 51 SASHO 55 THE MECHANIC 61 THE MECHANIC’S VOICEMAIL 66 BB 67 SASHO 69 THE MECHANIC 73 SASHO 76 ALI B. 82 PHILIPPA LEPLANTE 83 B R YAN S IN CLAI R 85 M R . VA N P RI NCER 86 P HILL I P S I N CLAIR 87 B RITTA NY 88 LAURA SINCLAIR 89 S IN CLAIR S IN CLAIR 91 C O N R AD S I N C L A I R 93 M RS . V AN P RINCER 94 SCOTTESSA VAN PRINCER 95 ENDICOTT AUTO, OWNER/HEAD MECHANIC 96 Prologue The writing of this book was an experiment. It was in part an experiment in perseverance and in mad fortitude, but it also had the aspect of a dare. Can you write a book in a month? Can you suspend all criteria of quality, continuity, plot, character development and write with a singular goal: to pen fifty thousand words in thirty days? Such a simple task is also rife with existential conflicts and time conflicts. You can never truly suspend your internal editor, nor your internal quality monitor. And everyone secretly, or not so secretly aspires to write not only readable, but also interesting prose. Writing 2,000 odd words every day without fail is difficult, but not impossible. Finding the strength every day is though. And if you were to miss a day, and the next day be called up on to write 4,000, then you would surely regret it. My experience has on a whole been positive. I have always been a very tasteful writer, who has little to no interest in plot. The subtleties of emotion, the sensations of touch. Those are the things I’m interested in writing about. Characters, their motives, their perceptions, those are the things I am interested in writing about. But plot, action, things happening, it boggles my mind. Why should anything need to happen? A thing happening only takes your focus away from the sensations of life. And it seems like a distraction, and a false ploy to gain the reader’s attention. But in this book, there has been little to none of this sensation of life. There has been little to no dwelling in the gaze of the character, wallowing in their internal dilemmas. The plot has driven everything, and it has driven it at such a speed that I don’t even know how or why and when these things are happening. But at this point, the 11th hour, my body and mind are beginning to rebel. I want my old life back! I want to watch hours and hours of gossip girl. I want to take long showers, read new books, peruse the internet, read celebrity blogs or catch up on facebook happenings, visit friends, go on trips, clean the house, play with cats, take a long walk. All the muscles in my body feel completely atrophied. I did suffer a long sickness during this experiment, which may partially be to blame for that last complaint. But surely typing all day at work, and then coming home and typing all night can’t help with your physical well being. Next year, if heaven forbid I try this again, I hope to have an exercise bike so I can write and cycle at the same time. When I climb a few flights of stars or put my arms over my head for too long, I can feel it. My strength has dwindled significantly over the course of this experiment. As for the book itself. In this book I have made a fledgling attempt to address the temporal nature of life and love, the subjectiveness of truth, and to highlight that while every person is selfish, they are selfless in that they are trying to make the world right… but just can only see things from their own, selfish point of view. I’m not sure how successfully this was done because I haven’t actually read the book. In fact even while writing it I was never sure what exactly was going on. Or what had just happened. I am curious, when I have the time to actually read it, to see how much of this is obvious to the non-author. As for my own personal growth during this process, I must comment that there has been some. Unless you think this might be too early to say. Well, I think it is safe to say that I am proud of my accomplishment. I am proud that I set myself up for failure, and feel that I have surpassed my own goals. I never expected to have a wholly fictitious host of characters with personalities, backgrounds, and complicated relationships. I never expected to have a plot that drove me as far as it did. I have always been interested in writing, but never have productive so much in my life. And for that I am proud. I do wish that I could have written something that I myself am more personally interested in. At times during this flagging experiment I thought to myself, why even bother going on. But I had set up too many twists and turns to ever give up. I was hooked. I’m also proud that when faced with hard decisions, like what to happen next, or how to resolve an issue, in the end I always faced the problem head on. It’s a skill I hope to use more in my real life. On female characters: I debated a lot about whether I had over simplified, or even worse, had vilified my female characters. That does happen altogether too often in these mainstream or suspense genre books. And I didn’t want this book to be apart of that movement to substantiate the image of the jealous, petty woman. I wanted complicated and bold female characters that were not wholly confined by the stereotypes of the prevailing culture. I hoped that they would be independently minded. I’ll have to read it to find out how successful I was. On Sasho: Sasho is modeled after my cat, Alexander “Sasho” Stamboliiski. Sasho the cat is a love obsessed bad boy. In one instance he will be slobbering on you and forcing you into giving him kisses. And in another instance, he will be eating your houseplant, or shredding your favorite scarf that was innocently hung from a hanger in the closet. He might not be the smartest cat in the alley dumpster, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s good at persuading you to give him love, and good at making you, in return, feel a sensation of unconditional and endless loved. He’s very good at catching toys; he goes after them with a singular thrust and determination. He can by very convincing. Hopefully SASHO He was a snuggler in an obsessive sort of way. He grasped at and prodded on and smeared himself upon his victims. He did it in trains, hallways, and elevators. He did it to friends, business acquaintances, and people he hardly knew. It wasn’t sexual, me thinks, it was just a deep, unabashed & possibly bottomless need for that all elusive resource: love. The look in his eyes when he preened before you was like an addict before the dealer, a sinner before the priest; it was the very picture of unfillible desire and of unquenchable thirst. His name was Sasho. Alexander Stamerov on his passport, but Sasho in his every day life. He liked the name, and felt it fit him well like a leather glove. In his day job Sasho was a smuggler. A smuggler, you know, a trader of things. One time it was 30 truckloads of toys from Mexico that didn’t make the lead paint crack down. The lot sold at a good profit to some Mafioso across the pond that then shipped them off to Serbia, where each little plastic elephant find itself a good home. Last year he cashed in big on an abundant durian crop in South East Asia, sold it to the Malaysian mob in LA. It was piecemeal work, come-as-you- may kind of work. But for an addict like him it was the perfect job. It allowed for the rollercoaster of his love life. When the heart was broke or the need was deep he could lay low, living off the savings. Or if low period went on for more than six months, he could call in a few favors until he got back on his feet. And when he just needed to forget it all, or on the other hand, when he had a lustful new love that needed a little material persuasion (i.e. more than just a bat of the eyelash) to accept his affections, he worked like a dog. He wasn’t so good that he could sell ice to an Eskimo, but he was just good enough to get by. His business card read: SASHO STAMEROV DEMAND SPECIALIST He’d come up with it in a truck stop diner about 3 years back. The jukebox was broke and there was nothing but the bitter caramel of burnt coffee to entertain his restless, writhing mind. He’d just extracted himself from an awkward situation and was riding the wave of mortification that ensued. It was, in general, an embarrassing life that he led. In fact it was far more embarrassing than he ever could have acknowledged to himself. But enough about work. His work just enabled him to pursue his true life’s passion, as all work should. For pleasure he wriggled & writhed himself into circles that might mend his open wound of a heart, or what we’ll call here his “gash of desire”. Self-help groups, church prayer meetings, singles line dancing, bars, book readings, nightclubs, 24 hr donut shops, food coopsα, and most recently, the motorcycle repair classes at the community college. Dropping a 10-cent tip on a cup of cocoa to the Brazilian mother working the night shift at Dunkos made him feel the tingle of possibility. Stacking blocks of tofu at the food coop with gay hippies wearing sweatshirts made of bamboo gave him the fevered aura of virgin passion. And a Saturday afternoon in the garage, working side by side with his mechanic cum teacher, their hands stained with grease, stubbing fingers and wrenching backs together, made him want to sing praises from the nearest mountaintop. Or, in this case, high building. He lived in a flat town that sprawled like a secretary’s ass. It was a Main street, Oak street, Elm street type of place with a small library, a town hall, a few bad delis with blinking neon signs, and a packie at each end of town. He hadn’t grown up there but it felt like home to him. People knew him. A few years ago he moved into the second floor of an old house in the center of town. He loved it so much that a year after he had moved in, he bought that apartment right there on the main strip, smack dab in the middle of the action. He loved that in his apartment, all alone, he could still feel people around him. He felt them in the evening and through the night, could feel the quiet weight of them in their beds, tucked in. He felt them in the morning, in their kitchens and bathrooms, readying themselves for the day. He’d sit alone in his kitchen on the second floor with a pot of tea (from the food-coop, bought in bulk) and watch them through the windows as they headed out to their cars. He watched the kids with heavy backpacks smacking the backs of their legs trudging down the street towards school. He felt them in the weekend, heard their merriment coming up tinklingly, clinkingly, stumblingly through the walls from the streets below. He also had some land at the edge of town, a place to keep things that might attract unwanted attention. There was a run down cottage, a cabin really, with punky floorboards, a sagging roof and mossy gutters. Also on the piece of land were an old boarded-up work shed, a storage space built like a bomb shelter, and a barn that he’d converted into a four-car garage. He kept a wood-paneledβ Rolls Royce in there, and some other antique cars he’d picked up. The Woodie was his favorite, but it wasn’t the most expensive. He’d never had real high-class taste, as much as he tried. Anyhow, the car thing was new. He did a trade for them back in April when the stock market dipped for a two-week stint and some liver-yellow college professor panicked. They were an enticement, an allurement, a gift to the mechanic. He’d get her to the garage when the time was right. It was almost December, but he hadn’t given up hope just yet. On this night, he was at home. It was cold in there, the noisy hum of the heater tugged away at a small space of his brain. He threw some brownies (free trade cocoa in a pre-mixed package, again from the food coop) together, shivering, and put them in the oven. He poured himself a thimble-full of rakiyaχ (from the Friends of Macedonia club he joined way back when for that librarian Antoineta) and sat down to think. It had been twenty-seven days since his last job. The bank account wasn’t completely dried up, like that muddy crack in the ground they call the town creek, but it was a little low. And it had been seventy-three and a half days since the quick pattering of love had faded from his heart. He passed twenty or thirty minutes in a reverie of loves long gone. The heater had taken the edge off the chill, and the brownies were certain to take the shiver from his bones. He pulled them out of the oven and hungrily cut into them. They crinkled and crumbled at the edges, not quite cooked. He ate a brownie, gooey and warm. He ate another. A brownie is sort of like love, he thought to himself, as he grabbed a third piece. Biting into that mushy sweetness, filling up his mouth, swallowing it down. Greedily gulping, mashing, lunging for more. Soon, the tray was half gone. It was like love, it was! No thought, just that sweet poison of fleeting desire. He wiped his face, dusted a crumb from his breast and decided. He needed another hit. It was time for something to happen. I know it. You know it. And he… well yes, he knew it too. *** The next day arrived with a morning so cold his breath appeared as a dewy white puff against dawn’s brilliance. Still lying down, he opened his eyes and began fumbling blindly in the darkness, searching for something on the nightstand. He grasped the cold glass cup he kept there, his fingers wrapping stiffly around its neck, and sat up quietly. He clapped the lights on and looked around him. His bedroom was spare, but not sparse. Despite his disheveled appearance Sasho was in fact a very tidy man. His four shirts hung on hook from the wall. Two pairs of boots and a pair of dress shoes were lined up on the tarnished wood floorboards below them. His Steinbeckδ collection lined the shelf above the window, and he had a small desk and a chair in the middle of the room. Beside his bed was the nightstand with the clapper light, and the braided rug his Mom made him before she died. When he looked at it hard he could still remember some of the clothing and sheets that the fabric had come from. With a shiver and a yawn, he put the cup up to the wall and pressed his ear to the cold glass belly of the cup. Sasho squinted his eyes closed and concentrated. He thought he heard a milky warble. A toilet flush, maybe? The mechanic was awake, she must be. Or was it his imagination? He heard a creaking, like heavy footsteps across the aging floorboards. Then a low cough. It was her. His mechanic… could he say it? His mechanic friend. There, he’d said it! It was most certainly his mechanic friend, awake, and beginning her day. Sasho pressed his ear up against the glass so hard he could feel the blood pulsing in his temples. He heard a low murmuring, she was chatting with someone down the hall, probably in the kitchen making breakfast. Sasho felt something warm inside, a quickening. It would be a good day. He got up and started his day, all the while likening his morning to hers. Shaving in the bathroom, he even faked a cough in the hall. But while he was toasting a muffin, again lost in fantasy, his phone rang. It was Scotti, a lumberjack friend from up in Canada giving him a heads up about a big maple syrup recall. “One of the biggest in recorded history,” she said. Sasho put it down as number 15 on his list of things to do for the day. Number 14 was: 14. Call Ms. Mechanic friend 15. Make some m. syrup calls It as always a bad sign when worked got placed lower on the list than his love conquests. Always a bad sign indeed. Hopping in his car, Sasho drove through town and to the office. The office was at the other end of town. He liked to spread himself wide, covering as much ground as possible. For this reason his office was on one end of town, near the highway. His apartment was in the center of town, and his cottage, workshop & garage complex were on the other end of town, by the nature reserve. He maximized his potential for meeting people, for knowing people. By setting up his affairs in this way it was as if his life itself helped satisfy his need for high frequency, high intensity daily human contact. The office was in an industrial park, way at the back of the lot. It was the cheapest lot he could find and he liked that it was off the beaten path. Nobody could follow his movements, but he could follow theirs if he wanted. He had a telescope on the roof. Anyways, it was an aluminum-sided two-storey warehouse. He had built in an office and put a ping-pong table in the entranceway. There was reception, an office kitchen, a large conference room for group jobs, Brit Brit’s office, and two rooms down the hallway with storage. Sometimes he kept a little stock there, elephant tusks that one time, or those popcorn ball shipment he got cheap last Christmas, but in general he liked to keep the place as clean as he could. He had a storage shed round the back for bulk things like that. His personal office was small, and made smaller by the mammoth antique wooden desk taking up three quarters of the floor space. In the corner of the room stood a dusty statue of a bear standing on its hind legs. He hastily threw his jacket around the bear’s outstretched paw and tossed his hat onto the bear’s head. He sat down with a huff, and in the clear morning light streaming through the window behind him you could see a faint puff of dust rise up. The dust scattered as if in a dance, slowly descending back down to the floor. He pulled the phone before him a little closer to his body and dialed; Three Nine Nine Four Seven Four Nine After five long rings he was greeted; “Hiya pardner, you’ve reached the Endicott Foreign Automobile Repair Shop. Cars, Trucks & Motorcycles are our business. We’re probably just out in the garage right now, or getting pizza! Leave us a message and we’ll holler back when we get-her done.” Sasho growled & slammed the phone down just as the door to the office opened. He looked up and immediately his mood changed. It was Brit Brit, the accountant. She must have just come in as she was still wearing her black leather jacket that stopped right above her red leather stiletto boots. He could see a glimpse of opaque red tights and the bony knob of a knee through the slit of her coat. She pulled her black skullcap off her head with one hand, and with the other, dropped a pile of newspapers on his desk. He jumped up, arms outstretched. “Oh okay, okay” she said with a smile “if you must.” He wrapped his entire body around her, draping himself heavily upon her thin frame. He squeezed her for long enough that for a few seconds she stood slack, staring blankly out the window behind him for a few seconds. With a cough he finally disentangled himself from her. “How are you BB? How was the vacation?” “Oh you know, nothing special. I went into the city for some shopping and alone time. I just needed to get away, you know? Have some alone time. Sometimes you just need to be ALONE, as if you were the only soul alive.” He stared at her blankly. “Anyways I picked up this amazing dress at Srantaliv, I just had to get it. I’m not even sure where to wear it but… well definitely somewheres special. Here, I’ll show you a picture,” she said as she fumbled in her jacket pocket for her cell. She pulled it out quickly, glanced at it, and with just a few thumb jabs and finger strokes had the picture up for him to view. “Oh, very nice. Very nice indeed.” He said, absently stroking her hand & squinting as he pulled the phone closer to his face. “And you were… alone? Don’t you live alone already?” He asked with a questioning look on his face. “Didn’t you get bored?” “No!” She screamed with a snort. “I took long baths, spent every day at the mall. I ate my dinners at 5 when the hotel restaurant was empty, or just stayed in bed and ordered room service. It was fantastic. I hardly spoke to a soul all week.” “Ahh… that’s a very interesting life you lead. And what’s all this?” he gestured at the stack of newspapers. “That, unfortunately, is a streaming ray of sunshine. A spotlight.” He looked at her, clearly befuddled. “We’ve got heat. Each of these,” she said jabbing at the pile, “has a piece about you.” “What?” He fanned the stack out across the desk in one swift move; they lay splayed like a deck of cards. “Well, they don’t know it’s about you, but it’s a little close for comfort. You weren’t planning another job were you?” “Well…” “Because I think we might want to take a month, or maybe even the whole winter, off.” He didn’t respond. He was reading. “How much do you have put away?” she asked. “Can you afford to take some time?” POLICE CLOSING IN ON SMUGGLER’S RING IN SMUGGLER’S NOTCH Smuggler’s Notch Town Police report that there has been a string of illegal activity in the Plymouth county district, and they believe that the ringleader may reside in our fair town, Smuggler’s Notch. “The irony does not escape us,” says Police Chief Ivan Stoyanov, “but this is no laughing matter. We need to eradicate this criminal element before we have a full on criminal spree here in Smuggler’s Notch. This is a nice town; people come here to raise a family, or to retire. We do not need a criminal lurking amongst us, disrupting the sense of social security that we have worked so hard build. The last thing we want is people feeling they need to triple lock the doors, or that can’t trust the kids with the neighbors…” He looked up at her aghast. “How could this be me?” he said. “I’m so careful.” He stood up for the second time, this time walking over to her more slowly. He put a hand on her shoulder with a sigh, and then he slumped a little, chin falling to his chest. She wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close. “There, there Sasho.” He started nudging her shoulder with his head and pawing at her shoulder padded suit. “There, there.” He had forgotten all about the mechanic. *** Scotti rang again at 1:30. “Sash. What’s up man? It’s been almost 6 hours since I called you and I haven’t heard a single thing on my end. Are we gonna move this shit or what?” “I… I don’t know. I’m feeling some heat.” “What do you mean you’re feeling some heat?” “We’ve got rays.” “You gotta eat, don’t you? I sure as hell do, especially with Linda due in February.” “True, true. To tell you the truth, my boat’s riding a little high in the water these days too.” He paused for a long while, thinking. “Look, if I’m going to move on this, it’s going to have to be smooth. You hear?” “I hear.” “Like butter!” “Ok, ok! Like butter! Don’t get your panties in a bundle. It’ll be smooth. It always is.” “That’s not always tr…..” “Cut it Sash. I don’t need a lecture right now. It’ll be smooth.” “Ok, I’ll make a few calls, get some trucks on the road. Tell your people to expect me.” *** The sun set just to the right of the storage shed behind him. He slipped his work shoes back on and called Brit Brit in from the next room. “BB, want to go get a drink?” He reached out and grasped her chin in his palm, scanning at her little face all made up like a porcelain doll. “Not really looking for company.” “What!” He hadn’t yet learned to prepare himself for her cutting wit. “But, I guess if you want. I can come for half an hour. Let me just finish up in there,” she said, jabbing her thumb over her shoulder towards her office. Sasho nodded and she went out. Five minutes passed. He paced back and forth in the small space between the door and the bear statue, fidgeting with the papers and pens on his desk. Waiting was not his strong suit. What was his strong suit, he thought to himself. He wasn’t sure. Love. Maybe. It wasn’t really a strong suit, more like a strong… Brit Brit rapped on the door. “Come on. I’ll drive” “No, I’ve got my car this time. I’ll follow you. Where are we going?” “Let’s head over to River Gods. I don’t want to be seen by anyone I know.” “Oh god.” he sighed as he followed her through reception, out the front door, locking up as he went. *** He had a whiskey. Brit Brit had a coke. Both drinks had ice. It was a nice place; the chairs were comfy, the light was low, and the bartender was easy on the eyes, a thin thirty- something with short black hair and a nice build. Sasho stared at him with a long lingering look. The look was returned with a glare. “Bartender. What is your name?” “None of your business, Whiskey man.” “Well if that’s how it’s gonna be, I’ll have a menu. Make that two.” Bartender (Orion Keifer Haskel, according to his State of Vermont Drivers License) tossed two menus on the table and stalked off. Brit Brit laughed. “You’re ridiculous,” she said. “I already know what I want.” “So do I.” Sasho laughed and pushed the menus to the edge of the wide oak table. “Bartender, oh Bartender…” “Yes?” “Two plates of fries. With sirene, if you’ve got it.” “Sirene? You mean Disco fries?” He looked over at Brit Brit. “Yeah, two disco fries.” They sat in silence for three minutes. Almost four minutes. Bartender came out of the kitchen with two plates and slid them across the table at them. He returned a second later with a glass bottle of Heinz ketchup. “Agh,” Sasho shook the bottle violently over his plate of fries. “What are we going to do about this? Have they been to the office? Has anything looked strange?” “I don’t know why you’re asking me. I’ve been away for the past week. Have you seen anything?” “No, well… no. Actually, I haven’t really been paying attention. I’ve had, well, I’ve had other things on my mind.” “Other things, eh. Let me guess. A new someone. A new whatever you call them. Who are they?” A smile spread across his face, bringing out a deep dimple on each cheek. “It’s my mechanic! And I’m so excited. I was going to call him today and bring him over to Chateau Sasho but then I forgot in all the hullabaloo. Phew, these articles could be the end of me. The end.” He sliced his hand across his throat. She pushed her glass away from her and rapped the table three times with her French manicure. “Sshh!” she leaned forward and started again, in a lowered voice. “Sasho, let’s stay focused here.” He was wringing his hands across the table “Keep your skirt on. All I’ve been saying is that we need to proceed with caution. We need to keep our heads on. I’ve been gone and you’ve been prancing around with your head in a fog. Haven’t noticed the cops creeping in on you, creeping in on us. There’s no need for panic, I don’t think.” He gulped his whiskey noisily. “But there is need for caution and observation. So just go along with business as usual. And love conquesting as usual too, if you must.” “I must! This time I really…” “But be careful! What’s this I heard about trucks on the road today? “Oh it’s nothing, a batch of reject maple syrup up in Edmonton. Scotti called it in this morning. I sent some of our guys to go pick it up. Don’t worry, I can stash it in storage if we need to, & sell it off in a few weeks. Actually, I haven’t even looked for a buyer yet.” “Ok, good. That doesn’t sound too high profile. But do me a favor, for my sake. Just let me know what’s going on. We need two heads.” She gave him a long stair across the table. “Agreed?” “Agreed.” They clinked glasses quickly and he downed his last sip. “You know, that isn’t exactly shooting whiskey Sash. You ought to try savoring the good stuff.” “Oh, Brit Brit. Miss Smuggler’s Notch Arbiter of Taste. I don’t see you savoring your fine, high-grade American cola over there.” He pointed at her empty glass, then threw a twenty- dollar bill on the table and stood up. Grabbing his coat he said, “I’m going to head out if you don’t mind. Got a few things to do.” She shook her head laughing at him and stood up. “Ok, let’s go.” He took the long way home. He turned left out of the parking lot and headed for the woods. This road snaked out of town past the town reservoir. There was an old amusement park out there falling down in the trees and as he passed it on a curve the sun glinted gold off the decrepit rollercoaster. He picked up the phone and dialed Three-Nine-Nine-Four-Seven- Four-Nine. He practically knew the number by heart now. It rang three times and then he heard for the second time that day: “Hiya pardner, you’ve reached the Endicott Foreign Automobile …” He clicked off the phone and gunned the engine. Where the hell was his friend? With a surge the car took off, trees flying past him and a trail of brittle orange leaves stirring up behind him. He leaned gently with the car, turning left then sloping back to the right as the road twisted between large old-growth oaks. In a straight shot before him he could see the traffic light that led in to town blinking now from yellow to red. The red light lay in a long beam across the flat empty road. He watched it with his foot unwavering from the gas pedal, daring it not to turn green right when he needed it to. He was five car lengths, then four cars away from the light and it was still red. At three cars a way from the light an eighteen-wheeler streamed by a full speed. He heard it through the windows and above the buzz of the heater: a high constant noise, the sound of unimpeded speed and weight, and danger. He stepped on the brake and jolted to a stop. The light turned green and he peeled into a right hand turn, heading back into town. *** He got out of the car. The center of town was quiet; everyone was inside, cozying up to a night of TV, or settling into a family meal. He banged up the stairs, shaking the cold from his pants, and turned the corner to his landing. The door was ajar. The door was ajar! He stopped in his tracks, unsure what to do. Unzippering his coat and pulling off his hat, he slowly pushed the door open. He stepped quietly into the darkened hall and could see light at the end of it, streaming from below the door of the kitchen. He heard low voices. He looked around for a weapon of some sorts, anything. There was an umbrella, left out to dry from Monday’s evening shower. He grabbed it and went for the door. But enough about him. How about you? Last I heard, you were working down at the docks. I saw you there last winter, remember? You were fishing with a tin can, some string and a piece of garlic. Never found out if you got anything. I don’t even know what kind of fish they’ve got down there. Ok, ok, back to business. He grasped the doorknob and turned. His eyes scanned the floor. Three sets of boots, work boots. His eyes traveled up. It was Scotti, and two men. They were wearing work clothes, Carhartts and flannels on one, jeans and a large hooded sweatshirt on the other. Scotti wore a red shammy shirt and black jeans. She looked great. “Hi Scotti, guys. You sure gave me a fright,” He said and leaned the umbrella up against the far wall. Grabbing the last empty chair he said, “What's going on? What are you doing here?” “Sasho… sorry to barge in on you Buddy. I couldn’t get you on the phone but Brit Brit told me you’d be home any minute. I still had the key from… before.” “Right. I’ve been meaning to get that back from you. You couldn’t at least close the front door?” “Oh… my bad,” said one of the men, looking down at his hands with a slightly sheepish smile. “Well, what’s going on?” Scotti looked at the table, then with her head still down glanced first at the man on her right, then the man on her left. Both men were counting low and under their breath, “One, Two, Three…” “What is this, something from anger management training?” But his question was answered before he’d finished the sentence. Two of his uninvited guests stood up as one and in fluid motion threw the table on its back, leaped into the now empty space, and each grabbed him by an arm. They lifted him up and were carrying him down the stairs before he had a chance to struggle. “Shit, he locked the door!” said the man on his right. “Scotti, grab his keys,” the other one ordered, the menace in his voice unmistakable. Scotti came up to him slowly, looking tense. She looked at him quickly, and then thrust her hand in his jacket pocket. She fished them out and tossed the keys to the man in front as he shifted Sasho’s weight to free a hand. “What the hell are you guys doing? Scotti? Scotti!” Sasho wriggled and kicked but they had a pretty good grip on him. “Who are these guys?” “Sasho, I’m sorry. I didn’t have a choice. They threatened to salt the farm!” The guy with the key said, as he swung the door open and stepped outside, “We’re from the Edmonton Maple Syrup Board. Our boss has a few questions for you.” “Scotti!” He managed to writhe around to look her in the eye, his eyes bulging with the exertion and his neck strained in the twisted position. “I thought you said butter! Like butter!” She put her head down and followed the limping, heaving, writhing threesome to the black suburban parked in front. How did I miss that? Sasho thought to himself. And as they threw him into the back of the car and tied him up, he felt in his other jacket pocket for his cell. “I hope I have reception where they’re taking me.” He thought. They rode along in silence. This had happened to him two or three times before. Not recently, but anyhow he’d decided as he got older to just go with the flow. These big lugs seemed like pros. He was a little surprised the Edmonton Maple Syrup Board had a need for these guys, but stranger things had happened. They didn’t talk, didn’t get emotional, they just did the job. Scotti was sitting behind them quietly. She looked back at him every once in a while but for the most part she appeared to be sulking. This too surprised him. He’d seen her in action; he knew she could throw down. She’d chew out a guy at a bar once, and she actually made the guy cry. Things must be bad if even she had resigned herself to the situation. They drove out of Smuggler’s Notch and straight across the flat plains. The night had turned pitch dark, must have been a new moon, and he watched the night’s few stars out the black tinted windows. After thirty or forty minutes they slowed, pulled off the main road and onto a dirt road heading through the woods. As the driver thug flipped off the turn signal Sasho asked, “I guess this means I’m not getting my syrup tomorrow morning?” Scotti turned around with a horrified look, and with one finger, silently shushed him. Driver thug looked through the mirror back at him with a shake of the head. Sasho rolled over and waited for them to arrive. Fifteen minutes later the car made a left turn, then came to a stop on gravel, a driveway. Tall pines surrounded them. The two dudes got out of the front of the car, slammed their doors, and walked away. Sasho craned his neck. He could see a house. As the thug dudes neared the house, the front porch light switched on. It was a two-story gingerbread, all done up with purples and teals and ochres. There was a stained glass swan on what must have been the stairwell landing to the second floor. The two thugs only started to talk once they were out of earshot, and Sasho couldn’t make out a thing as they unlocked the front door and went in. Scotti turned around. “Oh man.” “What?” “Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man.” She started to rock a little in her seat. He could hear her jeans squeak against the car seat. “Scotti? Talk to me.” “Ok, ok, but let me just say that I have a bad feeling about all this.” “Ha! A bad feeling? Now where would you get that from?” She ignored the snide comment. “They showed up at the farm. I’d just planted the new garlic for next year. I was washing up, getting ready to go home. They pulled up in the van and got out. “You Scotti van Princer?” they asked. I told them that I was. “We’re from the Edmonton Maple Syrup Board. From the Committee for Quality and Standards.” I said, “Oh crap…” but low, you know, so they couldn’t hear me. Or so I thought. “Oh crap is right. We’ve been watching you for about six and a half months now and have been very disturbed by your recent activities. Very disturbed indeed. We believe that you have been reselling our rejected product to a certain Mr. Alexander Stamerov.” “No, no, you must be mistaken.” “Mistaken we are not. Am I right Phillip?” “Yes, Ms. van Princer, we do not believe that we are mistaken.” “Yes. As far as we can tell, you have been reselling the rejected product that we have sold to you. The product you acquire from us via a government grant for alternative fuels. It is under the pretense of running your farm vehicles here that you are eligible, is it not? But we did some research.” “Yup, we did some checking around.” Said the other one. “There is no research, in not a single published journal, to back up your claim of syrup-run engines.” “That’s right.” Said the other one, “So now Philip and I would like you to take a little ride with us.” “Umm… to where? For what?” “Ms. van Princer, these are some strong accusations. I’d like you to approach this situation with a little more seriousness. You and your friend are jeopardizing the very name and reputation of the entire region of Edmonton. And we just cannot abide by that. Cannot! Maple syrup is the state of Edmonton’s second largest export, besides university graduates. We will not stand idly by.” “No we will not,” said Phillip with a nod of his head. “Well, I have to feed my cat before I go. And I haven’t eaten all day, I was just about to go home, wash up, and make dinner.” I said. Phillip went into the car. He as obviously pretty pissed at me; I mean he was starting to lose that Canadian cool. He came out with a box of salt. It was still in the plastic bag. He ripped it out of the plastic bag; the receipt went flitting off in the wind and landed by a tree at the edge of the parking lot. Phillip tore the top of the salt and ran into the fields, leaving large heavy footprints in the freshly tilled soil. He started to pour, to pour salt right on my freshly planted garlic. Heirloom garlic! “Stop! What are you doing?” “You know what Edmonton’s third largest export is, don’t you Ms. Scotti? “Stop, please, stop,” as Philip shook more salt onto the earth. “It’s salt my dear. Our third largest export is salt.” Phillip threw the empty box on the ground and stamped back across the field. Then they grabbed me by the arms, and picked me up. Picked me right off the ground! They threw me in the van and we drove here. They were going to break the door down but I had the key. I called Brit Brit, hoping she would give you a heads up, but she sounded kind of busy. She hardly listened to me at all.” Scotti abruptly stopped talking and turned back to face forward. The porch light switched on. Phillip & the other one were coming back. “Shit Scotti. Shit!” Said Sasho, as he lay back down. The two men opened the back doors. “Mr. Stamerov, get up,” said Philip as he started to untie Sasho. “You can walk right?” “Yes I can walk.” Sasho sat up in the back of the van and swung his legs out. He turned his head to look at Scotti. She was getting out of the car too. He hopped out of the back. Standing, he brushed his clothes and straightened his shirt. He put a hand out to Scotti and they walked together towards the door. The Maple Syrup Committee goons closed up the van and followed them up the stairs. The porch light flashed on again, blinding Sasho. He stumbled up the last few stairs in a daze. Phillip ran ahead and opened the door. With a little nudge from the other goon, before he knew it, Sasho was standing inside the house. He squeezed Scotti’s hand. She squeezed back. Then Sasho’s cell phone rang. “My long heart just can’t cover up my redneck...” went his ring tone. It was the mechanic! His heart leapt, his palms instantly burst into sweat. The three others turned to look at him. Scotti looked him straight in the eye. There was a moment of recognition between them as she noted his flushed cheeks and dropped his sweating palm. “Now is really not the time Sasho,” she said. “But I’ve been trying to get through all day!” “Mr. Stamerov, give me the phone.” Said the not-Phillip-goon. “Give me the phone!” Sasho brought the phone out of his pocket “… just about the time the jukebox broke,” it sang. He pressed the green button on the phone and said, quickly stepping backwards, “Hello! Hi! How are you?” Phillip and the other one lunged toward him. Scotti screamed in the background. Sasho backed quickly towards the door and opened it behind him. In a second he was on the porch, and before he knew it he was barricading the door from the other side. “Look something came up, I’m… yes I’ll be busy for…” he paused for a second, wondering how long this forced-visit-with-goons could possibly take. He winced, and continued “…a few days.” The goons heaved in unison and flew out the door at him in a giant tangle of flannelled arms and denimed legs. Sasho tumbled backwards down the steps as the automatic porch light flickered on again. “When can we…” Phillip was grabbing at Sasho’s arm, pulling the phone away from his ear. “When can we get together and work on…” Sasho yelled as he wrenched his arm away from the goon. The other one tackled his legs and as he started to fall to the ground Sasho said hurriedly, “Ok look I gotta run. Talk to you later!” and hung up just as he and the non-Philip hit the ground together with a thud. A clock chimed loudly inside the house, and someone peered out from a second floor window. They all looked up. The curtain fell back quickly before Sasho or Scotti had a chance to see what the person looked like. The goons and Sasho slowly got up. Sasho ran a hand through his hair. “Give me the phone,” said Phillip. “I’d prefer not to,” Sasho said, but he handed it over anyways. *** And where was Brit Brit during all this? Didn’t she find it odd that Scotti was calling around for Sasho? Didn’t her woman’s intuition tip her off that her friend and her business partner, was in some sort of danger? *** The Chairperson of the Board was at least 6 feet tall. She towered over our Sasho in blue ducky boots, white pressed pants and a blue cable knit sweater. She was formidable. Her pants were pressed to what could have been a razor’s edge. For all he could tell, her body may as well have been a plastic mold underneath her clothes; it showed no sign of softness, nor hardness, weakness, nor strength. Her blonde hair fell in a neat curve over her face, her grey blues eyes glinted Santa Claus’, full of mischief and foresight of things to come. “Hello,” she said. “You must be Alexander.” He didn’t reply. “I am Laura Sinclair. I’m Chairman of the Board and Acting President of Edmonton’s Maple Syrup Commission for Quality and Standards.” She paused. “I believe you’ve been undermining my hard work, down there in Smuggler’s Notch.” Turning to Scotti, “and you must be Ms. Scottessa van Princer. You don’t look at all like what I had expected,” she said as she eyed Scotti’s dirt stained hands. “But appearances aside,” she said, smoothing her sweater over her rotund stomach, “we have some business to discuss.” Scotti and Sasho looked at each other slowly. Neither one of them knew what to do in this situation, nor both preferred to ride it out until a path was clear. It was for exactly this reason that they were amicable business partners. They thought alike, and they knew each other well. A glance was enough to agree on their next course of action. They would wait for their chance to move. “Phillip, Conrad, you boys look a fright. Go wash up. We’ll be in the lodge, having hot cider and Johnny cakes.” “Thanks Sinclair. We’ll be right in. It’s thoughtful of you. We didn’t have time to stop off at the Cracker Barrel and my stomach’s been grumbling like a black bear in winter” said Conrad. They took a side door out of the parlor, which must have led to the mudroom. Laura Sinclair led her guests out of the parlor and into the next room, which was outfitted just like a hunting lodge with wide wood beam ceiling, and antlers, stuffed fish, and a hunting rifle mounted on the wall. Scotti & Sasho took a seat on a wooden bench before a table of steaming Johnnycakes. Laura Sinclair went over to the wood stove in the corner, opened the door to the firebox and threw in another log from the stack on the far wall. Atop the stove was a large simmering pot of mulled cider. She walked over to the low cupboards lining the windows behind them and brought out a tray. She loaded it with five ceramic mugs. Walking slowly, her wide hips swinging a little, she positioned herself in front of the stove and began to ladle. Scotti and Sasho sat tensely, and silently, on the bench. Just as she had carefully ladled the last mug to the brim, Phillip and Conrad came trundling in. They plonked down on the benches across the varnished wooden table as Laura began to pass out mugs. “Phillip, here you are. Conrad,” she said passing them their mugs. “Scotti, here you go, and Sasho there you are.” She put the last cup in front of herself at the head of the table, and sat down with a sigh. “The others should be here soon, but I wanted a few minutes alone with you.” Another look was exchanged between the kidnapees. It was markedly more tense than the one before. “Have a Johnny cake. My mother made them, they’re delicious.” She put a short stack of 3 on each person’s plate and passed the syrup and butter to her left, to Scotti. “Now, the reason I’ve called this meeting is, obvious. You two have arranged to sell a shipment of sub- par syrup. I assume you intend to flip it for a profit. I need to know exactly what you intend to do with it. As we’re all adults here, I don’t think I need to remind you that honest is always the best policy.” Sasho shoveled a forkful of buttered Johnnycake in his mouth. Scotti did the same. The syrup was, in a word, divine. The Johnnycake, like a little bit of sunshine. They both chewed slowly, buying time, their cheeks bulging and lips slightly glistening with sugar and fat. Laura gave them a patient smile, blowing gently on her cup of cider. Sasho swallowed hard, and coughed quietly once his mouth was empty. “Laura, I’m so glad you called this meeting. And I’m flattered that you’re interested in our business affairs. I, however, would like to know a little more about why you want to know so much about our illegal affairs. Here in the US of A, which you seem to be quite comfortable with given this lovely abode, we try not involve ourselves in other people’s illegal activity if we can help it at all. Given what I would presume is a pristine reputation, I wouldn’t want to drag you into any of this. You understand.” “Oh Sasho, how kind of you. Unfortunately, I must butt my nose in here, as potentially damaging as it may be. As you must have heard, Edmonton is competing in Canada’s “City of the Year: Starlight, Star Bright, and Maple Flowing” event.” She was met with blank stares from the left-hand side of the table. “Surely you’ve heard of it?” The goons groaned as the kidnappees nodded to the negative. “Golly guys! where you’ve been hiding?” said Conrad. Laura shushed him quickly, laying a hand on top of his. “It’s like the Olympics, minus the sports,” she continued. “If I, I mean, if Edmonton were to win, which given the competition, we have a fair chance of doing, the city would receive a boost in the influx of millions of Canadian and international tourists. The maple syrup revenues alone should be in the billions of Canadian dollars, let alone the income from property taxes, the hotels revenues, the skiing. We’re talking major buckeyes, major buckeyes.” She finished, cheeks flushed red and eyes dancing. You could see the CADs glinting in her eyes. “And for this reason anything jeopardizing Edmonton’s good name, especially anything jeopardizing the reputation of our award-winning syrup, must be brought completely to a halt.” “I see,” said Scotti. “I think I’m not alone in saying,” she glanced at Sasho and he nodded, “that we would be willing to ensure you a little safety, for a price, if that is what you require.” “Well I’m glad you see my plight. What kind of safety do you propose?” Sasho looked at Scotti as she spoke, “We can guarantee that this inferior product will not be branded with the point origin listing Edmonton. In fact, if you can guarantee us more of this product at a good price, we can do you one step better.” “Do tell.” “We can package and sell this rejected stuff as your competition’s product. Either the inferior standard, or the scandal that ensues, will surely jeopardize their standing in your very important contest.” Sasho nodded in agreement. This was getting good, as now he too could see the “buckeyes”, as his new Canadian friend called them, rolling in. “Well this is very satisfactory indeed.” “We need some assurances though.” Said Sasho, leaning forward over his empty plate. All eyes were on him. “We need to be treated as business partners. No more rough guys throwing us in the back of a tinted Suburban.” “Phillip! Conrad! What have you been up to?” Then turning to her kidnapees, “I promise you, I only asked them to meet with you and escort you here. I had no idea they would misinterpret my words and...” she turned back to them, mouth open in shock. The goons fidgeted like schoolboys about to get a scolding. “But Ma…” said Phillip. “Don’t Ma me. Up to your rooms! Immediately!” They trundled off in unison. “Well, I guess we’re about done here,” said Sasho, glad to see them leave. “Who will be driving us back? It is getting quite late.” “Oh, we have other guests arriving, I was hoping you would stay for dinner! Those Johnny cakes aren’t really a square meal.” “Laura, as I said before, you don’t really want to be seen in public with us. It’s best we leave. You have staff here, someone who can follow orders?” “Yes, I’ll send my husband to drive you home. Safely, I promise. And do accept my apologies. I’m sure they meant no harm. They’re just very invested in this contest you know?” Turning to Scotti. “Ms. van Princer, finish your cakes! I won’t take no for an answer.” She stood up from the table, again brushing her lap for any wayward crumbs. “I’ll just go fetch Freddy. Sit tight.” “And before we go, we should tie up lose ends.” “Yes,” she halted with one hand on the doorknob, and turned towards them. “How could I forget.” “You have our numbers, I assume?,” Scotti said. “Yes, of course.” “We need product. Call us as soon as the next shipment comes in, but keep in mind we’ll need this soon. Within the week.” “That might be a little difficult. We really do have excellent syrup, as you have seen,” gesturing at their plates with a proud smile. Her glance lingered on the pools of syrup left in their plates. “We don’t often have to reject anything at all.” “Well start being a little more critical. This can only help you in the long run.” He paused and too a deep breathe. “Second, we need to be discreet. Very, very discreet. Call us from a phone no one can trace, be brief & no specifics. We’ll know what you are calling about. We just need to know a time and a place. Can you do that?” “Of course. I went to finishing school,” she said a laugh, “discretion is in my blood.” “Lastly, you must remember that for all this to work out, it needs to be mutually beneficial for both parties. We need a good price, we need easy access to product, we need discretion, and we need to know that if all goes well, we’ll be with you for the long run. Do you understand me?” “I agree, if this goes well I believe we can do a lot more business together in the future. Let’s consider this a trial period.” “Glad we’re on the same page. Now please get your driver, I mean husband, and we’ll be on our way.” She opened the door and slipped out. Scotti grabbed his hand. “Nice work…” “If you can get it,” he finished her sentence. They stood up and went out into the foyer and waited. They heard murmuring above them, then footsteps. A small graying man descended the staircase. Laura did not follow. He grabbed a jacket off a hook in the closet by the stair, checked the pocket for the key and opened the front door. Sasho & Scotti watched him. “You coming?” he asked. His voice was gruff and not entirely friendly. With a raised eyebrow to his friend, Sasho followed suit. They stepped onto the porch just as a blue Jaguar was pulling up to the driveway. It parked behind the boys’ SUV. A tall thin man stepped to and rushed around the back of the car to the other side. He bent quickly, swung open the passenger-side door, and offered up his hand. Out of the car came a lily-white wrist, clasping his. Following that was a diamond tennis bracelet, a slender arm, then and a bare shoulder. A brunette in a form fitting, but tasteful, magenta tulle dress, stepped out, pulling on a brown leather jacket. She turned towards the house. Sasho and Scotti recognized the doll face immediately. It was most definitely, undeniably, their accountant Brit Brit! Sasho and Scotti froze. Brit Brit froze. Only her date didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. He slid an arm around her waist for a second, then unclasped himself and began walking to the door. Brit Brit kept her eyes on the ground. Scotti and Sasho decided to follow suit, and tried to mask their initial surprise. Laura’s wisp of a husband was already unlocking the car doors, oblivious to the soon-to-be ex-kidnappees’ discovery. As the colleagues crossed paths, Sasho glanced sideways at BB. Her eyes were still to the ground, and her boy-toy was, thankfully, looking towards the front door. The business partners slid into the SUV, buckled up, and before they could say “Johnny cake” were back on the road, hopefully headed safely home. But as they turned off the dirt road and back onto the main road Sasho jumped up in his seat. “Shit! Phillip’s got my phone! We have to go back.” Scotti glanced over. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea Sasho.” Then she mouthed the words “Brit Brit,” in case he had forgotten. He had. Sasho’s face fell. Thankfully for both of them, Laura’s husband was hard of hearing, and disinclined to care in the first place. Sasho turned around in the car seat and looked wistfully out the back window as the dirt road receded, and then was gone from sight. The next morning he was in the office bright and early. It was 7:30 when he unlocked the front door, flipped the blinds in reception, and turned the “CLOSED” sign around. He had a coffee in hand, and a muffin (he’d left a 25 cent tip today) tucked away in a waxed deli bag. He walked into his office, and was happily surprised to find everything just as he’d left it. He put his breakfast on the desk, tossed his hat & coat at the bear statue, and shimmied his way around the front and side of the desk to his swivel chair. He tried not to look at the stack of newspapers, and pulled out a sheet of scrap paper to make to do lists while he ate. Half way through his muffin he looked down and realized his to do list had disintegrated into to doodles of engine chasses and clutch mechanisms. “If Brit Brit doesn’t show up by 10, I’m taking the day off”, he thought. Fifteen minutes before 10 the phone rung, but it wasn’t BB. And it wasn’t the mechanic. It was a reporter from the Smuggler’s Notch Herald, the town’s local newspaper. He slammed down the phone as soon as he heard the word “reporter,” grabbed his jacket and hat, and ran for the door. He was half way across town before he realized that he hadn’t even locked the door behind him. He didn’t care. He needed to see his mechanic. He pulled up in front and parked under the rust stained sign for “Endicott Foreign Automobile Repair Shop.” The door to the tiny office was closed, but the three garage doors facing the road were open to the sunny and unseasonably warm November day. Parked in each garage was an antique car, and hard at work on each car was what can only be described as a beautiful mechanic. Bent over the first car was a chocolate brunette, her short messy hair falling into her eyes. What must have been a terrifyingly curvaceous body was hidden by the immaculate blue work jumpsuit she wore. Half visible from underneath the raised hood of the second car was another mechanic, her skin the color of wet suede. Her lean legginess, in contrast to her coworker, was only accentuated by the stained, and slightly faded blue work suit she wore. From under the cassia of the third car were what appeared to be a pair of steel-toed stilettos, if you can believe it. Sasho stopped for a second, taking in the beautiful sight. Chrome, gloss and polish glinted in the sun and the sound of hydraulic equipment and electric drills was in the air. He breathed in a taste of dried leaves and motor oil, and then stepped towards the third garage. She saw him coming from between the tires. “Is that you, Sasho?” she said, her voice a little muffled. “Sure is. How have you been?” “Oh, busy. I had some work up in Edmonton. Just got back today.” “In Edmonton, eh?” he tried not to sound too alarmed (or suspicious), as he eyed her shoes. “Yeah, this rich bitch, pardon my French, had some old Jag she wanted me to do some work on.” Her feet shifted, and he heard her grunt as something clanked underneath the car. “I have to go back in a week.” Sasho kneeled down and bent over. He poked his head under the car, hair succumbing to gravity and brushing the cement garage floor. He poked her shoe with his finger and she looked down from her work at him. “Hi,” he said. “Oh Sasho. I’m sorry, I’m right in the middle of something,” she said. “What are you doing here anyways? I thought you were going to be out of town.” He was a middle child, he knew what that meant. “Yeah, plans changed.” He stood up and tapped the nearest tire his toe. “Ok, well when can we get together?” “Hmmm. How about next week some time?” His heart sunk. His skin paled. He put his hands in his pockets. “I guess I can wait that long. I just, well I had something I wanted to show you.” “Uh huh, sure.” “No, its car related… car related I swear!” “I’m sorry Sash. Wednesday? Thursday?” “Alright. Call my house please. I lost my cell. I’ll leave the number at the office.” “Oh, no one’s there. Bette has the flu. Give it to Ali B,” but she saw that he looked confused. “Alison. You met her last time!” “Which one was she again?” He eyed the two bombshell mechanics warily. In his book, women as beautiful as that were always, without the shadow of a doubt, trouble. Capital T. “First garage.” She said. Allison was by the shop sink, reaching with still-wet hands for an apple on the shelf in front of her. “Excuse me, Alison, is it?” “Sasho! How’ve you been!” she put the apple down and wiped her hands on her work suit. Stepping towards him with a smile she said, “We’ve been missing you. Where’ve you been?” “Oh, around. Good to see you though.” “Awww, it’s good to see you too!.” “Hey, I’ve got something to leave for your boss. She said to give it to you.” “Sure,” she said, and she smiled a second time. He didn’t like the way this was going. “Do you have a pad, or a scrap of paper? And I’ll need a pen too.” “Hmm… well I can give you this,” as she reached over and ripped a corner off the wall calendar on the wall. She handed him a corner with a dog’s paw on it, and pulled a pen out her pocket. “Tell her to call me at this number,” as he scribbled across the glossed paper. “My other phone is lost.” Allison took the slip of paper back. “My pleasure,” she said, with a third smile. He turned to go, ready to run if need be. “Hope to see you again soon, Sasho.” In her mouth his name was like caramel, dripping. He dropped the pen on the shelf by him and ran. Back at the office nothing had changed. The unlocked door had proved neither temptation nor opportunity to meddlesome Canadians or overly friendly mechanics. He tidied up, grabbed the stash of papers and took them to the dumpster up front. When he got back, it was almost lunchtime. He rifled through his drawer of menus, and ordered and Italian sub with extra hots. He hoped it wouldn’t be long. BRIT BRIT “I wasn’t lying,” she thought as she passed Sasho and entered the house. “I do like to be alone! And I was alone, all week!” She pleaded with her boss in her head. “I was trying to get away from him,” she thought, glancing over at her eager friend, the car-door opener. Brit Brit grew up the only child to a mechanic and a secretary. Her parents worked hard for their living, and as a result she spent a lot of nights alone, heating up canned soup or steaming hot dogs on the hot plate. She just got used to it. She got used to the old house settling quietly around her at night. She got used to the ticking of the clock in the kitchen regulating her thoughts and movements. She got used to talking to herself in the mirror, playing dress up alone, and writing in her journal under the old oak in the back yard. She got used to Saturday mornings of solitaire or crosswords or wordy non-fiction on the living room couch. And she didn’t see why, now that she was no longer a knob-kneed teen, she had to relinquish even a single minute of blessed loneliness, for anyone. Yes, things had surely changed. Her parents were fast approaching retirement. They took things a lot easier now. As for their daughter, well she had passed every challenge they had posed to her and come out on the other end with a bank account that reflected her education (lucky her), a keen wit, long legs, and a penchant for leather. Blame it on the 80’s. The door opener was taking her to meet his mom. It surely wasn’t her idea. He was an acquaintance from college. They’d met at the ten-year reunion back in September. She still doesn’t know how exactly she ended up there, but they’d run into each other over shrimp cocktail, and he’d been dogging her ever since. He was relentless, completely incorrigible. He just would not take no for an answer. Ever weekend he called for dinners, drinks, walks in the park, flowers at the farmers market. She had no idea how this had happened, or why. His enthusiasm, his need for more, was unfathomable. He was completely foreign to her, an alien named Mick. And to top it all off, he was Canadian. And so, apparently was his mom. She was wearing some sort of L.L. Bean polo/sailors outfit, all navy blue and pressed white. She had good bone structure, high cheekbones, and healthy, shiny, magazine quality hair. Brit Brit didn’t really know what to say. She sat through the dinner of Canadian bacon wrapped maple glazed turkey breast and pureed wild yams. The food was the kind of stick-to-your-ribs cuisine that she loved, but the situation was so uncomfortable that she had a hard time showing it. Anyhow, she doubted Mama Door- Opener cooked any of this herself, given her immaculate appearance. Nagging away at the back of her mind, as she brought fork after fork full of food to her lips, were the looks on Sasho & Scotti’s faces. Why had they been there? And why had they looked so shocked and scared when they saw her? Brit Brit finally thought of something to say. To the mistress of the household, “How is it that you know my friends?” Laura raised an eyebrow. “Pardon me?” “My friends, they were here just as we arrived. Sasho & Scotti.” “Interesting indeed. Sasho and Scotessa were here indeed. They left with my husband. How is it that you know them?” “That is what I asked you.” Said Brit Brit, starting to get a little riled. She put down her fork. “Well they were just here for some Johnny Cakes and cider.” “They just showed up?” Her mind went back to the phone call earlier in the day from Scotti. “Well yes, sort of. They came with my two other sons, Conrad and Philip. Bryan’s older brothers.” Bryan, the door-opener, shifted in his seat. “Actually,” said Laura, leaning in to the table and towards BB, “Sasho left something with Philip. Would you be able to pass on a message to him? Will you be seeing him shortly?” “Yes, I’ll be seeing him.” “Tell him he can drop by here any time to pick it up.” “Pick what up?” “Oh nothing, I’m sure it’s nothing.” Brit Brit pushed her plate back and decided this circuitous conversation was over. The woman was being evasive, and BB didn’t trust her enough to be forthcoming herself. She’d wait until Monday and have it all out with Sasho. Looking over at the Door-Opener to send him the message that she was ready to go. His face was drawn, and paler than usual. “Well mom, it was good seeing you.” “Leaving so soon?” “Yes, we should head out, shouldn’t we Brit Brit?” he put his hand on hers and she nodded while slowly slipping her hand away from his. “Thank you Mrs. Sinclair. It was a lovely meal.” “Well I’m so glad to meet you, and even more glad to find that we have mutual friends.” The reluctant couple found themselves outside, alone together, in the cool night air. He, again, opened her door for her, and she slid across the tan leather seats. Her hand caressed the heated leather the whole way home. They did not speak until he turned onto her street and put the car into park. “That was a little strange.” “It sure was. I’ll have to find Sasho tonight, see if I can get some concrete answers out of him.” “She was acting weird. Weirder than usual.” He ran his hands over his face and in a muffled voice asked, “Who is this Sasho person?” “Oh god Bryan. Please.” She opened the car door and stepped out. “Call me,” he called out as she closed the car door and turned up the walkway to her house. The first thing she did when she got in was to ring Sasho’s cell. It rang five times, then went to voicemail. “Sash. Call me. What’s going on? Johnny cakes!?” Twenty minutes later she called him again; voicemail. She called a few times before she went to bed but never got through. Of course, we know exactly why he never picked up but… that just comes with the territory. Doesn’t it? It’s the price you pay for an omnipotent narrator: boredom. Come on, tell me you don’t think g-d’s not bored out his celestial although admittedly hypothetical skull most of the time? Without a doubt, my friend. Without a doubt. Brit Brit’s morning ritual was especially detailed. She woke, but did not move from her waking position for five minutes. In that time she remembered whatever dreams she could. At the end of five minutes time, she sat up, pulled her dream journal out from the bedside night stand, and began to write. On this morning she could only remember one; “Mingus was angry. It was after a gig, in a dumpy old place. He was sweating. His bass was broken, caved in. Someone did it but no one knew why. Or who. He was running back and forth backstage, and banging on the green room door. It was scary, I hid behind the door and stole a glass of whiskey from the barman. I was sipping it and worrying he would find me and think it was me. I woke up just as the door started to open.” Closing the book she got out of bed, slipped on slippers and a robe, and went to freshen up. First a groggy tinkle, then she threw herself into brushing her teeth, washing her face, and lastly applying her aloe & papaya tonic, followed by a vitamin E day cream. She went into the kitchen with nail polish remover and polish, turned on the kettle for tea, and sat down to apply a fresh color for the day. Today was chocolate brown. She drank the first tea of the morning gingerly, with fingertips splayed away from the warm mug. When that was done she added more hot water, and read the news or researched a breakfast recipe. Breakfast, the morning’s email, and the latest news folded into each other, her attention flowing from one task to the other, then back again. After breakfast she tidied up, and set about the major task of the morning; getting dressed. On a bad day, clothes piled up on the floor and bed. On a good day, like today, she knew exactly what she would be wearing to greet the outside world. She pulled on fitted jeans, a white long-sleeved shirt, and a brown jacket. She tied the blue scarf she got in Holland around her neck and was relieved by her reflection. She felt confident. This was the life she loved. There was neither room, nor desire, for another to interrupt her delicious routine. Outside, the weather was surprisingly warm. Given that it might be the last warm day, she decided to take her bike to work. The ride through town reassured her of the sweet, simplicity of life in Smuggler’s Notch, and twenty minutes later she was dragging the bike into reception. “Brittany, is that you?” She heard from behind the door of Sasho’s office. Wiping a bit of perspiration from her brow she pushed open his office door saying, “Hey, Sash. I was calling you all night last…” but stopped short when she saw a pert young woman sitting opposite Sasho, legs crossed, scribbling away on a pad in dark blue ink. “Hello. Brittany Rick, accountant.” The little whip of a thing stood up and thrust out her hand. “Phillipa LePlante, Smuggler’s Notch Herald.” “Oh, what a pleasant surprise,” lied our beautiful accountant. “Can I get you a coffee? Tea? Hot cocoa?” “No, thank you. I was just asking Mr. Stamerov some questions for a piece we’re running on a smuggling ring in Smuggler’s Notch. Perhaps you’d be willing to answer some questions as well?” “Well I’m not sure what I’d be able to add, but sure, why not?” BB looked steadily over the reporter’s shoulder at Sasho. He returned the gaze. To an outsider it must have read as a blank, or even cold stare. Sasho knew it well. BB had straightened to her full height and had wrapped her arms in front of her, clasping each arm with the opposite arm’s hand. Brit Brit was steeling herself, ready to do or say whatever needed being done to get out of this without a scratch. “What is your relationship with the Edmonton Maple Syrup Commission for Standards and Quality?” “Pardon?” “What is your relationship…” “No, sorry, I heard you. I don’t have a relationship with the Edmonton Maple Syrup Commission. At least, none that I know of.” “And your relationship with the Endicott Foreign Automobile repair?” “Um, none. I have a used Chevy. And when I can, I ride my bike.” She gestured to the door, indicating the unseen bike behind the door. So far, the questions had been very easy. “How do you know Bryan Sinclair?” “Where is this coming from?” “Is that a refusal to answer the question?” “We’re, well it’s hard to say.” Her face screwed up with a slight touch of disgust. She said it reluctantly, her face turned to the wall. “We’re friends.” “For how long?” “We went to college together.” “I can check that you know.” “Go ahead. Hampshire College, 1990 – 1996.” “Do you care to comment about what you were doing on at the Edmonton Maple Syrup commission’s main US trading exchange last night?” “Wow. This is really some theory you’ve concocted. I’d love to see your notes when we’re done.” BB laughed, the nerves in her neck and shoulders relaxing as she realized this reporter, despite having a few good tails, wasn’t even close. “I was there on personal business. A social call.” “I’m sure,” said Philipa the reporter with a smirk. She shifted her crossed knees to point back across the wide desk at Sasho. He appeared placid, but inside his work shirt pinpoints of sweat were collecting across his back and dampening the creases of his elbows. “And Alexander, you claim that you too were at the trading exchange to visit with a friend?” “Ahem,” he was surprised to find his throat dry. “Yes, that’s what I said.” Brit Brit interrupted, putting a hand on the desktop, “May I ask why exactly you are asking these questions?” “My research leads me to believe that this firm is somehow linked to the international smuggling ring that involves the Edmonton Maple Syrup Commission, led by Bryan Sinclair and his mother, Laura Sinclair, and the Endicott repair shop over on Maple Drive.” Brit Brit laughed, throwing back her head. Sasho didn’t move. “Maple syrup, a repair shop, and us? That’s completely and utterly preposterous.” Her smile made the last three words ring within the room like a bell had just been sounded. “Well, then you won’t mind if I drop by again with more questions?” “Feel free. Our door is always open to young science fiction writers such as yourself.” “Oh please.” Then turning back again to Sasho, “Mr. Stamerov, thank you for your time. I’ll be in touch if I need anything else. I hope you don’t mind, and thank you again for your time.” “Sure,” he managed to choke out. Clearing his throat again, “Sure. Our pleasure.” The reporter stood up, slipped her pad and pen into her purse and let herself out. Brit Brit made sure Philipa had driven away, then she locked the reception door and went back into the office. “Wow,” She closed the door firmly behind her, and leaned into it. Her hair poofed out as it got smushed against the door “You should have called me, I would have come sooner.” “I lost my cell.” “Oh, I see.” “I need a hug.” “Sash! Why me? Whatever happened to your new mechanic?” His face fell. “new mechanic. Oh. Yes, yes you can have a hug. But just one.” He came lumbering towards her, his eyes all melty and doughy. “You’d better make it good” five minute later he’d had his fill. “Lets go out for a coffee.” They both threw themselves heavily down into the seats of her car. She gunned it, driving callously like people do when they’ve been living in the suburbs for too long. “Drive thru, or inside?” she asked as she veered around the corner and flipped on her blinker. “Let’s do it old fashioned like. Let’s go in.” They stood in line. I hope they are savoring this moment. It may be a familiar moment but it’s not one everyone has the pleasure of having. They stood in line and read the menu. There were always so many choices, so many temptations. In the end they both stuck with the tried and true. “A regular tea, light and sweet. And a blueberry muffin,” was his standard. He watched with a tickle of pleasure as they proceeded exactly as usual. The cashier grabbed a wax sheet, turned around with a practiced swirl in grey uniform and visor, and plucked a muffin from the bin. It was plump and perfect, and he almost, just barely, caught of whiff of it as she turned back towards him, grabbed a wax paper bag, and tossed it in. She folded the top over neatly, and went about making his tea. Brit Brit fidgeted by his side, rocking on the heels of her brown suede boots. “And I’ll have a regular coffee with an egg and cheese sandwich. On an English muffin.” In the fresh air of this unseasonably warm evening, they walked out to the car, leaned against the back bumper, and chomped and sipped their way into a more sedate life view. As they each, solemnly & alone, walked across the parking lot to the trash can by the front door, deposited their wax wrappers and Styrofoam cups with plastic lids, then walked back, they felt settling deep in their bones the belief that together, they could make it out of this mess. *** SASHO When he got to the house, two silver tanker trucks were idling out front. He parked on the opposite side of the street (they were blocking the driveway) and went up to the second truck. The driver was asleep in the cab. Sasho heard the tinkle of Barry Manilow coming through the window, the glass of which was partially clouded with condensation. He stood on his tippy toes and knocked on the window. It was cool to the touch and the cold night air blew up the bottom of his shirt, tickling his round, exposed belly. He rapped again, then stood on the sidewalk, waiting. No response. He reached up, grasped the door handle, and opened the door. It wasn’t Manilow. It was Barry White. Sasho stood there as Barry finished out the song with his trademark gutter-low growl of “My first, my last, my everything…” Sasho realized, in the seconds following the songs end that the truck driver was dead. Sasho backed away from the open cab door. He looked at the first truck, then back at the driver, still slumped in his chair. A new song came on the radio. He carefully closed the door to the cab and walked slowly to the first truck. He breathed a lungful of exhaust at the tailpipe, but despite his aversion to chemical (he didn’t want premature wrinkles!) he exhaled bit by bit, like he had been taught in yoga class. He was at the door. He turned, slowly, and looked up. The cab was empty. He dropped the breathing exercises and went inside quickly. In the kitchen he picked up the phone and called Scotti. It rang and rang. No answer. The story of his life. He held down the receiver, then dialed a different number. He got through. “Brit Brit?” “Sasho. What’s going on?” She could hear a new, peculiar sound in his voice. “Umm… I’m not sure what to do. I can’t get through to Scotti.” The sound was desperation. “The maple syrup is here, at my house.” “What maple syrup?” He didn’t know how to explain all the back story- the fake scientific research, Scotti’s tractors, Edmonton, the contest, millions in syrup revenues. He summarized, for the sake of time. “There’s a dead guy in a tanker full of bootleg maple syrup parked in front of my house.” There was a gasp, then silence on the other end of the line. “Sasho! What the hell is going on?” “Look babe, I mean Ms. Accountant Doll Face, I really don’t know. I really just haven’t the faintest idea. I’m almost as shocked as you are.” “Sasho, I can cook the books, I can finesse reporters, and I can dazzle in an off-the shoulder evening gown but this is a little out of my line expertise.” “I know, I just needed to call someone. Look how about this. I’ll hang up, think of something and get it going. Can you just keep your phone near you? I’ll call if I need anything.” “Sounds good. We’ll talk later.” “Ok” “And Sasho,” “Yes?” he said just as he was about to hang up. “Be careful.” “Well I’ll try.” He hung up the phone and stared at the wall. And stared. And stared. And stared. His mind was churning through all the possibilities he could come up with. Sinclair? The scarecrow of a husband? The syrup goons? An unknown agent in a double cross? The Edmonton Competitor’s got wind of his new scheme? The government’s revenge killing for the embarrassment of the fake grant? But none of them made sense. He must be missing something, there must be something he didn’t know. Another player, unseen. Another agenda, masked. He went back outside. First things first, he had to turn off the truck, if he could. The street was filled with the blue haze of exhaust. His neighbors were sure to get suspicious, or irritated, and do something. He opened the door, stepped quickly up into the cab, leaned over his little problem, and turned the keys in the ignition. The engine died with a rumble and a purr. He checked the gas tank. Still plenty in there. Before retreating back to the house to think, he decided it would be a good idea to collect information. He glanced around the cab. A Dunkin Donuts cup sat nonchalantly in the coffee holder, half full with black sludge. On the dashboard lay a thin layer of dust but the passenger’s seat was clear. He turned his attention to the driver. He was average height, average weight. He had chestnut hair, recently cut, and a goldish brown mustache. He was wearing a dingy white button down shirt over a white tee-shirt, and dark blue jeans. On his feet he wore pink fuzzy bunny slippers. The bunny on his right foot was winking. Sasho checked the hands for a wedding ring. There was only a turquoise pinky ring on the left hand. No watch. He’d seen enough, and climbed down out of the cab and ran back inside. He called Scotti again. No answer. He was at a loss so he did what he always did when he needed a good idea. He went over to the fridge and rummaged around, found himself a few oranges and a lemon. At the counter he halved them, then pulled out his juicer and plugged it in. He started juicing. It only took but a minute. He waited for the last bits of pulp and juice to dribble out of the side of the machine, then took a long sip. It was frothy, sweet, and tangy. In a word: heaven. He was a religious man, as you can see. He decided to do the most dangerous thing he could think of. He wasn’t sure why but he couldn’t think of a reason not to. And what was the most dangerous thing he could think of? It wasn’t to call the nefarious character whose name and number were scribbled in purple ink on the last page of his phone book. It wasn’t to call the police and claim he knew nothing. He flipped through his wallet, pulled out a business card, and dialed. He was calling the Smuggler’s Notch Herald. “Philipa LePlante speaking.” “Ms. LePlante. This is Sasho, from the other day.” Normally he would apologize for calling at such a late hour, but he knew in this case, no apology was necessary. “Mr. Stamerov! What a surprise. Well I’m so, so , so glad you called. What can I do for you?” “I’m about to give you something. I’m not sure why, and it might even be a huge mistake.” “I like the sound of this.” “What can you do for me in return?” “How good is it?” “It’s as good as your sleuthing is. A real live mystery. I’m prepared to work with you on this.” “Sasho! Are you making my night? Did you just make my night?” Her flirtatious tone was slightly off-putting. She hadn’t been like this in the meeting. “Ok, here we go. I can protect you and your business.” “Uh-huh,” he said, waiting for more. “I can also throw in a year’s subscription to the Herald.” “Oh, tempting. Very tempting.” “Ok, ok. Let me think. I can talk to my editor, maybe we can do a cover story on you. An op-ed? Something about your legit business? Do you represent any minority populations?” “I know exactly what you can write about. It’ll be great, your editor will love it.” “Well then it’s settled. Protection, subscription, and good press. Where do we meet?” “Meet me in the Dunkos parking lot in 30 minutes.” “Dunkos! I hope you’re not getting dinner.” “My dining habits should be the least of your worries.” Then he thought about it for a minute, remembering her crossed ankles underneath the desk. “Ok fine, we’ll do dinner. Meet me at Chateau Robert. I’ll book a table for 8pm.” “Much better. I’ll see you then.” He hung up and felt much, much better. He left BB a voice message before he went out. “BB, thought of an interesting solution. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow at work. Try to be in by 9, ok? I have a feeling it’s going to be a tough day. I’ll bring the muffins.” SCOTTI She had been called Scotti since she was a child. She was named after her father, Scott. But like so many children born into her income bracket, she was raised more by his grandmother’s two Scottish terriers than anyone else. In the afternoons while mother napped, the toddler Scottessa could often be seen crawling across marble floors with her two guardians. And thus Scottessa became Scotti. Her father was British, her mother, a New York socialite. They were, to put it mildly, known. They traveled in certain circles, and had the things that most people want out of life. But Scotti had always been different. She was rare, a rough cast up among the diamonds. Her feet were planted on the ground and her eyes never looked upward for anything more than a blessing of the sun. Her lack of interest in the glitz of their life was unfathomable to her parents, and unfathomable to the school friends she grew up with. On her twenty-fifth birthday Scotti had asked her parents for what she hoped would be their last favor to her; a parcel of land, and a loan. Her mother laughed, a chortle really, and said “If anyone ever hears that we gave you a loan,” she paused, face full of serious, “we’ll be cast out like street rats.” But stubborn was one of the traits that had been nurtured into her by her surroundings, and in time little Scotti had what she wanted. The first day that the bank loan cleared, she hired a professional farmer, and they went out together to survey the new land. For the next five years they worked side by side, and she learned what it really mean to farm. To farm was an exercise in humility. To farm was an exercise in patience. To farm was an exercise in un-answered prayers. It was a frustrating life, but it made her feel alive. But at the end of this five year training, she had paid off only five percent of her loan. Upon realizing the real amount of time, and sheer amount of farming, she would have to do to get free and clear, she began searching for another outlet. Once she had found it, she threw her energy into getting free of debt, and free of the guilty association she felt whenever she saw her parents. It was this drive that had led her to grant writing, and this drive that also led her to Sasho. He wasn’t her first love, but he was a big one. Up there, among the heroes of her life. She never understood the attraction. A smuggler. A snuggler. Neither were qualities she looked for in a man. But fight it, she could not. They crashed and burned six months after it had all begun, but even in the pit of their disentanglement, there was no denying that they knew each other well. Ex-lovers make the best business partners, because they never can surprise. One this day, she was resting. Unlike Sasho, it was her first time being kidnapped. She felt she deserved a long, obligation-free, break. She decided to hold off on doing any new plantings until Monday, and to take the rest of the week to luxuriate in things. She swore to take a long bath every day, to do stretches in the early morning light, to take circuitous, meandering walks, and to forget the world around her existed at all. She was actually still a little scared. She worked hard to avoid the anxious nagging that wanted her to peek through curtains, to lock the doors, to not be alone. But alone was what she was resign to, and alone she would stay. She just hoped that nobody would come a calling. SASHO He was a little early to the restaurant. He had a sneaking feeling about himself, but he wasn’t sure. He had a feeling that this just might turn out to be a date he had sent himself on. She arrived fifteen minutes later. He was at the bar, waiting and having a beer. He ordered another for her as they waited on their table. “So what is it?” “Maybe now is not the time.” He put down his glass. He had beer fluff on his upper lip. “It’s hard to wait. I’ve been hoping for something like this for a very, very long time.” She didn’t have the heart to tell him. The hostess came up to them. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen, and she appeared to be wearing her prom dress. “Your table is ready.” She led them with a swish and a sashay, pulled out their chairs, and handed each of them their menus. At least she knew her manners. Sasho was ravenous. He was always ravenous. Food was next to snuggling for him, the bronze to its gold. He forgot about Phillipa and began eagerly perusing the menu. The decision was hard. Five minutes later he looked up. She was sitting there, across from him, watching him. He had been furiously flipping between two pages, weighing the options, and muttering under his breath. Her mouth curled into a smile. “Tell me,” she said. “Don’t make me beg. Tell me!” “Can we order first? I’m still not sure that this is the most appropriate place for this type of conversation.” “Oh Sasho, who would be interested in…” she looked over her shoulder, “In our petty little affairs.” The restaurant, to his credit, was full. Couples, families, and a few tables back, a group of teenage girls munching on breadsticks. He ordered the Shrimp fra Diovolo. She ordered the asparagus omelet with white truffle mashed potatoes. They didn’t know each other really, so small talk as they awaited their meal was awkward, full of fits and starts. After five minutes of conversational groping in the dark the table next to them heard Phillipa say “You’re not very smooth for a criminal.” “Please,” he said, “I abhor that word.” “Of course. What would you prefer?” “I’m an entrepreneur, just like all the other shmucks and hustlers out there.” He shot back with, “And you’re not very calculating, for a muck-raking yellow journalist.” “Ow! Ok now I know what you mean.” They clinked glasses. The meal was a blur of transfer from plate to fork to mouth, napkin to mouth, and the delicate dance for pepper, salt, and more parmesan. He slowed to a stop when his plate was still half full. She was daintily putting a forkful of omelet in her pretty little mouth. “Ok, here it is.” He sighed, the emotional safe-haven of a good meal disappearing like so much smoke. He leaned forward an in a whisper said, “There’s a dead truck driver parked in front of my house.” She stopped, mid chew. “I can trust you, right?” “We have a deal.” His eyebrows went up. “Yes, you can trust me.” “I bought two tankers full of subpar maple syrup from Canada. I was going to sell it to…” Their waitress appeared at the tableside. “Is everything all right here?” He stared. Phillipa reigned in her furious desire to know and summoned a little decency. “Yes, thank you. It’s lovely.” The waitress moved on. “Continue.” “I was going to sell it to the highest bidder, naturally. But before I’d even sent notice to my regulars I got kidnapped.” He omitted any mention of Scotti. “When was this?” “Two days ago. Don’t worry, it was nothing. Really, it was nothing. The woman who kidnapped me asked that I sell it as her competitor’s product. I agreed on the condition that I got more product, and fast.” “When I came home tonight there were the two trucks, but why they were at my house, and not at my safe house, I have no idea.” He took a sip of water and a busy boy appeared out of nowhere to top it off. When the busboy retreated back into the shadows Sasho continued, “The driver in the second truck was dead, with the truck still idling and radio on. I checked him out, didn’t see any blood, any bruising, nothing. Like he’d died in his sleep.” He took another sip of water, but waved the boy away from across the room. “The second truck was empty, not a soul in sight.” “Wow. That’s just, wow. I mean, all I can say is, Wow.” She said, over and over. This is really your life?” “This, unfortunately, is really my life right now.” “And what are you going to do?” “What am I going to do,” he cried, his voice raised above the whisper that he’d told everything else in. “you’re what I’m going to do.” She looked aghast. “No, I meant, you’re going to help me figure out what’s going on. “Right. But what are you going to do about the body?” “Well, I’m going to do what any cowardly smuggler does. I’m going to call the police. And I want you to be the first reporter on the scene. Can you do that?” “I can do that. When’s the call?” “After dinner. I can’t sleep knowing that man is out there.” That night, after the flashing lights had gone, the body carted off, Phillipa’s sleuthing, and both trucks had been towed, he did fall asleep. No one, not his mechanic, not his ex-lover cum business partner, not his doll-faced BB, not Ms. Reporter Sleuth, not Alison, the man- hungry mechanic, saw it but us. He curled up in a tiny bundle in the center of the bed and wrapped his arms over his face. As he fell deeper into sleep he began to snore, intermittently. If anyone had been they would have found it heart-meltingly endearing. As for Sasho, he was gone from the world, in a place he liked almost as much as a snuggle, or a plate of brownies. He was free. The next day was Sunday, the day of rest. And thankfully for the Woman upstairs, our sin- stained sticky little bunch of ragtag semi-criminals laid low. Sasho didn’t leave the house, and had a waffle brunch and went through his record collection, all by his lonesome. Scotti took another bath and started reading a new book, munching on a bunch of grapes. Brit Brit reorganized her closet, in preparation for the cold winter ahead. Lady Mechanic was sleeping off a hangover, and at 6pm when she woke up, she ordered delivery. And little Phillipa, our intrepid reporter? She had the stomach flu. The world went on without them. Monday morning, Sasho was in the office at 8am. He stared at the wall for forty-five minutes, then he locked up and went out to get breakfast, as promised. As he drove towards Dunkin Donuts he decided that today was a special day. A day for celebration. A new day, a simpler day. He turned the car around and went to the town bakery. He bought two almond croissants, hills of crispy flakiness. For BB he got a Parisian hot chocolate, and for himself, a café au lait. He high tailed it back to the office, hoping she hadn’t arrived in his absence, and wanting the prefect pastries and hot drinks to lose none of their appeal. He pulled into the driveway at 8:57. Her car was not in the lot. He trundled in with his packages, made his way into the office, shimmied around the desk, and sat down to wait. Steam rose through the plastic lids. He tried not to ask himself any bothersome questions. Tried not to worry that something else had happened. Turning in his swivel chair with a bump as the back of it hit the desk, he sat for a minute, looking out the window to the back lot. As he watched the leaves on a tree in the far lot, they were moving as if the tree was lightly sighing, waiting for a long lost love. Coming from the parking lot behind him he heard a low rumbling sound. It grew louder, it multiplied. He heard the office door open with a bang and the noise of idling trucks filled the space. “Sasho,” it was BB, late as usual. “You’d better come out here.” He bolted out the door and met her on the steps of the office entrance. Filling the parking lot were six tanker trucks. The exhaust alone was incredible, not to mention the roar of so many engines, idling. Sasho started to flashback to Saturday. His breath heaved in his chest as he scanned the faces of sleeping drivers in their cabs. He felt his knees begin to buckle, his vision shrunk to a pin, and he was out. He came too in his office. He looked over at the clock. It was 2pm. He was alone, the sun was streaming through the window and he actually felt quite hot. The croissants were there, and the café au lait too. They were stone cold. “BB?” he called out, quietly. “BB!?” louder this time. She came running in. Her hair was a mess, which was highly unusual for her. “Sasho, thank dog, you’re awake.” “What happened, where are the trucks? Were the drivers…?” “I got rid of them. It wasn’t easy.” “How?” “So, the trucks were empty. Well, there were no drivers. I checked the tank’s gauges, they were full of syrup. So, I did what anyone would do, I put a out a Craigslist post.” “For what?” He rubbed his head and took a sip of the cold coffee. “For six truck drivers. It took an hour to get them here. Thank god for this recession. Nothing I love more than hungry people. I paid them each $100 bucks, and they took them out to storage.” “Hmm… who’s the big dog now?” He smiled, and broke into the bag of croissants. “Want one?” “No thanks, I just bought this new dress and…” He rolled his eyes. “Ok, back to business. I have a bunch of questions.” “Tell me about it.” “Who is sending this stuff? And what’s with the missing/dead drivers?” “I don’t know. I have to put in a call to Laura Sinclair.” “Laura Sinclair? My… boyfriend’s mom?” “Oh, right. Yeah, she’s my supplier. And she’s as crooked as I am, maybe even more so! She definitely has more balls than I do.” “That’s not saying much” “Ha. But I have a hunch that it’s not her.” “And why’s that?” “Well, we have an agreement. And she hasn’t even given it a chance. Why would she start sabotaging before we’d begun?” He paused. “Let’s make a list of all the questions we have.” “Good plan.” She ran into the other room and returned quickly with a white sheet of paper and two markers. “One for you, one for me.” They cleared off the desk and went to work, each writing on their own side of the paper. Sasho wrote in a tiny script with little arrows at the start of each new line: ⇒ Why the dead trucker? ⇒ Where did all the other truckers go? ⇒ Why are the trucks showing up at the wrong place? ⇒ Who is sending the trucks? ⇒ Are the cops on to me? ⇒ Can Phillipa be trusted? ⇒ Why did she ask about the Repair shop? ⇒ Where is Scotti? Brit Brit wrote in all caps, a scrawling script: 1. How much money can we get for the syrup? 2. Who’s the secret big honcho in town? 3. What do we do with the trucks now? 4. How to we stop any future surprise deliveries? It took them about fifteen minutes of solitary pondering to complete their lists. Sasho leaned across the table and looked her list over. “Good ones,” he said. “You too.” “Ok, so before we start trying to figure out what to do next, I have another idea. Let’s order pizza and get drunk. It’ll help with our process.” BB had the phone in her hand and was speed dialing the local Pizza House, Smuggler’s Notch House of Pizza, before he’d even finished the sentence. “Hi, I’d like a large pizza delivered to 47 Industrial Park Way. Half ricotta with spinach and roasted garlic, half…” she dropped the phone to her chest and looked at him. “Hawaiian” “…and half Hawaiian. Extra red pepper please. And tell the chef, I’ll throw in a $10 bill if it’s here in 20 minutes.” She hung up. Sasho offered her an empty whiskey glass, and then went into reception. Reception was really just the office bar. It even had swiveling bar stools. They were out of limes, but they had pretty much everything else. He grabbed a top shelf whiskey and went back into his office. In twenty minutes they had taken the edge off of things. Brit Brit’s face was flushed red, and Sasho was reclining in his office chair. At thirty minutes, and two glasses later, the pizza arrived. BB got it, and gave the delivery boy the ten dollar tip anyways. For an accountant, she sure was generous with the company funds. At forty five minutes they were both groaning, and reaching for their third slice. “Should we order another one?” asked Sasho through a mouthful of food. BB ignored him. An hour, a large pizza, and half a bottle of whiskey later, BB was lying on the floor, barefoot, talking to the ceiling. Sasho had his head on his desk. “Well, first things first, I’m calling Sinclair.” He picked up the phone and dialed. “Sinclair?” “Excuse me. Laura Sinclair please. It’s Alexander Stamerov.” A minute later. “Hi. I’m fine Laura. How are you? “Uh huh. I see. Say, did you know we have a mutual acquaintance? Why your son’s potential lady friend is my right hand, and my accountant.” After a pause, “Interesting indeed.” “Well, you see, the reason I called is…” “No, this is my office phone. Ok, ok! Sheesh, no need for shouting!. I’ll call you back in a few minutes. Stay by the phone, I don’t want to talk to your husband again if I can help it.” He stood up form his chair and bent over the desk to look down at BB on the floor. “BB, we’ve got to go.” “No!” her mouth making a perfect “O” shape. “Do you want to stay here, alone?” “No!” she whined and rolled over on her side, her back to him. “Well then you’ve got to get up and come with me. It’ll be a short ride, I promise.” “You always say that, and then you take me to Coney Island and make me eat caramel covered marshmallows.” But she sat up anyways and straightened out her plaid hair-band. They sped out of the parking lot and took a left on the main road. A few turns later, they were parked in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot. BB squealed, “Why didn’t you tell me we were going to Dunkos!” and then she paused and looked up at him with puppy dog eyes. “I forgot my wallet. Can I borrow two dollars?” “Sure. Now scram kid! I’ve got business to do.” BB traipsed into the store and Sasho walked over to the phone booth by the light post at the corner of the lot. He dialed and while it was ringing he looked back at the store. He could see through the glass front that BB was waiting patiently in line. So far so good. “Laura. One question. You haven’t, by any chance, delivered some product that I didn’t ask for, did you?” He nodded along silently as she talked. “Well alrighty then. I’ll be in touch soon.” He was back in the car when BB returned, giggling into a croissantwich. “It wasn’t your boyfriend’s mom.” “Eww! He’s not my boyfriend! He’s just an over enthusiastic…” Sasho tuned out as she went on about the nuances of their relationship. They were back in the office before he spoke again. “So, step one has been taken. What’s step two?” She threw herself into her chair and said with a smile, “Let’s make some money.” BB got out her cell and started making calls. Sasho, instead of following suit, sat in a daze, staring at their list of questions. He wished this were as easy as a Weezer song, but he couldn’t find the tread anywhere. BB’s questions were so practical, that is what he loved about her. “I’m giving you a raise BB.” He said to the side of her face as she smiled pleasantries into the phone for a prospective buyer. She didn’t hear him. He looked back at the desk, back at his questions and it hit him. Step two. He picked up his phone and dialed. “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I remembered something.” “Something more? You’ve given me so much already. Santa must have seen the list I sent to the North Pole.” Sasho didn’t laugh. He waited to speak until the smile had faded from her voice. “Tell me about the repair shop.” A sigh came down the line. He’d always wondered how telephones worked, but now was not the time to start pondering that one. “For that, you’ll have to owe me another dinner.” “I’m not sure I can wait that long,” he said, looking at the clock on the wall above the office door. “How about brunch, tomorrow? Sippican Café?” “I’ll google it. See you there at 11?” “Make it 10. It appears that these days, time is not on my side.” They signed off for the night. BB had somehow, during the course of their ten minute conversation, managed to fall asleep. She was always doing things like that at the most inopportune of times. Sasho scooped her up in his arms, grabbed their jackets off the bear statue, flicked the light switch, banged the door shut, and lumbered out to the car. She slept the while way home, her head on her chest. Not even the speed bumps driving past the beach could wake her, or the opening and closing of the car doors. He scanned the street as he pulled up to his house, but seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he parked in the driveway, got out and began the delicate exercise of carefully extracted his beautiful accountant from the passenger side of the car, carried her up the stairs, and stepped gladly into his home. Why was he surprised when he flicked on the living room lights that there were a pair of boots sticking out from his white couch. He threw BB into the armchair in the foyer, his eyes on the small soles of the black work boots pointing at him. They were marked with a cake of dark brown soil in the crevices. He took one cautious step, then another into the living room. At the fourth step he could safely make out a small, flannel clad figure with a fedora perched on her head, asleep. It was Scotti. Shaking his head, he went back to the front door, locked it, and then dragged with his last bit of muscle strength the leggy beauty to the couch across from Scotti. He threw blankets on each, clicked the heater up a few notches, and went upstairs to great the sweet blessed release of sleep. The three of them were as if cast into a spell. Each of them was given a gift of uninterrupted, un-mysterious, un-troubled sleep. The neighborhood settled into night without so much as a dog bark, and the pitch black of night turned slowly, and uneventfully into the grey calling card of dawn. Nothing is so silent as a cold winter night. When dawn’s rose fingers began to thumb the forest trees, Sasho was again curled like a kitten in a cocoon of down and wool. BB turned on her side and shifted the blanket to cover her shoulders. Her brow was smooth, carefree. And Scotti, our Scotti, leaving diamonds of silt on the carpet and couch, thought of nothing, oh nothing, oh nothing at all. He was dressed and out the door by 9:30am. He had left a note for the girls on the kitchen counter. When he’d looked in on them they were both still sprawled across the two couches. The note read: Ladies- Help yourself to the fridge for breakfast and/or lunch. There’s OJ and all sorts of stuff, including the take out from last night, BB. If I’m not back by 2pm, you know what to do. Kisses for my two sweethearts, XOXO… S This was how he signed all his letters, embarrassingly enough. He was parked in the parking lot of Sippican Café at 9:41am. Wizened grey hair ladies and their blonde whippersnapper grandchildren were making their way into the small town eatery. The place had been opened up by a couple of chefs, husband and wife. On the long bar that ran along the face of their open kitchen were glass jar upon jar of different types of salt. Smoked salt, provencal salt, salt with volcanic ash, Dead Sea salt, rock salt, extra-fine ground salt. It had fascinated him endlessly, and during each brunch or lunch or dinner he would stare at them while he waited on his brunch. “Which salt would they use in his dish? Would there be two different types of salt on his plate? What did that one taste like, or that one?,” he often pondered these types of things. But after five years, the couple had sold the place. He wasn’t sure who owned it now, but they got rid of the salt. They changed the décor. The food wasn’t as good. But, it was habit. And where else was he going to go? The Cranberry Garden? Puh-lease. He turned off the engine and looked at the clock in the dashboard. It read, in blinking green dashes; 9:56am. He unbuckled, and got out. He’d just get a table and wait on her. He grabbed his phone from his coat pocket and dialed. There was no answer. His heart began to pitter and patter a little faster. His palms began to bead with pin drops of sweat. He decided to go in and wit until at least 10:30. Maybe 11, in case she’d gotten confused. He didn’t really have any other option. The only things he knew about her were her name, where she worked, and her cell phone number. And that she didn’t like root beer…. But that was privileged information divulged in the heat of passion… or their dinner out. Anyways, he went in, got a seat, and ordered an orange juice. And another one. At 10:35 he called the waitress over and ordered himself (an potentially Philippa) the “Parisian Bruncher’s Pastry Basket”. He had a thing for alliteration. He nibbled on the end of a croissant, bit the top off a morning glory muffin, and picked at the glaze on the strudel until 11am. At 11:05 she stumbled in. He sat still in his chair, the last half of the bitter orange and chocolate croissant in his right hand as he watched her banging through the door. Her hair was a mess, which, in the little time he’d known her, seemed a little out of character. She was wearing chocolate brown stockings and a black jumper dress with a yellow sweater. While stylish it may have been on the crowded F trains of the world, this also did not look like a typical Ms. Reporter Sleuth get up. And she wasn’t carrying a pen. Or a pad of paper. “Is anyone sitting here,” she said as she slid down into the chair across the table from him. “My dear,” he said, a finger to her wrist, “Whatever happened to you?” “What do you mean?” “Well, you’re late, for one.” She dropped her head in admission of guilt. “Your hair is a mess,” her hand went instantly up to her head to try to bring some order to her glossy, but thin, auburn hair. “And your outfit looks like something out of an American Apparel catalogue.” Her jaw dropped and she looked up at him, visible hurt. “Well, good morning to you too Alexander.” He motioned over the waitress and ordered her an orange juice, and an egg white omelet with asparagus and chive goat cheese. “Mighty forward of you.” “I once dated a nutritionist, I know what’s best for you.” She didn’t crack a smile. “Ok, but really. I was worried. I ate the whole pastry basket. It’s been a rough morning.” This time she smiled, almost. “What happened?” “Well, it’s a time-worn tale. I simply overslept. “Is that a common occurrence for you?” “Well, to be honest, no. I’m usually an early riser, and I pride myself in always being punctual. It’s the only way to build trust and respect in your informants.” “I’ll pretend I didn’t just hear that.” “And I fell asleep really early. Actually, I don’t even remember falling asleep, but when I woke up I was fully clothed from dinner, and the TV was still on. I was in… get this. Are you ready?” he nodded. “I was in one of my kitchen chairs. My head on the kitchen table, my arms folded in my lap.” Now it was his turn to drop jaw. “Isn’t that odd?” He put his hand to his forehead and looked over her shoulder, gazing blankly in the general direction of the parking lot. “but I feel great today. I must have needed it.” The buzz of brunch disappeared. He grabbed her hands. “Philippa. I was with BB last night, and she too fell asleep rather suddenly. And deeply. Then when I got home, my other business partner was there unexpectedly, and also zonked out. They both slept on the couches in the living room, and they hadn’t so much as moved a muscle, hadn’t even changed positions once all night, when I got up to leave this morning.” He tossed her the muffin stub with one hand as he stood up and dug in his pocket for cash with the other. “Can you come with me? We can talk about the repair…” “Shhh!” “I mean, the REPO,” he over annunciated, “man movie on the way. Ok?” “But I’m hungry!” “Please Phillipa, for the love of a good story, please!” They were driving down back country roads a minute later. “Ok,” she said, getting a serious tone in her voice that meant business. “Ok. The repair shop, the Endicott Foreign Automobile Shop, is owned by some pretty heavy players. Don’t interrupt! This will be good for you.” She sifted in her seat as the pine forest whizzed by her. “They first came on my radar during a run of the mill burglary. But then there was another burglary. And then a missing persons report. And their name kept on popping up other places, involved with other people. The type of people you usually try to avoid; the crazy, the violent, the stupid, you get the picture. And one day it dawned on me. They were the ringleaders. they were the puppeteers pulling the strings on the criminals we find on the streets.” “May I ask a question?” he glanced over quickly before returning his eyes to the road. “How does their illegal activity relate to the auto shop?” Well, the auto shop was, and is, their first legit business. They launder money through there, trade cars full of goods, and traffic in persons across the Canadian border. It’s the perfect business for them to veil their extreme nefariousness. “What about the people who work there?” “You know, I’m not sure how far the corruption goes. Or what the mechanics know or don’t know. But I stopped by there a few days ago… those are not your average mechanics.” Sasho sat back in his seat, a twinkle in his eye and a flush to his cheek. Staring at the roof of the car he agreed, “No, no they are not.” It had been three days since he’d seen her (well really it had only been her feet, and those incredible work stilettos) but it felt like a lifetime. He sat up straight in his chair suddenly. “And how do the honchos relate to the maple syrup people?” “That my dear, is the big mystery.” They both lost them selves in their own personal reveries. Sasho thought of his mechanic, replaying their last conversation in his head. He thought of the breakfast pastries. It wasn’t until he turned onto his street that he began to think of the problem at hand. In the house Scotti and BB were awake, but still groggy. Sasho walked in, heard them talking quietly in the living room, and went straight for the coffee machine. “Morning my lovelies,” he called out. Phillipa waited patiently by the door. “Come in, come in. Have a seat,” as he gestured at the kitchen table by the window. The lovelies came in, clothes rumpled, hair wild and eyes crusted with sleep. Scotti yawned and stretched, and tried her hardest to come to life. The demonstration was big and loud, like a cat after an afternoon on the windowsill. BB rubbed her face, smushing her doll-like features into something slightly less perfection. They both snapped to attention when they saw the company. Scotti stepped forward, “Hi, I’m Scotti.” BB nodded her recognition at Philippa from over Scotti’s shoulder. “Phillipa. so nice to meet you.” Said our Ms. Reporter Sleuth in response. “You know, I woke up feeling the same way you guys look right now.” The lovelies hung their heads. “Sasho here thinks that the three of us were drugged.” All eyes were on him. He pulled out the coffee pot, full with freshly brewed “ambition,” as Dolly Parton said that one time, and plonked it on the table. They waited patiently while he laid out mugs, sugar, and poured half and half into a creamer. He sat down, they all prepared their coffees. As soon as everyone had their own perfectly prepared cup, he began. “Scotti, what did you do last night?” “I was at home, alone. I watched TV, had some brownies... it was an average, if not a boring day.” “BB, you were with me, in the office all day. And Philippa?” She gulped down the mouthful of coffee and said after a short delay, “I was in the office until about noon, making phone calls. Then I went home, showered, ordered take out. I was at home the rest of the night.” “Then there’s no correlation. Is there anything else that we’ve all touched, a place we’ve all been? Anything out of the ordinary?” “The only time the three of us,” gesturing at the lovelies and himself, “have been in the same place at the same time was when we were at Laura Sinclair’s ranch. BB. Did you happen to have any Johhny cakes?” “Are you kidding? I had a taste, but that wasn’t the dinner. We had salmon sashimi with wild leeks in a balsamic vinaigrette for a starter, aged seal sirloin topped with foie gras and pomegranate reduction on a bed of scalloped Yukon gold potatoes. And baked bourbon apples with Canadian bacon ice cream for dessert.” Sasho’s mouth was agape. He could feel the surge of saliva production in his mouth. “I can’t believe I didn’t stay for that! But never mind, the past is the past. The food is completely, and utterly beside the point. What did you have to drink? I’m almost scared to ask.” “Prosecco with first course, lavender mead with the second, and… what was it? Of course! Mulled cider hot toddies with the dessert. Oh my was it good.” Scotti and Sasho looked at each other. “Is it possible?” she said. “Could it have been something in the cider… something with a delayed reaction?” There was nothing but the sound of Phillipa stirring her coffee as they all pondered the possibilities. “ But we’re forgetting, oh this ruins it all. We’re forgetting that you didn’t fall asleep, Sash.” “Oh well… well, I didn’t want to bring it up in mixed company. I’m pretty much immune to most drugs. And poisons. Not all, and not completely, but let’s just say that growing up in a shamanic commune has certain unexpected benefits.” “Hold on, I thought it was military training that gave you your immunity.” Said BB. He shushed her with his eyebrows. “OK, so we won’t worry about you,” Scotti said quickly as she rolled her eyes. “But what about Phillipa?” This time all eyes were on our reporter. Phillipa was beet-red. She couldn’t make eye contact with any of them. She shifted in her seat and turned her head to the wall. Her hands were in tight, sweaty little balls on the tabletop. In a quiet voice she managed to say, “I’m not sure there is such a thing as a 72 hour time released sleeping pill. I could do some research but…” “Phillipa,” said Brit Brit, in her best interpretation of a mean girl. “You’re hiding something.” “No, I’m not!” “It looks like you are,” said Sasho. Scotti nodded. And Phillipa promptly burst into tears. It wasn’t the full on water works. A trickle here, a trickle there, a sniff-sniff. “I can’t even cry like a girl!” Phillipa cried out, and a few more tear drops dribbled from her swelling eyes. The other three sat stiffly. If it had been a cartoon, they would have been stick figures with a giant question mark in the communal thought-bubble over their heads. The reporter turned to Brit Brit. “BB, it’s me. It’s… I’m Bryan.” Phillipa, our intrepid reporter, pulled off what must have been a very expensive Canadian wig, to reveal the short brown hair of Mr. Door-opener himself. BB dropped her coffee cup heavily to the table. Sasho stopped mid-sip, cup still poised at his lips. Sasho felt an impending sense of doom, way in the put of his stomach. Scotti burst into laughter, hooting up at the ceiling, eyes closed. She was oblivious to the danger inherent in this trickery and throughout the rest of the conversation she burst into fits of laughter intermittently. She smothered them with her fist, but laughter it was nonetheless. “What? What? What!” Brit Brit said, unable to move beyond disbelief. “Are you even a reporter?!” “I am not a reporter.” “You were using me to get to Sasho!?” “In the attempt for complete honest, I feel that I must say yes,” said our cross-dressing, door-opening, intrepid non-reporter. Sasho’s face was ashen, the coffee no longer held any appeal, and it would soon be cold, and most surely would be discarded. Yes, of course he was sweating, do we even need to say that? This was very, very, very bad. “Then why the hell are you telling us this?” The reporter hung its head. “Again, to be honest, it’s my mother. We’ve been on rocky terms since I was a teenager,” The Door-opener turned to Sasho and patted his knee saying, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to be fine. Can you make us some more coffee?” “What does that have to do with anything?” asked BB. “I always felt a little different,” Phillipa/Bryan said as Sasho stood up to start a fresh pot. “I always felt that I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t like the other children. My problems were inside, and outside, the whole world was upside down. I was depressed for most of my life, but never knew it because how could I? When you have nothing to compare it too. I just thought that everyone else was pretending, that they were trying very hard, with every ounce of their will, to imbibe these lifestyles we have been asked to uphold.” “You mean you’re actually a transvestite?” exclaimed Scotti, stunned. “Transgendered, yes.” There was a flicker of relief somewhere around the brow area that someone else had broached the subject that they’d been dancing around. “My mother could never see my point of view. She always believed that I was shirking my duties, avoiding life, trying to be difficult. Apparently she’d felt that even in the womb, as I had stayed in there, deep in slumber for a whole extra month, refusing to be budged.” Sasho was at the kitchen counter, quietly tapping out spoonfuls of coffee and refilling the water in the back of the machine. His head was craned towards the table, riveted with a fear that mixed heavily with curiosity. This was certainly a very unexpected turn of events. He was glad he’d never held the doll face of this Interloper. Not that he had anything against that, he thought quickly to himself. It just wasn’t his bag. He didn’t think… and then the possibilities took him off into another world. He was lost to the conversation for several minutes. “Anyhow, I’ve been living in Smugglers Notch in the family cabin for the past four years, trying out an experiment in my feelings. I don’t think, but again I’m not completely sure, but I don’t feel completely female, nor do I feel completely male. Is there a more fluid way to look at this? That is what I’m working towards.” With a frog in his throat that was audible to all, Sasho asked from across the marble island, “Tell us what your mother sent you to find out.” “Right. Well, she asked me to meet her back in the spring. It was unexpected, she hardly ever reached out to me. I dressed as a man to ease our conversation. She told me about you Sasho, and you Scotti. Apparently she had known about your syrup scheme for some time, but only recently has it become a problem for her life and work. She asked me to poke around and get close to the situation. After a few days of staking out the office, and one day as a perspective CSA shareholder,” he said with a nod to Scotti, “I had found my in. Brit Brit, you are still as beautiful and as poised as you were in high school. I could never forget your walk, your smile, and the deep rasp in your voice. When I saw you I was elated, and this task for my mother suddenly held a whole new appeal.” “So you began courting me. But I never told you anything about my work. Nothing incriminating at least.” “Yes, yes, it’s true. She’s inscrutable,” again directing this at Sasho. “So I was forced to become Phillipa. It was a little thrilling, to be honest.” “Again, why are you telling us all this?” said BB, confused by his frank admittance of deceit, and of sleeping with, or in fact, being the enemy. “Well, first of all, I came to see you guys as my friends. It was becoming cumbersome to lie and pretend as barriers were coming down between us.” “And…” said Brit Brit “And, well my mother is forcing me to choose sides. I choose you guys, if you’ll have me.” “How is she forcing you to choose sides?” “Well as this contest grows nearer she’s becoming more, how can I say, evil. She wants nothing more than the money that is part and parcel of winning this contest. She’ll stop at nothing! And the feud between Edmonton and Alberta is getting quite gory. Quiet gory indeed.” “It’s Alberta is it? What can you tell us about Alberta? I think we might be getting some trouble from them. You’re not pretending to be someone else for Alberta, are you? Say… my mechanic?” “No, only two people. Or one, depending on how you count it.” “how about we all take five minutes, freshen up, and meet back here. I’ll tell you everything you need to know.” “How do we know we can trust you?” “Well I suppose you never can tell, but in this instance, I am being very upfront and truthful.” They all got up from the table. Sasho did leg lunges in the space between the front door and the refrigerator. BB took the downstairs bathroom, and they could hear the brushing of teeth and the washing of face through the walls. Scotti went upstairs and made a few phone calls. She threw some water on her face and was done with it. At 11:45 am they were all back in their chairs looking refreshed and curious. “My mother is in bed with a lot of different characters. I don’t know all of them, and everything is secret, under the table, back room… you get the picture. I know that she is laundering money for the rebuilding campaign through the foreign automobile shop. I know that she is using you guys to sell fake Albertan maple syrup, and bring down the enemy. But if you think about it, she is probably going at this from a lot of different angles. You’re mixed up with a lot more than you know. As they say in Edmonton “There’s too many trees on that hill.”” “Tell me about the Albertans,” said Sasho. “They’re just as badly in need of the revenue influx, what with the crisis and the global warming throwing the sap trees all out of whack. And knowing the Albertans, they too are probably playing a little rough and dirty. I haven’t been asked to spy on them so I don’t have that much interaction.” “We had a little problem here that I’d like to get your advice on,” said Sasho, proceeding warily. “Eight tanker trucks of un-ordered maple syrup have been delivered to inconvenient & conspicuous places. Two were idling outside my house. The remaining six were idling outside my place of work. I try to keep my business discrete, that is what has gotten me this far in this line of work. So it is against my every principle to do business like this. Someone is trying to call me out, get me caught, expose me.” He paused for a very long time, weighing his words. Then he spoke. “The other thing is that in one of the trucks there was a dead body. The driver.” *** Notes from a professional on cleaning out the car where a dead body has been found: 1. Strip the absorbables; carpet, cushions, chair, then wipe down everything with bleach… or microban. While you’re waiting, look around to see where the rest of it went? Or is it a decomp…? A decomp on a hot day= Melting steering wheel = Mold on the steering wheel and glass. At that point, there’s nothing you can do. The cab must be torched. Clean it up for transport…. Get a carpenter’s knife and cut out everything absorbable, box it, and take it to an auto-clave facility for processing. *** BRIT BRIT In the storage lot… Brit Brit pulled on a pair of lavender-colored latex gloves. Her hair was pulled back a way from her face with a tiger print hair twistee tie. Her makeup was inappropriately perfect; brown mascara clung to curled lashes, a shade of shimmery peach danced across almond-shaped eyelids, mineral foundation blended smoothly into pore-less skin, and a dewy lipstick sparkled a bright red over doll-lips of an already naturally rosy hue. She ripped the carpet cutter out of the cardboard and plastic packaging and threw it on the far seat. The unstained seat, that is. She climbed down from the cab, pulling the respirator over her face, and dropped the charge onto the truck’s exposed battery. The engine turned over, and the radio came on. She climbed back into the cab and changed the station. Mariah Carey & Dolly Parton’s new over-the-top wowee zowee smash single, an R&B/country rendition of Wanda Jackson’s famed “Tunnel of Love” came through the dashboard speakers. Mariah’s voice descended like an angel from the rafters, as Dolly played the melody on her mandolin. Brit Brit sang, “Here I come going down, down, down,” as she made her first incision into the seat cushion. The scene was something out of… something out of some other place, and some other time. It did not belong here, no sirree. The garage they owned in the storage lot was illuminated from above by three long rows of fluorescent lights. Think high school science class. The cold cement floors and steel walls created a sonic environment of wet, clanging metallic stone. The Truck was parked in the middle of the garage. There were three 1,000 liter tanks against the far wall and the whir of a hydraulic pump could be heard as it sucked the maple syrup form the tanker to the storage unit. Both doors of the truck cab were open, and the voices of American pop musicians warbled and screeched from the speakers within. On the far wall were shelves and a row of tools, a pool table with a major scratch down the middle, a silver airstream trailer with Christmas lights on it, and a string of pumpkin Christmas lights. In the middle of all this, illuminated by a light above, lay our trucker. He was partially wrapped in a large clear plastic tarp, and crammed into a large plastic tub. His arm, wrapped in a light grey sweatshirt with the Canadian flag embroidered on the sleeve, hung out of the tub, fingers grazing the floor. His legs were folded against his chest and his head lay to the side, lightly resting on his chest. A large canister of acid sat beside him. Brit Brit could be heard humming as she worked, stripping cushions from the cab, and sawing away at sections of the dashboard. She threw them into three large trash bins beside the truck. She danced a little as she sprinkled her bleach solution (with a touch of patchouli & a splash of lavender essential oil thrown in) across the dash, the back of the seat, the steering wheel, and the floor, the brake and clutch pedals. She turned the radio up, climbed down off the truck and looked at her watch. She had to push the lavender glove back, it clung to her with sweat and human oils. She was secreteing, and she didn’t like that. Her watch said “1:42pm” in blinking pink LEDs. She set the cupcake timer for seven minutes, then began to circle the trucker’s body. 1:49pm came around with the chiming of the cupcake alarm: a music box rendition of “It’s a Small World after All”. She shook herself out of her reverie, cleared her head of thoughts of the impending task, and stepped back up the three steps and into the truck’s cab. She had a giant purple sponge in her hand, and a purple sparkly bucket in the other. She began to slowly sponge up the bio-matter, now thoroughly de-bacterialized, wringing it out regularly in the bucket on hand. She started with the dashboard, making several swipes before satisfied. She then moved to the back of the seat, and what was left of the bottom of the seat. Due to the excessive ginger-breading, and a general persnickety nature, she had cut out a giant square of the bottom cushion, clearing straight through to the seat’s springs. Only a small rim of seat cushion remained, and this she sponged carefully along the top and sides. Careful that none of her clothes touched the freshly wiped-down seat, she leaned forward and entered the cavity below the seat. She began swabbing away at the pedals, then carefully cleaning bio matter off the floor. She wrung the sponge out into the bucket and then took a final pass at the floor of the cab. Her sponge took up about ¼ of the floor space, and as she neared the front of the seat she heard a metallic jingle. She dropped the sponge and reached for her cell. It was Scotti. She wanted to know how things were going. Brit brit thought for a second… she was alone in the storage space, cleaning up blood and cuts, cutting away pieces of dashboard, and about to disintegrate an innocent trucker in an acid bath using a technique she learned on “Breaking Bad.” “Babe, things are going pretty good. I feel good. I think we can pull it off.” Scotti was gone within a second. BB carefully erased her call from her call records, and made a pass through her text messages. Nothing incriminating there. Nothing for a suspicious co- worker, ex-lover, and present friend to find. As clean as her dashboard. It took her about forty five minutes of scrubbing down & wringing out to be satisfied with her work. She trudged over to the work sink and dumped the bio matter down the drain. She had brought a stick from the woods by where she kept her horses for just this situation. She jabbed at the clumps of matter in the sink to make them go down the drain. Once most of it had been forced down the drain, she ran hot water and poured half a bottle of bleach into the sink. The smell was overpowering. She held her head as far away from the scent as possible, put the cap back on the bottle, and stowed it under the sink. She turned off the water and walked away satisfied with her thoroughness. And now for the final task of the day. She thought of the fat bonus in her bank account and could envision Loboutons, chanel bags, a week at the spa just like sugar plums. She unscrewed the two bottles of acid, looking at the body, severely disfigured. The stomach was bloated and the stench was, well we’ll just say that the smell was strong. Very strong. Fluids had begun to leak out of the body and cake in the truck cab. In the plastic bucket the efluevent was that much more evident, with nothing to absorb it at all. It was putrid filth if she’d ever seen it (which she had), pure and simple. She began to pour, making sure her respirator was securely suctioned to her cheeks. The last of the acid gurgled and spurted out of the bottle, she put it carefully down, and began with the second one. Her mind skipped and leaped to other things, other times she’d been in such a situation, doing a similar thing. It was exhilarating, she felt a shiver as she contemplated her own boldness. The second bottle spat into the bucket, the body was already beginning to smoke and sizzle as the acid went to work. She ran over to the far wall, her gold pumps clicking and clacking like Dolly in a library and switched on the exhaust system in the aluminum room. Then she went over to the farthest corner, towards the couch and TV, and slumped down. She peeled off her gloves and threw them on the cement floor. It was one of those ancient TVs, as in from the 1980’s. She fiddled the dials, banged the top, a cloud of dust appearing as if from nowheres, and suddenly the screen went from a white spinning fuzz to a black and white wiggling picture of the weather. She turned up the volume, and sound shot out from the two speaker cabinets to the left and right of the TV. “A freak snow storm rolling through after unseasonably warm weather for the past three weeks. I tell you what guys, it’s getting hard to decide what’s normal and not. But forget about normal, this is what we’re expecting for the next few days: a foot of snow on Sunday, and foot of snow on Monday, and a foot and a half of snow on Tuesday. What is that, you ask yourselves? It’s called a blizzard folks, it’s called a blizzard. Get out your candles, get out your rock salt, and turn up the heat. I can’t wait! It’s going to be so amazing! I’m going tog et such a major bonus for this one! Honey, if you’re watching, I’m buying you that new Lexus you wanted, fully loaded. Just wait until I get home, I’ll move some funds around…” The channel went to the emergency warning system’s 70’s inspired color stripes and the accompanying eardrum-assaulting screech. Brit Brit clicked and clacked her way hastily to the one window. She pulled up the venetian blind and her jaw dropped. A white out. Her breath quickly condensed on the glass and she smeared it away with her hand. She opened the door to see how high the snow was already and with a whoosh of cold air came a flurry of large white flakes. The snow was ankle-high, and the wind was strong. She picked up her phone and dialed Scotti… even though these sorts of things were completely and utterly forbidden. A screech came through the line. Why were emergencies rife with unpleasant noises? Why couldn’t emergency equal a burning jazz quartet, a soulful croon, or a summer pop-anthem? She clicked back over to the trucker, sweat beginning to fog the eyepiece of her respirator. He was half disintegrated, a sizzling soupy mess. Poor guy. She hadn’t wanted to know, so had thrown his wallet into the tub, unopened. In situations like these, it was best not to know. Something white fell into the vat and spat acid in her general direction. She leapt back and looked up. there was a hole in the ceiling! Snow was falling in, making a cyclone of white bits. BB weighed her options. Then resigning herself to the safer, albeit more arduous, option, she began to slowly drag the vat away from the falling snow. She pulled the vat as slowly as she could in heels and without gloves. A splash could be the end of her. Or her jimmy choos. It took her five careful minutes to move the vat of impending doom one foot to the left of the hole in the ceiling. She tugged the vat the last inch and then collapsed on the ground from over exertion and concentration. She wriggled across the cold cement floor and lay flat on her back. I’m not sure which was the highest point on her flat profile, the points of the toes of her shoes or the butt of the chin of her respirator. After a few minutes a chill began to set into her bones, she could hear her grandmother’s voice in her head cautioning her about he dangers of cold bones. She sat up and moved to the couch. She hated the couch, it was scratch. She decided that if she was going to be trapped here for the next three days with a dead body, a portable crime scene, and 30,000 liters of maple syrup, that she might as well be drunk. As she lunged for the rakiya she decided she sure as hell was not going to be sober for even a second more of this if she could. She hoped that Scotti would find her on Tuesday naked & ruddy-cheeked, wielding a power tool of some variety, and building a robot or bookshelf or something with bottles strewn across the floor. She sucked heavily from the bottle. the first drag was hard, she rasped and spat as the burn filled her chest cavity. The second went down sooner and by the third she was pulling like a baby from its mother’s teat. Not to misrepresent, BB was never breastfed. She hardly even went near a breast that wasn’t her own until girl’s school. I just don’t want to confuse you, the reader, here or worse, get sued for slander. You understand. In this day and age, you always have to take care of Number 1. That’s what Eric Wright always told me. And in case there was any more confusion, I, narrator-person, am Number 1. You’re numbers 7,8,9… and on. Sorry, but the characters get first dibs. I mean, they were created first. You all were just an afterthought. No offense. BB was half way through the bottle and topless when Scotti banged on the door. SCOTTI Scotti didn’t have time for this bullshit. BB was always breaking the rules for personal emergencies. The boss did not like that. And Scotti was sick of having to straddle the two worlds. Why couldn’t BB play by the rules, like she did? Why’d she always have to go complicating and already complicated situation? But as Scotti drove, or rather, inched, her way through the white wonderland before her she couldn’t help but explore her own insufficiencies. Was playing by the rules really the way to get ahead? Did it really help anything? Or did it just keep you down- unnoticed and unadvanced? Her thoughts swirled like the water crystals outside, dancing in the . When all this is said and done, she swore, she’d buy the biggest and best bottle of alcohol she could and drunk it until she drowned. Until she drowned like a fish in air. Or a soap bubble in cement. But that was miles, hours, and bodies yet to come. For now she had to concentrate. On the road. On whether BB was an annoyance, or a brilliance. Four hours later, she was pulling into Smuggler’s Notch. Four hours and seven minutes, she was clicking on her turn signal and swerving into the industry park. Four hours and nine. three minutes, she was raising her fist to the metal storage room door. BB answered, nipples a swinging in the wind. They were, unsurprisingly, standing at attention. Scotti gave them leave to cease and dismiss the stiff salute, but they persisted. Scotti decided to let their insubordinance slide this once. “How’s it going” she asked “Scotti! Oh my god Scotti!,” drooled doll-face. “Do you remember that time when we went to the zoo? When we skipped class and went to the zoo? And it was the first time you’d ever seen a squirrel and you cried?” BB was screaming, and leaping up and down. Her breasts were following suit. Such followers!, thought Scotti. Have some agency! She ordered them. Again she was given nothing but insolent silence. “Calm yourself darling.” Scotti was one of those women who could call anyone darling. It made you swoon a little inside when she looked you in the eye, or touched your elbow lightly, and spoke that one word. “simmer down.” “No! Oh Scotti! Don’t you remember? And your mom packed you a bagel with cream cheese and… and… and … and pickles!!” She exploded into raucous laughter. She was gone. Scotti thought about smacking her, but smacking BB always went in a route you’d rather not. Scotti chose a new avenue. She called GGW. You know what that is, right? You must have seen it. Yu have TV, right? And you weren’t born in 2006, were you? Ok then you’ve seen it. It’s this show where young girls get really drunk and this camera crew gets them to make out with each other and undress and all sorts of things. Yes, that’s it. Yes! Girls Gone Wild. The GGW van was at the storage unit in five minutes flat. They’d been in Smuggler’s Notch recruiting for their “Ski Bunnies GGW” winter 2012 edition. BB answered the door, the cameras, upon seeing her, came out blazing like ak-47s. She tripped out into the now knee- high snow, kicking powder up into the atmosphere. She was bliss itself. She had achieved an innocent sexuality that may have been precedented only by Aphrodite. The cameras were in camera heaven. They didn’t have hard-ons. They had pure love in their dicks. This event, this phenomenon was approaching the level of art, with each peal of laughter and flurried spin. Scotti stepped back into the storage unit and surveyed the damage. The gloves were thrown into the surging vat. Scotti dragged out the mop bucket, filled it with a few caps of bleach and then topped of the bucket with hot water. She mopped around the truck. She rubbed down all the doors, windows, the TV, the table, the rakiya bottles strewn about. She was thorough. The pulled on a fresh pair of gloves, threw on a hair net, and sat down to watch TV. The body would be liquid by morning, and then all she would need to do was to add some sort of base, then suction it out of the vat into some public waste source. She could hear BB screeching with laughter. She ran to the door with a second pair of gloves and BB’s coat. BB, put these on! Her friend, co-worker, and more, wobbled over to the door. The snow in the lot had once been a pristine icing on earth’s cake. It was now a trampled, scuffed, fussed over mess. Scotti no longer felt that wintery sense of calm. BB was before her now. Scotti helped her into her coat, buttoned it, flipped out her hair, and began the arduous task of putting latex gloves on someone else, not to mention an intoxicated someone else. When that was said and done, Scotti went back inside. She made a phone call, but it was so top secret that not even we know exact details. Or any details. She called someone, about something, then hung up on them shortly afterwards. We aren’t privy to a crumb more, or less. After that Scotti called for pizza, and she sat down to wait for time to catch up to her. She often had this problem that she was ahead of time, and she had to wait for it to catch up. This would be a long wait, and she hoped not to existentially trying. The cameramen were rapping on the door. They had papers for her to sign, a waiver of some sort. She signed without reading and sat back down. The screen had gone to white, the TV mimicking the environment. Art imitating life. Her mind went somewhere deep, somewhere unexpected. It was Sasho. She had found him repulsive, but had convinced herself that if she was a good person, she wouldn’t. It had been years upon years upon years, but now the cold, unwavering eye of truth was no longer to be avoided. He was repulsive. He was clumsy. He was entirely not what she wanted. At least, not in the package she wanted, in the style of living she wanted, not in the level of intuition she wanted. Not it any of. She felt that she had been talking to a blank wall for years. And she was starting to realize that there was no point. that a wall is a wall, and there’s no way around it. And this was a terrible thought. Because it had terrible implications. And that, she didn’t know what to do with. To be honest, there were a lot of great things about their relationship. In a lot of ways, more ways than could be ignored, they were very well suited. But in other ways, they were not. Which was more important? How do you weigh these things? And whom can you turn to for advice in such a time as this? She wanted him to be the one. She desperately wanted him to be the one. It was so much easier this way. Heart break had completely destroyed her once before. Learning to live life alone, learning to be alone, dancing her way through the needs of other suitors. Being single meant trouble, it meant heartache and it inevitably lead to new love. And love was the most unreliable, heart breaking thing of all. Why couldn’t he be the one? Wasn’t he a part of her now? And wasn’t she a part of him? And hadn’t they grown together, explored together, done everything together for years upon years upon years? what now? What now! How to move past these roadblocks, and which road to take when they were on their other side. And how many cars to take. What now? What now! How to move past these roadblocks, and which road to take when they were on their other side. And how many cars to take. But that was the past. The not so recent past, if you look at it objectively. Scotti had found, in her many years that the heart does not run on the Gregorian calendar. The heart has a more complex way of traveling through time, full of twists and turns and worm holes. She came to with the slam of a door. BB was standing there, holding two giant pizzas. “Hungry, much?” she asked. She was no longer swaying slightly, and her jacket was neatly buttoned. The cold must have sobered her. Or it could have been something else. “What the hell were you trying to do to me back there?” Scotti chuckled. Bb was pissed! “I was doing what needed to be done, the best way I know how.” “And that is… public humiliation?” BB demanded. “Well that and a an adoring audience.” BB scowled. “Admit it, you love an audience.” And the scowl dropped. BB stooped open mouthed, fuming. Scotti knew it would pass, if she played her cards right. They too had some history, as do all business colleagues, and all thieves. “Come on baby,” she said with a light hip-bump. “I got your favorite. And you get your whole one, you don’t need to share!” “I have to admit, I am kind of hungry.” BB plonked on to the couch next to Scotti and began fussing over the pizza boxes. “Hold on, what times is it?” “why?” “How come I can be in here without a respirator. And how can you be?” “The job’s done.” “Oh god. Oh jeez, while I was out there you took care of it?” Scotti looked at her purple- gloved hands, resting on her knees. BB continued, “I’m sorry S. I know that’s not really your thing.” Inside, BB had more regrets about his missed opportunity, but they went unsaid. “Well it might be now”, said Scotti in a low voice. SASHO The car was running warm. It should be, it’d been six hours without a break. He decided that at the next pit stop he would indeed take a rest, and let the car cool down. The open road rolled past him, he was streaming. the universe had aligned itself for his ease of travel. It was a sensation like no other. Twenty, thirty miles passed undeterred, without so much as another car’s headlights to distract him from his purpose. He would be there by morning, and this fact made him very happy indeed. It had been a week, or maybe a lifetime of powerlessness. Today might be the first day of a new way to be. He felt that way at least. At was the 41st mile since he’d decided to stop that the opportunity arose. He pulled to the left and exited in a slow graceful sloop; bird leaving the flock. He parked and made a beeline for MacDonald’s. It had been some quite time. In general he did not eat such things. He was above them, in principle. But a rule is meant to be broken, and tonight it would be. He ordered a big Mac, large fry, and a coke. He declined the super size. It was, in fact, super sized enough already. He eat greedily at the small perch they call tables in these fast food places. He ate so quickly that he bit the inside of his mouth pretty badly. But that aside it was an uneventful, salt and oil filled meal. He only slightly regretted it as he walked back to the car and hit the road again. But this time, he was not alone. He thought back to the signs. Had he entered Canadian territory yet? He didn’t think so, but then he had taken some back roads. Maybe he was closer than he’d thought. Then he saw the big green sing that read Alberta, 214 km. He has exactly where he was supposed to be. And with a tail, he might be closer to uncovering some information than he’d thought. But in the meantime, he had 214 km to drive. He turned up his music. It was Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors,” and something in him rang true. Oddly enough. This line in particular “why cant you just let me do the things I want to do I just want to be me, I don’t understand why would you want to bring me down…” He felt at his core that there was a war going on, but he didn’t really know why, or with whom. He was sure, however, that he was a target. But who could it be? He racked his brain for the following 20 km. Here’s what he came up with: ⇒ Neighbor with the lawn mower ⇒ Ex girlfriends #’s 1 – 145 ⇒ Parents ⇒ Neighbor with the gnome ⇒ Ex bosses #’s 1-4 ⇒ Teacher of Balkan history ⇒ Smuggler enemy #s 1 – 17 ⇒ All of “Smuggler’s Notch’s” wise-guys But he was sure there were more. Many more. It was his own fault probably. He wasn’t very good at ending things. Or starting things. Or discussing things in the middle. It was always, with everything, a giant fiasco of lies, hiding, obligations, desires, and insecurities. Even Scotti could be on that list! Even Scotti could be on that list. His foot unconsciously eased off the accelerator as he thought. After their breakup, there was half a year or so where they didn’t speak. Then all of a sudden, she appeared, with a business deal. It had been six months of un-interrupted profit- making, and he had been pleasantly surprised that they had been able to set aside old wounds and work for a common goal: cash. But here was time to ponder. Could she be playing him? Could she be the rat, the mole, the wolf in sheep’s clothing? Let’s let Sasho think on that a while. As he thinks, he slows, more and more unsure of the path he has taken. He becomes oblivious to the car tailing him, ten car lengths back. They pass each other every once in a while, but there seems to be a consistent attitude of surveillance about the other driver. Like cat and mouse. That aside, let’s talk about moles. Let’s talk about those slimy creatures that burrow, that avert, that hide. Those creatures that subvert your every attempt and find their way exactly where you don’t want them, exactly when you cannot have them. Can any one person be completely evil? If you think on it, if you can swallow it, ten you must say no. No, no one person is completely evil. So this mole, this double-crossing, two-timing, multiplitious bastard must have some reason for such actions, shouldn’t they? I mean in general, Sasho seems to be basically a good guy. He’s kind of a wuss, and kind of a lay-about, and maybe not the brightest. He’s also a professional criminal, but who are we to point fingers? I’m an asshole know-it-all, and you’re reading this because you’re hiding from something. We’re all, as Mariah Carey says, imperfect angels. Ok, now back to it. He was now driving at a crawl. A grandma who couldn’t sleep passed him. The sun was coming up on the far off horizon and the light went from midnight blue to a clear slate grey. The tail speed off, having deduced where he as going and what for. They would lay in waiting, they again had the upper hand. Sasho decided, with the sun coming up, he was more than half way there. It would be silly to turn back now, and even stupider to try to call Scotti and confront her over the phone. Plus the roaming charges would surely ruin him. He picked up speed and was in Alberta in the full light of morning. The red LED clock at the entrance of the city read 7:47am. He asked directions a Dunkos and found himself at the Maple Syrup Headquarters of Alberta by 8:00am. Office hours weren’t until 9:00am. He sat in the car, glowering and fidgeting. He watched the office workers trudge slowly into the office building. At the stroke of 9 he was cracking the front door and a second alter, staring intently at the doorman. “I need to speak to the head of Alberta Maple Syrup.” With the cool reserve of a professional, “May I ask who is speaking?” “Tell them it is Sasho Stamerov from Smuggler’s Notch.” The doorman rang up to the office, presumably spoke with a secretary, and replaced the phone in the cradle. “They are in a meeting right now. They are free to meet you at 1:30, if you’d like.” “Ok, I can wait. What floor was it? “11” And who am I looking for? “Sally and Price van Princer. They are co-directors of the organization.” “Well thank you very much. Now could I just use your restroom?” Sasho did in fact have to pee after that long ride, but with hands still wet and soap-scented, he bound the emergency exit stairway to the 11th floor. He rested at the top for a minute to regain his composure, then burst through the door with a shrill alarm. It shut off as soon as the door swung shut behind him. The assistant at the front desk looked up with a smile. “Hello.” “Hello.” She waited. “May I help you?” “I have a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Van Princer.” “I don’t see the meeting listed.” “It’s a criminal matter, I’m with the Smuggler’s Notch, VT police department.” He flashed a badge at her. It was real my friends, real it was. How else do you think he got way with half the things he did? He had a distinct advantage over the others. “Well let me just go speak to them and I’ll be back shortly.” Sasho considered busting through the door, but instead chose to wait quietly. He read “The Sap,” a Canadian magazine about guess what… and then the secretary came back and ushered him in to the office of Sally and Prince can Princer. It was an impressive space. They had matching desks of knotted cherry wood preserved with a dull varnish, or butcher’s wax. The walls were done in some type of rough-hewn granite, a black as deep as last night’s sky. “Mister Stamerov, what can we do for you?” Asked Sally. “Well to be honest, I came here to ask you the same thing. And call me sasho.” “Well, what does your inquiry pertain to? We’ll start there,” “Syrup.” “All our business pertains to syrup in some way or another.” “Yes, I can imagine. But I am talking specifically about maple syrup from Edmonton, AB.” “Oh.” This shut them up. “If I may speak freely?” Prince cautioned with a finger, then went quickly over to the window. He closed the 4 window’s four sets of custom fit venetian blinds in the office, and then felt under the windowsill for a second. He found what he was looking for, and a whirring sound began to pervade the office. Turning to Sasho he said, “You may.” “Tell me what’s going on between you and Laura Sinclair.” The both laughed, together. Sasho had the sneaking suspicion that they felt relieved. Mrs. Van Princer spoke, “Well, we’re colleagues. We all serve on the National commission for Excellent Maple Syrup. Sinclair,” apparently Mrs. Sinclair was one of those types of people that everyone calls by their last name, “is the Secretary of the Board. We are the co-chairs.” She said this with a beaming smile and a pat to her husband’s knee when she spoke the word “we.” “Now I have a question for you,” she was beaming again, her lipsticked lips flashing pearly whites. Sasho felt his knees begin to buckle. It had been too long since a woman had looked at him like that. He felt he was losing ground, and fast. “How is this a police matter, especially one requiring a personal visit across international borders.” “Just asking a few questions, no harm in that is there?” “Well, I suppose not. We’re here to help Sinclair in any way we can. The sullying of her name reflects upon us all. Not to mention that we’re friends of many years.” Sasho wondered what a “friend” meant to this shapely colorful embodiment of cold greed and business acumen that sat before him. “How are things going with this tourism contest your cities are in?” “Well, very well. We have won the last four years and are very much looking forward to winning for a fifth year straight. I hadn’t known Sinclair had entered Edmonton. Did you honey?” the obviousness of that lie was apparent to all, but that’s business, isn’t it? “Well I might have heard something about it, but Edmonton, well I’m just not sure Edmonton has the infrastructure for such an honor. You really have to be at the top of your game.” Mr. van Princer nodded at Sasho like they were old club chums, his wool cable knit sweater crinkling around his moving neck. “And what is your daughter’s involvement in the Canadian Maple Syrup trade?” Their smugness went from a full tilt to nigh untraceable. “We have two daughters.” Said Mr. van Princer, with a hint of nerves appearing in the muscles above the neck of his scratchy sweater. “Which one are you talking about?” “Scotti.” “Scotti? Why she’s just a little farm girl down there in Vermont. She’s not a player in the business.” Mrs. Van Princer nodded her agreement with her husband. There was a pause. Sasho flashed back to Scotti. His Scotti. He was finally meeting her parents! But not in any way he’d expected. The Albertans sat stiffly as he thought. A cloud in the sky blew by and the warm afternoon sun flashed suddenly through the blinds, bringing Sasho back to the present. He no longer felt like leaving things unsaid. “And her grant from the US government for alternate fuel research has no connection to your activities on the Maple Syrup commission, or in your feud with Laura Sinclair and Edmonton, AB?” The lying in the room went from a dull roar to a fever pitch. “No1” the both exclaimed in unison. “I mean, well we just don’t see how she could be involved. She’s just running her little farm, growing heirloom tomatoes and purple potatoes and that seems to be her life. Of course she’s passionate about syrup, she got that form us. But other than that I can’t see her caring one way or the other about our business affairs.” “Did she happen to mention to you that she was kidnapped and held against her will by Laura Sinclair last week?” Mrs. Van Princer gulped down the truth and her tongue brought forth the following lie, “My baby! How could she keep something as awful as that from us!” Sasho frowned. These people were despicable. He could pretty much assume the opposite of any answer they gave him. A “yes” mean a “no”, a “no” meant “yes”. He stormed out of the room, leaving these two to ponder and react. He couldn’t stand to look them in the eye for one more second. He slammed the door behind him and ran down the 11 flights of stairs and burst through the emergency exit. He was on the highway making good time back to Smuggler’s Notch. This time, he did not stop. He whizzed by the MacDonalds’, the Dunkin Donuts’, and arrived back home with his car blowing steam and running on fumes. He pulled past both girls’ cars as he turned into his driveway. All the lights in the house were on, and there was fog on the windows. He opened the front door and was greeted with the smell of pies. Apple pie, Pumpkin pie, a cheesecake, and possibly a pecan pie too. He turned in the kitchen and saw his whole dining room table laid out with pies on cooling racks, dishtowels, and cutting boards. The girls were rolling out pie crust on a canvas sheet. This could only mean trouble. They both turned to him in unison. “Sasho!” they cried. BB bound up to him, crossing the kitchen in a few short, floury steps. “We’re baking!” “Yes. We thought too much bad had been happening. We needed to get back to our roots.” There was some truth in what they were saying. It had been a little crazy lately. And their little makeshift family had suffered, a little or a lot. He didn’t mind, for now, that Scotti was double crossing him, and working cahoots with her awful parents. He wanted to pretend that none of this was happening, that they were exactly as they appeared to be: friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers. Isn’t that complicated enough, he thought to himself as he dropped his things on the living room, came back to the kitchen and started washing his hands. “So where are all these pies going?” “Well, we figured we bake until we drop, then we’d figure it out. I mean you never have to worry about having too many pies. Isn’t that right, BB?” BB was picking at the crust on one of the apple pies. She looked up guiltily. “It’s true. You can never have too many pies.” “Sasho, do you want to get the blueberries from last summer? They’re in a Ziploc in the freezer.” He complied, happily. “And we’ll probably need more crust. Can you?” Scotti asked, extending a floured hand as she bit her sleeve and tried to pull it farther up her forearm. Sasho reached over and gave her sleeve a quick tug and then pleated it over her arm, freckled arm. Sasho lost himself in the crust. He pulled cold water from the tap, then added a few ice cubes to the water. That could sit while he went to work on the butter. They had a pile of 10 or 15 pounds of butter, room temperature, sitting at the far end of the counter. He grabbed one, a large bowl from the drying rack, and reached around BB who was still rolling out her crust and grabbed the flour. He collected them neatly in front of him, then went for the sea salt, sugar, mortar and pestle, and the glass jar with sticks of cinnamon. First he crushed the salt from crystal form to a fine powder. He tapped it out of the mortar into a small glass bowl. The half cinnamon stick required a little more time to get to a fine consistency, and he threw himself into the effort with a singular determination. He tapped the cinnamon powder, the smell of which filled the air in front of him, into a separate glass bowl. Then he remembered the lemon. He ran to the fridge, grabbed it, and then rummaged in the “hell drawer” of kitchen utensils for his trusted micro-plane. With his meze en place, en place, he began. He scooped the flour into the bowl. He ran his hands under cold water, dried them as best he could, and began cutting the soft butter into small chunks. When the entire pound was laying in small chunks atop the flour, he sprinkled the now icy water into the mixture, drizzled his wrists with more icy water, and began to knead the dough. The girls were talking and joking behind him but he wasn’t listening. This was exactly the task he needed (no pun intended) right now. It gave him time to wrap himself around the situation, to think of all the ins and outs before proceeding into this unthinkable territory. The butter was getting too soft, he iced his wrists again. As the dough began to come together he felt a wave of accomplishment wash over him. Baking was the best way to relax. He pinched off a hunk of the buttery dough, tasted it, and then threw into the bowl a generous sprinkling of salt, a generous dash of cinnamon, and a little more ice water. Then he began to grate the lemon rind into a fine zest. The moist, oily flesh made a small neat pile in the bowl. He began to knead again, this time more gently, and more cautiously. He wanted to keep this mixture as cold as possible so that in the oven, the butter would melt and create flaky layers of crust. If it got too warm now, it would fuse with the flour too early, and the crust would be flat, and lackluster. He pinched off another taste, and satisfied, pulled the ball of dough out of the bowl. He broke it into two parts, rolled each into a circle, flattened them both, then wrapped them each in plastic wrap. He threw them in the fridge, navigating deftly between the moving bodies between him and the fridge. “I’m going to hop in the shower ladies. I’ll be back soon!” They eyed each other as he walked down the hall and turned left to the bathroom. He pulled a towel from the linen closet and put it on the closed toilet seat. HE undressed, hopping on one leg as he stepped out of his pants. He hung them on the clothes hook and walked over to the bathtub. He ran the water until the temperature was hot, but not too hot, and then he stepped in carefully. Steam began to fill the room, pouring out from the crack between the cold tile wall and the clear plastic shower curtain. He lost himself in this new task of washing himself. The soaps were organic oatmeal and lavender. The shampoo and conditioner were aloe vera and coconut oil derived. The water warmed the aches form his bones and the tenseness from his muscles. In the kitchen, the girls worked on in silence. Now was not the time for them to talk. They needed Sasho to tell them where he’d been, and what he’d been doing. They were losing him. Just as the water in the bathroom turned off and the heard the dull thud of him stepping ontot he bathroom mat, Scotti’s phone began to ring. It was her mother. She flashed the phone at Brit Brit then shut it off. They both knew what that meant. Sasho had been there. THE MECHANIC The Mechanic was very good at her job. She prided herself in that. She’d worked hard to get through trade school, given up dates and manicures and movie nights with the girls to work on her craft. She had this vision of herself, a celebrity mechanic. She was beautiful enough, and thin enough. She didn’t eat much, but mainly because she was busy. And she made sure to hire only women like herself; beautiful, stylish, bold, fearless mechanics. It was part of the Endicott brand. Their excellence only slightly surpassed their professionalism, which only slightly surpassed their collective beauty. She was waiting for the day when camera crews followed them to and from work, and when the shop became location for the next auto repair reality-based television program. It wasn’t only that she wanted fame. She wanted money. She wanted prestige. She wanted to be revered as Hollywood’s young female “Click” (or “Clack”), and she wanted it bad. Taking out the first loan for the shop had been easy, she hadn’t thought twice. Taking out the second one, shopping around for the lender who would ask the fewest questions, weighed a little more heavily on her head. And as the coffers dwindled and she began to contemplate a second mortgage something changed in her. She was going to do whatever she had to make sure that this shop was successful. She would do whatever, to ensure the continued possibility of her dream. She stopped taking a salary and moved in with Ali B. Their shared closet was about to burst, but they hardly had time to wear the slinky slankies that hung there on cedar hangers. The Mechanic worked her girls hard. They took on more and more jobs. It was during this time that Laura Sinclair reached out to her, promising to break into the Edmonton rare car repair if she successfully solved the Syrup Queen’s car troubles. It had been about a month that she’d been traveling regularly up to Edmonton, chauffeured by the silent and grumpy Mr. Sinclair. The money was good, but oh dear, our Mechanic needed more. She must have smelt of need, reeked of debt. Even she felt, indeed that her well of a bank account was obvious to every person that looked at her. It was obvious at least to Laura Sinclair. Laura had come into her estate garage on day while the Mechanic was working. It was unusual, but the Mechanic was curious enough about her wealthy boss to overlook it. It was near closing time, Laura was in slacks and long grey sweater open at the neck to reveal an orange silk scarf. “I have other work, if you’re interested.” “What kind of work?” “The kind you don’t talk about unless you’re sure no one else is listening.” “Sounds lucrative,” said the mechanic with a nervous laugh. Sinclair eyed her and beckoned with her hand outside. Lashed to the poles outside the garage were two black horses, shiny with recent grooming. “You know how to ride?” asked her boss. “Not really but, it can’t be harder than a motorcycle.” “Thata girl. Put one foot in and then swing the other on the other side.” Sinclair explained the reins and other commands, then jumped on her own horse and began loping away in a slow gate. The Mechanic followed suit, slightly less sure of herself. The awkward couple followed the graceful couple down a tree-lined path and then out into an open field. The field sloped upwards to hug a wide, low hill. They began a slow ascent. Once they were far away from the trees and surrounded by open space, Laura slowed and guided her horse nearer to the Mechanic. They rode abreast. She spoke. “There’s a problem I have. It’s not a huge problem. But every little bit helps, and I do pride myself in being thorough. Someone is using me. Actually, a few people are using me. They’re using me t beat me at a game I deserve to win.” The Mechanic listened, fascinated. This was how these people really thought? And how they really talked? She thought to herself. “I need you to keep tabs on a situation. It’s a guy, you can do it right?” “First you tell me what your goal is, and I’ll tell you whether I can do it. And how I’ll do it, if you care to know.” “I need surveillance. For now. I’m not sure what I’ll need in the future, but for now, just a fly on the wall. You’re a beautiful woman, surely you know how to use your skills?” “I was a Daddy’s girl, Sinclair. It’s second nature.” “Good. Very good.” Then, scanning the horizon, and looking over her shoulder at the trees behind her, she continued, “his name is Sasho Stamerov. He’s love hungry, I’m sure wrangling him won’t be terribly hard for you.” “What has he done?” “He’s been bootlegging my maple syrup and has the potential to undermine my good name and the good name of Edmonton.” The Mechanic looked at her blankly. “My reputation, and the prestige of my town, equal more money for me. It matters, believe me. You should take a page from my book. Your little business would benefit, my pretty.” “So all you want is surveillance?” “For now, yes.” “And you’ll do what for me?” “Well I’ll be singing your praises about the job you did on my jag, but I’m assuming you want a little more than that.” The Mechanic did not dignify this with an answer. “Alright then. I’ll come in at 10k, CAD that is, as a business partner. This will be the start of a long relationship.” The horses were stepping lightly, picking their way through the frozen albeit weedy path. The sun was warm on her face as the mechanic calculated the numbers. It wasn’t a lot, but it wasn’t nothing. She could afford to give the girls a long weekend, which they needed, and could pay down a few debts that were most desperate for her attention. “Ok,” said the mechanic, her heart skipping a few beats. “Ok, yes. I’ll do it.” And that was the beginning. She ran into Sasho at Dunkos. She waited for him to come in all night one night. She figured a few hours of her time was worth the 10k burning away in escrow. He came in at 2am, looking lost and lonely. A woman like her knows exactly what to do in a situation like this. He was putty in her warm agile fingers. A week later he called her to fix his car. She didn’t think much about him, she guiltily acknowledged over a green tea one morning as she listened to one of his voice messages. He didn’t really inspire any particular feelings within her. He was your average guy, really. His home was probably a bachelor’s bad smelling of dirty socks and rotting mayonnaise. He probably cleaned his car every Saturday, but washed his clothes once a month. He was nice, and reasonably intelligent but there wasn’t anything particular about him, besides his need for love. His need for love was as palpable as her need for money. When they got together it was like two addicts, nursing their wounds over a cup of morning joe. She’d seen him every few days for the past few weeks. He hadn’t mentioned anything about his business, but she knew the time would come. She was still plumbing the line between splaying him open to her so she could extract the meat, yet that would leave herself unscathed, un tarnished, un-tangled. This was perhaps one of the most delicate lines of all, and she was willing to proceed with caution. But on the second week, on her second horse- back ride of life, Laura Sinclair made it clear to her that this loping pace of hers would not stand. “This loping pace of yours will not stand!” said Laura. I swear, those were her exact words. So the mechanic returned to Smuggler’s Notch with the proverbial fire lit under her ass, and began to work over time on unprying the secrets from Sasho. One dinner, she found out where he worked. Over a weekend brunch, she noticed that he avoided the maple syrup. When she asked why he said, “You never know where these big chains get their syrup from, do you?” Not exactly the most incriminating of evidence but it led her to believe that she was on the right track. And that he would come around. He would. But at the end of the week, he hadn’t. he remained as closed to her as an oyster on the beach at low tide; ripe for the picking but she was lacking the proper tools in order to receive the cold, briny slime within. It did not matter what outfit she wore, how much she smiled, or the subtle touching of an elbow or a the quick clasp of a hand. He was impenetrable. Then one day she spied a blue sedan pull up behind him and he saw an oddly dressed young man follow Sasho into the movie theater. The man made his way to a seat behind them in the theater, and sat quietly through the raucous family comedy. He did not laugh once. When the film was over, the Mechanic clung to Sasho’s arm and felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. The man stayed no more than three people behind them at all times. Under the pretext of having to run back and use the bathroom, the mechanic was able to convince Sasho to leave before her. Usually they drove home with one car behind the other, until the cross point, then he’d signal or wave, or toot his horn and go reluctantly on his way. This time, as soon as he turned left to get out of the lot, she turned around. The Blue sedan was coming up behind her. She stood her ground as it tried to skirt around her. The driver had no chance but to stop. But when the mechanic came up to the car window, she saw an entirely different person than she’d imagined. Instead of the thin young man she saw a mousy young woman in a pleated skirt and green sweater. The mechanic stammered in confusion, “I’m sorry, I should be more careful.” Bt as she pulled away from the car, as the driver rolled up her window, the mechanic saw something in the backseat that made her realize her mistake. It wasn’t just one thing, it was a whole bunch of things. A whole bunch of recording equipment; long range microphones, a full zoom lens with a tripod for steadiness, digital recorders, extension cords and various adapters. The mechanic ran to her car, gunned the engine ,and was off like a bat out of hell. Or a woman who really likes to be right. The two cars tore across the countryside in the pitch of night. The mechanic was fearless as she took corners and ran yellow lights. The tale was equally impressive, but his (or her) speed seemed more reliant on survival than the more highly evolved needs of fame & excessive consumption. As they exited the town the mechanic double clutched and shot forward. In an instant she was side by side with the other car. The mechanic wanted another look. This time was more confusing than the first. The wig was gone, and in its place sweaty, dark, matted hair was stuck to the tail’s forehead. Underneath the hair was a full face of make up- a light foundation, blush across the cheekbones, liner, mascara and eyelashes clearly curled. The lips had a splash of color. The tail made eye contact. Their eyes were big, and unsteadily flashing between the road, and the pursuant. Throwing up one hand to the window, the tail flipped on a turn signal, slowed down, and slid off to the dusty side of the road. The red taillights of the car showed the dust. The mechanic followed suit, and ended up ten car lengths ahead of the tail. They met somewhere in the middle, their headlights creating the dramatic stage for their mutual unveiling. “Who are you?” called out our mechanic, a few paces from her car. In the quiet of night her voice traveled neatly and quickly. Before the tail had answered the sound was returning to them, having bounced and ricocheted off the mountains in the distance. “Who are you?” called the tail. It was a man’s voice that the tail used, but one that lived in the upper register. “I’m a mechanic. I was on a date. I noticed you following us. I saw you outside the theater, as a boy, and inside the theater, just behind us. And then when I saw your car again, you were dressed as a woman.” “You must be a very suspicious woman to think these things.” “don’t patronize m, you double-cross dressing spy.” “Suspicious AND mean.” “Talk to me.” She ran back to the car and popped the trunk. She reached for the tire iron and brandished it in the air. The silver metal glinting in the headlights. “Tell me or this is going to get ugly.” It’s funny she should say that because she did in fact look kind of ugly right then. It was surprising. Even when gritting her teeth as she worked a particularly difficult mechanism into place, she still had a certain poise. But here she was wild, the animal behind the face. She walked towards him menacingly. Bryan was thinking to himself that this was not exactly how he’d pictured his night going. He had pictured a simple tail, then going home and watching fashion TV until the wee hours of the morning. It was a simple life he led, he didn’t need anything fancy. Just the space to be himself. But now he was standing here with a crazy lady. It was just not what he’d signed up for. You’ll see this time and time again with Bryan. He just doesn’t have it In him for deception and dramatics. He wants the simple life; friends, family, fun. Nothing more, nothing less. He sighed and stepped forward, arms slack by his side. “Lady, calm down. I’ll talk. But can we go somewhere comfortable at least, and do this like civilized adults?” It took her a second to react appropriately. She had expected more subterfuge, more of a battle. Her muscles slowly un-tensed, stating with her neck, then moving down to her shoulder, her upper then lower arm, her wrist, and the tiny muscles gripping the tire iron, the relaxed. She took a few breaths before speaking, “you’re not shitting me?” “I’m not shitting you.” “how do I know?” “You don’t. But really, I’m too old for games. I just want to go home, take a shower and watch TV. Can we get on with this? Sow e can get back to our lives? The mechanic remembered that she too was just a regular folk. She remembered that she didn’t even care so much for Sasho. She remembered that she too was a tail. Now she was ready to listen. “Follow me. There’s a Dunkos at the gas station up ahead.” Once they were in their cars they both felt the jitters return. The mechanic flashed to her review mirror every second to make sure that the tail didn’t pull something on her and escape into the night. But the tail wasn’t thinking about hat. He was calling a friend. “If I’m not home by 1am, call the cops. And track my car. And my phone. they both have GPS. Please, don’t ask questions. I think I’ll be fine, really I do. But just in case. I’ll call you as soon as I can.” They both made it safely to the dunkos. He ordered a coffee roll and a black tea. She had the pumpkin muffin and the hazelnut coffee. “Talk.” She ordered, as soon as they sat down in the empty café area. He cleared his throat and sipped his tea. “Talk!” she shout-whispered. “I wasn’t following you. I am following him.” “Why” “I’m not sure you really want to know that about your new boyfriend there. What is this, your third date?” “Who’s counting? And how many of these have you been following us on? “Just one before. Last week.” “So what are you looking for? Why are you following him? And for who?” “you know I’m not going to answer that. But I’ll just tell you, it’s business. You don’t need to worry. We just need to know what he’s doing when he’s doing it, and with whom.” Something about his answer reminded her of something. And then she realized. He was working for Sinclair too. Woe! That lady meant business. “You know, I think I have all the info I need.” There must be more to this than Sinclair had told her. Which, of course, given the nature of things, made perfect sense. “I’m going to head home, if you don’t mind, and get back to my real life.” She turned and skedaddled it back to her car. What had she gotten herself into? Her mind was a blur of thoughts and assumptions. She had so few answers really, so few answers at all. Maybe it was better that way. A tail for a night, a relatively benign one if you think about it context, and a few dates…t hat was worth the 10k and the deception, wasn’t it? But she still needed some info out of Sasho. Bryan sighed a long sigh of relief as he got back in his car, started her up, and went on his way. He felt luck to have gotten out of that one unscathed. All he wanted now was to go home, strip down, take a long bubble bath and watch the late show with David Letterman. And that’s exactly what he did. They hadn’t seen each other since. THE MECHANIC’S VOICEMAIL First. Hey, it’s me. Sasho. I had a great time last night. Wasn’t that a funny movie? I thought it was. Anyhow, well, I just wanted to call and say hi. I guess you’re at work. Second. Is this Endicott repair shop? Yeah I brought in a 2004 Mercedes s series to you last week and there’s a tear in the leather on the back seat. It wasn’t there before. I’m going to have to bring the receipt for you to reimburse me for the repair at the dealers. It was too cheap. You’d better tell those ladies that work there to be more careful when they’re working on a car. It could really hurt your business. Look, I’m a lawyer, but I’m a pretty forgiving guy. I’m only asking for the reimbursement of the damage, just a few thousand dollars in upholstery. But someone else might not be so forgiving. You’d better keep me on file, give me a ring if someone ever tries to really hose you. Third. Hi, me again. Is your phone working? Just checking. Well, I was going to go out for ice cream tonight. I know, ice cream in December! But I just have a craving. If you want to come with me, give me a ring. It’s the best ice cream in the county, I promise. A little hole in the wall, but I know the owner and we can got as many tastes as we want. Ok, well, ok I guess you’ll call me back? Fourth. Hey boss lady, I’ll be a little late this morning. Hit a little ah.. (a male voice can be heard in the background) a little snag getting out the door this morning. Be there as soon as I can. Fifth. <click> Sixth. This is Scoobie Raymond from International Asset Bank calling for the owner. You have my card, I trust you haven’t lost it again. Call me, we’re due for our monthly “Why I can’t pay my bills even though I’m a grown adult.” conversation; 635-887-6590 Seventh. What are your hours? Why aren’t your hours on the voice message box? What kind of place is this? Eighth. It’s Laura. Call me back. Ninth. You didn’t call me back. Tenth. This is highly unprofessional. Call me. Laura. Eleventh. Haven’t heard from you in a while, it’s Sasho calling. Crazy things have been going on but forget about them, I just want to see you. I bought two tickets to the Christmas escapades. Don’t make me bring my teddy bear! Call me. Twelfth. It’s Laura. Don’t make me call again Thirteenth. <click> Fourteenth. <click> Fifteenth. <click> Sixteenth. ….. fuck! <click> Seventeenth. It’s Laura. The deal is off. Eighteenth. Well I guess I will be taking Mr. Scruffles to the escapades… hope everything is ok with you. Nineteenth. When will my car be ready? It’s been two weeks just for a detailing. What kind of shop are you? Twentieth. Scoobie Raymond here from IAB. You never returned my call. There will be a penalty on your account. Twenty-first. <click> BB As soon as she could get away from the pie-making party BB ran out on the front porch. Shivering in her thin dress and apron she called the van Princers. “It’s me. What’s happening?” “I called Scotti, but she didn’t pick up. Is everything alright on your end? We think he might be on to something.” “He must be if he went all the way to Alberta. Anyways we’re here together. He hasn’t done anything yet but… it’s probably only a matter of time.” “God! We have to think of something. Is there any way to get a meeting with all of us, and Scotti too?” “She’s kind of busy. And we can’t both leave. He’ll start thinking.” “Just you?” “I don’t know if it’s safe.” “Alright we’ll put our heads together over here and see what we can come up with you. You guys, pull out all the stops. You know our secret motto. Use it to. Think only of it, let it guide you in everything right now.” “Ok Mr. van Princer. I will.” “And tell Scotti be careful.” “Ok” “And tell her to call us! And call her mother. We worry you know.” “I know” “I mean, we’re all in this together, but she is our daughter.” “And what am I, chopped liver?” “Oh sweetie, I know. But you’re different. You’ve always been so capable. Scotti’s got her heads in the clouds. She never thinks.” “Is that so?” BB laughed, recalling the night in the storage shed. “Alright, you’d probably better get back, hadn’t you.” “Yeah dad. I’ll tell Scotti to call you.” “And don’t forget the motto! Say it with me…” “Now?” Yes now. And together they repeated: “Kill them. Kill them with Kindness. Kindness can Kill.” BB hung up thinking on her childhood. How had this all started? When had this all started? How is that THAT was her family’s secret motto? Well, I guess ”Family” was a liberal term given the range of people who used it, but yes, they were family too, family in the broader sense of the word. Then she trundled back into the main room. The door opened into the kitchen to squeals of laughter. Sasho had Scotti in a headlock and was giving her a noogie. A real good one from the look of it, her hair was beginning to stand on end. As they rough housed, Sasho’s phone began to vibrate on the table. Their bodies, making some sort of two backed beast, were turned away and they didn’t notice. BB leaned over the edge of the table and took a peak. The caller didn’t have a ID on his phone, but she knew the number. She knew it because she’d been doing some other research, some snooping of her own. It was the number she recognized from the yellow books for Smuggler’s Notch’s best foreign automobile repair shop. She quickly moved away from the phone, and pressed herself against the cool plaster wall by the window. She breathed in. She breathed out. She breathed in. She breathed out. And then she pulled a Sasho. She fainted dead a way. SASHO Sasho wasn’t an orphan but he liked to pretend he was. His childhood had been odd, unconventional and it just didn’t make a very good story. His mom was a foreigner, from some small town up in the mountains. They never knew their dad but Sasho always thought she (his mom) must have loved him. He and his sister looked a lot like him, and at least they knew they both had the same dad. Not everyone could say that, and as youngsters playing with friends they always kept this in their hearts as one source of pride. “At least we have the same dad!,” they would think to themselves, smiling at each other across the field or playground. Being homesick and depressed most of his life, his mom had hit the bottle pretty hard at times. And perhaps she may have hit the bottle a little while he was still inside of her. He wasn’t sure, I mean who could be sure of such things. But he never felt like he had it all going n up there. Like he’d lots something before he had even begun. Like he came out of the factory missing a few parts. But no matter, he was who he is. Anyways at still a young age, social services dropped by unannounced one day and picked him and his sister Gambi up. Mom had sunk too low I guess, and her troubles were showing like a slip peeking out from underneath a skirt. They were adopted pretty quick, being cute little orphans, helpless, cuddly, and all the appealing things that make people “oh and Ah”. Sasho always felt really grateful of them. They were a young couple. The wife was, to put it kindly, vain. And childish. She didn’t want to destroy what was left of her looks on childbirth. The husband was in first love, he showered them with affections and whispered sweet nothings into their ears as they slept. They were his first love. His wife had just been an infatuation in comparison to the feeling he had for the two siblings. And despite their very human faults, the couple loved them with everything they had. Sasho and his sister grew up with the support they never felt from their own flesh and blood. But as the saying goes, “once a gutter kitty-kat, always a gutter kitty-kat.” As he grew into his teenage body, lanky and slightly tubby, he began to act out in ways that neither he nor his parents could have predicted. He wanted to dig in the trash, play in the toilet, and hide behind the neighbor’s gate. He started beating up on his sister, bad. He had mood swings like a woman in the throes of menopause, one minute he was drooling with love and the next he was smacking you across the face with an open hand. It was as unfathomable to him as it was to his loving parents. And from there things just got worse. He grew a thick neck, and with regular exercise his power was obvious from across the room. He stopped talking so much, and started brooding more. He fell in with the wrong crowd, a crowd that denied his penchant for love and played to his aggressive side. One thing led to another and before anyone knew it, he was living in a rented house out by the rail tracks. A year later he was strung out, three months after that he was in jail. Thankfully only for a petty offense. A year later he was out, feeling too young. He straightened himself out, got some book learning, and clung to his mom like a koala to a tree. A few years of living in the basement, he started taking the baby steps necessary to get back on his own feet. He chose a better line of work this time. He became a cop. A few months in, he began working towards his real goal; to take over the black market . He made fast progress, and was living comfortably sooner than you’d think for an ex-con cum cop who had barely outgrown his face cleansing oxy-pads. But every heart break set him back, every new love set him forward. His business success and bank account were in direct correlation to the wealth of his love life. A smart partner would make sure to secure him a stimulating romance if they wanted to keep, and grow, their investment. Sasho was not sure what to do about Scotti. In his heart of hearts, he knew that something was up. That she was part of something losh. But it was Scotti. His Scotti. How could he forget that? How could he ever hurt her? He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to have to face the potentialities. He decided to call the mechanic. He was really starting to wonder about her. Whey they’d first met, she’d been so excited to see him and hear form him. But for the last week she’d been noticeably absent. Even when he’d gone to seen her he hadn’t felt the same way as he had before. Maybe he was losing his touch. But there was just so much going on, he was bound to slip up somewhere or other. He couldn’t possibly juggle it all with out dropping a ball here and there. He still didn’t know what to do with the syrup. Or who sent the syrup. Or where all the truckers went. Or why there was one dead one. And he still didn’t know how, or why, Scotti tied into all this. But before he could do that, did I forget to mention that it was Christmas eve? Because it is. I mean, you wouldn’t have known because not one of the people involved in this darned story is a practicing Christian. Can you believe it? I couldn’t. Most of them are Jews. Or believe it or not, Unitarian Universalists. But Christmas eve it is. Hence all the pies. And hence the knock on the door, that interrupted Sasho mid-dial. The terrible threesome in the kitchen looked at each other, all three sunned and wide-eyed like feral cats caught in the dumpster. Scotti’s post-noogie hair was crushed and crumpled like Amy Winehouse’s beehive during a snow storm in July in the last stall of a men’s bathroom in Soho at dawn. BB had a little bit of pumpkin puree on her dress top, and a fine dusting of flour made her usually rosy complexion appear more of an ashen pink than anything else. And Sasho, he looked the same as usual, although a tinge greenish. Me thinks he might have picked up a case of the flu during one of his many McDonalds bathroom trips. Anyhow, the knocking on the door continued. The three of them walked together towards the door, slowly. You’d have thunk it was Halloween in an R-rated movie they way they were acting. Sasho grabbed the door handle and turned, the other two waited with bated breath to see what was on the other side. The two girls peeked their heads above, and over his extended arm. They were greeted with a blast of: “Come all ye faithful, be joyful and triumphant, oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore him, Christ, the lord.” Standing on the front porch were twelve shiny faces, which were accompanied by twelve white puffs of breath, which hovered above thirty reindeer sweaters and twelve choral books. The young carolers, high schoolers they must have been, were laughing and smiling but all eyes watching the strange threesome that had appeared like the ghost of some Christmas yet to come before them. Their leader, unseen by the three friends, started in on the next song. “I don’t want a lot from Christmas,” sang a young, female, husky voice. She was situated somewhere in the back and given the poor lighting on the porch the threesome could not tell from where this miraculous voice had came from. Somewhere in the back, me thinks. The voice continued, “There is just one thing I need.” She pulled the vowels from within her like a string of pearls, that is to say, very very carefully. “I don’t care about the presents under the Christmas tree, I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know, Make my wish come true! All I want for Christmas, Is you,” She finished, with a deep breath and then the chorus came in around her. Sasho, BB, and Scotti sighed with her. It was spectacular. They swung open the door wide and the carolers, singing, came trickling into the kitchen. “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need,” they harmonized as BB pulled out a knife. “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree,” they sang as Scotti grabbed a stack of plates. “I don’t need to hang my stocking there upon the fireplace,” they sang Sasho opened the fridge and got out a gallon jug of fresh-pressed apple cider. “Santa Claus won’t make me happy, with a toy on Christmas day,” they continued on in harmony sang our mystery husky-voiced teen as BB began slicing wedges out of the freshly baked, still steaming, pumpkin pies. “I just want you for my own,” she sang, as Scotti slid the first wedge onto a white ceramic dessert plate. “More than you could ever know,” she sang on as Scotti slid the second wedge onto a second white ceramic dessert plate. “Make my wish come true,” they sang all together in three-part harmony as Sasho ripped the plastic top off the gallon jug of fresh pressed cider, and began to pour it into juice glasses. “Baby all I want for Christmas,” sang the boys in a range from baritone to tenor, as Sasho put each glass on a tray, “Is… you,” finished their mystery singer in a mellifluous swoon, as the terrible threesome turned from their work and stood facing the carolers, each of them with an armful or a tray-laden with treats. The carolers continued on as our friends stood, soaking in the vibrations. As the carolers approached the final verse the three began to hand out plates, glasses, utensils. By the final note of the song each young caroler had a plate, a slice of pumpkin pie, a fork, a napkin, and a glass of cider. Their voices filled the room in chatter of praise and thanks between the two groups. A party sprung up, out of nowhere. Maybe it came from the pies. Maybe it came from the night air. Maybe it was a (can we say this) Christmas miracle. They sang and laughed through the night. The windows began to perspire, and then became completely opaque with dew, and for a time everything about the truckers, the syrup, the espionage, the broken hearts, the cross dressing, the black market, the money, and Canada, was forgotten. Completely. For at least a little while. THE MECHANIC She got a message. It came in the shape of a box of chocolates. Inside the box was a plane ticket. It was her boss. As in, the boss. The female equivalent of The Godfather. We’ll just call her Abuela, but trust me, she wasn’t Hispanic. The mechanic stripped out of her coveralls, flipped the office’s “open” sign to “closed, banged the door shut, waved good bye to the two girls, and hailed a cab. She was at the airport with a bottle of water, a thousand dollar bill, and a new hat in an hour and thirty minutes. She made it through security (minus the water) and was seated in business class thirty seven minutes later. She was in the air in fifteen. But where was she going? And why? A hostess came down the aisle towards our mechanic. She was thinnish, prettyish, and made up just enough. In a sense, a professional air hostess. She offered the mechanic a hot, lavender scented towel. The mechanic pressed it to her face, soaking in the hot steam, then pulled it away to wash her hands. But when she opened her eyes she was surprised to see that the other seven seats in the small plane’s business class had been filled. And that she knew every one of the other flyers. They were, by row order; the baker, the banker, the tailor, the sailor, the cleaner, the operator, and the teacher. This was a major meeting. Her whole region was there. She wasn’t even sure that having this many of her family together in one place was even within the rules. As the others began to come the realization, there was some visible distress. The mechanic was uncomfortable. The others were uncomfortable. Everyone tried to ignore the others, to pretend that they did not recognize each other. Sitting next to the mechanic in 6B was the tailor. The mechanic had always had a thing for the tailor: long-legged, friendly. What’s not to like? They took off, but no one seemed much more comfortable once they were in the air. The hostess came by with fresh chocolate chip cookies for everyone. The mechanic took one. She figured that if this was what she thought it was, she might need a cookie for later. She wrapped it in a paper napkin and put it in her hat. She didn’t have a bag, otherwise she would have put it there. Thirty minutes later the hostess came by again, with care packages. The mechanic opened hers greedily, trying not to make eye contact or to bump elbows with the hot tailor. The mechanic rubbed rose lotion on her hands, mandarin eye cream on her eyelids, aloe vera on her lips, inhaled the rosemary nasal passage cleaner, and then, taking her hair out of its elastic band, slipped onto her head the purple sleeping mask with the Mardi Gras airlines logo across the eyes. She was out until dinner. She picked at her roll, peaked at the tailor, who was reading a magazine, and then turned over and went back to sleep. She woke up in what must have been the middle of the night where ever she happened to be at the moment to the dull roar of the engine and the whisper of the night time movie coming through her family members’ complimentary Bose headphones. The mechanic rang the bell for hers, and the hostess brought them over with a smile and a whiff of perfume. The movie was “Say it now, Now, NOW,” and old classic that must have been specially ordered for the business class audience. If not it was one hell of a coincidence. But in her line of work, that is, in both her lines of work, there were no coincidences. She listened to a few lines of the movie and began to reminisce about training, about inoculation, about poison testing, about Morse code lessons, about that month in the cave. It all came back to her. In the cold cabin air she pulled the plush business-class blanket to her chest. Making sure no one was looking, she slid her hand under the blanket and found the tailors. The tailor squeezed, and the mechanic squeezed back. It was as ancient as the stars. The mechanic quickly, but smoothly, retracted her hand and then went back to watching the movie in earnest. She dozed off and awoke to blueberry yoghurt and corn muffins. These too must have been specially ordered. Everyone dug into them, knowing full well what it meant. Reconnaissance mission. The mechanic thanked god again that she’d had the foresight to safe the cookie. They landed at 10am local time, and without baggage, she found herself standing on hot pavement, blinking in the sunlight in no time at all. The others soon joined her and they all hailed their own taxis. Knowing they couldn’t all show up together, she told the driver to take her first to the international asset bank. She asked the cabbie to wait. He obliged. She went in, grabbed a lollipop, took a card from the general managers desk, played with the free pens, exchanged a dollar for four quarters, and went back outside. The cabbie was still there. She told him the hotel address, and then sat back and watched the city she loved so much go whizzing by. She checked in and was just getting her key when the tailor walked in with a large box of chocolates. The mechanic’s opinion immediately changed. Suckass, she said under her breath as she stalked off to the elevator and pressed 6 for the 6th floor. The door had almost closed when the tailor stuck a gloved hand into the closing doors. She stepped in. She looked flawless in white lined mini skirt, lime green stilettos, and a midnight blue, silk see-through, turtle tank. They rode without a word. They both got off at the 6th floor. They both took a right down out of the elevator. They both took another right at the end of the hall. They both fiddled with their keys as they approached what apparently, was their door. The mechanic spoke first, a few paces away, “Wait, we have roommates?” “Ze crisis, my dear.” The mechanic raised her eyebrows as she swiped her keycard and opened the door. “do you always travel with a box of chocolates?” “Zhay are for you, my dear. When I learned that we vould be roommates, well I though to myself, we just must celebrate! It has been too long.” The mechanic stepped away from the advancing tailor. She plopped down on her bed. The tailor sighed, dropped the chocolates, ribbon and all, on the divan, and then threw herself gracefully onto her own bed. She bounced a little. They both sighed. The phone rang. They didn’t even answer it, but instead leapt up, grabbed their shoes, straightened their hair, and burst out the door. The first person they saw, a maid, they asked in unison, where’s the conference room? The maid pointed at the elevator and said, “Press the button that says “Conference Room.” The elevator lurched and hummed them to the conference room then deposited them on the maroon carpet running down the hall out the closed wood paneled door. The tailor and the mechanic walked quickly to the door and went in. They closed the door behind them. A light went on and through the frosted glass panels nine distinct shadows could be made out. The nine people were in room for almost two hours. No one went in, no one came out. At one point there were raised voices and wild gesticulation. At another point it looked, and sounded as if a gun may hove gone off. But neither the smoke alarms nor sprinkler system was triggered. At two hours a person came out. It was the banker. At two and a half hours, the baker came out. At three hours, the tailor came out. At three and a half hours, the cleaner came out. At four hours, the sailor came out. At four and a half hours, the teacher came out. At five hours, the operator came out. At five and a half hours, no one came out. At six hours, no one came out. At six an a half hours, the mechanic and someone we all should recognize, came out. The mechanic was eating a cookie with a smug smile. The couple did not speak. The mechanic went straight to the elevator and back to her room. She should be on a plane back home within the hour, their mission was accomplished. The other person went to the stairwell, opened the door stepped in, then closed it. SASHO Sasho had had enough. These days he was either running from something or hiding from something, or getting yet another awful surprise. It had been going on for far, far, far too long. He wanted an end to all of it, and an end to all of it fast. He was a Leo for dog’s sake! Well, a Leo with Pisces rising, an odd mix to be sure. Pisces ascending aside, he absolutely, positively needed to have some semblance of an idea when he woke up each day, what that day would be like. He had an idea. It was an old idea with a new twist. He’d done something like this once before with a girlfriend who had dumped him and refused to tell him why. Here’s what he did: he went to the office and rummage in his desk. He got out twelve sheets of paper and he got out twelve markers and he laid them out on the giant conference table in the conference room. Then he got another sheaf of paper and folded up twelve sheets into twelve long table tents. They were lined up neatly on the conference table. He went to the far wall of the conference room to the Van Gogh self portrait replica. He pushed the frame aside. Behind it was a small rectangular indent, about the size of a light switch. Inside the indent was a brown glass bottle with a dropper top. He took it out and put it on the table, gently. He unscrewed the lid gingerly. And then he carefully dropped a small drop on each piece of paper. The droplets spread on each sheet to reach the ends of the table tents. Some of it spread onto the table, but Sasho didn’t wipe it up. He just left it there. Then he made some phone calls. He called the mechanic. He hadn’t been able to get through to her the other night after the carolers left, but she picked up this time. He called Laura Sinclair, and told her it was urgent. He called Phillipa. Then he hung up and immediately called Bryan. He called BB and he called Scotti. He called Sinclair’s husband. He called the goons, Phillip and Conrad. He called Mr. & Mrs. van Princer. He called himself. He called Ali B. She was thrilled to hear from him, and for some reason he was surprised. He called the best pizza in the North East and he called a helicopter service to bring it in. An hour later, the pizza arrived. Shortly after that, so did everyone else. Sasho thought this would be more of a surprise, but this was the cell phone age. They all knew already. Was Sasho the new godfather? Were they the key players? They were all murmuring and staring at each other as they mingled in the foyer. Some people had even taken the opportunity to get dressed up. Conrad wore dark shades, and BB wore her deepest wine lipstick. The mechanic, in a white silk pant suit, was wondering if the gig was up. Or was it? “Jackets can go in BB’s office.,” said Sasho to the general populace. “Everyone, grab a dixie cup of champagne and meet me in the conference room.” Once inside the conference room guests were pleased to see that there was a seat at the table for each of them. It was just like the movies. Or the UN. There was a blank paper tent in front of each seat. Each person sat down and without Sasho having to say a thing, they each wrote their names on their plaque. Looking in order from the head of the table, round to the right and then back again to meet at the head of the table you would see the following: LAURA Sinclair Sinclair Sinclair Brittany Scottessa van Princer Phillip Sinclair Conrad Sinclair Mr. van Princer Mrs. Van Princer Philippa LePlante, Smuggler’s Notch Herald Bryan Sinclair Endicott Auto, owner/ head Mechanic Ali B. What you wouldn’t see is the LSD laced with truth serum seeping into each person through the pores of their fingers. What you couldn’t see were the chemicals being carried by blood cells and oxygen cells to the heart, and then being pushed back out into the blood stream. Neither would you see the drug beginning to affect on each person’s hormonal receivers and senders, or whatever the body uses to process these sorts of things. No you couldn’t see any of that. Sasho started handing out slices of pizza. Grimaldi’s pizza. Flown in from New York, specifically for this purpose. Mushroom pizza with truffles. It was a special pizza, yes it was. Sasho meant business, and he was proceeding in the only way he knew how. He would drug them into submission. He knew if there was one thing he could count on in most people, and certainly in the people in this room, it was the reliability and predictability of their Ego and of their Greed. They would make a nametag because they cared that people in the room knew who they were. Any they would each take a piece of pizza because it was free, and it was food, and those two things together are neigh irresistible for 98% of the population. Especially in an awkward situation where you’re going to have to lie yourself out of a paper bag, lie yourself out of the skin of your teeth, lie and lie and lie! Sasho took a long sip of water, and then began making his own name tag. It was damp to the touch and his name smudge a little; Sasho Stamerov Are you surprised that he dosed himself as well? He was a moral man, through it all. He was not one to take advantage of others without taking advantage of himself. Let’s just call it his own family motto. Finished, he threw down his marker, and took a long pull off the water bottle. He stood up, and the voices in a room dissipated like a morning fog. He began; “Dear friends, colleagues, ex lovers, and enemies.” There was a cough, and some squeaking of chairs as people shuffled in their seats. He continued, “Thank you for joining me here today. I am honored that each of you trusts me enough, or is curious enough, to have graced me with your presence. I come to you today with a mystery. A mystery to which I believe each one of you holds a key, a gem, a grain of salt’s worth of evidence.” He paused, then gestured to the pizza. “Please, feel free to eat. Take a slice, that’s it, go ahead. Now with your permission, I would like you all to stand up and take an oath.” There were a few moments of silence as people looked at each other and slowly stood up. “Repeat after me, “I do solemnly swear,” “I do solemnly swear,” they said in near-unison “To tell the truth today, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” They repeated him verbatim, “To tell the truth today, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” with only a few stutters and starts of rhythm. “Now, will each of you please go around the room, hold up your name tag, and introduce yourself to the others?” He sat down, his vision already starting to melt and swell. They started at the head of the table with Sinclair, “Hi, my name is Laura Sinclair. I am the secretary for the Canadian National Commission for Maple Syrup Excellency and Standards. My three sons; Philip, Bryan, and Conrad are here with me today, as is my husband, Sinclair.” She sat down with a swish of blonde hair. Her husband stood up from his chair slowly, as if he was made of glass and old twigs. “Hello everyone,” his voice was barely above the level of a whisper. “My name is Sinclair Sinclair.” He pointed to his sign on the desk. Sasho gestured for him to pick it up, and he did reluctantly and slowly. “I am retired. I like to do the crossword puzzles, and to watch Piroit on TV. His descent into his chair was a little faster with the aid of our friend gravity. Next, up shot our leggy doll-face clutching her nameplate, “My name is Brittany, or Brit Brit. I am the accountant for Demand Specialists & Supplies Inc.” She sat down and looked at Scotti with a smile. Scotti didn’t stand for her introduction. “Hi all, I’m Scotti. I’m a farmer in Smuggler’s Notch. I am also a good friend of Sasho and BB’s.” She held up her sign, which had a tractor drawn on it, dragging a bunch of seedlings that spelled out her name. Standing he said, “Philip Sinclair. Son of Sinclair and Laura.” He held his nameplate to his chest. “Conrad Sinclair,” said his brother, then he sat down quickly. There was a pause and then, “Hello everyone. My name is Mr. van Princer. I am the co- chair of the Alberta Commission for Maple Syrup, and father of Scottessa.” His wife shot up next to him and said as he stood, “and I’m his wife, Mrs. van Princer.” They both sat down together, clutching their nameplates. “Hi, my name is Bryan Sinclair. I also sometimes use the name Phillipa lePlante for work purposes, so I’ve made two signs here.” Bryan waved them above his head for the others to see. Sasho motioned frantically for him to stop touching them. He’d overlooked that certain detail. He could only hope that cross-dressers had a higher tolerance than the average Smuggler’s Notcher. “Hi, I’m the owner of Endicott Foreign Automobile and Motorcycle Repair. I’m a friend of Sasho’s.” Laura eyed the mechanic with a smirk. “My name is Alison, but you can call me Al B. I work at the repair shop, I’m a mechanic too! And I’m just thrilled to be here with all of you. Thanks for the pizza Sasho!” There was a half-hearted cheer that went up around the table as Ali B sat. “Thank you for that everyone. Now that that is out of the way, let me get down to business. Feel free to eat through out this, to draw more pictures on your name plates, etc. As some of the more experienced of you may have noticed, your vision is starting to blur. You feel a little hot? A little nauseous?” there were a few nods in agreement. “You’ve been dosed. In a few different ways, if I too must honor my oath.” As cries of protest rang out Sasho raised his voice, undeterred, “For all our sakes, I propose that we lock the conference room door. To protect ourselves and our reputations. Shall we take a vote?” The drugged attendees were slow to react, but eventually came to an agreement. “Ok, all in favor raise your hand.” A smattering of hands went up. “Is that everyone?” “No, me too!” “and me!” “Alright,” he said, counting. “The door will be locked. Ali, can you please make a note on the white board that we all voted to lock the door? “Ok Sasho!” she bound up, bosom heaving. “And Conrad, I know you’re good at things like this. Could you do us the honor?” Conrad trundled over to the door and latched it fast. “Ok so what we’re going to do here is that I am going to tell you a story and you all are going to write down what you know about the story. Do you think you can do that?” Nobody said anything, but Ali B smiled. “Ok, here goes. Oh, Ali, while you’re up can you draw the blinds behind you? Ok, that’s great. Thanks. Ok, here goes.” He cleared his throat. He took a deep breath, and began, “Scotti and I have been selling rejected Edmonton maple syrup on the black market for a huge profit. One day Scotti called me to tell me there was another shipment. But I’d been feeling this heat form a certain reporter in town so told her let it lay. We’d get the next one. She convinces me now is not the time too cool a thing, and that she needs money, and so do I. I agree, and we set the plans in motion. Next thing I know, there’s two goons,” he pointed at Philip and Conrad, “at my house. They kidnap me and Scotti and take me to her house, he points at Laura. “She feeds us Johnny cakes and cider. We talk. She tells me to cut it out because she’s got a lot of money riding on this syrup thing. I propose we keep selling, but to sell the product as the enemy’s. She’s interested, I see her eyes light up so I tell her sure, sure thing, I can do that. I just need a steady supply and a good price. We agree to do business, and that she’ll call me when she has something. On my way out of the hostage situation, I run into BB and Bryan here, on their way to dinner with Laura. Freaky! The very next day, there’s a dead trucker and two tankers of syrup parked outside my house. I lose it. BB’s being no help and Scotti can’t be found. In desperation I try to get a date with the reporter, partially to distract myself and partially to bounce ideas off of her. The reporter keeps asking me questions about Endicott Auto Repair and my mechanic friend, which I of course don’t like. While I’m off finding out what I can from the reporter, the girls come to and take care of business. The next day, 6 more trucks show up, this time without drivers. We stash the syrup. BB and I get drunk, then she falls asleep in the middle of a working day. I go home and find Scotti on the couch. The next morning, I’m having breakfast with the reporter, and she looks like hell. I put two and two together and figure out that we were all drugged at Laura’s house. Except the reporter wasn’t there, or was he? Philippa reveals to us that she is none other than Bryan Sinclair. We get some info out of him/her about his mom. She’s not the cleanest whistle in the train station, I’ll tell you that. He tells us that Alberta was her enemy. So the girls take care of some business out in our storage lot, and I head up to Alberta. I drive all night, but half way there I realize that the only person I know who could have such a grudge against me amongst this crazy cast of characters, is Scotti. My ex lover. Anyways, I make it to Alberta, force my way into the office building, and demand a meeting with the head of the Maple Syrup commission. Turns out they are Scotti’s parents. As far as I can tell, everything they told me was a lie. But, from what I can deduce, it seems that my friend, my ex-lover, and my business partner, Scotti may have more of a role in this syrup sabotage than I’d like.” He stopped and surveyed the room. No one had fallen asleep, so I guess that was good. “Well, that’s about as far is it goes for me. How are you all feeling?” “Wishy,” said Scotti. “Washy,” said BB. “Wiggly,” said Bryan. “Wangly,” said Ali B. “Woozy,” said Mr. van Princer. “Wacky,” said Sinclair “Wimpy,” said Mr. Sinclair “Are you guys ready to write?” he asked. “Not really sure I can write. I think I forgot.” Said Phillip “I lost my pen.” Said Conrad, slumping a little in his chair. “Ok people, let’s try to keep it together. I didn’t use all those drugs just for you guys to zone out.” He clapped his hands loudly, like he did to his cat when it was on the kitchen counter. He saw the a blast of color like lime splatter across the wall. He watched it for a second, then shook it free from his sight. The conference attendees were frozen in attention. “Pens up,” He said in his most authoritative voice. The pens went up. He turned his head to look at the clock. When the second hand passed 3:00pm he called out “Start!” then he spun around and threw himself across the desk table. He stared at the ceiling. The ceiling stared at him. He felt the cool grip of the table on his back. He turned his head and watched Ali B write. He turned his head the other way and watched Mr. Sinclair chewing on his pen. He closed his eyes and watched a light show across his eyelids, particles of dust and refractions of light combining in the most fascination of ways. He opened them and looked at the clock. It was 3:34pm. The worker bees were buzzing in their seats, pens scribbling across the paper. One of the worker bees looked at him and he knew what it wanted. He must have tapped into the hive mind! He was thrilled. He was ecstatic. He’d always wanted to be a part of the hive mind! He listened, and heard a pleasantness like honey resonating inside his mind. He sat up and got the bee another piece of paper. Another bee looked at him. Its wings flitted a Morse code of his name. He went and nudged it. It must be Ali. He hoped things would always be like this. He gave the bee another piece of paper. And the writing continued. He began to dance, a slow, lilting dance. He looped around the table, stopping only to peak out the blinds. The sun was low in the sky. When he turned back, the room was empty. The fluorescent lights were flickering on an empty room. The pizza was all gone. The pizza boxes, and the name plates, were ripped up into little pieces and strewn across the floor, the chairs, and the table tops. The Dixie cups were strung upon the electric cord of the floor lamp. The white board had a list of 14 points on it. The last two were; “We voted to unlock the door.” “We voted to say good bye to Sasho. Good bye Sasho!” On the floor by the door were 11 pieces of paper stacked neatly. The 12th piece of paper was folded into an origami carne and sat poised and ready to fly, upon the stack. Sasho shook himself like a dog as he tried to pry his mind for the light show and the setting sun. He did a few jumping jacks. He let out a scream. He listened to the sound of it echo in the cement building, and he tried not to blink for too long, for fear of falling back into the unknown. He bent down and scooped up the pile of papers. He went out into the hallway, following the trail of pizza-box confetti. The trail curved off to the right and exited out the front door. He noticed a few bottled were missing from “reception”. He turned left and fell into his office. The open shades with a magenta sunlight streaming in blinded him. He exclaimed aloud, “Oh!” and stumbled against the bear. He shimmied around the desk as fast as he could, sat down, and flicked on the desk lap. It was one of those green glass ones that made him think of Sherlock Holmes. He threw the sheets down in awe. And sat, and sat. he couldn’t get the lights out of his face. He slapped the side of his head a few times. No luck. They remained. Oh well, he thought. He unfolded the paper crane, and smoothed it as best he could. It read: Ali B. Sasho, it’s me Alison. All I can say is that it wasn’t me Sasho. I didn’t send the syrup and I didn’t kill the truck driver guy. I don’t know who was following you all the time. But I have to tell you, well I swore to tell the truth, didn’t I? So here it is. We’re all spies. All of us. We are. And it just is that way. I mean, I’ve been a spy my whole life, well at least since I hit puberty and my mom sold my to the mechanic spy ring. And its not that bad you know. Here’s how it works. All the mechanics are spies. That’s why we’re all so fit, confident, and entirely unapproachable. In fact, we’re so unapproachable that you’re the first person who has approached any one of us in … well, in years. But the mechanic ring, its serious stuff. Our days off we’re usually on a job. We get a call in a middle of the night, or a package, and we have to go, as we are. It’s like the boy scouts times 1,000. One time I had to sky dive out of a commercial plane to Florida because I got an extra chocolate chip cookie from the hostess. I thought it was a sign! But it wasn’t. Turns out she just liked me. That’s my life. But it gets real lonesome sometimes. Especially now that I’m grown and I see what all these ladies, you know all these wives, have when they bring in their cars. They have this air of assurance about them. A question answered, a doubt erased. They take it for granted, but they have the answer. And I want it. I do it. Deep inside, somewhere between my stomach and my heart. It’s like, this ache. I feel it throbbing. I want a home. Not a place, a person. I want it. And so I was wondering, would you. Could you, should you ever even possibly consider taking me in and making me, as faulted as I am, your home? Because I am ready to crawl inside of you and start moving the furniture around. Philippa LePlante Look Sasho, I don’t like the way you went about this. I understand with the other sacks of lying pieces of shit. You’d have to drug them senseless to get even the semblance of a truth out of them. But me! I thought we had more than that going on. I was always straight with you. I was probably the firs tout of this entire group, and I mean entire group, to show my true face to you. I was hoping that you would remember that. My head’s spinning. I’m seeing colors. I have to write this quick before it gets any worse and I go off into the deep end. You know what the deep end is, right? It’s when you cease to be able to reason right from wrong. Or was it “wright” from “rong”? I’m just not sure any more. I’m just not sure. Look here. Before this gets any worse, let me say this: Stay away from the mechanic. She’s bad news. There’s something going on with her. I ran into her once, it wasn’t pretty. Well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking my best. She, on the other hand, was surprisingly civil. She could have done much, much worse given the situation. Any other in her place, they might have. It’s not a safe world out there for people like me. I thought you should know that Sasho. I try to walk with my chin up, but it is not a safe world. No sirree. Anyhow, about the mechanic. That night, there was something in her, something cold, and ready to snap. I doubt that’s the side she shows to you. Actually, what side does she show you? What is it that draws you to her so? That is my question to you, if we’re allowed to ask questions. And about my mom. She’s not all bad. She’s just determined. You know how it is being a woman and having aspirations. It never ends well. Women don’t get lynched, they get slandered. The crowd turns their back and refuses to give a nickels worth of respect, of attention, of curiosity. It’s death by PR. Look at what happened to Hillary. That, my friend, was a classic case. So what I’m saying is, don’t hold it against her for wanting to win. And don’t hold it against her for going to any means necessary to get to the top. It’s what any self-respecting business person would do in her exact same position. But those Alberta people, and this is not just a prejudice. I promise! Those Alberta people give me the heebie jeeebies. A cold shutter, down my spine. And have you ever seen them do anything apart? It’s creepy. Look into them. And don’t listen to a word they say? On the other hand, Scotti seems nice. I’m not sure how she’s wrapped up in this, but I would blame her parents before I would blame her. If you get what I’m saying. Ok, Bryan wants to talk to you. Bryan Sinclair Sasho. So glad we got to spend some time together. I was wondering what you’d heard about me from Brit Brit. Anything good? She’s, well I’m sure you know, she’s just such a gem. A rare gem. A sparkling... you get the picture. Every time I get her to actually go out with me, it’s like, I can’t believe it. Me! With a knock-it-out-of-the-stadium stunner like her? With a brilliant, fascinating, bold black beauty like Brit Brit? Well, anyways, tell me if you hear anything. Don’t hold out on me man! Ok so down to the matters at hand, I’m sure Phillipa told you pretty much all we know. The mechanic is fishy. My mom, fishy, Scotti, not so fishy. But definitely culpable in some way. But the thing I was wondering about it what , what about Brit Brit? What does she have to do with all this? I have this sinking feeling that…s he might be a big part of it. I mean, her and Scotti are really close. Did you know that? I found this picture of Bb and Scotti with Scotti’s parents when they were kids. They were at Disney World. They had on Mickey Hats. This is something you need to think about as you proceed. Mr. van Princer Mr. van Princer here. I haven’t had a chance to drop so much as a dime since the seventies. Thank you man! Thank you. It has been far too long, and for this I must commend you. You’ve done me a serious service here. The light, the colors, the loosening of the tie, of the sphincter… it’s brilliant. Where’d you get this stuff? It’s fantastic! So much more subtle and aromatic than the lsd of my youth. O could it be the blending of the truth serum with the acid? Something to ponder. I’ll have to find myself a chemist. Look, if you’re looking for the truth, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’ve come to a point in my life where there are no truths. And there are no lies. Everything is true or false, depending on the lighting. But yeah, we’re probably the bad guys, from where you are standing. From where I’m standing, we’re honest folk just trying to get by in this world. We’re doing what we can to make sure our kids have something to show for all our hard work. And that’s it really. It’s just the American dream, with a Canadian twist. But there is one thing that is just plain true, no matter how you look at it. You know already that Scotti is our daughter. She is! She’s a precocious little thing. I guess you guys dated at one point? Well I’m sorry we didn’t meet you then, under more favorable circumstances. Well, Mrs. Van Princer and I have another daughter. She’s a little older and very different from Scotti. She’s the worldlier of the two. She’s lean and beautiful, and that always makes girls grow up so fast, you know? When she was twelve I started praying, praying she would develop some defect to tarnish her beauty and save her from that world out there. Turns out the defect god made for her was a superior intellect. It has helped her, I must say. But I can’t take any credit for that. Any how, the reason I’m telling you this is … that her name is Brittany. Phillip Sinclair Dude, not cool Sash. Not cool. I mean, I know I owe you one after the kidnapping and all. I know that was bad behavior, as my mom always puts it. But still. I’m in the Canadian Coast Guard! If I get called up for a random drug test, my ass is out of CG man! But still, as angry as I am, I feel compelled to tell you the truth. Damn this stuff, damn it all to hell. Ok here’s my truth. My mom never told us to kidnap you. She just wanted me to go visit you and talk to you. But Conrad and I, we wanted to make it interesting. We were thinking that this business of hers needs to get a little more serious. We need to treat things a little more delicately. So as we were driving over to your place with Scotti (she’s a hottie by the way. Are you guys like, together? Because if not I’d really like tog et her number from you. But if you are I mean, no offense man. Take it as a compliment, that’s all I mean. No but really, is she your girl?) he looks at me. And I look at him with an intensity. And he’s my brother man, he knows what I’m thinking. We talk about it all the time in our bunk beds late a tonight. He gives me the nod. I give him the nod back. Scotti was just in the back humming a little song to her self. She had no idea until we got to your place and we hog tied her and carried her up the stairs. I think we scared her pretty good because after that she started acting all shifty like. Like she had to cover her ass or something. I don’t know, I’m not good at picking up what Mama called “social cues”. And about my Mama, Mrs. Sinclair. I hear her talking sometimes on the phone in the office. The walls aren’t as thick as she thinks. She’s dealing in fluff Sasho, she is. She’s selling a liter of this, a pallet of that, a kilo of so and so. When is she going to get into some serious business, so we can make some serious dough and start living a serious life? Don’t you ever wonder why everyone doesn’t do like you, and go all the way black market? I mean, I’m sure you’re living deep over here in Smugglers Notch. I’m sure you’re thick with the paper, with mad honeys, nice crib. The works. The life. Is it like that? This is where I usually get a smack form Conrad for all the daydreaming. But I just think that way. I just want these things. I want it all! Brittany 1. First things first. I know a lot more about all this than I’ve been telling you. 2. Second: I liked cleaning up the body. 3. Third: I liked cleaning up the body so much that I was hoping that some more bodies would show up. 4. I think someone has been following you. And I think it is your mechanic. 5. I’m actually Scotti’s sister. I know we should have told you, I know! But it just never seemed like the right time. 6. We’ve been doing a little bit of work for our parents, but not much. They just wanted to keep tabs on you, to know what you were doing. Of every second. Of every day. I mean, really, I’m not sure what the big fuss it. You were selling syrup. How detrimental could it be? Honestly, I think there’s more to this. I think there’s something truly nefarious going on. I haven’t wanted to think about it because, well, because I’m the accountant. I can’t get wrapped up in things like this! And also, I don’t want to know what’s going on in the dark, sordid minds of my parents. They’re not right in the head. You know that right? It’s your job to know these things. I picture that you can smell it, like a dog. That you can sense a false-ness, an off-ness, or a lie just as easily as I can tell when the milk has expired. 7. I love you. LAURA Sinclair Sasho my dear, what a lovely surprise this is. Well first let me say how glad I was to meet you the other day. Did you like my johnny cakes? I heard from phillip that they had hardly any affect on you at all. That was not my intention- to knock out my spy and leave you fully functional. What a shock that was when I first heard the news. So how did you get that poison immunity? Do tell, I’d rather save the money I’d have to give a private eye to investigate. Phew. This honesty thing actually feels really good! I could shout from a mountain top! Ok, lets try a little more honesty. I hate the van princers. With passion, or con passion as the Spanish would say. They’ve always been lying conniving bastards, even before they even met each other. Yes, we go that far back. And when I found out Scottessa was their daughter, I knew that something big must be going on. And I just couldn’t stand to lose even a portion of my reputation, or my hard earned corner of the market to those thieving sons of bitches, pardon my French. So first I sent in bryan. He went at it in his own special way, as he is wont to do. When he stopped providing results and began delivering monologues on the beauty and poise of ms. Brittany, I had to resort to a new tactic. I had been able to glean, in between BB-induced reveries, that you too were a lover. So I went for the jugular, and sent in one of my top new recruits. You know her as “the mechanic”. We call her “the guzzler”. I’m taking it you haven’t had a chance to experience the full range of her skills jut yet? It would have to be. She told me a week ago that she was conflicted about her assignment. Terrible, isn’t it? You’ve turned both my operatives, and left yourself wide open, loose like bowels after collard greens, flayed like road kill after a buzzard’s brunch, to those two insipid little plants from Alberta. I wish I could tell you “I told you so,” but I didn’t in fact tell you anything. And, you’ve managed to navigate this minefield surprisingly gracefully. Including today. I must commend you. Brava, sasho, Brava! Sinclair Sinclair You want the truth Mr. Stamerov? The cold, hard truth? I’m 62 years old, my wife is 55, and I can’t stand her. She is a cold, loveless creature who has managed to suck all the life out of me like a slurpie from the big gulp cup. I am standing before you today a shell of a man. I feel hollow inside. In fact, I can hear my thoughts echoing inside of me. She wanted to make so cash. She was sick of the small time. She didn’t want to make her way through the snow drifts, tapping trees and listening to the birds calling for each other over head. She didn’t want to spend a week in the sugar shack with me, breaking in the perfumed steam and skimming the sugary foam off the surface of the sap reduction. She wanted money in the bank. She wanted influx and cushion and a nest egg, all at once. And bit by bit, she took it all from me. She elbowed her way into my daily business. She crowned herself princess of the sugar shack. She expanded operations without asking me. She bought out competitors, started storing in bulk. She never once asked me for my opinion. She never once asked me if with my level of expertise I would advise such-and-such a move. And now that there’s money involved in it, she’s finally concerned about he level of quality. It’s a joke! A complete and utter joke! Edmonton’s maple syrup has single-handedly been desecrated, I could even say decimated, by this woman. She’s not even from Edmonton! She’s from Calgary, if you can believe it. Anyways, last week she made me head quality control agent. No pay raise. Can you believe it? Trying to discern quality on that loveless liquid she calls syrup? She’s lost touch with everything that is true and right in this world. In fact I bet you your paper isn’t going to have anything on it. I bet you $100 (CAD) that it will be blank. Also, I heard you when you said to go back to the house that time, but I didn’t want to. I couldn’t stand to see her face. Con r ad Sinclair I see a green light, flitting across the page. I see spirals, like I’m watching flies dancing from above. It looks like summer nights back in the day; catching fireflies in the back yard next to the big lilac. You know what’s stranger though is that well, when I turn my head, I find that I’ve forgotten everything over there. And when I turn my head back, I’ve forgotten everything over there. Very confusing. My brain is not working at full operation level, I can tell you that for sure. What else can I tell you? We had a sister once, but she died. I accidentally killed the cat one summer, I hit it with my car. But I guess that isn’t the sort of stuff you’re looking for. Ok here’s the real deal. My mom and Mr. van Princer were engaged once. If you can believe it. Then something happened and my mom left him. And since then she’s been out to get him. He’s probably not a very good man. I only met him once, at Christmas when I was five. He gave us, what else, maple sugar candies. Lame! But delicious. As for the trucks and stuff, I mean my family, as cold as it sounds, we’re in it for the money. I don’t see any way we would rationalize sending 6 trucks, free of cost to you, with syrup. Rejected or not. Mrs . Van Princer I am not sure what to say. Do you know the truck driver’s name? Do you know how he died? It could have been an accident, for all you know! We have a roster of truck drivers who work for us on jobs like this. Not that this was our job, because it wasn’t. We keep the drivers in a house so we can use them whenever we want. We don’t, you know, just let them roam around wherever and whenever they please. They have curfews, and it is mandatory to be at all meals unless they are on a job. In that case they have to call in.. Anyways, none of our drivers have gone missing. Whish isn’t surprising because this just wasn’t one of our jobs. Also, we don’t go around just giving syrup away, no matter how bad it is. There are those out there in the business, I call them those damn bleeding-heart hippies, that go on and on about “process”, and about the soul of the syrup. We in Alberta, and let me tell you that we are indeed award winning syrup makers, and gold medal syrup sellers. And we don’t care a hoot, not one owl’s hoot on a cold winter night, about the soul of the syrup. We care about the profit my friend. We care about the jobs. We care about putting food on people’s tables, clothes on their backs, and a smile on their face when they go to bed knowing they’ve got money coming in the next day. You understand, you’re a business man.. Having said that, then believe you me, there is always a way to flip some syrup. When we need to we can sell it overseas, use it for perfume, dehydrate it for baking mixes, or we can just turn it into candy. The options are endless. We have not, and never would just drop off 100,000+ liters of syrup in front of some guy’s house, just for a lark.. Especially not in the dead of winter! That, my little plum fairy, is the honest to dog truth.. Scottessa van Princer The truth. Hmm… the truth. Sheesh. Ok here’s my part. I hope I don’t regret this. My mom asked me to do her a favor. I didn’t think much of it. She wanted me to apply for a grant using maple syrup so that she could launder the bad stuff without having to report it to the Commission. She told me to come up with something, and the company would accept my grant proposal. I was sitting on the back of the tractor one day, kicking mud off my shoes, when it hit me. What if diesels could run off of syrup the way they can run off vegetable oil? It’d be heavenly. We could tap the trees and funnel it right into the farm machinery! It was an amazing vision. I wrote it down and sent it off to my mom that night. They approved it, and I was ecstatic. But when the first truck-load showed up, I realized it was just a vision. Smoke and ashes. There was no science to back the dream up. So I started working the halls of the science dept at Smuggler’s Notch Vermont University, trying to find someone interested in researching new alternative fuels. But before I’d nailed anyone down to the project, the second batch arrived. The first one was already starting to mold in the July heat. So I called you. I never meant to get you involved in some small-town feuding. I promise. It wasn’t maliciousness on my part. I know you might have thought that. In a way, I was really glad to be able to work with you again. To have you back in my life. It’s been hard. I know it has been hard for you too. But things changed. I saw how you were about your mechanic, like a teenage girl. And with BB, that was the worst of all. She’s my sister, and watching you cradle her face in your hands the way you used to do to me, just proved too much for me. I had a moment’s relapse into pettiness when the kidnap happened. I tried to freak you out in the car, telling you about he salt on the fields. I mean, that’s some Attila the Hun shit! But you hardly flinched. You’re cut from a different cloth Sasho, a different cloth. Then at some point my mom called me. She told me about the whole feud and I started to worry. So did BB. We don’t really trust our parents. I know that sounds terrible but, to be honest they’re sort of soulless. I love them, don’t get me wrong. But any ways, we needed to protect them if it turned out that they were indeed the… the perpetrators. I hope you understand. Family is, well family. Nothing comes before them. They are the be all and all, the whole shebang. Nobody in the entire world knows you as well as they do. No one has been through the same things, lived in the same house as much as they have. Even married people, even long term lovers, nothing matters as much as that first eighteen years in your family house. Parents, siblings, those are the strongest influences you have in this world. Do you know what I’m getting at? Endicott Auto, Owner/Head Mechanic Sasho. A moment of truth, How poetic. Well, my mind is spinning, and the room is spinning, and I think I left a burner on at home. But here goes. I guess this isn’t so bad. it’s not as if I haven’t been wanting an opportunity like this for a while. I’m just not that into you. I’m sorry. I tried. I really did, and for a lot of bad reasons. But you’re just not my type. I like by partners to be a little more edgy, a little more accomplished. Not that being a small time smuggler isn’t accomplished. But I mean, well mechanically accomplished. We worked together a few times in the garage. It wasn’t pretty. I like to be surrounded by people who know more than me. That’s how I learn. I’m inherently lazy. It’s only through osmosis and a fierce competitive streak that I’ve been able to get anywhere in life. And you, you just don’t spark anything in me. You don’t inspire me to greater heights. Worse though, if you can stand to hear it, is that I work for Sinclair. I’m wincing even to write that down. You’re going to burn this shit afterwards, right? The last thing I need is this surfacing a few years from now, right when I’m at my peak. Ok so here’s how it went. She called me up to Edmonton to work on her cars. Nice cars. She liked to watch me while I worked. She said it was to make sure I didn’t pull a fast one on her, but I have a feeling something else was going on. She’s sort of the predator type, likes to watch from afar. I’ve seen it before. Anyways, one day we got to talking and it came up that I’m in some financial troubles. And that I have aspirations, and that I’m working towards something. Anyways she offered to help me out, get me some more work in her richie community up there in Canada. But she also asked me to do some other, less savory jobs. One of them was you. All she wanted was info on what you were doing with the syrup. And what your relationship was with the Alberta folks. But you never talked about work. You only talked about wines, and snuggling and vacations, and foot massages, and lavender eye pillows and… well it just wasn’t working out. She was putting pressure on me and then one day it hit me. I just wasn’t that into you. And you were too much of a pro to talk business with me. Plus you’re sort of love obsessed so it probably didn’t occur to you when I was around. The last thing I have to tell you is actually good news, I think. Mechanic #3, in the third chasse? You met her that one time, you gave her your number? Well, she is into you. In fact, I think you guys would actually be really amazing together. She likes cuddling. A lot. Ok, one of the terms of her contract is that she has t stay single. I’m trying to get this TV contract for a reality show. But anyways I heard that like, tila tequila had a boyfriend the whole time she was shooting “shot of love,” so maybe we can make an exception. She hasn’t been faring so well as a single lady either. She’s just a bundle of lover-nerves. All she wants is to be a part of something bigger than herself. All she wants is to feel connected to someone deep down in her bones, t know that she is not, nor ever will be, alone. It’s something I can see in you too sasho. Plain as day. I’m not really that type of person. Sinclair should have seen that when she gave me the assignment. Ali b could have pulled the ob off much more successfully. But everyone makes mistakes. Even Sinclair. He looked around the room. He didn’t feel that much better. The truth was much bigger than he’d intended. Love, rejection, ethics, values, politics, market trends. It was too much. His drug addled mind was simmering at a wicked pace. He went over the van Gogh and slid it aside. He pulled the back panel out of the small indentation to revel another small glass bottle, this time with green glass and a corked top. He pulled it out and put it on the table. His head was throbbing and his step was unsure. He went to the sink and pulled out a spoon, a sugar cube, and turned the tap for a drag of cool water. And an empty glass. He had to turn back for that. He’d forgotten it at first. Back at the table he set up the empty glass, balanced the spoon above it, perched the lone sugar cube in the belly of the spoon and steadied himself. He pulled the cork off the bottle with his teeth and gently spat it onto the table. Moving quickly but pouring slowly (so that none of the absinthe could evaporate), he dribbled the centuries old liqueur of his idol onto the sugar cube. Slowly it dissolved and the liquid seeped into the cup below. He took no more than two thimble-fuls. HE set the spoon aside and corked the bottle. Then he sat, and with eyes closed, took a slow sip. And another. And another. The alcohol worked magic on his insides, massaging his brain. Easing his brow. Relaxing his shoulders. He took another miniscule sip, almost like a eye dropful. It was heavenly. Well worth the USAID Namibia rice delivery he’d traded it for. He thought to himself. He didn’t have any more answers. No one came forward and claimed the syrup. And no one had claimed the body either. He had half a mind to just forget the whole thing, sell the syrup, buy one of those little wooden boats and sail to Bermuda, catching fish along the way. And as he sat there, calculating remodeling costs, profit margins, shipping costs, and how to close up shop, there was a knock on the door. It was Ali B. Three days later Three days later Sasho received a postcard in the mail. It was, oddly enough, from Smuggler’s Notch. He flipped it over and read: Dear Sasho. This is Sinclair. Sinclair Sinclair. I just wanted to thank you for the truth serum. It helped me see things more clearly. And a lot less clearly, but that is also good. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to see so clearly, and yet so unclearly, and to reflect on my life, my goals, and the people that I’ve surrounded myself with. I’m leaving now, but before I do, I have two things to tell you. First, I left my wife. I told her right after your little pizza party. Well, I didn’t really even tell her, I just drove off. She’ll figure it out. She’s a smart cookie, if nothing else. I bought this postcard at a seven eleven on the way out of town, and I’ll be sending it before I hit the county line. If I can find a post office that’s working Second, I was the one who did it. I was the one who sent the syrup, the silver tanker trucks. But not the trucker, I don’t know anything about that. But it was me who sent the syrup. I did it as a <I don’t know this word, please provide an alternate> warning signal to my wife, and as a message to you. For her; I wanted to let her know that all her syrup was crap. It’s all crap. She has no idea what quality means. She has no idea what it takes to make a good syrup, what kind of soul and energy goes into making a syrup really sing. And my message to you? My message to you was just to tell you to back off. That dealing in sub-standard syrup you were doing? In my book, and in the book of a lot of my friends, that’s a sin akin to selling national secrets to the Russians, or to the commies or something. I sent those trucks to you to punish you and I never thought twice about it. I was killing you with kindness. It’s the Canadian way. Four days later The phone rang. Sasho was in the bathroom, taking a lavender bubble bath. Thankfully for the caller, he’d had a stationary phone installed in there back in the eighties. It was black. Everything in the bathroom was black. A black toilet, black marble tile, black towels, black onyx wall sconces. The phone was ringing. Sasho made his slippery, soap- sopping way over to the phone. “Sasho?” “It’s me, Mr. van Princer.” “Mr. van Princer! What a surprise. I didn’t get to say good-bye to you the other day. My apologies.” “Don’t you worry about a thing. Listen, I’ve got something to talk about with you but I was wondering… do you think you could come down to the county jail and bail me out?” “Oh jeez Mr. van Princer. I don’t know. What’s bail set at?” “$150,000.” “What! I don’t really have that much cash lying around. I mean, I do, but I’m not sure that I’d want to put it up for you. We don’t really know each other that well. What do they have you in for?” “Umm.. murder.” “Oh. And what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?” “Oh, the truck driver.” “I see” “And the other seven truck drivers.” “Um hum” “That are buried now in the land by your storage unit.” “Mr. van Princer, you do know that all calls from jail are recorded, don’t you?” “Oh god! Oh god, oh god, oh god,” and the phone clicked off, and Sasho was left standing listening to the dial tone. He sat back down into the hot tub with a sigh. That was as good as a confession, wasn’t it? He reached for his glass of rakiya and brought it to his forehead. It was cool to the touch. He sighed heavily, eyes closed. It was finally over. He had some answers. But for some reason he didn’t feel much better about things, even as the hot water began to work on his aching muscles. Six months later There was the sound of water lapping up against the wooden hull. And there was also the sound of water throwing itself upon the volcanic rocks, like a teen at a Beatles concert. Sasho was humming to himself and holding her tight. She felt warm and smooth in his arms. The heat made both their bodies supple and golden, a color and feeling to the touch that would not have been imagined several months before. She was asleep. She was asleep in his arms. She was asleep in his arms and she was his. For that moment. But when she woke, she became her own again. She thought and acted and went where she pleased. And saw whom she pleased. And he had no control over her. It was hard at times. He wanted her completely, he wanted her wholly. He wanted! But when he thought about his principles as a human being on this earth, he knew that, unfortunately, it was the only way to be. But while she slept, he would take her in his arms and fantasize that this was all she was. A quiet bundle of sweetness, without a thought or a care in the world besides a good long rest. Last night, as she slipped through his fingers into the nether lands of slumber, he felt in his pocket. It was there, he’d put it there earlier in the day. He un-entangled himself form her and sat up. He unfolded the sheet of paper gingerly. It was creased and well weathered, the paper had gone from a crisp clean white to a supple, fuzzy, yellow. One time he’d fallen in the water with it, and had had to dry it surreptitiously on the far deck, again while she slept. And even then a flying fish had threatened to abscond with it, and he had thrown himself across the varnished deck and grabbed the letter as it fluttered over the railing, heading for the great blue beyond. The bruises had lasted for a week. He spread it out flat on his desk and read, even though he knew it by heart; … Sasho, it’s me Alison. All I can say is that it wasn’t me Sasho. I didn’t send the syrup and I didn’t kill the truck driver guy. I don’t know who was following you all the time. But I have to tell you, well I swore to tell the truth, didn’t I? So here it is. We’re all spies. All of us. We are. And it just is that way. I mean, I’ve been a spy my whole life, well at least since I hit puberty and my mom sold my to the mechanic spy ring. And its not that bad you know. Here’s how it works. All the mechanics are spies. That’s why we’re all so fit, confident, and entirely unapproachable. In fact, we’re so unapproachable that you’re the first person who has approached any one of us in … well, in years. But the mechanic ring, its serious stuff. Our days off we’re usually on a job. We get a call in a middle of the night, or a package, and we have to go, as we are. It’s like the boy scouts times 1,000. One time I had to sky dive out of a commercial plane to Florida because I got an extra chocolate chip cookie from the hostess. I thought it was a sign! But it wasn’t. Turns out she just liked me. That’s my life. But it gets real lonesome sometimes. Especially now that I’m grown and I see what all these ladies, you know all these wives, have when they bring in their cars. They have this air of assurance about them. A question answered, a doubt erased. They take it for granted, but they have the answer. And I want it. I do it. Deep inside, somewhere between my stomach and my heart. It’s like, this ache. I feel it throbbing. I want a home. Not a place, a person. I want it. And so I was wondering, would you. Could you, should you ever even possibly consider taking me in and making me, as faulted as I am, your home? Because I am ready to crawl inside of you and start moving the furniture around… And it had only gone on from there. His heart sang a blissful tune, somewhere between Sinatra and the Shaft; Bombastic and mellifluous, swoon and crunk, funky and square. It spanned the spectrum, just as they had spanned the seas in each other’s arms, living on the wind and a prayer, and the odd tuna that Sasho managed to catch. He was actually getting very good at it. His body had been altered by this trip, and this new love. He was leaner but heftier. His hand-eye coordination was impeccable! So they’d been living off of mainly fish, and some canned corn they’d stocked up on before they left. He was feeling good. She woke up with a yawn and a stretch. Then she rolled over and dragged his leg towards her. “Come here you!” she said, but when he wrapped his hands around her, she had already fallen asleep. He stared at the roof above him and listened to the water. He listened to the water and stared at the roof. He listened to the roof and stared at the water. The water and the roof stared at him The roof stared at the water. The water listened to him breathing, and the roof watched her sleeping And then he noticed a huge shadow cast over the cabin. He looked out the window. This couldn’t be good. It was the maple syrup cruise. A bunch of Canadians in Speedos drinking maple syrup themed drinks. He ran onto the deck, hauled up the anchor and unfurled the sails. The good thing about a small boat, you could get out quick and easy. He was across the harbor in a heart-beat, and his sleeping beauty stirred not. And this is how he wished it would stay. But of course we know better than that. THE END α A food coop is a food supplier, like a grocery store, that is organized as a cooperative and run by a community of like-minded citizens. Most frequently the coop is owned, managed, and staffed by the coop members, and they typically provide natural food products, or other niche foods (halal, kosher, or other religious organizations also have an interest in food coops). The first notable food coop was founded in the early 19th century in Rochdale, UK. In the United States, food coops experienced a grand revival duringt he 1970’s, as part of the hippy movement and a growing trend towards organic food and vegetatianism. β Cars with wood paneling can be referred to as Woodies, with the alternate spelling of Woodys, and have also been called Shooting Brakes or Break Bois. This antique style of car body was first seen in the shape similar to that of our modern day station wagon. Often this wod paneling was a third party modification done by coach building companies, and very rarely were these Woodies manufactured outright by car companies. Typically the rear portion of the chasse would feature an exposed wood body that had been carefully varnished in a clear finish or a natural stain. In the United States these cars were originally used as work vehicles, in rail stations. During the 1960s and 70s these cars were also adopted by surfers, as they were cheap and large enough to transport numerous surf boards at one time. χ Rakiya is a fruit brandy produced by distilling a variety of fruits; plum, grape, apricot, pear, apple, fig, cherry, quince, and other fruits. It is a popular beverage in the Balkans, Italy, and France. It is considered the national beverage of some South Slavic countries, and Albanian peoples. In Bulgaria and Serbia homemade rakiya is often made from mixing fruits, where as in Croatia rakiya is made solely from grapes. The alcohol content of this brandy ranges from 40% ABV to 60% ABV in homemade varietals. δ John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr was born in late February 1902 and passed onto the other side in the Christmas time of the year 1968. He was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). Several years before his death Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was known to run on communist, socialist, and other leftist political circles.
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