Category Archives: Short Stories

I have a short story featured at Josh Lanyon’s blog today!

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Young Research Library, UCLA

Once again, Josh is turning over a chunk of her yearly Advent Calendar blog to other writers and artists. I wrote a story featuring Jamie and Liz at the reference desk, waiting out the end of the semester, when they encounter one of Josh’s characters from the Adrien English Mysteries.

You can find it here. Enjoy!!

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Free, new Jamie Brodie short story!

Introducing the first new short story since the release of Dirty Laundry! Jamie’s sabbatical has just ended, and he’ll be heading back to work after twelve weeks away. The story takes place (in real time) over last weekend, 9/23 and 9/24.

The next book in the Jamie series, Published to Death, begins on Jamie’s first day back at work – in other words, immediately after this story – but it won’t be released until November. Because reasons. Anyway. Without further ado, allow me to present It’s A Whole New Ball Game. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Home Sweet Home

At last.

Pete maneuvered the CR-V into the parking spot behind our townhouse and cut the engine. In the back seat our yellow Lab, Ammo, scrambled to his feet and tugged on his car harness, panting happily, his tail whacking the back of my headrest.

We were home.

We’d spent eight weeks in the UK and four in New Mexico. My sabbatical was over. The second draft of the book I’d written was with my editor, and I was due back at work on Monday.

We didn’t have much time to regroup. Pete’s 18-year-old niece, Samantha Fernandez, would arrive tomorrow evening with her parents, Christine and Andy, to move into student housing at UCLA. Pete was already four weeks into his new career as an adjunct instructor in Arizona State’s online psychology program, and his students’ initial papers were coming due. I had three months’ worth of email to plow through, and classes commenced on Thursday.

The coming week promised to be a whirlwind.

We unloaded the car and walked the dog. Back in the house, Ammo undertook an olfactory survey of each room, seeking scents that didn’t belong. Pete and I stood in the center of the living room and looked at each other. Now what?

I said, “Do you want to get groceries?”

“No. I don’t want to get back in the car until tomorrow. Do you want to unpack?”

“No. I’m not up for laundry tonight. Do you want to go through the mail?”

“No. I’m too tired to read it. Do you want to get something to eat?”

I wasn’t terribly hungry, but… “I guess. But not Indian food.” We’d eaten our fill of curry while in the UK.

Garnelen_im_Verkauf_fcm

By Frank C. Müller (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Agreed. Seafood?”

“Sure.” We’d been without seafood for four weeks. There wasn’t much to be had in Alamogordo.

We headed west on Wilshire toward the seafood market. Pete surveyed the businesses on either side of the street. “It’s like we never left.”

“It’s only been three months.”

“I know.” He kicked at a pebble and sent it skittering into the street. “Monday’s gonna be weird.”

I glanced at him. “Weird how?”

“Staying home. It’s the first day that you’ll go off to work and I won’t.”

“Are you having second thoughts?” Pete’s decision to leave his faculty position at Santa Monica College had been made under somewhat hasty conditions.

“Not at all. It’s just…” He shrugged. “Standing at the door, waving as you walk to the bus, saying, ‘Bye, dear, have a nice day…’ It all feels awfully housewifely.”

“Heteronormative, in other words?”

“Yeah. Except the roles that I anticipated before I knew better are entirely flipped now. You’re the breadwinner, marching to the office every day, and I’m the stay-at-home.” He frowned. “I never considered that it might feel like this.”

After five years of living with Pete, I knew better than to attempt an application of logic to his feelings. “Okay, what can we do to make it feel different to you? I’m not really the breadwinner; you will be working, after all. Earning your own money. How can we emphasize that?”

We stopped to wait at a crosswalk, and he gave me a sideways grin. “You are such a man of action.”

I laughed. “Yeah, right. I’m serious.”

“And it’s an excellent idea. I guess I could fiddle with the arrangement for my workspace. Maybe I can make it seem less like I’m at home.”

“There you go. And no slumming in your skivvies on the sofa. You have to get dressed and work in the office.”

The Walk signal appeared, and we crossed the street. Pete said, “I should draw up a schedule. Decide when I’m going to start and stop working every day.”

“Yes. I bet we could find a time clock app for you, if that would help.”

“It might. And I want to pay for my COBRA out of my own account.”

“Sure.” We maintained a joint bank account for joint expenses, and individual accounts for what we officially referred to as “other stuff.” I wasn’t able to add Pete to my own insurance until January.

We reached the restaurant, and Pete opened the door for me. “After you, sir.”

I grinned. Maybe holding the door for me would help Pete’s emotional state as well. “As you wish.”

 

Sunday, September 24

In A Whole Different League

After a lengthy trip to the grocery store, I spent the rest of Sunday morning unpacking and doing laundry. Pete switched his office chair to the opposite side of our desk, so he’d sit facing his bookshelves rather than the oh-so-comfy sofa bed. I located and downloaded an app to his phone that would allow him to clock in and out.

I was folding t-shirts when Pete came downstairs. “I’m not sure I care for the new desk arrangement. Maybe it’s the ex-cop in me, but sitting with my back to the room feels uncomfortable.”

“You can always switch it back.”

“True.” He took a bottle of water from the fridge and cracked it open. “I had another idea. Whichever of us packs your lunch for the coming day should pack one for me, too.”

“Ah, that’s smart. Eating out of plastic containers will make you feel as if you’re not at home.”

“Yeah. Now I just have to discipline myself to stay out of the garden while I’m supposed to be working.”

I smiled at that. “Hey, if your work is done? Clock out and go home. So to speak.”

“Thank you for working this out with me.”

“You’re welcome.” I hefted a tall stack of shirts and underwear. “You can repay me by carrying those to the bedroom.”

He grinned and accepted the armful of clothing. “I hope you don’t expect me to do laundry, since I’m gonna be home all day.”

“Ha! You’d better not. The laundry is mine.”

 

Having been out of the country all summer, Pete and I had missed a lot of baseball – and the season was coming to a close. My brother Kevin had tickets to the Dodgers-Padres game this afternoon, and Dad and my nephew Gabe were driving up from Oceanside to

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By No machine-readable author provided. Imageman~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

join us.

Pete and I met the others at Dodger Stadium and hit the concession stands. We loaded up with Dodger Dogs and beer – soda for Gabe, of course – and climbed to our seats.

Dad went in first, followed by me, Pete, Gabe, Kristen and Kevin. The seats on the other side of Dad were occupied by four middle-aged ladies, all wearing Dodgers gear of various sorts. The one closest to Dad had a program open to the scorekeeping page and a pen in her hand.

As we sorted our food and drink, the woman on the other side of the scorekeeper raised her beer to us, spotting Dad’s Padres cap. “Hi there! Don’t tell me you’re Padres fans.”

Dad grinned. “Only half of us.”

The woman on the far side of the one who’d spoken said flirtatiously, “Which half?”

Dad laughed and pointed to Kevin. “Half of him,” – he pointed to me – “half of him, and all of my grandson and me.”

The woman with the scorecard said to me, “How do you get to be half of a Padres fan?”

I said, “We grew up in San Diego but have lived here for years.”

“Ah. Exactly the opposite of me.” She smiled. “I grew up here but have lived in San Diego for years.”

Dad asked, “And you’re not half a Padres fan?”

She chuckled. “I’ll root for the Padres when it won’t hurt the Dodgers.” She held out her hand. “I’m Claudia.”

Dad shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Claudia. I’m Dave.”

I took a closer look at Claudia. She was wearing a Dodgers cap over a blunt haircut – straight strands of strawberry blond hair, probably dyed, fell about an inch below the bottom of the cap. She had blue eyes with laugh lines in the corners, and just enough tan to look healthy. She was wearing a tank top and Bermuda shorts, and her arms and legs were toned. I stole a quick glance at her feet: socks and sneakers. Practical and comfortable.

Hm.

Gabe was chattering to Kristen about school; Pete was busy eating. I pretended to concentrate on my hot dog but continued to eavesdrop on Dad’s conversation with Claudia. He asked her, “What part of San Diego?”

“Carlsbad. What part of LA?”

“Oh, I live in Oceanside. My sons live here, in Westwood and Santa Monica.”

Claudia peered around Dad at me, just as I stuffed a bite of hot dog into my face. She grinned. “I certainly see the resemblance. Are you the dad of yonder grandson?”

I shook my head and tried to chew faster. Dad said, “No, yonder grandson’s dad is my oldest son. He didn’t come with us. Jamie’s my youngest, and Kevin, down on the end, is my middle boy.”

I snuck a surreptitious glance at Claudia’s ring finger. Empty. Claudia asked me, “How did you end up in LA?”

“I came to UCLA for library school and decided to stay. How did you end up in Carlsbad?”

“I spent the second half of my career in San Diego and decided to stay. What do you do?”

“I’m a librarian at UCLA.” I thought, I’ll ask the questions so Dad won’t have to. “Are you retired, then?”

“Yes, for two years. I was a pharmacist first, but when my husband died I needed more income. So I became a pharmaceutical rep, and San Diego was my assigned territory.” She held up her hands in mock surrender. “Don’t judge me.”

Widowed, not divorced. That was a plus. Dad said, “Hey, you do what you have to, right? My niece is a pharmacist.” My cousin Carly.

Stone mortar

By Nikodem Nijaki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Claudia said, “Oh, nearby?”

“No, she’s in Wilmington, North Carolina.”

I asked, “How do you like retirement?”

“I love it.”

The first batter walked to home plate and the crowd began to cheer. Dad nodded at Claudia’s scorecard. “Do you keep score?”

“Yeah.” Claudia grinned at Dad. “I guess I’d better pay attention.”

Dad grinned back. “I guess you’d better.”

Pete had finished his first hot dog. He leaned over to me and whispered, “What’s going on over there?”

“Flirting.”

Excellent.”

For the next couple of hours I kept one ear on the ball game and one on Dad and Claudia. They mostly stuck to the topic of baseball. Claudia was very knowledgeable. Her parents had begun taking her to Dodgers games before she was born, and she was an encyclopedia of Dodgers history.

They didn’t talk exclusively about baseball, however. They exchanged last names – Claudia’s was Stratton. The women with her – Nancy, Kathy and Deb – had been her best friends since high school.

Claudia had two standard poodles. She lived in the southern half of Carlsbad. She had a vegetable garden, enjoyed travel and, after retiring, had taken up windsurfing.

During the fifth inning Pete leaned over and whispered, “How’s it going over there?”

“So far so good.”

After the sixth inning Dad excused himself and went to the men’s room. Claudia looked across his seat at me and smiled. “Your name is Jamie?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s Jeremy, actually, but my oldest brother couldn’t pronounce that as a toddler, and his version stuck.”

She chuckled. “Are you married?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I steeled myself – this might wreck Dad’s chances – and pointed at Pete. “To this guy.”

I needn’t have worried. Claudia was delighted. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” I nudged Pete. “Pete, this is Claudia.”

Pete reached across me to shake hands. “Pete Ferguson. I’m glad to meet you.”

“Claudia Stratton. My pleasure.” She nodded at Kevin. “Is your brother down there married?”

I said, “No, ma’am. That’s his girlfriend, Kristen. May I ask – are you Dr. Stratton?”

She nodded. “I have a Pharm.D. Gone are the days when you can work as a pharmacist with only a master’s degree.”

“What kind of pharmaceuticals did you represent?”

“Anesthetics and IV pain meds. My customers were hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

“Glad to hear you weren’t pushing the overuse of antibiotics.”

She grimaced. “No way. Do you have a healthcare background?”

“No, no. I dated a paramedic years ago. And my oldest brother – Gabe’s dad – is a veterinarian.”

“In Oceanside?”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s the large animal vet at Miracosta Animal Hospital.”

Dad came back with popcorn and another soda for Gabe. “Did I miss anything?”

Claudia showed him the scorecard. “A walk and a strikeout so far.”

“Good.” Dad settled into his seat, giving me a sideways grin as he did.

Uh huh.

By the end of the game Dad and Claudia had exchanged phone numbers and arranged to meet for lunch on Wednesday. Claudia was the designated driver for her group; Nancy, Kathy and Deb were milling around the aisle somewhat drunkenly. Claudia shook her head, laughing. “I’d better corral these three before they cause an incident. Jamie, Pete, it was great to meet you. Dave – I’m looking forward to Wednesday.”

“Me too.”

Dad and Claudia shook hands, and she hustled her friends up the steps toward the exit. Dad watched them go; at the top of the steps, Claudia turned and waved. Dad waved back.

I said, “That went well.”

“It did, didn’t it?” Dad grinned. “We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

Kevin said, “What’s happening Wednesday?”

I said, “Dad has a lunch date with the woman he was sitting beside.”

Kristen said, “I thought there was some getting-to-know-you going on down there.”

Kevin was astounded. “What? Who is this woman?”

I said, “Claudia Stratton, widow, retired pharmacist, lives in Carlsbad, windsurfs, knows how to keep score. I like her.”

Kevin shook his head like a dog shaking water from its fur. “What?

Pete said, “Claudia from Carlsbad. Try to keep up.”

Dad just laughed.

 

A couple of hours after we got home Dad texted me. Home safe, talk to you soon.

About an hour after that, Jeff texted me. Busy?

No.

My phone rang. I said, “Hi there.”

Jeff said, “So, Gabe is reporting that Dad has a new girlfriend.”

“Ha! Hardly.” I explained. “They never stopped talking through the entire game, and they’re having lunch on Wednesday. Signs are favorable, but it was only one afternoon.”

“How does she compare to Barb?” Dad’s last girlfriend, with whom he’d broken up a year and a half ago.

I didn’t even have to think about that. “She doesn’t. Claudia is in a whole different league, and she has dogs. But it’s way too early to speculate.”

Jeff sounded skeptical. “Hm. Okay.”

I laughed. “Relax. It’s probably won’t go anywhere.”

Jeff said, “Uh huh.”

When I hung up Pete said, “You don’t believe what you said.”

“I don’t believe what?”

“That Dave and Claudia won’t go anywhere.”

I crossed my arms. “You don’t believe in gut feelings, do you?”

“No.” Pete grinned. “But in this case, I’d say the evidence so far supports your gut.”

The buzzer sounded on the dryer, saving me from having to examine my guts any further. I said, “We’ll see.”

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It’s short story release day!

dirty laundry

Dirty Laundry, the Jamie Brodie short story anthology, is released today! If you pre-ordered, you should already have it on your reading device. If you didn’t, you can buy it now! Here are the links for Smashwords and Amazon.

I’m not releasing this one in paperback. It would cost way too much. When I publish through CreateSpace, they set the minimum price based on the number of pages. This is over 300 pages and would probably be nearly twenty bucks. Too much.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy the stories!

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Pre-order and cover reveal!

It’s here! Dirty Laundry, the first volume of Jamie Brodie short stories, is available for pre-order! This is a collection of all the stories that have been previously published, both here on the blog and with books, and a BUNCH (more than half of the 32 stories) of new stories. They span the years 1974-2017 and tell of first meetings, first loves, family history, and more.

The book will be published on August 31. It’s 107,000 words, and most of it is new – so I’m charging a bit more for it than my usual 45K – 55K novels. Fair warning.

Here’s the link for Amazon pre-order. Let me warn you – Amazon wouldn’t allow me to assign the number 14.5 for this book within the series. So I assigned it #0. (I know I’ve seen series books with decimal points; maybe they just stopped allowing that.) So it’s Jamie Brodie Mysteries, #0.

Here’s the link for Smashwords pre-order. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords automatically assigned #15 to the story collection, which is going to mess up my numbering for the rest of the series… sigh.

And here’s the cover!

dirty laundry

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Something fun!

As promised, the anthology of Jamie Brodie short stories will be published at the end of August on both Amazon and Smashwords. I’ve sent the cover photo to my graphic artist and hope to have the book up for pre-order within the next couple of weeks.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier. By aprillynn77 – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=431421

There are 32 stories in total, 20 of them brand new material. The rest are those you’ve read here on the blog, or that have been included with some of the books. Now, there are no new mysteries in these stories. The only story with a mystery for Jamie to solve is There Goes the Neighborhood. So if you read the books mostly for the mysteries and don’t care that much about the rest of Jamie’s life, be warned that the short stores are all about the rest of Jamie’s life.

The anthology is called Dirty Laundry: The Jamie Brodie Short Stories, Vol. 1. (There will be a Vol. 2 eventually, as I write more short stories.)

If you follow my Facebook page, you know that I produce a soundtrack for each book. I’ve done the same for the anthology. But, instead of releasing the soundtrack after the book is published, I’m going to release this one before! Beginning this Sunday (7/31) and running through 8/31, I’ll post the title of one of the stories and the song that I chose to illustrate it. Here comes the fun part – you can try to figure out what/who the story is about based on the title and song. Some of them are glaringly obvious; some you may remember from before. Some of them, I think, will be tricky.

I can’t wait to see if you can figure them all out. 😀 See you on Facebook!

 

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Great Expectations

 

Author’s note: Please know that it’s Stephen referring to his dream woman as an amazing thing, and to the speed dating as “normal.” Not me.

 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stephen Atcheson paid for his meatball sub and headed toward the North Campus Student Center. With luck, he’d find Kristen Beach eating outdoors – without her so-called boyfriend. Stephen sniffed in disdain at the thought of that cop – Jamie’s brother, no less.

Well. Kristen wasn’t married to the cop. She wasn’t even engaged. That meant she was fair game. Every man for himself. Stephen was well-educated, well-read, a fellow librarian, and unlikely to be killed in the line of duty. All he needed was time, and he knew he could win Kristen over.

And if not her, Jessie Gaither in ILL. Or Katrina Johnson, also a librarian. Although she had kids. Stephen didn’t care much for kids.

He spotted Kristen at a table, and his spirits lifted. No cops were present. Although Liz and Jamie were there, as expected.

No problem. He knew he could handle Liz. As for Jamie, Stephen still believed that he could use Jamie to meet women. One of these days he’d invite Jamie to go clubbing. Gay guys were catnip to women, and when Jamie told them he played for the other team, Stephen would be there to pick up the pieces.

He stopped at the table. “May I join you?”

Liz said, “It’s a free country. For now.”

Stephen sat, unwrapped his sub and took a bite. He was blissfully unaware of the meatball that escaped from the distal end of the sandwich and plopped onto his trouser leg, then somersaulted to the ground. He turned to Kristen on his left and asked her, “How was your morning?”

“Fine.”

“What are you working on now?”

Kristen looked at him over the frame of her glasses. “Research guides.”

Stephen was thrilled. He had her attention! “Ah. What subject?”

“Speech.”

“Oh, that’s interesting. What sorts of resources are you linking to?”

Kristen’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you were a librarian.”

Stephen was puzzled. “I am. Why?”

“Shouldn’t you know what sorts of resources belong on a speech guide?”

To his right, Liz snorted. Stephen ignored her. “Well, yes, of course. Since you’re the subject specialist, though, I thought you might know of some interesting sources.”

Kristen turned back to her salad. “I do. That’s why I’m the subject specialist.”

Stephen thought, Crap. He was losing her. He decided to take the leap. “So what are your plans for Valentine’s Day?”

Liz and Jamie both snorted that time. Stephen ignored them. Kristen turned toward him and smiled. He thought, Yes!

“Kevin and I are going to order in. Then we’ll have sex. At least twice.”

Across from him, Jamie made a strangled sound. Stephen was disappointed but tried not to show it. “Oh. Well. Jamie, what about you?”

“I have rugby practice.”

“So you won’t be going out?”

“Nope.”

Stephen sighed inwardly. He might have to ask Katrina out after all. Or… he could activate Plan D.

 

Tuesday, February 14

Stephen checked his look in the mirror. The new hair color worked, he thought. Some women didn’t like redheads, so he’d switched to black. He fluffed the strands on top in an attempt to cover the bald spots. There.

He buttoned his shirt – not realizing he’d missed the bottom button – and tied his tie, unaware of the meatball stain at the bottom. He tucked his shirt in – mostly – and buckled his belt. He was ready. He opened the door of the men’s room handicapped stall – the only location on campus with a private sink – and strode confidently to the exit.

Stephen was totally unfamiliar with Venice, but his GPS guided him right to the door. He hesitated for a moment as he pulled to the curb – twenty bucks for valet parking! – but then decided to go for it. If he got lucky tonight, he didn’t want to look like a cheapskate.

Once inside, he surveyed the place. El Caribe, at first glance, was classy. Tiffany lamps cast a warm glow around the large room. A woman in a slinky red dress was playing piano in the far corner. Ahead of him, the bar was a burnished dark wood that gleamed.

Stephen suddenly experienced what was for him a nearly unheard-of sensation – a loss of nerve. He didn’t see anyone that appeared to be here for speed dating. People were sitting at tables in twos or fours, chatting and sipping cocktails. What was he doing here?

Then he spotted her, and time stopped. His hesitation fled. His nerve returned with reinforcements.

She was sitting against the far wall, a few tables away from the piano. She was with three other women – one a chunky blonde, one with razor-cut dark hair, and one who was too old for his tastes. But his focus was entirely on the first woman. She had long, curly dark hair and pale skin. She was wearing a sleeveless top, and her arms were toned.

She was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. Even hotter than Kristen Beach.

A male voice interrupted his reverie. “Sir? Excuse me, sir. Do you have a reservation?”

Stephen blinked and realized that he was being addressed by a head waiter of some sort. “Oh. Er – no. I’m here for the speed dating.”

The guy stared at Stephen for a moment, long enough for Stephen to wonder if he had the wrong night. Then he said, “Of course you are.” He pointed to the corner to Stephen’s left. “Registration is over there.”

Stephen immediately turned to the left. The head waiter said, “Um, hello? That’ll be forty dollars.”

He turned back, mouth agape. “Forty bucks?

The guy made a “duh” face. “That’s right. All proceeds to AIDS Project Los Angeles.”

“Oh. Uh – okay.” Stephen fished out his wallet and handed over two more twenties. He’d have to use his credit card for drinks.

The woman across the room was worth it.

The head waiter handed Stephen a ticket. He went to the registration table, where a sign on a post read, Wide Open Speed Dating. Everyone Welcome. A businesslike woman in a suit and heels collected his ticket. Her name, according to the tag she wore, was Nadine. “Name?”

“Stephen Atcheson. A-T-C…”

She stopped him. “No last names.”

“Oh. Okay.” He pointed as she filled out a name tag. “PH, not V.”

“Sorry.” She corrected the mistake and handed him his name tag. “Is this your first time?”

Should he admit it and expose himself as a greenhorn? No. He said, “I’ve done it elsewhere.”

Nadine looked skeptical, but said, “Good. Then you know how it works. The tables are set up over there.” She pointed to an area beyond the bar. “It’ll be another ten minutes.”

“Thank you.” Stephen affixed his name tag and wandered in the direction of the bar. Should he get a drink? No. Apparently the participants would be switching tables when speed dating began. Better not to have to carry a glass with him.

He parked himself against a wall where he could watch the dark-haired woman. She was laughing about something with her friends and tossed her hair back from her shoulder.

She wasn’t wearing a name tag.

Stephen thought, Noooo. She has to be speed dating. But what if she wasn’t? He couldn’t take the chance. He straightened his tie and headed across the room.

When he reached the table, the older woman was speaking. She stopped in mid-sentence as all four women gave him the once-over. The chunky blonde, in particular, was staring at him as if she’d never seen a man before.

Stephen spoke directly to the dark-haired woman, oblivious to the ring on her left hand. “Hello. Are you here for the speed dating?”

For some reason, the chunky blonde found that amusing. The woman of his dreams said, “No. I’m not.”

“Oh.” Stephen didn’t want to seem overeager. “That’s too bad. Have you ever participated?”

The chunky blonde and the older woman both snorted. His future girlfriend was appraising him. “No.”

“Ah. Well. Anyway. My name’s Stephen.”

She crossed her arms and nodded at his name tag. “I see that.”

Stephen sighed inwardly. This was like having a conversation with Kristen Beach. “What’s your name?”

“Melanie.”

“Melanie. That’s a beautiful name.” He glanced around, and spotted an empty chair. “May I join you?”

Melanie said, “No. You may not.”

Oh. Uh -” Stephen fumbled. That wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. “Then…”

The chunky blonde said, “Your speed dating is about to start.”

Stephen didn’t want to speed date. He wanted to stay and get to know Melanie. But he’d paid the forty bucks… “Maybe I’ll see you later, then.”

Melanie said, “I don’t think so.”

What was it with these Los Angeles chicks? Back in Minnesota, the women were far more compliant. But he wasn’t giving up. He smiled politely. “It was nice meeting you, Melanie.”

Melanie was shaking her head slowly. The chunky blonde said, “Wow.”

He had no idea what that meant. But he didn’t have time to mull it over. Nadine was now standing by the row of eight small tables, each of which was now occupied.

Nadine said, “All right. Here are the rules.” She handed out small slips of paper numbered 1 through 8. “Five minutes per table. At the end, you’ll give me the number or numbers of the people you’d like to get to know further, and the people at the tables will likewise tell me which of you they’re interested in. If there’s a match, I’ll let you know.” She checked her watch. “One minute.”

Stephen glanced back at Melanie’s table. She was reading something on her phone. The chunky blonde was hanging over her shoulder so that she could see too.

Typical women, joined at the hip to their best friends.

Nadine called out, “And – begin.”

Stephen sat at the closest table. The girl was Asian, although her name was Claire. Stephen didn’t care for Asian women, but he was polite. Claire didn’t seem interested in him at all, which assaulted his male ego somewhat – but it was just as well.

The five minutes seemed like fifteen, but then a bell rang. Nadine called, “Move to your left.”

The woman to Stephen’s left was a statuesque redhead wearing a lot of makeup. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She smiled coyly. “Well, hell-ooo, big boy.”

“Er – hello. I’m Stephen.”

“I’m Rickie.” Rickie batted her eyelashes. “Tell me about yourself, Stephen.”

Stephen had created his cover story on the drive to Venice. “I’m on faculty at UCLA.” Well, he had been adjunct faculty, until those eleven students had totally misinterpreted his intentions and he’d ended up in the library.

“You don’t say.” Rickie propped her chin on her fist and gazed into his eyes. “Let me guess what you teach.”

“Okay.”

“Hmmmmm.” Rickie tapped her fingernails – she had very long fingernails – on the tabletop. “Chemistry.”

“No.”

“Physics.”

“No.” He didn’t understand – why would she think that?

Rickie looked him up and down. “Food science.”

“No.” Stephen was tiring of the game. “I teach English.”

Rickie crossed her arms and leaned back. “Get out. You do not.”

That flustered him. “Yes, I do. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Honey, I’ve got an MFA, and I never saw an English prof that looked anything like you.”

“Well, you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not.” Rickie raised her left eyebrow, and her voice dropped into a lower register. “You may have taught English somewhere, sometime, but you are not full-time faculty at UCLA. I can spot a liar from across the city, and I’d bet my Louboutins on that.”

Steven was deeply offended, entirely disregarding the fact that he was, indeed, lying. “Has anyone told you that you’re an incredibly rude woman?”

Rickie laughed. She had a deep, throaty laugh. “They most certainly have.” She looked past him and tossed her head – and the bell rang.

Nadine said, “Move to your left.”

The man at the table to his right – Claire’s table – said, “Hey. That wasn’t five minutes.”

Claire said, “Close enough.”

Stephen moved to his left. Gladly. The next girl was black. She had a cute African accent, but again – not his type.

As he moved to the table after that, Stephen glanced back at Melanie’s table.

She was gone.

The thought that he might never see Melanie again caused his stomach to drop to his heels. Maybe if he started coming here every weekend…

Then he turned back to the table, and his gastric distress righted itself.

The woman was very attractive. Not in Melanie’s league, true, but a looker nonetheless. She was blond, with startlingly green eyes and enormous boobs.

A man could get lost in those.

Stephen sat. “Hello.”

The woman smiled. “Hello. I am Katia.”

Her accent was Russian, or something similar. Stephen said, “It’s nice to meet you, Katia. How are you this evening?”

“I am very well, thank you.” She leaned forward, giving Stephen an up close and personal view of her assets. “What is your occupation?”

He was so flustered by the proximity of Katia’s chest, he almost forgot to lie. “I – ah – I teach English at UCLA.”

“A university professor? Do you have tenure?”

Stephen thought, What an odd question. “Er – yes.”

“Wonderful.” She gazed into his eyes. “You must be a brilliant man.”

Stephen blushed, in spite of himself. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“Do not be modest.” Katia smiled more widely. “Brilliant and handsome.”

Memories of Melanie were receding quickly from Stephen’s brain. “Thank you. What do you do?”

“I am a model.”

It didn’t occur to Stephen that a woman of Katia’s advanced cup size was unlikely to be a runway model. Visions of the Victoria’s Secret catalog were dancing in his head. “Wow. That’s amazing. I guess you travel all over the world.”

“Oh, yes.” Katia licked her lips. “Do you live nearby?”

Ugh. How could Stephen take an international runway model back to his trailer park in Lancaster? “No, I’m afraid not. I live out in the desert.”

“Mm. Too bad.”

The bell rang. “Move to your left!”

Katia shook Stephen’s hand lightly. “It was wonderful to meet you, Stephen.”

“You, too. Maybe I’ll see you at the end.”

Katia smiled. “Maybe you will.”

Buoyed on a wave of self-esteem, Stephen moved to the next table, where he found a woman who was probably close to his own age. Too old for him and mannish, besides. She regarded him with what could only be described as a jaundiced eye. “Stephen, huh?”

“Yes. And you are…?”

“Dru.” She folded her arms across her flat chest. “Let me guess. You’re waiting tables until you get your big break.”

“Er – no? I teach at UCLA.” Until his big break came along, but he wouldn’t add that.

Dru looked incredulous. “Seriously? Like, what? Soil science?”

What was it with these women? “No, like English.”

She snorted. “Buster, I don’t know who you are or what you do, but you do not teach English at UCLA. I teach in the MFADW program at USC, and I know everyone in UCLA’s department. And you aren’t one of ‘em.”

MFADW? Stephen caught his breath. The MFA in Dramatic Writing program at USC produced some of the best playwrights and screenwriters in the country. This woman might have contacts. “I did teach there, as an adjunct. I’m working at YRL now. I guess you must know a lot of people in the industry.”

Dru was greatly amused. “I guess I must. And I suppose you’ve got a script in your back pocket.”

Stephen mentally kicked himself for not bringing the script. “Not with me, no, but I can have it to you by morning.”

“I’m sure you can. Just to satisfy my own curiosity, what’s your genre?”

“Horror. The title is Carnival of Doom.”

Dru sighed deeply. “Carnival of Doom. Where do you people come from?”

He wasn’t sure what she meant by that. “I’m from Minnesota.”

“Of course you are.”

Stephen was opening his mouth to ask Dru if he could send her his script when the bell rang. Nadine called, “Move to your left.”

He stood up. “It was great to meet you, Dru. Do you have a card?”

“Darn. I forgot to bring them with me.” She made a run along, now motion with her hand.

Stephen was undaunted. There couldn’t be more than one or two women named Dru in USC’s MFADW program. He’d be able to track her down later.

 

The final contestants for Stephen’s affections were unremarkable, in his opinion. There had even been a man at one table. Awkward. When Nadine rang the bell the final time, he handed her the number for Katia. He’d been watching her out of the corner of his eye, and didn’t think she’d been pleased with any of the other contestants.

He was thrilled when Nadine called him to Katia’s table. “You two have matched. What happens now is up to you.” She went to Rickie’s table and called a man over.

Katia stood up and produced a business card. “Here is my telephone number. I hope to hear from you soon.”

Wait. He wasn’t going to get laid tonight? He said, “Er – what about now?”

Katia gave him a flirtatious, sideways look. “Stephen. What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“Oh. Sorry. Not that kind. Not at all. I just thought…”

She laughed lightly and patted his arm. “Call me.”

“I will. May I walk you to your car?”

“Certainly.”

Stephen waited while Katia gathered her things. He glanced at Melanie’s table; it was now occupied by someone else.

Oh, well. A bird in the hand…

He walked Katia to the valet stand, where she patted his arm again. “I will see you soon, yes?”

“Yes.”

Rickie came through the door on the arm of – Claire?? They spotted Katia and Stephen, and Rickie smirked. Claire said something to her, which made them both snicker.

Maybe they were jealous of Katia’s endowments.

Katia’s car arrived – a midnight blue Beemer. She climbed into the driver’s seat and drove away, fluttering her fingers at Stephen.

He stood for a moment, staring after her. The valet said, “Are you ready for your car, sir?”

“Uh – no. Not yet.” Stephen went back into the club to take a leak before the long haul back to Lancaster. As he did, he created a to-do list in his head.

One. As soon as he got home, find Dru on USC’s website and send her Carnival of Doom.

Two. Call Katia tomorrow on his morning break.

Three. Talk to the bartender.

Stephen left the men’s room – it didn’t occur to him to wash his hands – and went to the bar. The crowd was thinning now, so it wasn’t difficult to catch the bartender’s eye. He ordered a beer and asked, “Do you happen to know a girl who was here tonight named Melanie? She was sitting over there -” He pointed. “- with three other women. She has long, curly dark hair…”

The bartender said, “Yeah, I know Mel. What about her?”

“Do you know her last name?”

The bartender eyed Stephen skeptically. “Yes. Will I tell you what it is? No.”

“But…”

The bartender held up his hand. “I can save you some grief. Mel has been married to the blond woman she was with for almost ten years. You’re definitely not her type.”

Stephen was too shocked to move. “How can that be?

The bartender didn’t even dignify that with a reply. He shook his head and moved to another customer. Stephen turned around and looked over the crowd. Now that he knew what to look for, he saw it. There were a few straight couples here – but the majority were either two women or two men.

But the speed dating was normal…mostly…

Stephen was confused. He left half of his beer and went to collect his car. As he waited, he asked the valet, “Is this primarily a gay bar?”

The valet turned a suspicious eye onto him. “Everyone’s welcome at El Caribe.”

“Oh. Sure. Thanks.”

“Uh huh.” The valet moved to the other side of the stand.

Stephen crossed Melanie off his mental list, and added another item. Look for an apartment in town. He couldn’t take Katia to his trailer, but he knew he couldn’t afford rent in or around West LA.

Maybe Dru would send Carnival of Doom to someone who’d buy it.

But that could take some time…

Stephen’s car arrived. He got in and reset his GPS for home.

GPS…

He worked in a library…

He was struck with an idea about how to make some extra money. He smiled to himself as he drove away.

He thought it was a brilliant idea.

It wasn’t.

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Filed under Short Stories

Clueless

Tomorrow, here on the blog, you’ll be treated (or subjected) to the first publication of the year, a short story called Great Expectations. I mentioned this in my New Year’s post. In this story, Stephen Atcheson, nemesis of the single women on staff at Jamie’s library, goes speed dating.

I don’t want you to think that the story is mean-spirited. Stephen is one of those people who is truly clueless about how he comes across to other people and in society. This is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but Stephen is a true misogynist – and truly believes that he is not. He really does think that he’s a chick magnet, and that any woman would be grateful for his attentions. He oozes self-confidence. No inferiority complexes in this guy.

This story was prompted by a night out with friends at a wine bar. We happened to stumble into Speed Dating night. The women were all dressed to the nines and the men, with one exception, were in jeans and had their shirttails hanging out. There were a lot of guys there who could have been Stephen in the flesh.

That got the old creative juices stirring.

So don’t feel sorry for Stephen. He deserves this night. It’s his own fault for not doing his due diligence.

The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which will be resolved in Promoted to Death. (Scheduled for release in early May.)

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Filed under Short Stories