Mitch thought he knew something about every person in town. He also thought he could charm, bully, or blackmail his way into whatever he wanted. He never thought someone would blackmail him.
“I know you cheated on Leslie with that farm b*%& and knocked her up.” The note read. “It’s gonna cost you to keep me quiet. Meet me behind Mark’s Pub at 4 o’clock today.”
Sweat beaded down Mitch’s back as he casually rounded the corner to the back alley behind Mark’s. It was empty. He looked behind the dumpster to make sure. He thought he was in the clear, and gave a sneer of victory, but when he turned around a lone figure stood in the alley. Startled, the grin left his face.
“What do you want?” Mitch tried to sound authoritative and unafraid.
“I need a player tonight in 5 card stud. My last partner is all dried up. I need fresh blood at the table. Yours is mighty rich.” The hooded figure spoke in a gravely deep voice, befitting the shadow it was portraying.
“Meet me here tomorrow night at 8. You’re late; I tell.” The blackmailer swiftly turned on his heel and left. Mitch went around the building the other way, to avoid him. His head whirled in confusion. Who was that? Poker? Is he serious?
The next day dawned bright and clear, but Cal dozed heavily, missing it entirely. The doorbell woke him, clanging incessantly. He trudged to stop the annoyance before it woke his Mom.
“Cal! Nice boxers!” JoAnn exclaimed. Cal blinked, too tired to blush.
“What are you doing up, and here?” Cal’s voice was scratchy.
“Aren’t you going to take me to the city?”
“Well, you can get dressed first.” JoAnn pushed past him, letting herself in. Instead of arguing, Cal shut the door and went to find some decent clothing. His face finally got the message about blushing and he decided JoAnn didn’t need to see it and assume too much.
“You want some breakfast?” he offered, returning to the living room blush free.
“Nah, the thought of food makes me nauseous.”
Cal grabbed some toaster tarts and his keys. His beat up truck started on the third try, as usual, and he ate while he drove.
“Your Mom work late?” JoAnn hedged.
“Yeah and I got home right before she did, so thanks for waking me up so early.” Cal scowled playfully at her.
“Sorry, but I was motivated to get up. Besides, my stomach woke me. I threw up.”
“Well, let’s get that taken care of.”
They were silent the rest of the way.
The hospital was a sprawling brick complex four stories high above the rest of the sprawling two story city. Cal parked in the visitor lot and JoAnn hesitantly stepped out of the truck.
There was a free clinic in a ground-level wing which was full of coughing, solemn adults and anxious, wiggly children climbing over and under the seats. JoAnn filled out paperwork and sat staring at a woman absently rocking a car seat with her foot while yelling at two rambunctious boys rolling on the floor.
“JoAnn?” called a friendly nurse after a long wait and growling stomach deciding it was finally hungry. She stood and gave one last glance back at Cal. He thought she looked terrified. He thumbed through a worn magazine, watching people come and go, and listened to a soap opera he didn’t care for on the TV hanging from the ceiling above him.
JoAnn came back a long while later a little teary. When they were safely inside the truck cab, he asked, “What happened?”
“I just couldn’t do it!” she bawled. “This is a real live person! It’d be like murder!” She took tissues out of her purse and blew her nose.
Cal held his breath and his words. He wanted to argue with her, to make her see reason again, but he didn’t know how to say it without insulting her.
Cal’s mother, Crystal, woke up around 12:30. She noticed Cal wasn’t home and his truck was gone. She sighed. Some days she wondered if she was doing right by him. She drank a mug of coffee and stared out at the back yard. It needed mowed.
She ran on her treadmill and used her gym while watching her stories. It was tough keeping in shape for her job, but Violette had very strict guidelines for her employees to which Crystal had adhered for years. She made enough to put food on the table, give her kid a used truck, pay the bills, and have a decent Christmas every year. For that, she toiled over her body.
Her evening shower regimen included waxing delicate areas, bleaching her upper lip hairs, plucking eyebrows, and trimming nails in addition to her moisturizing routine. And once a week she applied a beauty mask.
Tonight she dressed in her favorite lingerie under her ‘uniform’ and smiled at her reflection. Tonight would be the night she got that elusive bonus tip for Violette and her much deserved promotion to the White Room.
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