Life Sentences, Day 137: “Topanga Hearts,” Parts Three and Four

February 14th, 2011

Rather than keeping you waiting, which is no way to treat people on Valentine’s Day, here’s the remainder of Everett Kaser’s absolutely wonderful story.

ELEANOR

As the man fell, the gun clattered from his hand. Eleanor let the empty wine bottle’s neck slip from her sweaty grip and snatched up the gun. She backed up and pointed the gun, two-handed, at the man on the floor.

Simeon was already off the couch, and he crossed the room, pulling his belt off. He used it to tie Junior’s arms behind him, above the elbows. He looked up at Eleanor and said, “Thanks. You okay?”

“Oh, sure, I’m fighting off men all the time.” He smiled at her, the smile that always sent a little thrill through her and brightened her day. Or night. “Besides, you didn’t seem to be faring too well. Someone had to step up to the plate.”

“Thanks, Mr. Ruth.”

She sniffed and brushed at her blouse with one hand. “I know I’m a little mussed from sleeping in my clothes, but that’s your fault and no reason to mistake me for a man.”

His eyes ran inch by inch, down to her toes, then back up to her eyes. “You could dress in a monk’s robe and I’d never mistake you for a man.”

“Oh. Well . . .” she said, flushing lightly and combing the fingers of one hand through her long, straight black hair. She gestured at the man on the floor. “What are you going to do with him? And why is he here? And why was he holding this gun on you?”

“He says his name is Junior, and he claims he was hired by a mid-level thug named Tiny Tim to get something back from me that I supposedly stole from Tiny Tim. Only I think there’s some confusion, or deception, somewhere. I suspect that Tiny Tim may have been behind the Vietnamese stealing from Madame Choy, and after I stole the stuff back from the Vietnamese, he hired Junior, here, to try to get it back from me again.”

Junior groaned on the floor and started to move. Simeon stood up and, grabbing the belt between Junior’s elbows, dragged him across the floor to the couch. He grunted as he half-lifted him onto the couch on his back, his arms pinned beneath him. Junior’s eyes flickered open, but didn’t quite track together at first, then slowly they focused on Simeon standing over him. Then, he closed his eyes again and said, “Owww.”

“Look at me,” Simeon said.

“It hurts when I do.”

“I’m not that ugly.”

“According to the American Pain Scale, you’re uglier than the north end of a south going camel.”

“Look at me!”

“You don’t have to shout.” Junior opened his eyes and focused again on Simeon. Simeon looked at both pupils. “You’re hard-headed. You’ll live.”

“Umm. Are there any more pleasant options?”

“I could let Eleanor hit you with the wine bottle again.”

Junior lowered his gaze towards the door and saw Eleanor standing there with the gun, still pointed roughly in his direction. “Maybe not right now.”

“In that case, let’s talk about Tiny Tim and this painting. Let’s say that the painting I took back from the Vietnamese gang is the painting that he’s after. Why would he send you this time instead of sending the gang again?”

“The painting you took was a Juaquin Sorolla?”

Simeon nodded.

“And you’re sure it belonged to your client?”

“It’s been hanging in her house for as long as I’ve known her, and she has the papers from when she bought it.”

Junior closed his eyes and was quiet long enough that Simeon thought maybe he was unconscious, but then his eyes opened again. “He told me it was his painting, that it was stolen from his house, and he wanted to hire me to recover it. I’m not averse to—acquiring—things, now and then. But I don’t like being played for a fool or being set up. I’m good at what I do. I can only guess that, since the gang failed to deliver the painting once, he decided to hire a—” He rolled his head slightly side to side, then winced. “—professional.”

“And you’re a professional?”

Junior raised one eyebrow slightly. “Even professionals can have an off day. Night.”

Eleanor said, “Ahhh.”

Simeon turned toward her. “What?”

Eleanor’s back was arched and her head tipped back. The woman standing behind her and holding a wad of Eleanor’s hair in one hand, said, “Drop the gun before I slice and dice a kidney, and don’t anyone move!”

Junior closed his eyes and sighed.

“Ronnie, I thought I asked you to wait in the car.”

RONNIE

“Christ,” Simeon said, “who else is out there? Groucho? Laurel and Hardy?”

“I passed Mae West climbing that rutted dirt path you call a driveway.” She poked Eleanor in the back again. “I said drop it.” The gun clattered to the floor. Then Eleanor was shoved forward and the woman stooped and picked up the gun and pointed it at Simeon. “And you, untie him.”

Simeon bent over Junior, rolled him over and removed the belt. “I wasn’t planning on throwing a party tonight,” he muttered.

Junior sat up, swinging his feet over to the floor and flexing his arms. “Simeon,” he said, “meet Ronnie. Ronnie, Simeon and Eleanor.”

Simeon stared at Ronnie’s hand. “Is that fingernail clippers?”

Ronnie glanced down, then opened her hand, showing a fingernail clipper with the one-inch file swung out. She shrugged. “It was all I had in my purse. But I guess you can bring nail clippers to a gun fight.”

“Well,” Simeon said, pointing his chin at Ronnie’s head, “you could have used one of those chopsticks that are holding your hair up. Ronnie’s hand flew involuntarily to her head, where her fine blond hair was twisted into a rope and piled on top of her head, speared by crisscrossing chopsticks. Then her shoulders dropped, and she sighed.

“Heat of the moment. At least the nail file was pointier than the chopstick would have been.”

Junior cleared his throat, and looked at Simeon. “Do we still have a problem?”

Simeon looked back at him. “Depends. Are you still on the job?”

Junior shook his head . . . and winced again. “Not this one. I may be a thief, and I may deal with criminals, but I do have a code of ethics—sort of—and I expect to be dealt with honestly and fairly. Tiny Tim appears to be a snake, and he’s about to find out that he’s bitten off more than he can swallow.”

“Then we don’t have a problem. In fact, I have a grievance against the snake myself. And then there’s this Vietnamese gang that needs to learn some manners.”

Junior said, “Ronnie, give the nice man back his gun, please?”

Shaking her head slightly, Ronnie lowered the gun. Her and Eleanor eyed each other as Ronnie crossed the room and handed the gun to Simeon.

“So,” Junior said, “where did you stash the painting?”

Clicking on the safety and sliding the gun into a pocket, Simeon looked at him for a moment, studying his face. Then he said, “It’s in a plastic shopping bag, in a pizza box, which is in a plastic garbage bag, which is hidden out in the brush.”

Outside? In the brush?

“Yeah. It seemed like the safest place for it until I can return it tomorrow. You weren’t looking for it outside.”

Junior flipped one hand out. “Well, there is that.”

“Besides, the best place to hide something is where no one will ever look.”

“So.” Ronnie said, playing with the round pendant hanging from a chain around her neck. “I hate to break into this male bonding moment, but am I ever going to get that Valentine’s Day dinner you promised me? That hamburger from the drive-through was a long time ago, and the time pressure on this job seems to have blown it’s release valve.”

“Oh, shit,” slipped out of Simeon’s mouth as he glanced at Eleanor.

“Sure,” Junior said. He glanced between Simeon and Eleanor. “You guys hungry?”

Eleanor raised both eyebrows at Simeon.

“Sure,” Simeon said. “You guys like Thai? I know a great all-night Thai restaurant.”

“Works for me,” Ronnie said, turning to Eleanor and holding out her hand. “Sorry about the nail file. No hard feelings?”

“I still have two healthy kidneys,” Eleanor said, smiling. “I’ll live a while longer.”

“Is there a powder room in this place? My chopsticks need freshening up.”

“Sure. It’s just down the hall, past the suit of armor and the spaghetti sauce. Let me show you, so you don’t accidentally step in something.” They disappeared down the hall, heads close together.

Junior looked at Simeon. “I think we may be in trouble.”

Simeon looked after the women, nodding. “I think we may have stepped in something.”

10 Responses to “Life Sentences, Day 137: “Topanga Hearts,” Parts Three and Four”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Everett

    Nice job! I can tell you are a big fan of Junior and Simeon since you were able to capture character and setting so well. What a great idea to bring these two together. Thanks a lot for the story and for giving Mr. T a little break from blog duty.

    Happy Heart Day everyone!

  2. Larissa Says:

    I dig it. Keep up the good work. (c:

  3. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Hi Everett,
    I really liked this. It is so much fun to imagine what would happen if? and you did a great job. You have me smiling…

  4. micael hallinan Says:

    Everett, Tim is just jealous. I read his early work after the Pennysaver. p.s. my name is michael but somehow no matter how many times I correct the spelling it comes out micael.my computer has a mind of its own.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Welcome to all but my brother, who has apparently forgotten how to spell his name (maligning his computer – is that pathetic, or what?) and who maligns me, as well. Jealous of Everett? Just because everyone likes his story? Just because he writes my characters better than I do? Just because he — no, no, I can’t go on. I sneeze wetly in the direction of your aspersions, and I never wrote for the Pennysaver, either.

    Hi, everyone else. Suzanna, Riss, Lil — I join you in the applause for Everett. Jealous? Peh! I snap my fingers in the face of that accusation. I emit other Continental modes of disapproval. I . . . I . . . I’m going to sleep now.

  6. Debbi Says:

    Bravo, Everett!

    Nice.

  7. EverettK Says:

    Suzanna: Thanks! Yes, I do enjoy Simeon and Junior a great deal. I’m just finishing the 2nd Poke book, and am becoming quite fond of him, Rose and Miaow, too (hence, the reference to the Thai restaurant at the end of the story, my little way of bring Poke into the story too, albeit however slightly). As for “capturing the characters” and the idea for the story, see below.

    Larissa and Lil: Thanks! It’s always good to have an appreciative audience. 🙂

    Michael: Yes, I knew (from Tim’s earlier posts) what your name was, but I thought maybe it was just an affectation, and I didn’t want to offend you. I try to limit myself to offending only one person per family, and Tim’s already secured that target position…

    Tim: “…writes my characters better than I do?” Hah. HAH! I say. I am but ‘purple’ to your “Electric Indigo.” I am a fruit fly to your F-16 fighter jet. I am but nose hair to your… um… moving on.

    While I appreciate your puffery, Tim, let us not stretch the truth beyond the realms of this solar system, hmm? As for your going to sleep at 6:25pm, I have heard that elderly people have earlier bedtimes…

    Everyone: A couple of weeks ago, the idea for the story came to me as I lay in bed wondering if there was a reason to rise that day. Just a few days before I’d finished the last Simeon book (The Bone Polisher), and also Tim had been whining …um… blogging about the difficulties he’d encountered when he hit part 3 of PULPED, because now he had two main characters, one that had been written in third person and one in first person. I was also thinking about how last fall, Tim had said he was going to write a short story for every Sunday. Or maybe it was every holiday on the Hallmark calendar. I forget. But I was wondering which upcoming holiday might attract his yearning for writing short stories (his yearning is legendary), and I realized Valentine’s Day was coming up, but I didn’t figure Tim would deign to write one for that pitiful little holiday. And like the snap of fingers, all of that bubbled together into the idea of writing another story, for Valentine’s Day, and which played with the different view points, and brought together two of my favorite characters. As I thought about it, it being for VD, of course, there had to be ladies involved, too. And just like that, the general outlines of the story formed. The devil, however, is in the details, and it took four days to get the thing written. It could have used the “two-week cooling off period” that Tim has mentioned and then a heavy rewrite, but the calendar and MY schedule didn’t allow for that, so I sent it off to Tim, warts and all.

    I’m glad I wrote it, as it WAS a learning experience. But I’m not terribly happy with the result.

    1) It’s too short. I tried to cram too much into too small a space.
    2) The changing view-points didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, and part of that is due to (1). If you’re doing something that major, it’s a lot easier on the reader if they have time to adjust to each view point before you jump to another one.
    3) It’s too short. The needed plot to support the changing view points was too large and complex for that short of a story, and that left very little time/space for characterization.
    4) I really struggled trying to differentiate Simeon and Junior. When you come right down to it, they’re very similar characters. Simeon is a little more serious, a little less caring about his relationships (look what he did to poor Eleanor way-back-when). Junior is a little more humorous (however dry and sarcastic at times), and cares more about not hurting those he loves (a little bit). But both are big men, independent, have an active sense of humor, are “Lone Rangers” and both operate according to a moral code that most people would admire (ignoring the occasional theft or killing).
    5) It’s too short. The resolution and ending were rushed, and they just feel too ‘forced’ to me. This story line could have easily filled between 1/4 and 1/2 of a novel, done properly.

    But, that’s enough picking. It was fun to write, I learned some things, and hopefully it was fun for you guys to read.

    And besides, after the Pulped mad-dash, Tim needed a couple of days off. 🙂

    Thanks, Tim, for all the joy you bring into our lives!

  8. EverettK Says:

    Thanks, Debbi!

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Bravo from me, too, Everett. I disagree with many of your criticisms of the story — I thought it worked great, and the changes of PTV worked better for me than they did for you, probably because I read each of them from the character’s perspective, and while they may read quite a bit alike on the page, I feel differently when I’m writing each of them.

    Great job, and if I ever disappear mysteriously but you all read that my series will continue, you know who’s the prime suspect.

  10. Robb Royer Says:

    It’s been a whole day and I’m still waiting for my Most Obscure Reference award to arrive. I’m beginning to think that there isn’t an award at all, that maybe the whole affair is tinged with sarcasm. That would be unfortunate and certainly beneath the dignity of this blog (though most decidedly not of the blogger). Besides it wasn’t all that obscure – Everett got to the bottom of it in seconds. Well done Everett. Wish we could pass similar kudos along to our host who, when he comes face to face with is own limitations immediately resorts to scorn and ridicule. Besides you forget the all important factors of tone, timing and delivery all of which are 100% absent in the entire internet. So I won’t blame you for that. Everything else, though.

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