Upon getting Val’s call, Faye White professed to expecting it. Of course Faye usually pretended such things. As another former classmate, this privileged blond supermom was once known for her unbidden prognostications and spontaneous predictions. Born rich and beautiful, she’d often seemed to be burdened with the responsibility or hubris to dispense advice among the less fortunate, too. Yet she attempted to detract from her physical beauty and wealth by projecting eccentricity instead of foppish apology. Her one saving grace.
“Are you okay?” Faye now asked, leaning over a Caesar salad in order to scrutinize her. “You look kinda lost.”
Hit the nail on the head, why don’t you.
Val smiled in grim determination, suspecting Faye did not ask just to be polite. Nor was she waiting for the invitation to chronicle her own exploits—an exercise that might obviously validate the esteem to which she felt genetically entitled. Looking into those azure eyes beneath blond bangs that highlighted a short, stylish cut, Val knew that Faye’s superiority was a given, even if Faye herself felt embarrassed by it. It was why men did not approach her in bars, with or without a ring in view. It was also why calling her for lunch prompted acceptance without hesitation. Perfection was intimidating to both sexes.
“I do feel stuck,” Val confessed, seizing on any chance at resolution. “What do you do when you’re on this treadmill, and you can’t find the off button?”
“Jump off,” Faye suggested.
Val snapped her fingers. “Just like that, you mean?”
“Sure. What are you afraid of?”
Val ruminated while gulping at her margarita. “Everything,” she said, at last.
“Well, that’s pretty inclusive. Do you at least get the continental breakfast?”
“If I do, it’s so tasteless I don’t notice.”
Faye took a sip from the wine glass that held club soda and a floating lime wedge. “You’re kidding me, right? You’ve got a great job, a great guy, and–”
Val shook her head emphatically from side to side. “Not a great job, and no great guy, either, as it turns out.”
Her companion’s askance stare now held bewilderment. “What’s happened?”
“He’s cheated, is what. He’s a cheat. He’s also cheap. As for the job, it’s more about hype than anything else. Cheating in other ways. Not unlike lying or acting. All for the sake of ratings numbers.”
Faye grimaced at the news, then touched Val’s forearm for a moment, the soft brush of her fingers like a consoling caress across the paw of a Basset hound winning honorable mention. “Val,” Faye said, careful not to let her tone stray into condescension, “I’m sorry to hear you’re unhappy.”
“Is that what I am? Maybe so. But I think it goes deeper than that.”
“It does? How so?”
“I’m not sure I can tell you,” Val replied, finishing her drink.
“Sure you can. You can tell me anything.”
“No, I mean I’m not sure I can tell you, because I’m not sure myself.” She paused, trying to frame the unframable. “Okay then, have you ever stopped to wonder if what you’ve done so far with your life has been scripted by someone else? That you never wrote your own script before because you didn’t know you could?”
“I mean, it’s like other people expected me to take this path, and so all I really know is the rhythm of walking where they’ve all pointed. I’m on this route, see, always looking ahead, trying to see around corners, hoping to find whatever it is. And then, when I suddenly realize I’m on the wrong path, I see that the path I should be on is going in the opposite direction! I stop and look behind me, and there’s this beautiful sunset I never saw before, illuminating the clouds overhead, and I’d never seen any of it until that moment. Until the instant I realized that life isn’t about the future. That the future doesn’t even exist, except maybe in my mind. And it never will.”
“Wow,” said Faye, smiling nervously. “There’s a concept.”
“Think about it. Or not. Just tell me how irrational I sound to you. Before I drown in booze, that is.”
Faye cocked her head, leaning back. She was obviously analyzing something, although it failed to furrow her forever youthful brow. Val had begun to wonder if the folds of Faye’s brain had absorbed all of her body’s wrinkles when she finally said, “Who have you been talking to, anyway? Because this doesn’t sound like you.”
“Maybe I didn’t sound like me before, and I just didn’t know it.”
“Valerie Lott, the philosopher?” Faye sounded dubious.
“All I know is I need something I never knew existed. Like there’s this space inside of me needs filling, and I didn’t know the space was even there.”
Now Faye wagged a finger at her. “You fell for some geek, didn’t you? Some poet who drives a VW bug and wears sandals and has a pony tail and a tight butt!”
“Let’s just say I met someone who opened my eyes to another way of looking at things, and leave it at that, shall we?”
Faye’s blue eyes widened. “Ohmygod. Where did you meet this guy?”
“A place I never expected.”
“You might say that. It’s always now with this guy.”
“And you make love like there’s no tomorrow, I hope?”
“No, we never even kissed. And now he’s. . . gone.”
“Ouch.” Faye frowned on cue. “You’re not in love, are you?”
“I don’t know what I am, anymore. Considering you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. And you have to know yourself before you can love yourself.”
“Huh?” Faye puzzled it over. “Gees, honey, you sure got somethin’. Don’t know what it is, but I hope it’s not contagious.”
Val considered telling her more, but then decided against it. Especially if it included reconsidering the preposterous notion that such a wise and gentle soul might be suspect in a major crime. She pondered telling her about Sarah Collins, next, but that too would be as foreign to Faye’s world as the gas giant Neptune. She picked up a celery stick, dipped it in some ranch dressing, and chewed on that for a while, instead. Then she asked, “How’s Mark and the kids, by the way?”
“Good,” Faye said, noncommittally.
“No,” Val insisted, “you can tell me. I want to hear it. Really. Has anything changed with you since we met last? And how long has it been, again, since we last talked?”
Continued on Kindle and Nook and iPad. Ebook and audiobook.
On that fateful afternoon Freddie backs his pickup into his rental warehouse, lights a Coleman lamp from his trunk, and then shuts the door. Lighting the torch, he sits and starts to put the flame against the corrugated steel wall, but just stares at the flame instead. He finally turns it off, staring. Then he decides to leave. While driving away Freddie notices two men ahead of him in another pickup truck. Driver is a big Hispanic, and passenger a prematurely gray, sharply dressed Caucasian. Freddie follows from a distance, then pulls over to observe them through binoculars as they get out. Driver takes a ladder from the back, and walks toward a new but not-yet-opened shopping plaza. Bulldozers are parked nearby, and a rope with Keep Out signs. What the hell? Freddie’s expression says. The driver uses a crow bar to open the burglar alarm box. As fate might have it, Freddie looks for his cell phone, but sees an image on the folded Miami Herald newspaper on his passenger seat, instead. It is an article about Eco terrorism in the Everglades and south Miami, illustrated by a photo of a burning store.
INT. BIG BOX STORE. DAY.
Raoul Castenada, dressed in Kakis, enters from the rear stockroom door, looking out at the vast selection of merchandise. Vincent is behind him. From behind his dark sunglasses, Vincent scans the aisles, seeing no one. He picks up a phone hanging on a post, and punches a button to talk into the P.A. mouthpiece.
VINCENT) Attention, shoppers. Please come to the rear of the store.
(He listens for movement, but there is nothing.)
VINCENT) Is there an Eco in here? (a beat, to himself:) Just me.
(Raoul puts rubber gloves on, nabs a shopping cart and pushes it in front of him. Into the cart are thrown a 200’ rope, a gallon of motor oil, a baseball bat, an axe, a gallon of paint thinner, spray paint, then a boom box and batteries. The batteries are inserted into the boom box. He withdraws a cassette tape from his pocket, and pops it in to play Cuban music.)