The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 21: I Ain’t Got a Clue

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Morgana is clueless that the Rubber Man has spent the night in her stairwell and has watched her coming and going and sleep-walking and falling on the stairs, enjoying immensely every jiggle of her ass that he was lucky enough to catch. Oh, yeah, sa-WEET Jesus, oh, yeah!

Shaking off the gloom of the stairwell, she breathes in deeply, almost tasting the damp leaves of the trees and the freshness of the cool air. Outside in the bright sun, life resumes around her. Cars trawl by, their heavy-duty speakers vibrating at decibel levels that would loosen the fillings in your teeth. Ah, another gorgeous day!

“Running” past Morgana on the sidewalk, seemingly to the infectious beat of some hot-wired Reggaeton from a cruising pimpmobile, is the pudgy, pasty, huffing Mortimer, a 60-something year-old retired city worker who runs faithfully every day. Sweat pours off his bald head as he beams an ecstatic smile at the sky. A thin, torn wife beater tee shirt is pulled taut over his bulging belly, revealing a concavity the size of a quarter suggesting the deep abyss that leads to his navel somewhere deep within.

“Hi, Morgana!” he huffs, slowing down to synchronize his steps with hers. “How’s Jack doing?”

“Oh, hi, Mortimer! Thanks for asking. Jack’s back at the hospital again. They moved him back there a couple days ago so they can keep an eye on him and try different therapies.”

“Oh, that’s promising, I’d say.”

“Well, yes and no. They are actually more interested in observing his responses, or lack thereof, to different stimuli. I don’t want to sound jaded, but truthfully, it has more to do with their research than trying to cure him—which they would do, if they could.”

“I can emphasize with you,” says Mortimer, quite reverently. She represses a smile trying not to guffaw over the word “emphasize.”

“When my wife was so sick last year, and I would ask them when we could expect to see her improve, and they’d just say to me, ‘Well, we can’t say for sure, but we’re going to keep on trying whatever we can, and sooner or later, we’ll have something to tell you.’ Well, sooner came a lot sooner than I thought. By the time they figured it out, it was too…late.”

He stops huffing and breaks down. He turns to Morgana, his face contorted with grief. She holds him while he sobs. Her heart just breaks for him. She pats his back and for lack of anything better to say, just keeps saying softly, “It’s OK, It’s OK….”

Mortimer’s grief puts her on automatic pilot, and she is a little surprised how she says all the right things, as though she is standing outside of this grief, as if she were an observer to both his grief and her own. She manages all the right gestures, all the right facial expressions. She feels able to comfort someone who is drowning in sorrow. By the time she says goodbye to Mortimer, she feels lighter and in a very strange way, a lot stronger than before.

As Mortimer “runs” off slowly, she remembers to put herself back into regal countenance mode and squares her shoulders as she does a slight runway strut, careful not to exaggerate her movements. Before she knows it, she’s approaching the postage stamp-size park where she is to meet dear, sweet Percival.

Luckily, there are no honking geese today and no wayward shopping carts filled with personal belongings stuffed into trash bags. She sits on the bench where she and Percival sat just the day before and takes out two red and white checkered cloth napkins, which she unfolds and drapes over the middle of the bench. She pulls the jar of her Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce out of her bag and sets it in the middle of the bench.

“Mind if I join you, Miss?” She looks up, and there’s Percival, grinning ear to ear, holding his tote bag emblazoned with the words, “Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea – Yoshio Taniguchi.”

“Well,” she says coyly, “actually, I was expecting Yoshio Taniguchi!”

“And my apologies, indeed! The problem is that he’s off judging a new building today, leaving only me to judge this BBQ sauce. Plus, when it comes to BBQ sauce, Taniguchi doesn’t have a clue! And if you should ever see him and if you should ever tell him that I said that, I will never talk to you again!”

“My lips are sealed,” she says. As their eyes meet, each imagines the other wishing it was their lips meeting as well, and they both laugh to save themselves the trouble of feeling awkward.

Unpacking his Taniguchi bag, Percival hands her a bottle of water and unwraps a giant sandwich which has been cut into four pieces. “I took the liberty of getting provolone cheese with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and black olives. You never know these days who is a vegetarian so I figured I’d play it safe.”

Percival takes two paper plates out of his bag and he puts them on the bench.

“Oh! That looks great! I haven’t had provolone in a month of Sundays!

“And now, the moment of truth,” she says, pointing to the jar of her Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce. “I hope it’s good—I slaved for hours over a hot stove! Actually, I didn’t but I sure had fun making it. The best part was looking forward to today.”

“I’m so glad you showed up! I wouldn’t have missed this for the world! I had a very important client show up unannounced just as I was leaving to meet you, and I had to tell her that I had another commitment.”

“Well, now I feel very important,” says Morgana, smiling at Percival.

“You are,” he says as he opens the jar and offers it to Morgana. “No, you first—I already know what it tastes like—and you’re gonna love it.”

“Don’t mind if I do!” he says, beaming at Morgana and pouring the sauce all over his plate.

“I see you’re a dipper! Good idea,” she says, following suit and pouring it onto her plate as well.

They both dip into the sauce with their sandwiches.

“Oh, this is soooo good I could cry!” mumbles Percival as he is stuffing the sandwich into his mouth. Morgana laughs so hard that she almost chokes.

“Whatever you do, Morgana, don’t choke! I’m CPR certified, but I warn you that I always break at least two ribs.”

“Only two ribs? What will we do with the rest of the BBQ sauce??”

Not that this repartee is that funny, but they are both laughing and gasping for air. Everything is just so good!

Between the two of them, they polish off most of the BBQ sauce.

“What are we going to do with the rest of the sauce?” Percival wants to know. He likes it so much, he could drink the rest if Morgana weren’t looking.

Morgana replaces the cap and hands it to Percival. “Here, put it in your bag and take it home. I still have another whole jar in the fridge.”

Just as she picks up the napkins and puts them in her bag, a disheveled man babbling incoherently sits down between them.

“Gee,” quips Morgana, “if it gets any more crowded on this bench, either our new friend here or I will have to sit on your lap.”

Percival looks at the babbling man next to him, and then at Morgana, as if he is sizing them both up, and looking at Morgana, he says with a straight face, “I guess you win since you’d be just about the right size.”

They both laugh themselves silly once again. Percival stands up and takes a few Italian chocolates wrapped in gold foil out of his bag. He hands one to the babbling man who stops babbling long enough to thank him, and one to Morgana.

“Oh, Percival! I love these! They’re my favorite!”

“Mine, too! Let’s take a little walk before I’ve got to get back to the office.” Turning to the babbling man, he says, “Have a nice day!”

Morgana is taken with Percival’s kindness and his sense of humor.

“So, Morgana, we know next to nothing about each other, but would you want to go to a movie or go for a walk sometime soon when we don’t have to both rush back off to work? That is, if you’re not married or otherwise encumbered!”

“I’d love to Percival. I’m more not married than I am married. It’s a long story but I’d be more than willing to tell you about it if you are still interested.”

“I’m very interested. So, would Saturday morning work out OK for you? We could walk over to the Rose Garden and then maybe take in a movie in the afternoon, but we can play it by ear.”

“That would be great! I live in Adams Point. Where do you live?”

“Near the Cleveland Cascade.”

“Well, then why don’t we meet at the Cleveland Cascade at the bottom of the steps?”

“Perfect! What time? Ten? Eleven? Twelve?”

“Let’s make it ten!”

“It’s a deal!” says Percival, beaming. He gives Morgana a quick hug, and as he turns to leave, he grins and says, “You don’t know how much I’ve enjoyed this! Don’t forget—Saturday at ten!”

Morgana heads back to The Pregonero. She’s so excited she can barely concentrate on writing her article on the Boney Stalker Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce. Of course, she makes up a bogus letter which she will answer for her Advice Lady column.

A few hours later, Morgana leaves the Pregonero just as the croaking Maddie is wiping down her work station at the Reception Desk with a pungent, nostril-searing disinfectant.

“Bye, Hon,” she wheezes, as she looks up from her daily desk ablutions. “You’re lookin’ real cute these days!”

Reaching for the doorknob, Morgana sings, “Thanks, Maddie!” and exits onto the sidewalk, making her way to the hospital to visit Jack.

Before going into the hospital, she remembers the little bottle of Boney Stalker Scotch that she bought for Jack and quickly crosses the street to go sit on the park bench to collect her thoughts and to make sure the little bottle is still in her purse. After 30 seconds of rummaging around and poking her cuticles with her hair brush, she finds it, still safe and sound. Just so she doesn’t have to fumble with the damn thing in the hospital, she takes it out of its tiny paper bag, and unscrews the cap, breaking the little bridges to separate the cap from the pilfer-proof ring–after all, this is somewhat of a stealth operation and she’s got to be discreet. She would hate like hell to be discovered pouring scotch into the mouth of a comatose man. They’d probably think she was trying to kill him.

“Hang on, Jack,” she thinks, “I’m coming to give you just a little taste of what you’ve been missing so much more than you’d ever be missing me. I could probably wind up in jail if they were to catch me doing this, but given the given, a few drops of this rotgut sewer swill won’t hurt you at all, or at least not as much as what’s happened to you, to us, to our lives.”

Dr. Valenzuela, crisp in her white lab coat, bounces down the front steps of the hospital. By the time Morgana gets up from the bench and turns around to cross the busy street in front of the hospital, Dr. Valenzuela is already bobbing away with the steady stream of pedestrians. Like ships in the night, they miss each other once again.

Morgana locates Jack’s room more easily than the last time, and is surprised to find that there’s no one there but Jack. His eyes are still closed, but he looks rather well. She had expected to see him looking more gaunt.

It’s after five, so, as Rocky had hinted, now would be the best time to pour a few drops of Boney Stalker Scotch into Jack’s mouth. The bottle opens easily, thanks to her proactive bottle priming outside the hospital. Just to play safe, she goes to the door of his room, does a quick scan of the hallway, and sees no one who seems to be concerned that she is in his room. Alcohol-laced currents of cool air waft around her, and she returns to Jack’s side. At least the whole place already smells like alcohol, so hopefully, no one will identify the smell as Boney Stalker Scotch.

Her fears are greatly allayed as she remembers the scandal that made national news and prompted an investigation on the East Coast where many franchised restaurant bars had mixed rubbing alcohol with caramel coloring and sold it as premium scotch! The Poison Control officials weren’t all that worried about it—stopping short of a glowing endorsement, they said that rubbing alcohol was easily metabolized and produced a pretty good buzz. In fact, no one seemed particularly upset except for Alcohol Beverage Control and the Attorney General. It wasn’t even treated as a criminal investigation, but rather as a liquor license irregularity. The companies that produce scotch kept quiet about it too, since the less said, the better; after all, if rubbing alcohol could get the job done at a fraction of the cost? No wonder they didn’t make a big stink about losing thousands of dollars!

Emboldened by the memory of the scandal, she pours a few drops of Boney Stalker Scotch into Jack’s mouth, just a tad, and then checks his breathing. No problem. OK, just a little more this time. Her hand jerks as she is surprised by Rosie’s white nurses’ shoes making a sharp squeak uncomfortably close to Jack’s bed. Morgana notes that Jack’s right ear seems to be filled with Boney Stalker Scotch. Contriving a hasty cover, Morgana covers Jack’s face with her face and grabs his upper torso in an awkward embrace as if she is protecting him from an imminent explosion.

“Rosie, could you give us a few minutes alone, please? We’re having a private moment.”

“Oh, yeah, sure!” she chirps, and turns on her squeaky heels, exiting the room just as quickly as she appeared.

Phew! That was close!

Morgana twists the cap back onto the little bottle and throws it into her purse. She can almost swear that she sees the slightest of smiles on Jack’s face. No time to linger on his face, she takes one of the red checkered napkins out of her purse and twizzles the napkin’s corner to sop up the Boney Stalker pooled in Jack’s right ear.

“Jack!” she whispers, “I sure hope to hell you liked that! I damn near got myself good and caught.” She notes that Jack takes a bigger breath than usual and exhales more slowly than before. Oh, she hopes she hasn’t done something awful. If she could think coherently, she’d wonder what she was doing here, what she was doing anywhere, for that matter.

She stands there, regarding his face and combing his hair with her fingers.

She doesn’t have a clue that big, hot tears are sliding down her face.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcUeothSPyc
Lake Street Dive in the Studio: Rachael Price Sings “What I’m Doing Here” In One Complete Take

To Be Continued in Chapter 22

Illustration Credit: http://www.en.wikipedia.org, “Cluedo”
Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcUeothSPyc
Lake Street Dive in the Studio: Rachael Price Sings “What I’m Doing Here” In One Complete Take

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Filed under Science Fiction, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel

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