The brilliance of what my vandal had done was that he or she had inflicted not only the humiliation of eggs thrown in my face but the embarrassment of a very public clean-up. I couldn’t take the mess home and lick my wounds in private. I had to lick them on Main Street, where every Tom, Dick, and Harry could watch the struggle between man, a dozen dried eggs and the hot, hot, sun.
When the small crowd had turned to face me, some looking personally responsible while others, like Brenda, had looked concerned, all I could think to say was, “I’ll be back to clean this up. I’ll have to Google how to do it though (chuckle, chuckle— although I’m sure it had sounded more like a bark). Have a good day, everyone.”
I could feel their curious eyes on my back until I was in the shower, scrubbing my skin as though the egg had been thrown at me, rather than at the face of my hotel. The call to the contractor was rescheduled, and I’d driven my truck back into town.
My plan was to stop at the little hardware store down the street for a paint scraper and the other supplies I’d need, but as I drove up, there they were: Therese, Brenda, Dana, Sam and Marty lined-up like school kids; laughing and working as though cleaning rotten eggs off buildings was what they did on Wednesday mornings.
If this had happened at a Hurst Hotel location, the story would have made headlines; security cameras reviewed, suspects lined-up. But the town reporter/photojournalist/editor hadn’t even known about the vandalism until he’d arrived in the teacher’s lounge to inhale his ham and cheese sandwich between periods.
And there were no security cameras outside of any store on Main Street. As for suspects? I didn’t see what good it would do to “report it” to the sheriff.
Installing cameras could deter future vandalism, which might buy me a little peace of mind, but it would also send the message that I was on the defense, an act that drew a clear line between me and the town. No, I decided. I’d rather clean egg off my face every week. I knew how to do it now anyway.
The hotel building itself is structurally sound, but overall, it’s old, full of dust and drafty. Parker had drawn-up a temporary office plan a week and a half ago, and now, construction of my “fish tank” as I’d begun referring to it is nearly finished.
It’s the kind of office found within warehouses—a prefabricated container made of industrial grade glass walls, and steel. It would sit about ten feet from the front of the hotel doors and extend toward the back of the first floor. A second container would extend to the right for future support staff. By the time my operation was fully running, we’d be working out of trailers behind Main Street, but for the next year or so, this would be my office building.
I’d decided to start working from town on the same day as the egging because of something Marty Macken had said. “This whole business you have going here, it’s a bit like running for public office. People want to get to know you before they buy-into your ideas. Right now, you might as well be speaking to them in Japanese while offering them free sushi.”
Therese had smiled in agreement but said, “Not that you have to convince them that sushi is what they want. You have the permits to do what you’ve set out to do. You’re not running for city mayor. You don’t have to win everyone to your side. Don’t let this,” she’d gestured to the remaining mess, “distract you. You have a vision. You know what you’re doing. Keep your eyes on that.”
Sam had twirled a corner of his frothy moustache into a tight point, making me wish for the twentieth time that I could have slapped a tall cowboy hat on his head to complete the mental picture of him that I have. “But if you don’t make more friends, it’ll be pretty lonely for you here.”
I draw the heavy curtains I’d installed across the front of the hotel, lock the doors behind me. I’d be back by six tomorrow to greet the crew, grab some breakfast at the diner and settle in with my work at Olivia’s favorite booth. I shake my head. It’s been over a month since I’ve seen her, yet I find myself thinking about her all the time. Her booth at the diner for example. Did it have her name on a plaque attached to the tabletop? No. But it was always, Olivia’s booth.
The logo on the front of the empty coffee canister I’d brought from home flashes in front of me as I switch hands to fish for the truck key in my front pocket. “I turn coffee into best sellers,” it reads in a curvy gray script. I grin. Impossible to avoid her.
I walk across the street to my truck. I’d parked in front of a vacant building I owned to make room for the construction vehicles and materials. It had been nice this week, hearing the sounds of progress ringing down the too silent streets. Tomorrow, I’d make arrangements for furniture delivery and WIFI hookups.
I’m so busy with my mental checklist I don’t see the note tucked under my windshield wiper until I’ve already turned my key in the ignition.
I frown. It’s a pink square of construction paper folded in half. Somehow, I doubt it’s a love letter. Sticking my arm out the window just far enough to grab the paper, I open it and read the childish scrawl: Consider this your pink slip.
I sit for a moment, contemplating the words and the pink paper that it’s written on and suddenly it strikes me that this threat was really quite funny. Cute even. A chuckle escapes, and as I make the short drive up the bluff back to my cottage, I let myself laugh until my eyes grow moist. Whoever it was, they thought they were pretty clever with words. Hurst = Hearse. And now my “pink slip”. Writing. Clever. Cute. Olivia.
There she was, creeping into my thoughts again. As I pull into my driveway, enjoying the orangey streaks of the sun’s goodnight coloring the negative spaces around my house, I know there is only one way around this problem. I had to scratch the itch.
I grin into the phone because of her formal greeting, thinking I can hear a happy lilt in her voice.
“Olivia Weiss?” I say, unable to resist the urge to tease. “I’m calling to collect on my free malts. I believe we had a formal agreement, bound by a gourmet chocolate chip cookie? As of this afternoon, I’m afraid the diner was still asking me to pay.”
Her smile is evident. “I’m afraid collection is impossible as you did not act within thirty days of the agreement.”
I give an exaggerated groan as I settle into the porch swing at the back of the house. It creaks as I rock it back and forth on the heels of my boots. It’s been weeks since I’ve worn anything else and I wonder if I should give my dress shoes away.
“You’re on the back porch!” she says, and I can tell she’s pleased.
“I guess I’ve made a habit of sitting out here to watch the sun go down before I walk into the house.”
“I’ve always loved sitting out there,” she perks. “Hey, have you seen the strawberry patch yet?”
I sit up as though she’s watching me, her enthusiasm infectious. “Where?”
“Step down from the porch and walk to your... right. They should be growing right against the side of the house. They’re the kind that fruit three times a year so if the rabbits haven’t gotten to them yet...”
I lean down. It’s too dark now to see very well, but there are at least three strawberries the size of a nickel visible. “Wow,” I say. I pick one and pop it into my mouth, the simple pleasure of eating it off the plant nearly as sweet as the berry itself.
“You just ate one without washing it, didn’t you?”
I grin. “Hey, I don’t see any rabbits out here with dishcloths.”
“If you see one of those, they’re on the gamey side.”
“You’ve caught and eaten your own rabbits?”
She laughs. “What? You don’t think I could? Although, from what I hear, maybe you should try to catch one to keep as a pet.”
I wince. “So you’ve heard I’m not very popular around here anymore.”
“Yeah, my grandmother told me.” A pause. “I’m sorry, Jake.”
I walk into the house from the back door which I’d left unlocked when I’d gone into town this morning. I wonder if I should start being more careful? While the first message had been slightly more menacing, it hadn’t made me feel unsafe. “Found a little note on my windshield tonight,” I admit. “Did you get any attention like this when you were trying for the improvements you wanted?”
“No,” she says. And I can almost picture her shaking her head, that glossy brown hair of hers pooling around her slender shoulders. “But my grandfather didn’t get the approvals you did on the building permits. And what he had asked for was town involvement and investment. You have the capital to do all of this on your own. It’s a lot different.”
“Where are you, by the way?”
She laughs. “Why?”
“I’m a highly visual person. Besides.” I point out, “you know where I am.”
And for reasons that are not at all rational, I’m seconds away from asking for a video call. How had I thought hearing her voice, in the house where she used to live, make it easier to put her out of my mind?
“If you must know, I’m at home in my kitchen, pouring a fresh cup of coffee.”
“Huh... third cup? Fourth?”
“For most people, I’d say that’s a lot of caffeine, but as you and I both know, there’s mostly just cream in there, so I think you’ll be okay.”
She laughs. “Shall I call you for permission should I choose to have a fourth cup?”
I pretend to think about this for a moment. “No, that’s okay.”
And then I’m sure she’s frowning. “What did your note say?”
“It’s one of the reasons I called. The cuteness of it reminded me of you.”
“Um...thanks? Your secret enemy reminds you of me?”
I haven’t chuckled this much since my talk with Cesar over the weekend. “The note was on pink construction paper. It said, ‘consider this your pink slip’.”
“That is sort of funny.”
“Sounds like the same person who did the egging, right?”
I’ve taken off my boots and poured myself a glass of scotch. I settle myself deeper into the loveseat in the living room, pleased about how easy it is to talk to Olivia, how intimate it feels with her voice so close to my ear.
The last time I’d seen her, I’d pulled her in for a pal-ish bear hug, but the way she’d melted into me, only to jerk back suddenly as though she’d let her body slide into an unexpected current; I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her for the rest of the night. She must have been in my arms for only a second, Rich had been standing there too after all; ready for a slap on the back and a handshake, but I could have sworn we’d both stopped breathing as we touched, and instinct had told me we’d both felt something leap and hum between us.
“Yeah, what is it?” There is no lilt to her voice this time, and I furrow my brows. Tell myself to focus.
“Would you be open to an idea I have? You might hate it from a business standpoint, but it might bring more people over onto your side.”
“Shoot,” I say.
“Well...what if you made more business partners on your way to making more friends?”