Ruminations, etc..

Musings, rantings, and pie.

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

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Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I found this lovely little short story challenge sponsored by the fine folks at NYC Midnight.  Basically, on a certain date, you get a character, subject, and a genre and you have eight days to write a 2500 word short story.  That’s round one.  The next round is the same format, except that you have less time to write and fewer words.  The third and final round is limited to 1000 words and a 24 hour turn around.

I’m glad I took a crack at it, even though it was tough. I got Romantic Comedy as a genre, meteorologist for character, and a cheap motel for a subject.   What follows is the result.

 

 

Taking a Chance

 

The Hotel Monument Valley is a dilapidated little dump on the wrong side of the disappearing desert in Mesa, Arizona. My lawyer, Jermaine, called me and said someone needed to meet me there. I figured it was a fan. Being the meteorologist for the second most trusted news program in the Phoenix area has its perks, but it also has its responsibilities. Interacting with the public on Saturday is one of them. Or, maybe, it was someone from a national network that wanted to recruit me, incognito style. That sometimes happens too.

Aesthetics-wise the hotel’s offensive. Built during the kitsch era that infected Phoenix some decades ago, it looks like a miniature Spanish mission, with lots of tannish-pink stucco and dark wood beams sticking out of the walls. The surrounding area isn’t much better.  Condos and apartment buildings in various stages of construction were encroaching the formerly pristine desert like hyenas closing in on wounded prey.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot and got out of the car.  Jermaine, a thin, bird-like man with a sharp nose and thinning hair, opened his arms wide like he was presenting me with a new car and said: “Huh?  What do you think?”

“I think this is a place good taste forgot.”

“I know, right? It’s just terrible.”

I expected the interior to match the out-of-date kitschy exterior, but the lobby was quite nice. It looked sort of like an upscale Mexican restaurant, with terracotta tiles, Native American rugs, and polished dark wood, all under a soft light. Overall, not bad, even with the teal Kokopellis plastered everywhere.

I turned the corner and saw the proprietress.

She stood behind the registration desk, in front of the crisscrossed mail slots, wearing a white shirt and a navy blue cardigan with its sleeves pushed up, and leaning on her out stretched arms.  She styled her curly strawberry blonde hair into a Bettie Page pin-up look, complete with bangs. She looked very young; she had no wrinkles in the skin around her green eyes.

My eyes were drawn to hers. I felt a warmness spread through my body and I had a sudden urge to grin. Jermaine started to introduce us but I didn’t wait.  I swept in and extended my hand, which she took. Her skin was soft and inviting.  I felt like I could hold her hand all day. It felt natural in mine.

“Hi, Chance Emerson. Nice to meet you…” A slow smile spread across her face and she held up a polished brass and wooden nameplate that read: Fidelma Mulroney.

I took it and looked at it closely. “Fee dell ma?” I said with an unsure lilt in my voice.

“Got it. First time, even. You’re good.”

“You have no idea, Fidelma,” I said and flashed my best TV smile. “Unusual name. Scottish?”

She laughed. “Irish, actually. It means faithful.”

“Nice to see you two getting along,” Jermaine said. “So, what do you think Fidelma? Will he do?”

Fidelma’s posture stiffened up. “Wait – this is your plan? He’s your plan? This guy is going to rally the public to our cause? A weatherman.”

“Meteorologist,” I said, frowning. “What is she talking about, Jermaine?”

Jermaine rubbed the back of his neck and looked away from me. “Well, we were sort of hoping—”

“We?” Fidelma said.

Corrected, Jermaine continued. “I was sort of hoping you could lend your presence to the historical society’s campaign to save this place. So I brought you here to meet the owner.”

“This plan doesn’t work for me,” Fidelma said. “I’m rejecting it.”

“First of all,” I said, “I can’t get involved in your campaign. The network will hate it and I’ll lose my job.  My very cushy and well-paying job. And you should know that, Jermaine.”

Jermaine tried to say something but I cut him off.

“Second of all,” I said turning my attention to Fidelma, “you don’t get to reject me. No one rejects me –”

“Yet here we are,” Fidelma said, smiling.

I paused my tirade after that.

“Look, let’s just take a step back here,” Jermaine said in a firm but calm voice. I’ve seen this before.  I call it his reasonable attorney façade. “Fidelma, we need a public face to bring attention to your cause.”

“Yeah, but him? Look, he’s a handsome guy, and I watch his show –”

Oh good. She’s a fan.

“—but c’mon. He’s not exactly respected around here, is he?  All those dumb commercials he does. ‘Take a Chance with Emerson?’ It’s silly.”

“Hey – I like my commercials,” I said.

“And I like the slogan I came up with,” Jermaine said.

“I’m not seeing it,” Fidelma crossed her arms.

“Fidelma, you’re not looking at this in the right way,” Jermaine said. “It’s not about respect. It’s about visibility.  Bob Barker raised a ton of money for animal causes and he was a clown on a game show.”

“Bob Barker?”

“He was that guy in Happy Gilmore,” I said, rubbing my brow.

“Happy Gilmore?”

“I give up,” I said.

“Regardless,” Fidelma said. “He doesn’t want to help out anyway. He can’t lose his cushy job.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to. I can’t. I cannot take any public position on any controversial topic. It’s bad for business.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be bad for business.  Lord knows we need more crappy condos and apartments around here.” She sighed. “What time tonight, Jermaine?”

“The meeting’s at 7:00, with the land developer’s attorney.  Tempe Historical Society. In the basement.”

“I’ll be there. Nice meeting you Chance.” She said.

Her tone of voice suggested it wasn’t nice.

 

 

Jermaine dropped me off at my condo in downtown Phoenix. I chastised him the whole way back. You do not spring a meeting like that one someone. Especially me.

After I laid into him, I watched the side of the freeway. The landscapers put light-green bushes on the freeway embankments. As Jermaine drove, the bushes blurred together; they looked like streaks of green paint smeared on a faint pink canvas.

Then something strange happened. In my mind, the green from the plants melted together and Fidelma’s eyes appeared. I could see her face as distinctly as Jermaine’s dashboard in front of me. Her face looked so soft. I imagined what it would be like to hold it in my palms, bring her to me slowly, and kiss her alluring, voluptuous lips. I could actually feel her lips pressing against mine; I could feel her warmth, her breath against my face as I turned to kiss her neck.

The image was so strong and pleasing I shut it out of my mind immediately. I changed the subject to our basketball team, the Suns.  It gave me and Jermaine something to talk about that didn’t involve Irish hotel proprietresses.

At sunset, I walked out on my balcony.  The desert air smelled fresh in the fiery red sunset. As the sun sank behind the horizon, shadows spilled over the Valley beneath me and gathered like pools of rainwater during a storm. Streetlights appeared in the darkness, blinking on like stars on a clear night. Everything was calm, serene, and wonderful.

Fidelma’s words echoed through my brain all afternoon.  She was right: Phoenix didn’t need more crappy condos and apartments. The constant development of cookie-cutter housing ruined Phoenix’s natural desert beauty. When I was younger, I would take night drives out by the city limits. You could see the clusters of stars that made up our galaxy.  Now, it’s all condos and strip-malls. The dark night sky is gone, replaced by the harsh amber glow of street lights, obscuring everything except the brightest stars.

I looked at my watch: 6:28 pm.

Plenty of time to make it to Tempe.

Or so I thought.

 

 

I arrived at the Tempe Historical Society at 7:08. Late. Meteorologists should not be late.  Inaccurate, sure, but never late.

I ran into the stone and glass building and down a large suspended staircase that led to the basement. When I got there, all the conference rooms were empty. Except for one. I went to it, composed myself, and inhaled deep – just like I did before each broadcast.

I grabbed the doorknob. In my mind I counted to three, turned it, and pushed the door open quickly.

Sitting at the far end of the table, facing me and the door, were Fidelma and Jermaine. Both had that “just been tax audited” look on their face.

Then Fidelma saw me. When our eyes met, her face burst into a smile and the fluorescent lights danced in her eyes. At that same time, I felt a squeeze on my heart. I had never been happier to be in a drab conference room than I was at that moment.

Jermaine still looked like someone receiving a colonoscopy.

Then the attorney turned around.

In August, violent thunderstorms called monsoons hit Phoenix. Each storm is preceded by a wall of dust and wind called a haboob. Being caught in one is scary. Your visibility drops to nothing and the only thing you can see is brown, if it’s during the day, or dull gray if you’re stuck in one at night. When I was an intern, I used to stand on the 15th floor of the news building downtown and watch the haboob roll through the valley like the wrath of God smiting the city.

I saw a similar look in the attorney’s eyes.

“No, don’t get up,” I said as I walked around the conference table to the empty chair between Fidelma and Jermaine.

I extended my hand to the attorney.  She didn’t take it.

“Hi, Chance Emerson.”

“Yeah, I know. Alison Woods.” Alison furrowed her brow. “Why are you here?”

I put on my TV voice. “I have just signed on to be the face of this issue.”

“You must like losing,” Alison said.

“Alison,” I said, taking a calm and reasoned tone, “I’m sure we can find some common ground here and come to a mutually beneficial solution. For all parties involved.”

Alison folded her hands and leaned on the table. “There is no common ground. There is no solution beyond what my clients have already proposed.”

“We have acquired the rights to Ms. Mulraney’s property through eminent domain and we have given her a very generous offer for what we believe the land is worth – an offer that is decreasing with every minute, Ms. Mulraney.” Alison tilted her head back, regarding us. “Ms. Mulraney has two options. She can take our offer, make some money, and move on with her life. Or, she can heed the advice of TV clowns and their friends, and file some kind of Hail Mary injunction to stop us.

“On that point, I’ll be blunt,” Alison said, flipping her long blond hair out of her face.  She wore designer jeans and a grey t-shirt that had Boston University Law written on it in red lettering.  I’d imagine she’s dressed down since this meeting is on a Saturday. Either that or she didn’t respect Jermaine. Which is possible.  I’m not sure how much I respect Jermaine.

“You have no case,” Alison said. “I know that, you know that, and if you ask for an injunction, the court will know that. You will lose.  And you will lose badly. It’ll be like a high school JV team going up against the Harlem Globetrotters.”

“With all due respect Ms. Woods…that’s, uh, your interpretation,” Jermaine said.

After that zinger, I made a mental note to find new counsel.

Alison smirked. “You’re right. That is my interpretation. I based it on the law, the facts, and common sense. I’m assuming you’re basing your position on the ramblings of a derelict.”

“He wasn’t rambling,” Jermaine said.

Alison rolled her eyes, gathered up her papers, and got up from the table. “Ms. Mulraney… Fidelma… I know I’m not your attorney, but take the offer. Don’t listen to these guys.”

“Ms. Woods, we’re prepared to fight  you anyway we can. We’ll give you a PR mess you never dreamed of,” Fidelma said.

“How?” Alison said. “With D-list celebrities like Chance?” She shook her head and smiled tightly. “With all due respect, Ms. Mulraney, do not take a chance on Emerson.”

“Hey! Don’t twist my slogan.” I said.

“Sorry,” she said, half-laughing. “So, what’ll be Willard Scott? You going to put your face on this losing bet and ruin your career? Are you going to let Ms. Mulraney throw away a significant amount of money? Are you going to let your friend here embarrass himself in court?” Alison looked right at me. “What do you say, Chance?”

That’s when the reality of the situation hit me. I will lose everything I worked for. I would have to look for another job, and there are few jobs that are easier than meteorology in Phoenix. I pictured myself at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, wearing a wrinkled white shirt and cheap tie, tracking a storm front on a computer that was new when Eisenhower was President.

But then another image entered my brain, one that pushed out all other concerns. I pictured Fidelma and I lying on shamrock green hills, the kind you see in Northern California after the rainy season. A pure azure sky overhead, with cumulus clouds floating by on soft winds. I would tell her the science behind what we were seeing. I would spell out the chaotic intricacies that created the wonderful scene that she and I alone were enjoying. She would smile and kiss me on the cheek and I would thank whatever god that powers the universe for such a perfect moment.

My chest and face felt warm, the kind of warmth felt on the first spring day after a deep winter, or when seeing a radiant smile from a strawberry blonde.

“I think we’ll see you in court…counselor.”

“Suit yourself.” Alison gave us a head nod and left.

After a few moments of silence, Jermaine said: “That went well.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed the middle of my forehead. Fidelma lightly touched my shoulder and I felt a tingle that went from my shoulder to my toes. She smiled at me. “Thanks for coming. I’m sorry about your job, though.”

“Don’t worry about that.” I felt a rush of power as I spoke. “What’s important is that you’re going to keep your hotel.  Or my name’s not Chance Emerson,” I said in a bold and cheesy voice.

“It’s not really Chance Emerson, is it?” Fidelma said.

“Brandon,” I said sheepishly.

“Brandon, Alison’s probably calling the network right now,” Jermaine said. “There’s a good chance you’re getting fired.”

I shrugged, “Is your hotel hiring, Fidelma?”

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Written by B. Michael Krol

January 28, 2015 at 7:39 pm

One Response

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  1. Great Job! Your story was clear and concise with excellent character development. I was in the same heat so I understand what a quirky combination this was to work with. I now have a new appreciation for the Rom-Com— it’s tough!

    Tonya S. Rothe

    February 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm


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