Chapter 8: Coded Messages
To get Lucinda out of my reptile brain, I spent the next three days working hard on putting these notes into a cohesive form. I wrote a few profiles and dispatched them to my editor. He called to complain there was no story here. I told him to trust me on this. He could hold the character studies or he could brand them under a banner name and run as is, or he could wait until I tied it all up and gave him everything and let him make his own decision.
He said I sure was getting snippy, and who did I think I was anyway to talk to him like — I hung up on him. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I surprised myself when I did it. He called me back and left a nasty message that I enjoyed cussing out three times before finally erasing it. I sent him an email with one sentence:
You don’t know what it’s like being on the front at the Dance Floor Wars, so I’ll ask you to keep your pie hole shut, you son of a bitch.
He took it none too kindly and passed the email along to Human Resources who called and said I was threatening and was going to be writ up and if it happened again — I hung up. What the hell?
They called back and left a similar message that I listened to twice and had time to cuss out five times since the message was so lengthy because they had to say the legal language exactly right.
Follow up the next day came in the form of a special delivery letter I refused to sign for when I found out who it was from. I could smell the stink all the way to my house from where the shit was hitting the fan at the editorial offices. Frankly, I was very surprised at my reaction. I was always a team player.
Hadn’t I served the paper well all these years? Yes, I had.
Did I not voluntarily keep myself embedded at the front of the Dance Floor Wars in danger from enemy attack on all sides yet never once complain about the danger? Yes, I did.
Had I not privately borne the grief of the anguish of the war and stuffed it deep down into recesses heartless corporate hacks did not have so they could sell more papers? Yes. I. Had.
They could cut me some damn slack. I needed it and I was going to take it. But what form it would be in, time would tell. Maybe I’d become a pariac freelancer before I wanted to. While one part of my brain told me to drive down to the home office, make nice, and mend fences, the other part told me I would be a fool to take my eyes off the project even for a moment. This was war and sometimes Home Office paper pushers didn’t understand that rules which worked in the civilized world did not work in a battlefield.
In other words, when a trigger needed to be pulled, a lone soldier in the field never sent a memo through channels asking permission to do so. He simply did it. As did I.
Saturday evening came around again before I knew it. I spent all day rereading my notes and so came to the fray with a better feel for the placement of the trenches and the motives of the participants. Lucinda and I pretended we didn’t know each other and she made her way over to Bitterroot. Five minutes later I was introducing myself to Bitterroot as I took the seat next to her.
Bitterroot was all Lucinda said she was, and more. I could feel the gall of hatred pouring out of her toward me and every other man. I wondered how Mike had stood it all these years. But I had on my flak jacket — guaranteed to deflect anything she could throw at me, press credentials discreetly tucked in my wallet, and proceeded to get to know this woman.
I turned toward her after I took my first sip of beer. I held out my hand for a shake. “Good evening. My name is Gordon. What’s your name?”
Bitterroot stared straight ahead, twisted her mouth up in a bitter grimace, blinked once slowly, and turned toward me. “Why do you want to know?”
“Curiosity. Or maybe because I don’t want to say Hey, You all evening.” I had already withdrawn the hand of friendship and glared straight back at her.
“Well, you can go to hell.” She turned away dismissively.
“Are you talking to me again?” she sneered.
“Yeah. I want to know why you are treating me like a piece of shit when all I did was nicely ask your name. Why do you want me to go to hell?”
Bitterroot was livid. “I don’t have to take this shit from anyone.”
“No,” I agreed. “You don’t. But I don’t got to take your shit either and you dumped the first load on me. Now I want to know why you did it.”
I shall try to earn my pay here and make a stab at describing her.
Her eyes narrowed to slits.
Her breathing became rapid, almost panting.
Her skin blotched red.
Her fangs — teeth — bared and clenched.
Her hand clutched her beer so tightly her knuckles went white.
Her other hand flexed in and out of a fist shape.
Her spine straightened in the most beautiful display of righteous feminist anger I had ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty of them.
I was expecting a beaut of a reply. Something I could hang my hat on. Something I could sink my teeth into. Something worthy of my flak jacket. But her bullets were nothing more than ill-formed wad cutters.
“Oh. Men. You are all sons of bitches.”
“Is that all you can come up with, lady?”
“Lady? Lady? You are calling me lady?”
I corrected myself. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Wrong word choice. Let me rephrase. Is that all you can come up with, bitter bitch?”
Mike and Amber stood behind the bar looking from me to her, not believing what they were seeing: The breakout of a skirmish. They almost took cover but realized Bitterroot’s weapon was misfiring. She kicked me in the shins and walked out.
Both Mike and Amber high-fived me. “Damn, Gordon. What got into you tonight?” Mike asked. He leaned over the counter to see the leg I was rubbing furiously. “You need a medic?”
I smiled and asked for ice. They handed over a bagful. I pulled up my pants. Nope, no medic needed, I informed him. Only a little flesh wound. Nothing more. My phone chimed. It was a text message from Lucinda.
Can’t leave you alone for a second, can I?
She hadn’t lied about Bitterroot. I looked across the room. She smiled, shrugged, threw her phone into her purse, and got pulled out into battle.
I hobbled to the car and went home. I sent her a text message reminding her of nine o’clock breakfast in the morning. Specifically I wrote:
Full debriefing at 0900.
She sent me back a reply of a semi colon and a zero. That was code for…hell, what was that code for? I couldn’t find my code breakers book and fell asleep trying to figure it out.
Chapter 9: Where’s My Tie? It’s Getting Hot in Here.
“You missed it last night. There was plenty of guys for you to have interviewed. But I guess I can make allowances for you gettin’ wounded and all. You okay? Can you walk? Do you need to lean on me? Need a stretcher?”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. De har har,” I replied sarcastically as I limped pitifully behind her while we were shown our table. “She can kick.”
I sat at the table and stretched my leg out long to the other side. “You okay, baby?” our waitress asked.
I winced and nodded yes, playing up my wound, hoping for a free breakfast; Lucinda ordered two coffees. The waitress put down the menus and left to get the cups and pot. She was back shortly, poured two cups, and sashayed away. Lucinda kept looking at me and shaking her head and grinning and chuckling.
“You can stop it,” I commanded.
“You calling me a laaaaadeeee?” She did her best Jerry Lewis impersonation and then cracked up laughing. I joined her because it was funny. We finally were able to order breakfast when we could speak without laughing.
“How did you find out?” I asked.
“Are you kidding me? Mike and Amber told everybody what happened. Everybody. Every man is calling you a hero. You threw yourself on a live grenade for them, my dear. You walked point in the minefield without the dog. You took the hill against all the odds. All the women are lusting after you. All you got to do is ask, and, damn, you be gettin’ laid. Oh, yeah. Fer shur. My hero.”
She batted her eyes at me and smiled.
And before I knew it, my big fat mouth popped open and in it I stuck my one foot attached to the good leg I could bend. “Will you make love to me, Lucinda?”
She looked at me, serious now. She said, “I’m gonna make allowances for that comment seeing as how you have been so close to death and all, but…not a fair question to ask me; not now.”
“I know. But, all’s fair in love and war.” Damn. The meds had kicked in overtime, or else I was in need of more.
“Eat your breakfast. We’ll have that conversation another time.” She pointed at me with her fork. “I promise. Now eat.”
And I did as I was told. I was a good soldier. Followed commands from the general when I heard them. We didn’t get around to her stories from the night before. It was a quiet breakfast. At one point, she put her foot against my good leg and left it there for a while. I pretended not to notice and she pretended not to be aware it was there. Why, from her expression my leg could as easily have been the pole holding up the table.
She walked with me as I hobbled out to my car. I got in and said, “Coffee tomorrow?”
She nodded yes and smiled and walked away.
– – – – – – – – – – –
“Okay, you ready to tell me about the action Saturday night?”
With these words I greeted her and sat down. She smiled.
“And how is the wounded warrior today?”
“Better. Got a knot on my shin big as an egg, though.”
“To make you feel better, I had my run-ins Saturday night, too.”
“Somebody kick you?”
“No. But a guy I was dancing with, Carlos HaHa, got mad at me and threw me into another woman and I ended up stomping her foot. She didn’t get mad at me because she saw him do it. I stopped dancing and told him to stop it.”
“Carlos HaHa. What does he look like?”
“Tall. Thin. Older. Got a nose he really enjoys looking down.”
“Have you known him long?”
“A few months. He started off the evening getting himself worked up into a frenzy. Every time we danced, he’d say You KNOW I want a relationship with you, LuCINda. And I’d say Already told you that will not happen.”
“Why aren’t you interested in him?”
She thought for a couple of seconds, then said, “He’s a great dancer. I’ve never danced with better in the free-style. But he’s….greedy and lazy and a snob on top of it.”
“But you keep dancing with him because he’s a good dancer?”
“He’s a great dancer. When he and I dance together and he’s not doing stupid stuff like last Saturday, people come up and tell us we look great and should enter competitions and stuff. But I don’t want to do that.”
Competition dancing? “Sounds like fun and as competitive as you are…”
“You think I’m competitive?”
I gave her my best grilling-reporter growl. “Well, aren’t you?”
She looked at the ceiling and thought. “Technically…yes. Practically…no.”
“What in the hell does that mean?”
She rolled her eyes as if her statement was perfectly clear and that when she explained I’d realize it was. She began.
“Yes, I am competitive, but mostly with myself. I want to do better all the time. But I don’t like arguments and confrontations and hatefulness, so I avoid competition. Competition is everywhere, you know. Everywhere. There is always somebody who wants to prove to you they are better, stronger, faster, prettier, and so forth, than you. At work. Grocery shopping. At school. On the dance floor. Everywhere. Entering a competition to me is anathema.”
“In other words, you don’t need it to feel good about yourself?”
“Yeah. Right. However, and this is what’s so funny. Sometimes when I get pushed so far, my ego says No further. And, bam! Out pops my competitiveness and I want to obliterate the enemy and I do my very best to crush them.”
At the words crush them she rolled her R’s in crush and turned them into dem and tried to sound like an evil Russian mad scientist intent on taking over the world.
“Soooo,” she continued. “I put up with Carlos HaHa; but after Saturday night? He’s cut off.”
She then took the next hour and a half to tell me in detail other stories of men. I cannot relay those here because I cannot describe how she acted out the scenes for my benefit. I’ll do my best to give you as thorough a synopsis as possible and hope you can picture it.
Let’s begin with Where’s My Tie? This thirty-something was wound tight as a drum from his position as a corporate wonk where his obsessions and compulsions made him a valuable asset. Every now and then he felt the need to cut loose. He joined the battle last Saturday night and arrived with both index fingers firing non-stop in a comically bad imitation of John Travolta getting down with his bad self. WMT? circled the outer perimeter of the floor looking for a woman who might say yes should he decide to ask her to dance.
He spied Lucinda who was doing her usual, dancing alone or with others. Where’s My Tie? thought she might very well be the one. He approached her and, in a sweetly babbling yet thoroughly detailed explanation (as if he needed to verbalize it), managed to tell her he was a horrible dancer. Lucinda said she had a remedy for his dance floor limitations.
All he had to do, she told him, was stand still and look pretty (because he was as pretty as he was OCD), point those two index fingers at his dance partner as she moved in front of him, raise his eyebrows and open his eyes wide and say Ooooh, baby, wow…looking good. Simply worship at her feet and she will think he is the best thing ever. Did he want to try with her?
He said he’d be delighted to practice and out they went. He did such a good job admiring her, and Lucinda laughed so much with him, that when she pushed him off the floor and whispered in his ear to go ask other women, he wasn’t turned down once.
But, like a lot of people, the flush of victory went to his head and before two hours were gone he was drunk with success and suds and lassoing the women with his tie while stating the obvious — I’m cutting loose — until he came up to Lucinda and said “Where’s my tie? I’ve lost it.”
Lucinda glanced around the room and there was a woman using the lost tie as a lasso around another man’s neck. Lucinda pointed and Where’s My Tie? stumbled out to get it. The woman did not notice the removal of the tie by this time because she was crawling up the front of the guy she was dancing with and he was supporting her efforts with both hands firmly under her thighs. The lost tie was slowly slithered from between their bodies. WMT? danced with Lucinda one more time before he left for the evening, but not before he said to her, “You are brilliant!”
Flexible Goombah watched Lucinda dance all evening long. Normally Lucinda does not notice any one particular person for very long because she is so concentrated on dancing to a song or with her partner. But Flexible Goombah was the exception. Tall and thin, dark hair, eagle eyes, prominent forehead, and very long limbs, he sat on a barstool and kept getting up and coming toward her to dance. Then stopping halfway there, turning around and dragging himself dejectedly back to his stool, and staring some more, it was only natural that after a while Lucinda couldn’t help but notice his valiant efforts to enter the fray.
Three songs before last call, when the crowd had thinned, Lucinda was dancing alone and he made it all the way to her. He screeched himself to a halt, put his arms around her, and danced. She guessed he was from New York because his accent sounded Brooklyn. And his body could bend in ways she didn’t know a man’s body could bend. He chatted constantly as he wrapped around her, under her, over her, between her, and around her again.
Always a gentleman about every move, never rude, never crude; it was simply his style of dancing. When they finished dancing he stood straight and proclaimed with all the innocence and joy of a little boy, “I did it. I danced with you.”
Lucinda shook his hand as a reward and gave him a compliment (I’m so proud of you!) and he floated back to his chair where he proceeded to mold himself to it as he sat happily smiling.
It’s Getting Hot In Here was a tall man, big boned, heavy set, forty years old. He was a regular who rarely danced. Lucinda often wondered why he came to a dance place. Mostly he stood in a dark corner, nursed a beer, and watched everything through his black, heavy rimmed glasses. She was dancing alone and out he came. Blushing scarlet he asked her to dance. He talked slowly but managed to tell her he didn’t dance much because it was so hot and he liked to stay cool. She said with 200 bodies going at it and crushed together, it does tend to get hot. But she gave him a cue and he followed her and when the song shouted out Hey, it must be the money, he was raising his arms and shouting like everybody else.
He blushed scarlet at the end of the dance with a sincere thank you, and walked straight out the door, the rest of his beer forgotten on the railing.
The Reed and Hey-Sailor kept Lucinda busy for a while and she danced alone a bit. As usual, she left before last call.
– – – – – – – – – –
“Hey, Saturday night you sent me a text. Here. This is what it looked like.” I pulled up the message and showed her the semi-colon and the zero.
“Uh. Huh. What about it?”
I shrugged. “What does that mean?”
“Your message said a full debriefing, right?”
“I took it literally as in briefs off at nine.”
I was still blank. “Briefs off? What briefs?”
I finally stopped blushing and could speak again. “What does a semi-colon and a zero have to do with —?”
She took my phone and gave it a quarter turn.
Oh. Oh! Now that was funny. She shook her head at me.
“You know, Gordon, when you gots to ’splain a joke, it just ain’t funny no more.”
I had to agree with her. I would not forget that code…ever.
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