Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
...the morning after the night...
Coffee’s ready. Milk or cream?
I’ll be out in a second.
Your towels are now wet.
What did you say before?
Milk or cream?
Hope you like it strong.
Oh God, this is such an uncomfortable cliché.
The morning after the night before.
Remembering last night, nothing uncomfortable from this end.
I never do this.
Sleep over...did you drug me?
Yeah, it was called erotic sex.
Said she evasively. Try spreading some of that raspberry jam on the toast.
Whole Foods over priced but worth it and I’m running out of small talk. Tell me something personal.
Personal? How about this for personally embarrassing...I do not remember your name?
But do you remember last night in bed...and on the rug...and....
I remember. Yes.
Yes. Very good.
Decent review, then I’ll tell you my name. Frank.
Like in Francis?
I gave up Francis.
Why, it’s surprisingly cool name for a man?
That’s what the priest thought, too.
The priest? What does, oh oh, the priest liked Francis more than Francis liked, right?
It’s too early to get personal.
Didn’t I hear someone say something about no more small talk wanting personal?
From you. Not me.
Too late. Did the priest touch Francis where he shouldn’t have?
An altar boy, I’ll bet.
Your toast needs more jam.
What did Francis do?
Yes, I am. What did Francis do?
I poured holy water on him kicked him in the balls and ran.
Kicked him in the balls, did you...good on ya’ mate.
Okay...your turn, Rumi.
Hello! Rumi is your name.
Is that what I told you?
“Wherever you are, and whatever you do...”
“...be in love.” Best pick-up lines ever.
Don’t desecrate our favorite Persian poet.
That’s not my name.
That’s what you told me at the bar. We riffed on Rumi all night. “Yesterday I was clever and wanted to change the world...”
“Today I’m wise so I’m changing myself.” Never believe what a women says over few drinks. Good jam.
Who lies about their first name? Especially a good one.
You asked my name before we really connected. I thought, well he’s a good looking dude with smart eyes but I never reveal before I’m sure.
After coffee, jam and wet towels, sure enough yet?
Like in Uncle?
I detest Uncle Vanya. Chekhov bores me with a bunch of bourgeois whiners, why can’t we go back to Moscow. I hate manipulative writing. Like an oldie movie I saw on TV one restless night, Thelma and somebody.
Louise. We were probably watching it the same night.
Women libbers celebrated the film. What nonsense. So liberated that they lose their money to a beautiful hustler and then drive off a cliff to die together. Some liberation! Garbage.
But tell me how your really feel.
Too opinionated too early, right? Switch channels. What do you do, Frank?
I’m a journalist. I thought Vanya was a man’s name.
Not according to my mother. Journalist? You mean you write for a newspaper or magazine, cover the latest scandal of a TV idol coming out of a closet that someone in the waiting room of a dentist’s office reads?
I’ll ignore the shot. I’m free-lance.
Does that mean out of a job?
Did I say or do anything to justify you denigrating me or is this just Vanya’s version of getting personal?
I’m sorry. I fell into a smart-ass morning after the night before small talk. I apologize. Please, tell me about your work. No put-downs. Promise.
Okay. I do investigative journalism.
One major big-time piece coming up which I will not tell you about but I do have a light-weight number in Mother Jones about an Ozarks Pastor bitten by a rattler he was handling while speaking in tongues. Ambulance crew tried to help but the Pastor refused, insisting that God will heal.
Holding fast to the Bible he died one hour later in excruciating pain. So much for the good book.
You’re not into the Bible?
I don’t read fiction. You?
My Paw Paw taught me...
Slipped into roots. My father taught me two things. The Bible and how to shoot.
I can hit a squirrel at a fifty feet. If he’s not moving, seventy.
The Bible and a gun, it somehow doesn’t fit you.
Fit! That’s a banal figment of arbitrary judgments. Once you get to show-and-tell, no one fits.
That’s a profound early in the morning treatise.
Tell me about the piece you’re writing that you don’t want to tell me about.
Let’s just say that the Conservatives and a few connected Democrats will call me anything from a liar to un-American and some C.E.O’s will want to put out a contract on me and at least two Senators will urge the I.R.S. to audit my butt. Again.
You whet my appetite. Details por favor.
No, if I filled in the blanks you’d ask me where I got such damning information...and this journalist does not reveal or betray his sources.
Suppose an empowered Congressional committee threatens you with jail unless you reveal...
Two years ago I was put in the slammer for 32 days because I would not disclose sources until the ACLU cited the Bill of Rights, Freedom of the Press and I got out. Your turn. From your tight wheelie bag in the bedroom I thought you might be an airline stewardess because who carries a well packed bag in an upscale bar... but now...I doubt it. What does Vanya do?
Oh, different things.
Difficult to describe actually.
Talk about relentless.
Come on, Vanya, turn around is fair play.
All right. I deliver messages to individuals around the world.
Those individuals have no access to email or phones?
My messages are highly confidential intended for one singular party at a particular time.
Translate for the common folk.
What does it matter since this is only a one night stand?
I think we should go for two. What is that? It sounds like the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth? There it goes again. Da da da dummm.
It is my phone in my bag in the bedroom. Excuse me.
Da...this is your kukushka...yes, your zaitchik...yes, yes, I can be there. No problem. I will remember. I promise. The last? What do you mean the last? Oh no. Nyet. Nyet. But there must be treatment that...there have been great strides in...Fahimtkum...da...da...ya panimayu...I understand...Ya budu vsegda lyubit tebya ...I will always love you...
I’m sorry. It was a personal call.
Are you all right, you look very...
Do you have Vodka?
Yes...okay...in the freezer...here we go...shall I pour?
Yes. Thank you. Good vodka. I may need another. Thank you.
A napkin to wipe away your tears.
Thank you. You still want to know what I do?
Yes...and is there anything I can do because obviously that phone call was...
A friend...my dearest...my closest...only friend is dying of cancer.
Ugh...my empathy, I’m sorry.
One more drink. Ahhh. All right. Are you a good writer? A good journalist?
Last year I won the Hillman prize for journalism. A decent recognition with my peers.
Good. Because... after my...for some terrible reason I must honor him, an homage to Aleksei...where is that napkin again...thank you...now listen good, Frank, I am going to tell you what I do and how this man, this angel saved my entire existence. Whatever I share you must vow, promise, swear my identity will be confidential. You will not reveal your source although you may use the name of my dearest dearest Aleksei Feodor Romanoff who saved me from...I need another napkin.
Here, I’m a little thrown by your...well, your friend dying and...what’s going on, Vanya?
Take my hand. Agree to keep me...you will understand I promise, unidentified.
Whew, this morning has taken a one eighty all of a sudden and...
Agreed or not?
Okay, yes, I agree. Here’s my hand.
Strong shake good. All right. Take a breath, no judgment, just information.
That’s my training as a journalist. Roll it, Vanya. What is it that you do?
I will start at the end and go back to when it started.
Okay. Talk to me.
I am an assassin.
You better say that again because I could swear you said...
I am an assassin.
Uhmm hmmm. And I’m the reincarnation of Elvis Presley.
You don’t believe me.
Up to now, Vanya, I thought I was the most fortunate man on the planet considering our night and even the morning after the night before but...are you on medication? Assassin! Did you forget to take your meds this morning?
I’ll be right back.
Where are you going? Looking to assassinate someone? I don’t qualify.
Oh yeah...this journalist who must keep a secret is waiting on the edge of what kind of game are we playing.
My bag. Look inside. Underneath the kerchief.
I’ll play. He’s looking...looking...and...what is this?
You can take it out The safety’s on.
All right...here’s your piece. You’re not the first woman in these treacherous times to be packing a gun.
Not just a gun. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, one pound. Less than one inch thick, thinner, better for concealment, only for right-handers so if you’re a lefty forget about it. Where are you going?
Clear the table while this lefty gets his lap-top.
Do you want me to wash the cups, too?
Okay...sit down and talk, Vanya, as this journalist is about to make notes regardless of the veracity of your fable since it may be interesting reading even if ...
You can’t type this yet. Anyone, a beginning hacker can...
Look at the screen.
What is this? Symbols, numbers, random letters...
Encryption. Programmed by a brilliant Romanian friend.
Who also gave you the code which enables him to...
He’s up to his neck in nefarious righteous deeds. He makes Snowden look like a light-weight. Okay, my fingers are itching for more even as I am slightly freaking out with the polarity of not wanting to believe you but ...
Why should I lie about something so...
Bizarre? Is that the word you’re looking for? Vanya, please, are you really...
Really. That’s just the end of the story, Frank. I must tell you how Aleksei saved this little girl’s life.
Sounds like a promo for a TV movie.
I do not know how to convince you.
Okay, yes, and I’m a little crazy now because I got a push-pull going on that I was ready to dig in with someone who just so happens to...all right, give me something...something that only the killer would know.
I loathe the word killer.
Not as much as the killee, I’m sure.
I said I am an assassin.
Assassin, killer, same thing.
What’s the difference?
Did you say éclat?
A killer is brutal, emotional, most often out of control acting on a bestial impulse. An assassin is the antithesis, clean, controlled, detached, purposeful.
They both do the same thing.
I never leave a mess. Éclat.
I can’t believe I’m in a semantic argument with...okay, okay, tell me something that only the...the, yes, assassin would know. Something that was not reported in the media.
We already shook. I am a man of my word.
To jail if pressed?
As long as you send me good books to read.
Frank, I am as serious as your next breath.
My breath, not yours, right? Please notice I put the gun back in your bag. Now give me something that will tell me you are not a pathological liar getting off by taking in this man the morning after the night before.
Alberto Figueroa Gonzalez.
You talking about that mean-spirited son of a bitch head of the Mexican Knights Templar drug cartel?
You’re well informed.
That’s my job. Those fuckers abducted poor kids and sold their organs. Gonzalez died two months ago in Michoacán when he was supposedly drunk and driving off the edge of the road in a step canyon that echoed his demise.
I figure Morales of the Zetas had his boys jimmied the car so when he made a sharp turn on that precarious curve the axel snapped and...
Good story. In his bed. Right ear. One shot.
Gonzales was no neophyte. He had guards who were totally loyal, who would give their life to...
But not the lives of their mothers, wives, children, and the opportunity to join the Zetas with a substantial payoff. In Mexico that’s the rate of exchange. My employers handled the arrangements including the car.
What are you doing?
Making a call. I have a sub-rosa connect in the D.E.A.
I am the source you will never betray.
Said she as she grabs her bag with...hey, Frank here. Yes, phone scrambled for sixty. One thing. Come on, you know me. Alberto Figueroa Gonzalez. One and same. Simple Q. Any indication of a gun wound before the accident? Have I ever? Look, I just need to know. No I can’t, won’t, someday maybe you can read about it with fictional names but nothing now. Give me the skinny. Whew. Right ear you say. Okay, okay. I will when the time is right. Not for publication yet. We never talked. Bye.
Ain’t this a kick in the ass. I was about to fall in love with an assassin. Okay...this half-crazed journalist will write about you without revealing a shred of i.d. but I will keep your gender.
Better story. Female assassin for hire plays better than male. If Edward R. Murrow was alive he’d be your narrator.
Have to think about it. You type fast.
Comes with the territory. Female it will be.
Our profession is overwhelmingly male but there are four women and maybe more in Russia so the odds of identifying by gender...
You know who they are?
One is Chinese, one Serbian, and a former Israeli commando Mossad, bad to the bone.
And the fourth?
I’m still not clear why you choose to reveal this incriminating information.
Homage to Aleksei and a what’s the word...sort of an end to what I’ve been doing and ....
Yes! My dear Aleksei, the only person I could talk to, be with, the only...oh God...and yes, closure, good word, closure for me. But I still want to think about gender i.d. You’re typing again. Can we talk while you type?
Was our sex great last night?
What does that have to do with...
The answer I was hoping for was a resounding yes. Sex great. Type and talk yes. Vanya...I’m just trying to lighten up a situation that is very dark so...back to the work at hand, baby, I’ll describe a woman much older, uglier, even with an accent but the events must be real. Do not fabricate because I am connected enough to check out most everything in the arena of...well, you know what I’m talking about. Just the truth will do.
If I tell you a hen dips snuff you can look under her wing.
Got me. Where’d that accent come from. Georgia? Texas?
East Texas. Pentecostal roots where Paw Paw laid his boots.
Paw Paw, yeah, you mentioned him earlier. Your father in East Texas. I can’t type with your hand on mine.
That’s the point, Frank. It’s hair in the butter time. My comin’ from don’t tote all that level so maybe you should not be typing my geographical origins that...
If I’m going to write about you, Vanya, I will take your notes into consideration but I have the final say as to what copy goes to press.
I need veto power.
I’ll hear you. I’m a good listener, respect your point of view, but every first and last word will be my choice.
You must give me breathing room regarding certain revelations ... I must have the right to review and veto if...where are you going with the computer?
To the living room because obviously we have no deal. You can join me for some meaningless prosaic chit chat which I will not type.
Your couch needs some work...too soft.
Your butt’ll just have to handle it.
Please, Francis, I’m serious.
I already vowed to cover your i.d. so cut me some slack. Your gender and now East-Texas roots are too essential to ignore, it dresses the skeleton, gives the story body-warmth, so if you’re going to, what was that word you used, veto? Pass! Veto is an anathema to decent journalists. No deal, Vanya.
Well dog bite my buttons, listen to Mister Man all horns and rattles.
Despite your charming East Texas accent, you have to trust me.
Trust is as shaky as a dog’s leg in heat.
I’ll plead the fifth. I’ll say she’s a figment of my imagination. I’ll allege anything to stay out of jail but I will not identify you. Unconditional!
Frankie, baby, you are as scarce as hen’s teeth and frog fangs. Okay. All in. If it materializes that this lil ole country girl was injudicious in trusting you, that will make you as sorry as hand made soap.
A threat from down home is it?
Paw Paw’s girl would fight a rattle snake and give it two bites to start before permitting that which would not be good for my well being if you get my drift. And here, open this baby and start typing.
I’ll include your drift in my draft. I have a thousand questions.
Start with one you bad boy.
How’s you get into this...this profession?
How’d I get into this particular kind of work? Well that’s like trying to hem up hot syrup with half a biscuit.
My Paw Paw...
Who read you the Bible and taught you how to shoot.
Keep your tone level when talking about Paw Paw and keep typing.
No insult intended.
When a girl loses her Momma at five and Daddy steps in without a hair’s breath to tend his baby-girl, that’s a grip never to be broken.
I appreciate that. More about your father?
Well, as I recall, he was dressed up like a dirt road dude...
No, the miscreant who did in Paw Paw. In a bar. They got into a fight. My daddy was tough as a lizard eatin’ cat. When he had his tail in a crack no man could beat him.
They told me Daddy was sitting on top o’ him punching his lights out when that lowlife reached back and pulled. He shot Paw Paw.
They kept asking me but I could not figure out what clothes he would wear in the casket. I never saw him in a clean shirt and tie.
Did they catch the guy who killed your father?
He pleaded self-defense and his boon-coon drinkin’ buddies testified in his behalf. The dawg got off with a caution. A caution! My Paw Paw’s gone and there he is walkin’ the streets of Nacogdoches like a grinnin’ mule eatin’ briars.
What did you do?
I did what any self-respecting’ baby-girl’s s’posed to. Got Paw Paw’s 300 Winchester. One in the heart, t’other in his left eye. I was gonna third him in his mendacious mouth but he was no longer available.
Did they catch you?
Catch me? I wasn’t goin’ anywhere as I stood proud as a peacock furling feathers who did right for my kind. I was only 15 so they sent me to Juvie for 3 years and then out.
Only 3 years for killing a man outright, he asked typing away?
East Texans understand. That man was bad news for every late payment collector and fleeing virgins. He made an orphan out of this little girl who justifiably eliminated a loser lower than a politician. In a way they were proud of me, East Texas was. You shoulda’ seen the papers. Headlines: Hit him smack dab in the heart. Square in the eye. Made me a celebrity like Matthew McConaughey, Forrest Whitaker who not so by the bye hail from East Texas. Three years? No troubles. I got all kindsa’ goodies from the populace making that time go quicker’n a flea’s butt in ripening season.
And when you got out?
A certified adult. Eighteen. No skills, no nothin’, I couldn’t drive nails in the snow...to live in a ramshackle home furnished with nothin’ but grits ‘n ghosts.
What did you do?
Didn’t have to do much. A man, with an accent approached me. Ignore my tears as I try and sound...oh god, dear Aleksei...he says, I read about you. TV also too. Through eye and heart. You do that very good shooting? I told him straight out, My Paw Paw taught me that there’s always a best way of doing something. Then he bowed his head like an old time country gent and said, oh I love him so, he said, Aleksei Feodor Romanoff. I can be of help you. And that was it.
It? It what?
He paid for particular schooling in locations I shall not reveal but not restricted to this continent.
Particular in what way?
How to talk correctly, learning to merge quietly in any culture including a smattering of four different languages, generally and specifically expand my knowing...expand? Starting from scratch it was a major undertaking. Two years and three months of mastering how a lady walks, talks, dresses for every occasion, erudition including Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, Rumi. Chosen location where no one would hear the sounds of target practice with weapons I did not know existed, for which I was already a natural. Visas, passports in in different names, secret bank accounts in three countries. I was ready.
For what exactly?
Took me to Europe. First assignment in Sofia.
You know another Sofia? He gifted me with a beautiful weapon made in Azerbaijan. The Yalguzag. That magical time between day and night, half shadows, cooling breeze which I had to take into account. From a first floor window, he was getting into his car. Kalo thanatos.
A beautiful death. One shot. Clean.
Aleksei taught me about the world, what powerful people call truth are just convenient lies wrapped in opaque, silken shadows.
Doesn’t answer my question. Why kill...assassinate him?
Francis, there are hundreds of answer to why and not one of them has ever changed anything.
You had no idea if your...your assignments involved good or bad people?
“There are no good or bad people. Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos.”
Tennessee Williams. Why did you stop typing?
I have shared too much for either of us to hide behind personal.
Okay okay...Jesus, Vanya, I am so into you...not your line of work for lack of a better phrase...but you...you’re an enigma that...that, and this is weird even for me...I am so into you...and I’m talking on a personal level.
Not just in bed?
It would easier if that were so. You know, a fun time in bed, rock and roll, give me a call...but...I’m stuck in a three dimensional cube that I don’t know how to get out of...tell me, with the kind of strange life style you’ve led, ever have a close relationship?
Yes, a conflicted French man who turned out not to be a...a safe man...too insecure...and well, the relationship became one of accusations, his craziness which I initially found interesting became paranoid, bordering on threats.
Don’t tell me you did him in.
I do not act out of emotion.
I informed Aleksei about the situation. He helped me relocate. God I miss my Aleksei. Enough personal. To work, Francis.
To work, yeah. All right...try this on for size: When you fulfill your assignment, no regrets, questions, qualms, self doubts, judgments?
“It is forbidden to kill and therefore all murderers are punished. Unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
I have to dig deeper than philosophical justification.
Justification is only needed when you are involved in something you are judging as wrong.
Oh come on, Vanya, killing someone is wrong.
According to whom?
The law, society, regular people who go about their days in innocence, if you will.
Your so-called innocent, regular people are addicted to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, billions of hits giving the illusion of sharing and the delusion of importance as if the lint in your belly button is of significance. Your society of regular people are nothing but banal narcissists texting innocuous, insipid vapidities taking selfies to prove existence in poses of plastic smiles barely covering feelings of loss.
Some of us narcissists may be worth saving. Sumus quod sumos. We are what we are. Why are you looking at your watch?
I didn’t realize it’s so late. I have to get my bag.
Whoa...why, what...we’re still working, where are you going?
I have to go.
Not good enough, Vanya, come on! I’m the man who is writing your bio, who...who god damnit cares about you, She’s going to get her bag. I can’t believe this. Can you hear me?
Where are you going and why, said he shouting as she comes out of the bedroom with her roll-away bag. Jesus Christ I’m beginning to feel like I’m on a bad acid trip. Talk to me, damnit, and I’m not typing! Where do you suddenly have to go?
You do not want that information. I have a plane to catch.
Right, catch a plane, but when they run your bags through the infuriating X-Ray device guess what they’ll discover. A Smith and Wesson...
MP. No they will not. It is packed by material invented in Sumatra. Undetectable.
All right, fuck it. I am going to write the piece, including this departure and the Sumatra packing which makes me fucking crazy.
No problem, she says. There is a problem, godamnit! Vanya, stop. Please. Let’s talk this out and...
No more talking.
Okay, okay just listen. Jesus fucking Christ I feel like an adolescent without acne I hope.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Neither do I but I am about to jump off a cliff and hopefully find wings on the way down.
Frank I have to...
Please, Vanya...I know this is crazy but somehow it makes sense to me. Here’s the plan: I destroy this lap top, everything I wrote about well, you know, gone, does not exist...and we, you and me, find someplace to live, any place, any country even, god this is beginning to sound like a corny Beyoncé song but listen, damnit, I want us to be together, Vanya!
And the elephant in the room?
Elephants have to eat a ton of food every week or they die. We just won’t feed the elephant.
Neither one of us believes that. I have to go.
Stop, okay, just tell me, are you going on your last assignment?
You’re lying to me, aren’t you?
When you write this you must believe me otherwise you can be charged with aiding and abetting a possible criminal action.
And you feel nothing for this man, for me who...
Aleksei taught me to put feelings in a dark corner where dust and spider webs lie.
Zen saying: Fire burns and when it rains the earth gets wet.
Okay, yes, all right, said he covering...okay, tell me then, when I write this, and I shall, this ending, famous female assassin has to have a name, right? Your name, what name shall I use, Vanya?
Vanya will do.
I know there are many Vanyas on this planet but why give someone, anyone even a remote chance of tracking you down?
You’re a good man, Francis. Uhmmm, and a good kisser too.
Said she with one foot out the door.
Vanya is not my real name.