Eric Burbridge has been writing short fiction for several years with a modest list of acceptances by several literary magazines. He is currently finishing a novel, but he remains dedicated to his first love writing short fiction.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Tuesday was the best day of the week to do any kind of business. This Tuesday the weather was warm, sunny with no wind. Toledo Parfit said, “I got a surprise for you be ready in thirty minutes.” She was always on time. She pulled up in her Porsche 911 with the top dropped, windows up and the local jazz station at a reasonable volume. A semi-shear blouse and those raveled denim shorts accented her beautifully shaped, no cellulite, forty-year-old legs and thighs. I hopped in and was greeted with that bright smile and a peck on the lips. That was fine, but that lead foot I could live without. Where were we going so fast?
“Enjoy the ride, doc, we’ll be there shortly.”
“If we’re in one piece.” I tried not to put on the brakes. “Don’t get a ticket, who needs the drama, not that a cop would give you one with those legs, but still.”
“Relax.” She smiled, down shifted and entered the Chase bank branch where I did business. “Here we are.” What was she up to? “If you wanted to get a coffee or something wait a second so I don’t have to let up the top. Be right back.”
It was pure pleasure to watch her stroll through the door. Did she know I banked here? She shouldn’t…but what a coincidence. I couldn’t see inside due to the sun lights reflection off the window. Customers started to pour in, strange for a Tuesday, but I forgot Wednesday was the Fourth of July. I checked my messages when she snatched the door open. “Sorry honey, didn’t mean to startle you.” She got comfortable, turned and handed me a bank envelope. “That’s for you, Doctor Elvin Ranton.”
I opened it…a cashier’s check for twenty-five grand. “What’s this for, is this a joke or what?” The sincerity in those hypnotic eyes answered that. No, it wasn’t.
“No joke, it’s a love refund.”
“A love refund?”
“Yeah, now sit back, close your eyes.” She placed her hands across my face and made a downward motion to close them. “And relax.”
“What’s this financial yoga?”
“No silly, this is because you’re so cute and I like you…a lot.” Our lips locked and that velvet tongue danced in my mouth immediately arousing me. She slowly leaned back in her seat. “Today is that day I said would come. I’ll miss you.” Her tears bothered me and the pit of my stomach ached. Toledo was my call girl…my favorite. Not in the pimp sense of the word, but the business side of love and relationships. What was the check really about? A call girl gives you a twenty-five-thousand-dollar check from your bank. A scam, it had to be. I cleared my throat. “Well, thank you, I don’t know what to say.” That inquisitive expression remained on her lovely face. What else could I say? “Who’d believe this?”
“Nobody, my dear doctor, nobody.” She backed out of the space and we shot down the aisle onto the street. Why she drove so fast I’ll never understand. I held onto the check for dear life and hoped I’d live long enough to cash it. I was suspicious and tried not to be. That was apparent by all the, why me, questions I asked in the few minutes it took to get back to my place. “Hey Elvin, ask all day, but you know me, right?”
“Yeah, come up for a while.”
“I can’t, be well my good friend.” A quick kiss and out the lot she went.
After a shower and several stretches, I sat on the balcony examining the cashier’s check. It appeared authentic. “I like you a lot,” she said. Damn, was I that good in bed? No. And, I was not going to fool myself into thinking so. Toledo was a pro and that also meant she was a good actor. Making clientele feel special was the heart of her business. But we were friends and confided in each other. God knows that’s what her other clients said, but it’s something I can’t explain. The check verified that.
I first met her at the proverbial upscale cocktail lounge where prominent professionals hung out. On this particular evening, the doctors packed out the place after an awards ceremony. Myself and several other general/trauma surgeons were honored for surgical achievements and procedures. What an honor by one’s colleagues. But there was still that gap in my life, that’s what Toledo said after we introduced ourselves at the bar. All, and I mean, all of the females at “Clarissa’s” were gorgeous, but Toledo was the only Kim Kardashian type, only taller. I admit I was flattered and concerned. I didn’t need the drama if she was a kept woman. “Let me buy you a drink, cutie. You should be in Hollywood, not the OR, I’m Toledo.”
“I’m Elvin, nice to meet you.” We shook and she signaled for the bartender. “I’ll have a martini, and you, doctor or should we keep it at Elvin and Toledo?”
“That’s fine with me.” I broke his concentration on her cleavage. “And I’ll have the same.” Several drinks later she read me like a book.
“Guys envy you and a few women too. You’re such a pretty boy with good height and you’re damn near a genius, you’re not easily rattled…cool, calm and collected, that really pisses them off. Nice easy-going guys like you finish last in romance.”
“I’m not out of line, too much anyway, am I?”
“Too late for that, make your point.” I gulped down my drink. “I hadn’t planned on revisiting heartache.”
“Sorry, Elvin, but how about keeping heart ache at bay? Keep it on the business side, if you know what I mean.”
I was surprised, but then I wasn’t. “You’re a hooker?”
She shrugged. “First, can I get an answer, Elvin?”
“Okay, you’re right, love isn’t working for me.” I made sure she felt my eyes undress her. “You a hooker?”
“No. I’m available for extended periods of time…on call so to speak. I’ll take those looks that as, you’re interested.” She said.
And here I am a year later headed for the bank with her check.
The wait to see a personal banker wasn’t long, Maria escorted me to her cubicle. Her white pants suit fit in all the right places and she gave me those bedroom eyes, Latina women look good to me. “Good to see you, Dr. Ranton, how can I help you?” She placed my ID on the desk and her fingers hit the keyboard.
“Well I need balances on all my accounts and cash this cashier’s.”
“Ok.” She looked at it. “One of ours,” and flipped it. “You forgot to endorse it.”
“Sorry.” I signed and she went to a vacant teller window. A few minutes later she returned with the balances I requested. Everything was legit. Good, I distributed it according to plan. I’ll call Jessie to tell her to look forward to an early Christmas. I didn’t mind giving her more allowance than the court ordered. She was thrifty and unlike her mother wasn’t a damn fool with a dollar. I loved Jessie’s mom and she damn near destroyed me, and that yearlong drinking binge didn’t help and could have cost me my med school scholarship. How I came through that was a miracle.
“You need anything else, Doctor Ranton?”
“Yes, but it’ll get me…us in trouble.” I imagined kissing those moist parted lips.
“Whenever you’re ready, Doctor.” She smiled and returned to her computer screen. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I was shocked at the number of customers in jogging suit, skimpy tops and short pants. Where’s the marathon? I started to ask a slender athletic looking senior standing in line, but that would lead to a conversation. The thought Toledo was trying to pull a fast one vanished. Perhaps she did like me enough for a refund. Man, she must be a lot richer than I thought, but she owned a townhouse in the suburbs, she rented an apartment on Lake Shore Drive and one day she says, she’ll own a hundred-foot yacht courtesy of her on-back skills. I’m a lucky guy, but something would be wrong with me if I didn’t look that gift horse in the mouth, to quote my late granddad. But, enjoy the rest of your vacation, doctor, Mondays after a holiday were as challenging as the weekends.
I entered the revolving door the same time as Barry Olenski retired cop turned bank guard. “Hey, doc, wait a second.”
“Hello Barry, how are you today?” I avoided his vise grip handshake. “You working today?”
“Yeah, running late, sitting in the coffee shop running my mouth.”
“Slow down.” He was panting, telling him to lose weight was a waste of time, but I still asked about his health whenever we met. “Move over.” A crowd came through the door and they smelled like outside. I remembered a couple of years ago he said he worked a desk at grand thief auto and that’s where he picked up the extra weight. Believable. Barry was a Patriots fan and I love my Bears and that led to many interesting conversations about sports, all kinds of sports. “You taking your meds?” He nodded.
“Yeah, of course. That humidity’s a real killer or maybe it’s the caffeine,” he ran the back of his hand across his forehead. “Was that you in the Porsche?”
“Yeah.” Dunkin Donuts was across the road…how’d he see us?
“Somebody’s always watching.” He laughed. “That’s one gorgeous creature you got there. I envy you handsome guys, you get all the girls.”
“Don’t envy, they’re a pain, believe me.” God knows the problem being a handsome guy brought me. The business side of love kept things simpler like Toledo said. “Well, I got to go…”
“Wait a minute. She looks familiar, not from a mugshot, but a grainy video of a car being stolen, a high end one, a Ferrari if I remember correctly. But that was years ago.” The serious cop expression concerned me. “I’m thinking some sort of fatality.”
“Seriously?” Toledo was a rich call girl, not a car thief, not now anyway. “I thought you retired or whatever?”
“I am, but I stay in touch with a few close friends. It’s a hobby, I even got a scrap book with old sketches and wanted posters.” He said, looking at every young female that walked in, “I guess you could call it an obsession, that’s why my wife says. I got shit tacked to the wall like those dicks on TV.”
“Damn, your weird.”
“Yeah.” He giggled, “but I’ve helped the guys reopen a few cases.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slow.
“One day we can go for a run, that’ll give the keg on ice you got a break. And, it might shrink that gut you’ve cultivated.” I smiled and started to walk away.
“Hope your girlfriend isn’t eyeing that beautiful Aston-Martin.”
We shook. “I doubt that, but thanks for the info, take care, see you next time.” The humidity was terrible, I didn’t turn on the air, fresh air was best and soon I’d be on the lake front. The day started fine, beautiful weather, beautiful woman and a fat check and now an ex-cop suggests Toledo was a car thief. I didn’t need that crap.
Toledo hated the big airport; she told her sister countless times book flights that go to Midway. Tiana’s attention span was shorter than an eighty-year old concerning travel instructions and directions. She calmed herself after the second loop past the United Airline arrival gate. The cops barely allowed enough time to unload. Finally, her sister strolls out the terminal door like they have all the time in the world. She hit the horn, waved frantically and jumped out to help her load up.
“Girl, hurry up they don’t give you all day.”
Tiana slammed the trunk. “Hello sis,” hugged her and off they went.
“I hate coming here…”
“I know and I tried, but it was all that was available. Any way you look well, little sister.” Tiana said, looking around the car. “This is new, right?”
“Yeah, like it?”
“Yes, better than that last one. That thing looked like a UFO with all that racy stuff on it.”
Toledo ran through the gears and shot into the express lanes. If they were lucky they could beat rush hour traffic.
“It’s hot today.”
“You dressed appropriately for once. A loose fit white pant suit and no stains on it from the flight, amazing.”
“And, you’re still dressing like a jet-setter.”
“Can’t help it, I like clothes.” She sighed. “I feel a sermon coming when you call me little sister. You came in the world ten minutes ahead of me.”
“True, but I make wiser decisions.” Tiana dug in her purse. “I’m surprised you didn’t drop the top.”
“I would’ve, but I wanted you to be comfortable, it’s humid and it’s been like this all week. And, you still smoking.” All the windows went down.
“Thanks, I’m weening myself. I’ve been doing good, I’m down to two a day for the last month.”
“Good for you.” Toledo wise cracked.
“Don’t do that.”
“I’m messing with you.” Her strategy to inquiry why Tiana came to visit had to be done right. It was a sensitive subject; a nun who left the convent for love of both kinds. It was no vacation. She’d point out the negatives of Toledo’s world, but she was one who could dish it out, but couldn’t take it. She’d told her before, stop being a judgmental ass hole. But, that wasn’t going to happen.
“We going to your condo?” Tiana asked.
“No, I’m taking you to the townhouse. You can stay there for as long as the lease is good, that’s for seven months. Give or take.” Was she done being a nun? Maybe she shouldn’t have offered. She didn’t want to be an enabler for a confused back slider. Well, here goes. “How’s Father Bill, what happened this time and are you going back?”
With a slight shake of her head. “I knew that was coming.”
“What’d you expect? That’s a duh. So, answer me.” Toledo snapped and tried not to raise her voice any higher. “You can tell me, I’m your sister, remember?”
“Father Bill is fine and I resigned the convent, and, I ain’t going back!”
“Don’t get upset with me,” Toledo said.
“Sorry…I should be glad, finally instead of talking about leaving the church, he’s doing it.”
“I’d bet on it and you know I’m not a gambler.” Tiana dug in her purse. “I’m out of cigarettes, can you stop at the store?”
“No problem and I won’t ask about whatever. I don’t want to be the reason you go over your limit.” She pulled into the lot of the liquor store that had everything alcoholic. “Let’s celebrate a little. You still drink, right?” Her twin nodded. “Good.” A fifty-year-old bottle of scotch will do the trick.” Her phone rang and rang. It was Elvin.
“You going to get that?”
She nodded and declined it. What did he want, she hadn’t planned on talking to him? He knew that. What was up? Elvin was her favorite, but it had to end. She might return the call…maybe. “When we leave here, we’ll stop at the rich folk’s butcher shop and get a couple of three-inch rib eyes for this scotch to feed on.”
“Sounds good to me.” Tiana said.
Toledo draped the lightest blank she could find over her fraternal twin who fell asleep after they drank, finished dinner and watched a political drama. She swore she wouldn’t, but she wasn’t a drinker. The scotch opened her up. She admitted she envied Toledo’s voluptuous curves and muscle tone for a forty-year-old. “Thank you, but you got them too, there hidden under that layer of fat.” Toledo laughed. Tiana didn’t. “Lighten up, get out there and start working out, but first can I ask a personal question?”
“You don’t have a medical condition for the reason for the weight gain, do you?”
“No, not that I know of.”
“Good. And, you got something to work toward, especially since Father Bill, or should I say, William is supposed to join you. The two of you can’t only workout in bed, but at the gym.” They laughed; it was good to see her laugh after it appeared her feelings were hurt. Toledo never told her she admired her decision, after years of criticism, to become a nun. She got away from those worldly desires that she knew would lead to her destruction. “It’s too good.” Tiana said, “I’ll get addicted, I can’t be a ho.”
“You don’t have to be a ho cause you love, love.” She did the right thing, but Toledo was way too carnal, loving and spoiling men was a hobby, as much as, an obsession. Her sister was relentless, but not overbearing, in her effort to convince her to change her life. After all these years she was calling it quits. It was one helluva coincidence for her sister to do the same thing.
Strange, destiny or fate? Whatever, she had her plan.
Toledo wasn’t big on intuition, but she knew one day all her married clientele would break off from her. But something still didn’t smell right.
She played the game of love as wisely as possible, follow your rules; don’t be nosy and avoid the subject of their marriages. Stay in like, not love, don’t be possessive, no pregnancies, no STDs. Financial advice is more than welcome, cash or check in investment accounts to protect each other and her specialty, spoil the hell out of them. It keeps them coming back and don’t think you’re the only one. “It ain’t in a man’s nature to stick to just one,” said her mentor, Jewel, one of the smartest women she ever met. Those few words put possessiveness in check, it became a competition…Toledo against whoever they are.
Her phone rang, Elvin again. She hesitated and declined it What was up? Check it later, but for now she dropped two cubes of sugar in a cup of freshly brewed coffee and stirred. She didn’t follow Jewel’s advice to the letter; the more clients=more problems that includes greed. Two rich guys are ideal, three is risky and four is suicidal. Three was her magic number. Howie, Peter and Michael were perfect, all of them very rich, well mannered, discreet, of course, with limited manageable fetishes. They helped build her investment portfolios and it was legal and she paid her taxes. A degree in finance helped with the whispers of upcoming deals while in bed worked wonders. Verbal coding, she called it, comforted her clients in the financial arena. “Big Brothers is watching and listening,” they said. Fifteen years in the business paid off, she was proud of herself. Her cup was half empty when her e-mail chirped repeatedly. Jesus, what is this? Messages from Peter and Michael, should she open them? What the hell it could be important. Both said the same thing. “Got this a minute ago. Wish you the best.” What a coincidence, that’s what she was going to tell them. She clicked the link and read. It was a medical report that stated the strong probability her immune system has been compromised with HIV and further testing would be required to make a final determination.
“What!! That’s bullshit!” She screamed and threw the phone across the kitchen.
Her heart pounded; her chest hurt. Take a breath and relax. She did. Her phone was in two pieces. That was really stupid, Toledo you need that thing. Think…don’t panic. You know it’s a lie. That’s that deep fake shit. Who’d do this? Within a few days of making the decision to get out of the business this happens. She hadn’t heard from Elvin. She forgot he’d been calling, was that what he called about? She put the phone back together. Thank God, it still worked. Elvin wasn’t answering, straight to voice mail. What did you expect the man’s a surgeon?
“Girl, what was that noise?” Tiana half way staggered to the frig.
“Nothing, I dropped my phone. You got a hot box, right?”
“You know it” and shoved a glass in the water dispenser, gulped it down and went back to bed.
Good, she didn’t need the distraction. Her drunk sister wouldn’t resist saying I told you so and Jewel would pop her upside the head. Was this a personal attack on messing up her clientele or reputation? Her colleagues were in better shape than she and they didn’t share people’s business. Peter being in his late fifties faced health challenges he didn’t elaborate on, but she noticed weight gain and loss over the past several years. Stress and greed was destroying his well-built six-foot physique. Love of family was a priority. Michael designed dams and power plants, that had gotten boring, but he often bragged he’d make an excellent politician and being a fat guy, he’d fit right in. She didn’t understand that logic, but concluded neither one of them was the culprit.
Howie Lisle did it! Handsome Howie, they called him, but she rated him average all around; love making, fun to be around and all that other stuff. He was the most conceited tech guy she’d ever met; she couldn’t explain why he was so tolerable. Thanks Howie, you did my work for me, but it pissed her off. Now what to do about it. Her fingers moved over the keyboard at light speed: call me, text me.
What did and how long did Howie do it to find out about her clients? Patience. In two weeks, if he stuck to his routine, he’d call her to schedule their annual two-month love nest. There was no doubt in her mind Howie would reveal himself, after all he said he wanted her all to himself. Now she had two other things to do, wait for Elvin’s and Howie’s response and enjoy her sister’s company.
Middle County Hospital and Research Center could be minus one of its best surgeons and if it wanted that person to remain give him the extra vacation time he needed for the stress. I smiled when I handed the chief of surgery the request. She granted it and the grin that accompanied it said you’ll pay for this later.
But now that extension’s end was near. I watched Barry pant from the two-mile run. Cigarettes and alcohol are unmerciful when they finally catch up to you. “It’ll be awhile before your lungs get back in shape, all that carbon resists the hell out of being broken down, Barry. I’m proud of you though, how long has it been?” He still clutched his thighs and slowed his breathing. “You ok?”
A thumb up when he stood upright and stretched. “I’m good.”
That made the both of us feel better. “Another mile or so?” I knew the answer to that.
“Yeah, but slower. Surprise, you didn’t expect that did you?”
“No.” The slower pace was trying, but at the end we stopped at Starbuck’s. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but Barry couldn’t get enough. He gulped his iced cappuccino like he was dying of thirst. “Now that you got that over, now how long has it been since you smoked?”
“Three months, can you believe it?” I nodded. “Me, Barry Olenski, the best dick on the force.” He took another gulp. “I’m proud of myself.”
“Good…now for the alcohol and you’ll really feel better. I don’t mean to talk down to you, that’s the doctor in me.”
“No problem. You know I’ve gotten more into my hobby, once a cop always a cop, right?”
“I guess.” I hoped I wouldn’t hear the stories today, but here it comes.
“But my loving wife said I was going back to the same mess that got the brass pissed off. I was good, too good for my own good. I didn’t mean to undermine any of my colleagues, but sometimes they were dead wrong.” A scantily dressed runner distracted him. “Come back, Barry, that’s trouble.” I said.
“Right, anyway I won’t bore you with details, but I’m looking for another hobby. I should quit the bank and take the wife on a long trip somewhere special.”
“Sounds good. Man, you’re on a roll; quit smoking, identifying an obsession, romantic getaway…should I take your temp or what?” I laughed and he turned cherry red. “Don’t be embarrassed.”
“I’m not, and by the way you still got that DB11?”
“Of course, how did you think I got out here?”
“Damn, I forgot, I’m getting old,” he cleared his throat. “Excuse me.” This time he sipped his drink. “That gorgeous creature you were with last time I saw you probably ain’t a pro like I thought, so forget I said that or insinuated it. And, if she was, it’s too late to do anything. You didn’t listen anyway, but still I wanted to say that.”
“No, I didn’t.” I lied and it did worry me. He ruined a good portion of that day.
“But, ask her anyway, just for the hell of it. See how she reacts. They do that kinda shit to us, right?” He smiled. “I’m tired and I got other things to do. Race you to the parking lot? Just kidding, I’m walking.”
I was relieved my good friend didn’t have to worry about this guy, not that she’d ever know about it. We’d been playing phone tag for a while. The rules of our relationship were simple: don’t invade each other’s space, don’t talk or text important stuff. I hadn’t gotten any more calls from Toledo and I assumed whatever was important had passed.
Dr. Patel had a snide grin on her narrow face when she told me to scrub in. I was headed home but, still on call. “Get your second wind, Elvin, there was an accident on the interstate involving a gas truck. OR 3 stat!” I hurried down the hall and barely missed being floored by an EMT crew that burst through the double doors. The staff’s pace was hectic. Orders and request were shouted frantically. No time to wait for the elevator, I shot up the stairs and couldn’t scrub in fast enough. The patient was prepped. Her upper sternum was crushed with a collapsed lung. We went to work; I didn’t recognize her at first.
It was Toledo!
My heart skipped a beat and my knees buckled. “Doctor Ranton.” Somebody’s arms shot under my shoulders preventing me from stumbling backwards. I didn’t realize Dr. Patel was right behind me. “We got it from here, Elvin, go sit down. That’s an order!” That was best…I was an emotional wreck; my best friend wasn’t going to make it. Why and how was she still alive? Think positive, but experience said different. The boss was right I didn’t need to be in there. I was exhausted, but God knows I didn’t want to hear when they call the time of death. I stretched out on a couple of chairs in the waiting room, said a prayer and passed out.
Four hours later, Doctor Patel woke me. “That one was truly a miracle, Elvin, go home and get in your bed.”
“I will, but…”
“It’s okay, you were exhausted, no explanations necessary.” She went down the hall to talk to what seemed to be a group of friends and relatives. Toledo occupied a section of the ICU where few patients recover. She was still in extreme danger, but I thanked God for being able to see her again. My heart was broken. The most beautiful woman in the world was covered head to toe in bandages. Tubes everywhere, but thank God, she was breathing on her own. I kissed her on the forehead and her eyes popped open. At first, she struggled to focus, but she smiled anyway. Did she recognize me? “Elvin?” She whispered, I barely heard her.
“Yeah, it’s me. Don’t talk, conserve your energy.” I kissed her again. I wanted to jump for joy. “I’ll be back later, ok?” She nodded.
A week later the miracle from OR3 sat up in the bed the best she could, loving all the attention given by the male staff. That sexy voice and magnetic personality was still a killer. “Knock, knock.”
“Hey, doc, how are you? Good to see you.” She said.
“Good and you?” It warmed my heart to see that face although it was minus front teeth. “I got your message.”
“I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but it’s important. Did you get a text or e-mail about a test I took for HIV?”
“No, no I didn’t. Why?”
“It’s a lie, I’m clean as a whistle. I know you’d take precautions and so would I, but you have nothing to worry about.” She grimaced in pain.
“Where does it hurt?” I laid her back and examined her chest area.
“Everywhere, for a minute.” She chuckled.
“We’ll get you something.”
“Fine, but listen. I’ll make it short…”
“Don’t tell me you want the money back.” I interrupted and we laughed.
“No, the refunds for real.” She sighed. But, one of my clients got possessive and wanted me all to himself.”
“The billionaire tech guy?”
“Yeah, and he scared away my other clientele. But I like him a lot so I hung in there. It was going good and this happened.”
“I forgot to tell you sorry for your loss. I’m glad you made it.”
“Thanks. I know I’m in for a long recovery and I could use some help.”
“I’m there when you need me.” With counseling and physical therapy, she’d be fine, but she’ll carry scars for the rest of her life. Thank God, they won’t be too visible. I knew she was grateful, not many survive being ejected in a head-on collision. They said it took an hour to remove her friend from the wreckage. I couldn’t help but think of what Barry said. Ask her for the hell of it. She was in good spirits so why not? “We played phone tag a while back, it was nothing that important. But I know this retired cop who saw us at the bank and he said you looked like a professional car thief they were after back in the day, but he said it was a long time ago and he was wrong.”
“Really…that’s not true, is it?”
She said with a lying grin on her face. “Of course not.” We laughed and that was okay.