This post is merged stories “C U Then” and “Mandy”, with some changes and edits. I originally wrote “C U Then” to develop a story for a scene I had knocking around my head . I subsequently wrote “Mandy” to reveal why Chris was saddled with her, and as a response to OLWG #169 prompt, which I thought fit with their story. But as I wrote “Mandy,” the story veered off in a direction I did not intend. You know the funny saying, “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader”? That is what I felt about Mandy’s story. I had no idea where she was heading, and since she did not reveal anything more to me, I stopped writing.
Fast forward to my recent Blog Propellant prompt to interview someone, real or fictional. I do not always respond to my own writing prompts, but this one I thought fun. I rolled around a couple ideas in my mind and Chris Morriston popped up. He asked, “Can we please demand that Mandy tell us why she came looking for me? You guys just left me here, in the hotel restaurant, with no answers!”
So, first, the following are the re-written Mandy and Chris stories, followed by Chris’ interview with me.
Mandy set the canvas bag bulging with the stacks of cash on the floor behind the passenger seat. She scolded herself for not doing a better job of packing it. It was too obvious. It also was heavier than she expected. Anyone who may have seen her could tell she was clearly carrying something other than an oversized purse.
She pulled onto the street as casually as her nerves would allow. She meandered through her neighborhood on streets she never drove before in order to avoid anyone recognizing her or her car. Once on the main thoroughfare, she moved into the inner lane of the four-lane boulevard, keeping tabs on who was behind her through the rearview mirror, and keeping her speed steady with the traffic. She knew where the street cameras were downtown, so she avoided making turns at those intersections. Getting to the freeway took more time as a result, but the effort to avoid detection bought her some time.
How much time Mandy had before anyone put it together that both she and the cash were gone, she could not tell exactly. Hopefully, they would first notice that she was gone. Her absence would not be particularly concerning, thanks to her habit of disappearing on drunken benders. So, as long as no one noticed the missing cash before they were aware of her absence, she had at least a couple of days ahead of them. But, once Danny learned the safe had been emptied, from that point on, she would be racing against the clock.
Seattle was at least three days’ drive away.
Mandy’s eyes welled up with tears as she thought of her children. She was desperate for things to play out as she planned. If it worked, she could not only see her kids again, but maybe be a part of their lives. If it all went as she hoped, she could live life honestly and in the open.
The exit sign ahead indicated a Rest Stop. She looked at the time. Ahead of schedule. Mandy pulled off the freeway to call Christopher Morriston.
The Un-OLWG #169 prompts are: Let them go; bulbous; bandit cash
Chris Morriston sat in his car, head in his hands. A gentle knock on the passenger side window jerked him back into the present.
“Hi…” the older man standing outside his car said, with a wave. “…you OK, there?”
Chris looked him over and decided it was OK to turn the ignition to roll down the window.
“Yeah. Just…a rough day,” Chris replied.
“OK, well, as long as you’re OK. I’m just getting to work. Night clerk at reception,” the man pointed to his name badge, “Roger. So, if you need anything, dial zero, OK? What room did you say you are in?”
Chris understood the man was just doing his duty by making sure Chris was not using the parking lot to sleep it off, or whatever was best done somewhere other than hotel property.
“Yeah, thanks, um… I’m in 404. Morriston. Christopher Morriston.”
Roger the hotel clerk gave him a thumbs up and walked away. Chris watched him enter the lobby, waited a couple of minutes, then went back into the hotel.
Chris slid the keycard into the hotel room and unlatched the door, giving a gentle knock.
“Hello?” he called out.
The lights were on, but the room was quiet. Chris’s pulse shot up. A sudden, excited notion hit him that maybe, just maybe, she took off. He walked in and called out again.
Mandy was face down in the first bed. An empty pint of vodka was on the bedside table. The bag she said was full of cash was tucked under her arm. The lower half of her body was uncovered, exposing purple lacy underwear that rode up one cheek. Chris stared, longer than he should; surprised at seeing something unexpected, or the terror of urgent attraction, he could not tell. He grabbed the edge of the blanket and yanked it over her legs, not caring if it woke her.
She did not budge. His pulse raced again. He bent over her looking for signs of her breathing. A muffled, gentle snore emanated from the corner of her open mouth. Relieved, Chris sighed. A dead Mandy would have been one complication too many.
If her story was true, then he was in a world of hurt. What to do still eluded him. He could only stay holed up here with her for so long, and now that Roger the night clerk had a name with a face, he would have to put next steps in motion sooner than he was ready to do.
He saw Mandy’s purse on the chest of drawers. It was open. He peered into it. He was not worried about a weapon. She would have used it from the first if she had something on her. He lifted out a wallet and looked through it. Three dollar bills, four credit cards, all with different names, a Starbucks gift card, a few coins, a receipt for LED bulbs and plumbing pipe from an ACE Hardware, and her license: Amanda Anne Andersen with an address in Phoenix. He wished he took time to check her ID before he rushed them out of town.
He looked at the ACE receipt again. It was badly faded, but he could make out a date from two years prior. No store address or phone. He unfolded it and discovered his office number and his name scrolled on the back.
Chris put all the contents of the wallet back then peered one last time into the purse before returning it. Another pair of underwear, a phone, a tampon that had clearly been in the purse for some time, a pen, lipstick case, more loose change, and a pill bottle poking out of the fold of the bag’s lining. With a careful finger, he pulled the fold aside to read the bottle. Ambien. Washed down with the pint, no doubt. No wonder she was sleeping like the dead. Curious she wasn’t concerned about staying alert, he mused.
His cell phone vibrated. He did not need to see who was trying to reach him. It was Bella Obviously, his text of several hours before did not do the trick.
Roger the night clerk waved when he saw Chris. “Everything better now, sir?”
Chris shrugged. “ ‘bout the same, I guess.”
Roger bobbed his head in an understanding nod. “The restaurant’s open, twenty-four-seven. Late night menu until five-thirty, then breakfast. Oh, and today’s paper’ll be here in about an hour.”
Roger the night clerk genuinely belonged in the hospitality industry, Chris thought with an inward smile. Too bad for me, if anyone comes looking.
“Thanks. I’ll head in.”
Chris took a seat in a booth around the corner of the entrance and sat where he had a view of most of the place. A young waiter brought over a single sheet menu. Chris quickly perused the late-night offerings and ordered barbeque pork sliders, whatever was on tap, and a shot.
“I am so sorry, sir,” the young man said in a curious lilt that made Chris wonder what sort of affectation the young man was trying to emulate, “but the bar is closed. No spirits after one A.M. So, just a beer OK?”
Chris nodded, handing back the menu. As the young man walked away, Chris found himself watching him go. Force of habit, he assured himself. But truth was, since Mandy showed up, he had been on high alert; “show mode”, as he called it. Everyone was a potential threat or suspect, even the unassuming types, like friendly Roger the night clerk and the young waiter with the curious lilt in his voice.
His phone lit up again. This time a hard-edged angst knotted his gut. He had never given Bella any reason to fear for his safety, nor need to question him when he said he would be away for a while but could not discuss why.
It was not as though he was an operative. Not anymore. That stuff was a young, single man’s game. Bella knew that. Life as an analyst was cushy, with regular hours, uninterrupted days off. The few times he was called away were never a risky business.
He sent her a text: I’m ok but can’t talk. Shit went down today. Will have to see this thru. Promise to call as soon as it’s ok.
Seconds later a reply came through. Thinking it was Bella, Chris was surprised to see a coded message from his boss: fyi all set for fri C U then
“Ah, shit,” Chris muttered.
Hey, Chris, I’m here! You have questions?
Oh, hi! Yeah, uh, wow. OK! Uh, please, have a seat.
(I slide into the bench across the table from Chris) Right where I left you, looks like.
Yup. Want a beer?
Wait, is that one of the questions?
No (I catch the attention of the young waiter with the lilt, pointed at Chris’ pint and then to myself).
OK, well, I have only one question: What is Mandy to me?
Do you want her to answer that, or me?
Uh, you, I assumed. Don’t you know?
I do, I do. But, Mandy knows as much as I do (my beer arrives, along with a refill for Chris). How many of those have you had?
Well, you left me here since, what, October?
Just so you know, that’s three questions.
Shit. Well, I guess I do have more questions. Let’s see. Wha… no, wait. Umm…OK, like this: Whoever said, only five questions are allowed, has not walked an inch in my shoes. And, while we’re at it, that’s two of your three follow up questions.
(I laugh) Good catch.
So, OK, allow me to guess! Conserve my rations.
Right. OK. So, Mandy. She’s from my previous life. Statement, not a question.
(Chris throws up his arms in a referee ‘touchdown’ gesture) So, why don’t I know her? Oh, shit! That’s four. Damn!
(I laugh again. Chris is someone I’d actually like to know. Too bad he is only a figment of my imagination). Chris, think in degrees of separation.
How many degrees?
And, that’s your fifth and final question.
Damn! (Chris shakes his head. He takes a long draw on his beer and sets his glass down). Well, that’s it, I lose.
Yeah, but, you do get an answer: Just one.
OK! Then she is… a child; a daughter. Of someone I know?
Is that a question?
Oh, who the hell cares.
(We both laugh)
Well, Chris, I guess our time’s up. Too bad. I would have enjoyed helping you figure this out.
Help me? Are you kidding? No, no…forget I’m over the question limit. Seriously, it’s your job, my friend, to get back to that laptop of yours and write me out of this mess you got me in.
(I slide out of the booth and stand to go. Roger the night clerk sees me in the doorway of the restaurant and waves. I wave back).
We’ll figure it out, Chris, eventually. Together. Keep asking questions. As you say, who cares about the number of question rule.
(I suddenly look away, as if I’ve heard a noise).
What is it?