Sunday, June 29, 2008

All's Fair (Second of Three Parts)

Five minutes of walking and talking along the busy sidewalks had at least convinced Jeff to give his sanity the benefit of the doubt (not so the many other pedestrians, who gave him a wide berth, as he appeared to be chatting in a very animated fashion with himself; unfortunately, Cupid had neglected to disclose that he was invisible to all but his new client).

“You see…er…Cupid…I’ve been working either with Susan, or in her general vicinity, for several years, now, so I couldn’t help but notice that she’s got a lot of good qualities. For example, she’s attractive…”

“Check”, said Cupid.

“She’s highly intelligent…”


“She’s extremely competent and efficient in her work…”

“Well, I suppose those qualities would be important to an accountant, even to one in love - so, check.”

“And I’m not such a bad catch; at least I don’t think so. I’m in good physical condition, I exercise regularly, eat right. I’m well-read, I like movies and music, I’ve got an excellent reputation as an accountant, and I’m told that I’m good looking. In fact,” he added sheepishly, “Barbara always said that it was my wavy black hair and blue eyes that first attracted her. But for some reason, I’m intimidated by Susan.”

Cupid nodded his head sagely. “Jeff, I think the real reason you’re reluctant to ask Susan out is your fear of rejection. When Barbara walked out on you, the hurt settled down deep - possibly deeper than you realize. That’s why you’ve thrown yourself into your work for the last few years, avoiding any kind of emotional commitment. It might interest you to know that Susan’s more or less in the same boat.”

Jeff came to an abrupt halt and looked at Cupid earnestly. “Really? You mean somebody dumped her, too?”

“Yes, and for pretty much the same reasons. She was working hard to establish herself in her profession, and her fiancé became frustrated at having to make appointments in between audits to take her out to dinner or the movies, so they ultimately grew apart and wound up breaking off their engagement. It was all reasonably amicable on the surface, but I assure you, she cried herself to sleep more than once. Eventually her ex-boyfriend married someone else, and she’s had nothing but her work ever since. Let’s continue walking, shall we?” Cupid took Jeff by the elbow and guided him across the street.

“It’s like this, Jeff: you and Susan are two box turtles. You plod along, going about your daily lives, but at the first sign of something out of the ordinary – particularly something as out of the ordinary as the possibility of love - you pull your heads into your shells. Now, a shell is a very tough and protective shelter – but there’s only room for one.”

The two walked along in silence for a few moments. Finally, Jeff said, “You do seem to know a lot about Susan and me.”

Cupid chuckled softly. “My boy, I should say that I do. You see, in the old days it was much different. People would actually call on me - thousands of them, constantly. I had so many requests that I didn’t have time to look into the specifics of each case. In fact, there were many people I spliced who had no business being in the same room with each other for five minutes, let alone under the same roof for a lifetime. But now that I’m semi-retired, I’ve got plenty of time to look things over carefully. And I’ve tried to modernize. With the advent of scientific disciplines such as psychology, biology, genetics, and so forth, I have far more in the way of research materials to draw upon. Ah! Here we are.”

Jeff, somewhat surprised to learn that their walk had an actual destination, was genuinely aware of his surroundings for the first time since he and Cupid had commenced their stroll. They were standing in front of O’Dougherty’s Pub.

“Why have we stopped here?”

Cupid laid a hand on Jeff’s shoulder and grinned. “Because this is where we run our quarry to ground; Susan’s inside.”

Jeff and Cupid entered the restaurant and stood in the dim, spacious vestibule. O’Dougherty’s followed the trend set by several popular chains of adopting a décor best described as American Marketing Panorama. The place was filled with old gas station signs, photos of vintage automobiles, movie posters from the golden age of Hollywood and colorful, stamped-tin advertisements for extinct brands of soda pop and cigars. Two-thirds of the public area was set aside for dining, with high-backed wooden booths and free-standing tables. The other third of the establishment consisted of a long mahogany bar, with a series of mirrors running the length of the wall. Jeff and Cupid were the only occupants of the entryway at the moment, and Jeff was craning his neck, trying to locate Susan.

He spotted her almost instantly. Susan was perched on a stool, chatting with Alice Malvern from their firm’s human resources department. She was nursing a glass of white wine, delicately sliding the glass back and forth on the bar – a simple act, ordinarily of no earthly interest or consequence, yet one so far removed from Jeff’s recollection of Susan in her office environment that he found it enchanting.

“Ok, how does this work? You don’t really shoot her with an arrow, do you?”

Cupid winked at Jeff and said, “No, my boy! One must keep up with the times, after all.” He proceeded to slip a semi-automatic pistol from under his jacket, pulled the slide back to chamber a round, and was taking aim when Jeff grabbed his wrist with both hands and turned the gun toward the ceiling.

“You maniac!”, Jeff screamed.

There was a brief scuffle as Jeff and Cupid struggled over the pistol, Cupid trying vainly to explain his action.

“Jeff! It’s not what you’re thinking! I’m not going to hurt her! Let go! Let…GO!”

Cupid finally succeeded in wrenching his gun from Jeff’s grasp, and stayed him with a hand against his chest. Gasping, he attempted to calm the young man down. “Do you mean to tell me…that after all we’ve had to say to each other… you actually believe I would hurt the woman you love? These are not the kind of bullets…that you obviously seem to think they are. This device…is just an updated version of the old love darts…far greater accuracy…and much easier on the arm. Have you ever had to reach over your shoulder…and pull arrows out of a quiver for countless hours? Let me tell you a few hard facts…about repetitive motion syndrome…”

“Sit down a minute”, Jeff said, pointing to a bench. “You look like you’re having a stroke. And put that gun away, will you?”

Cupid shrugged, sat down, pulled his jacket open, and replaced the pistol in a brown leather shoulder holster. Jeff glimpsed the holster long enough to see that it was stamped with a design: two intertwined hearts. He rolled his eyes, ran his hand through his hair and sat down next to Cupid.

“Look, I still don’t know whether I’m crazy or not, but one thing I do know, crazy or sane: I want Susan to love me because of the kind of guy I am, not because she’s been helped along with an assist from you and your arsenal. No offense.”

Cupid had gotten his wind back, and now spoke with quiet intensity. “Jeff, that’s a commendable attitude, but all I’m doing is helping you to cut a few corners, especially since you’re having trouble getting out of the starting gate. Based on my detailed study of your respective psychological make-ups, and my thorough knowledge of your backgrounds, the statistical likelihood of you and Susan being happy together – if and when you two have an opportunity to hit it off in the first place, mind you - is something like 99.7%. Here, I’ve got the calculations in my pocket, somewhere…”

Jeff placed a hand on Cupid’s arm. “Skip it. I believe you truly mean well, and this might not make much sense to you, but I want to experience the whole messy process – corners and all.”

Cupid stood up, put his hands in his pockets and stared into the restaurant. A moment later, a bemused expression stole over his face. “Well, you’ve got a sharp corner to turn right now, seems to me. Look.”


RebeccaH said...

I love the way you describe the actions of the characters. I can see it all happen in my mind's eye. You should develop Detective Paco into a real character and write a novel about him solving some mystery.

And what does uh-oh mean? Competition?

Paco said...

Thankee, Rebecca. I am kicking around a story idea featuring a Detective Paco-type character who runs an investigations and collections firm. The nucleus of the yarn is that he repo's a car and finds out that the owner was delinquent on her payments because she's been murdered, and that her body is, in fact, in the trunk of the repossessed car. (I'm thinking of calling it Deadbeat).

Meanwhile, tune in for the exciting conclusion of All's Fair this evening (I should be posting it around 7:00 pm or so, DST).

Minicapt said...

"Keyed by Rebecca"?