A short story from my anthology entitled “Path of a Bullet – A Collection of Short Stories Featuring Ike”
Open Heart Sandwich
“You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else. You just can’t win.”
The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks
“Ahh, Valentine’s Day,” Brewski said, leaning back in his chair. “Love is in the air.”
“Is that what that is?” Ike asked. “I thought it was low tide.”
Brewski went into the cabin of Ike’s boat and returned with a fresh beer. “You gotta admit, Valentine’s Day is much easier when you’re single”
“It’s a lot cheaper too.”
Brewski raised his beer. “I’ll drink to that.”
Ike looked at his watch. “It won’t be cheaper for me, though. Not tonight anyway.”
“Why? Don’t tell me you’re in love.”
“Love? Too early to tell, I just met her a few hours ago. I’ll let you know in the morning.”
“You’ll be paying alimony by noon tomorrow.”
“Quite possible,” Ike said.
“Who’s the lucky winner?”
“A natural blonde with legs until tomorrow. Works at the Casa Monica, some kind of event coordinator or something.”
“Does Miss Natural Blonde have a name?”
Ike pointed at Brewski. “Yes she does. It’s…”
“Take your time,” Brewski said, sipping his beer.
“Congratulations, you remembered. That’ll impress the hell out of her. I know it impresses me!”
“I’m picking her up in an hour. She wears a name tag. Takes the guess work out of it.”
“It’s convenient that she works in the nicest hotel in St. Augustine. You won’t have to walk the three blocks back here later.”
“Yeah, kinda looking forward to it. I’ve never stayed there before. I wonder if she gets the room gratis.”
“Even if she does, the tips you have to leave will still set you back.”
“She looks like she’ll be worth it.”
Brewski downed his beer, stood and stretched. “Well you enjoy your evening. I’m going to find a bar with a band and cheap beer.”
He handed his empty to Ike as he hopped off the boat onto the dock. “Remember,” he called over his shoulder, “safe sex is more than just a good idea.”
Mandy turned her back and pretended to be interested in the large, tarnished cannon in the square. She casually repositioned herself behind a family of tourists, consulting their St. Augustine tourist guide, so she could watch him weave his way through the crowd of tourists and college students filling King Street.
The more she watched the more her heart fluttered.
If there was a man on the planet more perfectly suited for her, she hadn’t found him yet, and she’d been to six states, plus Jamaica.
There was no doubt in her mind…they were meant to be together and all she needed to do was make him see how right for him she was.
There was no way he wouldn’t see it.
She trotted across King Street and fell in behind a pair of couples celebrating Valentine’s Day in The Nation’s Oldest City. They provided perfect cover, allowing her to admire him without the possibility of detection should he turn around. Not that she wanted to hide from him, but she didn’t want him to see her until the moment was right. It had to be more, much more, than a random glance on a crowded street.
Someday they would reminisce about the way they met and she wanted it to be a story worthy of a romance novel. In the future they would be entertaining guests and somebody would inevitably ask, So how did you two meet? Mandy would gush and her answer would always start with the same four words, spoken with the purest kind of love—It was Valentine’s Day…
The rest of the details weren’t finalized yet, but it wouldn’t be long.
When he entered the lobby of the Casa Monica Hotel and paused for a moment in the doorway to the ballroom, framed by an arch of roses and red balloons, she became even more convinced that God had put her here, at this moment in time, to fulfill her destiny…their destiny.
Roger wasn’t sure exactly when he lost the charm and good looks that had enabled him to get laid at will throughout high school and two years of junior college, but he was sure of one thing…he had banged more broads in those six years than the combined total of the following twenty-five.
If somebody had told him back then that there would come a day when he’d actually pay for sex, or worse, become a pudgy, balding, porn-watching cab driver, reduced to giving himself the hand-jobs that girls had once lined up to perform, he would have laughed in their face.
He now sat in his pickup, watching Mandy from across the square. Mandy had been the closest thing to a relationship he’d had in quite a while—if you could call six dates and one night in bed a relationship. He just couldn’t understand why, after their night together, where he was almost certain he’d done all that could be expected of him, she had suddenly become totally unavailable. Wouldn’t answer her phone, was never home when he stopped at her place, even though her car was there, and she had stopped coming to the Four Winds where they had met.
He glanced at the bouquet of carnations on the passenger seat next to him, thankful there was a Winn-Dixie a block from Mandy’s apartment and for the brainstorm that had reminded him that women loved getting flowers. All he needed now was the right time and place to give them to her. With the flowers, and a little bit of luck, maybe he could talk her into a repeat performance of their night together.
If she would just stop moving.
For the last half hour he had followed her from her apartment to downtown St. Augustine. He watched as she parked her car and walked to the marina, hung out on the docks for a while, acting a little weird, then walked to the square and finally across King Street toward the big fancy hotel.
He had parked his truck, dropped some coins in the meter and followed her inside, passing under the banner announcing the Valentine’s Day pirate party where guests were invited to Surrender the Booty.
He felt a little out of place in the lobby, dressed in jeans, but he didn’t care. When she walked through the archway made of roses he followed her.
Ike snatched a glass of wine from a passing pirate-waiter and an hors d’oeuvre from the tray of a serving wench as he wove his way through the crowd. Standing in the center of the room, next to a six-foot-round chocolate fountain, he spotted Laura working the crowd on the far side of the room. His eyes took in her long legs as they flowed from her red pumps up to the hemline of her glittery red skirt. He admired the way the small red blazer hugged her curves and the way her blonde curls sat on the shoulders like epaulets.
He could certainly pick them.
From across the room Laura spotted him and shot him a perfectly seductive smile without neglecting the couple she had been talking with, then added a discrete gesture that told him she’d make her way to him momentarily. Ike sipped his wine as he observed couples drinking each other in.
Love was certainly in the air…along with the smell of molten chocolate.
Laura excused herself from her conversation and strolled toward Ike, pausing to exchange pleasantries with guests along the way.
Her smile seemed to grow wider with each step closer to him.
Mandy stood transfixed next to a table in the ballroom. She watched Ike sip wine next to the huge chocolate fountain. The way he looked somewhat out of place in the roomful of happy loving couples, yet at the same time blended in as though he belonged, only deepened her admiration for him.
She needed to get closer. This was the perfect opportunity. All she needed to do was gather her thoughts and figure out what to say.
Hi, Ike. You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching you…
No – too stalkery.
Hi. Your name is Ike, right? My name is Mandy. I clean the boat in the slip next to yours. I see you all the time.
No – it needs to be something that will get his attention.
Maybe just a nice smile and a simple Hello while she showed him some cleavage?
Wait a minute. What the…? Who was this bimbo?
A long-legged blonde woman sauntered up to Ike and hugged him, planting a kiss on his cheek. They smiled at each other and looked around the room, the woman pointing and talking, always with the smile. Worst of all, Ike seemed to have more than a casual interest in her. No surprise, since she was dressed like a high-priced hooker.
Mandy’s nemesis placed a hand on Ike’s chest and pointed off in another direction, then left his side.
Mandy followed her.
Roger stopped in his tracks and scanned the room, momentarily losing track of Mandy.
A pirate, complete with a cutlass hanging from his belt, presented a tray full of wine glasses to him.
“Good evening sir,” the pirate said. “Wine?”
Roger looked from the pirate’s face, down to the plastic wine glasses, then back to his face. “Is it free?”
“Yes sir, it’s complimentary.”
“Sure.” Roger snatched a glass, downed it and exchanged the empty for a fresh one.
The pirate nodded and moved along.
Roger spotted Mandy walking across the room toward the ladies room.
Cool. While she was in there it would give him an opportunity to figure out what to say to her.
Mandy entered the ladies room and sidled up beside the blonde, who was leaning over the granite counter to check her makeup in the mirror. The bitch had the nerve to smile at Mandy’s reflection in the mirror. Mandy decided there was no point in beating around the bush.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
The blonde blinked, glanced around the room and then pointed to herself with a Who, me? Look on her painted-bitch face.
“Yeah, you,” Mandy said. “You think you have a chance with him? I got bad news for you.”
The blonde just stared at her, like she didn’t know what Mandy was talking about. Mandy grabbed her by the hair and dragged the Barbie-doll wannabe into a stall. Mandy kicked the door closed and slammed the woman’s face into it.
“How do you like that, bitch?”
Mandy spun her around and clamped a hand over her mouth, forcing her against the stall door. Barbie face was full of panic, like she had never bled before…or gotten into a fight.
“You listen to me, bitch. Ike is mine, he just doesn’t know it yet. If you got any idea what’s good for you, you’ll forget about him. Understand?”
The blonde nodded rapidly. Mandy gripped the woman’s hair and plunged her head into the toilet. The woman crumpled onto the floor sobbing, her face dripping with water, tinted red with her own blood.
Mandy left the stall, checked herself in the mirror, made a quick adjustment to her chest for maximum exposure and left the bathroom smiling.
When Roger spotted Mandy leaving the ladies room he inhaled deeply, took a look at the flowers in his hand and prepared himself. If he timed it right he could head her off at the chocolate fountain.
He downed his wine, dropped the empty glass on a table and started toward her.
Ike kept one eye on the ladies room door. The dark-haired woman who had entered the bathroom shortly after Laura had already exited and was heading in Ike’s direction, with a look on her face that was a weird mix of seductive and nervous.
As she drew near she smiled and opened her mouth to speak.
Ike’s attention was torn from the stranger when Laura burst out of the ladies’ room, wet and bloody.
Ike could see she was crying. She was calling something to him but the music was too loud. Now she was frantically pointing at the dark-haired woman, who was standing directly in front of him—smiling.
“Hello, Ike…” the stranger said.
Another woman on the far side of the room caught a glimpse of Laura and screamed. The band stopped playing and all eyes went to Laura—except for the eyes of the woman in front of Ike
The room grew increasingly silent.
“…I’m Mandy. I’ve been dying to meet you.”
“Ike,” Laura called from across the room. “She’s crazy, watch out.”
Mandy was within arm’s reach of the man of her dreams and she finally had his undivided attention. Nothing was going to stop her now.
From behind her she heard somebody shout something about crazy. She ignored it. From her right came a familiar voice that filled her with dread, momentarily distracting her.
“Mandy,” the voice said, “what’s happening, babe?”
Ike wasn’t paying attention to her. His eyes were focused on the commotion behind her. Mandy turned to see Roger approaching carrying a bunch of cheap-ass flowers.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Mandy spat at him.
Roger let the flowers drop to the floor and a look of pure wrath took over his face.
Roger’s mind went blank.
He couldn’t process everything that was happening fast enough to make sense of it. The only thing that was obvious to him was that Mandy was clearly interested in this gorilla standing in front of the fountain.
Not tonight, he thought, I’m not settling for no second place tonight.
The gun went off in Roger’s hand before he was even aware he had drawn it.
Ike’s attention went from Laura and her warning cry, to the woman standing in front of him, and then to the man approaching from the side…the man who had pulled a gun and was bringing it up to point it at Ike. Ike side-stepped quickly to his left and collapsed the gunman’s right knee with a solid side-thrust kick. As the man crumpled to the floor the gun went off. Ike grabbed a cutlass from a nearby waiter.
Roger watched as Mandy’s torso was immediately covered in blood. The force of the bullet had knocked her into the fountain where her blood was mixing with the flowing chocolate. What have I done? How did this happen? Despite the agonizing pain in his knee he stood and turned the gun back toward the man who had caused him to kill Mandy.
The lunatic with the gun was struggling to his feet and bringing the gun around for another shot. Ike plunged the cutlass into the gunman’s chest, giving it a sharp twist before pulling it out. The gun dropped to the floor and the wounded man clutched at the gaping wound in his chest as he staggered sideways and fell into the fountain. The air was filled with the smell of the chocolate mixed with the smell of gunpowder and blood. A woman fainted.
A crowd stood in silent horror around the fountain.
Ike looked at the chocolate flowing over the two corpses and into the holes in their chests.
He handed the sword back to the dumbfounded waiter.
“Nothing like chocolate covered hearts for Valentine’s Day,” he said.