David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Speed Dating With 'Janeane Garofalo'
· The Cynic
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer - Chapter Seven
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 7
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Six
· Empty Mansions, book review
· Pilgrim's Wilderness, book review
· WWII Cartoonist, book review
· Write Yourself Into a Corner, book review
· Roanoke Island, book review
· Billboard Theology
· Baghdad Without a Map, book review
· Into the Wild, book review
· The Zookeeper's Wife (review)
· The Lost Painting, book review
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
· Never My Love
· 3 O'Clock
David A. Schwinghammer, click here
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A young man is manipulated by a con woman.
I had a hard time finding a job after I graduated college. Not hard to believe since I had a bachelor of arts degree in history. What do you do with a bachelor of arts degree in history? You can work in a museum, you can sell life insurance, or you can get a job doing research and fact checking for a publishing company, a job I lucked into at Evergreen Press in Madison, Wisconsin. I happened to know the manager, George Steinway, a tall drink of water with whom I’d gone to college.
Let me introduce myself. No, my name isn’t Ishmael, but it’s close. My mother named me Skyler, after Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls.” Skyler Peterschick. Could you imagine getting stuck with a worse name than that? I mean if your name isn’t Moon Unit Zappa that is. As you can imagine, that name led to a lot of teasing in grade school and high school and even in college. “How’s the weather up there?” and other jokes of that ilk, followed by lots of giggling. Pretty dumb actually since I’m only 5’ 10”.
George and I reminisced about Star Trek conventions and standing in line at three in the morning adorned in Spock ears waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to open, and then he introduced me to Angel Morissey who was the head fact checker at Evergreen Press. My immediate reaction was, “What are you doing working in a dump like this?” but I was too tightly wound to say that. Perhaps I’d been better off if I had.
Actually Angel was the only other fact checker, but she’d been there a while and knew the ropes. We didn’t have our own offices. The two of us sat on opposite sides of what looked like a study carrel in a library. Angel looked like her name. I managed to spit out my name, literally, Angel not flinching all that much, but that’s all I could muster. She wore her hair in a bob with a fetching part down the middle. She had freckles on her nose, and she seemed to have an internal muse because she was always smiling, showing off the cutest little overbite. I was so smitten I felt like I’d just been smacked by a two-by-four. But Angel was wearing a sweatshirt with a big “W” on it, a hated Bucky Badger. I’d gone to the University of Minnesota, and the two schools were border rivals.
“Angel will be in charge,” George said, looking more like Buddy Holly every time he spoke. The horn rims were something new since I’d seen him last. “Sometimes you’ll work together, other times you’ll work on as a team.”
My first assignment was a cook book, pretty inappropriate for a guy who had a hard time boiling hot dogs and warming buns at the same time. How do you check facts for a cook book, call a restaurant? Luckily, I used to go with a home economics major at “The U,” and remarkably, we were still friends. I got her to try out some of the recipes in the cook book, and my work seemed to pass muster. I begged George to give me something I could sink my teeth into. Be careful what you ask for. He handed me a heavy tome on String Theory. According to George, Angel was a molecular biology (Funny, I thought they were begging for those) major, and this was more her cup of tea than mine, but she was in the middle of a Custer biography, which just happened to be my forte. Was this government work or what? When I started working on the science project, she looked at me like I’d kidnapped her pet poodle.
I would have gladly given it up, but it was the only other project we had at the time. Let’s just say I wasn’t any better at science than I was at cooking. “I’ll try to put this Custer thing in high gear,” she said, “and we’ll both work on the String Theory project. I’ve been dying to find out more about that, what with the new super collider opening up in Switzerland.”
Super collider? What the heck was a super collider? “Why don’t I help you out with the Custer bio? Custer was one of my heroes. We could both dive into this science dealybopper from the get go,” I said.
“You’re a Custer fan?” she said. “He was an egotistical asshole. He massacred women and children.”
“He also saved the day at Gettysburg,” I said.
“Yeah, I read that,” she said. “An officer leading the charge from the front. That’s not too smart, is it?”
I could have said it inspired the troops, but I knew she’d have a comeback for that as well. Angel was becoming less and less attractive all the time, but not so unattractive that I didn’t want to jump her bones.
“You can start the science project without me, but I want to talk about it first without interruption. When do you want to meet?”
“I’m busy for lunch.”
Busy for lunch? Did she have a boyfriend? I would have to start rubbing elbows with the other cubicle rats in the office and find out just who I was dealing with here. Zeke Morris and I had already established a bro relationship talking Twins and the Brewers when he delivered the mail.
He seemed like the chatty type. He’d already informed me about the approachable women at Evergreen.
“How about dinner tonight, Skyler? You pick the place, we split the check.” She lit up my world with a smile that would knock birds out of the sky. She made my name sound like Bart, or Pete, or Bill, names I’d always yearned for as a kid being teased about the name his mother stuck him with.
“I’ll make a reservation,” I said. “Just give me your phone number and I’ll get back to you.”
She gave me a suspicious look, then doled out the asked for numerals before saying, “Nothing too fancy. This is a working dinner,” again in that Alpha Female tone.
It then dawned on me that I had exactly five dollars and fifty-six cents to my name, and payday wasn’t until next week. I’d have to hit George up for an advance. Sure she’d said we’d split the check but what self-respecting male wouldn’t at least offer to foot the tab, and this little filly just might let me foot it.
Prior to our dinner meeting I hit Wikipedia hard, trying to find out as much about String Theory as I possibly could. I still wanted to impress her despite her bossiness. She had that Reese Witherspoon thing going on, kind of an angelic dominatrix.
Essentially String Theory is the idea that there are more than just four dimensions, that there were actually ten, only we can’t see the other five or six (some count time as a dimension, although Einstein said time was an illusion) because they’re so small. A scientist named Michio Kaku posits that there’s a parallel universe only millimeters above our own and that possibly there’s an infinite number of universes. What String Theory does is make quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of the macrocosm jive, something Einstein had been trying to do for like thirty or forty years after he discovered the theory of relativity. Soooo, if this theory is right, and it seems to be mathematically, somewhere out there there’s a six foot three, two hundred pound me who looks like a heterosexual Rock Hudson. I knew I’d drawn the short end of the stick physically, but this was just ridiculous.
In the process of researching String Theory, I also came across something called “M” Theory. If I wanted to impress Angel Baby, I had better bone up a little on that, too.
I was beginning to regret that I’d asked George for something more complex. I’d definitely bitten off more than I’d bargained for. It all made my head hurt. Turned out “M” Theory not only unified gravity and quantum mechanics, it also unified five previous string theories into a simpler mathematical formulae. A scientist named Edward Witten had theorized that strings were really one-dimensional slices of a two-dimensional membrane (hence “M” theory) vibrating in eleven dimensional space.
“M” theory could not be tested as yet since we don’t have the tools or enough energy to do so, but scientists like Kaku were anticipating some answers from the new Hadron Super Collider buried deep below the earth on the border of Switzerland and France, which was now up and running after a number of setbacks. So that’s what the Super Collider was.
I made a reservation at Romano’s, the best Italian restaurant in Madison, and called her, telling her where to meet me. I could only hope that the prices weren’t too steep as George had only advanced me a hundred dollars.
When I got there she was already at our table perusing a copy of Kaku’s PARALLEL UNIVERSES.
“Hey, you made it,” I said.
“Did you think I’d stand you up?” she said. “I’m a professional.”
I ignored her snippy answer, sat down and ordered a cup of coffee from a waiter who was loitering nearby. “See you’ve been doing a little research,” I said.
“He’s interesting,” she said, “If a little too religious for me.”
“I haven’t had a chance to do a Lexus/Nexus search, but I did find a little info on the Internet. Seems like String Theory might be a bit passé. Did you know about “M” theory?”
She was lying. As an inveterate poker player in college I was adept at picking up tells. She pulled on her ear lobe more than Carol Burnett.
I told her everything I’d learned about “M” theory, plus the notion that it combined five different versions of string theory.
“Doesn’t this make this guy’s book a bit out of date?”
“Not necessarily. I think there’s a chapter addressing the controversy. Some scientists don’t accept the 11 dimensions idea or the membrane idea.”
“Oh, no. I was afraid of this.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s my boyfriend Chad. He followed me here. He’s over there at the bar. The big fellow who looks like an linebacker.”
Chad was the me I’d envisioned on one of the parallel universes, at least 6’3”, 220 lbs with curly black hair and muscles on his muscles.
“He’s a quarterback on the football team.”
“Which one, Wisconsin?”
“Yeah, Wisconsin. Who’d you think I meant, the Packers?”
“I would never have figured you for the quarterback type,” I said.
“All women are the quarterback type, if they can attract one,” she said.
I tried to look sufficiently chastised. It was true . Attraction was based on evolution. The bigger, stronger guys got the best-looking women and they couldn’t help being attracted to them.
“You want me to talk to him?”
“No. This is the last straw. He’s done this sort of thing before. He gave one of my professors a black eye, and I know he docked me a grade because of it. I was tempted to file a discrimination suit, but you know how that goes.”
No, I didn’t know how that goes. I’d always been afraid to make a move unless the girl showed interest first and sometimes not even then.
She sashayed over there, looking a bit like Reese in that lawyer movie. A shouting match ensued, and Sir Galahad that I am, I went over and stuck my nose where it didn’t belong.
“Who the hell are you?” Chad said.
“Um . . . I’m Angel’s colleague. Is there a problem here?”
“None of your goddamn business, Shorty.” Then he pushed me. Nobody pushes a former right wing on the Mechanic Arts hockey team. I swung from the heels, but he blocked it and I got punched, once or twice, I’m not sure. I only know there was a lot of blood. We never got anything to eat that night, and we spent two hours at the police station. Chad, Hanging Chad, as I call him, spent the night.
I showed up at work the next day with two black eyes and a bandage across my nose.”
She actually laughed, and I hated her with every fiber of my being. “You look like one of those guys from that Paul Newman movie, “Slapstick” I think it was called.”
“That’s one of my favorite movies,” I said nasally.
“If it makes you feel any bette,r Chad’s been suspended for two weeks. He won’t be playing against the Ground Squirrels. Maybe they’ll actually win one. What’s it been, five years?”
She might have been the cutest thing since Cabbage Patch dolls, but she made Leona Helmsley look like a piker.
Angel had finished her Custer bio, and she’d joined me on the String Theory project. What we did was check facts with other sources we got from Lexus/Nexus, plus consult a theoretical physicist at the University of Wisconsin, and when there were differences, we would touch base with the author. Of course, there would be differences if this cat had any kind of unique perspective. For a science major Angel did very little work and took most of the credit when we finished.
Scuttlebutt said the quarterback was history, and I began to notice that Angel was spending more and more time conferring with George. George was even more skittish around women than I was; he hadn’t attended his high school prom, nor had I ever seen him with a woman on campus or in Dinkytown, the little village next to the University of Minnesota where the kids hung out. But he did own a Corvette Stingray. Women like Corvettes like they like 6’3”, 220 lb. quarterbacks.
I was wrong. According to Zeke she just wanted George’s job, and she was pumping him for dirt she could use to discredit the poor schlep. “She’s already spread a rumor that George has a gambling problem and that he’s been dipping into company funds. If you don‘t deny that sort of thing, everybody believes it, and George isn’t the type to tune in to the grapevine.” I began to hang out in the employee lounge with Zeke, who ran the mail room. He was a weightlifter with arms like Popeye’s and a tattoo of a hula girl on his upper bicep. “She might look like Shirley Temple,” he said, “but she’s a regular Cruella Deville. I asked her out when she first got here, and she looked at me like I was knee high in manure. You ought to go see Chad Victor about her. If anybody was stalking anybody it was her stalking him.”
I promptly went to see the Wisconsin quarterback. I found him in his dorm room reading a copy of THE DISTANT MIRROR by Barbara Tuchman.
“Loved that book,” I said. “Didn’t know the Middle Ages could be so interesting.”
His eyes lit up; he didn’t seem to remember me at first. Couldn’t blame him much; I wasn’t the memorable type. My own mother called me Ralph most of the time. Ralph was my younger brother, and he didn’t look anything like me.
“Sorry about the black eye,” he said. “It was a sort of reflex action. I was only there to get paid for the research I did on that Custer biography she was working on. She promised me a hundred dollars. Contrary to what people say, athletes don’t get spending money from the boosters.”
“So you weren’t dating then? And you weren’t stalking her?”
“Hell no. Not my type. I like to wear the pants. We took a night class together on the Civil War, and we talked during a break. She happened to mention the Custer project, that she had no idea how to start. She asked if I knew anyone who could help. I said I had a whole library on the Indian wars, and that I’d do it for a couple of bucks an hour.”
“What was she doing taking a Civil War class? I thought she was a molecular biology major?”
“I don’t know how she got that job at Evergreen, but there’s no way she’s got a degree in anything other than ball busting, and I never did get my hundred dollars.”
Two could play at this game. I had to let George know what kind of person Angel Morissey was without looking like I was the sneaky double-dealing lowlife. I had to scare up some business and I lucked into something almost right off the bat. Boxcar Wally was doing a one-nighter at the Wagon Wheel bar that night and I managed to get into see him after the show by bribing the bartender with my last five dollar bill. Wally had been in Country Western music for over fifty years. He’d known all the greats: Loretta Young, Webb Pierce, Willie Nelson; he’d even known the greatest of them all, Hank Williams. If that wasn’t a book, I’d never seen one. Gigs were becoming few and far between for Wally these days, so he agreed to talk to George at Evergreen the next day. Willie was pretty near illiterate, but if Sarah Palin could find somebody to write her book for her, so could we.
George and I drew up a contract with Willie for a five thousand dollar advance, and I was on my way; light bulbs were flashing over my head like a Hollywood press junket. Zeke and his weightlifter crowd might be a book. Chad and the Wisconsin football team could be another one. Had anybody ever done the history of Wisconsin football? I knew they’d started playing right around the same time the Gophers had, somewhere in the 1880 or 90s. Before I knew it I had made myself almost indispensable with three new contracts. All we needed to do was find a reliable writer or two.
That was when I told George about Angel. He didn’t want to believe me at first because she’d been the first woman to ever show him any interest. But then I showed him my notes on the String Theory book. It was pretty obvious I’d done most of the work. I also told him about Hanging Chad and how he’d done her work on the Custer book. He still wasn’t satisfied. That’s when I outlined the trap we’d spring.
“We fact checkers use a lot of resources to do our job.” I told him about the home economics teacher who’d tested some of the recipes in my cook book. “I just happen to know a molecular biologist,” I said. “Angel doesn’t know a molecule from a marble.”
“That would be fraud,” George said. “She could go to jail for that.”
“She sure could.”
Angel now had her own office in a cubbyhole next to George’s, and she called me in for my weekly review. I was on probation, and it was company policy to evaluate new employees for the first six months.
I read over her written review. The stuff about the three new contracts was in there, but she’d checked the “average” box in respect to punctuality, reliability, initiative, and congeniality. Heck, except for women, I was the most congenial person in the office. Just ask Zeke and the boys; I bought more rounds at Sportsmen’s Tap than anybody.
“I know what you’re doing,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I know you’ve been doing a background check on me, and if you think that beating Chad gave you the other day was bad, just wait until you meet my new boyfriend, Henry. He’s a wrestler.”
“You can’t threaten me. Besides, they’ll find out you don’t have a degree anyway.”
She gave me a squinty-eyed look I hadn’t seen since I’d last watched Bogie and Bacall. “You must not be following the news lately. Does Tom Petters ring a bell? Three and a half billion dollars. That’s how much he accumulated before they caught up with him.”
“Yeah, and he just got fifty years. No parole for forty-one.”
“I know about your little trap, too. Don’t try it, or you’ll be out on the street faster than a forty-year-old hooker.”
“How’d you find out about that?”
“Overheard George talking to Professor Green, who just happens to be a molecular biologist. Put two and two together. I called and cancelled your little meeting.”
That night I was having the most pornographic dream I’d ever had. I was porking it to Pamela Anderson, the “Home Improvement” version before the enhancement or reduction surgery, whatever it was, that ruined her in my eyes forever when the phone rang.
It was Angel and she said she’d taken some pills. I said there wasn’t much I could do about it, that she should call 911; she said she couldn’t do that, that Evergreen would find out about it, and it would ruin everything for her career wise.
I was a fly walking into a spider’s web, a moth drawn to a forest fire, a fool in a haunted house who just couldn’t resist opening that attic door. But I went anyway, hoping against hope that I’d be the one to save Angel from herself and be a hero in her eyes.
When I got there she’d managed to throw up the pills, but she wanted to show me how much she appreciated being there for her. While we were having wild monkey sex, I kept telling myself that this did not bode well for me, that she had a joker up her sleeve, but I went ahead and did it anyway, and I’m not sorry I did. A guy’s a guy, and that’s all you can say.
She kept saying she wanted me to hurt her, to make her pay for all the terrible things she’d done to Chad and George and me and all the others. All the others?
And so I wasn’t surprised when she hollered rape, and I was hauled off in cuffs with Channel Five cameras rolling, my poor old mother in disgrace. Thank God my father wasn’t alive to see this.
My former boss, George, got me out on bail. He’d been given his pink slip in favor of that go-getter Angel, who was now driving around in the boss’s BMW. Ninety-year-old Nathan Evans, owner of Evergreen Press and several other enterprises, still had an eye for the women.
I was a beaten man, but George, of all people, seemed more determined than I’d ever seen him. “I’ll get that bitch if it’s the last thing I ever do. We’ve still got an ace in the hole.”
I couldn’t think of anything, unless we could somehow rekindle that molecular biologist tactic. “How do you mean?” I said.
“Zeke works in the mailroom. How’s he gonna help?”
“We’re sending him in with a wire.”
The first time Zeke went to see her, he told her he knew about her non-degree in molecular biology, about Hanging Chad, and about the fake rape case against me, and that he’d develop amnesia if she paid him five hundred dollars.
“You come awfully cheap,” she said. “I think you’re full of it. Somebody put you up to this. I saw your little bro-mance with Skyler in the employee lounge. All that slap and tickle. You two would have gone over well in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
George said he felt like popping her one right then and there, but he’d never hit a woman other than his sister and a few suspect female weightlifters and he wasn’t about to start now. She wasn’t able to fire Zeke, although she tried, because nobody knew their way around the mailroom like Zeke. The rest of the slackers who worked there came and went like the measles.
The second time he went to see her, still wired, he had a written deposition from Hanging Chad about his help working on the Custer project and her failure to pay.
I’d never heard so many “motherfuckers,” “cock suckers,” and
“child molesting perverts” come out of a woman’s mouth, but again she didn’t implicate herself.
And she paid Hanging Chad the hundred she owed him.
This was not going to be as easy as we thought it was.
George made an anonymous phone call to Nathan Evans, telling him he had an employee on the staff, of the female persuasion, who had misrepresented her credentials and that she held a high level position.
The old buzzard said, “That would be like everybody on my staff. We sort of expect them to fudge a little bit. Who we talking about here, Angel?
She’s indispensable. I don’t care if she thinks she’s Jesus H. Christ, I can‘t do without her. Who is this, George?”
He hung up.
“God you’re incompetent,” I said, beginning to sound a little like Angel.
His Adam‘s Apple bobbed like a yoyo, and he said, “At least I try. Why don’t you come up with something once in a while.”
“We’re going to have to prove that she filed a false rape charge. Even Nathan Evans won’t be able to overlook that.”
“I’ll go and see her. She can’t keep her hands off me.”
George fell on the floor in an apparent epileptic fit, but after he’d knocked over the TV stand and broken a couple of lamps, I realized it was just his version of laughter. When he finally came up for air, he said, “She’s tear you apart like a cheeta. They’ll never find your body.”
I’d been expecting to be arrested as soon as I set foot in her apartment, but she let me in and we talked like two adults. “I kind of like you, Sky,” she said, “as much as I’ll ever like anyone. I guess it’s because you remind me of my brother. He always made me laugh.”
“Why don’t you give it up, Angel. You’re not in too deep. The judge will take one look at that pretty little face and let you off with community service.”
“Mr. Evans has proposed. I’ll have realized my lifelong ambition. Whatever is his will be mine and whatever’s mine will be mine.”
“Gee, just like every married woman in America.”
“Only I’ll be a billionaire. He can’t live much longer, can he?”
I couldn’t believe it. She’d finally implicated herself. Even Nathan Evans wouldn’t forgive her for that.
“You’re a regular Anna Nicole Smith,” I said.
“Yeah, and she got away with it, too, didn’t she? Right up until she died of a drug overdose.”
“Or stupidity. That woman had less talent than Paris Hilton.”
“I didn’t think that was humanly possible.”
We kissed goodbye, and I said there were no hard feelings and that I hoped she was happy with her ill-gotten gains. She even gave me a little tongue action. I tried to get to third base, but she swatted me away. Then I headed for the Evergreen office to play the tape. Luckily I tried to play it before I got there, and there was nothing there. I’d forgotten to turn the damn thing on. Curses, foiled again.
I quit my job. I wasn’t about to work in the same office as a manipulator like Angel. I got a new one working for Harper/Collins, which was a step up from Evergreen. Apparently it helps to have a track record. You’re not going to believe what happened to Angel Morissey. I promise I wouldn’t lie. She was at Wells Fargo Bank in Madison making a deposit when a stick-up artist chose to rob the place. He must have been high on something because when the teller tried to give him an exploding pack of bills, he started shooting and Angel got in the way of a bullet. She was dead before she hit the floor. I didn’t believe it either the first time I heard it, but George swore it was true , and Zeke backed him up. Live by the sword, die by the sword, that’s what I always say.
Dave Schwinghammer's published novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available on Amazon.com.
Site: Mystery Writer