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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Excerpt: Pensivity: Poems & Stories for Contemplation

This short story "Mystique" is included as a special bonus in my book "Pensivity" for the connoisseurs of the retro era of modern history.

The work is an introspective collection containing many of my early works - contemplative selections of poetry and flash fiction stories which are philosophical, spiritual and inspirational... many garnished with a hint of vintage flavor.

Available in both Kindle and paperback versions -HERE- (along with other featured titles)

Author profile page: HERE


Helen Avtroi… wealthy, rich … did I say wealthy? More money to burn than a big city crematorium has corpses. But her assets … did I say she had great assets? Well, her assets were of little help to her on this foggy city night.

European bred and San Francisco raised, this femme fatale could charm the strongest of kingly men and the wildest animals of lower class males. She always managed to ‘have what it takes’ as they say. Though she detested the ever-so-common nauseatingly American demeanor of her feminine associates, she knew within herself that she shared some of those very same world renown attributes; those socially acceptable hindrances that make a woman so Plain American Jane in character.

Helen strolled along the damp street as gracefully as a pheasant through the brush; the street’s bright lights erected high overhead shone, far above her perfume scented body.

Not a taxi in sight, she thought, damn! Yes, even aristocratic gold hungry drones say ‘damn’ once in a while.

When a passing dog pissed on one of her expensive leather shoes, she kicked the little beast firmly, sending it tumbling into the gutter below the street’s curb. Feeling a fleeting moment of remorse she said to the critter, “Sorry, but ….”

Peering into the misty distance, Helen saw what appeared to be a neon business sign. Continuing along her ever-unfolding evening’s quest, she managed to make out what the glowing words in the distance displayed... BAR. How original, she thought.

Earlier that same day she had paid a visit to her bank and had a rather fanciful conversation with one of the tellers. She had always prided herself with her figure, not the silhouetted one slightly camouflaged by one of her many sheer nightgowns, but the selfsame one the teller had referred to, ‘Oh, not your body, ma’am. This final line... here,’ he had pointed enviously, ‘the one displaying your account balance.’

Wealthy women have great figures’ and ‘I like your figure, ma’am’, her mind hashed upon the bank teller, over and over, like an undone piece of meat on a less than flaming grill. He was rather cute, she continued pondering, and quite witty.

Passing a dark colored car, she gazing momentarily into its darkened interior. "A Chicago Piano," she mumbled, "or... more common to the masses... a Tommy Gun." She entertained the thought, Maybe that bar up ahead is not the best establishment of choice this evening.

The fog caressed Helen’s supple cheeks, her misty gray lover of the night. She drew a long, silent breath of cool air, A girl’s got to live, and pushed the door open carefully. Billows of cigar, pipe and cigarette smoke floated around the room like summer clouds high in the sky. She recognized the crowd, those from the other side of the coin of wealth; mobsters, politicians, import business owners, those who prefer the nightlife to an honest hard day’s work; they leave that for their partners and employees.

Interesting, she thought, examining some of the artwork adorning the olive green walls; a fly on the wall with an icepick through it... an ear being hacked off of a brick wall, and a singing canary with two vultures hovering behind it. She understood their artistic meanings.

“Say, babe,” came the happy voice, “ya like ‘em?”

Turning with her well-rehearsed smile, that waxy smile so gracefully worn during those boring social endeavors she attends, a testimonial reminder to herself and everyone else that she is a member of the self-delusional elitist society of champagne sippers, she replied, “What’s a girl got to do around here to get a handsome fellow to buy her a drink?”

Feeling pleased and handsome, to say the least, the man replied, “This way,” leading her to the bar.

“What’s your favorite, ma’am?” questioned the burly bartender sporting a handlebar mustache.

“You choose, kind sir,” she responded whimsically. “Surprise me!”

“Yes, ma’am, somethin’ special for you. I can see you are not a woman looking for happiness at the bottom of a bottle.”

Once the mustached man of cheap shot drinks was on his way, Miss Avtroi addressed the man she met upon entering the establishment, “Helen, my name is Helen.”

“It’s an honor to meet ya Helen. The name’s Jim, Jim Beam.”

“I imagine it is,” she replied.

As Jim watched Helen gaze around the room, he continued his conversation with this newly discovered beauty, “Oh, intellectualism is not a catchable disease in this place. I only come here in hopes of seeing some action. I’m a reporter.”

Action... reporter, Helen pondered this for a moment.

“Ya see,” he spoke softly, but carried no big sticks, “A lot of mobsters and the like frequent this place.”

She responded as though surprised and naive, “No kidding.”

“Your drink, ma’am,” a paper coaster and well graced sniffer now adorned the bar’s oak top in front of her.

“Put it on my tab, will ya please, Joe,” Jim requested.

“Sure thing,” he walked away.

“Aren’t you drinking, Mr. Beam?” Helen questioned.

“Oh, not me, I never touch the stuff. It hampers my analytical abilities. Anyway, I’m on the job, sort of.”

“On the job... if and when a story pops its head up out of the hole like a prairie dog on a summer’s day, I suppose.”

“You got that right.”

“So, Mr. Beam--”

“Call me Jim, please.”

“Ok, Jim it is. You mentioned action. Just what type of action are you expecting to happen when you visit this fine establishment? Nothing a girl should take concern over, I hope.”

Before he could respond a shot rang out and her new bar friend was kissing the floor with his parched dead lips. Two goon looking gents in suits whisked Helen off of her feet, though this was not exactly the type of off-her-feet whisking she had hoped to experience with a man, or in this case two, dragging her out to the lone dark car down the street and placing her in the backseat where the Tommy Gun lay previously.

Noticing she had lost a shoe in the process, Helen inquired, “Can we stop at a shoe store along the way, it seems I have lost one of mine?”

No answer.

Within one hour Helen found herself sitting in an expensive Louis XIV style chair in a large elegant room, a home-library-slash-office. A rotund man entered with one of the two gents who had so graciously escorted and taxied her to this luxurious abode.

“Good evening ma’am,” the rotund man spoke gently and kindly.

“A good evening... yeah, that’s how a lady in my current position would describe it.”

“I must apologize for my hired help, ma’am. It’s not like they are Harvard graduates or anything. Please try to understand.”

“Not Harvard? I would have never guessed,” responded Helen, shifting herself slightly in the chair to lean on her left elbow.

The rotund man chuckled.

"My name is Helen, Helen Avtroi. To whom do I owe the pleasure of this visit, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“They call me Plugs.”

“Not after a plugged up toilet I hope,” her sarcasm resonated.

Laughing, he replied, “No, ma’am, it has more to do with pluggin’ certain business associates, if you know what I mean. I like you, lady. You got--”

Interrupting, Helen continued, “Just why am I here, to get to the point.”

Leaning against the chair’s matching desk, he asked, “Just how do you know that newspaper ear, Jim?”

Looking at the goon, then back to Plugs, she answered, “You mean the fellow trying to pick me up at the bar tonight? I just met him. Hey, I got a free drink and a live show to go with it, didn’t I?”

“That’s what I thought--”

Interrupting again, Helen stated, “Your two Harvard goons lost one of my shoes.”

The lone remaining goon in the room replied, “Sort of like that Snow White story, huh?”

Helen and Plugs looked at each other smiling.

Helen replied, “Yeah, that’s the story, lost shoe, Snow White.” 
Looking back at Plugs, she commented, “Harvard it is.”

“Get the shoe,” commanded Plugs.

“Gee, boss, I--”

No faster that it took the rotund man to look toward his goon, the man was out the door.

“We’ll have your shoe shortly ma’am.”

Shortly, she thought, it took an hour to get here.

Her rotund host pulled a long rope that sounded a buzzer.

“The rope is sort of over kill isn’t it?” she questioned rhetorically.

As the maid joined them, Plugs replied, “It impresses certain types of folks.” He addressed the maid and instructed her to get a new, emphasis on new, pair of shoes for Miss Avtroi.

“Size seven,” informed Helen, “and not too wide.” The maid scurried off humbly. 
“So, you’re a shoe salesman, huh, Plugs.”

Laughing again, he sat down behind his desk before replying, “Only if they happen to be made of concrete. Then I give them away free.”

Feeling slightly uncomfortable with that information, Helen asked, “Do you provide swimming lessons with your free shoes?”

Plugs simply smiled.

The room was lined with bookshelves. Hundreds if not thousands of books filled the high, almost two-story, walls. The antique furnishings were of the sort one only sees in movies and museums. Helen had only observed similar thick window curtains as this room had when she visited a theater in New York as a child, but she was well aware of how childhood memories often are remembered as larger than life.

The man asked if she was married, single, or...? to which Helen replied, “My husband is probably giving dictation to one of his young secretaries as we speak.”

“I see,” he replied with interest, “I refer to those as lap lectures, myself, definitely not a meeting of the minds, if you hear what I’m saying.”

“No, it’s not the minds that are meeting, I’m sure.”

“Back to business, Helen,” the man demanded, “This Jim, well, he is, or should I say was, an informant for the FBI. His newspaper career actually involved simply proofreading copy for a local newspaper. We couldn’t have him talking, could we? After all, we all know how big of a mouth Mr. Beam’s FBI boss can have, don’t we.”

“So, I’ve heard.”

“Anyway, when the man went down, my boys, thinking only of your safety, snatched you up and delivered you here for safekeeping until we get this event all sorted out.”

Smiling, Helen responded, “I’m so glad it was my safety that came to your boys’ minds first.”

“I knew you would be, Miss Avtroi.”

“Call me Helen.”

“Helen, yes, Helen,” he continued, “You wouldn’t happen to be in the market to be a lonely entrepreneur's gun moll would you?”

Appearing to be considering this wonderful career enhancing proposition seriously, she replied, “Well, since I have a husband and all, could it be a part-time sort of endeavor, or is that asking too much?”

“I knew I would like you once I got to know you. Let’s not complicate this new found relationship by cluttering it up with formalities and the like,” he took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, “How about you just having an open invitation to my events, parties and anything else you fancy yourself to.”

The maid returned with a new pair of heals made from Italian leather.

Helen replied to Plugs' offer, “I rather enjoy those styles of invitations.”

“Much better than a boring card in an envelope, aren’t they.”

“I agree,” Helen slipped on the shoes.

Helen added, "Only as platonic friends, of course."

"Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way, Miss Avtroi."

The next three hours passed by faster than a train travels across the desert. The goon returned with Helen’s missing shoe and explained that it took a bit longer than planned due to cops swarming the neighborhood and asking a lot of questions. He informed his boss that he had ‘detailed’ the car before going to the bar.

Detailed, Helen pondered, now that’s a nice word.

Before Helen exited the chauffeured goon-mobile in front of her apartment, she questioned the not quite Harvard graduate, “What about Jim... the body?”

“Jim, Jim who?” he replied. “What body?”

“Exactly,” she affirmed, closing the vehicle door with a wink to the driver.

It's 3:30 am and I need a drink, she thought, pouring a double quickly before sitting down on her sofa. Without a husband in sight or a decent show on television, Helen changed into her lingerie, dimmed the lights and slid under the covers. Shortly, she heard the sound of mishandled keys followed by the opening of the front door. She remained still... silent.

“Ah, the little woman,” Helen heard the all too familiar voice as its body of evidence, augmented by cheap perfume, entered the bedroom and flicked on the night lamp. The voice continued, “Sorry, Helen, I was working late.”

“I can imagine.”

The slurred flapping of Mr. Avtroi’s jaws informed his wife that he was in the middle of a corporate merger and needed to complete a ton of paperwork over the next few evenings and not to expect him home before three or four each morning.

“It must be some merger,” she replied, “I hope you don’t wear yourself out too much. Don’t work too hard, now. Good night, dear.”

 - - - - - - - - -

The next evening Helen walked the empty streets under the smallest sliver of a crescent moon. She reflected upon her life, her husband’s business affairs and the prior night’s events. The hours passed in lonely silence, with the exception of the occasional screeching cat or hooting owl; yes, there are owls in the age-old trees of the city’s side streets.

Why are my wealthy friends so boring, empty and self-focused? Am I that way too?

She eventually arrived at her own conclusion that living in an isolated social world, whether rich or in prison, created a detachment from the realities of life every human needs to live, enjoy, suffer and experience. I want more out of life!

The brisk air dampened quickly while beautiful billows of rolling fog crested the distant horizon; waves of milky mist no longer held captive behind the invisible gates baring their entrance into the city.

She passed the dark car from the previous evening, though she could not be totally sure it was, in fact, the same vehicle. No Tommy Gun?

Helen returned to the elaborate establishment simply known by its sign as the BAR. Same crowd, same bootlegged aromatic fragrance merged with stale cigar, pipe and cigarette smoke greeted her as attractively as any IRS tax agent would greet a social gathering of business professionals.

Helen approached the bar and ordered a drink, then sat unnoticed upon one of the leather covered barstools that graced this social arena of worldly sophisticates. She glanced around; she meticulously peered into the alcohol glazed smiling faces that littered the bar’s interior. People without souls, she thought.

A strange looking man looked her way, pointing at his beer. Who let this creep in? she wondered.

A tap on her shoulder interrupted her fruitful line of thought, “Good evening, Miss Avtroi.”

Turning slowly, Helen felt her heart leap like a kitten with a yarn ball. “Plugs, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you to this lovely place this evening?”

“You,” was the solitary reply.

“I’m honored, sir.”

The evening fog glowed under the streetlights as eerily as it would in a cemetery parking lot as the two out-of-place patrons exited the bar. Helen wondered what adventures, or misadventures, she might face on this quiet evening away from the comforts and discomforts of her home.

The rotund man escorting Helen placed her arm in his, commenting. “Into the city lights.”

To which Helen replied, “And through the fog.”

“What say we hit the town and paint it red, doll? I’ve got the paint if you have the brush.”

Helen smiled, “After all...,” their eyes met, “A girl’s got to live!”

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