Annie's 4th Ace by Willee Amsden by Willee Amsden - Read Online

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Annie's 4th Ace - Willee Amsden

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25

Chapter 1

Since I moved to New York from West Texas, to be a high fashion model, there have been a lot of changes in my life. For instance, though my original idea was to be a full-time model, I now only model occasionally. For another thing, there have been relationships and people who have changed my life forever. Ida Grolsch offered me a job as a courier delivering people, or escorting them, or protecting them, depending on your point of view. I like the job and probably would have kept doing it except for Luther.

He’s her son and my sometimes lover. I’d like to say former, but that would imply that there’s no way we’ll ever get back together again and one thing that life in New York has taught me is that you never say never... clever, huh? Actually, that’s one of my rules, number eleven (I think). I need to start writing the rules down because they’re getting numerous and you know how it is if you don’t have rules.

I live in a small apartment in Queens which is not far from Ida’s apartment which is also her place of business and the home of her huge, dangerous, sexy son. I’m hoping he isn’t going to be there when I meet her.

When I knock on the door it opens and of course, there he is, all six feet six inches and two hundred and seventy sexy pounds. Luther grins, his ice blue eyes sparkling and says, I knew you couldn’t resist...

Save it, Romeo, I say. I’m here to see Ida and you know that. Is she here? I ask trying to see around him to the desk where I usually find Ida sitting and crocheting the horribly ugly little slippers she knits. It isn’t enough that she treats me like a daughter, but she also crochets just like my own mama back in Mesa View, Texas.

Ma is gone, but she told me to have you wait and she’ll be right back, he says, turning so I can enter.

I hesitate. How nice, I say sarcastically. Maybe I should come back later.

No, he says and gently takes my wrist in his huge paw. Come on in. I don’t bite.

That’s not how I remember it, I say as I enter.

Nibbling doesn’t count, he chuckles.

As I walk past him I catch the scent of after shave and musk. Luther always did smell good even when he was sweating and he and I did quite a bit of that together until a certain blonde entered the picture.

When will she be back? I ask sitting in a chair.

Wouldn’t you be more comfortable on the couch? he asks, patting the cushion beside him.

I raise my eyebrows and he says, Suit yourself.

I will. Where’s Ida? I ask. Mighty convenient her not being here when I’m supposed to show up. Did you and Ma cook this one up? I ask.

Now it’s his turn to raise eyebrows. Don’t give me that, Luther, I say. You know damned well she’s had her eye on me as a possible daughter in law ever since Ell dropped out of the picture.

How is Luther Junior? he asks.

Fine, I say. But quit trying to change the subject.

I’m surprised you didn’t get rid of him, he says and smiles at me.

I don’t mind waiting here alone, Luther sonofabitchin’ Grolsch, I say. I don’t need you to keep me company. I’m in the room with him two minutes and I can already feel my blood pressure starting to rise.

I’ll wait, he says.

Don’t you have someone to shoot or blow up? I ask.

When it comes to shooting people I recall you’re not so bad yourself, he says as he winces and rubs his ribs.

Still hurts? I ask and grin.

Only when I breathe, he says.

I give him a sweet smile and bat my eyelashes.

You wish, he says.

As I recall, I say, I’m not the only one who plugged you.

Plugged? I love the way you Texas gals talk.

I hear horns blowing outside and there’s a commotion on the sidewalk. Someone is muttering loudly and climbing the stairs. Only one person on the planet makes that much noise.

Sounds like Ma is home, I say.

A very large woman with a bad blonde wig barges through the door, carrying several bags. Her face is red and she’s puffing, but the redness is ninety percent rouge and only ten percent exertion. She spots Luther and angrily says, You didn’t hear me coming? You couldn’t open the door or carry some things?

He nods at me and says, Sorry, Ma, I was talking to Annie and I guess I didn’t hear you.

When she spots me she smiles warmly. Hello, Annie, she says and puts the bags down. I didn’t see you sitting there.

Hi, Ida, I say. I wanted to talk to you about my job... alone, I add and glare at Luther.

Take these in the kitchen and then make yourself scarce, Ida says to Luther.

When he’s gone she sits at her desk and motions to the chair beside it. I sit and she smiles at me over her reading glasses.

Are you ready to go back to work? she asks.

Sorry, I say. I love the work, Ida, but I can’t work with Luther anymore. Is it a job that I could do alone?

She shakes her head. I’m sorry, Annie, she says and I know she is because she wants to hear the pitter patter of little feet and neither Luther nor his brother, Martin have shown any inclination to make her a grandmother although Luther has certainly practiced enough. What will you do? she asks.

I can get some modeling jobs through the agency. My agent, Marcie has found me some work. I’ll get by, I say.

Will you have to work with Brittany? Ida asks.

I’m afraid so, I say.

Annie, you have to be careful, Ida says and I hear the concern in her voice. You know she’s evil. At first I didn’t believe you about her, but since all the things happened, including her hiring that hit man, even though it was never proven, I worry about her.

I can take care of myself, I say.

What about Tomi Di Ponti? she asks. Since he’s the owner and CEO of Di Ponti Cosmetics and Fashions surely he should be able to find you work?

It’s complicated, I say.

I thought he was interested in you... she says.

He is and that’s the problem, I say. There was a time when I was interested in him, too.

Who wouldn’t be, Ida says. He’s not only rich, but also one of the most handsome men in New York. Maybe you can’t be the spokesmodel for his company anymore, but there must be some work...

There is, but he still wants a relationship and I don’t, not since... I look at the door to the kitchen.

Ida smiles and I realize I’ve given her a glimmer of hope and that’s not what I want to do.

You know how it is when the boss wants a relationship and you don’t, I say. I try to be nice to Tomi because I want to get along with him, but I don’t want to lead him on. It’s complicated.

Annie, are you sure you won’t reconsider? Ida says. I really hate to send Luther on this one alone.

I’ve never known you to doubt Luther’s ability, I say. Is there something personal about this one? I ask suspiciously.

You remember how upset he got when the medium in Maine gave him that message? Ida asks. And you remember what I told you about the men in the family?

I nod. So it is personal. I shake my head and say, I’m sorry, Ida, I just can’t do it.

Okay, Annie, she says. If you change your mind, please let me know. Like I said, watch your back when you’re around that venomous redhead.

––––––––

Ida’s words are ringing in my ears two hours later when I’m sitting across from Brittany, the aforementioned venomous redhead, at a shoot, but since I’m sitting across from her and looking at her, she won’t be able to get me this time.

What is this all about? Brittany asks me as if we’re still friends.

I think it’s for a dental company. They want photos of beautiful women with perfect teeth, I say.  

Though I hate to admit it, Brittany has a perfect everything. I’m five feet nine or ten depending on what time of day I’m measured and she’s a few inches taller with flame red hair and a figure that’s even better than mine and I made it all the way to spokesmodel for a major fashion company before she ruined it all.

Still working for Tomi Di Ponti? she asks as if she didn’t know the answer.

From time to time, I say. I hope they’re ready to start shooting soon.

She glances down the hall where the crew is setting up. Don’t worry. It won’t be much longer. I’m surprised Marcie sent us to the same shoot, Brit says. Won’t Tomi give you your old job back? she asks.

Only if I get my nose straightened, I say.

What’s the problem? she asks.

I don’t want to get it straightened because it reminds me of something I went through and survived. My crooked nose may not get me many jobs as a model, I say, but it does remind me that I can survive just about anything that life... or you, I add, can throw at me.

You’re not still accusing me of hiring that hit man, are you? Brittany asks.

Please, Brit, I say hotly, you’re not still denying you were involved.

As if you should talk, she says angrily. You know why this all started.

"You’re not still holding a grudge over something that happened when we were twelve years old, are you?" I ask.

It was no accident, Annie, she says.

Brit, it wasn’t my fault that the dressing room door jammed when they called us back to the stage at the talent show. If I’d known you were locked in and couldn’t get out I would have opened the door for you...

Instead of winning first prize and screwing me, your best friend, she says.

I was twelve. How was I supposed to know your stepfather was molesting you? I ask. If I’d known you and your mother needed the trip to Vegas so she could get a quick divorce and get rid of Darryl I would gladly have given you the trip and taken the side of beef instead.

Sure, that’s what you say now, she says. You locked me in the dressing room so I couldn’t do my encore and you got first prize...

Well, you’ve certainly made up for it since then, I say. You’ve screwed every guy whoever showed any interest in me except Luther Grolsch and you’ve played a lot of nasty tricks on me as well...

I have no idea what you’re talking about, she says and tries to look innocent.

Oh, please, Brit, I say. Don’t make me laugh. You? Innocent? How about the time you super glued my ass to the toilet seat when I was supposed to meet Tomi?

What about the time you head butted me when we were getting into the carriage during the shoot in front of the Di Ponti building and then threw horse shit in my face? she asks angrily.

I slipped when the horse bolted, I say. He wouldn’t have jumped if the Rigatoni gang hadn’t fired that shot...

I had nothing to do with that, she says.

What about the time you set me up to appear naked with Luther when I thought I was meeting Tomi? I ask. Or the time I was drugged and thrown in a dumpster? But this time I’m not taking my eyes off you and I’m not going to fall for any of your childish pranks, I say and smile.

You can wipe that smug look off your face and quit grinning like a mule eating cactus, little Miss Annie McCauley, she says. You’ll have to go into the ladies room sometime to brush your teeth and get that crap out from between them before we start shooting.

I run my tongue over my teeth and sure enough there are sesame seeds stuck in them from the bagel I had earlier.

Don’t tell me, let me guess, she says. Sesame seeds from a bagel because you still haven’t learned to cook anything that doesn’t come out of a toaster.

I glower at her. I hate it when she’s right and this time she’s right on target. I have zero kitchen skills other than microwaving and toasting.

Brittany sighs loudly and rolls her eyes. She digs in her purse and takes out a pack of gum which she opens and then thrusts out toward me. Oh, for god’s sake, Annie, here... chew some gum and get that crap out of your teeth. I don’t want these people to think that we women from Mesa View are all hicks.

I take the gum and start to chew it. Thanks, I say sullenly.

You’re welcome, she says and smiles sweetly.

As we sit in silence I notice her watching me out of the corner of her eye while she watches the crew down the hall. When she glances at me I smile and she laughs.

What’s so funny, Red? I ask.

You are. You’re so suspicious and do your best to convince everyone that I’m evil, she says. You’re pathetic... so immature.

Maybe so, smartass, I say, but at least you’re not going to make a fool out of me this time. Marcie had trouble getting me this shoot. She had to pull some strings, but once I do this without any trouble I’ll start to build my reputation again and then we’ll see who the best model from Mesa View is...

I’ll bet you don’t last five minutes here before they send you packing, she says and laughs.

Huh, I say and point my nose toward the ceiling.

You McCauley’s always did think you were better than the rest of us people in the trailer park, she says. Look at you, sitting there with your nose in the air like you’re wearing shit for a stick pin.

Oh, yeah, well you look like something the dog’s been keeping under the porch, I say.

The head photographer on the shoot walks down the hall to us and says, Brittany and Annie? We’re ready.

Brittany stands and says, Hi, Hugh, nice to see you again. This is Annie. Annie, this is Hugh.

Hugh frowns and says, Annie, you’ve got a reputation for doing crazy things and disrupting shoots. I only agreed to have you here because Marcie begged me and she and I go way back.

I understand, I say and hold my hand out for a shake.

He doesn’t offer his hand. Instead he’s staring at my mouth and frowning.

Pleased to meet you, I say and grin,still holding my hand out.

Oh, very funny! he shouts. I suppose you think this kind of thing is funny, but I can assure you that I and the dentists who are here do not!

What? I ask and smile at him.

He glares at me and points toward the door. OUT! he shouts.

Seconds later I’m on the sidewalk, my head spinning. What just happened? I ask myself out loud.

There’s a coffee shop around the corner and I walk into the ladies room. I’m shaking, angry, confused. I look at my face in the mirror and realize what happened. Seriously? I fell for trick gum that turns teeth black? What did Hugh think when I smiled at him and my teeth were black? Oh, my god! Brittany got me again. Who carries trick gum in her purse? Brittany Carstairs, my arch enemy, that’s who.

Chapter 2

I take the train back to Queens and before you can say, foiled again! I’m back in my little apartment. I sit on the couch with the hideous afghan Mama crocheted for me. This is the same afghan that matches the toaster cover that covers my beautiful, state of the art, Betty Crocker, wide slot, cool touch toaster. It’s the second one I’ve owned since the first toaster was stolen. The thief wisely left the toaster cover behind.

What’s wrong with being a toaster gourmet? I ask Luther Junior who stares at me blankly from the shelf. Conversations with air plants do tend to be one-sided. That’s fine with me because I don’t need any more back chat today. Luther Junior sits glued to the tiny ceramic jack o’ lantern that he’s been attached to ever since Luther gave him to me after sort of saving my life.

There’s a lot to be said for sharing your space with an air plant. After recent experiences I considered getting a dog, but dogs, like men, are so high maintenance compared to something that lives on air and sunlight and the occasional splash of water. In my current state of mind I have trouble sharing my space with anything or anyone more complicated than a plant.  Am I self centered? I ask myself as I hear a familiar knock on the door.

I open the door and my BFF walks in. Luis is a makeup artist, perhaps the best in New York. While biologically a man, Luis is, as Mister Nussbaum the flasher on the second floor put it, batting for the other team. He’s about five feet tall, always has neon colored hair that’s spiked, and wears lots of piercings. He’s Latino and speaks with a slight lisp and has backed me up in every crazy adventure and near death experience I’ve had since hitting New York. He can also cook. What’s not to like? He’s a personal makeup artist, not going to steal a heterosexual man from me, and a great cook, like I said, a BFF.

He frowns and the eyebrow with the stud and the gold ring goes up a notch. I thought you were doing that dental shoot today. What happened? he asks and sits at the small table in the kitchen.

Brittany, I say.

Oh, he says and rolls his eyes, heavily coated with mascara.

I was thinking of making a toaster pastry, I say. Can I fix you something?

Tell you what, girlfriend, he says, I’ll whip us up some café con leché and you work on one of those disgusting pop up sugary things for both of us, he says as he walks to the door.

Minutes later we’re huddled over brown sugar and cinnamon pastries and sipping espresso with steamed milk.

Okay, what happened? he asks.

I’ve brushed my teeth five times since I left the shoot, or should I say, since they threw me out?

You got canned? he asks and gasps theatrically.

Very funny, I say and dunk my pastry into his coffee.

Why the excessive dental hygiene? he asks as he nibbles his pastry.

Because someone got me to chew trick gum that made my teeth black, I say. How do they look? I ask and give him a toothy grin.

Luis laughs and chokes on crumbs. I pat him on the back as he sips coffee and tries to catch his breath.

It’s not funny! I say.

Anyone get it on film this time? he asks.

No, at least I don’t think they did, I say uncertainly.

That’s too bad, but don’t worry, he says, "You’re still the queen of funny Youtube videos. I understand your Toilet-Seat-Stuck-on-My- Ass While I’m Stuck in the Revolving Door is a classic right up there with The Skateboarding Granny or the Banjo Playing Cat."

You don’t think the news footage of me hanging upside down from a hot air balloon while flipping off the local news crew was good? I ask.

It’s definitely Oscar material, but the revolving door scene will always be the mark that others strive to reach, he says.

You’re just saying that because you played a supporting role, I say.

Well, be that as it may, he says. At least we have the gig with Ida to see us through until we can find meaningful employment in the exciting world of high fashion...

What the hell are you talking about pardner? I ask suspiciously. Have you been talking to Ma Grolsch?

Of course, he says. She phoned right after you left her this morning and hired me over the phone. We’re going to accompany Luther and the old gringos he’s transporting to the Sunshine State.

What’s this, WE? I ask. How did she know I was going to get fired and would be needing a job?

Luis looks at me in a meaningful way.

I’m getting too predictable, I say and push another toaster pastry down in the slot.

She kind of figured things might not go well at the shoot, Luis says. You’ve got to hand it to her, she knows you pretty well... not as well as her son does...

Alright, alright, you don’t have to go any farther with that, I say. I’ll start packing. Did she say when we have to leave and speaking of leaving, why did she hire you?

The way Ida explained it, Luis says, rubs his ear and adds, loudly as usual, we’re going to Key West and there’s a large gay community there so I may come in handy since I can move among them without being noticed.

Old gringos, you say?

Two of them, he says.

Are they gay I ask.

He shrugs and says, I don’t know.

Why was Luther so upset about taking this job? I ask. He’s not homophobic.

You can ask him that on the way to Florida, Luis says. Apparently we’re driving because the old guys don’t want to fly.

Great, a road trip with two geezers, I say.

You’ll have Luther and me to keep you company, Luis says brightly.

––––––––

I dial Ida’s number and she answers on the third ring. Annie, what a nice surprise, she says. Did you reconsider?

You old fraud, I think to myself. Yes, I lie, I decided not to do the shoot. I think I need a nice long and relaxing road trip. I hear you want me to help Luther and Luis deliver two elderly men to Florida.

That’s right, she says. It’s not very exciting, but it pays well.

I’m curious, I say. Why can’t Luther do this alone or with the help of Luis? Why does it take three of us to deliver these two men?

There’s a pause and I can picture Ida,