Read The Devil and Danielle Webster Online

Authors: Cynthia Cross

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Humor & Satire, #General Humor

The Devil and Danielle Webster

BOOK: The Devil and Danielle Webster
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The Devil and Danielle Webster

By Cynthia Cross

 

Copyright
2014

To
Stella

Chapter 1 – Regarding Hot
Sauce and Contracts

 

 

Blame it on the infernal heat of an Arizona summer
night.  Blame it on the summer solstice.  Blame it on the Sun Devil
Motel’s clanking window air conditioner.  Blame it on the
repellently-named town of Bullhead City.  Blame it on insomnia, or blame
it on the lack of a bar.  Blame it on my boss’s incessant text messaging
and her addiction to The Wrong Men.  Better yet, blame it on the bottle of
hot sauce I found behind the motel desk counter, because the trouble started
right there.  To be frank, I’ll blame all of these factors before I blame
my own bad choices. They combined to make me fair game for a soft-spoken
hustler with legendary sales skills.

I’d driven up from Phoenix to obtain a signature as a favor
to Jill, my boss.  Jill’s a lawyer specializing in wills, and she has
clients who represent Arizona’s “old money” throughout the state.  She
also handles divorces, which is how I met her six years ago.  She handled
mine, became a friend, and then more recently, offered me a job as her
assistant when I left teaching due to a massive case of special
ed
burnout.  After dealing
with high
schoolers
whose intent was to disrupt
class, run to the bathroom and the nurse incessantly, and learn as little as
they possibly could while sitting their butts resentfully in resource classes
for four years, I found chatting with 90-year-olds who wanted to change their
beneficiaries wonderfully refreshing. 

Road construction had slowed my drive so much that a return
trip was impossible that day.  Not only that, but the car’s AC showed
alarming signs of quitting on me. 

I texted Jill to let her know about my
delay.
 


still
in
bc
” 
“traffic bad road construction”  “got Foster sig”  “ok to stay
overnight?”

Her response was immediate.   “
can
you get back by noon?” 


will
try” “may need ac serviced”
“can I put motel
rm
on company credit card?”


ok
cheap if possible” was her
final text.

Hah—BC.  If only it were British Columbia.  I’ll
bet they didn’t have triple digit temps going right now.

“Welcome to the Hotel Bullhead City” I sang as I pulled up
to a stucco building glowing pink in the afternoon sun.  “Mirrors on the
ceiling…your diet Coke on ice…” 
Sun Devil Motel
blinked
sporadically on the neon sign.

I knew better than to text Josh.  Before getting the
room, I called his house.  Of course no one answered.  They screen
everything with an antiquated 1980’s-era answering machine, which allows you 30
seconds.  I tend to explain, justify, and ramble, so the machine was
always hanging up on me.  But that was in keeping with my annoying
ex-husband.  Receiving Josh’s terse, “We can’t come to the phone right
now.  Leave a message after the beep,” I said, “Josh, Leann, I need your
help.  I’m stuck in Bullhead City,
it’s
4 PM, can
you keep the kids for the night?”

Amazingly, Josh picked up.  “Danielle, we just can’t do
that,” he said repressively. 

“Why not?”

“Leann and I have plans tonight.”

“Can’t you include the kids in your plans?”

“Not really.”

“Why, what are you doing?”

“It’s really not your business, but Leann and I are going
out to dinner. 
To a nice restaurant.”


Eyerolls
are lost on you, Josh,
so it’s just as well I’m 250 miles away.  Can you get the kids some McDonalds,
then, and leave them to babysit themselves?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Danielle.”

“Well, I’m four hours away, so
try
to think positive.  You know Mike is old enough now to babysit.” 

“A kid of thirteen with a girlfriend is not a reliable babysitter.”

“Well, what do you suggest?”

“Can’t they stay at your mom’s?”

“We’ve had this discussion.  Children are not allowed
overnight at her senior home.  You know that.”

“She could babysit them at your house, couldn’t she?”

“Josh, you know
Evie
by now. 
She is not going to agree to that for more than an hour or two.  It puts
too much of a cramp in her social life.  Besides, you’d have to drive her
over.”

That shut him up fast.  Mom’s ability to tell people
off is legendary, and she had a special grievance against Josh, whom she blamed
for the divorce, no matter how many times I told her I was the one who had
called it quits.  When
Evie
was in Josh’s
company, she chewed on him like a dog chews on a rawhide stick.

It took some argument and arm-twisting, but finally I gained
his grudging consent to keep Mike, Emmy and Carter until I could get back into
town.

Mom was next on the list to call.  She declined to
text, saying that if anyone wanted to reach her they would have to give her
their undivided attention.  Texting was for
multitaskers
,
and Mom felt multitasking was inherently dishonest.

“Pshaw,” was her reaction.  “It’ll do Josh good to take
care of his own kids for once.  Leann might even lift a finger, though I
doubt she will.  She’s never had kids of her own, so she’s lazy.”

“Mom,” I protested, laughing, “Careful.  Don’t say that
around Patty.  She hasn’t had kids, and she’s one of the hardest-working
people I know.”

“You be careful yourself.  Anything can happen in a
place named Bullfrog City.  I have a bad feeling about this.  What is
Jill thinking, sending you up there?”

“It’s Bullhead City, Mom.”  Mom had a good grasp of
geography, but she was a recent transplant from Chicago to Phoenix, and she
wasn’t sure she wanted to stay, especially now that the summer was here. 
Mom had tried scolding the hot climate into better behavior, but so far it
hadn’t worked. 

“Jill’s client could have faxed his signature,” I admitted,
“but I really just wanted to get out of town for the day.”

“I can understand that.  It’s still 107 degrees!” she
said indignantly.

“It isn’t much better up here,” I reported.  “Last I
checked
,
my car was registering 103.”

“Next time,” she said crisply, “volunteer to drive someplace
cool.”

“Like Schaumburg?” I suggested. 

Mom had moved here from Schaumburg, Illinois, mainly because
living in California, where Patty lived, was too expensive.  She had tried
scolding California into less sinful prices, but that hadn’t worked,
either.  Mom had stopped wasting her breath trying to bully either Patty
or me into moving back to the Midwest, contenting herself with guilt trips and
tears whenever we visited.  As the meeker of the two daughters, I had
suggested that she move to Arizona. 

My reward was to see
Evie
Webster
triumphantly leading the bridge group at Friendship Town, the senior apartments
where she now lived, and going out on dates with nice gentlemen regularly, a
far busier social life than I could claim. 

She was also a frequent flyer at Northern Lights Lutheran
Church, as well, which (thank heaven)
was
only a few
blocks away from Friendship Town.  The prayer chain met two mornings a
week, and luckily, Mom got rides from Sonja, a member of the group.  Mom
called her “the weakest link” behind her back, because Sonja had once been
charismatic,
and still talked self-importantly about her
foray into speaking in tongues, something Mom didn’t hold with at all.  “
Glossolalia
,” she said contemptuously, “can’t be anything
decent.  It sounds obscene.”  That, to
Evie
,
was a clinching argument. 

Jill lived fairly close, and was good-natured enough to
ferry Mom to and from choir practice most Wednesdays.  Mom thought Jill
was a dear, and prayed for Jill’s redemption from her wicked ways
nightly.  That was sufficient recompense; it did not occur to Mom to offer
gas money.  Jill laughed it off, saying, “You and Patty are lucky to have
Evie
.” 
Maybe.

Speaking of Jill, though she didn’t like talking on the
phone, I was going to call her anyway.  Her excuse was that she did too
much phone-calling as part of her workday.  She wanted to enjoy her
evenings without interruptions.  She didn’t consider men who were clearly
Bad News interruptions.  Same went for texts.  Well, too bad.  I
was already feeling lonely, and it was her damned client who was responsible
for my being stuck here.  I called Jill.  It went through to her
voicemail.  “Damn you,” I said conversationally.  “I’ll send you a
text.”

A few hours later, the heat had barely lessened, though the
sun was setting.  My room had a cute little balcony with chairs, but with
temperatures still hovering near triple digits, I wasn’t tempted.  The
deserted pool looked badly in need of a cleaning.  Cable options were
limited.  I dozed over Emmy’s paperback copy of The Hunger Games until I
startled myself awake with my own snores.  Dinner, a western burger made
with limp bacon from the diner across the street, rested fitfully in my
stomach. 

Well, the bed looked fairly comfortable.  But even
sleep provided no respite from boredom.  I battle insomnia even under the
best of circumstances, which these weren’t. 

And so, after a fruitless struggle to remain asleep, I found
myself in the deserted motel lobby at 1 AM, sporting a stained
teeshirt
and ancient cutoffs, flipping through brochures for
tourist destinations I would never visit.  As I stared at a photo of Ham
the Space Chimp, whose grave could be visited in Alamogordo, New Mexico, I
absently nibbled the rubbery cold remains of a large order of fries.  Ham
the Space Chimp looked suitably mournful. 

“I wonder if there’s any ketchup,” I said, barely noticing
I’d said it aloud and shoveling another fry into my mouth.  I studied the
front desk.  Maybe a few stray packets of ketchup could be found somewhere
behind that counter?  I got up and ambled behind the desk. 
Wow.  No ketchup packets, but sitting prominently in the corner was a
large bottle of hot sauce. 

Doug used to put hot sauce on his French fries.  Like
many of his habits, I now found this deplorable.  How long had it been
since I’d seen my old boyfriend?  Two decades? 
That,
and more.  We’d had little in common beyond a mutual enjoyment of my
urgent desire for him.  I had found Doug Morris irresistible; I’d stumbled
through five years on legs wobbly with lust, but I’d called it love.

In retrospect, it was easy to feel contempt for him. 
He never brushed his teeth that I could detect.  His idea of humor was to
repeat his favorite lines from Saturday Night Live, followed by hearty
laughter.  I knew he could read; I caught him scanning “Field &
Stream” once.  He once bought a three-piece suit made entirely of
denim.  Worse, his best friend had bought the identical suit.  They
wore their matching suits for years, for every blasted wedding we attended
while all our friends were getting married.  Everyone got married. 

Except for us.
 

While we were together, I could not disdain him.  That
came later, a “fox and grapes” reflex.  No, I was the one always on
probation, acceptable, but barely, always wondering when he would move on to a
thinner girl, a prettier girl, a girl who would make heads turn and inspire his
friends’ envy.  Doug Morris could have upgraded to a flashier model at any
time. 

In my eyes, he was a Norse god.  His hair was blond,
his eyes were green, his frame was muscled from fishing, hunting, and working
on cars.  His only blemish was a paunch that attested to his affection for
beers and prime rib.  I didn’t mind that; it proved he wasn’t perfect and
therefore attainable, maybe; maybe even by me.   

The breakup, though I’d always expected it, traumatized me
for years.  It caused me to jump at my first proposal and rush into an
ill-conceived marriage, which ended in divorce six years ago.  But now, I
had kids, pets, a decent job, a paid-off house, and a sense of gratitude for
being left alone.  I was over men. 
Most of the
time.
 

That included Doug Morris, despite my continuing to brood
about him late at night.  I had taken to nursing my grievances about him
when I couldn’t sleep.  At least it kept me from thinking about Josh and
the divorce.   Late nights had been the times I’d attracted Doug
Morris most successfully. 

At this moment, in a boring godforsaken motel, I looked down
at Ham the Space Chimp, but my mind was on Doug.  My voice echoed in the
tiny motel lobby and I realized I’d said aloud: “Geez, I wish I had Doug Morris
here with me for just one night of passion.”

What happened next truly happened, surreal as it
seems. 

I must have picked up the hot sauce, as it was in my
hand.  I must have unscrewed the lid.  Fumes rose up, making my eyes
water so badly that I couldn’t see for a moment.  The smell seemed off to
me, reminding me not of Mexican food, but of…what? 
Sulfur?
 
This had to be the new “Seventh Circle of Hell” hot sauce. 

I heard a POP.  As the smoke cleared I wiped my eyes
and became aware that I was no longer alone in the room.

A nondescript man was standing behind the front desk,
looking damp.  As I watched in fascination, steam rose from him.  I
could see, as if in time-lapse photography, liquid evaporate from his head and
clothing in an instant. 

He looked up, caught me in the act of staring, stretched
hugely, and said with great politeness, “Thanks for that.”

“For what?”
I said, confused. 

“For opening that bottle.
 
I’ve been stuck there for a good three weeks.” 

BOOK: The Devil and Danielle Webster
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