Back to that novel of mine. Revisions are still underway, thought you’d like to see what I am up to with Slippery Slope. [remember, this is original fiction. Your ideas for improvement are greatly appreciated]
“I storm out of Steve’s driveway, backing the Odyssey out while punching in Joe’s number. He picks up on the first ring.
“Hi, sweetie. How are things going? Make it to Pat Cooper’s office?”
“Pat? Who?” I narrow my eyes.
“You know. The message. This morning. Mystery shopper.”
“Oh…yeah,” I feign recognition. “Just leaving his office now.” I look to the homes lining the streets, big and new. Not Pat Cooper’s office. “Listen, I need to pop in to Target for a minute. Madi needs some Pull-Ups.”
“Okay. Don’t worry about us. We’re heading to the hardware store after we finish at the park. Love ya, hon!”
“Joe, you have no idea how much I love you.” I say and I mean it.
I hear a smile on the end of the phone, “I think I do.”
Pat Cooper’s office is located in an old Victorian in downtown Waubonsee, across from the train tracks and not too far from this new restaurant, Cress Creek Bistro. I’ll have to talk to Joe about going there sometime.
I park and walk onto the porch. Hanging baskets display colorful pansies and foliage, a spray of spring flowers hangs from the door in a tin bucket. Did I do that? I shuffle my feet on the floor mat, the wrap-around porch pristine and orderly. I know he’s here. Pat lives in the upstairs apartment. I ring the doorbell and wait.
Pat opens the door slowly, a precaution being a Saturday and then sticks his head out. “Annie!”
I nod and tip my shoulders. “Pat, hi. I got your message. We were out last night.”
“Yes, yes. I spoke with your babysitter. Come on in.” He steps aside and allows me to enter. Such the gentleman.
He ushers me to a small alcove to the right. A majestic Victorian desk takes up the space, a stained glass window behind him. He points to a chair, “Sit, please.”
I do, crossing my legs. My flats don’t compare to anything Jackie would wear. He pulls a slim portfolio from a drawer and slides it across the desk. “Here’s your report from the other day, Annie. And your check.”
Pat Cooper leans back in his chair, “Annie, you do good work. Your reports are always carefully done, great attention to detail. You really have an eye for decorating.”
If you only knew, Pat Cooper. I think of what Jackie said just hours ago. Gifted with art. Psychotic depression. A break. I spread my lips into a tight smile.
“We read your report to the president of the company. He loved it,” and then he looks down at his desk, fiddling with a paperweight. “But, we didn’t show them your video.”
“Oh,” I say. “You didn’t need it.”
“More like didn’t want it.”
“I don’t understand,” I re-cross my legs and lean forward.
“Annie, I am not sure who you were with that day, but your commentary was completely inappropriate.”
“It was—oh, how do I say this,” he steeples his hands in front of his face. “The audio picked up a lot of personal discussion.”
“Really,” I shake my head. “I wonder if there was some interference with the audio equipment?”
He pushes himself away from the desk. “I’d show it to you, but I think it would embarrass you.”
I think I know what’s happened, but I don’t want to offer any explanation. I just play dumb. “Can I make it up to you somehow?”
“No, I don’t think that will be necessary. You aren’t who I thought you were, that’s all,” he shakes his head.
“I see.” I consider explaining myself, but since I am unaware of what that audio tape holds, I keep mum.
“You’ll be happy to know we fired the Tricia Peterson, the saleswoman at Grande Pointe Lake. She should have gone with you into the models, she shouldn’t have put any bias on you about what model she likes best, and well, there were a lot of other things, too. You did your job. And that’s all we can really ask. But Annie, I am this is the last time you will be doing a mystery shop for us.”
The words attack my gut, a blow to my confidence. M Y S T E R Y. Last time. My mouth goes dry.
Pat Cooper continues, “I operate a wholesome business here, even though it seems somewhat deceptive. I need good people. You’re good—you know design, you’re professional—most of the time. This time, you screwed up, bringing a boyfriend along.”
I close my eyes and lean back in the chair. I shake my head, “It’s been a rough time lately. I could explain, but you’d have a hard time believing me,” I reach for my check. “Thank you, Pat. It’s been nice working with you.”
He stands and walks me to the door. He reaches forward and pats me on the back. “You’re good people, Annie. I won’t hold this against you.”
The door clicks behind me.