Bearclaw at the Coffeecaker

by J. B. Bergstad

Bear-Claw at the CoffeeCaker

J. B. Bergstad

The plate glass window facing Venice Boulevard rattled. A second gust of wind sent a shudder through it, the sound like someone shaking a piece of sheet metal. The big man at the counter turned toward the noise. A flurry of fat rain drops added to the glass' warble. In the quiet of the CoffeeCaker the furious clatter sounded like a handful of BB pellets thrown against a barn wall.

The man shook his bushy head. His hair looked wild and coarse, its color neither black nor brown, but something in between. A full beard covered his face. Tangled and wilder than his hair, the combination gave him the look of an unattended bougainvillea sans flowers.

"Partly cloudy with sunshine in the afternoon my ass. So much for Good Morning L.A. and their weather person," he mumbled into his coffee cup.

A bellow of wind and drumming of rain shook the window again. A phone trilled in the back office of the coffee shop. After three irritating yodel like sounds it stopped. The big man straightened against the short back of the counter stool. He rotated his head in a slow circle and then rolled his huge shoulders and yawned.

He wore a black Maxwell its color faded by years of use. Under the overcoat a bright orange sweatshirt covered his massive torso. Faded Levis and well worn Pipe Dragon pull-on hiking boots completed his foul weather dress.

A belch produced a sting of acid in his throat. Despite the indigestion he wished for another pastry. He sighed instead and leaned forward for a sip of coffee.

Fingernails rapped on the cash register in front of him. The big man smiled beneath his hairy foliage. He'd heard her approach. A whisper of nylon and the faint swish and thump of the kitchen's caf door gave her away.

Eyes down he picked up his spoon and swirled the strong coffee in his cup. "It's the rain," he said and reached for the creamer.

"What do you think...it's never rained before?" Nancy's voice dripped with victimized sarcasm. "Rain has nothing to do with it. It's tax time, dammit. I don't suppose you worry about stuff like that, but people get tight with a buck around April fifteenth."

"Look on the bright side," he smirked. "Summer's almost here. Your customers will take off on vacation and forget the IRS. Then you can go broke for real and take bankruptcy."

"Yeah, whatever. Don't let nobody get at the register will you? I've got to go to the can."

"Don't worry, Nance. I'll guard your fortune with my life miserable though it might be."

Nancy Twigly slapped Lincoln Pascoe's hhand. "Shamaz switched your stuff again; you've got the sweetener, sorry babe."

Lincoln heard a smile in Nancy's voice.

"The Mad Syrian's still pissed. You shouldn't have slammed the cash drawer on his hand. You busted his finger you know."

Pascoe looked in Nancy's direction. His cat's-eye green irises seemed almost alive. "He shouldn't put his fingers in your cash drawer...not when you're in back."

Nancy was rearranging the sugar butler. The sound reminded Pascoe of a dancer performing a soft-shoe on sand. He flinched when her fingernails combed through his coarse, wavy hair. "You're getting shaggy. I'll have to take you to the back

office pretty soon...be right back."

"Better pick your words, Nance. What'll the customers think?" Lincoln listened to the soft wisp of Nancy's nyloned thighs as she walked away. "Yeah, right blinky," he grumbled, "shit." Pascoe picked at his beard and pushed away the resentment of his handicap.

A clattering racket came from the kitchen. Shamaz is taking his frustrations out on the flatware again, he shook his head. The little bastard's lucky. At least he can see the source of his aggravation. Lincoln felt the old, wild anger bubbling up. A gritty pressure pushed at the back of his dead eyes. Three years, he thought. I should be used to this blind shit by now. Self-pity stomped its way through his head and tears spilled from his right eye. "Fuck," he spit the word knowing he sat alone at the counter, but not really caring if he didn't.

Lincoln lifted the frames of his Photochromatic glasses and dabbed at his right eye. "Can't even make tears in both eyes," he whispered. "Jesus, I hate this crap."

"Hey, Pascoe. My coffee can't be that bad...you okay?"

Lincoln's head jerked in the direction of Nancy's voice. "What? Now you're sneaking up on me?" He heard Nancy's fingernails tapping at the register again. He knew her nervous habits as well as he knew his own.

"You must've been elsewhere. I don't catch you that often. What's going on, you got something against my haircuts?" She said.

"My eye leaks once in a while, that's all."

More dishes crashed and rattled. The kitchen radio's volume cranked up. Pascoe sucked on his lower lip. He tasted bear-claw icing on the bristle of his beard.

Nancy sighed. "Ah, shit. The sooner the better I guess. Watch the register, babe. I'm going to fire the Mad Syrian."

A Mideastern instrumental, sharp flutes and ear grinding strings, vibrated through the coffee shop. What the hell's going on, Pascoe wondered. Nance firing Shamaz...not because of the cash drawer incident, he hoped.

Guilt gnawed at Lincoln's conscience. He slurped his coffee and remembered his past foibles. He was wild and full of anger in those days. The bitterness and frustration hit him like a three hundred pound lineman. The cold coffee only exacerbated the sting.

At least then I could see who was fucking with me, he ground his teeth in memory. At least then I could see the opposition...

***

Hector Salvador Dominguez saved Lincoln Pascoe from prison. Coach Dom talked him into trying out for the high school football team. At the time the big, muscular kid struggled, clinging to last place in scholastics. In the stomping ass category, however, no one disputed his rep as the number one guy on campus. Coach Dom said, "If you play football for me, you can hit people all you want. You just gotta hit clean, okay?" Lincoln

Pascoe fell in love with football.

Thanks to his passion for the game he was forced to study. Lincoln discovered he enjoyed the process of learning. He possessed a quick intelligence that encouraged and fed his open, probing curiosity. Pascoe earned a football scholarship to USC.

In his senior year USC's coaching staff made book on Lincoln's ranking in the draft. To everyone's surprise the big defensive linebacker didn't get the call. He found out later his notoriety scared the pros. They feared Pascoe's well earned wild man reputation.

Lincoln didn't give a shit what the NFL thought. At six three and two hundred seventy eight pounds he maintained a five percent body fat ratio. He moved with an uncanny speed, like a roadrunner stalking a sidewinder. Lincoln could feint and turn in the open field, like a fleeing cottontail.

Canadian football wanted him. Before the NFL could change its mind the Vancouver Eagles snapped him up. Big bucks and an off-season home in Los Angeles sealed the deal.

Pascoe proved just as devastating in pro football as he'd been in college. During his first game a commentator dubbed him The Mortar Man. When Lincoln Pascoe hit people they just blew the hell up. The crazy linebacker sold tickets faster than the Eagles could get them printed.

Four wild years screamed by and Pascoe lived each one over the edge. He had money to burn. He swam in booze. Though offered other mind altering substances he found the good sense to turn them down.

Women were a far more stimulating high. He had them all. Every shape, size and proclivity. A month prior to the start of his fifth season, Pascoe's wild life came to a screeching halt.

The Mortar Man, with several teammates and guests, were on a preseason, bar hopping fling. With a woman on each arm, Pascoe walked into West Hollywood's Viper Room. He was stopped cold in the foyer. Lincoln Pascoe found himself face to face with the infamous Alyssa Bienbleu. The renowned twenty-year-old model had the face of Claudia Schiffer and the body of Heidi Klum. Lincoln Pascoe fell in love hard, fast, and he was sure, for good.

Older teammates offered their advice. The model, they warned, only loved The Life. Lincoln's ego said his teammates were nuts. Alyssa loved the big, handsome, linebacker, tough guy.

For seven months following their wedding, Lincoln's assessment of his new wife's motives proved unshakable. Then, Pascoe experienced his first taste of bad luck. A shattered ankle, coupled with severe ligament and muscle damage, led to three surgeries. The surgeries required months of rehab. The hoped for results failed to materialize. Medicine's inability to cure brought with it the ultimate cataclysm; no contract renewal.

Lincoln had no idea what came next. He'd blown most of his money on bullshit. He still had his youth and his overall health remained excellent. Above all, he had his Liberal Arts degree. Maybe the time had come to make use of his education, he thought.

Driving home from a physical therapy session Pascoe decided he might give law school a try. Alyssa wasn't ready to start a family, she said. She wanted a few more years of modeling. He couldn't argue with the money factor. Why the hell not, Lincoln thought?

From the garage he limped into the kitchen. His excitement was building and he wondered what time Alyssa would get home. He wanted to run law school by his wife. The sooner the better, he decided. Maybe I can even manage Alyssa's career. Lincoln chuckled as he entered the dining room. He could picture himself negotiating contracts for his Super Model wife.

"God, I hope she comes home sober," he murmured.

He was thinking of the wrap parties and how crazy they got sometimes and then his eyes focused. Lincoln's concern, as well as his ideas and enthusiasm for a new career, crumbled. Bare walls and empty carpet greeted The Mortar Man.

The quiet house seemed like something out of a drunken dream, the bare walls and empty floors mocked him. Lincoln found himself in the bedroom and reality hit home with a vengeance. The big walk-in closet was empty. Her clothes, shoes and the mink thongs she giggled into every day...gone.

The wall safe gaped at Pascoe from the back of the room. A tiny bluish light winked as if the yawning steel mouth had a funny joke to share. Alyssa's seven, five caret diamond tennis bracelets, one each to match the karma of her cycles, were gone, too.

His dreams of an athletic career were destroyed. Now a new career, filled with promise and the love of his beautiful wife, was nothing more than a nightmare. His brother footballers were right all along. Alyssa Bienbleu loved The Life, nothing more.

Pascoe spent a month living on Black Jack and peanuts. He had enough sense to drink and hang with his former teammates. They stopped his fights before he killed somebody. Finally, enough was enough. Several heavy attitude sessions with his former linebacker coach helped Lincoln get his head screwed on straight. He tapered off the booze and started thinking about his future again.

One Sunday night he sat alone entertaining a ten ounce steak. Two men approached his table. The smaller of the two extended his hand. Pascoe's eyes locked on the platinum Rolex Chronograph and then the man's diamond pinky ring.

The Caliph introduced himself. Bertram Caliph operated Caliph Custom Limos. The flamboyant entrepreneur was looking for a front man, someone hard and tough enough to back it up. The Caliph maintained a select clientele, some famous, some infamous. His choice of associate would have to be a tactful, low key, classy type neck breaker.

The Caliph smiled, "I need a savvy individual. A man who can wear a tux or get his hands dirty. I need a man willing to work beside us in the shop when necessary. I've heard you might be that man, yes or no?"

Pascoe's finances left a lot to be desired. He grabbed the job. Maybe I'll meet a few of the right people, he fantasized, get a shot at the movies. Six months later, as Pascoe helped out in the shop, an arc welding machine went berserk. Lincoln Pascoe went blind.

Bertram Caliph had been nursing along a defective arc welder. The manufacturer, a major conglomerate, was stonewalling its end of the warranty. The Caliph's disregard of safety and the manufacturer's defect did not bode well for the corporate world nor The Caliph and his Hollywood money machine.

One of The Caliph's clients, a well connected attorney, liked Lincoln Pascoe. He'd watched the brash, no fear, wild man play football. Herman Gold entrusted his family to Lincoln's care on many occasions. Gold, Stahl and Brun filed the lawsuit. The insurance carriers settled before the ink dried on the filing stamp. Lincoln Pascoe put ten point seven million in his piggy bank.

The results of the lawsuits were the bright side of Pascoe's misfortune. The Canadian footballer left the courtroom one rich son-of-a-bitch, with the emphasis on son-of-a-bitch. Pascoe despised his luck and he cursed the nihility of his visual world.

Lincoln refused all offers of help and rehab. He bought a building in Venice, a Hail Mary pass from the beach. While the top two floors were refurbished, Pascoe felt sorry for himself.

He worked through his funk buying the finest in furniture and accoutrements. With that accomplished, Lincoln outfitted the condo for sightless living. The finality of that step helped Lincoln Pascoe face his reality. He began blind rehab The Mortar Man way, he hit it hard and blew it to hell and gone.

On his first neighborhood walk Pascoe literally stumbled into the CoffeeCaker Coffee Shop. Why the big plate glass window failed to shatter remained a mystery. Being his first good luck since the arc welder accident, Lincoln wondered if it might be an omen.

Nancy Twigly, lessee and operator of the establishment, guided Lincoln into the coffee shop. Seating him at the end of the lunch counter she poured a cup of coffee. "You do have seventy five cents don't you?" She said in a tired voice.

Lincoln dug in his pocket and found some paper. Nancy snagged a dollar bill from the crumpled mass he held out. He heard her punch the keys of the cash register and snap a quarter on the countertop.

Pascoe's beard had only begun to mature and so his smile was visible. Nancy Twigly shook her head and muttered, "You've got to be the dumbest asshole I've ever seen. What's with the walking around blind as a damn bat? You trying to get yourself killed?"

Two and a half years later Lincoln Pascoe still indulged in a daily stroll through the neighborhood. He arrived within ten minutes of nine fifteen each morning. His end of the counter always stood empty and waiting. The limited counter area proved a perfect fit for Lincoln's needs. He managed his small territory proficiently.

Presiding opposite the cash register, he enjoyed his morning bear-claw and coffee. In the process, Lincoln savored Nancy Twigly's daily bitching, more so as time passed. The CoffeeCaker's sporadic customer base never realized the big, rumpled man with the wild hair and beard couldn't see.

***

Voices, raised over the din of the radio, broke into Pascoe's daydream. A dish shattered and then another.

"Shamaz. Stop it. I'll take it out of your paycheck."

Lincoln had never heard Nancy sound so pissed.

"You take nothing, bitch. You fire me because blind guy say I'm a thief. I'm no thief. I sue you, bitch." Shamaz screamed the final words.

Nancy screamed right back. "You put that down, you little shit. Put it down now or I'll beat your ass. Get out. Take you're fucking money and get out of my kitchen."

Lincoln stood and shrugged out of the Maxwell. It dropped over the back of the counter stool.

"I go you damn bitch, but I don't forget. You remember. I don't forget." Shamaz's voice had a low, menacing edge. The tone of threat carried from the kitchen. Pascoe didn't like what he heard. As he moved around the counter he heard the back door slam and then Nancy's sharp voice.

"Pascoe, stop. Stop. Your boot's caught on the register cord. Don't move." Nancy's hands gripped his arm.

"You're supposed to tape electrical cords down, Twigly. I'm going to report you to the SPCBS."

Nancy turned him around. "What the hell are you doing behind my counter? Blind guys aren't supposed to wander around. What the hell is the SPC"whatever? Sit."

"You've never heard of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Blind Superheroes? Hey, listen. I don't want to mess in your business, but I didn't like the way the kitchen talk

sounded. What's up? You didn't fire Shamaz on my account, I hope."

Nancy didn't answer. Lincoln knew she was close, he could smell her. He heard a soft sniffle and she cleared her throat. "Don't flatter yourself. Blind superhero, my ass. You're more like a blind bullshitter."

Pascoe heard the catch. "Okay, Nance. I'm blind, but I ain't the local tackling dummy. Why the tears? Did that little prick hurt you?"

Nancy moved away. Lincoln heard the rustle of her clothing and he no longer had her scent. From behind the counter her voice sounded weak. "Fuck off, Pascoe. Shamaz couldn't hurt me on his best day. I'm.... I'm not used to big, blind, bums trying to save my ass that's all."

Lincoln heard the scuff of paper napkins. Nancy sighed. "Talk about hating this shit? I'm closing my doors. How's that for summer vacation bankruptcy? The Syrian had to go. I owe back rent. The bank called this morning. They declined my loan application, thank you very much. I guess it's back to what I do best."

Pascoe fumbled, searching for something to do with his hands. "Okay. I'm not thrilled you're closing up, but you got another line of work, right? I hope it's something you enjoy."

Lincoln silently cursed himself. Lame...you are so lame. She's losing her dream like you lost yours. Jesus, you're smooth, Pascoe.

Lincoln sat and wiped a hand through his beard. "What did you do before you opened The CoffeeCaker, Nance?"

He heard the catch in her voice again. "You don't want to know what I did. I don't want to know myself. The problem is we all got to eat, right? Watch the register I'll be right back."

Pascoe heard the kitchen's caf door swish and thump. Off to the ladies room again, he thought. She doesn't want me to know how bad she's hurting.

"Goddamnit. This shit shouldn't happen to good people." He hated the sound of defeat in his voice. A flash of rage threw the disillusionment away. Pascoe doubled his fist and then realized he couldn't see who or what to hit.

Lincoln turned on the stool sensing his surroundings. He knew he was alone. The CoffeeCaker occupied half the ground floor of a four storied office building. Three blocks away Pascoe's building and penthouse apartment gave him an ocean's panorama he couldn't see.

For a long while he'd fumbled his way from home to this little piece of lunch counter. He'd spent hundreds of quiet morning hours with Twigly. From the beginning he knew they had one thing in common, they were both alone. Later he sensed they shared something more significant, they each mourned the loss of a dream.

Lincoln had tripped over curbs and cracks in the sidewalk. He'd fallen too many times to count. He'd cut and bruised himself from knees to nose, but his bullheadedness paid off. Pascoe's mind compensated for his lack of sight. His taste, feel, smell, auditory stimulus...all had increased dramatically.

More importantly, Twigly had become a trusted friend. He found himself drawn to this hard-nosed woman. She cut him no slack. With the exception of his counter space and stool she gave him no ground. For Lincoln their relationship became a special partnership. He held up his end and mastered his little counter territory well. The Mortar Man took pride in being Twigly's cash register watchdog.

"Listen to yourself. You are one selfish bastard," he muttered. The kitchen door swished and thumped. Lincoln shook his head grumbling as if to himself. "Two years I've banged myself up and now she's closing down. Where am I supposed to get my bear-claw and coffee?"

Lincoln heard Nancy choke and draw a shuddering breath. Though she tried to stifle the sounds, her tears refused to stop. She didn't want him to know, but he did. Pascoe felt like shit. He stood and pulled on his Maxwell.

"That you, Nance? Is it still raining?" He made his voice light, pretending to misinterpret the sounds she made. "You coming down with a cold, Nance? Don't breathe my way please."

Nancy cleared her throat. "I've got two weeks. Don't be a stranger, okay? I'll need the company. Besides, you need a haircut and trim. Now get the hell out of here."

Lincoln Pascoe ducked into the misting rain. He headed in the direction of his building. "God, what a shame."

He jammed his hands in the pockets of the Maxwell. Nancy worked her ass off. Another dream floundering. Another last hope wasting itself on real life. "There must be something," he murmured.

Under his wild, tangled beard a slow grin twitched and grew. Nancy always treated him with respect. Yet she thought of him as a down and outer...homeless. He knew she imagined him living in doorways. The Mortar Man wondered what he could do. Probably nothing, he mused. Nancy Twigly wouldn't take charity. Independent came to mind when Pascoe thought of her. He'd make a few phone calls anyway. Lincoln thought he knew what her former occupation entailed.

"I'll bet you got top dollar just like me."

Someone passing on the sidewalk said, "What?"

Lincoln Pascoe kept his head down. He mumbled and ranted just loud enough to be heard. The tactic worked wonders.

***

Nancy stood at a corner of the CoffeeCaker's plate-glass window. She stared at the sun dappled street as the day's shadows lengthened and the minutes ticked away. Normally busy, Venice Boulevard looked naked and cold despite the warming trend that began the previous Sunday. Cars flashed by in the golden glow of the noon hour. Random breezes threw scraps of paper down the sidewalk. Some tumbled and flew a few feet. One flattened itself against the window and then peeled away and disappeared.

Four days gone and no Pascoe. Nancy frowned. His empty counter stool seemed forlorn...four long days. Nancy had saved his bear-claws, but three were stale. Number four would go that route by the end of the day.

"Cut the sentimental bullshit," she murmured. "What else can I expect from a bum?" She was worried though. She hoped he hadn't been hurt or gotten sick or God knew.... Bums got into all kinds of crap.

Nancy wondered about the bum part. Pascoe looked unkempt with his tangled hair and beard. His clothes always seemed rumpled like he slept in them, but he didn't smell.

Lincoln's smile popped into Nancy's mind. He had the whitest teeth. She thought back over the last couple of years. She couldn't picture him wearing dirty clothes.

Nancy shrugged. "Ask me if I give a shit." She turned from the plate-glass window. "I've got to go to the can." Her voice sounded lonely and hollow in the empty coffee shop.

Nancy unplugged the register. Still, she couldn't help looking back over her shoulder as she entered the kitchen. She felt guilty leaving the machine unattended. "Where the hell did you get to, Pascoe?" Her voice had that cranky sound she hated.

***

The giggling fit began as Twigly worked her pantyhose down. She pictured Shamaz rushing through the front door. She could see the little shit struggle to pick up the register and then run away. Payback, he'd think.

She pulled off a few sheets of paper. "He'd be in for a surprise. Six dollars and eighty eight cents won't buy much payback." Nancy sighed and wiped a tear from her cheek.

She checked herself in the mirror. I still look okay, she thought. At thirty Nancy pushed six foot in low heels. At one time she'd considered modeling. The agencies said her figure didn't compliment present day designs. Too full, they said. Whatever the hell that meant.

Her long legs and small rump were her best physical assets. She couldn't figure people thinking she resembled Bridget Fonda. For one thing her eyes were a cold gray. She'd always hated their color.

Nancy washed her hands. Another act of futility, she thought. In the last four days she'd served seventeen cups of coffee, nine donuts, one grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of water. When she used up the last of her food stock she'd have to close the door. The old life...nothing left but the old life. Nancy Twigly remembered it well.

***

She arrived in The City of the Angels on May 2, 1994. She'd celebrated her eighteenth birthday at the Greyhound bus station in Rock Creek, Wyoming. That was Sunday, April 30th.

She stepped off the bus in L.A. with one carryall and three thousand in cash. She'd worked every job a teenaged girl could find in and around Rock Creek. Several times she'd talked her way into some real lulus. Nancy managed to squirrel away most of her earnings. Not an easy task with two older brothers addicted to cocaine and a mother beaten into submission. After three years of misery, Nancy took her life savings and fled.

Like hundreds of thousands before her she came to find Hollywood. She came to be an actress. She'd done her research. Nancy Twigly might be from Hicksville, Wyoming, but that had nothing to do with her intelligence or persistence. She planned to get a job. She'd join an acting group. Nancy thought Pasadena Playhouse would be just fine.

Outside the bus station she scanned the newspaper racks. She needed an apartment, the cheaper the better, and she needed a job. Nancy knew nothing would come easy. After all it never had. She had no expectations it ever would. She selected a Los Angeles Times. As she straightened someone tapped her on the shoulder.

"Excuse me? Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. You look a little lost. Is this your first time in Los Angeles?"

Twigly looked the man over. He appeared no older than twenty five. He dressed well and seemed polite, but Nancy no longer trusted impressions. Her brothers looked harmless, too. "It's my first trip, but I have relatives here. I'll be staying

with them and I don't need any assistance."

The young man took a step back. "Oh.... Sorry again. I didn't mean to imply that you.... I didn't think you were having trouble. I thought you might need directions that's all. You're very attractive, if you don't mind my saying. Tall, nice posture."

The man reached into his coat and offered Nancy a business card. "My name's David Stockerfield. I'm a talent agent. I represent models, actresses, writers. I even have a couple of painters under my wing."

Nancy looked the man over again before accepting the card. He smiled and nodded his head. "Oh, I know what you're going to say. I'm too young, right? Well, actually I'm thirty two, but don't spread that around. Everyone thinks I'm a boy genius. I run the agency for my dad. He's retired, but he taught me all the tricks. If you're interested in talking give me a call and set an appointment. Bye for now."

Twigly would never forget her first encounter with David Stockerfield. He'd looked so innocent. He acted so well mannered. Four months later, out of work again and down to her last fifty bucks, Nancy called and scheduled the appointment that changed her life.

David Stockerfield Talent Associates occupied a worse for wear building on Harold Way. Nancy had a hard time finding it. Harold Way inhabited a short stretch of asphalt dead-ending at Van Ness and the I-101 freeway. Just off Bronson Avenue, between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, the area inhabitants would be flattered if described as seedy.

She'd set the appointment for one o'clock in the afternoon. Nancy left her apartment at ten that morning. Bus connections and miscues notwithstanding, Twigly entered the dingy vestibule of 5801 Harold Way at twelve forty five.

The roar of traffic on I-101 set up a vibration Nancy could feel in the soles of her shoes. The hallway, dark and stained in places, almost made her turn and bolt. The need for money, however, drove her forward. She found the door marked David Stockerfield Talent, took a deep breath, and entered.

A heavy Asian woman filled a large swivel chair, which in turn filled a cramped corner of the small reception area. Outdoor carpet, a muddy brown color, covered the cement floor. Sparkles glimmered gold and silver on lime green walls. The ceiling held two fluorescent fixtures embedded in acoustic tiles. The vinyl foam squares were stained here and there with old water leaks.

Nancy closed the door. The Asian woman didn't look up from the papers she continued to shuffle around on the desktop. A picture on the wall to her right caught Nancy's attention. A young girl, around Nancy's age, with bright red hair and large green eyes, smiled from a tangle of naked bodies. Twigly's breath caught. What the hell am I getting into? Her panicked brain said run. Her survival instinct said wait...you're broke.

The Asian woman's voice ended the stalemate. "Can I help you, honey?"

Nancy licked her lips. Her mouth felt drier than the dirty sidewalk she'd just traversed. "I'm.... My name's Nancy Twigly. I've got a one o'clock appointment, but I'm not...."

The Asian woman smiled and picked up a pair of half glasses. She sat back and cocked her head and nodded. The chair she surrounded creaked as she leaned forward on gelatinous elbows. "I know, honey. You don't like the looks of this dump or the pictures on the wall. You're thinking you made a big mistake and maybe you should get the hell out of Dodge, right?"

She nodded her fat, flat face. "I know, sweetie. I've seen.... Oh God. Who knows how many youngsters like you. All had that same look on their face."

The heavy woman extended a balloon shaped hand. "I'm Peek." She laughed, a small, dainty sound. "Dave calls me his little Pekinese. He's a cutie, don't you think? I'm the associates of David Stockerfield Talent Associates. Let me tell you, honey. I'm the first hurdle you've got to jump. I don't need my glasses to see you've got it. This dump? Don't let this fool you. We'll show you how to make gobs and gobs of money. We'll keep you safe, and most important, we'll keep you healthy. Have a seat. Nancy is it? You have a seat. Dave is running a little late. Dave is always running late. He likes to talk, but he's the best in the industry, babylamb.... So am I."

It took six years to rid herself of Peek Kawashima and Dave Stockerfield. She made money. She made films that would make the Mitchell brothers blush. As her two year contract came up for automatic recycle Nancy informed Stockerfield Talent she would be moving on.

Dave and Peek were calm and accepting about her decision. This worried Nancy Twigly a great deal. She made Stockerfield Talent a lot of money. Her films ranked among the top five in demand. Her fan mail topped the other stars by the hundreds.

Two months following Peek's tearful goodbye, Dave Stockerfield paid Nancy a visit. He'd heard of her entry into the high-end escort business. "I taught you all you know. Peek and I feel we should have a training percentage. Say fifteen off the top?"

Nancy smiled. "Why don't you and I talk in the bedroom? I think much better lying down...don't you?"

Twigly used the spiked heel of her dressing slipper. She hooked it firmly in Stockerfield's scrotum. With painful tugs for punctuation, she convinced the would-be pimp he should stick to the production of porn films. Lest he change his mind, Nancy introduced him to Montrose. The six foot, seven, three hundred pound young man put a massive arm around Stockerfield's shoulders. "Should you require further consultation regarding a proposed business relationship with Ms. Twigly, please feel free to get in touch. I'll be delighted to attend your proposals." Montrose nodded and winked.

***

Twigly smiled with the memory of Montrose. She wondered what he would be into now. It hadn't been that long. "Thank God I didn't burn my list."

She smoothed a corner of her lipstick. Nancy hoped her old Johns would be glad to see her back in business. "I gave the straight life a shot."

She squeezed her eyes and turned away from the mirror. "At least I know my place in this fucked up world."

Nancy Twigly crossed the kitchen and made a mental note to get in touch with Montrose Kellshell. She pushed through the louvered caf door and stopped. Lincoln Pascoe's Photochromatic lenses were just beginning to lighten. He sat at his corner spot. On his index finger he twirled a ring with a single key attached. "What does it take to get a bear-claw and a cup of coffee?"

Nancy felt something stab at her chest. A cold, hollow place she'd nursed for years was pierced. The void filled with something thick and hot. A heat that burned, but soothed at the same time. Tears flooded Nancy's eyes. An involuntary sob

escaped and her throat closed up. She tried turning the sound into a cough.

"Still fighting that cold? Don't breathe on me please. I hope you washed your hands." Lincoln nodded in the direction of the kitchen.

"Don't worry about my hygiene, Lincoln Pascoe. Jesus, you look like shit. Where the hell you been? What's that you're wearing?"

Lincoln looked down and then laughed at the absurdity of the act. Huge upper body muscle threatened to pop through the thin tee shirt. Its bright orange color screamed for attention. Across the front stretched black lettering yelled, MORTAR MAN. Below, smaller lettering proclaimed, Vancouver Eagles Football.

Nancy's hand shook as she served Pascoe's coffee. She put a bear-claw on his plate. "That's the freshest one. I saved the others. They're a little stale, but you might as well take them

home.... Or wherever."

The saggy front door scraped on its threshold, Nancy looked up. A short, barrel-shaped man stood just inside the doorway, his suit looked like Italian silk. His shirt and tie were of a similar material. The man carried a large leather satchel.

"Pardon me. I'm looking for Ms. Nancy Twigly?"

"If you're from the landlord, you're early. I've got ten days left so buzz off, buster." Nancy's fingernails thrummed in anger on the register.

The man came forward extending his hand. "You must be Ms. Twigly. I've been advised you brook no nonsense."

Force of habit made Nancy take his hand. Her gray eyes drilled holes through the man's silk shirt and tie. The natty dresser ignored her stare. He put his satchel on a nearby table. Turning back he held a bound sheaf of papers and a Conway Stewart fountain pen. "I need your signature and I'll be out of your way."

Nancy backed away. "I don't sign shit until I know what I'm signing."

The man put the papers and pen on the countertop. Pascoe sensed his closeness and leaned away. "My name is Herman Gold, I'm an attorney. This document is a deed of trust. It conveys ownership of this building and its surrounding property to you, Ms. Nancy Twigly. My client has two stipulations. One: You assume responsibility for property taxes beginning tax year 2008. Taxes are paid until that time. Two: My client wishes to acquire a ninety nine year lease, at one dollar per year, on the front corner countertop space and counter stool. My client is The Mortar Corporation. Mr. Lincoln Pascoe, CEO, intends to pay for coffee and bear-claws as he goes."

Herman Gold lurched forward, but Nancy Twigly's long legs had turned to jelly. She quietly crumpled up on the floor behind the register.

Pascoe laughed and slapped a hundred dollar bill on the counter. "Ninety-nine years in advance and here's your key, Nance. Later, if you're okay with it, we can talk about a partnership.... Nance? Hey! Is somebody going to tell me what the hell's going on around here?"

From behind the counter a soft, wistful voice replied, "What kind of partnership?"

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