So there I was, sitting in the back of a Chevy that had seen better days, looking out at the endless rolling hills and wondering what had happened to my life.
What had happened? My ma always thought I would have made a great accountant, while my pa— the human equivalent of a pile of wet socks — disagreed, saying that I would only have been average at best. Once upon a time, I was considered a “boy most likely” type. I was planning on college — partially for the women and partially to prove my drunk of a high school math teacher wrong — until one thing led to another and here I was. Answering random letters, embarking on wild goose chases and drinking enough to make answering random letters and embarking on wild goose chases seem like good ideas.
Where were we going? It seemed like we’d been driving for hours, though my sense of the passage of time when in a car was, according to one girlfriend, “laughably inaccurate.”
Fred, in the seat next to me, was looking at me like I had a hole in the head — I’d know that look anywhere.
“What?” I whispered, not wanting to disturb the strange man dressed as a lion in the front seat.
I had a long history of being driven places by strange men. Strange women preferred to walk.
“Better keep that smart mouth of yours shut, if you know what’s best” he whispered back with fear in his eyes. I couldn’t ignore his poor enunciation even for someone whispering in fear. I made a mental note to put him in touch with a good speech and language pathologist if we made it out of this alive.
With wide eyes and mouth agape, he was trying to send me a message using solely his eyebrows which, while completely incomprehensible, clearly demonstrated that the many hours he’d spent practicing eyebrow movements in front of the mirror had not been a complete waste of time. Plus, he was just the sort of guy whom one developed a soft spot for — clearly he’d had a hard life and wasn’t winning any beauty pageants unless the first 14 competitors dropped out all of a sudden do to an unfortunate widespread case of salmonella poisoning.
“Don’t ask too many questions until we are in the car,” my auntie told my younger sister as she clutched her trophy to her chest all those years ago.
The smoke from the chain-smoking lion upfront reminded me of my childhood with my brother and sisters and all of those hours away at grandma’s place, eating stale Chinese food and playing Gin Rummy as she sat on her rocking chair, smoking and cackling loudly at nothing at all. We were all worried for grandma, but grandpa always reassured us that “God knows all” in his puzzlingly cryptic manner that made us both love him dearly and also plead with our parents to “just let us stay home this summer”.
The old car turned quickly onto a dirt road.
“Hey boss,” Fred spoke up, disturbing the silence “where exactly you taking us?”
I had to admire the munchkin’s courage. I mean, I didn’t have to, but it was either that or be overly critical and I didn’t want those months of therapy to feel like a total waste of money.
Lion man just kept looking forward, all of a sudden turning into a man of few words and even fewer variances in his facial expressions and simply uttered “Dorothy’s.”
The name hit me hard.
Years back, on a different case, I helped a woman named Dorothy who was so pleased with my service that she rewarded me with a tip consisting of a sack of dimes and a hop in the sack that, while incredible on multiple levels, led me to need three consecutive appointments with my chiropractor.
We were heading further and further away from civilization and it had me worried as I had just become a big fan of civilization.
“Dorothy’s, you say? What do you think she’ll do with the likes of us? I don’t know nothin’ and this city-slicker here next to me clearly knows even less” Fred continued, winking at me.
Was he coming on to me?
I didn’t know what to say, so I let Fred do all the talking. What a mess! Here I was thinking I was going to be spending my time pouring back drinks, sweet-talking my way in and out of delicate situations and looking up skirts for a manuscript, and instead, I was trapped, heading the wrong way outta town wondering if I should have taken out that life insurance after all.
Just as I was thinking of asking the others if they felt like playing a game to pass the time — I was a particular fan of 20 Questions or Guess My Psychosis — we skidded to a stop. Dust enveloped the car and, when it dissipated, in front of us, seemingly out of nowhere, was a mansion. I was tempted to rub my eyes, but, at the last second remembered that my ophthalmologist insisted that I stop this bad habit.
One thing was clear, looking at the house, the birdbath, the pool out back and the amazing taste in gargoyle statues, whoever this Dorothy was she had either played her cards right in life or knew a guy who she hired to play cards for her at a reasonable rate.
Lion opened his door, glancing briefly back at me, allowing a sinister smile to flash across his face. Although to be fair, we’d just met and I hadn’t seen enough of his smiles to know if this smile was meant to be sinister or if he just had one of those smiles that gave the wrong impression especially after a long car ride.
Slyly, he tossed a card at me, a business card.
Embossed letters on a glossy card that, while dated and using Times New Roman, was still impressively professional.
Larry P., Lion Impersonator
The best lion impersonator this side of the Mississippi
Hire me for Birthday Parties, Weddings, Scaring your neighbors who need to “give you some space,” Bar Mitzvahs and odd jobs
I wasn’t sure how to react. Why had he tossed me this card at this time, was it some sort of message or sign or did he just want to me to keep this in mind for the next time I was organizing an event that could use a lion impersonator?
I was about to tuck it into my pocket when Fred leaned over “Check the other side, Dusty, and do it quick, I think our host is coming our way and she don’t look too happy.”
Lawrence Pullman, Attorney-at-Law
Wait a second. This name rang a bell or, more exactly, three bells — I’d brought them along in my pocket, just in case.
Where had I heard this name before? The gym? The police station? While under hypnosis? I had a sneaky suspicion that it was what those of us in the business call “a clue” or “a hint” or if trying to impress others, “a piece of evidence”.
Fred and I had exited the car and were following Lawrence up the walkway towards the mansion. Walking slowly down the front stairs, with a smirk on her face, was a middle-aged woman who you could tell had once been a younger woman. She clearly had experience making heads roll with no regard for workplace safety regulations.
With legs that went on for days — though I had never been totally sure what that meant exactly — and feet that went on the end of those legs that, while similar to hands, were not. And her hair, as red as the day was long — another expression using periods of time that I was a bit hazy about — dazzlingly shiny in the afternoon sun. If she had been a bit younger or me with even fewer morals I’d have gone for her in a heartbeat. If I wasn’t so stressed and exhausted, I’d have still gone for her, but, I reminded myself, now wasn’t the time or the place.
She paused, momentarily, and she stood there, manservants surrounding her carrying trays of tea, biscuits and, what appeared to be some gluten-free options. Her dress screaming “now THIS is a dress” while also whispering “still a dress here” as it swished rhythmically from side to side. Her ample chest drumming up feelings within me that, while pleasant, were the same ones that my grade 7 teacher, Mrs. Williams called “disturbing and naughty even for you”.
So confident, so mature, so clearly powerful. Was it hot out here or was I sweating due to a thyroid issue?
She called out to me with a sexy rasp that women paid good money for, “So, Dusty, we finally meet face-to-face!”
How did she know that name? I was shocked and confused and perplexed and, if given some warning and a bit of time in front of a computer with a WiFi connection, a few other synonyms as well.
My usual poker face must have betrayed me and she continued “Don’t worry, your cover hasn’t been blown. I’m sorry for all of this, but you must understand I had to take all measures to ensure your safe arrival, plus Lawrence and Fred owed me.”
“Wait…you mean…you’re…” I stammered.
“Well, I certainly ain’t a Dorothy, though it does have a nice ring to it.”
“Ms. De Toit?”
“Please, Mr. Stark, call me Gwen. Lawrence, prepare the chopper! Fred, be a dear and call that bra company, I’m still waiting for a replacement. Can a woman get a low-fat ham and cheese croissant? Now, Stark, time is of the essence. Let’s get down to business, there isn’t a moment to spare.”