Author’s Notes: My fiction tends to be a little somber, but every now and then I’ll get crazy and write something just for the fun of it. Such is the story below. It’s total whimsy and comes complete with annoying sentence structure and shallow character development. It will never win any awards, but I don’t care. It’s one of my favorites.
by Joseph E Bird
Shelly Wallingford was sitting by herself at a small table for two in the shade of the eucalyptus tree on the patio of Bel Cibo’s when she heard the muffled thud of the collision of the waitress and the customer, followed by the sound of lead crystal wine glasses breaking on the terra cotta tile, and the soft clink, clink, clink of coins bouncing and spinning, finally stopping to lay flat, glistening in the mid-day sun. Shelly Wallingford turned her head just in time to see the waitress with the white blonde hair apologize to the man in the Armani suit, who, at that precise moment was throwing his hands in the air in exasperation, when a busboy appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and began picking up pieces of Cabernet-stained glass.
Shelly Wallingford felt a tap on the side of her foot. She looked down to see a shiny penny spiraling to rest one inch beside her black, Salvatore Ferragamo pump. She reached down and picked it up, holding it between her thumb and index finger, while her other three fingers formed graceful, crescent-shaped arcs, as if in polite salute to her actual working digits. She looked for the man in the Armani suit, holding the penny in the air as if it were a treasure from Tutankhamun’s tomb, forgetting that it was, in fact, only a penny, and of so little value that its existence was likely meaningless to the man in the Armani suit – a reality that fell upon her like the gentle breeze wafting through the eucalyptus leaves –as she saw him hurry from Bel Cibo’s with a final wave of his hand.
Shelly Wallingford smiled in self-amusement, her hand still raised, as if returning the farewell gesture of the man in the Armani suit. She dropped her hand to the table and looked for the waitress with the white blonde hair, but she too, had disappeared. Of the three participants in the drama of human conflict, only the busboy remained. He stood, blue plastic tub under one arm, and stuffed the clinking coins in the pocket of his blue jeans.
Shelly Wallingford dropped the penny in the side pocket of her Prada handbag.
* * *
Shelly Wallingford walked through the lobby toward the elevators of the Stafford Centre.
Shelly Wallingford stopped and turned to see Harold McCormick walking toward her.
“Shelly, do me a favor,” he said. “I was going across the street to get a bagel. I thought I had a dollar on me, but all I’ve got is fifty-seven cents. Can you spot me forty cents so I don’t have to go back upstairs?”
Shelly Wallingford reached in the side pocket of her Prada handbag and scooped out all of her change and gave it Harold McCormick.
Harold McCormick loved bagels. And he loved cappuccinos. But Harold McCormick had put on fifteen pounds since Christmas and his cholesterol was up to 245 by February and both his wife and his doctor were getting a little concerned, so Harold McCormick gave up his post-lunch cappuccino and only allowed himself the indulgence of a plain toasted bagel.
Harold McCormick stood at the corner, waiting for the traffic light to tell him he could walk with reasonable assurance that he would not become an accident victim.
“Excuse me, sir,” the voice to his left said. “I really hate to ask, but is there any way you could spare some change? I need to catch a bus uptown and I’m just a little short.”
Harold McCormick sighed. He knew he was a soft touch. Somehow, they all knew it. Harold McCormick was sure that the homeless and indigent held morning briefings with photographs and dossiers of likely panhandle targets and that one Harold McCormick was on their most-wanted list.
He looked at twenty-seven year old Joshua Riggins, his dirty brown hair falling past his shoulders, and reached in his pocket and gave him all his change.
“I didn’t need that bagel anyway,” he said as he turned and walked back toward the Stafford Centre.
* * *
Joshua Riggins took the change he had collected in ten minutes and counted it as he waited for the two o’clock bus.
“Two dollars exactly,” he said to himself. “Now I don’t have to break the ten.”
He boarded the bus, and listened to the clink, clink, clink of the change dropping in the box as the bus eased into traffic. Joshua Riggins, pulled the ten dollar bill from his jacket pocket, looked at it briefly, making sure that it was Alexander Hamilton and not George Washington grimly looking back, then stuffed the bill back in his pocket, and did not realize that when he once again pulled his hand from his pocket, the ten dollar bill came with it and fluttered like a eucalyptus leaf as it fell to the floor before disappearing under the folding doors of the bus.
* * *
Antonio Marcelli looked up and down the street searching for a pay phone, which had become increasingly hard to find with the advent of wireless telephone technology. Antonio Marcelli had a cellular phone in his backpack when he arrived in the city at noon for his two-thirty interview at Ramón’s, but his backpack had been stolen as he was buying a cup of coffee from the newsstand on 48th Street. There was no way Antonio Marcelli was going to be able to walk the ten blocks to Ramón’s and get to the interview on time so he had to call – and then he saw a ten dollar bill in the gutter next to an empty Coca-Cola can. He picked up the ten, hailed a cab and made it to the interview with Ramón Oliverio. Antonio Marcelli was hired as the head chef of the first Ramón’s restaurant.
* * *
Ramón Oliverio’s restaurants were greatly successful and four more restaurants opened in the city the following year, and the year after that, ten restaurants were franchised in the state and the year after that thirty-three restaurants were franchised along the east coast. Ramón Oliverio became a very wealthy man.
* * *
Ramón Oliverio leaned back in the plush leather chair as he sat across the table from the Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer of Taft and Oppenheimer.
The Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer said, “Our accountants and appraisers have completed the valuation of your fifty-six restaurants, twelve coffee shops, three hotels, and your numerous property holdings in Florida and the Carolinas and have determined that their total estimated value is one hundred thirty seven million, four hundred eighty three thousand, five hundred seventeen dollars and one cent.”
Ramón Oliverio laughed heartily, as only a man is his position could.
“That’s the estimated value?” he asked as he leaned toward the table, resting his meaty forearms on the glass top.
He paused, and then reached into the pocket of his faded jeans, pulled out a coin and tossed it on the table. “I’ll give you the penny,” he said with an even bigger laugh, as the coin clinked twice on the table, before rolling in the direction of the Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer. “But I’m not going below two hundred million.”
Shelly Wallingford watched as the dull, dirty penny rolled down the glass table-top one inch from her black leather Gucci briefcase, where it spiraled flat, Lincoln side up. She picked up the penny and placed on top of the stack of accountants’ and appraisers’ valuation forms.
Shelly Wallingford smiled at Ramón Oliverio.
“It’s a start,” she said.