The bedrooms had six inch windows venting out from the ceiling
unto the terraced walkway overlooking the swimming pool. It was
only 6am but I could hear Pat and Boonthai chatting outside as
they approached the front door. Thais. They are always trying
to impress. I rolled over. I didn't need to get up for another
hour. That was a mistake. As soon as Ta opened the door I felt
like I was at the intersection of Wilshire and Vine.
As if guided by divine intervention, I managed a coke from
the frig as I walked by Pat and Boonthai sitting backs straight
on the sofa. They waayed. I scratched my belly and tried to cup
my yawn. I headed for the front door and the pool. Almost made
it. Ethel was up early, too. She was cleaning the pool and wanted
to know all the details. I finished off the coke. Dropped the can
in the trash. Blew Ethel a kiss. And jumped into the pool. The
water was warm. It echoed in my ears. It's times like this I missed
But Ethel knew I couldn't hold my breath for long. I didn't
have to. Coming up for air I pulled up my shorts and headed for
the sauna. But the sauna was cold. I had to let it warm up. I
walked back outside. Ethel smiled like she knew she had won. I
bowed my head and pulled up my trunks again. I walked over as she
changed to a nonchalant stance.
"Ethel, can I have one of your Virginia Slims? I forgot my
smokes in the apartment."
She pulled her pack out from her bathing suit top and gave
me a light. She didn't say anything. She just waited for me to
take that first long drag and hopefully start the conversation
"Okay, I'm still not awake yet. I've gotta be at work in two
hours. What do you want to know?"
Ethel reached out with her catch and grabbed some more leaves
off the top of the pool. "No hurry, I can wait. Looks like things
are just getting started. We're having a barbecue this weekend,
maybe you can invite Ta and her mom to come."
"Sounds cool." I nodded and walked away. Surrounded on all
sides I guess I'll just go to work early today.
I picked up the phone, "Angie, is Bobby working today?"
"Yes, he's out on the lot."
"Can you page him for me?" ***89
"Sure. Bobby to the showroom floor please."
Bobby walked in looking around. Angie pointed him to my
office. "What's up bro?"
I motioned for Bobby to sit down. "Pick one."
"They're Thai silk. Pick a tie. Ta bought them for you guys.
And she's pissed at you. I told you not to roll joints out of that
"Is she really?"
"Just find her some more. She cooks with that shit. Now pick
Bobby picked a maroon one with a silver and black flowing
"Do me a favor and take the rest of these around to the
sales crew will you. Oh yeah, I have something else. Check these
out." I rolled open my top draw and flipped the lid on the box of
"Is she giving these away, too?"
"No, you moron. But I'm selling them wholesale."
Bobby picked around in the box. "This ruby cabachon pinky
ring is awesome. How much?"
"Wow, you really know your stones. That's the most expensive
one in the box. It's like 450 bucks, bro."
Bobby tried it on. He stood up and held it to the light. He
walked around looking at his pinky.
"TJ sales call," Angie said. I motioned Bobby out of the
office as I picked up the phone. Before he walked out and around
showing off his ring to anyone that wanted a look, he changed his
tie and kept bugging me wondering if it was straight. When Ta had
been gone I did my best to keep it to myself. But everyone eventually
knew. And now with Bobby walking around handing out ties and showing
off his new ring with his hand to his tie like a tie clip everyone
would know that she was back. He reminded me of an advertisement
for Cartier on the side of a city bus. And with his flair for
exagerration everyone would be wondering what other treasures Ta had
smuggled out with her life from some exotic land.
I had just hung up the phone. It was a long conversation. I
just did something I don't usually like to do but the guy pissed
me off. I low balled him. I was still squeezing my eyes and pinching
my nose when Bobby walked back in. He laid 450 bucks on my desk.
"I just sold that ring for 500 bucks. I made an extra 50 today.
What else do you have in there?" Shit, I would have been willing ***90
to let him squeeze me down to 300 on that ring.
"Bobby, who'd you sell that ring to?"
"Jack. The head of the service department. So what?"
"Bobby, wait. Let the mystique of where it came from seep
through. If they know I have 50 of them I'll never be able to get
rid of them. Unless of course you want to act like a bitch and
wear some cocktail rings dancing your ass through the accounting
department. Didn't you tell me the girls in there like your butt?"
"Yeah, I can use this new tie as a head band."
"Bobby, I was kidding."
My telephone rang. It was Angie, "Tommy, Mr. Speight wants
to see you in his office and he wants you to bring that box with
I looked at Bobby as I dug into my draw and grabbed the jewelry
box. Bobby just held up his hands as I gave him a disapproving
look. I walked into Mr. Speight's office. He motioned me to have
a seat. His two daughters were visiting him that day sitting on
"Tommy, how's your wife and mom doing?" he asked.
"Good sir." I said.
"You know that after everything your wife has gone through.
If there is anything I can do to help you just have to ask."
"Thank you sir. They are fine."
"I understand that your wife gave you a box of jewelry to
sell. May I see it?" he asked.
I looked at Bobby standing in the doorway mouthing something
to Charlie's girls making them laugh. "It's nothing sir. Just
something between me and Ta."
"Please, may I?"
I looked at Bobby as I layed the jewelry box on Charlie
Speight's desk. He opened it. He looked at his daughters and
smiled. They walked over to get a peek.
"Tommy, I'm glad your wife came back to you safe. I can't
imagine the pain you had to endure to keep working for me while
she was away. I'm buying your whole box." and he wrote and slid
me over a check.
"Mr. Speight, this is too much."
As Mr Speight rolled back in his chair to slide open his top
draw and toss in his check book, he looked up with a sarcastic
smile. "Well, I can't have you and your buddy there running around
disrupting my service, sales, accounting and leasing department
selling jewelry all day when your job here is to sell cars, now ***91
can I? Besides, a jeweler friend of mine has a shop on Rodeo Drive
in Beverly Hills; he'd love to get his hands on a consignment of
these rings and sell them at outrageously inflated prices. So,
unless there is something else, get out of my office and get back
to work. I haven't seen you sell anything for me all day. And you
Bobby, quit licking your lips at my daughters. When's the last
time you sold a car. Both of you get out of here."
Bobby and I, his arm around me, both walked out of Mr.
Speight's office laughing. I was holding the check and stopped.
I started fluttering it in the wind tapping it with my opposite
index finger. I turned back and walked into Mr. Speight's office
while his daughters were loading up their fingers with cluster
rings. Mr Speight looked up. "I need to find a rare cactus flower,
a bunch of them. Can you help me. I need them before Ta gets
home from school today."
He pushed the box and his girls away. "What's it called?"
"I don't know. I only have pictures of it from the desert,"
as I pulled out shots from my wallet.
Charlie looked at the pictures and nodded his head. "I know
where you can find these. How many do you want?"
"All of them." I said.
Charlie smiled, he knew that all of them wouldn't be that
many and all of them with flowers would be even less. He was on
the phone a minute. He wrote down an address. "Take one of the
truck demos. Take Bobby to help you. He seems useless today."
17 cactii. 17 cactii blocking the front door. 17 flowers
that bloomed only once every five years. Bobby and I just waited
sitting in front of the swimming pool on lounge chairs. Just
waiting for Ta to come home.
"This should get you off the hook for stealing her spices."
"Screw the pot. Your landlord keeps pinching my butt and
biting my ear."
"Jack? When did that happen? I didn't see that," I said.
"Ethel you idiot. She was all over me in the sauna," he said.
"You were with Ethel in the sauna?" I asked.
"I was by myself in the sauna. She just walked in," he said.
"Can't leave you alone for a minute and you're trying to
screw my landlord," I said. "Better watch out. Jack will kick your
"Fuck Ethel. Fuck Jack." he said.
"Maybe you should just let her give you a blow job and she'll
leave you alone. You know how these old women like childhood actors
with English accents," I said.
"I don't know. Maybe Jack wants you first."
"Hey, Ethel's daughter is nice. What is she about 20?"
"Bobby, her Mexican boy friend is a captain in a drug cartel.
You mess with her and you'll end up a unic. Didn't Ethel try to
set you and Mike up with those Mexican girls upstairs?"
"Yeah. They were good for a night."
"A night? Those girls are beautiful."
"Never mind. I understand. You're an impersonal uncaring dick.
And you are chasing after women who are impersonal uncaring
bitches. I get it. Bet Ethel would too if you gave her a chance..."
Just then Ta walked up the second floor landing from the parking
lot entrance carrying school books in one arm and a bag of groceries
in the other. She was laughing and bobbing along with her old first
semester friend Jenny. Jenny was 22, Chinese, a botany student, single
and a great tennis partner. With her shoulder length brown hair
and slim body, her wide rimmed glasses always looked like they
were going to tip her over.
Ta and Jenny didn't see us. Seeing the flowers, they both bent
down and closed their eyes as if in prayer. They both carressed
and smelled each one. Their eyes lit up as they surveyed the
different colors. Botany heaven.
"Hey, when are you going to get up off your ass and make dinner?"
Bobby waved. "I want some of your yellow potato curry with beef."
he said looking back at me.
"Don't push it. Piss her off and you will be missing a ball."
Ta looked over the rail. "TJ? Bobby? Did you bring me these
"I did. Bobby is here to beg your forgiveness for stealing from
you. He's ready for you to strip him naked and beat him with a glass
"I'd rather punish him by letting him clean the toilet. Hi
"Hi Ta. When am I going to meet your sister?"
"In your dreams," she said.
"Actually, Bobby bought those flowers for you. He bought one
of your ruby cabachon rings for three times what it was worth."
Bobby's eyes lit up.
"Hairy. Bobby's your friend. Give him half that money back."
"I can't. He already sold it for a fifty dollar profit."
"You got that much for one of those rings? Did you sell any of
the other ones?"
I looked at Bobby and we both started laughing, "Yep."
"Hi TJ." Jenny said.
"Hey, Jen. When are we going to play some tennis?"
"After that last beating you took, are you sure you want to
I looked at Bobby, "Yeah, she kicked my ass. The bitch can
serve." I looked back up at Jen,"Yeah, we can get Eric to shag
balls, Might as well get beaten by a cute oriental chick in a tight
uniform who give me pointers than an arrogant sweaty towny with *
an ego who gives me the finger."
Jenny looked at Ta, "He hasn't changed."
Ta smiled. Then she looked down at me jabbing her finger in the
direction of the office door. Time to run. Ethel liked leaving
her front door facing the pool open so she could hear what was going
on. Over the red picket wood pool fence Ta could see her walking
out with a glass of red wine in one hand, a Virginia Slim cigarette
in the other.
I looked at Bobby, "Ethel's coming."
Before Ethel got around the corner to the pool entrance, Bobby
was running by her and up the stairs with wide skipping steps holding
his buns with both hands sounding like someone who had just been
struck with a cattle prod. I walked. Biting my lip I looked up the
stairs shaking my head. I looked at Ethel, "Damn, I think he got
bit by a bee."
Bobby was waiting for me at the top of the steps still out of
breath and laughing. "That was close," he said. "Hey that Chinese
chick isn't bad looking, except for those Mr. Magoo glasses."
"They have Mr. Magoo in England, too?"
"And paper bags, too."
"What's that supposed to mean?" wondering what I didn't understand
about the British mentality.
"Well you know. If they wear glasses like that and take them
off, they can't see. You don't know who they are imagining they are ***94
"And this is coming from someone who if he scores doesn't want
to go out on a second date? Don't bust my balls."
After listening to a bit more of Bobby's woman philosopy, we
reached the front door of the apartment. Ta and Jenny had all ready
moved the cactii onto the balcony and Bobby and I picked up their
books and groceries and followed behind. Ta and Jenny were still
comparing notes on where to place each one as Bobby and I dropped
everything else on the dining room table. I went to turn on the
stereo and Bobby went to tempt the fish with his gum.
"Bobby, I have to work like hell to keep the PH in that tank
at 7.6. I swear if you drop that wad of gum in there I am going to
go get one of Ta's kinsa knives in the kitchen and cut your fingers
off. The fish in that tank cost more than your ring."
"No shit," as Bobby bent down to see what all the fuss was about.
Satisfied, Ta and Jenny walked in and grabbed the grocery bags
and headed for the kitchen. Bobby took a seat at the kitchen bar
and grabbed an apple out of a fruit basket on the counter. I headed
for the frig and grabbed us both a couple of cokes. Bobby and I just
sat there watching the girls prepare to cook.
"So Hairy, what else did you sell?" Ta asked as she pulled out
a wood cutting board, washed a knife and prepared to cut up some
"Everything," I said.
"He even sold the box," Bobby added.
Still holding the knife, Ta turned around, "Everything?"
Bobby and I looked at each other and in unison, loud, "Everything."
Ta swallowed and lowered her voice. She strained her neck and
stared, "How much?"
I looked at Bobby and put a finger to my lips. Bobby stirred
and took another bite of his apple. Then he looked away up into the
sky as he took a sip of his coke. Jenny didn't know what was going on
and just kept washing leafy greens in the sink. I looked up squinting
my nose and scratching my head.
"Hairy?" Ta was getting impatient.
I slid off the stool and pulled out my wallet. I started laying
singles and fives on the bar. I dropped my wallet on the counter and
started looking through my pockets. Bobby was laughing in his coke.
Ta couldn't stand it. She pushed me out of the kitchen and onto
the couch. "How much?"
"Oh, now I remember. I put it in your purse." Ta bounced off me
like I was a trampouline. ***95
"Hairy where is it. I don't see anything."
"Check the zipper pocket," I said as I lit up a cigarette.
"No way. Who?" and then she saw the signature. "Mr. Speight?"
seeing the signature she collapsed back onto the couch and looked
around as if in disbelief. "Does he want more?"
"Charlie. Mr Speight doesn't care about jewelry. He just cared
about us. Don't you see? He was giving us a fresh start? He's going
to dump it on a jeweler on Rodeo Drive. He won't lose money. Break
"Jewelers on Rodeo Drive will pay that much?" she said in a
whisper. A whisper that over time and years would grow.
"Hey Bobby go check and see if Ethel has retreated to her cave
yet. We have to get back to work."
"Hairy? You can't stay to eat? Mommy will be home with Pat and
Boonthai soon. I'm making something you like."
She started looking through her pockets for the answer, "I know
it's here somewhere."
"TJ. She's gone. Let's go," Bobby said.
Like a marine recon unit Bobby and I made it to the truck.
Buckled up, Bobby started the engine, "Hey Bobby. I heard Ethel
is throwing a barbecue this weekend. Wanna come?"
"What a shame we both have to work," he said.