Teenage angst and a crime caper

I tortured myself with this one for NYC Midnight Round 2 of the Short Story competition. They assigned crime caper, an art project and a misfit. Here’s my interpretation of the assignment. NOTE: Adult language is used!

Banksy of Brooke Point High

Ana, Harley, and Freddi make an artistic senior year statement when they break into Brooke Point High.

Harley propped his feet on the corner of my bed and leaned back in his chair. His dyed bangs fell across his eyes like a raven’s broken wing. I ignored the fine coating of dust on his combat boots. Every twitch of his foot sent a small shower of dirt onto my favorite Pooh blanket.

“You could be the Banksy of Brooke Point High if we pull this off,” Harley said. He pointed his half-eaten twist of black licorice at me. “What have you got to lose?”

I swatted his feet off my bed and stood. “I don’t know. Graduation. My scholarship to Cranbrook. Jail time. Look at me. I would look horrible in an orange jumpsuit.”

“Ana, quit being so… mundane,” Freddi said, pulling out her earbuds to add her two cents. “We graduate in two months. I can name on one hand the seniors who know my name. You, Harley, and Hollis, the kid with the glasses that make him look like a fly. That’s it. We’re nothing but a comma in Brooke Point’s book of life.”

Freddie flopped back in her chair. I sighed. “Dramatic much? I don’t know, guys. How would we even get in the school?”

Harley stuffed the rest of his licorice into the pocket of his army jacket and pulled out a white plastic id card. “I swiped this from my mom’s purse this morning. We can get in and out of the building with no problem. Come on, Ana. This is gonna be epic.”

I weighed the pros and cons in my head. The con list was so long it went off the virtual page in my brain, but the pro side had one item. Ana Baker would no longer be the silent, invisible girl. “Okay. I’m in.”

“Yes!” Harley cried and fist bumped Freddi. “We go at midnight.”

Five hours later, the three of us skirted along the side of the school. Harley had done us a solid by drawing a map of the locations for the outdoor security cameras. His ability to remember weird details like that always amazed me.

“Let me swipe the card reader and grab the door. You guys need to stay low and move fast,” Harley whispered.

Black greasepaint covered half his face and made him look like a rabid raccoon. He made some hand motions that he had probably learned watching Rambo, then he dropped into a low crouch and darted to the door. He reached up and waved the badge in front of the black box. The red light turned green. Harley grabbed the door and opened it. High-pitched beeps filled the night air.  

“Fuck!” Freddi scrambled backwards. “Who puts an alarm on a school? What’s somebody going to steal? Textbooks?”

My bladder clenched, and I felt perspiration dot my forehead. I whisper shouted, “Harley, let’s forget it.”

The beeps stopped. In the dark entryway, I saw white teeth smiling in a sea of black greasepaint. “Come on. I turned the alarm off and disabled the cameras,” Harley said, waving a pair of wire snips.

“My god. He’s an evil tech genius,” Freddi whispered.

Freddi and I skittered spider fast to the entrance. It wasn’t easy with the package we carried between us, but we managed. Harley pulled the door shut behind us. He reached into his jacket and presented us both with small flashlights.

I swear that jacket was like a clown car. I don’t know why he doesn’t jingle, shake, and rattle when he walks with all the crap he has in the pockets. I was grateful for the additional light. The pale glow from the emergency lights did little to dispel the gloom of the locker-lined hallway.

“Let’s go to the gym and get this done,” I said, grabbing the flashlight.

I stuck to the shadows. My backpack was heavy on my shoulders. It contained all the supplies I would need to complete tonight’s task. Freddi followed behind me, holding her end of the package. Harley brought up the rear. He walked backwards, using his light to scan the side halls for intruders. I had disappointed him when I’d vetoed his use of night vision goggles.

The double doors to the gym were unlocked. Harley opened them and bowed.

“Ladies, your kingdom awaits,” he said.

I rolled my eyes but said nothing. Harley could be moody and pedantic with certain things, but he was always a gentleman. Not that the girls at Brooke Point would know. Their noses stuck so high in the air that it surprised me when they didn’t drown during a rainstorm. 

Freddi and I lay the package on the floor. I untied the twine. With its tethers gone, the canvas rolled open until it stretched out to its full glory. Twenty-seven feet filled with color and shapes lay on the gym floor before us.

Freddi shone her flashlight on it and gasped. “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, Ana.”

I felt warmth rush to my cheeks at the compliment. “Thanks. I can’t believe I finished it.”

Harley bumped his shoulder against mine. “I bet if your dad could see this, he’d be proud of you.”

I ducked my head so he couldn’t see the effect his words had on me. My dad had been my biggest fan and my harshest critic. When he was too weak from the chemo to come out to my makeshift studio in the garage, we would chat via video. Dad would have his laptop in bed while I would use my phone to show him the newest additions to my makeshift wallpaper canvas. He hadn’t lived to see the finished work.

I wiped the tears away and cleared my throat. “I’ll need more light to get this thing hung. Come help me.”

Harley grabbed my backpack and pulled out the work light I’d found on a shelf in my garage. Using an extension cord, he plugged it in. Light filled the gym and cast eerie shadows on the bleachers. I dumped the contents of the half-gallon bottle I’d bought at the local hardware store into an old cake pan my mom would never miss and pulled out a wide, flat brush.

“How do you wanna do this?” Harley asked, a twist of licorice dangling from his mouth like a cigarette.

“Freddi, you hold the pan. Harley, you can roll this back up. While I paste it on the wall, slowly help me unwind it. Got it?”

Freddi gave me a two-fingered salute and picked up the pan. Harley and I struggled up the bleachers with the roll between us. Once we were in place, I dipped my brush into the goo in the pan. With long strokes, I covered the wall in front of me.

Silently, we worked with only the creaks and groans of the boiler occasionally breaking the quiet. It was almost six when I patted down the final corner. We climbed down and admired our work.

“Brilliant. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant,” Harley said.

“Thanks.” I rubbed the grit from my eyes. There was no way I would stay awake in chemistry today. “Let’s get out of here before anyone comes.”

We cleaned up our supplies and stuffed everything back into my pack. Harley told us to wait while he made sure the coast was clear. After five minutes, he returned to the gym and gave us a thumb’s up.

Our steps were heavy, and we moved slower than when we had arrived. It was a good kind of exhaustion.

“I’m glad you talked me into this, Harley,” I said. “I—well, you know with my dad and all…”

“Ride or die, Ana. Ride or die. Both you and Freddi.” He gave me a little grin.

The sound of a voice interrupted the moment. “Yeah. I know I’m supposed to pick up the kids on Friday, Marge, but something’s come up.”

Eyes wide, Freddi and I looked at Harley. “Who is that? You said the teachers don’t come in early.”

The voice continued, “No, Marge, I’m not going to a bar. I’ve got an appointment with a foot doctor about my bunion.” There was silence for a moment. “Fine. I’ll be there, but it’ll be late.”

“It’s the janitor,” Harley said. He looked at his watch. “He’s early. He opens the building and turns off the alarm for my mom and the other cafeteria ladies. Stay here.”

He pushed us against the wall and into the shadows, then he slid down the hallway and did a fast peek around the corner. He turned back to Freddi and me. He pointed to his eyes, then pointed down the hall. I shook my head at his five-digit traffic directions.

“What?” I mouthed.

He began his complicated hand motions again, but he gave up when Freddi gave him her own one-fingered direction. Instead, he motioned for us to come next to him. On tiptoes, we joined him.

“He’s headed to the cafeteria. You two go down the hallway near the library. I’ll bring up the rear. If he sees us, I’ll be the decoy. You two run like hell and don’t look back. Never look back. Got it?” Harley whispered.

We nodded. I gave him a quick hug, then motioned for Freddi to follow. Like a gazelle running from a cheetah, I sprinted down the hall. I could hear Freddi’s shoes slapping the floor behind me. Harley’s jacket rattled a tune at the rear.

I was about to breach the exit and make my escape when a voice shouted, “Hey! What are you kids doing in here?”

I stretched my hands in front of me and slammed the breaker bar on the door. The cool air of pre-dawn touched my cheeks and gave me the extra push I needed to keep going. I ran, my two best friends at my heels, and didn’t stop until I was well out of sight of the school.

When I rounded the corner, I bent over and grabbed my knees, trying to catch my breath. Freddi flopped down on the asphalt next to me. Harley almost stumbled over us.

“What a rush,” he gasped.

“I don’t think I’ve run so fast in my entire life,” I said, sides heaving.

Freddi giggled. “I think I pissed myself.”

I laughed and slid down on the ground next to her. “It’s okay. I think I did, too.”

Two hours later, I walked into the school. My tight braid of carrot orange hair swung behind me. I had used a heavy hand with the makeup to hide my freckles and the dark circles beneath my eyes. The hallway buzzed with excitement. Cheerleaders flew from person to person, spreading the news.

“What’s up?” I asked one of the Ashleys. Every popular girl at Brooke Point High was Ashley or Ashli or some other variant.  

She flicked her blonde hair behind one shoulder and looked at me. She wrinkled her brow as she tried to place me in her category of friends. When my presence didn’t compute, she shrugged and said, “Someone put up a hideous mural in the gym. It makes fools out of all of us.”

I turned before she could see my smile. I pushed my way through the throng of backpack-laden kids to the gym. Angry mutters and an occasional laugh filled the surrounding air.

A hand touched my shoulder. “How did you do it?”

I jumped and turned. Miss Nyström, my art teacher, stood behind me. A small smile lifted the corner of her mouth.

“It wasn’t me,” I said.

She arched a brow. “Hmm… well, whoever it was has made quite a statement about the inequality in our school. The faces of that group of girls is particularly well done.” She pointed to the scene of flying monkeys with the faces of the Ashleys pelting students with words shaped like arrows—ugly, loser, scrub.

I didn’t respond. Instead, I admired my art project.  

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Witch One Did It?

I made it to Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. My assignment? An 8-page mystery with a vandalism and the mayor as one of the characters. This is my interpretation of the challenge.

Disclaimer: Transferring from my script writing software to the blog is horrible on formatting, so apologies!

Witch One Did It?

When Sheriff Dan Foster receives a call that someone committed vandalism and witchcraft on the mayor’s property, he must use his investigative skills to solve the crime.

FADE IN:

INT. BEDROOM – MORNING

A man and woman are asleep in a king-sized bed when a cell phone on the nightstand buzzes. The sound rouses DAN FOSTER, an older man with gray hair and a tanned face etched with too many lines for his age. He grabs the phone, looks at the screen, then answers it.

DAN

Sheriff Foster here. This better be worth waking me up on my day off, Deputy, or your ass will be patrolling the road to the dump for the next month.

Dan listens to the caller. He sits up and rubs his hand over the stubble on his chin and sighs.

DAN (CONT’D)

Witchcraft? Tell the mayor I’ll be there in fifteen.

Dan sets the phone down. He turns on the lamp next to him and picks up the pair of pants he had dropped on the floor the night before and pulls them on.

EXT. LARGE FAUX ANTEBELLUM BRICK HOUSE – LATER

Dan pulls his cruiser up to the house. MAYOR SHANTWELL, a balding man in his early sixties with a slight paunch, stands on the steps. The mayor has a bathrobe tied tightly around his waist and old, paint-splattered sneakers on his feet.

JOSIE WHITAKER, a tall woman wearing jeans and a Grateful Dead t-shirt, stands off to the side with her arms crossed.

Dan steps out of his car and walks over to them. Mayor Shantwell looks pointedly at his expensive watch.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

(scowls)

About damn time you got here, Dan. I want that woman arrested.

The mayor stabs his finger towards Josie.

DAN

(sighs)

What did she do this time? The mayor’s face darkens with anger.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

(sputtering)

What did she do? She not only vandalized my property, but she put a curse on me, too. The Bible says thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, and it was talking about her! This town doesn’t need her or her granola-eating cronies.

Josie uncrosses her arms and takes a step towards the mayor.

JOSIE

Listen, you pompous little toad! This isn’t the Dark Ages, and no one did jack shit to you! I want you to arrest him for being a stain upon humanity and Mother Earth!

Dan steps between Josie and the mayor. He puts his hands up to stop them from moving closer to each other.

DAN

Both of you calm down. I’m not arresting anyone until I find out what happened.

(turns to Mayor Shantwell)

You tell me what’s going on.

Mayor Shantwell gives Josie a triumphant look.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

I woke up around 5:30. I like to take a morning swim, so I walked outside to turn on the pool heater. That’s when I saw the Satanic mumbo jumbo. She painted a pentagram on my new pool house! She’s cursed me!

Dan holds up his hand to stop Mayor Shantwell from saying anything else.

DAN

Satanic symbol? Did you actually see Josie paint it? Was anyone else at home?

MAYOR SHANTWELL

(angry)

That woman and her dilapidated shack are a menace to this town. She and her kind need to go.

(MORE)

MAYOR SHANTWELL (CONT’D)

Are you going to take care of this, Dan, or do I need to endorse another candidate for sheriff come fall?

JOSIE

My kind? You mean organic farmers? Beekeepers? Or women in general? Which is it, Shantwell?

(beat)

I was on my property feeding my chickens when you buffaloed your way through, trampled my herbs, and called me a witch. I’ll sue you for defamation of character!

The mayor sputters again and clenches his fists, but Dan pulls him aside before he can do anything else.

DAN

Show me the damage.

Mayor Shantwell gives one last glare at Josie before turning and walking towards his backyard.

EXT. BACKYARD – CONTINUOUS

Dan and the mayor walk to the huge swimming pool and pool house. Behind the pool house is a line of oak trees.

Dan looks around at the extensive landscaping. Shrubs are precisely trimmed. The lawn is a lush, almost unnatural, green. There are no weeds visible to the naked eye. PHILIP, a young man in a blue work uniform is trimming the hedges. The mayor stops at the back of the pool house. There is a crudely sprayed black pentagram on it. The mayor gives Dan a triumphant look.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

As you can see, that woman spray- painted my pool house with the symbol of Satan. She did that, too.

The mayor turns and gestures to the row of trees behind him. Small, white objects swing from the branches.

MAYOR SHANTWELL (CONT’D)

Witchcraft! What are you going to do about it?

DAN

Now, hold on. Anyone else around who might have seen anything? Your wife? The gardener?

Dan nods toward Philip who has been moving closer to the two of them while they spoke.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

(shaking his head)

Wife’s been out of town for weeks. She’s visiting some ashram trying to find herself or some other foolishness. Philip got here right after I discovered the damage. He’s a good kid. Punctual. I gave him a job when his daddy died last year. I’m telling you it was Josie Whitaker.

Dan leaves the mayor’s side and walks over to Philip.

DAN

Hello, Philip. The mayor tells me you got here early this morning. Did you see anyone or anything?

PHILIP

(stutters)

N-no, sir. I d-didn’t see anything. Miss Whitaker was outside feeding her chickens.

(leans in and whispers)

But I don’t think Miss Whitaker d- did it. She’s a n-nice woman.

EXT. ROW OF OAK TREES – MOMENTS LATER

Beyond the trees is a woven wire fence that surrounds an old farmhouse with peeling paint. There is a small field filled with vegetables and herbs. Beehives line one side of the field. Chickens with funny tufts of feathers at their neckline peck along the fence.

Dan walks over to the hanging objects. This close, he sees they are white eggs with small stick figures wrapped and hung with twine. Dan looks closely at each of them. He walks to the fence and gazes at the farmhouse. After a moment, he squats down and grabs a handful of grass and holds it through the fence to a hen. She snatches it from his hand. Dan puts a few pieces of grass into his pocket then stands.

Dan returns to the mayor.

DAN

I think I’ve got all I need from here, sir. Can you tell me why you think Josie is behind this?

MAYOR SHANTWELL

(smirking)

That fence beyond my trees marks my property line as well as the town limits.

The mayor points to the fence.

MAYOR SHANTWELL (CONT’D)

She’s pissed off because the council wants to incorporate her farm and the surrounding properties into the town limits. That will change the zoning from agricultural to residential. Great opportunities for new subdivisions with HOAs.

Bigger tax base means growth.

DAN

(nods slowly)

She won’t be able to have her chickens or beehives. Don’t you own the land to the west of her property, too?

The mayor gestures for Dan to walk with him back to the house.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

I do.

(beat)

Dan, you have to have vision as a leader. Cedar’s Edge might be a small town now, but it could become a bedroom community for the city.

Bigger and better. It will be great. It could mean new patrol cars and officers for you.

Dan doesn’t respond to the mayor’s thinly-veiled hint. Instead, he looks down at the grass.

DAN

You’ve got a really nice lawn.

The mayor beams with pride.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

It’s the special fertilizer and weed killer mixture I use. I’d be happy to mix you up a batch.

DAN

Hmmm. Probably not good for organic produce or bees.

(beat)

Listen, I sure could use a cup of coffee while I figure out my next step.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

Sure. Come on into the house, Dan.

INT. MAYOR SHANTWELL’S KITCHEN – MOMENTS LATER

The kitchen is a gleaming testament to a designer’s dream of modernism from the stainless steel appliances to the white marble counter tops and black cabinets. It’s spotless.

The mayor opens a cupboard and grabs two black coffee mugs. A state-of-the-art coffee machine sits on the counter. The mayor pushes a few buttons, and moments later, he hands Dan a mug of hot coffee.

DAN

You have any creamer or milk?

The mayor gestures towards the refrigerator. Dan opens it and looks around the nearly empty interior. He pulls out a small carton of creamer and places it on the counter, a hint of a smile on his face. Checking to make sure the mayor can’t see, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the tuft of grass.

DAN (CONT’D)

Oh, hell. I’ve got grass on my pants. I don’t want to track it all over your house. Where’s your trash?

MAYOR SHANTWELL

In that tall cabinet to your left. The maid comes today, so no worries about the floor. She’s paid good money to clean it.

Dan opens the indicated cabinet where he sees a stainless steel trash can. Popping it open, he looks in, then he drops the grass into it.

DAN

I won’t be pressing charges against Josie.

The mayor slams his cup down on the counter.

MAYOR SHANTWELL

Josie Whitaker and her farm are a thorn in my side. If you won’t do it, I’ll find someone who will.

DAN

You don’t want to do that. You wouldn’t want the truth about today to come to the attention of the rest of the town, would you?

EXT. LARGE FAUX ANTEBELLUM BRICK HOUSE – LATER

Dan and Josie walk to Dan’s car. Josie turns and shakes his hand.

JOSIE

For just a moment, I thought I was going to jail.

DAN

My wife would make me sleep outside for a month. She loves that herbal tea mixture she gets from you.

Helps her insomnia better than those pills from Doc Calvert.

JOSIE

Sometimes the old ways are more effective than the new. Tell Anna to come see me on Saturday at the farmer’s market for a new batch.

Josie starts to leave, but she hesitates. She turns back to Dan.

JOSIE (CONT’D)

I don’t get it. How did you know I didn’t do it? The mayor’s a powerful, wealthy man who runs the show, and I’m…well, I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

DAN

I never assume guilt or innocence based upon a person’s income or lifestyle.

(MORE)

DAN (CONT’D)

You’re no more a witch than I am. I know you love your herbal remedies and organic produce, but that makes you more of a hippie than a witch.

JOSIE

(nods)

It still doesn’t explain how you knew it was the mayor.

DAN

(holding up three fingers) One, he was fully dressed under his robe and had his watch on despite saying he swims first thing. Two, I spotted black paint on his shoes.

Three, the eggs were white.

JOSIE

(smiles)

Ah. My flock of chickens saves me from the slammer.

Dan laughs.

DAN

Your Aracauana chickens only lay blue and green eggs, not white. His refrigerator contained creamer and a takeout container of Chinese food. Nothing else, not even condiments, yet he had an empty egg carton on top of the trash.

JOSIE

Why frame me?

DAN

Your farm stands in the way of progress as far as he’s concerned. He wanted to discredit you in front of the town council to push through his expansion and rezoning plan.

Dan opens his car door but stops and turns back to Josie.

DAN (CONT’D)

I guess you can take the lawman from the farm, but you can’t take the farm from the lawman.

FADE OUT.

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Tit for Tad

I made it to Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. This time my assignment was political satire, a fundraiser, and a cartoonist. Here’s my entry!

“Sir, I think it’s a mistake to attend this fundraiser. You won’t find people friendly to your campaign.”

 “That’s exactly why it’s the place I need to be, Walker. Those women don’t know my ideas are what’s good for them. Instead, they’re listening to that dried-up husk, Millie Highpoint, who wouldn’t know what to do with a man if he showed up on her doorstep naked and willing.” Thaddeus Trench tightened the knot in his tie and gave himself an appraising look in the mirror. “Going to Save the Moo Moos will show these women I support their breasts and understand their problems.”

Walker let out a snort of laughter which he quickly turned into a cough. “Mr. Trench, it’s Save the Ta–”

Trench held up his hand. “I don’t need to be schooled by a kid like you. I come from a long line of political men. My daddy and my granddaddy both served in the state senate. Come November, those women will line up and beg to vote for me. You focus on my speech for next Saturday’s debate, and I’ll worry about tonight. Any idea where my wife is?”

“She said she’d meet you at the gallery. She had some…um…errands to run.” Walker knew the errand was boning her new yoga instructor, Hans, but what the senator didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Stella Trench paid him a nice healthy bonus every month to help hide her indiscretions.

 An hour later, Senator Trench eased his SUV into the parking lot next to the gallery. It had taken him three tries to park, but he prided himself on his ability to maneuver big things into little spaces. He licked his palm and used it to smooth his hair into place. At sixty-one, he still had a full head of hair that he kept black with a bit of help from a bottle of dye he hid under his bathroom sink. Opening his door, he felt it slam against the silver Prius in the next space.

“Damn ridiculous,” he muttered. “Got spots for the handicapped, compact cars, pregnant mothers, but they can’t make a spot for a God-fearing man with a real vehicle.”

He strode to the door of the Middleton Art Gallery. At the entrance, he spotted Stella standing close to a deeply tanned man with a shaved head and small goatee. Trench reached out and grabbed his wife’s ass. She gave a squeal and whirled to face him, her face pink. “Dang it, Tad! You about gave me a heart attack!”

“Just keeping my little lady on her toes.” He held his hand out to the bald man. “Senator Thaddeus Trench. Good to meet you.”

“Tad, this is Hans Oliver, my yoga instructor. Remember I told you how much he’s helped improve my downward dog position.” Stella giggled. “I feel like a new woman after a session with him.”

Trench eyed him. A pink handkerchief was neatly tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket. It told him everything he needed to know about Hans Oliver. He smiled. “Glad to hear your helping my wife. You must really give her a workout. She comes home exhausted after her evening yoga class. Keep up the good work. I like to support your kind.”

Hans lifted an eyebrow. “My kind?”

“Yeah. You know…” Senator Trench lifted his hand then let it droop. “It’s okay. Your secret’s safe with me. I can’t say that I agree because the good book says it’s a sin, but I’m not one to throw shoes in glass houses.”

“Good to know you’re so open-minded, Senator.” Hans smirked. “I’ll be sure to let my kind know about you. Stella, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Stella watched Hans walk away, her eyes gleaming. “He really is a fine yoga instructor. I’m not getting any younger, Tad. Thirty is right around the corner, and I like to keep my body a temple.”

Trench ogled his young wife’s plunging neckline. “You’re the finest temple I’ve ever seen, darling. I got lucky the day you walked into my church. A beautiful and virtuous wife is a blessing to her husband.”

“Oh, Tad, I’m the lucky one.” Stella looked up at Trench from under her lash extensions. Trench didn’t know she had stumbled into his church by accident that Wednesday evening five years ago after drinking one to many mojitos with the girls after work. 

“I’m glad you wore the dress that shows off your tits,” Trench said. “It will demonstrate to these women that you support their breasts, too.”

Stella rolled her eyes. Lately, she’d been replacing Trench’s little blue pills with vitamins similar in shape and size. After a few failed attempts on his part, her husband had retreated to his side of the bed and stayed. She couldn’t divorce him. She had her eye on the governor’s mansion one day. She couldn’t wait to host a cocktail party there and invite all the women who had turned up their noses at her. Once she was the wife of a governor, they would all have to kiss her ass. It was a finely molded ass, too, after all her sessions with Hans.

The two of them walked into the gallery. Stella snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Trench declined. He never drank in public. His constituents had certain expectations of a preacher and senator. If he wanted the governor’s mansion, he needed to maintain his façade and keep his liquor consumption private.

“Senator Trench and Stella! I’m surprised you accepted the invitation tonight.” A young woman with one side of her head shaved and the other side bedazzled with hues of pink and purple greeted them. “I’m KD, the featured artist for this evening’s charity auction.”

“Nice to meet you. What’s your media of choice, Katie?” Stella asked, looking around the gallery at the various sculptures and paintings.

“Now, sugarplum, we’re not talking about reporters tonight. I’m sure Miss–I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your last name,” Trench said as he placed his hand on the artist’s shoulder.

“I don’t use a last name, and it’s KD, not Katie.” She enunciated the letters. “I feel the use of last names by women supports the patriarchy. I’ve sloughed off the burden of years of female servitude and only go by KD. I’m a cartoonist, Stella. It’s okay if I call you Stella, not Mrs. Trench, right? I mean, you of all people should realize that we women have been on our backs to the patriarchy for much too long.”

Stella narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never been on my back for the patriarchy.”

KD laughed. “If you say so. Let me show you one of the pieces I’ve donated for the auction, Senator. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it.”

KD led them over to a large canvas. A scarecrow with jet black hair and vacant eyes sat on a crate milking a cartoon cow with large udders. The words tax dollars were printed on the udders. “Rather telling isn’t it, Senator?”

“You’re darn tootin’ it is. This is a piece of work. You’ve captured the plight of the American farmer. I’m going to bid on it,” Trench said. He gave KD a predatory white smile. “You’ve got some talent. Have you ever thought about painting portraits? I’ll need one done when I’m elected governor of this great state. It would be a feather in your cap if you could capture my likeness.”

KD snorted. “I’m sorry, Senator. I don’t work with oil.”

“Darling, you’re missing a prime opportunity to be famous. Cartoons are for the Sunday funnies, but you can’t make a living with them.” Trench squeezed her shoulder. KD slipped from his pawing hand, her lips tight.

“Actually, I make out just fine with my art. I’m the editorial cartoonist for the Middleton Times, and my work’s been featured in several national newspapers.”

Stella tugged on Trench’s jacket and pointed. “Tad, look at the face on the scarecrow.”

Trench smiled. “I know. It’s great, isn’t it? KD has some real talent, even if it is only a comic. That scarecrow almost looks like a real person.”

“Tad, look closer,” Stella insisted. She pulled him in front of the piece. “You don’t see the resemblance?”

Trench squinted his eyes. “No, honeybuns, I can’t say it looks like anyone I know. Is it someone from your yoga class?”

Stella sighed. She wondered if she could make it to Hans’ apartment for a little stress relief tonight. She glanced at KD. A thin woman with graying brown hair pulled into a tight chignon had joined them. Millie Highpoint, her husband’s most vocal opponent in the state senate, gave her a tight nod. “Mrs. Trench, you look lovely. Thaddeus, I didn’t expect you this evening. An auction to raise funds for breast cancer research doesn’t seem like your normal venue.”

“I love breasts, Millie. Some of my favorite people have breasts. I’m happy to come out and support Save the Moo Moos. More men should support breast research.” Trench beamed at the women. “You all have great tits. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep them healthy.”

KD flushed cherry red. Her fists tightened at her side. “Listen here, you pompous–”

Millie laid a restraining hand on KD. “Sweetheart, I think we should give the Senator a chance to speak this evening. We need all the help we can get to raise money. I think the bids might reach an all-time high with Senator Trench’s inspirational words.”

“I don’t know, Mom. Do you really think it would help?”

“Mom? Millie, is this your daughter? I was just telling KD here that she has some real talent. She should consider doing portraits. Capturing the likeness of people could really boost her career. I’m bidding on this piece here. Such a powerful statement. I plan on hanging it behind my desk at the governor’s mansion.”

Millie’s eyes widened. She looked at the senator, then at the large cartoon scarecrow on the wall, and then back at Trench. “You might be right, Thaddeus. Capturing a face takes talent. Now, will you open up the fundraiser with a speech?”

“I’m happy to help, Millie. It shows real bipartisan support to our constituents. Give me a moment to compose myself.” Trench buttoned his suit jacket and popped a mint into his mouth.

“See you at the podium, Thaddeus.” Millie winked at KD.

“If you’ll excuse me, Senator. I see someone I need to speak to,” KD said and hurried away.  

“Tad, do not tell these people you love tits,” Stella hissed. “It’s guaranteed career suicide.”

Trench patted Stella’s arm. “I’ve got this. You just stand next to me and smile pretty for the cameras.”

“I need to go to the little girl’s room,” Stella said. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

“Don’t take too long. This will be a prime opportunity to appear in the newspaper.”

Stella started walking towards the ladies’ room, but when she was out of Trench’s sight, she dashed towards the exit. She wondered how much she could hock her engagement ring for and if there was any cash at the house.

Senator Trench stood in front of the podium. He cleared his throat. Cameras flashed, and he gave the reporters and crowd his politician’s smile. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to speak here tonight in support of this important fundraiser. As I look at this amazing piece of art from KD, I realize that women and cows have a great deal in common.”

At the collective gasp from the crowd, Trench’s smile grew wider. He knew in an instant that he had won them over.

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