A Plum Assignment


One thing I can pinpoint, my well being follows the whims of the weather. When it’s sunny I feel pretty good. If it rains I’m a basket case. Fortunately, LA gets enough sun to keep the valley girls crispy brown all year, that is, if you discount the smog. One morning in the spring I woke up to one of those perfect days. The Santa Ana winds blew the yellow air somewhere and the sky was as blue as the day God made it. God? Well, that’s another subject I avoid these days. I get stressed out trying to choose between white and wheat at Subway. The cauldron of religion might just send me right back to the pale halls of Oakbrook. So, I guess food keeps my focus safely on the superficial.
Anyway, I dropped the top on my convertible VW Carman Ghia (the Beemer was long gone) and dove into the world looking for some steamed seafood. I found it just south of Santa Barbara and gorged on lobster and halibut, braised veggies and three kinds of pie with ice cream. I spent about half the money I had to my name but still felt good enough to keep driving up the coast and absorb some positive molecules.

“Hello,” I yelled into my cell phone and managed to keep my car on the road, “this is Jack Crevalle.”
“Jack, it’s Shirley.”
“Hey sweetie, how’s my favorite travel editor?”
“I’d be better if you checked in every so often. You haven’t called in days.”
“Oh Shirley, I’m sorry. You know, I’ve been busy chasing down the hard news baby. Real gritty stuff.”
“Right Jack. And how’s that gripping story on the Legoland theme park coming?”
“Oh it’s Pulitzer Prize material. I’m calling it Lost in Legoland, Children In Peril.”
“Very funny Jack. The story is supposed to make people want to go to the amusement park not scare the hell of them.”
“Yeah I know Shirley. But I’m telling you, that place is a death trap. It’s like Hotel California for toddlers. Kids go in and they never come out.”
“Jack, get serious. Are you doing the story or do I have to give it to a real reporter?”
“Ouch, that one hurt. Yes, I’m doing it. How’s this?” I said in my best sing song voice, “Legendary Legoland, Building Blocks of Fun.”
“That’s better. When am I going to get it? It was due yesterday.”
“How about I bring it over to your place tonight? You light some candles and I’ll supply the vino. We can play like old times.”
“Forget it Jack. Bring the story but leave your libido at home.”
“Can’t do it Shirl. You know, I always travel with my libido. If I left it at home someone might steal it and then I’d just be a washed up reporter. At least now I’m a washed up reporter slash love machine.”
“Keep dreaming partner. Just get me that story tonight or I’ll reassign it. Got it?”
“I love it when you boss me around. I’ll see ya tonight. Can you wear some black leather for me?”
“Goodbye Jack.”

Shirley always kept me straight partly because we used to be a hot item and partly because I occasionally cranked out good material from assignments nobody else wanted. Back when I was on the payroll, she and I were one of the jauntiest couples in town. She was the tall, dark-haired sexy reporter, just out of journalism school and I was considered dashing, smart and one of the most eligible bachelors in town. She had been one of my few visitors at Oakbrook and she only came twice. I don’t blame her. Hell, I was whacked out of my gourd. For that matter, I’m still just playing the game and hoping one day I find all fifty-two cards.

At first, Shirley handled me with kid gloves because of the nut house thing. But I told her to treat me like any other reporter who hadn’t lost their shit. Special treatment could be harmful. Like my shrink said, I needed tough love, not an enabler. What I really needed was lots of sunny weather, a truck load of smoked salmon and a lifetime supply of a Grand Marnier and Qualudes.

I showed up at Shirley’s with the story and an expensive Beaujolais.

“Good boy Jack,” she said. “I knew I could count on you.”
“No you didn’t, Shirley,” I said half seriously. “I didn’t know if I was coming until ten minutes ago. Are you a psychic now?”
“Let’s just call it a reporter’s gut feeling. I think you’re starting to get more responsible.”
“Don’t make me laugh Shirley. It’s not good for my reputation. I just need the money and I was hoping you might sleep with me.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because of old times?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Okay, how’s this? Because I have a present for you,” I said handing her the wine.
“My goodness, Jack,” she said brightly. “You were shooting for the stars tonight big boy.”
“At least I have hope.”
“The best you can hope for tonight is to share dinner with me. Have you eaten?”
“Uh, not in a few hours,” I said hesitantly. Shirley was no chef. Like most newspaper people she considered a half-eaten Snickers and a warm Coke a decent meal.
“What do you have in mind?” I said.
“Nothing special,” she said. “I have some lettuce and, I think a little mayo and . . .”
“How about this,” I offered. “You take your shoes off, relax, review my story and I’ll pour you an extra large glass of Beaujolais. Then I’ll see what I can scrape up in this desert you call a kitchen.”
“You’re on Jack. Plus it’ll give me a chance to give you a present too,” she said with a grin.
“Oh baby,” I said with an Elvis hip swivel. Then I shifted into Barry White and baritoned, “Let’s . . . get it on, mm-mmm, baby, let’s get it on.”

Shirley wouldn’t have believed it but I really didn’t want to go to bed with her. My sex drive had melted away months ago but for some reason I still felt the need to do the first-class male pig act. I’m sure it had something to do with a backlog of testosterone. My therapist told me that lingering guilt was preventing me from accepting intimacy. Psycho babble. From my point of view, I just liked food more than sex. Some weird paradigm shift crowned my taste buds king and my percentage of body fat was beginning to show it..

“No, not sex,” Shirley said. “not that kind of present. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’ve got a big assignment for you.”
“Really,” I said trying to act interested as I dug in her freezer. Bingo. Two filet mignons. Perfect. “That’s great Shirley. I really appreciate it.”
“I haven’t even told you what it is yet.”
“Oh yeah. Tell me. My anticipation is killing me,” I tried to conjure up some enthusiasm.
“How do the Cayman Islands sound?”
“I don’t know, like an expensive foreign country a long way from here,” I said sarcastically.
“Right, smart ass. And, I’m prepared to send you there for a story.”
“Interesting,” I said trying to figure how to respond. “Well I know the paper wouldn’t pay for that. What, is it one of those cheesy familiarization trips?”
“Yes it’s a fam trip, Mr. Ungrateful. But come on, it’s the Cayman Islands. Great beaches, all expenses paid, sun, fun and all that. And I’m offering it to you.”
“I don’t know Shirley. I’m pretty comfortable in LA. You know, all the animosity of the city and constant traffic problems kind of keep me on track.”
“Come on Jack, you’re talking crazy.”
“Hey, watch it.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just saying, this is a great opportunity and I can’t believe you’re not jumping on it. They’ve built this great new resort right on the water with luxury rooms, all the water toys, a five-star restaurant and a . . .”
I was doing my best to tune her out and concentrate on crushing a clove of garlic when something sparked my interest.
“Wait a minute Shirley. Back up. What did you say?”
“About what?”
“About the resort.”
“I said it was right on the water.”
“No not that, something else.”
“It has luxury rooms?”
“No, not that.”
“There’s a five-star restaurant.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Really?”
“That’s what the press packet says.”

I was skeptical. Nothing was ever as good as the press kit claimed.
“But Shirley, I mean is that five-stars as in the American rating system or is it some kind of Caribbean rice and beans unit of measurement?”

“Hell, I don’t know Jack. It’s a fancy resort. They have good food. Who am I Julia Childs? I mean really. I could have given this trip to two dozen people. In fact, I had to yank it from Patrick Farnsworth’s jaws. When I told him I wanted to give it to you, his bow tie curled up like a spring and he went over my head to the features editor. He tried to knock you off the story.”
“Farnsworth, that slime,” I scoffed. “He’s has no scruples.”
“Jack, bottom line. Do you want this or not? I thought I was doing you a favor.”
“Shirley, I’m sorry. And you’re absolutely right. I’ll do it. I appreciate it and I promise I’ll do a great job for you.”
“Don’t go out on a limb Jacko,” she said. “Just go on the trip, try to relax and bring me back fifteen hundred words of something coherent.”

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