by Martin Maenza
The front doorbell rang at one of the homes in a residential neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. It was after six o’clock PM, and the family was about to get ready to sit down to eat.
“I got it,” said a young woman with long blonde hair dressed in jeans and a sweater. Karen Peterson crossed the front foray as the second ring came. “Hold on! I’m coming.” She grabbed the door knob, gave it a quick turn, and opened the door.
“Can I help–?” Karen started to ask and then blinked twice at the person standing on the other side of the door.
“Hi,” a perky young female voice said. “I’m looking for Hal.”
Karen stood there for a moment, taking in the young woman. She had short blonde hair, professionally styled. Her eyes had a golden color with a slight fleck to them; Karen thought they had to be some kind of special contacts. Her outfit was a skintight, sleeveless white dress with a very short miniskirt. She wore matching knee-high white boots. But the thing that struck her the most was that she had seen her face before — Karen knew she was famous, somehow, even though she didn’t know why.
“Who is it, honey?” Tom Peterson called from the kitchen impatiently. Karen knew her father didn’t like the evening meal being interrupted.
“Uh, it’s for Hal,” Karen called back.
In a moment, a young man with wavy brown hair left the kitchen and hurried to the front door. “For me?” Hal asked.
Karen stepped aside.
The young girl on the porch practically jumped into Hal’s arms, giving him a great big hug. “Hal!” she squealed. “So awesome to see you again!”
Hal felt a little awkward by the welcome. He glanced over at Karen, who was looking equally surprised by all this. “Uh, Karen,” he said, “meet Cindy Simpson.”
“Cindy Simpson?” Karen raised her eyebrow slightly. “Well, tiger,” she said to Hal. “Looks like you’ve hit the jackpot.”
Lynn Peterson, wearing a blue apron, appeared in the kitchen archway. “Karen, is everything all right?” she asked.
Karen nodded. “Yes, Mom,” she said. “But can you set another place? I think Hal’s friend might be staying for dinner.” The young woman turned back to Cindy, who was still hugging Hal. This sudden arrival made her curious.
Soon, everyone was seated at the Petersons’ dinner table, enjoying a meal of meat loaf with mashed potatoes. Karen turned to their dinner guest. “I could get you a salad or something, Cindy,” she offered. “That is usually what your type has, right?”
Cindy nodded her head. “No, this is totally fine,” she said. “It all looks great.”
Karen nodded too. “I just figured you being a model and all that you’d be watching your figure.”
“A model?” Lynn Peterson asked. “Oh, how exciting. Have you been doing it long? You just look so young.”
Cindy smiled. “I started doing it like last summer on the recommendation of a friend,” she said.
Tom Peterson finished his mouthful and washed it down with some iced tea. “Last summer,” he repeated. “So, how do you know Hal, here? I don’t recall you ever coming around when he lived next door with his family.”
“We met in Europe,” Cindy said.
“Yeah,” Hal interjected. “I met Cindy during my trip to Europe last year. Remember, I met you in Paris after one of those shoots you had there?” He gently bumped her chair with his foot under the table to give her a sign to play along.
“Oh,” Cindy said. “Yes, that’s right. In Paris.”
“Hmmph,” Mr. Peterson said. “I can now see why you took your time getting back here to finish school. It’s not hard to figure out that a seventeen-year-old boy would rather be chasing after young models than studying.”
“Oh, Tom,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Conversation continued throughout the meal. When they were finished, Karen and her mother began to clear the dishes. “May I help?” Cindy asked.
“Oh, no, honey,” Mrs. Peterson said. “Why don’t you and Hal go in the other room and catch up?” Cindy nodded and left the kitchen.
Hal met Cindy in the hallway, steering her away from the family room where Tom Peterson was watching the evening news. He directed her to the living room where they could talk a bit more privately. “So,” Hal said in a very low whisper. “What really brings you to Dallas, Arisia?”
“Oh, Hal,” Cindy said. “It’s like I told your friends at the dinner table. I’m just dropping by while here on business. There’s a modeling shoot in town this week. I thought I’d like add a few days on to the trip so we could hang out.” She leaned in a bit closer, took his hand, and lowered her voice. “We don’t get to talk much when you come out for training sessions. You’re always in a hurry to get back here, you know?”
Hal blushed a bit. “Yeah, I suppose I do,” he said, looking up, and for the first time he actually looked into her eyes. Hal felt his heart skip a beat. “Yeah, I guess it would be fun to hang out a bit.”
Cindy smiled. “I’m glad.”
A couple of hours later across town at a hotel right near the Dallas International Airport, a tall, well-built man was shown to his suite. “Here you are, sir,” the bellman said, putting down the man’s suitcase. “The finest room in the place.”
The man removed his brown Stetson hat, placing it on the bed, and ran his hand through his short curly red hair. “Well, doggie,” he said. “I shore do reckon you’re right about that, son.” He reached into the pocket of his leather-trimmed, brown sports coat and pulled out some bills. “Here you go, boy.” He thrust the bills into the bellman’s hand. “That should allow you t’ take your best girl out on a night on the town.”
The bellman looked in his palm and smiled. “Yes, sir!” he said with appreciation. He left the room, closing the door behind him.
The man began to hum Deep in the Heart of Texas as he placed his briefcase on the other bed. He undid the locks and opened the cover so that it faced him. He then sat on the other bed. Moving aside the special liner, he revealed a small screen and buttons. He activated the device embedded in the luggage’s lid.
The screen shimmered, and the image of another man appeared on the screen. “Report, agent Dukeston,” a bald man with a beard and mustache said sternly.
“The flight went smooth as silk,” the red-haired man said. “Turnin’ into a right pretty night here, too.”
“Spare me the weather report,” the man on the screen snapped. “Don’t forget your mission.”
“Ain’t no way that will happen,” the man replied as he tapped his skull lightly. “Got the plan locked up tighter than a farmer would his unwed daughters. Don’t you worry none. When you send Earl J. Dukeston t’ do a job, it gets done right.”
“Fine,” the man on the screen said. “See that it does! Report in tomorrow after you’ve had your meeting. Out.” And then the screen went blank.
Earl Dukeston nodded to himself, replaced the special liner, and closed the briefcase. He turned to the television. “Hmm, I wonder if that there ball game is still on,” he said to himself.
The next morning, Cindy’s limousine picked up Hal and Karen for school. “Wow,” said Karen. “You get to travel around like this all the time?”
“The make-up company provided it for me,” she said. “Isn’t it totally cool?”
“Oh, yeah,” Hal said as he placed his book bag on the floor and closed the door behind him. “Really cool.”
“Where to, Miss?” the driver asked.
Cindy looked to Hal and Karen. “Taylor High on Rozakis and Saviuk,” Hal said. The driver nodded and put the car into gear.
“So, you’re going to hang out at school with Hal all day?” Karen asked inquisitively.
“Nope,” Cindy said. “Just part of it. I have a shoot to get to later in the morning. Still, I thought it’d be fun to see what your classes are like.”
“Fun?” Karen asked. “What planet is she from?”
Hal laughed, but not very honestly. “Cindy’s such a kidder,” he said. “I’m sure our classes are the same as those in California, right, Cindy?” He looked his friend in the eye, then darted his pupils in Karen’s direction.
Cindy caught Hal’s drift. “For sure,” she said. “It’s just that I don’t get to, like, go to classrooms much.” She turned to Karen. “You know, tutors and stuff.”
“Well,” Karen said, “one person’s drudgery is another person’s luxury.” The car pulled up at the school. “Time for fun.”
As the trio left the car, a crowd of students had started to form. It wasn’t every day that a limousine pulled up in the Taylor High parking lot. Those gathered began to whisper and point.
Karen noticed her friends across the way. “That’s my cue,” she said. “See you later, Hal. Thanks for the ride, Cindy.” She hurried off to avoid being further subject of gossip.
“Shall we?” Cindy said, offering her arm to Hal.
He hesitated for a moment. Hal wasn’t used to being the focus of attention when he wasn’t in costume. Then he noticed the school cheerleaders across the way. Red-haired Samantha Crockett was amongst them, all looking rather surprised to see who Hal had arrived at school with.
Hal smiled. “Sure, Cindy,” he said, taking her arm. “Let’s go!” With a beauty on one arm and a book bag over his other shoulder, Hal walked proudly past the Tigress cheerleaders. He could see the envy in Samantha’s eyes.
As they walked toward the entrance, Cindy noticed a banner hanging on the wall. “There’s a dance tomorrow night?” she asked. “Are you going?”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on it,” Hal started to say.
“Oh, please, can we go?” Cindy asked excitedly. “That would be totally cool! I can change my flight plans to stay in town an extra night!”
Hal swallowed, a little surprised by Cindy’s forwardness. The others were still in earshot, watching the couple. “OK,” Hal agreed. “Sure. Why not?”
“Oh, Hal, thank you!” Cindy said, and she gave him a great big hug.
Eat your heart out, Samantha, Hal thought.
Early that afternoon, in one of the large office buildings in downtown Dallas, the well-dressed Earl J. Dukeston paced impatiently. He glanced at the clock at the wall, then turned to the receptionist. “Excuse me, little filly,” he said to the young blonde woman behind the desk. “It’s after two o’clock. I had an appointment with Mr. Ehling.”
The young woman barely looked up from her papers. “Please be patient, sir,” she said in a rather rehearsed manner. “Mr. Ehling will see you as soon as he can. He’s a very busy man.” She knew the lines by heart, as it was often the case working for one of the biggest oil men in the state.
“Now lookee here, honey,” Dukeston said as he tipped up his Stetson hat. “I happen t’ be Earl J. Dukeston, CEO of Dukesco Oil. And I’m here t’ talk some big business with your boss. Now why don’t you just scamper on back there and see if you can hurry him up a bit, all right?”
“She’ll do no such thing,” a voice said from the doorway. It was a man in his early forties with black hair slicked over to one side. He was dressed in a finely tailored suit. “I don’t take kindly to anyone orderin’ around my staff but me.”
Dukeston smiled. “Well, if ain’t J.D. Ehling hisself,” the red-haired man said. “You know, you’re harder t’ nail down than a greased pig at a church social.”
Ehling stared back at the other man. “You have five minutes,” he said. “That’s all the time I can spare this afternoon.”
“Then let’s make those minutes count,” Dukeston said with a smile and grabbed his briefcase. He hurried into Ehling’s office after the man and closed the door behind him. “I’ll get straight t’ the point, Ehling. With all the uncertainties and whatnot going on over there in that Middle East, our homegrown oil’s become more important. Now I represent some folks who’d like to make certain that the petroleum dollar stays right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A.”
“And why would I need your involvement?” Ehling asked.
Dukeston smiled. “My friends can make sure that the Middle Easterners won’t be in your hair — in exchange for a percentage of the profits, of course.”
Ehling stood up. “Get out, Mr. Dukeston. That ain’t how my daddy did business when he started this company, and that ain’t how I do it, neither.”
Dukeston’s expression turned from friendly to very angry. “Sorry t’ hear that, Mr. Ehling,” he said sternly. “So I guess I’m gonna have t’ be a bit more persuasive with you, ain’t I?”
From outside the office door, the receptionist heard the sounds of breaking furniture and an altercation. She quickly picked up the phone to dial security.