Read The Lovely Chocolate Mob Online
Authors: Richard J. Bennett
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Christian
“But never mind that,” continued Walter. “That’s small potatoes compared to the Lovely chocolate empire.”
I sat there, impressed with Walter’s knowledge on different subjects, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and let him tell me what he knew.
“They’re what are known as the up-scale candies to millionaires,” he continued. “They sell on the global market, and make it into the Parliament, Kremlin, and palaces of the rich and powerful. They started it all here in east Texas, making it big in Nacogdoches, from there to Fort Worth and Dallas and then to Mexico and Canada and South America, Europe and Australia…” I sat there wondering how he knew all this stuff.
“These chocolates are quickly becoming popular in China. Word has it that they’re being smuggled and used as currency in North Korea and Iran, Iraq and on the black market in the U.S.S.R, I mean, Russia. How much of that is true, I don’t know, but it’s a rumor.”
“You’re talking about a billion dollar industry,” I said. I started to wonder if Dr. Franklin Burke was interested in Susan Lovely the bikini model or her soon-to-be chocolate empire.
“Not just a billion, multi-billions,” corrected Walter. “And since Old Man Lovely died, his granddaughter stands to inherit the Lovely chocolate business. She doesn’t have to sell bathing suits and underwear anymore. Who needs that when you have chocolate?”
This sudden burst of information made me go silent. Walter doesn’t like silence, especially among friends, and so he said, “Now tell me, this fellow who’s having a fling with Susan Lovely, does he stand a good chance of marrying her, do you think?”
“I don’t know, Walter. Like I said earlier, I’m still in the information-gathering stage. Let’s get a drink.”
Walter raised his hand for the waitress to see us. She came over, and was obviously familiar with Walter, because her manner became friendly when she recognized him.
“Hello, Walter. Haven’t seen you around here for awhile.”
“I’ve been laying low, darlin’. Say ‘hello’ to a friend of mine, from way back in school days.”
I smiled and said my hellos, and introduced myself, and so did she. She was a pretty waitress whose name was Kim Rogers, a bleach blond, who wore a tight and low-cut cowboy blouse with blue jean pants, a leather belt with a her name on the back and a large buckle in front, and cowboy boots. She had on enough clothes to cover up anything too noticeable, and was young enough to be my daughter. I found myself holding in my stomach for her anyway.
“I’ve been coming here since way back, Randy-boy. Kim’s mom used to work here, and I’ve seen Kim grow up right before my eyes. We’re old friends now.” He looked at Kim, lovingly. “Well, I’m the old friend; she’s the young one.”
Kim took our order and disappeared, coming back with our drinks, and disappearing again, giving us our privacy. She knew that people took the far booth to talk about serious matters. Walter had ordered himself a beer and me a coke. He remembered that I didn’t drink, and it was good of him not to push me. I enjoyed a good bar atmosphere with good friends, but was afraid of alcohol. Losing control is one of my phobias. Maybe I should talk to Miss Planter about that sometime.
“So you and Kim are old friends, right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “And before that I was friends with her mom, too.”
“What happened to her mom?”
“She married and split. Kim liked the area, and decided to stick around. She works here and drives to school in Nac-Nac-Nacogdoches, whenever she can, takes classes online, and is working towards her nursing degree.”
Walter had a thing with names. He enjoyed butchering what he thought, or felt, was an unusually long name.
“I’ll bet she makes a good nurse,” I said.
“Yeah, she will. She’s not only cute, but smart, too!”
I chuckled into my coke, then set it down and said, “It’s good that this working girl is smart; she’ll go far.
We didn’t say anything for a few minutes; Walter liked to enjoy his beer in silence. Then his face screwed up, and he said, “Say, are you being hired by a woman to keep tabs on her man? What’s going on? Who is this woman?”
He was beginning to put the pieces together. I knew this would come out sooner or later, but wasn’t expecting it this soon.
“The lady’s name is Burke. Mrs. Burke. And she’s not keeping tabs on her husband. Her daughter discovered this mess.”
Walter’s face scrunched up some more, and said, “What kind of man would mess around when he’s got a wife and a kid?” he asked. “If I had that, I think I’d be content,” he said, and took another drink. “Did you say Burke?”
He leaned back in his wooden chair, and said, looking off into the distance, “For some reason, that name sounds familiar, but I can’t right place it just now. Are you sure that’s her right name? Or is she just using an alias?”
“No, her name really is Mrs. Burke. She’s married to a medical doctor, a Dr. Burke.”
Walter quit smiling. His chair came down slowly on four legs, creaking all the way to the floor.
“This is starting to sound even more familiar,” he said.
Okay, it was time to ‘fess up. “The lady who needs help, her full name is Helen Ceraldi-Burke.”
Walter looked at me as though I had taken a stupid pill. Or maybe a year’s supply of stupid pills.
When he spoke, he said “Oh, crap.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“She did you dirty, Randall!”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Not long enough.”
“It’s all right.”
“It’s not all right!”
“I’ve forgiven her.”
“Forgiven, but apparently not forgotten.”
“I know, I know. Look, she’s in trouble.”
Walter wasn’t done yet. “You’re either a hopeless romantic, or else intergalactically stupid.”
“She needs help, Walter.”
“YOU needed help…. once.”
“She has a family.”
Walter stopped talking again, but kept looking at me. I couldn’t look up; I kept my eyes on my drink on the table. I guess this was a form of begging, and I was waiting for his answer.
When he started up, he said, “Her daughter found out the old man. Our classmate, Franklin Burke. And Mrs. Ceraldi
Burke’s got MORE kids?”
“She has four. Three girls, one boy. They range from college age to grade school. The boy is the youngest. They love their daddy.”
There was another pause. Walter took a long drink. I wasn’t thirsty, but was sitting and not moving, still staring at my coke. I was being drilled for information, but in slow motion.
“You know, I don’t give a rat’s rear end for her or that—that pretty-boy doctor she married. But those kids, that’s a different story.”
“I think she can go take a flying leap off a long pier into Lake Jackass,” he said, telling me where he stood on the matter.
“You were reduced to half a man; you trusted her!”
“What the living daylights is wrong with you, Bubba? What are you trying to DO?”
“I’m trying to help somebody who meant something to me, once.”
Walter clammed up. He took another drink. I know he was still eyeing me, keeping that mug to his lips for a long time.
“I’ll tell you what,” he finally said. “I’ll agree to be a part of this because I want to help YOU, but not HER. If she gets helped during this process, fine. If this thing blows up and she falls on her fancy derriere, that’s fine too. I have no feelings towards her.”
“She’s got kids. You know I like kids.
Walter took a quicker drink. He’s on-board, and has decided to be a part. He’ll help.
“You really are a sorry piece of work, you know that?”
“Yes, I know.”
Walter kept staring at me across the table. Then he started laughing, and laughed a long time. I felt I could move now, and took a drink. My coke had gone flat.
“Kim!” he bellowed.
Kim showed up, Walter gave her some money for our drinks, and then he reached into his pocket for some coins. “Kim, honey, take this over there and play 4B.”
Kim looked at Walter, then walked over to the jukebox, popped in the coins, and headed back to the kitchen and cash register area.
Over the speakers, LeAnn Rimes sang the old Ted Daffan song, “Born to Lose,” and Walter just leaned back in his wood chair on the two hind legs and laughed and laughed and tried to sing along. I guess he was feeling good. I’m glad he was on-board.
It was Monday, and I planned on taking a long lunch break. The bosses didn’t mind my being gone long, since they did the same thing themselves. I called it a “stress break,” and scheduled an appointment with my mental health counselor, Miss Planter. I would take lunch during the break, visit the counselor, and be back to work, usually within a two-hour time frame, still getting all the work for the day done. If I felt like it, I’d stay late at work just to let the bosses and fellow workers know that I “cared” about the current projects. That seemed to be the trend of the day, to show that someone actually “cared” about his work. Actually, I did, but didn’t like showing it; it’s just something that I was supposed to do, like breathing, eating, and sleeping. After working a full day, one sleeps with a clearer conscience.
Leaving the shop at 11 a.m., I drove over to the medical center, entered the mental health office, checked in with Phyllis, the young secretary, who offered me coffee and candy, and sat in the waiting room to read a magazine someone had left on the couch.
After a few minutes, Miss Planter opened her office door and welcomed me, pleasantly, and invited me into the question-and-answer room.
After I got comfortable, she asked how I’d been. Fine. How did I feel? Pretty good, I supposed. Had there been any recent developments in my life?
Well, for a moment I weighed an answer, then said, “Yes, an old flame came back into my life. She’s a married woman now, with children and a comfortable life.”
Miss Planter kept a blank face, but her eyes raised from her paperwork to look at me. “Tell me more about this old flame” she said.
I should have thought about her interest before I arrived. I cleared my throat and began, “When I was a much younger man, I allowed myself to become enamored and emotionally involved with a charming and beautiful young lady, a few years younger than me.”
“How much younger are we talking about?” Miss Planter asked.
“She was about three years younger than me, and I knew her both at both in high school and at college. At first, it was a worshipping her from afar affair, but then somehow I earned her friendship and then her trust, and her loyalty, or so I thought. It wound up very messy for me, because during the courting, I had geared up for marriage and the future, while she found another man with whom she felt more compatible.”
“I see,” said Miss Planter. “A heartbreak. Most of us experience that at some time or another. So far, this sounds within the bounds of normalcy.”
“Thanks for saying that,” I said, “because I don’t usually see myself as being a totally ‘normal’ type of person. I’ve never married. I have no children. I had my parents and siblings, but as you know my parents have both passed away, and the rest of my relatives are raising their own families in other cities. It's just me and my job now. I’m married to the job.”
Miss Planter replied, “You paint yourself as a dull and routine human being just because you’ve never married. I don’t think you’re dull.”
“Thank you again for saying that,” I said, and meant it. “But the truth is, I’m a confirmed bachelor, and my life is about exciting as tomorrow morning’s toothpaste.”
Miss Planter smiled at that, and started writing on her clipboard again. She paused long enough to ask, “Do you have any friends, Mr. Owen?”
I thought again, just for a moment, and said, “Yes, I have a few friends. Most of them are male friends, with whom I have hobbies in common. I know a few females also, but mostly they are acquaintances. As I’ve said earlier, I don’t date much; I don’t see the point of it anymore. That’s for people who plan on matrimony, or who want to have children. I’m almost too old for that, now.”
“Do you believe in marriage, Mr. Owen?”
“Oh, yes…marriage is great! For married people.”
Miss Planter smiled again. “But what do you think about the state of matrimony? Have you thought about its merits?”
“Yes, I think about marriage every day, Miss Planter. What are your thoughts on the subject?” I asked, hoping to take a little heat off of me.
“Now Mr. Owen, I’m not the counselee; I’m the counselor. I’m just fishing for information so as to ascertain whether you have certain views on certain subjects.”
“Yes, I know,” I remarked. “I was just being funny. Sorry. Here are my views concerning marriage: It’s a union of two people, as created by God in the Garden of Eden, so that Adam, and other men after him, would not be alone, but have someone for a companion with whom to make it through life. Marriage is the best situation in which to raise children. It’s not perfect, because people aren’t perfect, and stable marriages help to create stable societies.” I looked over at Miss Planter, who was looking at me as though I had just stepped out of the Middle Ages, or even a pre-historic time. I added, “And based on what I’ve just said, our society has just about had it, it seems.”
After a long pause, during which Miss Planter wrote on her tablet, she looked up and said, “Would it be safe to say that you are a religious man, Mr. Owen?”
“What do you mean by religious?” I asked, looking for clarification, since I’d found that “being religious” means different things to different people.
“Are you affiliated with a local church or synagogue?”
Now I smiled, and said, “Yes, I’m a member of the Reformed Church of the Savior, a local church near my home. I wouldn’t say I’m super active, but I go to church every Sunday and sit on the back row.”
“If you sit on the back row, why do you attend?” asked Miss Planter. “Don’t you want to be near the front, where you can see and hear the minister?”
“I can hear the sermons just fine,” I said. “We have a good sound system; I don’t need to see everything, just so long as I can hear it. Plus, the church now has the capacity to display the words of the songs on the wall. I love singing the songs, and this makes it easier for me to participate.”