The War for Evermore

Sienna Rosetti 01

The message couldn’t be clearer:

‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’ 

Simple, straightforward. 

I got it.

 

bennewman_siren_wip_03_notextCROP

 

1.1 – In The Beginning…

Two Years Ago…

Early Saturday morning – seven o’clock AM early Saturday morning – and I was driving my truck north along the gently winding curves of the Almaden Expressway. The hour was early, way too early and that made me cranky, almost as much as the hangover from the dinner party the night before. Now I sipped sipped my 24 hour gas station coffee, working the sludge out of my brain, grousing I was getting too old for this crap.

I cruised through the early morning gray, enjoying the smooth ride of my truck in spite of my foul mood. I’d recently bought the thing courtesy of residuals from a commercial for a local brewery. If you watched televised football in the few years before the Shift, you may have seen it. Me, a vampire – a very dim and clumsy vampire – ogling and chasing the local team’s cheerleaders around nighttime San Francisco. Goofy. Sloppy, even; shot with handhelds. Lowest common denominator stuff. I wrote off the exercise as a learning experience, thinking the spot wouldn’t last past the Halloween showing.

Ha.

Sucker went viral. Halloween came and went and they kept running the spot. That led to a Christmas sequel, another for the playoffs, capping the run with a grand final for the big game. Eight days work and four commercials over four months and come Spring I had myself a new truck and a revitalized bank account. And the cash flow was going to pick up: the agency planned a revival of the commercial for the new season.  This meant fewer odd jobs, less waiting on tables and more opportunities for stage work. Hell, I could even run up to San Francisco or down to LA for a few auditions. Maybe even Southern Oregon.

And, yeah, you read right. Commercials, stage work, auditions: I’m an actor. Everybody’s got skeletons. This one’s mine and, at the time, happily so. I was recently returned from summer stock performances in SoCal. I’d had a good run, but more important, my work there got me noticed by a company in San Jose, among other things landing me an invite to audition for The Tempest in the spring.

And that is the reason I was working out in the gym the day I got myself introduced to Ms. Scissors Lifts: I was in physical training for an audition, weird as that might sound. There was a monster in The Tempest, name of Caliban, and with my thoroughly scarred body buffed up to premium shape I figured I had a good shot at being the bastard.

Kinda ironic. After all, here I was at an age where I possessed the right combination of maturity and physicality to take on some great roles. I was being considered for serious parts by directors I admired. Even better, I was in a position where I’d have a shot at performing in some of the best theater companies on the West Coast, something I’d been working at for a long time. Yet with all these possibilities before me, there I was, more interested in bulking up and contorting my body in an extremely painful muscle spasm in order to earn the opportunity to lope around a stage like a maniac man-beast.

Go figure.

Of course, none of this mattered that early Saturday morning in late September. My only objective was I arrive on time at an address given me by the object of my wandering eyes and screwy libido. If I didn’t, Ms. Scissors Lifts was going to fuck me good.

And not in a happy way.

I still had no idea how I got myself in this mess. I couldn’t recall much of anything past sitting on the butterfly apparatus at the start of my workout. The minutes that followed were a jumble of vague recollections. My memories were scrambled with images of beaches and stars and a weird picnic with a beautiful woman, but I couldn’t even bring that into focus. The only things I did understand: one moment I was working out; the next I was caught leering at this woman with no idea what happened in the moments between to get me to do something like that. There was no denying I’d been staring at her. More to the point, staring at her crotch. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that, ever, particularly not in a gym. Yet it was the one memory that stood out for from the stew of confusion, the one etched indelibly in my memory. I’d done it. I had a clear mental image of her soft, rounded nether lips pressed firmly against the sweat-soaked fabric of her shorts.

Did I ever.

After she made it clear I was busted, Ms. Scissors Lifts told me – not asked me, mind you – told me to head down to the other end of the strip-mall the gym called home and wait for her at the coffee shop. For the briefest of instants I thought of blowing her off. No one else had seen what happened. Why they hadn’t was beyond me, but they hadn’t.

‘Go ahead.’ I could have said. ‘Complain. Your word against mine.’

Never happened; the idea died aborning. Something to do with the way she oozed self-confidence, perhaps. Maybe those cold blue eyes. Or the fear of being outed as a pervert. Take your pick. Whatever the reason, I backed down before I even realized I was backing down.

And when do I ever back down to a woman?

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have realized there and then something entirely wrong was going on. None of this was normal. Women don’t tell me what to do.

Everything about this was wrong.

I got the urge to skedaddle. I wasn’t listening. Thing was, I didn’t even know I wasn’t listening. I was following instructions and perfectly content to do so.

Ms. Scissors Lifts arrived at the coffee shop twenty minutes later, showered and dressed, taking her time, ordering a drink before joining me at a solitary outside table where I nursed my iced coffee in the late afternoon sun. She sat, face shadowed by a wide brimmed hat, sipped her tea and stared at me. I kept my mouth shut, concentrating on my coffee. Every once in a while I’d look up and she’d still be staring. Just staring. Freakin’ unnerving. I tried a sheepish smile. Nothing. The whole tableau had that ‘you-are-so-fucked’ quality: she’d bypassed playing with her food and gone directly to debating how she would administer the kill.

Brief thoughts of running tickled my consciousness and faded away.

She cleared her throat.

“Some days, you know?” She sipped, staring back at my confused expression like I should know what she means. “I mean, like this, now, the two of us?”

I had no idea what to say.

“Hopeless.” She sipped again, eyeing me. “It appears we have a problem.”  She lowered the cup, setting it down, smiling sideways with that unnerving, bared-teeth smile. “I’m kidding. You have a problem. On my way out I decided to complain to the gym manager.”

I stared, momentarily speechless, complacency fading.

“Marvelous.” I shook my head, sensing whatever it was holding me in place losing its grip. “Okay, then. Excuse me while I go clear out my locker.”

Time to find a new gym. 

I started to get up.

“Where do you think you are going?”

I stopped halfway, then straightened.

“You just got me kicked out of my gym. What’s left to discuss?”

“I said I complained; I did say about what.”

I blinked.

She frowned.

“Sit down. I am not finished with you.”

Huh?

“Would you sit down?”

She was obviously annoyed.

I sat, feeling even more confused.

What the hell was wrong with me?

“I told the manager – Sharon, I believe that’s her name – I told her there was an … incident. I did not identify with whom, nor did I offer up particulars of what occurred. I only mentioned there might be a problem that needed addressing, and I wanted to handle the situation privately.” Her eyes narrowed, and her voice took on a tone of menace. “I added that if things weren’t then resolved, I would revisit the matter with her.”

I stared at her, not comprehending.

“What that means is you are safe.”

She smiled ever-so-slightly, veiled menace informing the expression.

“For now.”

Ms. Scissors Lifts once more paused to sip her tea, never taking her eyes off me.

“I do not like men staring at me, particularly the dim sorts who feel compelled to hide while they get their … their …” She seemed to be searching. She gave up. “Well, whatever it is you do get out of it. This is rather perverted behavior, don’t you think? I mean, a grown adult leering at a woman like she’s putting on a show.” She tilted her head, looking at me sideways. “Is this something that started in your childhood? Perhaps you were one of those troubled little boys who would slink around your neighborhood at night, looking for bedroom windows with open curtains?

“No.” She cut me off before I could protest. “Don’t tell me. That is more information than I want or need.”

The bitch was merciless. But there it was: I’d acted like a goon and she was extracting her proverbial pound of flesh. There was no excuse … and I had no explanation. I’d gone off the rails with no idea why. So how could I begin to explain, to a perfect stranger, what happened was innocent, a momentary, unthinking and compulsive lapse of judgment.

Nothing deliberate.

And while you’re busy being me, try explaining why you kept coming back for more, or even more special: tell her what it was you were looking at. ‘Well, ma’am, I’m innocent. Really! The fault lies in that moist, sculptured area between your legs; an absolute work of art that left me so deeply in awe that I simply forgot my manners.’

Yeah.

Yeah. That would take the conversation to whole new levels of the bizarre.

Not even trying to look her in the eyes, I mumbled something about not knowing what came over me and I was really, really sorry and embarrassed and it would never happen again and …

Pathetic.”

I started, surprised, looking around.

Who?

“Did you just-?”

She cut me off before I could finish.  “Save the excuses. I’m not interested.”

I got the sense I was one of the most disgusting things she’d ever seen. Shaking her head, she opened her mini-pack, producing a pen and business card.

“Here is how we will work this out. I assume you wish to keep your gym membership?”

I nodded slowly, curious and vaguely apprehensive.

“Good. I have some things I need done; yard work, some heavy lifting. The men I have working for me were called out of town, and I need to get this project done now. You look healthy enough. You finish the clean-up they started and we’ll pretend this little episode never happened. Quid pro quo.”

The tension went out of me and without another thought I nodded my head and sighed in surrender. “Fine.” I needed to get this over with.

She never bothered to look up from writing. “I’m giving you an address. This Saturday morning. Be there. Early. 8:00 early. I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll explain what I want you to do when you get there.”

By now I was smiling, thinking a little hard work couldn’t be too bad. She looked up and caught my expression, smiling without humor.

“There are conditions.”

My smile went away like it was never there.

“You will do whatever I tell you, and there will be a lot to do. This will take a while, perhaps more than one day. If you are not done at the end of the first day you will come back and continue until I am satisfied you are finished. Understood?”

I nodded slowly, feeling that special feeling you get when you realize you might be screwed.

“Understood.”

She rose, placing the card next to my drink as she did.

“I will see you Saturday. Do not be late.”

She walked off without a backward glance, hips moving in smooth, hypnotic motion.

 

So there I was, Saturday morning, tired, more than a little hung over, taking a left turn off Lincoln onto Minnesota.  My window was rolled down and the morning air washed over me as I’m Only Sleeping crooned on the stereo, John in fine form. Right now the air was cool, refreshing even, but that wasn’t going to last. Thanks to weeks long off-shore breeze, we were in the middle of a late September Indian Summer, and it was one raging mother of a heat wave. The day was going to be brutal.

Three intersections and I made a right, followed by a couple more quick turns, ending up on a tree-lined street with a lot of old houses with big front yards, most of them Victorian mansions dating back to the late 1800s. The homes were all in pretty decent shape, not that the condition of the neighborhood would be surprising. This was a “moneyed” section of the Willow Glen, one of the older districts of San Jose.

I pulled up to the address and killed the engine.  The lot was huge, easily two acres, maybe even three or four, with Japanese maple trees planted in the front, lining the house, standing sentinel between windows. There were a pair of tall palm trees standing thick and tall in the middle of the front lawn. Anchored by a oak tree, a row of tall pines lines driveway side of the house, supplying morning shade. Odds were there were trees in the back, as well, though I couldn’t tell as the house was big, a massive three story Queen Anne.  Hedges lined the property’s borders, obscuring tall fences, and there was a thick lawn that covered everything between.

The Victorian had a run-down, fixer-upper look to it. Given the large piles of debris planted on the lawn in front of the entrance, it was likely someone figured that out and decided to do something about it. In the parking space in front of me was a trash dumpster, and its twin sat at the foot of the long driveway.  It was pretty obvious what was in store this hot, soon to be muggy day in September.

I looked at the card Ms. Scissors Lifts gave me, checking the address one more time. 659. Yep, this was the place. I turned the card over and read her name again: Sienna Rosetti.  Beneath, in italics: Professional Architect – Aesthetic Restorations & Renovations, Domestic & Commercial.

“Well, Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.” I sighed, already regretting the day before me. “I’m here.”

I got out of the truck, finished the coffee, crumpling and tossing the empty cup in the closest dumpster. Tugging on my baseball cap I made my way up to the front door and knocked. Less than a minute later the door opened and she stood there, dressed in dirty overalls, heavy boots and a snug, dirt streaked white T-shirt.  Like at the gym, her hair was tied back and she wore no make-up. There was a tool-belt slung from her hip, and a hammer hung in the little loop in the overalls.

“You’re early.” She sounded annoyed.

I nodded. Behind her, from what I could see through the deep gloom of early morning light, the interior of the house looked a mess. The walls were ripped out, though the structural supports appeared new and intact. Electricians had run conduit through the skeletal framework. Shiny new brass plumbing was also in evidence.  A lot of work had gone into this place, with plenty more to come.

“Alright, first thing: I need those piles of trash removed from the front of the house to the dumpsters.  They’ve been there for two weeks and the neighbors are not happy. You’ll find a wheelbarrow in the garage out back, as well as some work-gloves.”

With that she shut the door and I was alone on the porch.  That was abrupt.  I turned and was at the bottom of the stairs when I heard the door open again.

“What do I call you?”

I looked at her sideways.

“I go by Sam, ma’am.”

She was staring at me, her expression odd, almost disbelieving.

“Something wrong?”

“No. No, nothing is wrong.”

This is going well. Not.

“Oh. Okay. Well, that’s my name. Sam.” I smiled my winningest. “While we’re on the subject, what do I call you?”

She looked at me, expression suddenly subdued, even upset, then seemed to shake off whatever was bothering her.  That weird, predatory smile lifted the corners of her mouth.  Only this time, at least, she didn’t show the teeth.

“Ms. Rosetti will do fine, thank you.”

She shut the door, even more abruptly than before. I waited a moment to make sure there might not be a third coming. Finally, satisfied that there wouldn’t, I made my way to the garage.

 

My granddad used to tell me there was something to be said for good, hard work.  Much as I missed the old guy, were he there with me that morning I would’ve had plenty of thoughts to share on the subject, none of them nice. This was one nasty job. I was handling old and rotten wood, plaster, metal and nails, with all kinds of sharp edges to puncture and cut myself on. And don’t get me started on the dust and dead termites that were coating my sweat-soaked body. Adding to my general state of misery: I was slowly suffocating. I’d grabbed a scarf from the truck to cover my mouth and nose, and while it served to keep the dust and deceased insects out of my breathing passages, the combination of sweat, dirt and tiny dead things lodged in the thin fabric were blocking the air I was trying to suck into my lungs.

On the bright side, Ms. Scissors Lifts did give me work gloves, sparing my hands.

I’d been at it steady four hours now and I was hurting. At least the dumpsters were equipped with doors so I could wheelbarrow the debris up a makeshift ramp and unload, instead of having to throw trash up and over the shoulder-high sides. I stopped after my latest load to consider the current state of my bladder. I’d used the facilities once now, an event marked by the uncomfortable sensation of Ms. Scissors Lifts’ standing sentry over the operation. She let me in the house, hammer held lightly where I could see it.

The message couldn’t be clearer: ‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’

Simple, straightforward.

I got it.

There was a working bathroom on the first floor. Beyond it, toward the back of the house, an open doorway led to the kitchen. That room looked more ‘finished’ than the rest of the house, at least from my limited view. I refrained from taking a close look, of course, as the boss was standing at the other end of the hall, arms crossed with that hammer suggestively resting on her shoulder. Instead, I entered the bathroom, answered Nature’s call with dispatch, washed my hands and exited.

“Thanks.”

I walked by her and out the door, which she shut on my heels, without comment.

Damn. Downright frosty.

Minutes later she reappeared with a pitcher of iced water and a glass, setting both down on the front entryway without a word. The temperature was rising with the sun and I was already sweating like a pig, so it wasn’t like I needed an invitation. I filled the glass and drank thirstily. Again I offered my thanks, and again she acted like I hadn’t said anything, turning and closing the door in fluid movement behind her. Whatever. I drank some more and got back to work.

Now, four hours in, I was exhausted, shirt sticking, jeans chafing from all the particulate matter lodged between the cotton fabric and my skin … and stomach grumbling because I skipped breakfast. Hangover broiled out of me, my now-hydrated body wanted more solid replenishments. And speaking of liquid, I still needed to take that damned leak. I figured I’d use the bathroom, then run down to the deli on Lincoln to pick up a sandwich and a beer.  No problem.

Except … I was worrying about how best to ask her to let me use the bathroom. If that isn’t intimidated, I’m not sure what is. And it was me being intimidated! This is stupid! There was no reason for me to act this way, psyching myself out for no good reason … but there I was, hemming and hawing.

The hell with that. 

I’d just tell her I was going to get something at the deli – after I told her I was going to use the bathroom, of course – and that would be the end of it.

I turned and there she was, standing outside the dumpster. The resolve died in my belly.

What the fuck is this?  

“I’ve made some lunch.” Her voice was cool, neutral. “You are welcome to stop and join me on the back porch. Come. I’ve set a table there.” Without waiting for an answer, she pivoted and walked up the drive that led to the back of the house.  She stopped after a few strides when she realized I wasn’t following.

The reason? I was staring after her like the clueless dog that I am.

She turned, looked over her shoulder like she was trying to understand what just happened, then came back to stand before me once more.  “You are working hard. You are doing a good job. In return, I am offering to share my table. It is customary to treat our … our…”

Her voice drifted off and she looked away, her manner suggesting she was searching for the right word, and I wasn’t going to like it. Don’t ask me how I knew this; I just did. Weirder still: the understanding didn’t bother me.

She shrugged. “Never mind; you don’t have to if you don’t wish to. I could bring the food out here and you could eat alone. Or there are places over on Lincoln.”

I’ve made some bad choices in my life, choices I’ve truly regretted.  Not this time.

At least, that was my thinking going in.

Ha.

“No. No … I’m really okay with your table, ma’am.” I managed to get the words out, stumbling over debris as I stepped forward. “Ah, if you don’t mind, I’d like to clean up first …”

That elicited a nod.

“Go on inside.” She nodded toward the front door.  “It’s unlocked. When you’re finished, walk through to the rear, through the kitchen and out to the porch.”

I started across the yard.

“Sam?”

I stopped and looked back at her.

“You can lose the Henry Fonda act.”

I stared at her, puzzled. She was almost smiling. Almost.

“Stop being so damned polite and please don’t call me ‘Ma’am’ … My name is Sienna.”

Sienna turned and walked down the path, not waiting for an answer. I stood there for a moment, watching her disappear around the side of the house before finally entering the front door, walking about half-an-inch off the ground as I did. When last I entered the house she stood sentry, holding her hammer and acting like she’d use it on me for even a sideways glance; now she was treating me like we were the same species.  Sure, the paranoid in me wondered at this, but for the most part I felt rewarded, like I was in the first grade and teacher just gave me a gold star.

The feeling was good, and I saw no reason to question the mood.

Lunch awaited.

So did Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.

Hormones.

You just gotta love the suckers.

 

Continued…

August 30, 2016 - Posted by | Sienna Rosetti, Telling Stories | , , , , , , , ,

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