Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rambling Writes - Chapter 1 - A Mysterious Offer


The sun was just lightening the sky when the phone rang. I rushed to it, not out of excitement but out of a desire not to wake the rest of the household. 




"Hello?" I answered trying to keep the irritation at the early hour out of my voice.


From the moment I put the handset to my ear I was treated to an unstoppable avalanche of words. It seemed I would never get another word in and as the phone clicked down on the other end I realised that I hadn't. I sighed as I placed the phone back in the cradle. I should have known I was coming, in some ways I think that I did, but it was never nice to hear.


"She broke up with you didn't she?"

It wasn't really a question and although it was obvious I still nodded.

"I'm sorry," Rowan said coming to my side.

"No you're not," there was no malice or anger in my tone. It was a simple statement of fact.


"No I'm not." He did not try to hide the pleasure in his statement. It wouldn't have worked anyway. Although he spent most of our childhood away at a school for the arts we were still closer than normal siblings and I would have been able to sense the lie. He studied me for a moment, his eyes narrowing, and I couldn't help the feeling that I was being judged. It made me a little uncomfortable and I turned away from him hitching my shoulders as I did so. The kitchen seemed a safe escape but I had not made it two steps in that direction before he interrupted me. "You're not sorry either, are you?"

I hesitated before answering him. "No," it was quiet but loud enough for him to hear and nod his satisfaction. I didn't want to admit it but it was the truth.


He came to my side then, gently placing an arm around my shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll find someone else."

I nodded and managed a wan smile. I knew he was right. Finding a girl had never been a problem for me. In fact it seemed the moment I decided I was ready for a relationship again I more than enough girls around ready to go out with me. Spoiled for choice my friends said, I wasn't so sure. No the problem was finding the right girl. Sure I cared for the girls I dated but not in heart wrenching can't live without them kind of way, not in the way I saw my grandfather look at my grandmother every day of my life. That was what caused my heart to sink and my stomach to knot. I should have been upset by the breakup, I had heard these things were painful, but as with all the others I felt nothing. The lack of being hurt actually hurt more than the breakup itself. A honking horn dragged my attention away from my sour thoughts. 


Rowan squeezed me encouragingly before he headed for the car and his waiting date. "Besides," he called over his shoulder. "She was a complete...." The slamming door cut off the last word and this time I smiled in truth. Rowan had never been shy of stating his feelings for this girlfriend, or any other for that matter. According to him not one of them was good enough for me. Honestly he was more protective of my love life than a mother is of her only son, not that I would know. I sighed as I turned my back on the door and returned to my dreary life. Yet another day of wasting away in front of the television, just they way I want to be spend my Saturday morning. 


A strong pair of arms stopped me in my tracks. "Gotcha," Rowan said from behind me.

"Rowan? What are you doing back here? I thought you were going out." I tried to free myself from his grip bit it was no use. He might look wiry but Rowan had a strength born from hours chiselling blocks of stone in the masterpieces of perfection.


"I am," the happiness in his voice was almost annoying in my bitter mood. "And you're coming with us."


"No..."


"Not another word. We are going to the Buzz and that is just the thing to lift your spirits. Don't make me get Pepper in here to drag you." He smiled and I knew he was joking, or at least mostly joking, but there was enough steal in his eyes to make me know that he was not going to take no an answer. Besides I never minded getting an eye full of the Cocobean goddess who owned the place.

Shaking my head I smiled back at him. "Alright then but only if you're buying."

"Deal!" he said grabbing me by the arm and pulling me along before I could change my mind.


Bubble Buzz, or The Buzz as Rowan affectionately called it, certainly lived up to it's name. Since it's opening it had been on everyone's lips creating a stir in the community. More than that the hum of the place itself showed the appropriateness of the name. People said it never truly woke up until the sun went down but there was more than enough of a crowd now to make us need to squeeze our way into the through the door. You would think that the place would be too much for me post breakup but the truth was the colourful lights and noise of the happy patrons was just the contrast I needed to my dull and deary life.

Pushed into a corner by people edging to the till Pepper and I stood waiting for Rowan to deliver the drinks that were his end of the deal for me coming here. I took in the sights and sounds around me, drinking them in and letting them pulling me from my own thoughts.


"Come on," Pepper said into my ear. "Let's go find a table. If we can." He walked off snaking his way around laughing happy people trying to find a place a relative quiet in the storm. I nodded absently following after him. More than just my brothers boyfriend Pepper had become a good friend over the years. He was always there for Rowan in good times and bad. In truth I envied the love between them. It was what I yearned for, to know there was someone by my side that would love me unconditionally was the fondest dream of my heart. In a way I blamed him to though. If it had just been my grandparents who were so insanely in love I could have let myself believe it was a product of a bygone era. But once Pepper came into Rowan's life I could no longer believe that lie. True love was real and all around me, at least for everyone else.

In an impossibly short period of time Rowan appeared at the table two drinks in hand. "Mine's on it's way," he said setting the other two in front of Pepper and me. Settling himself in the chair next to me he and Pepper began some conversation that must have started before I joined the party. I quickly got lost in their discussion about the successes, and failures, of Rowan's old school mates. I didn't mind. It gave me time to engage in one of my favourite pastimes, people watching.


I watched surreptitiously from behind my steaming mug as one of the staff members moved a plant around the room muttering softly to herself. The people around us seemed to ignore her tirade, most people did who came here with any regularity, as part of the oddities that made the Buzz's staff one of the favourite topics off gossip in our sleepy town. After a time I grew tired of watching her and searched the room for the sole reason I agreed to this little jaunt. When my eyes found her they could see nothing else.


She stood at the edge of our table chatting to a customer her face beaming. Unlike so many others the coloured lights of the shop did not cause her skin to take on an otherworldly hue. No, for Miss Molasses Macchiato they just deepened her colouring making it richer in contrast.  She bustled around the room constantly moving but always with a smile for familiar faces. Her warm dark tones with hints of gold reminded me of a creamy chocolate that would melt with delicious sweetness on the tongue. Excited shivers ran through me at the thought of it. I had never spoken more than two words to Molly but I, like most people in town male and female alike, was utterly intrigued by her. When she came to town it was like a warm tropical breeze had blown in bring sunshine and life with it. It seemed that there was a new life in this town now that she was here as if just her presence had brought back something long forgotten. Rowan scoffed at my notion saying I only believed that because I was infatuated with her. Perhaps I was.


"Your drink," the waiter said dispassionately. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't place him. Not surprising really. If he was as bored and boring as he seemed at this moment I likely forgot him the moment I turned my back. I never could keep anyone straight unless they help my interest.

"Excellent," Rowan enthused taking the drink and sniffing it appreciatively before taking a slow sip. "Mmmmmm perfect."

"What is in that thing anyway?" I asked my curiosity getting the better of me.

He laughed and winked at Pepper conspiratorially. "That would be telling secrets now wouldn't it."


We stayed for hours chatting and drinking while watching the antics of both customers and staff alike. The happiness of the place was infectious and even I was getting into the spirit of things. It was only when the shadows began to lengthen that Rowan looked up expectantly.

"Sugar look at the time. We have to go! Rosey will never forgive me if we don't give you plenty of time to get ready. I groaned inwardly. Rosey would kill him, although I knew he was as anxious to get ready himself as to get me ready, but I was no where in the mood for the ordeal that awaited me. Rowan was already on his feet and pulling my chair out from the table before I had even set my cup down.

"Hey!" I protested. "I'm not finished yet."

"Your cup is empty and don't you try and get out of this. You've worked to hard to skip out on tonight."


"I'd hardly call it that," I muttered but before I could say any more he was yanking me forcefully backwards.

"Just go with it," Pepper stage whispered to me. "You know how he gets when he makes up his mind." I could feel the force of Rowan's glare over my shoulder but that didn't stop him pulling me to my feet.

I did know how he got when he made up his mind and that's how I found myself, hours later, trapped in our childhood bedroom in a tuxedo I was far from comfortable in.


"Stop fidgeting." Rosey was the picture of serine calm and looked extremely comfortable in her formal clothing, unlike me. Her light dress was bound to be more comfortable that the layers I had on and I knew I would regret my choice before the evening was out.

"I can't help it I look ridiculous." I didn't like this suit, never had, but she and Rowan had insisted on it. They seemed to think that if I wore dad's old suit it would some how bring me closer to him, make me forgive him. They were wrong.

She sighed in exasperation. "Well can you at least try to look excited? You won the most inspirational article. Twice! It's a big deal River."

I shook my head. "Maybe to you but that article was just something I whipped up. It didn't have any soul." She didn't understand. Unless I felt like I worked hard, like I deserved it, then this award meant nothing to me. The problem was I never had to work hard at anything in my life. People said I was lucky, charmed even, because things just seemed to fall into place for me. To me it was anything but luck. Just for once in my life I wanted to have a challenge.

"It didn't have soul? Oh my berry River that was the most heart wrenching piece I have ever read in my entire life! Tell him Rowan!"


"It's no use Rosey. He just can't see his own worth. Nothing you can say will make him listen so you might as well give up and just be excited for both of you." Rowan never even bothered looking our way focusing solely on the final adjustments to his own look for the night. Pepper got up to help and straightened Rowan's tie from behind with such an intense look of love in his eyes that I looked away in embarrassment.

"Fine," she said hopping up from the bed. I'm going to go get the car. I'll see you out front. None of them really needed to be there to help me get ready but I suspected they had decided to surround me in order to prevent me slipping away. It crossed my mind but I never would have done it. There were too many other people that I would let down if I did.


"How's it going in here?" The door burst open with one of those people I would never want to disappoint.

"Ready when you are grandpa," I said putting as much enthusiasm as I could into my voice. I loved that he was so proud of me and I was going to do nothing to ruin this day for him. He was the true father figure in my life and I couldn't have asked for a better one.

He and grandma hustled us all out the door beaming smiles in every direction. After some hushed words between grandma and Rosey, where I suspected the most recent breakup was revealed, grandma couldn't stopped looking at me with those sad eyes of hers. She took ever chance she could to pat me supportively on the hand or smile in my direction. Had it been either of my siblings I would have told them to knock it off long ago but her I could never hurt.

The ceremony was blessedly short and it was not long before I found myself at the reception drink in hand.


We were being treated to a night of art in the ever famous museum but it was odd to hear top forty songs blaring from the stereo instead of the classical orchestra I had come to expect at such gatherings. It was a who's who of Sugar Valley in attendance but even still grandpa managed to draw a crowd. I never knew how he did it. He was so shy and quiet in normal life but somehow, when he became Bondi Kei Parfait, he transformed into the celebrity expected him to be. If only it were so easy for me.

The bright lights and strong drinks did little to liven up the atmosphere in my opinion and I scanned the room aimlessly. It was the event of the season, or so I was told over and over again, and I was bored.


"I see congratulations are in order again Mr. Crisp." His oily tones almost perfectly matched his oily hair and he was perhaps the last person I wanted to speak with tonight. I looked for an escape but the perfect spot at the back of the room I had chosen earlier now meant he had me cornered.

"Thank you Mayor Spoom." I smiled fixedly at him wondering how long it would be before he tried to use my family connections 'for the good of the city'.

"You look quiet a bit like your father tonight in that suit." I blanched at the complement both in the comparison to my dad and the fact that he was who the Mayor was after. As if sensing my displeasure he changed his tone to one of dismissal of the absent party. "Of course he has never done anything like this. Not one but two awards for your articles. And at such a young age as well. You are an impressive man River. I can call you River can't I?" The last was asked with a smirk as if he knew the answer before the question was asked.


"Uh, sure Mayor Spoom." Seeing a woman walking by with an empty tray in her hand inspiration struck. "Can I get you a drink?" With luck by the time I made my way back he would have found someone else to schmooze.

"Sherbert my boy, you can call me Sherbert. After all I have a feeling we will be seeing quite a lot of each other over the coming months."

Sugar plan A for escape was a failure. "How so?" I asked to occupy him while I cast about for a plan B.


"I'm talking about you working for me River and maybe getting another one of these awards in the process."

That pulled me up short. Working for him? This didn't seem like his usual stunts. "Doing what?" I asked unable to keep the suspicion from my voice. Knowing the Mayor there was some sort of angle here and I had no intention of being caught up in it.

"In doing what you do best of course. It seems you aren't the only thing in this town that is all the buzz if you get my meaning." He glanced significantly at Molly standing on the other side of the room in case I had missed his not so subtle hint.

"What of it? The Buzz is popular there's no story there."

"There is in the fact the proprietress won't give an interview although she's been selected for the most successful business of the year after being open a bare few months. Now why would some one so successful refuse something that would give her more publicity?"


"Maybe she just likes her privacy." I muttered.

"Maybe she's hiding something," he retorted catching my comment. "What if there was more to that place than meets the eye? Wouldn't that be worth finding out? My sources tell me that there are some suspicious characters that work for Miss  Macchiato and odd things that happen at that store. I can't tell you any more because it is all hearsay for now. That's why I need you."

"You want me to investigate the Buzz?" It seemed an unusual request. The Mayor never did anything unless there was some benefit to him.

"Precisely. It would mean a lot of under cover work and would probably involve you getting deeply intimate with the people who work there but just think of the story that would come out of it. You get fame and glory and I ensure this town is kept clean of .... unsavoury elements." He paused letting his words sink in for a moment. "It could be quite a challenge to get to the bottom of but I think you're the right man for the job."

"And what do you get out of it?"

He laughed then. It was an unctuous laugh that grated on my nerves. "Can't fool you can I. Well let's just say my interests are not ready to be shared at the moment." I could believe that. In fact I could believe he was unlikely to ever tell me. Still...

Despite myself my interested was piqued. A challenge and a chance to get a bit closer to a certain Cocobean femme fatale.


It was more that intriguing. In fact it was irresistible. Turning to the mayor I proffered my hand. "You have yourself a deal...Sherbert."