Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 75 and Epilogue

Okay, that's it. The end of the 129,000-word novel. This is the clean and final edit. The first post ran on April 9 of last year. The novel is blogged alone, and in its chronological entirety here:

Thanks for following along. Your interest has been both encouraging and surprising, your input invaluable.

Now, the scribe will be hitting the highway running through New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. next week. There may be a post or two along the way, the trip representing an actual chance to do some highwayscribery. Upon his return, with the novel now put to rest, the scribe will begin anew his crusade against the absurdities of our society.

Chapter Seventy-five

When Randall rounded up some of the anonymous sidewalk smokers along Joya’s retail strip and told them what a good idea he thought it would be to avoid a clash with the BID security detail and smoke somewhere else, he got something of surprise.

He’d been expecting (hoping perhaps) for a crestfallen look from his distant disciples. But there is no such thing as a distant disciple and one of them responded to his pleading with, “It’s not about you, asshole. It’s about smoking where we want to.”

“It’s basic,” said the woman next to the guy who’d just spoken.

All of which was true from Randall’s perspective, too, but his mission was rooted in that old bugaboo, responsibility. He told them that choosing one’s battles carefully is the surest strategy for survival and eventual victory. He told them that living to fight another day was the goal, that simply smoking, anywhere at all, was an act of considerable defiance and affirmation. He was giving them the “if you knew what I knew” old man’s speech that had repulsed him for years and thought it ignoble to reveal why (because they’d get their heads beaten in).

“The issue is whether we get to smoke here and now,” responded an attractive girl in a freshly cut maroon leather jacket and slightly yellowed fingers. Randall was heartened to hear these things from them and was torn.

But he forged ahead, infected with Corey’s passion for getting things done. “Look, if you insist on being here the day of the deadline, they’re going to come and beat your heads in.”

As he suspected, this caused something of an impression in the ranks of defiance.

They were good-looking kids, cafĂ© kids concocting and re-concocting the configuration of cool on the fly and Randall would be damned if he had the key to what moved them. Perhaps it wasn’t him, or The Smokers, or rights at work here. His own respect for the invisible and addictive hand of caffeine provided the possible answer. “They’re wired,” he told himself.

And so, Randall departed with a full promise from the kids to absent themselves when the courts were done giving clearance to the sweep of smokers out front of the stores. His newfound skepticism regarding freedom was confirmed for he’d found the neophytes willing to abandon their cause at the mere mention of physical harm. And good for them.

His own talk had been borrowed from the practical crowd and its bread-and-butter sensibility made him want to throw up. The retreat begun, he now begged for the day when the whole thing was finally wrapped. He was no longer in control, merely executing motions predetermined by forces beyond the reach of his word, his mind, his people.

At home he kicked back with a Prince Edward, dirty in the mouth and sour.

He thought to himself, “How beautiful it is to do nothing and, after that, rest.”
Then he remembered, rising wearily from his reading seat, that he had to call City Attorney.

“Mission accomplished,” he promised the public official, hanging up before anything more might be said.

Chapter Seventy-six

The acceleration of information moving across the system of flows meant that everyone knew what was expected of them. Even the future mayor, who preferred avoiding inclusion in any network formation that counted on The Sidewalk Smokers Club, was in on the talks.

Again, they were each left to mull over the exquisitely difficult positions in which circumstance and their own machinations had placed them, with a hapless Jordan confronting the hardest kind of choice – that between bad and lousy.

It had come out over the 7 p.m. entertainment magazine shows that Vindaloo Baxley and Hat Midone had conducted a joint press conference announcing their intent to be present and sidewalk smoking when the BID began its street clean up. A firm deadline had been set. They made a great show of things, which was to be expected given their stock and trade. Irreverent they were, too irreverent. It looked like so much fun as such battles can be for those with little or nothing invested them.

Randall, who caught the tail end of a segment in which they hurled bum philosophies at reporters, knew a different reality and it was much less a rollick. Not a good thing – the press conference – for it had undone what he’d just finished doing. It was Vindaloo and Hat pumping themselves up and he knew who to call about it. Clarisse picked up, her voice hollow with fear.

She gave the phone over to her husband after the little civilities. “I didn’t think they were going to do this?” Corey asked his assertion, fairly sure it wouldn’t cut mustard.

Corey did not hear much of what Randall had to say because he was too busy explaining that it was, after all, his job to “magnify and dramatize” everything related to The Smokers.

But he heard the last part: “Now they are The Sidewalk Smoker,” which would have been true even if Corey had remembered to copyright the name.

Elsewhere, though nearby, bent on heading off a catastrophe of civil disobedience and para-police overkill, City Attorney made Jordan’s decision for him, closing off his paths to both freedom and love simultaneously; proving nobody is ever “almost” out of power. He directed his staff to blast a press release announcing the identification of a suspect in the Angel Without Mercy case. Next he left a message with Dumburton. Hanging up the phone he covered his mouth aghast at the turn of events.

Down in Beachtown, Eilin lay asleep naked beneath Jordan’s adoring gaze. She seemed floating in a parallel reality, not nourished by everything he had yet to tell her.

The smooth, arched, earnest brows and easy breathing of his sex girl and future mama hailed from a place Jordan knew he would never possess. She was not his, and not meant to be once he’d done what he’d done before having even met her. Oh hope.

There was a knock at the door. “It’s Dumburton,” came the response to his question of who had come to break this final moment of love and peace between them.

Those questioning City Attorney’s reasoning are not without cause given what is known about his ineptitude as a political strategist, the prime example of which was his association with The Sidewalk Smokers Club.

In this latest scheme for temporarily ensnaring Jordan in the criminal justice system and dashing The Smokers’ ship of fortunes on the rocks of the assisted suicide issue, City Attorney again underestimated the object of his manipulations.

The Club, and sidewalk smokers, and the assisted suicide crowd, and magazine girls, and the spoiled actor and actress with their ready-to-wear retinue of media could hardly be expected to wilt because City Attorney had smitten one of them.

Instead, Jordan became their primary indulgence. He’d been apprehended. It could not stand. Continuing the politics, City Attorney had called all Club members in the hours ensuing his betrayal: Joya, Yvonne, Clarisse and Corey, and tried to explain why he’d done what he had done. Naturally they were shocked (except Joya) that Jordan was linked to the high-profile case, even if it explained certain aspects of his peculiar in-and-out relationship to them.

The consensus response was that they understood completely and would never be able to forgive City Attorney.

“City Attorney, that’s silly,” Joya told him following the unveiling of his project to keep the streets from running with blood.

“Beside,” Clarisse explained, “dose smoker out dere won leesin to us anyway.”

And she was right. Fired-up by the opportunity to march with Vindaloo and Hat, and even the practical purposes of their cause, the smokers and their friends converged from far afield on deadline day and began to smoke in defiance of countless warnings to do the opposite. This was not a case where the dissidents were caught unawares by what befell them. They were cruising for a bruising.

Thorpe and Diaz had sought to apply a new enforcement technique that involved sealing off the area around the stores early that morning and shaking people down one at a time before letting them go through. This was designed to prevent the smokers from congregating into a less manageable mass and diminish their impact.

Some time ago the good people had waved their right not to be shaken down and electronically searched in exchange for the promise of security from the teeming and fundamentalist hordes, and so this was actually workable from a policing perspective.

But the merchants nixed the idea because it would hurt business. They were all expecting clean-up day to be a kind of payday, too, and in this their greed outpaced their common sense, the existence of which we know bum philosophy questions.

The sacred cow invoked, Thorpe and Diaz were helpless and gave up the only idea that might have saved the situation.

And so the true sidewalk smokers - not the club - gathered. Dressed for the event even. Gilded, delicious, a giant swarm of gadflies. People for order and opposed to jaywalking grimaced and hated. Those who spend their lives beneath another’s boot heel could only smile ruefully, pleased with the effort, saddened by what they knew to be its ultimate, inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, Jordan was having a rather unpleasant time of things in jail, CA’s promises to spring him aside. The actors’ coup and highjacking of the smokers’ salvation had City Attorney occupied completely. Worse, the lawyer had not imagined such a tepid response from the media. All eyes were on the smokers. Plans to have an activist bail Jordan out and hold a little something for reporters about an hour or so after his internment failed to take form. Still, around two in the afternoon, as the sidewalk smokers gathered to fulfill a tragic destiny, a guard came and sprung Jordan.

He was pleased to see that his only phone call had been put to good use and that Carlos had come through with the bail money and everything else (read: pouch of Drum and rolling papers) he needed at that moment.

Jordan was quickly filled-in on the fast-moving developments to which most of the city had been attuned all morning. He decided upon heading straight over to the brewing mess and Carlos agreed to take him. When they got within eyeshot of the El Camino and saw two police officers examining cuerno de chivo, Carlos made a break for it down the street and Jordan followed. The police yelled after them. A siren began to color the atmos-fear. Tires ripped themselves on the asphalt. Carlos ducked into a backyard and glided easily over to a shed for which he inexplicably possessed a key. He waved Jordan in and closed the door behind them.

The place was wired within – a refrigerator, television, and computer – a regular conversion job. They decided on having a beer and lying low for a while. Carlos cursed his lost car, machine gun, and lucrative career as an anonymous criminal.

“In Zacatecas jou can smoke in de streets, piss there eef you wan, take you beer from dis bar to dat one-”

“And....carry a combat devise without a license.” Jordan interrupted, trying to make a point about the freedoms Carlos enjoyed locally as opposed to those of his birthplace.

“No, I haf licence for el cuerno de chivo. Das de prolem man. Now day know me.”

“Yes, but have you done anything wrong?”

“Plenty man. In dis cuntry dat is easee,” which is something we know Clarisse is given to declaring.

J. turned on the tube. Carlos put a finger to his lips and his counterpart lowered the volume. Hat Midone was being interviewed. Young girls smiled and squealed all around him. He said: “We’re just here protecting our right as a free people to eat, drink, smoke, and kiss in the streets that belong to everyone.”

The program then cut back to the studio where one of the host journalists explained how what Hat said was no longer true in a world where everything was so dangerous and no one could be trusted.

At Jordan’s bidding Carlos called for a cab on his cell phone and soon the pair were on their way to Joya’s.

There the purple-shirted BID security, with the help of green-shirted security from the BID on the Argentine restaurant’s block (which really wasn’t fair), had formed two lines at opposite ends of the street, shutting off traffic and isolating the many smokers who’d come to participate in their own demise.

Through a bullhorn that shrunk his voice to a thin, electronic emission the security captain gave the smokers thirty seconds to wrap the party up and take it on the road, or absorb the unpleasant consequences.

Vindaloo rose up onto the shoulders of a smoker. She yelled dramatic things out while flashing her Indian inspired skirt/stop ensemble and elaborate headdress that hid none of her marvelous hair. She had a small pearl in her pierced nose, sandals on her little ivory feet. The actress looked great and everybody cheered as she used up all of the allotted thirty seconds.

Beyond the eastern security cordon, two blocks back, Randall observed, hands in his pockets. He saw Jordan – the old lady murderer – and some Mexican guy bully their way past the guards and join the smokers who were fast running out of space as the detail moved in a staccato lock-step, familiar throughout the highly successful annals of oppression, toward them.

It was, other than that, an unfamiliar group to him. To be sure, the crowd’s make-up of girls from magazines, smoke clouds, and media swarm mirrored The Sidewalk Smokers Club and everything it had been and encouraged. But The Club itself was not present en masse, replaced rather by what it had wrought.

He’d quarreled with Clarisse and Corey and they had stayed away on that pretext, although they knew perfectly well what was coming and opted for self-preservation. And good for them, too.

Joya was in her store, in the crowd, but not truly of the crowd for, were she so inclined she might have stepped out onto the hallowed concrete in question and joined the proceedings. But she did not.

Yvonne’s rope had run out some time back and she’d played along for the good of everyone else. On this day, however, she was just not going to be able to fake it and stayed away, too; opting instead for a facial, massage and steam.

Standing outside the thing he’d help create, Randall thought how different it all might have turned out had they shown up. Their status - yes their status - and collective personality might have turned the moment. He was certain of it now that he saw and sensed the mood of things.

But they, The Smokers, no longer had any business speaking for a group of people they’d instructed on how to speak for themselves. The Sidewalk Smokers Club had returned the borrowed name, in an improved condition to its rightful owners, the sidewalk smokers of all times and cities.

Security closed in from both directions. The sidewalk smokers were now doing so nervously. Vindaloo Baxley was on a cell phone asking somebody important to come to their aid. Hat Midone made his way up the front line.

Jordan and Carlos slipped into Joya’s Joyas and the former cut right to the chase. “Why,” he asked her, “are you going with him if you supposedly love me?”

She answered just as succinctly. “I love a lot of people hon, (which was true) and because that’s how it is. The powerful ones get the girls and the money.”
Throughout his recent trials much of what Jordan had learned was novel, but some was just a reinforcement of previously internalized lessons.

“And not necessarily in that order,” he spit bitterly.

“Oh hush.”

Which he felt obliged to do for this person who had done something quite strange and selfless for him. You could love her and not possess and he guessed he would learn to accept this.

Carlos had struck up a chat with Sadina.

“Where are Corey and Clarisse?” asked J.

“Oh, I don’t think she was too keen on him bein’ around that Vindaloo Baxley girl.”
Jordan shrugged, “I’m going out to get arrested again.” He turned to Carlos who indicated his desire to stay with Sadina. He shrugged yet again, not comprehending the link between third world children, and ran toward the fray. Inside, Joya directed Carlos and her shop girl to exit the back door and run for ten minutes, “Without lookin’ back.”

Then she was alone to watch, with folded arms, the security folks lay billy clubs sideways across the bodies of the smokers whom, for all their rage, weren’t in the best of health. A girl fell, she got stepped on. A cop rushed directly for Hat Midone, cracking him one across the jaw with a relish that reeked of an envious premeditation the actor should have anticipated. There are reasons why celebrities have bodyguards. And despite an order to the contrary from Thorpe and Diaz, a BID guard also took particular relish in smashing Vindaloo’s cute little face with the butt of his billy.

Randall cringed. Here was a another bummy lesson learned: The truth won’t protect you any more than being right will.

When Hat gamely struggled to his feet, bleeding in gushes, the BID guards surrounded him like jackals, poked mechanically, and drove him to the ground again. Hat Midone, so larger than life, he who had lent much-needed bravado to the lonely band, appeared, like most artists, diminutive when placed upon the stage of actuality.

And so there were injuries and beatings and very unjust things that happened before cameras, which station managers would refuse to run for many reasons without merit.

Some smokers were arrested and charged with things carrying penalties in excess of what they could afford. Among them was Jordan whom Carlos, Sadina by his side, immediately bailed out – again.

It was a traumatic and ugly assault that shook Randall. He’d always been sensitive to police violence, but what surprised him was the fury of the street people and he was more than a little doubtful about his link to them. “There is, after all, more to life than smoking,” he jotted down in the notebook carrying the alphabet concerto he’d long been composing.

For those who were victims it was not over in a day. The affair had resonance, had ruffled feathers, had been portrayed as a bunch of filthy arrogant law breakers getting what they had coming to them – old lady killers and what have you. Smaller, less public persecutions ensued.

Although not present (within the lens frame), Randall’s image and name were stretched, twisted, and battered beyond any relation to the real person: He was a leftist, he was a liberal, he did not love his country. Was against everything. He mocked apple pie and for this deserved (a few thought) to die.

Despite this rendering as a sinister-handed so-and-so, Randall suspected it was but a matter of time before some perverse commercial interest would willingly pay him to attach themselves to all that.

“Bad stuff gets good life!” He again as a beneficiary. He who had never thought himself capable of bad stuff, this purveyor of bum philosophy. In the end, Randall thought, the world’s problems were not rooted so much in there being too much evil, but in there being too many good guys getting in each other’s way. It was enough to make the bad guys smoke.


Weeks passed and Randall reflected anew at developments. City Attorney’s numbers shot up in hypothetical match-ups with other pretenders to the mayor’s throne. His handling of the matter was universally acclaimed a brilliant textbook for the new progressivism. Lesbian city councilwoman’s prior remarks on assisted dying caught her on the wrong side of the issue and it was promptly exploited by her resurgent rival.

City Attorney had broken with Joya and The Sidewalk Smokers Club; not only for reasons just explained, but also because they (if not her) had ceased to exist.The original and true sidewalk smokers had been eliminated from the life of the city and nobody but the victims themselves had fought the decision to do it. There were no libertarians come to their defense. No self-professed adherents of the free republic. The unions did not think the gathering worthy of their time, and political parties steered clear of having to deal with real emotions about a real issue. They were all for doing away with somebody else’s freedom (and moving right along, thank you). The smokers were completely on their own because it had been decided that they were disgusting and unworthy of the nobles’ efforts. Only City Attorney, for reasons not purely political, had gotten wet with them. As a result, he’d walked away with the prize – this time.

Almost every night of his life, thanks to the discipline of his days, Randall could retire content that he knew more and was a little smarter than the day before.

But the night of the riot changed this.

Nothing had turned out as planned and nobody had behaved in any way he might have expected. You never truly know until you lead the troops into battle, which of course, he hadn’t, rather making a mess of things, screwing up the real lives of real people.

Sure, when stretched you have breakthroughs in awareness, but Randall wasn’t certain if years’ worth of collected notions and hard-learned judgments, now useless to him, could be replaced with whatever treasures the disaster yielded. His compass had been crushed. The building blocks of his behavior had collapsed. He hardly trusted a green light when driving through an intersection. He smoked.

So that was that and it was a good thing hardly anybody reads the newspapers anymore.

The fate of The Sidewalk Smokers Club had certainly been determined, but there was a little housecleaning and some very small chapters to be played out. He looked forward to them because being The Club a few more times would be fun.

They had made money; good money and it would be split, not equally, but to each based upon need.

After that, there was the small matter of reinvention. Randall could accept The Club’s passing, but not so easily his own destiny. In years to come he would buck at being hired by some interest or other acting on behalf of the offended few. It would be his fate to attempt over and again what had occurred in a happenstance fashion with The Smokers; accepting the paycheck and failing to deliver, prisoner of his own triumph, but covered where three squares and a fluffy bed were concerned.

But that was much later.

Sooner after the debacle the phone rang. It was Jordan. “Carlos and Sadina bailed me out and we’re up the coast working in a marina.” Randall didn’t know who Carlos was or what had happened to Eilin and thought it best not to ask. “What about your case?”

J. sounded great, relieved, decided. “I get a job as poster boy for assisted suicide while City Attorney gets elected and torpedoes the whole thing once he’s settled in as mayor.”

It was true. City Attorney’s rehabilitation was complete following a spontaneous draft movement by powerful and undemocratic interests promoting his candidacy. A friend of CA’s at the metro desk wrote an insider’s article revealing how he’d handled the whole Sidewalk Smokers affair, from behind the scenes, just as recounted here.

When the piece ran, City Attorney feigned anger and cried slander. His opposites rose in support of a free and unhindered press. The politician, after much public agonizing, relented and accepted that, yes the whole damn brilliant scenario had been configured by him and that they had the right to print it.

Lesbian citycouncilmember, sensing what was in the wind, saw her chance and took it.

She was only too glad to say a few things in the name of a just, moral and efficiently administrated city, blessed with clean air and limpid watersheds, only too glad to withdraw her candidacy and return to the comfortable confines of these outdated notions and her safe council seat.

City Attorney had shed the whole thing like summer skin, snaked his way right out of the drying husk. It was the only way, he placated his guilt, for The Smokers were hell-bent on shipwrecking to make a point and that was not a viable strategy for him.

Joya, he realized, would have never truly been his as she had never actually and truly been anybody’s save for Sadina, an affair about which we know little other than its apparent constancy up until Carlos walked through the store door.

Not a word, a serious one anyway, was ever printed or broadcast regarding City Attorney’s prior relation to The Sidewalk Smokers Club. When the skinny girl from the liberal tabloid insisted on making a fuss about it, her editors told her to sit down little sister and gave her an unpleasant runaround until she quit her job and reentered the labor market without the benefit of unemployment insurance.

Randall knew this because she had called him and asked for a date to which he’d agreed.

Randall was not angry, but admiring. City Attorney was out their flailing, not hiding behind knowledge or the search for it. He was not creating a myth the way Randall and Corey had conspired to do. He was living a legend and that’s a tough trick these days.

These thoughts passed during what was obviously a long pause in the phone conversation. Each had been entertaining some or all of these questions and conclusions and it had tired them. Jordan broke the silence. “We were clumps man; surprised by what was happening to us. We were the objects of some great and powerful humor that shook up the neighborhood. That’s all. We never ‘directed’ anything.”

“One must admit to having been borne along by events,” Randall philosophized.

“Write it down,” Jordan said, “see you around,” and he was gone for good. Really.
Randall did write it down, but without Corey he was unsure of where to insert it in the compendium they’d curated, the logic of which seemed to be coming undone under the pure weight and breadth of the thing.

“We’re all bums and all philosophies are bum philosophies,” he said in between lighting an El Presidente and drawing the first chest-full of smoke. He coughed and it didn’t sound good. “What else could anybody who finds the time to philosophize be?”

The Smokers had, he thought, been peddling bum philosophy and gotten just desserts.

Bum was the brand, like a dirty diaper for a standard, and what a surprise that almost nobody got the joke! It was easy to be stupid and have fun. It was a smaller battle to fight over the rules than to win with the ones already in place. He was no longer interested in the former.

“We didn’t direct anything!” he laughed out loud, proud that at least they’d done something, whatever it was. And they had done it with and, to a certain degree, for women. A fact of which he was prouder still.

The truth was that he felt more comfortable with women. Randall had never been one to gather in the corner with the old boys and as a consequence, the old boys never came bearing gifts. He hated their blacks and blues, their petty merchant epistemology. He could never fully believe in a bottom line because of the way it dispatched with all mysteries when these, he knew for sure, existed. And they did so without eventual answers. That was a kind of truth nobody had time for or interest in.

The Yvonnes and Joyas and Clarisses and Vindaloos of the world seemed to understand this. The bad sex, unsatisfying men, the back of the line, the big pass-over, the glass ceiling, menstruation, whatever it was that deepened their understanding he did not know, but he sensed how being a woman was more difficult, more like a castaway floating a raft over rough waters. It required creativity and humility. He saw how the girl Smokers, despite his own high-minded regard for their feelings, had assumed the ancient role of woman, operating in support while the boys led the familiar and ill-conceived charge into the valley of death.

Corey rang. He’d needed time to think as well. Immediate apologies were issued on both sides and that was easy enough given the new circumstances and the fact their partnership was over.

Corey said he was sorry for the whole business with the celebrities etc. Randall made a joke of it. “Your poor execution was the perfect accompaniment to my incompetent strategies.”

Corey and Clarisse had copyrighted “Clarisse’s Pieces” and were going into business together. It turned out, perhaps thankfully, that love and its requirements possessed more vitality than the church of rebellion, although it hurt Randall to swallow this, too.

He was pleased to learn the plan included Vindaloo Baxley, who’d lost some of her verve for public life, along with a lot of work, in the wake of her street antics.

The police had hit both she and Hat where it hurt most, in their faces. Things being what they are for women in this world, her own visage disappeared from the magazines she needed to maintain her fame, while Hat’s new “look” replete with twisted nose-bridge was hailed as the next big thing.

Randall asked after Joya of whom he knew from news reports that her store had been shut down by fire inspectors later promoted to assistant fire chiefs. Corey knew the same and nothing more. They’d run into her on the sidewalk a few nights before and shared a smoke, because some places would take time in bowing before the inevitable, blanket prohibition. Joya kept a distance between the couple and herself by what she said and how. After that, she walked off down the street clip-clopping and free as the night they had met her. Both men admitted that they missed the hell out of her, and each suspected that this was by some divine design, that she was a sprite, a messenger, an illusion sent to inflame them before finally evaporating herself, unloved, but loving and loveable.

They talked briefly about ways of divvying up the money from the tobacco companies, from the lawsuit, from benefits and other things. It was embarrassing to talk about it, so the former cohorts kept it simple, never noting how the payouts were pretty substantial.

“Have you heard from Yvonne during any of this?” Even happily remarried Corey wondered.

Randall smiled at the genuine draw. So much of this had been about Yvonne, about the whore and how she was to be treated. When those who wanted to ravage her had finished, she sat stripped before them – bereft of armor and bikini – not overtly brave, only dutifully so, and that’s the same thing when ends, and not means, are the final measuring stick. She’d trembled in her flesh and caused the flesh of others to tremble in return. And she’d suffered; mirror that she was for all that is not quite right in any of us.

Even as the clouds of smoke hovered after the final defeat, they were lined silver with the news of whom the larger public ultimately favored. The charm of the distressed beauty was a drug it could not foreswear and she became a needle in their arms. History and time, thanks to Yvonne, would be kinder to The Smokers than the myopic present because nobody could resist falling for her.

“No,” answered Randall, “I haven’t been in touch with her.”

“Clarisse heard she got a deal as a spokeswoman for a new fragrance. Big-time stuff. Commercials, magazine advertisements, the works.”

“What’s the fragrance called?” Randall wanted to know.


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