Without further ado...
IF I KEEP YOUR SECRET, WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Lee Lombard looked forward to another exciting weekend. It would be the usual routine of sun, surf, throw in a girl and a beer, and you had a winner!
The thought of his earlier conversation with his mother, was the only dampening factor in the whole equation.
“So what are your intentions?” she had enquired.
“What do you mean, my intentions?” he knew exactly what she meant. Being deliberately obtuse was second nature to him. Especially when it came to his mother’s ‘lectures’ (as he referred to the ever-increasing advice she felt compelled to impart on a daily basis ).
“Well, I’ve noticed a rather disturbing pattern that has evolved. A predictable path that your life seems to have taken.” She stood in that characteristic ‘lecture’ pose, hands on hip, no-nonsense tone of voice.
The scary thing was ~ she had a valid point!
“I’m ONLY 25 years old. There’s plenty of time for me to do the ‘ultra~responsible~thingiemajiggie’ that you are always on about!” his quotation-mark fingers remained in mid-air.
His mother served this particular “meal of responsibility”, three times a day, for breakfast, lunch and supper ; nag! nag! nag! Settle down, work hard, focus on your career!
“All in good time, mum! All in good time!”
And she had given him that look …the one that said, this isn’t over yet … one of these days, my boy …. He knew it sooo well!
The place was overflowing when the two friends made an appearance. It was 10.30 p.m. Perfect timing. In true Lee~and~Colin~style, their grand entrance was equivalent to a Hollywood red carpet event. It drew the attention of almost every female in the house. Heads turned. Girls giggled. Whispered comments passed back and forth. Ripples of conversation centred around the two who had just entered.
And the two recipients milked it for all it was worth. They turned on the charm, full force.
Since their town was host to a 2-week art extravaganza, a large number of out-of-towners, had descended on the venue.
Once the two had completed their customary greetings and hugs, they scanned the interior.
At the far end of the rectangular bar counter, a dark-haired, striking girl gave the two a fleeting glance and then returned her attention to the menu.
She was definitely foreign, as in, from another country, maybe even a different planet? Her distinct features, coupled with a gypsey skirt, peasant blouse and massive hooped earrings, hinted at gypsy origins …
She certainly didn’t appear to be your typical artsy-type.
Lee’s mind went into overdrive. He decided upon a course of action. After all, procrastination was not one of his weaknesses, especially when it concerned matters of the heart.
“I’d recommend the battered calamari rings,” his opening line was full of conviction.
The gypsy turned to him, a half-smile hovered on her lips.
“Or you could go with the Mexican chicken strips. They’re just as good.”
“We’ve already placed an order, thank you,” a clipped, decisive reply.
It was obvious. Gypsy girl was not interested in him or what he had to say. He did not really know how to deal with such a rebuff. The experience was disconcerting. Yet it was also oddly refreshing, in a frustrating sort of way.
He wondered if he was losing it? Could this be a warning sign of things to come? There was only one way to find out. He decided to play the persistent angle …
“May I buy you and your friend a drink?” he was the epitome’ of charm.
“No thank you, we’re just fine,” eyes remained glued to the menu.
“Actually, I was just about to grab a bite to eat. Do you ladies mind if I joined you?” Smooth and suave were the operational words here.
“I don’t think that ------------“
“Be our guest!” the blonde intervened sharply, affording gypsy girl no opportunity to object.
BINGO! He suppressed the urge to grin.
But his excitement was short-lived.
Ambrosia remained aloof for most of the evening, while he endured the ramblings of Stacey, the blonde bombshell! Not exactly what he had had in mind … Gypsy girl was an enigma. He couldn’t figure her out! That alone was frustrating.
Two months later …
Four separate rejections …
His patience (a word that had never been part of his vocabulary) finally ran out.
He made a snap decision. He would follow her. See where she went to, what she was all about.
It was certainly out of character for him to pursue a female. It was normally the other way around. What he had in mind … well to put it quite bluntly, was tantamount to stalking!
He planned it carefully, with attention to detail. He had observed her comings and goings on the weekend. He knew the times she frequented the restaurant. He recalled the recent conversation with Colin, who was convinced that he had finally lost it.
“You’re no fun anymore!” Colin moaned. “What has happened to the Lee I know? Where is he? What have you done with him?”
“He’s in here, somewhere. Give me some time. I really like this girl. Can’t seem to get her out of my mind. Hang in there, buddy. Let me work it out of my system.” He just couldn’t understand it, let alone explain it to Colin.
Colin shook his head. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“What happened to ‘there’s plenty of fish in the sea’? You’ve been caught, hook, line and sinker! Got no time to even notice other fish …” he teased.
“But this is not any fish, my friend. This is the Great White Shark.”
“Oh, is that so? Well just be careful. The Great White is notorious for its killer instinct!”
Colin had a strange feeling about this “adventure”, as he referred to Lee’s obsessive behaviour.
His words now rang in Lee’s ears. An inexplicable shudder captured Lee for a brief moment. Then it was gone!
A few evenings later, Lee left the restaurant and travelled for about 10 minutes, to an unknown location, on the outskirts of town. He stopped his vehicle a few metres away from the spot where she had disappeared. It revealed a dusty track which appeared deserted. He made a quick decision, left the vehicle and proceeded on foot.
The track was bumpy and uneven, filled with potholes.
The night air was thick and humid. A solitary bead of perspiration trickled down the back of his neck. He caught a whiff of salty air – was he close to the sea?
Up ahead, the track opened into a clearing. He saw a quaint structure. As he got closer, he realised it was a log cabin.
He was baffled. What on earth was she doing here? Did she live here?
The side of the cabin revealed two evenly-spaced windows. Pressing his eyes to the second window-pane, afforded him a clear view of what seemed to be a multi-purpose room. The phrase kitchen-cum-study-cum-work station entered his mind.
His eyes zoomed in to study the contents of this peculiar room. On one side was a set of shelves which displayed bottles/containers in various shapes and sizes. A huge square-shaped bottle contained creatures that resembled lizards/geckoes? Another round transparent container housed what looked like fingers? Aargh! He shuddered at his train of thought. It reminded him of a make shift laboratory.
But what if he was right? A cold sensation gripped him.
Against the opposite wall, filled to the brim with books, paperbacks and magazines, stood an old bookcase.
A small, round table occupied the left-hand corner. On it, stood a round glass object. It looked like … no, it WAS a crystal ball?
Stirrings of unease lingered on the edges of his mind. Added to it, was the thought that he had stalked somebody. Now trespassing and snooping around could be added to the list. Who was Ambrosia? An ordinary, quiet girl? A temptress? A gypsy? A witch? The thought of these possibilities added a touch of dangerous intrigue. But the pull was irresistible! He knew, deep down, that there was no turning back!
The humidity had intensified.
The night sky hid half the moon. It cast a peculiar shadow on the ground. He sensed it before he heard it. Somebody behind him. Watching him.
“Well, well, well ~ and what do we have here?”
The voice was soft and menacing. He jumped.
“Don’t you know that it’s rude to creep up on people like that? You scared the hell out of me! I could have had a heart attack or something…Where on earth did you materialize from, anyway? I hope you don’t think that I was spying on you. I just wanted to find out where you stay ---------------“ the avalanche burst forth, in an awkward attempt to justify and simultaneously apologise for his behaviour.
“The infamous, smooth operator, Mr Lee Lombard, in person. Not only a player, but also a …,” she paused, rubbed her hands together, squinted her eyes, as if attempting to find the correct word, “ … a pursuer of the female species? No pun intended!!” It was a mixture of humour and sarcasm, followed by a short, forced laugh.
He felt like the kid who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar! One word came to mind ~~ BUSTED!!
The moon seemed to have disappeared completely. A far-off rumble signalled the approach of a storm.
“What are we going to do about it?” She shook her head and a tsk tsk tsk accompanied a pouty expression.
A strange thought crossed his mind. He felt as if he were a character on a stage. He also felt cornered.
“The aloof and stuck up Ambrosia, in person. Not only a cold temptress but also a …,” he paused, mimicked her earlier mannerisms, right down to the hands and eyes,” … a gypsy? An undercover witch? Who knows what else?” The retaliation was swift and cutting.
A brief silence settled between them.
They were both oblivious to the light rain that fell steadily from above.
What on earth was the matter with him? What had possessed him to utter those words? The word ‘slanderer’ could now be added to the list of charges against him.
“Touche’!” the same half-smile from before, hovered on her lips.
He delivered a small, dramatic bow. It was a feeble attempt to lessen the severity of the moment.
“I wonder what all your adoring fans would say if they could see you now,” she added thoughtfully. “Mmmm, I wonder what else you have to hide?” It was soft and saccharine, delivered with a hint of a threat.
“I could say the same of you,” he attempted to regain his composure. He had to get the upper hand.
The tension was palpable …
Before she could say anything further, the light drops fell harder.
The sky opened, without warning, and a sudden downpour followed. It was intense and unrelenting, soaking them in a matter of seconds.
She made an automatic bee-line for the front door. He was close on her heels. They burst through the front door. He noticed that they were in a small entrance-like room. Ambrosia disappeared behind the first door to the left, and re-appeared with two towels.
“What creatures are you storing in those bottles and containers?” He was totally out of line. He was desperate too. “There’s certainly something fishy going on here!” he clutched at straws, in his attempt to save himself from the pit that he had fallen into.
The funny thing was, it only seemed to get worse.
“The only thing that is fishy around here, is your behaviour!”
He decided that attack was the best form of defence. “If I keep your secret, what’s in it for me?”
“My secret? What secret do I have? You have a damn cheek and the audacity to talk about secrets! You don’t even know me, You haven’t a clue about who I am or what I’m about!”
He was dumb-founded. He had now earned the title of ‘blackmailer’, and could add it to the list.
She continued with barely a pause. “And who’s going to believe you anyway? What do you have as proof? I have enough evidence of your “fishy behaviour”. Do you know that I have a state-of-the-art surveillance system on my property?”
His heart sank. He knew without a shadow of a doubt, that he had been played.
She delivered the knockout punch. “You have nothing. Zilch. Nada. I, on the other hand, know everything there is to know about you! So, cocky, arrogant, smug, Mr. Smoothie Lombard. I return the question ; If I keep YOUR secret, what’s in it for me?”