What are you working on Bettina? her editor asks as she comes over to her cubicle. I’m stalled on a celebrity profile.  Hey, we need to get an intern from one of those massage schools.  Rub my neck while I show you.

Rolf Asgaard.  Who’s that?  Drummer for SH5.  Watch this clip.  She pulls up a Youtube concert scene, where a fan rushes the stage, and is about to blindside Simon.  A drumstick bounces off the man’s head, and he stops, stunned, and is mobbed by security.  The editor laughs.  He kept time with one hand.  Simon picks up the drumstick and tosses it back to Rolf, as he keeps singing, Amen, I’m alive.  I didn’t know that was their song.  It’s not.  Bettina kills the clip.  Come to find out that he’s a local.  Total recluse.  I meet him a couple weeks ago by accident; my roommate handles his home security.  And?  He’s the most confident and intelligent and beautiful man I’ve ever met.  So you’re meeting him for drinks???  She shakes her head no.  I think he’s one of those fitness fanatics.  He’s training for an ultramarathon – runs at night, and then sleeps most of the day.  Lana isn’t helping me at all.  She told me that Rolf is a creative, and doesn’t care a fig for social conventions.  Her boyfriend, Jax, who is in the band, told me that Rolf refuses to do award shows, radio interviews, or any promo for the band.  And he has his own oxygen chamber that he sleeps in when he’s on tour.  He sounds like a complete narcissist, the editor responds.  We only met the once, and he wasn’t like that.  He got me; I could tell.  He’s so at home in his own skin, and so funny.  And he liked me.  Everyone likes you, Bettina.

========================================================

I’ll only go out with him if you double with me.  Fine.  And you and I are driving there together.  Fine.  And home after.  Fine.  And we swing by and drop in on Rolf on the way back.  No.  Why not?  He’s out of town.  Lana, I’ve already made up my mind that I don’t like Simon.  You can interview him and Jax about Rolf.  Oh. <Pause> I’m in.  Tell me more when you get home.    

***

Jax, it’s me.  Hey, babe.  I’ve got Simon with me.  That’s fine; I want to talk to him anyway.  I’m getting in on the redeye tonight.  Case closed.  And after I sleep in, and do some errands, I want to celebrate with some fried catfish and a few beers at Auggies.  I’m down with that.  I love you, Lana says suddenly.  <silence>

Simon, Bettina has made up her mind that she doesn’t like you.  But she’ll sit next to you at dinner if you and Jax let her interview you about Rolf.  It’s the best I could do.  Oh, and she insisted that we drive separately.  Why didn’t you invite him to double with you then? Simon asks petulantly.  He’s out of town or I would have.  Jax laughs at her honesty.  What time do you want us to meet you there?  I want to go for a sunset walk with you after, so how about seven?  Works.  Want me to get a reservation, or do we wait at the bar until a table comes available.  We’ll both be off the clock, so I’m okay with waiting for a table, but it’ll be guys choice.  We might get there a little early if we’re famished and wait for a table ourselves.  Sevenish tomorrow at Auggies.  Yep.  Bye, Simon, and she hangs up.

She’s in a good mood.  I really like that she doesn’t ask where you are at or what you are doing, Simon notes as he searches for the restaurant on his Iphone.  Seems like a pretty laid back place.  Don’t think the white suit and straw hat will work. I’ll back that play, Jax tells him.  Nah, I don’t want to come off as cartoonish.  What are you going to wear?  Let’s still do Southern gentry.  How about we go with dress pants with suspenders?  Sleeves rolled up.  No suit, no tie, and no hat.  Some roughneck looking for a fight will knock it off your head.  Simon nods.

=========================================================

We’re a little overdressed, Lana whispers to Bettina.  Several of the men waiting in the lounge spring up to open the door for them.  I like it when guys open doors for me, Bettina tells one of them.  The man beams in response.  Thank you, Lana whispers to the other. There is a half hour wait, the hostess tells them.  That’s fine.  Andrews, party of four.  We’d prefer a booth, something cozy.  The bar is full.  So they go and stand over in a corner.  A couple of guys get up and motion for them to take their seats in the waiting area.  Thank you.  Bettina sits next to a small boy, who stares up at her.  Why yes, I am a gypsy palm reader, she says in a shocked voice.  How did you know?  And she smiles at his distracted parents, who look up from their smart phones.  Would you like me to tell your future?  He nods eagerly.  What’s your name?  Greyson.  Nice to meet you, I’m Miss Bettina.  Let me see your left hand, Greyson.  Everyone in the waiting area is watching them now.  But I’m right handed.  That tells me about your work.  I don’t have a job.  But you have chores, don’t you.  He nods.  I want to know about you.  He produces his hand.  Relax your hand.  Tension will produce a misread.  She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, and then slowly traces outline of his hand with her finger, and then proceeds to trace each finger.  The hostess whispers to a nearby party, your table is ready, and they reluctantly get up and leave, looking back behind them.  Bettina folds each of the little fingers into a fist, then presses it between her hands gently.  And starts to shake his hand.  She stops suddenly, opens her eyes, and smiles at the towheaded boy who is staring wide-eyed at her.  By now there is a crowd gathered around them, and people are taking pictures with their smart phones.  Everyone watches as she gently peels back his fingers.  And then pinches her fingers together in the middle of his palm and slowly and theatrically raises it to her ear, and closes her eyes and listens.  She smiles.  Then opens her eyes once more.  That’s good.  Greyson, I’ve been doing this for a long time.  And I’ve never been wrong.  I heard the sound of victory, crowds chanting your name.  Do you play sports?  He nods eagerly.  Baseball.  You’re going to be a winner.  His breath catches, and he looks up and studies her face as everyone claps.  Our business is done, she tells him.  Take back your hand.   Your table is ready, the hostess tells his parents.  They get up, and the father grins widely at Bettina.  Thank you, his mother mouths to Bettina as they leave.  That was amazing, the hostess tells Bettina.  I love kids, she replies.

An older elegant Hispanic woman sits next to her.  You’re cute, but I can do it for real.  Gutierrez, party of two.  The hostess looks up shocked at the handsome well-dressed man.  Sir, if only you had called ahead.  We’ll wait.  He tells her.  Tia wants to visit with la rubia.  Can I get you ladies anything to drink?  A margarita, his aunt replies.  Virgin strawberry daiquiri.  I’m driving, Bettina whispers to her new seatmate.  Raul, I’ll have a tall grapefruit shandy.  You’ve been here before, he says with a grin.  Lana, she replies, appreciating that he didn’t announce her last name.  He nods.  Anyone else?  It’s on the house; I’m the manager here.  Lana notes that he takes everyone’s drink orders without writing them down.  This should be interesting, she thinks, as she watches him go behind the crowded bar.

Five minutes later, Jax and Simon show up, and see that there is a line out the door.  How long is the wait?  An hour, says a man with a drink in his hand.  The manager is giving out free drinks.  I’ll run in real quick to see if the girls are in there.  He goes inside and sees Lana and Bettina sitting together.  Bettina is gesticulating slowly in Spanish, pointing at a woman’s earrings.  Donde comprar los orejas?  Lana giggles at this.  Aretas, she whispers, grinning at the other woman.  She sees Jax.  I’m going to wait outside with the guys.  Come get us when the booth is ready.  And she gets up from her seat with her beer, and follows him out the door.  Try this.  He takes a deep slug.  Good.  He hands it to Simon.  Who downs the rest.  Thanks, he says, and gives her back the empty.  She bursts out laughing, and gives him a hug.  You missed the performance, Simon.  It was so amazing.  So Bettina…

When she’s finished telling the story, Raul comes outside and motions for her.  Jax gives Lana a quick glance.  I think his aunt owns the place, she explains.  Are you working? He asks her.  She frowns at this.  No.  And let it go, Jax.  What was that about? Simon asks him as they follow her inside.  That is the guy who planted coke in my Hellcat.

They take their seats at the booth; girls on the inside.  A man comes up to their table.  I want to thank you for what you did for my son.  Please let me pick up this meal.  Bettina nods.  You look nice, she tells Simon, as the man walks away, and the waiter comes up to the table to take their drink order.  What was that beer you had? Simon asks Lana.  Grapefruit Shandy.  One of them along with a glass of water.  Table thirteen’s got the bill.  The waiter looks puzzled, and Lana starts to laugh.  Simon points over at the man with his wife and son, who raises his arm.  The waiter shrugs.  Very well.  Just water, please, Bettina says.  Same as Simon, Lana announces.  Just water, Jax announces.  My body is a temple; feel free to worship.  The table and the waiter break down laughing.

So I hear you read palms?  Hmmm, someone has been talking about me.  Bettina tells Lana, ignoring Simon.  What’s good here?  Fish Friday’s.  I’ll do the clam chowder, then.  You?  Catfish and fries.  Chef salad, Jax says.  Same as Lana, Simon decides.  Want to do a fried onion for an appetizer? Lana asks him.  Yeah, Simon agrees.  

So where is Rolf, who I’m filling in for, apparently?  Simon asks Lana, after they’ve all ordered.  He’s down in Mexico, drumming at some tribal blowout way off the grid in the middle of cartel country.  No tourists.  No cameras.  You have to have someone vouch for you to even get on that reservation.  That sounds awesome.  Let’s charter a plane and go there.  Bettina nods eagerly.  Lana shakes her head no.  Bettina and I wouldn’t be safe there.  Jax gives her a puzzled look.  It’s a ten year jail sentence if I’m caught carrying my gun in Mexico, which is why I refuse to ever travel there as a private citizen.  Have you ever had any formal fireams training outside of the police academy?  Simon asks her.  Lana shakes her head no.  There’s a place out by me in Portland, Thunder Ranch, that I’ve gone to.  What do you shoot?  A Glock 22, stock - right out of the box.  Gen?  Three, he replies.  Lana looks at him impressed, and they toast.  That was my service pistol.  Let’s do it; I’m really rusty.  I’m free next week until Rolf gets back into town.  You serious?  Yes.  Simon frowns.  What’s wrong?  They’re booked up almost a year in advance.  Find some other place then.  Not local.  I want to travel and have an immersive refresher.  Alright.  Let me make a call.  Simon gets up from the table and heads outside.  Hmmmppff.  Maybe he actually did have a mother, Bettina announces.   Well, miss celebrity profiler and investigative reporter?  Are you in?  Lana teases.  I know how to shoot a gun already, Bettina replies dismissively.  I don’t need lessons.  It’d make a good feature story.

Simon comes back five minutes later.  There’s a place outside of Las Vegas that Clint recommends.  It’s the largest firearms academy in the country.  Family friendly.  Not a boot camp.  They’ve got a Monday-Tuesday two day defensive handgun class that we can get in on.  How much does it cost?  Don’t worry about it.  Here’s the website.  He hands her his smart phone and she scrolls through it.  This looks really good.  I’m in.  She hands him his phone back, and he grins at her.  Why don’t you and Jax change seats?  Bettina says.  Jax shrugs and gets up, and he and Simon switch places.  You coming?  Simon asks him.  I’ve never shot a gun before in my entire life; I’d be the class idiot.  Okay, I’m in.  Bettina says suddenly.  Now you have to go.  Can’t I just stay at the pool while you guys go do your thing?  I bet I could syndicate that, rock star hits the spa while his girlfriend hits the firing range.  I wonder if we can get him a pink Glock?  Lana asks Simon, who cracks up at this.  Tourquoise is more my color, Jax responds with a grin.

***

So Lana, what would you do if you won the lottery?  I already have; there’s a well dressed, handsome bald man with cute glasses sitting next to me, who thinks I’m funny.  Bettina looks over at Simon really seriously.  What did I do now?  He asks her.  I love Lana because she’s able to live above her circumstances, Bettina declares.  Whoa.  That’s heavy, Jax declares.  C’mon Lana.  You didn’t engage the question.  You have to play in order to win, Simon.  The underlying question is what would make your life complete?  Jax interjects.  I don’t like your premise, Jax.  That’s not how life works.  I’ve just come through a long winter, and it feels like spring again.

Give me a straight answer.  What can I do to make you happy?  I love seeing you like  this.  If I get what I want, I’ll still be who I am.  What is it that you really want, Lana?  I want my badge back.  More than that though, I want to be able to take communion again at my parish.  WHAT?  Bettina asks - stunned.  The priest said that I was impenitent and refused to serve me the elements.  Ever since then, my parents and I sit at home Sunday mornings and we all watch Joel Osteen on my Android tablet.  I am so sorry, Bettina tells her.  I had no idea.  Please come with me and daddy this Sunday.  Thank you, sweetie, but my parents never embraced Vatican II, if you get my drift.  Bettina nods.

That’s the most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard.  Simon declares.  Jody - fetch me my gun.  Lana breaks down laughing, and puts an arm around Simon’s shoulders. I like your friend, she tells Jax as the fried onion comes to the table.  More beers please, she tells the waiter.

***

Why did you react to the lottery question the way you did?  Jax asks Bettina.  You know who my father is?  Of course.  Who doesn’t.  What about my mother?  No idea.  She died of cancer when I was fifteen.  And her illness happened right when we were losing everything from the crash.  My mother believed in him.  Do the right thing.  You lead, we’ll follow.  And daddy refused to declare bankruptcy and shelter our assets.  He sold everything we owned, and we ended up moving in with relatives.  Now, of course, he’s made it all back, and then some.

Anyway - before she died, mother made me promise that I’d go to SMU and told me the test to use to find the right man: how would your life change if you won the lottery?

And only Rolf has gotten it right?  Simon says.  Bettina says nothing, and just looks at him.  So metaphorically, you want someone who is fat and happy, Jax declares.  Didn’t you just hear a word Lana said?  Seasons change, Jax.  If a guy accepts that, and doesn’t want three springs, followed by two summers, no winters – then he’s ready for me.  It’s good to be fat and happy going into winter, because you are going to be lean and hungry coming out of it- if you make it through.  Everyone looks at Bettina.  You were Phi Beta Kappa, weren’t you? Jax finally says.  She nods.

Simon, how would your life change if you won the lottery?  Lana asks suddenly.  He thinks it over.  It really wouldn’t, he finally admits.  And I don’t expect to.  You got it, mister.  Lana replies, and looks across the table at Bettina.  Eligible bachelor #2.  I like your girlfriend, he tells Jax.  I like her too, Jax replies with a grin.

=========================================================

How is Don Luis, Tia?  She looks at him seriously.  He’s in full bunker mode.  You put him in grave danger, letting Kostamo walk.  Is he angry with me?  He’s not, but I am.  You let your infatuation for a girl cloud your judgment.  And she glances over at Lana, who is animatedly telling a story, making a throwing motion.  Patrons soon look over at the sound of hysterical laughter.  Raul glances over his shoulder across the room, and sees the bald man sitting beside her with his head down and shaking over his dinner.  Lana has her hand on his shoulder and is grinning at the blonde.  Raul looks down at the table with a grin, and scratches his temple with a finger.  And then looks up seriously at his aunt, who caught the play of expression of his face.  I’m the one who is at risk, Tia.  Don Luis is inaccessible.  It would make more sense to kill the messenger, and then go to ground.  He is a soldier, an honorable man in his own way, Raul muses.  

And he has military connections that we can only dream of, Tia replies.  One drone with a Hellfire missile would negate all our layered security.  <Silence> I did not factor that into my calculations, he admits, and steeples his fingers and looks at the wall.  The waiter comes, and his aunt orders for both of them.  And now?  She asks.  He could be lulling us to sleep, and planning a major strike.  Here is what is known.  He has no security with him anymore.  He shows up predictably at his office every morning, presumably to get his house in order, but leaves early to enjoy life.  He called me yesterday to inform me that he’s going to Las Vegas -  with the redhead.  He wanted me to know that he wasn’t running, and the subtext was that he is going there to marry her.  Tia raises her eyebrows skeptically.  It’s entirely possible that he’s playing me, knowing that I would respect such an intention, and have the Russian wait until he gets back into town.  He sighs.  I’ll call Ramon and let him know that I’ve made a mess of things.  He puts his forehead in his palm.  Raul, Ramon loves you like a brother since you saved his father’s life while he was out whoring.  He knows you have only domestic ambitions, and will understand.  Until I get his father killed, Raul interjects.  What’s done is done.  You’ve learned from it; that’s what matters.  Tia, I don’t have a read on the man; I can only conjecture.  It’s something to do with her, but for the life of me, I cannot figure it out.

She is curious about you, Raul.  And she kept track of all the drink orders; she wanted to see if you would get them right.  Her parents are traditional Catholics – only the Latin mass for them.  She was refused communion, but they do not switch to a more liberal church.  They watch the smiling preacher on the livestream now, then eat together.  Don Luis approves of her when he heard this.  And I think she speaks Spanish.  Unlike her friend.  Tia touches her earrings.  Donde comprar los orejas?  Raul bursts out laughing.  I like her, Tia.  I do too.  She gives me hope for America.

Their food comes.  So the boyfriend?  I can handle this for you, Tia says in an amused tone.  What are his strengths?  He is unruffled by events.  And he has sound judgment.  The combination makes him an excellent investor; he could make a living at this, managing wealth for others.   I consider his status as a musician to be a net neutral, but he is the glue that holds his band together.  What are his weaknesses?  He trains excessively in the gym so as to keep a beach body.  He is laid back and friendly.  Strangers approach him there all the time.

So we hit him at the gym, Tia declares.  What is your plan?  Three temptations.  If he passes, he gets to keep her.  A chemical romance would be so much more expedient, she replies.  Do unto others, Tia…I would not wish myself to be roofied.  Raul, his aunt sighs, you’re too good for this world.  The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, he replies.  She stares at him.  

Now I have in mind the three temptations of the simpleton from the Book of Proverbs: the whore, the strange woman, and the adulteress.  As you wish, Raul; I will take care of it.  Thank you, Tia.  They finish their meal in silence.  What will be your wedding gift to them?  I’ll wound his hand.  He’ll never play again at the same level, and it will break up the band.  She beams at him.  I always knew you were one of us.