Corner Confessions

By Kiersten Hall

General fiction, Short stories, Crime & mystery

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21 mins


Meet Patti    A Full Chapter

     Steph was busy watching people pull into the parking lot, get out of their cars, and go on about their lives through the plate glass window next to her confessional table in the back corner. Sitting in the magnified warmth of window-tinted light, she was making bets with herself on who would be her next appointment, and what secret they might share, when she caught movement out of the corner of her left eye.
     “I bet you didn’t know the mayor is having an affair, did you?”
     “What?” Steph asked as she turned and faced the woman walking toward her with a cane, and a purse in her other hand.
     “The mayor… I bet you didn’t know he was having an affair, did you?” she repeated herself, pulling out the chair across from Steph and sitting down.
     “Truth be told, I don’t even think I know who the mayor of this town is,” Steph revealed with a shrug of her shoulders.
     The woman sitting across from Steph furled her brow and slapped her left hand down on the table, “How can you not know who the mayor is? She’s an absolute bitch!”
     “Wait. I thought you just said the mayor was a ‘he’,” Steph said skeptically, wondering if she simply misheard.
     “You’re right, I did,” the woman said smiling while she placed her handbag on top of the table.
     Perplexed, Steph asked this strange stranger across from her, “So, is the mayor a he or a she?”
     Stretching her left arm across the table for a handshake with her palm down, this woman introduced herself with a smile, “Hi, my name is Patti and I’m the town liar.”
     With a confused look and fumbling with her arms to figure out which one to use for the return handshake - unusual as it was, Steph asked, “Don’t you mean crier? And I don’t want to seem rude, here, but are you my four o’clock appointment today?”
     “It depends on who you are and if you’d like me to be,” quipped Patti.
     “My name is Steph and…”
     “Nice to meet you Steph,” Patti said, pulling her arm back to her side of the table, then picking up the coffee pot and shaking it to gauge how much coffee was left.
     Steph motioned toward the coffee pot and said, “There’s still quite a bit left in there,” and then continued with the pleasantries of, “Nice to meet you, too… I’m sorry, I just forgot your name.”
     “My name is Penny.”
     Steph sat there for a moment, quickly replaying the last two minutes of conversation in her head while looking at this person sitting in front of her and then slowly asked, “Was it Patti? Or, was it Penny?”
     “Either one works for me,” as she smiled and poured coffee into the clean mug sitting next to the pot.
     Steph leaned back in her chair smiling with the realization she was being toyed with, but she didn’t fully understand why. Although she tried to suppress her instinct to go into the smooth-talking, fast-paced, shark she could easily become when people started talking circles around her – typically when trying to dissuade her from continuing on with her sales spiel - she couldn’t help herself and decided to play along. “Well then… nice to meet you Patti-Penny.”
     Patti-Penny paused for a moment after she poured her coffee and smiled at Steph. Upon quickly deciding she could have a stimulating conversation with a possible worthy opponent, she began, “So, what brings you to this fine coffee shop to discuss life with people?”
     “Probably the same thing that brought you here to chat with me on this fine day,” Steph replied with confidence that she knew she was on the verge of a very interesting afternoon conversation.
     “What do you do for a living?”
     “Advertising sales, and you?”
     “I’m in sales, too.”
     “Really? What area?” Steph asked, looking directly at Patti-Penny.
     “Self-confidence,” Patti-Penny answered quickly, looking directly at Steph.
     “How so?”
     “I build people up; I make them feel good about themselves,” Patti-Penny answered with a glowing smile while mixing three packets of artificial sugar into her coffee.
     “So, you’re a success coach?”
     “You could say that, but….” Patty-Penny smiled while she continued to stir her coffee with her perfectly manicured hand, never breaking her gaze with Steph.
     “But what?”
     “I always win,” Patti-Penny answered instantly without blinking and still smiling, all the while still mixing her coffee.
     “Always,” Patti-Penny assured Steph, finally blinking and keeping her eyes shut for an exaggerated amount of time before opening them again. She pulled the spoon from her coffee and set it down on her napkin.
     Without pausing for Patti-Penny’s odd behavior, Steph said, “You sound fairly confident.”
     “I am.”
     “What do you win?” Steph asked.
     “My payment...”
     “What’s your payment?”
     “It’s whatever I choose it to be,” Patti-Penny said with a smile in a singsong voice while she fanned her hands out in front of her.
     “And what is it you typically choose for a payment?”
     Patti-Penny put her hands back in her lap and leaned forward, “Typically money; isn’t that what you choose for your payment, too?”
     “Yes, but I wouldn’t exactly say I win it.”
     “Win it… earn it… same thing.”
     “Is it?”
     “Boy! Aren’t we full of questions today?” Patti-Penny said leaning back in her chair with a satisfied smile.
     Steph left Patti-Penny’s question unanswered, and routed the odd conversation into a new direction, “Who do you work for?”
     “Me. And you?”
     “Primarily myself as a self-employed subcontractor, but at the moment, I sell ads for a travel publication.”
     “Exciting! Do you get to travel a lot?” Patti-Penny asked before she took a sip of her hot coffee.
     “Not really. I basically stay in my sales territory… How about you?”
     “Mmmmm hmmmm, my business takes me everywhere. The better I do on my current job, the further I go for the next job.”
     “Further, how?” Steph asked.
     “Either in distance or extravagance, or both…”
     “Give me an example of extravagance.”
     “Monaco versus this small town of less than nine thousand people,” Patti-Penny answered, pursing her lips with widened eyes and a tilt of her head.
     “That’s a good example of extravagance.”
     Steph’s appointment continued to keep her gaze locked on Steph with a Cheshire Cat smile, so Steph continued to ask questions to keep the oddly stimulating conversation going. “Are you familiar with my disclaimer of not being interested in hearing anything illegal?”
     “Are you going to tell me anything illegal?”
     “Wasn’t planning on it….”
     “You wouldn’t be lying, would you?”
     “If I lie, you won’t know,” Patti-Penny continued to answer quickly to keep the fast-paced conversation going.
     “Are you lying now?”
     “If you have to ask, how would you know if I was lying or not, right now?”
     “Point taken,” Steph conceded as she took the opportunity to breathe after that round of questioning.
     “Now it’s my turn to ask questions,” Patti-Penny said with glee while sitting up a bit straighter in her chair.
     “It is?”
     “Yes. Why are you doing this?”
     “A mere experiment, on my part,” Steph said re-adjusting her position in the chair.
     “Please explain further,” Patti-Penny requested, lifting the mug of coffee back up to her lips with both hands.
     “Over the years, and with as many people as I have spoken to, I know a lot of them have skeletons in their closet they would like to get rid of, but some secrets will never see the light of day, ever.”
     “Mmmm hmmmm, keep going,” Patti-Penny interrupted between her sips of coffee.
     “We all have something that makes us tick; several somethings, as a matter of fact. But some of those things are too…. “ Steph paused as she thought of the perfect combination of words to describe what she wanted to say, “Too personal… embarrassing… horrifying… whatever… to tell a shrink, or a priest, or their best friend, or their spouse.”
     “True,” Patti-Penny interjected again.
     “But sometimes people will open up to a stranger who won’t hold them accountable, and even if this stranger winds up judging them to any degree, the person who told the secret can simply walk away and the judgment from this stranger won’t count; it won’t make one bit of difference in their world.”
Without saying anything, Patti-Penny was nodding her head in agreement with Steph. Continuing on, Steph finished with her train of thought, “That’s what this all has become; I’m merely the stranger who will listen and converse if the person wishes me to do so. I have seen and heard so much in life, I know whether or not I judge won’t make a difference in their lives. I also know whatever is told to me throughout these appointments will, most likely, not make one iota of difference in my life, either… or at least not directly.”
     “Wow! That’s quite the answer. Thank you…”
     “You’re welcome. So, what’s your secret?” Steph immediately asked in order to take control of the conversation again.
     Picking up on what Steph just did, Patti-Penny smiled and asked, “Me?”
     “Yes… you.” Steph confirmed with a smile, refilling her coffee mug and preparing another cup of perfection.
     “Hmmmm, you want to hear a secret, do you?”
     “Do you have a secret or confession to tell?” Steph prodded.
     “Oh, let me think of one…” Patti-Penny played along, crossing her arms in front of her while tapping her chin with her right index finger and looking up to the left. “I have many, if I set my mind to it.”
     “Okay….” Steph said, testing the secret recipe for her coffee.
     “Oh! Here’s one!” Patty-Penny said while leaning into the table to confess.      “I once dated the Prince of Denmark for about a week…”
     “And this is a deep, dark secret of yours?”
     “Yes, because I can’t believe I almost fell into that trap!”
     “How was it a trap?”
     “Marriage! It’s a trap!”
     “For some, yes,” Steph agreed hesitantly.
     “Well, I’m one of those!” Patti-Penny exclaimed as she held up her right arm as if to be counted in a poll.
     “It’s good you figured that out before you walked down that aisle, then,” Steph continued to agree with her but then asked, “So, if you don’t mind me   asking, how did you meet the Prince of Denmark?”
     “I was driving through on the way to my next job, and stopped in for a beer at a dive bar out there, and there he was in all of his glory, sitting at the end of the bar.”
     “Was he in a disguise?”
     “No, why would he be?” Patti-Penny asked, reaching for the coffee pot.
     “I can’t see the Prince of Denmark sitting in a dive bar having a beer,” Steph offered up as a logical reason.
     “Well, he was there - flirting with every female that walked by. The bartender pointed out he was known as the Prince of Denmark for his remarkable talents with the ladies,” Patti-Penny said, rolling her eyes while she poured more coffee into her mug.
     “What do you mean, known as the Prince of Denmark? He either is or he isn’t. It’s a birthright title.”
     “I’m sure he was a cute kid, but most guys don’t have that title at birth.”
     “Guys who are princes do, and how is it you only dated for a week?” Steph asked, even more curious now.
     “I didn’t really have a timetable to adhere to so I played it out to see where it would go,” Patti-Penny answered, sprinkling another three packets of artificial sugar into her fresh cup of coffee. “But a week into it, he started tossing ideas around about marriage and my red flags started flying at full mast!”
     “A week?”
     “Yeah, I found out from the bartender that he had five kids from two former girlfriends who took off on him and the children. Now he was looking for a wife to keep in the house to permanently babysit his kids. I wanted no part of that!”
     “I don’t blame you, but I still can’t get over the Prince of Denmark sitting in the bar part… What did his house look like?”
     “I never did see his house, thank gawd! But the bartender told me it was a rundown shit shack, why do you ask?”
     Steph skipped answering Patti-Penny and questioned her again, “And how is it he had five kids with two different women?”
     “These things happen…” Patti-Penny answered before she took a drink of her freshened-up mug of coffee.
     “The Prince of Denmark, huh?”
     “Yeah,” Patti-Penny answered as she set her mug back down on the table.
     “Can you tell me what route you took to Denmark? You know, how’d you get there?”
     “I was travelling from Augusta out to Charleston…”
     “South Carolina?”
     Steph interrupted, “Is this Denmark a town in South Carolina?”
     “Oh! I thought you were talking about the country of Denmark!” Steph said rather loudly, leaning back and putting both of her hands on top of her head in exasperation.
     “No, no… The town of Denmark in South Carolina.” Patti-Penny confirmed.
     “Why didn’t you specify this fact earlier in the conversation?”
     “Because it’s fun to watch the confusion on people’s faces,” Patti-Penny confessed.
     “So, why did you divulge the information then?” Steph asked.
     “I had allowed you to figure it out by the info I told you; I could’ve withheld the info from you, or told you something else to continue the confusion.”
     “But why would you do that?” Steph asked, leaning in toward the table again.
     Bored with that round of conversation and questions, Patti-Penny took that moment to take back the control of the conversation with an off the wall answer to Steph’s last question by asking, “Do what?”
     “Create confusion with people… I thought you said you create self-confidence.”
     “No, I don’t create self-confidence, I build it up.”
     “Isn’t that the same thing?” Steph asked for clarification.
     “No, not really...”
     “It seems like it’s the same thing to me,” Steph said.
     “No… creating self-confidence is making something new – something that was never there before. Building up self-confidence is making something already there, bigger than what it originally was,” Patti-Penny explained.
Growing more baffled, Steph asked, “And you make money off of this?”
     “I don’t understand how?”
     “I build up self-confidence by selling grandiose. Once established, I verbalize my intent in a number of indirect ways until I get what I want and then I disappear,” Patti-Penny said, bringing her hands up while shrugging her shoulders.
     “So, what was it you wanted from this Prince of Denmark?”
     “Ah, you’re catching on…” Patti-Penny revealed while continuing to grin at Steph. “This Prince of Denmark put on a good show; a well-dressed man with an expensive sports car… talked big… could’ve been a player if he hadn’t knocked up two women and been left with the residuals of his past actions. The one big mistake he made was to allow his self to get caught up in the game.”
     “The game?”
     “Yes, the game. I was playing him to get to any money he had – I should have done my homework... My intuition told me to do my homework, but I ignored it and almost got sucked into the game… his game! He was playing me to find a babysitter for his five brats at home so he could get on with his life without the responsibilities.”
     “Playing…” Steph said out loud while she quickly thought about what she had been told so far. As soon as it clicked, she snapped her fingers and pointed at her appointment, “You’re a con artist, aren’t you?”
     “Con artist, player, grifter, hustler, swindler, deceiver, scammer, pretender, imposter…”
     “Charlatan,” Steph chimed in.
     “Exactly!” Patti-Penny exclaimed, clapping her hands together in the pure joy of Steph realizing what she was talking about.
     “Okay so, how would the Prince of Denmark story work for you?”
     With a careless wave of her hand and a continued smile, Patti-Penny started in with the description of how she would have played that con, “Oh, that one is a small job… I would create a friendship with you and divulge certain information as a friend. After a while, I would suggest we go to Denmark for fun with all the grandiose stories I would’ve told you. Once your self-confidence had been built up, and you had faith in me as a true friend, I would insist that I could arrange the travel plans, too, since I was very familiar with the lay of the land and could get a good deal on the airfare! I would even sell you on it by telling you we would be staying with some friends of mine out there to save on hotel expenses but… I would still need the money from you to book the airfare. Once I got your money – no checks please – I would disappear and there you would be sitting, wondering where I went?”
     “Have you done this before?” Steph asked.
     With a twinkle in her eye, Patti-Penny asked, “It’s a good theory, isn’t it?”
     “But have you already done this?”
     “I told you I would abide by your disclaimer and not tell you anything illegal.”
     “But that sounds very illegal.”
     “I gave you that as an example – didn’t say I had already done it. It’s a good working theory, though,” Patti-Penny mused, placing her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand.
     Steph realized she wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of her appointment, “Okay then….”
     “What else?” Patti-Penny asked immediately, sensing she was losing Steph’s interest.
     “What about the mayor?” Steph asked.
     “What about the mayor?” Patti-Penny asked.
     “You said he was a she and she was a he, the mayor was both… what’s the deal on that?”
     “It would be a helluva story to tell the local newspapers, wouldn’t it?” Patti-Penny suggested as she shook the coffee pot again to check the level of the liquid inside. “If you knew something, or had some blackmail evidence, or if it was celebrity-gossip you could sell to those grocery store tabloids… It’d be pretty fun, huh?”
     “Have you done that?”
     “Then why did you say it?”
     “It was a good way to break the ice,” Patti-Penny smiled, pouring the last of the coffee into her mug.
     “It was definitely an interesting conversation starter, that’s for sure.”
     “It worked. That’s all we need to take from that unless you work with a tabloid, and you’ll give me money for a farfetched story…”
     “No money,” Steph said, holding up her hands.
     “Then no story to tell over here,” answered Patti-Penny.
     “What about your name?” Steph asked, watching her guest mix only two packets of artificial sugar into her coffee this time around.
     “What about it?” Patti-Penny asked, looking back up at Steph.
     “What’s your real name?”
     Steph paused, and with a small chuckle, she looked down and shook her head in disbelief. Exasperated, she leaned back in her chair for a moment, and after deciding on her next question, Steph leaned back into the table, “Earlier, you told me it was Patti… then Penny. Now it’s Priscilla?”
     Realizing she simply needed to go with the flow with this unknown person sitting across from her, Steph changed the direction of the conversation again. “Do you live in town, here?”
     “No,” the now-Priscilla answered before she took a sip of her coffee.
     “Then how’d you hear about this experiment?”
     “What experiment?”
     Steph pointed to the table and then to the rest of coffee shop as she said, “This… people coming in to talk with me, sharing secrets, etcetera.”
     “Oh, yeah… Every so often I stop in for coffee; I have a house here in town,” the now-Priscilla answered with a true twinkle in her eye from all the fun she was having with this afternoon conversation.
     Steph exhaled and couldn’t keep from smiling. After a few seconds of staring at her mystery appointment incredulously, Steph answered, “But you just said you don’t live in town.”
     “Correct, I don’t live in town, but I do have a house here.”
     “So, you live here then,” Steph restated for clarification purposes.
     “No, I have a house here which stores my belongings; I live elsewhere all over the world – wherever my travels take me. Residing in this town is not the same as living in this town.”
     “Ah, gotcha,” Steph said, snapping her fingers and pointing at her guest again while she fell back in her chair, once more.
     “Do you?”
     As Steph dropped her hands down to her sides and hung them toward the floor, she confessed, “Probably not.”
     The now-Priscilla sat back and continued to smile at Steph who was at a loss for words. After a moment of silence, the now-Priscilla asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”
     “Well, it doesn’t really matter what I ask…”
     “Why not? This is fun!”
     “Fun for you? Yeah. But for me? Not so sure...”
     To ensure the continuation of the conversation, the now-Priscilla asked, “Would you like to hear about how I got involved in all of this?”
     “Sure, why not?” Steph answered with exasperation and sat up straight.
     “Ah… Okay. I’ll tell you the truth,” the now-Priscilla leaned back with an air of superiority and a look of satisfaction from the stimulating conversation thus far. With an exhale, she continued, “Let’s see… Well… way back when, at the age of fifteen, I was a well-endowed teenager, and my uncle was a bookie in Jersey. I was hanging out with him one day while my Mom was out running errands, and he noticed how every time one of his guys came in for a talk, none of them could keep a coherent sentence going when I was within eyesight. He said it was even funnier to listen to them when I would bend over, either facing them or facing away… “
     “But that’s disgusting!”
     “But that’s the truth of life. Men really only think with their dicks – that’s what makes them such easy marks!”
     “But you were only fifteen years old!”
     The now-Priscilla leaned forward and looked Steph square in the eye and stated, “Yes. I was a fifteen year old who learned very… early… on… not to get involved, while making a lot of money in the process.”
     “How did you make money at this?”
     The now-Priscilla sat up, straight again, in her chair and continued. “My uncle would have his boys go play dice or the shell game out on the corners, or in the bars he frequented. I would go with them, but separately, to make it appear like we didn’t know each other. When the gaming started and the bets were placed, I would walk by and stop to pick something up, or look in on the game and adjust my undergarments through my blouse – you know, move things around. The guys would usually forget what they were doing, look up, then lose the bet since they looked away for a brief moment to catch a glimpse of whatever may have not been very well-secured by my brassiere, on that particular day...”
     “Well, that would explain the shell game, but how about the dice?”
     “They were good at short-changing people, especially when those people looked away and had their attention spans interrupted by yours truly,” the now-Priscilla said while pointing to her own self.
     “Where did these guys learn the techniques?”
     “My uncle taught his kids and some of the neighborhood kids how to do these tricks, just for fun; some of the kids got really good at it and had a knack for it, so they went semi-pro and started making money.”
     “What do you mean semi-pro?” Steph asked, crossing her forearms on the table and leaning in.
     “They didn’t do it full time. They had their day jobs to keep the ruse of an honest living. But on the side, they made sure ends met by doing these jobs.”
     “So… how’d you make money with all of this?”
     “Although my cousins and these other kids were good at what they did, I played the crucial role in sidetracking the mark’s attention so, I got my third of the pot.”
     “Why did you only get a third of the pot?”
     “I got a third, my cousin got a third, and my uncle got a third; us kids did the work and my uncle made sure we were safe out there and didn’t get into any trouble, or got us out of trouble if something happened. You know, paid off the right people to keep things quiet.”
     “Did you run into trouble often?”
     “Sometimes yes and sometimes no... Sometimes other cons would pick up on what was going on, or they would watch us work and then try to shake us down later. My uncle was very well-respected in the community, and once outsiders knew who they were screwing with, they’d usually disappear.”
     “Disappear as in… on their own? Or disappear as in… Jimmy Hoffa?” Steph asked.
     “I only concerned myself with whether or not they disappeared. I didn’t care how the job got done.”
     “Ah, I guess not,” Steph surmised, waving her right hand.
     “Remember, don’t get yourself involved. Work the gig and then get out,” the now-Priscilla reminded Steph before she finished off the last of her coffee.
     “So who were your targets? I would imagine people in the community were clued in on the scam, right?”
     “We’d get a lot of tourists who would come in to gamble, or come out for their summer vacations... Those were the ones we’d hit up because they would see the games in the movies, and think it would be fun to participate on vacation. You know, a little fantasy lived away from real life… all fun and games until their money disappeared. If they were smart, they would walk away. If they weren’t that smart, then they would disappear with a little help from the family.”
     “Uh huh…” Steph said, realizing she might be sitting across the table from a relative of a mob family.
     The now-Priscilla continued, “In my late teens, my parents were eager to marry me off and turn me into a good, god-fearing Catholic wife fraught with children scattered throughout the house. But I’d already gotten hooked with what I’d been doing on the side for the past three years, under the table with my uncle and my cousins… I certainly wasn’t about to give that up!”
     While Steph held her coffee mug - contemplating finishing the last of her cold coffee - she asked, “How did you get yourself out of your parent’s plans?”
     “I simply told them I was accepted to a college out on the west coast on a couple of scholarships so they wouldn’t have to pay… They bought the story, and I left.”
     “Did you ever see them again?”
     “Oh, yeah, I’ve been back. But I never came in asking for money, and I always had a story. Then I would go away… it was all clean. No emotional or financial baggage, and no responsibility to them.”
     “Caring parents, huh?” Steph asked, sarcastically.
     “Well, that’s how it was back then. With a son, he went off to college, then came back to take over the family business. With a daughter, you got her married off as quickly as you could, so she was someone else’s problem.”
     “Nice…” Steph said, placing her coffee mug back down onto the table.
     “I didn’t want to live my life as someone else’s problem, so I went off on my own… With my uncle’s tutelage and help from some of his buddies, I honed my skills and have been travelling the world ever since.”
     “And that’s it?” Steph asked.
     “That’s it… can’t complain.”
     “I guess not.”
     The now-Priscilla picked her spoon off the table, and dropped it into her coffee mug causing a muffled clink. “So, do you have any more questions for me?”
     “I guess not, although this was really never an interview,” Steph stated, straightening up in the chair again.
     “You sure asked a lot of questions for something that wasn’t an interview!”
     “Yeah, I guess I did,” Steph said, trying to process all of this off-centered information in her head.
     “Well, if we’re done here, then I should get going. I have much to do before I set off, out into the world again.”
     “Where are you off to next?”
     “Haven’t decided yet… I guess wherever the wind blows me!”
     Steph stood up, extended her hand toward Priscilla and said, “Thank you for coming in and sharing your stories with me, Priscilla. I enjoyed hearing about your past, and your life’s adventures…”
     Priscilla got up and met Steph’s hand with hers to complete the formal handshake. With a wink of her eye, she added, “You’re welcome Steph. Thank you for your time, and you may call me Pauline.”
     Steph stopped the handshake and asked, “Seriously? What is your name?”
     Priscilla-Pauline smiled and whispered, “Can you keep a secret?”
     “So can I!” And with that final answer, Patti-Penny-Priscilla-Pauline let go of Steph’s hand, picked up her handbag and cane, turned around, and promptly walked toward the door, and out of the coffee shop.

     After what seemed like a few minutes, Steph finally sat down and just stared straight ahead, replaying the entire appointment over in her mind. Tom, noticing Steph sitting by herself, excitedly ran over.
     “Hey!” Tom said, snapping his fingers in front of Steph’s face. “Yoohoo! Is anyone home? Bueller?”
     Startled by all of the noise in front of her, Steph jumped; her eyes darted up toward Tom. “Yeah, I’m here.”
     Tom sat down in the chair recently occupied by Patti-Penny-Priscilla-Pauline, “I got back to the shop here ‘bout twenty minutes ago and realized who you were talkin’ to!”
     With her face twisted in confusion, Steph asked, “Who was I talking to?”
     “Didn’t she introduce herself?” Tom asked eagerly.
     “Oh, yeah... She introduced herself four… different… times!”
     “What do ya’ mean she introduced herself four different times?
     “She gave me four different names throughout the entire time we were talking,” Steph answered.
     “Didn’t she tell ya’ who she was?” Tom asked again, but this time his excitement was replaced with confusion.
     “Well…” Steph began as she started to count off on her fingers. “First it was Patti… then Penny… then Priscilla… then Pauline… When I finally asked her, straight up what her real name was, she told me she could keep a secret. Then she left.”
     “That was Devorah Smithson!”
     “Devorah Smithson! She’s a Pulitzer Prize Author & New York Times Bestseller a couple o’ times over!” Tom announced with a big smile while he slapped his leg with his hand.
     Tom, beginning to get confused as well, sat straight up in his chair and asked, “What part of this are ya’ gettin’ lost on? And who are all of these other people ya’ just listed off?”
     “She said those were her names, none of which sounds like Devorah…” Steph answered, continuing to stare out the window.
     “No, they don’t, but that was definitely her!”
     “But why would she tell me such off the wall things? And with all of the different names?”
     “What did she tell ya’?” Tom asked, leaning in a
bit closer with the hope of catching Steph off-guard and finally getting to hear about some of the topics being discussed.
     “Huh?” Steph asked absently.
     “What’d she tell ya’?”
     Turning her head to look at Tom again, Steph playfully scolded him with, “Oh, I can’t tell you! You know that!”
     Tom sat up straight and dropped his forearms onto the table in front of him. “Well, how am I supposed to help you if I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about then?”
     “I don’t need any help… I’m just confused by the last hour of conversation.”
     “Can you tell me anything?”
     “Do you know where she lives?”
     “Yeah, she’s got that big house up on the hillside overlooking town,” Tom answered while pointing out the window with his left hand. “But I’m pretty sure she has other houses, too…”
     “Just tell me where,” Steph answered quickly.
     “Ah, I don’t know…. Sometimes there’s talk of her spendin’ a lot of her time out in Europe.”
     “Where in Europe?” Steph asked, leaning in toward the table again.
     “I don’t know… One of those small countries in the middle… Switzerland, Belgium, Austria… Somewhere, in there… Why?”
     Steph’s eyes lit up and she eagerly asked, “Denmark?”
     “Could be, I don’t know. Why?”
     “Just trying to make sense of everything she told me, if that’s even possible.”
     “Well, if it’s that confusing, maybe the point is to not figure it out; for it to remain a mystery?” Tom suggested with a tilt of his head.
     “Is she a mystery writer?”
     “I believe she writes primarily fiction, but not much to do with mystery.”
     “Well, she can certainly spin a good story,” Steph said with a large exhale as she dropped her forearms onto the table, too.
     “Was it that unbelievable? Or… believable?”
     “I thought so,” Steph confessed, “Or both. I’m not really sure right now…”
     “Well, I’ve always heard writers tend to write about what they know,” Tom said in an effort to snap Steph back out of the inner thought process she was beginning to slide into again.
     “Then she either knows a lot, or has certainly led an interesting life!” Steph responded, shoving her spoon and napkin into her coffee mug.
     Tom leaned back in his chair and asked with a hint of defeat, “And I bet you aren’t gonna tell me about any of it, are you?”
     Steph smiled at Tom and then asked, “Can you keep a secret?”
     Tom breathlessly answered, “Yes!”
     “So can I!” Steph admitted then put her hand up to her closed mouth, turned an invisible key, and tossed it over her shoulder.

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