Friday, January 17, 2014

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter 24: Bethlehem

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            “Do you have any other recurring dreams?”
I laugh. “You’re still reading that book, aren’t you?”

Molly peers over her glasses, a gesture meant to inspire intellectual authority. “Well look here, Miss Smartass. When were dreams ever not a part of psychoanalysis?”

“I would love to offer a retort but I suspect I would be wrong.”

“Smart girl.”

“Smart ass, smart girl. So what’s the problem?”

“Life. Every person in the world is an algebraic equation, and life is x.”

“The variable.”

“Yes. Now. Dreams?”

I lean back my head and close my eyes. Last night’s feature begins to roll.

“It’s my number two, after the fire and flood. It shows up maybe once a month. Not very dramatic. But curious.”


“I’m a courier. A UPS delivery chick. I am wandering a deserted downtown – skyscrapers, alleys – late at night. I’ve got a package, size of a shoebox, and I can’t find the address. Then I see a sign and I have that a-ha moment. A glass door slides open; I slip inside. No one’s around, so I set down the package and I leave.”

“Is that a little odd, just leaving it like that?”

“In my dreams, I am wildly irresponsible.”

“Yeah. Sure. But you did make the delivery.”



“So if we’re meeting here, will I be charged?”

Molly emits a very unprofessional snicker. “Don’t worry. Our running arrangement with Ava covers all my hours.”

“And They said that marijuana would be my ruination.”

Now I get laughter. It occurs to me that, in another life, I might already have asked Molly Sharp out. A woman that smart, who laughs that freely. Very sexy.

“I’m thinking soon I may need a psychologist for myself.”

I’m in therapy. I highly recommend it. We spend so much money keeping our cars tuned up. Why not tune up your brain?”

The laughter’s gone. She wanders to the window. It’s spooky-rainy, dark phantoms scaling the hills.

“Do you get popcorn out of this relationship?”

“Oh yeah. I notice, however, that it’s always in the small bag. Could be she doesn’t want a fat boyfriend.”

“Smart girl.”

Her pause goes on for a long time. I get the feeling she’s trying to bait me into starting a conversation.

“So are we actually going to talk about something?”

She turns from the window and folds her hands. She wears a fuzzy white sweater that accentuates her breasts. Which is something I’m not supposed to be noticing.

“I am wading into tricky ethical waters. Lots of details that I am not supposed to divulge. Unless you already know them. Jasmina informs me that she’s been talking to you about a lot of this.”

“The dreams?”

She gives me the look of a chess master. “Name them.”

I settle back on the couch (may as well get my money’s worth). “Can’t get out of the basement. Fire, then water. Sass Hunter in a kayak. That was me, by the way.”

“How so?”

“Sass told me to kiss her on the forehead.”

“Okay. The other half is public knowledge. Jasmina painted your stockroom walls because…”

“Um, because… Oh! Froze up. Couldn’t go into the basement.”

Molly holds up a piece of invisible yarn and pulls it across. “Connect the dots.”

 “Oh! The basement. Allegorical?”

She walks to her chair, bouncing her palms together. “I fear not. You think you can finish this thought for me?”

“Okay. Let’s see. Self-injury often originates in childhood trauma. We’re talking… confinement? Abuse?”

“I didn’t say that. But now I sorta feel like I should be paying you.”

“Nonsense. Just going for the obvious.”

“So you’re Occam’s Barber?”

I laugh. Molly smiles. “I’m glad somebody gets my jokes. The thing is, I’m venturing into some dangerous shit, and I would dearly love some more information.”

“I’m at a dead end. In fact, I’m parked at the dead end, my car is out of gas, and I am banging my head on the steering wheel.”

“But you do have one more arrow in your quiver.”

It takes me approximately five seconds to get the reference. “But you know that thing is toxic.”

“Perhaps you need a firewall.”

“You are really into this private-eye shit.”

“Psychologist, detective, treasure hunter…”

I hold up a hand. “Okay. Let me work this out. Firewall, firewall…”

It’s such a buzz when the light bulb goes on. I give Molly a smile.


“New Beginnings. Sass Hunter.”

Her voice is just as I imagined. Red velvet cake. Sarah Vaughan. And she’s not even trying. Prostitution, hell. Phone sex.

“Hi. This is Paul Debenkof. Jasmina’s guy.”

“Paul! What a treat. How’s my girl?”

“Doing well.”

“Then why are you calling?”

“Damn! You’re quick.”

A throaty laugh. “What did you expect?”

“Exactly. But one quick digression. I kissed her on the forehead, and you appeared in her dream.”


“In a kayak.”

“Naturally. So what’s up?”

“I have a favor to ask.”


I send her the number in an email. Two hours later, I’m in my room watching television. Jasmina’s across the street, working the box office.

“Hi. It’s the ghost. Is the coast clear?”

I glance out the window. “She’s selling tickets. What’s the dope?”

“The toxic number has retrieved a man. A young man, Jasmina’s age. Not a relative.”

“Now, that email account – Mr. Paine – is that secure?”

“Yes. I use it only at the library.”

“Excellent. Our young man, who has not as yet revealed his name, is going to send you a list of instructions.”

“That’s odd.”

“Oh, so you’re the only one who gets to be mysterious?”

“But I’m the one holding the hostage. What’s he got?”

“Oh he’s got somethin’.”

“Do tell.”

A little breath of a laugh. Crafty. “No. Not till you promise me something.”

“I am surrounded by extortionists!”

“Yeah, yeah. Yakety-schmakety. I want to see Jasmina. If the doc gives the okay. You let me know, I’ll be out on the next flight.”

“Okay. I’ll ask.”


Silence. I hear her fingernails click a tattoo on her desk.

“He’s the father.”


“Jasmina has a child.”

Photo by MJV

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