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Entertaining myself - ch 12 of PROTECTION FOR HIRE

I was re-reading Protection for Hire the other day because I’m planning to start work on book #3 in the series soon. Then I read the Fat Burger scene, and just could NOT stop laughing. I couldn’t believe I wrote that!

Captain Caffeine looked at me rather strangely when I was sitting there giggling to myself but I couldn’t even stop laughing to explain to him what I was laughing at.

And then when I finally could explain it to him, it just sounded dumb. Go figure.

Anyway, here’s the scene, which was from chapter twelve (I think … correct me if I’m wrong since I don’t have a copy near my desk to check).

Tessa, my heroine, is at her mom’s house with her client, Elizabeth St. Amant, and Elizabeth’s three year old son, Daniel (who owns a pink-polka-dotted stuffed dog named Slasher, which is a story in itself). Tessa has never had a great relationship with her older sister, Alicia, and hasn’t been much involved with Alicia’s 13-year-old daughter, Paisley, since Tessa was in prison for the past seven years, but she’s trying really hard to strengthen family ties. Alicia isn’t as interested in doing that, and has always resented Tessa for her illegal doings for their mob-boss uncle (which was why she went to prison). Alicia’s also stressed because she’s in the middle of divorcing her husband, Duane.

Chapter Twelve

“This is all your fault!” was the first thing Alicia said when Tessa picked up her mom’s landline phone.

The accusation was like a glass of lemonade thrown in her face—startling and stinging. “What’s my fault?” she demanded.

Elizabeth looked up from where she was playing with Daniel on the living room floor.

“Everything!” The crack of hysteria in her voice clued Tessa in to the fact that Alicia was even more high strung than normal.

When she listened closely, she could hear Paisley sobbing in the background. Tightness gathered just under her breastbone. “What happened?” Her tone was still tense but she tried to soften it by speaking low and slowly.

Alicia didn’t answer, which always drove Tessa stark raving nuts. She listened to the symphony of crying (Paisley) and wailing (Alicia) for a full two minutes while Elizabeth alternated between playing Slasher-the-valiant-pink-dragon with Daniel and shooting Tessa What in the world is going on? looks. Tessa gave her I don’t know! looks back.

Suddenly in the background she heard an aggravated voice shout, “What you do, lady? Aiyahhhh, poor didi …”

Alicia raised her voice to shriek, “What did I do? This is a hazard! You should be sued!”

The slam of a car door, then the sounds of two voices arguing over each other with fighting words like “You hit my didi” and “Your stupid monstrosity” and “You in big trouble” and “You don’t know what trouble is, mister.”

Finally she heard Paisley say, “Mom, give me the phone. … Hello? Aunt Tessa?” She sounded small, but her voice didn’t wobble.

“Paisley, what happened? Are you two all right?”

“We’re …” She took a deep breath, and her voice was steadier as she continued, “We’re fine. Mom got into a car accident.”

“Is anyone hurt?”

“No, we’re fine. Mom hit a …” She gulped.

An 18-wheeler? A tractor? A dump truck?

“… a Fat Burger Boy.”

Tessa rattled a finger in her ear. “What did you say?”

“You know, those big plexiglass boys in front of the Fat Burger restaurant, the ones wearing a sombrero and a kimono and wooden shoes.”

Oh, that’s right.

Elizabeth tugged at Tessa’s sleeve, and Tessa mouthed, “Auto accident,” and gave her a thumb’s up to show they were okay. Elizabeth nodded and sighed in relief.

The argument in the background had ended, and Tessa could hear Alicia’s heaving sobs (sounding more frustrated than traumatized) punctuated by an occasional, “It’s all her fault!” She also heard what sounded like a solid kick to a piece of plexiglass, followed by an “Ow!”

Tessa relaxed a little. Alicia must be okay if she was attacking shattered Fat Boys. “How’s the car?” she asked Paisley.

“The front bumper looks like it’s frowning, but other than that, I think the Fat Boy got the last fry in the Happy Meal.”

“I don’t think he’s happy with you mentioning his competition.”

“He can’t be happy anymore about anything,” Paisley said dryly. “His entire head is gone.”

“Did your mom call her auto insurance adjustor?”

“No, she called you first.”

“Check in her wallet for her insurance card.”

She could hear Paisley rummaging through Alicia’s purse. She knew it was Alicia’s purse because she could hear all the gigantic brass buckles clanking—Alicia had a neurotic thing for buckles.

“I got it.”

“Call the number on it and let them know what happened. You’re probably also going to have to get the car towed. Does she have AAA?”

“I don’t see a AAA card,” Paisley said.

“Oh.” Tessa didn’t have AAA anymore.

Then Elizabeth tugged on her sleeve again. “I have AAA,” she said.

And they were flush with cash. “Paisley, where are you?” She took down the address then told her, “Call the insurance adjustor. Elizabeth and I will come as soon as we can to pick you up and help you get the car towed.”

Tessa called a cab company and had the driver pick them up a few blocks from her mom’s house. Within twenty minutes, they were being dropped off at Fat Burger. Luckily, Alicia had chosen to assault a fast food restaurant nearby their home as opposed to across the Bay Area.

“What took you so long?” Alicia demanded, tottering toward them on her pumps. “It’s all your fault!”

Tessa knew Alicia had just been through something terrible, she knew Alicia was probably worried about Paisley, she knew Alicia didn’t handle stress well (that was a gross understatement), and she knew Alicia worried about the money to fix the car and the Fat Boy now that she had started divorce proceedings. But Alicia’s habit of always accusing Tessa was wearing her down, and Tessa found herself responding the way she usually did.

“Brilliant driving, Dale Earnhardt.”

Alicia’s eyes were jade spikes. “What are you talking about? And this—” She swung her arms in wide circles to encompass the headless Fat Boy. “—is all your fault.”

“Excuse me, but this—” Tessa swung her arms in identical circles at the Fat Boy. “—was caused by this—” She swung her arms to include Alicia’s dented SUV. “—which was driven by this.” She swung her arms in a giant circle to frame the picture of Alicia’s dementedly mad figure.

Only then did it register to Tessa that her sister was in a business suit. She dressed up just to pick up her daughter from school?

“I knew you’d be completely insensitive,” Alicia said. “You’re making jokes while your niece is in hysterics.” She flung a hand out toward Paisley, who was leaning against the car and braiding a lock of her straight brown hair.

“Yes,” said Tessa. “I can see she’s practically incoherent.”

“I talked to the insurance adjustor, Aunt Tessa,” Paisley said without looking up from her braiding. “Her name was Linda Teng and she was really nice. She talked to the restaurant owner and got his information. She says it shouldn’t be a problem to cover the cost of didi, here.” She jerked her head toward Headless Boy.


“The restaurant owner’s name is Bobby Wong. He calls the Fat Boy didi, which Linda told me means ‘younger brother.’”

“Well, that’s appropriate.”

“Are we done talking about statue nicknames?” Alicia said acerbically. “Where’s the tow truck?”

Elizabeth handed Daniel over to Paisley, who promptly showed him Fat Boy’s head on the ground and got him to start bopping him on the nose, while Elizabeth called AAA and got a tow truck.

“It’s all your fault,” Alicia said to Tessa while they waited.

Okay, this repetitiveness was going beyond Alicia’s typical, “It’s Tessa’s fault just for existing” sort of rant. “What do you mean, it’s my fault?” Tessa braced herself—after all, she was asking for it by just voicing the question.

“If stupid you hadn’t been doing all those stupid jobs for Uncle Teruo, stupid Duane wouldn’t have had any grounds to sue for custody.”

Tessa clenched her teeth at the excessive use of the word stupid, but by judicious intake of oxygen, let it slide. “How can he sue for custody?”

“He said that since I was living with my sister, who had been accused of murder and gone to jail, I was an unfit mother to expose my child to such a questionable influence.”

“So him living with his stripper girlfriend is a better influence?”

“Your memory is like a strainer—the stripper left him already. He’s with an airline attendant now.”

“So it’s better to expose a thirteen-year-old to a stewardess dressed in whipped cream?”

“Rather than an ex-convict?” Alicia snapped. “What do you think?”

What could she say to that? Despite Alicia’s normal level of unreasonable-ness, Tessa couldn’t deny that her conviction had deeply impacted so many more people than just herself.

“He’s only doing this to annoy me,” Alicia said. “His girlfriend can’t stand Paisley.”

“That’s ’cause the last time she left her bra hanging in the bathroom, I punctured her water cups,” Paisley called from Fat Boy’s head.

Tessa and Elizabeth both stifled their laughter.

“You’re not supposed to be listening,” Alicia shot back.

“Then stop talking like I’m not here,” Paisley retorted.

“You muzzle that attitude, missy, or you’re grounded,” Alicia said.

Paisley pouted, but kept her mouth shut.

“I was so upset when I got the phone call, it was like I went blind,” Alicia said, and her voice cracked.

That twist in her sister’s voice caused a twisting in Tessa’s gut. Regardless of Alicia’s complete lack of common politeness to Tessa, she really did love her daughter, and Duane wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on in this custody battle if not for Tessa’s past involvement with the yakuza and her incarceration.

“And that stupid statue jumped in front of me,” Alicia said. “The next thing I know, I have some Chinese man yelling at me that I hurt his poor didi. How am I supposed to know what didi is? At first I thought he was upset I had disrupted the place’s feng shui.”

Tessa eyed Fat Boy’s sombrero, dented on one edge, which rolled near his wooden shoes. “I don’t think Fat Burger cares much about feng shui.”

“And now I’ll have to pay the insurance deductible. How am I supposed to raise a daughter while dealing with Duane the moron and trying to pay a deductible with money I don’t have?”

“You might get that job you interviewed for today, Mom,” Paisley said.

Hence the business suit. Tessa should have guessed. “You went for an interview today?”

“Do you think I dressed like this just to pick Paisley up from school? Of course I had an interview,” Alicia snapped, but then she rubbed her forehead with her fingers. “I can’t even apply for a Biologist Four position because I’ve been out of the industry for so long. I’ll be lucky to get a Bio One position that pays absolute dregs.”

Tessa wanted to say, “Trust in God to take care of you,” but the words glued her mouth shut like a lump of salt-water taffy. On second thought, her atheist sister’s raging temper might make her spit the words right back at her.

But Tessa did send a quick prayer Heaven-ward: Jesus, please help my sister find a good job. Please take care of her and Paisley.

And a weird, strange answer in her head: Don’t I always?

Somehow, that voice calmed her and enabled her to say, “I can pick Paisley up from school for you, if that’ll help with your interviews and any job you might land.”

“Fine.” Alicia crossed her arms and didn’t look at Tessa.

Her gratitude was truly overwhelming.

Then again, she hadn’t expected it. Knowing how Alicia typically treated her, if she’d said “Thank you,” Tessa would have been more likely to faint dead away.

But Paisley caught her eye and gave her a grin. Things had been awkward between them for the first three months after Tessa got out, since her last memory of the girl had been of a rowdy six-year-old, but she was starting to like her niece, who seemed to have Tessa’s adventurous spirit and the determination of a nicer version of Alicia.

She hadn’t been very Christ-like in her interactions with her sister, and of all her family, she didn’t want Paisley to get the wrong impression of how Tessa’s new faith had changed her—or not changed her, as the case might seem. This might give her a chance to connect with her niece better and also start exercising that love she seemed to be utterly and completely lacking in when it came to her family. She had pink cloud-framed visions of explaining the gospel to her niece and having Paisley come to Christ amidst a choir of angels singing in the background.

Okay, well, maybe not.

But she could at least become a good enough aunt that Paisley wouldn’t be ashamed to bring her to school for “Aunty Day.” Did they even have Aunty Day?

Oh, and all this while protecting Elizabeth and Daniel from a man who might or might not have hidden motives for tracking them down.

No sweat. She could multitask.

(C) 2011 Camy Tang


  1. Ah yes, I remember that one. As I wrote in my review of it:

    "Nobody does lunatic families like Camy Tang does lunatic families; one wonders how she gained her expertise...."

    Perhaps at the family reunions she is no longer invited to because people have started to recognize themselves in her books?

    What I best remember from that book though was the valiant but ancient Toyota Corolla Tessa was forced to use that never quite let them down. I was driving a valiant but ancient Toyota Corolla (1999) at the time, am still driving it today, and will continue to drive it until I finally get that good job. It has handled rural paper routes ("turn off the paved road"), torrential rain and marble-sized hail turned into 6 inches of frozen slush in a state that owns no snow plows, creek beds humorously labeled as "roads", an endless succession of tires driven on until the steel belts show through where the tread used to be (in fact the doughnut spare was put back on yesterday), slow leaks in oil and brake fluid topped up as needed, door handles that snap off leaving one to open them by grasping pieces of broken plastic, warning lights that never go off anymore, keys worn down until they had to be replaced by looking them up on the computer, and 136,000 miles, but the darn thing still rumbles to life. If it doesn't actually kill me, I shall be a little sad to see it go when it finally goes.

    A little.

    1. Now that's a story! I never had a Toyota Corolla, but I did have a Ford GT that was surprisingly similar to Gramps.


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