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    C James
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  • 6,278 Words

Changing Lanes - 21. Surprises

Chapter 21: Surprises



Picking up the phone, Eric dialed the front desk and then slammed the receiver back into its cradle. “It’s busy,” he said, “Let’s head over to the front desk and see what’s going on.”

Driven by the fear that the volcano could ruin everything, Eric dashed out the door, racing across the resort towards the main building. Jansen and Keith snatched up some shorts, yanked them on, and ran to follow.

Eric jogged into the foyer, and instantly saw the staff occupied with the ringing phones, deluged by a flood of calls from worried guests. Spying an office door as Jansen and Keith raced up to join him, Eric led the way to see the concierge.

Entering the man’s office, they found him calmly shuffling papers, outwardly unconcerned. Eric began to ask, in a hurried stream of words, about the volcano. The concierge raised a hand, and with a reassuring smile, said, “There is nothing to worry about, Señor Carlisle. That was merely our mountain, Cumbre Vieja. It is quite docile, I assure you. It began to awaken a few weeks ago, as it does every few decades, and sent up a little ash. This morning was just a minor earthquake and a bit of what the scientists call venting. If it does it again, relax and enjoy the spectacle. There is nothing to worry about.”

Seeing that no actual answers would be forthcoming, Eric spun on his heels and marched right back out the door without a word, leaving Jansen and Keith to bring up the rear.

Eric hadn’t missed the fact that the concierge had intentionally tried to sooth him. “Damn it, I think he’s just bullshitting us,” Eric said with a touch of anger, “He even said, ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ twice. So, maybe it’s bad, I don’t know, but I do need to find out. Brandon and Chase won’t be happy if they’re getting married next to an erupting volcano.”

“How are you going to find out? About the volcano, I mean,” Jansen asked.

“There’s this great invention called the Internet. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” Keith said, unable to resist a dig at his brother in spite of the tension.

His eyes brightening, Eric changed direction, heading for his own suite. “I’ve got a laptop in my room, already set up. You think there’s news on the volcano?”

Following Eric out the door, Keith replied, “I’d guess there is, somewhere. A search might turn it up, if we pick the right words.”

Eric raced into his suite with Jansen and Keith in tow. Eric used the name ‘Cumbre Vieja’ as a search term, resulting in just a few references. With a sigh, Eric said, “All I can find is a few mentions of earthquake swarms and ash venting. One site says the volcano may be entering an eruptive phase, the first it’s had since the 70’s.”

Reading over Eric’s shoulder, Jansen said, “According to the Island’s official site, there’ve been a few minor ash ventings and harmonic tremors. They’re saying it’s safe, and might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Cumbre Vieja erupting. They also mention repeatedly that Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii has been erupting continuously for over twenty years.”

Keith nodded. “They may be just trying to put a good spin on it to avoid killing the tourist trade. It’s probably okay, and the volcano is west of us so we shouldn’t even get any ash unless the wind shifts.”

Eric stared at the screen. “I’m not too worried about danger from the volcano. I’m more worried about Brandon, Chase, and Helen killing me when they find out.”

“If it doesn’t erupt while they’re here, maybe they won’t find out,” Jansen posited in a hopeful tone. Glancing again at the screen, at another item that had caught his attention, Jansen said, “Maybe they won’t much mind. It says on my news feed that they had a six-point earthquake east of Los Angeles. There was some serious damage near the epicenter and the whole city got a good shaking. It also says there’s a theoretical chance that this might trigger a massive quake within a few days. Brandon and Chase might be glad to get out of town.”

Nodding, wondering just how serious things were back in California, Eric said, “As long as the volcano thing doesn’t pop off before the wedding, we’ll be okay. They’re heading off on a honeymoon for a week after that. I don’t suppose strippers know how to hide a volcano?” Eric asked, relaxing a little.

“The term, sir, is exotic dancers, and I’m afraid our skill set leans toward uncovering things, rather than covering things up,” Keith said, hoping that the volcano would behave itself while they were there. With that thought in mind, he asked, “How far are we from Cumbre Vieja anyway?”

Sighing, Eric replied, “About two miles from the summit. We’re actually on the flank of the volcano here.”



As the pastel sunset over the Atlantic faded, Brandon, Chase, and Jon landed on La Palma, piling into a cab to head for the resort. In the dimming light, they were able to see a little of the scenery, and Chase said, “This place looks pretty good. Eric really came through for us.”

Jon nodded. “Yeah, but given the earthquake risk we left behind, anywhere would look good right about now, volcano or no volcano.”

Chase nodded once. “So, any bets on how long Eric waits to tell us that the volcano is active?”

Brandon shrugged. “Unless we let on that we know, my guess is he won’t until he has to.”

Jon began to grin at the idea. “Yeah, we won’t let on that we know. The thing is supposed to be pretty safe, like Kilauea in Hawaii, but I’ll bet Eric’s stressing on it.”

Chase arched an eyebrow. “He’s got to know that we know. They were frantically cleaning up the ash at the airport when we arrived.”

Jon grinned, giving Brandon and Chase a wink. “Eric might not know that. Just play dumb and let’s see how far he takes this. He’d do it to us, right?”

“True, that.” Chase replied.

Arriving at the resort, they were met by a grinning Eric, who had dressed for the occasion, wearing an atrociously loud, unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a massively oversized straw hat. Given his outrageous getup, the fact that he was wearing sunglasses at night did not seem odd at all.

“Hey, have a good flight?” Eric asked as he came forward to greet his brothers and Brandon.

Chase nodded, breaking into a grin. “Yeah, bro, and this place looks really cool. You’re our official travel agent from now on. So, when’s the party?”

Eric shrugged. “Tomorrow night. That way you’ve got the next day to recover before your wedding. That’s all set too.”

“I hope there’s lots of girls here,” Jon asked in a hopeful tone.

“Yeah, loads of ‘em, at the disco and around the pools,” Eric replied, as the bellhop gathered the baggage and led them all into the resort.

Eric had arranged a suite for Brandon and Chase, and another for Jon, in the same small cluster of buildings as Jim and Linda. He’d done so with the express intent of keeping them away from Keith and Jansen.



Eric orchestrated the events of the following day with care, hoping that Cumbre Vieja would not make its presence felt. To prevent any stray words from reaching Brandon or Chase’s ears, Eric made sure to request, accompanied by a hefty tip, the staff’s silence on all volcanic matters. He also made arrangements with the resort for Jansen to play the role of lifeguard while Keith assumed the job of assistant bartender. Then, he suggested a trip to that particular pool to his band mates. To his relief, they thought it was a great idea.

Eric’s sole remaining fear was that one of the other guests would mention the volcano, but, after casting a wary eye at its now-quiet summit, Eric decided to hope for the best.

Lounging around the pool with Brandon, Chase and Jon, Eric pretended to be oblivious to Jansen and Keith. He ordered a round of drinks, which Keith delivered. Eric fought the urge to smile: Brandon and Chase had seen Jansen and Keith working at the resort, which would make the dancer’s presence at the party far less suspicious.



After wrapping up a day of exploring the resort, it was time for the bachelor party. Eric led the way to the reception hall where the party was being held, and ushered Jim, Linda, and his band mates inside.

Eric stood back while beaming proudly as Brandon and Chase looked around at the enclosure. It was lit mainly by flickering tiki torches and the guests of honor were clearly impressed.

Behind the bar, Keith stood alongside the real bartender, ready to take an order. Jansen hovered nearby, dressed like Keith in black tuxedo pants and a white, button-down shirt.

The Instinct crewmembers arrived, and Jansen began seating people at their tables, taking orders for drinks and snacks. At one long table, near the dance floor, he seated the members of Instinct, with Brandon and Chase being given seats at the head of the table.

Chase, knowing Eric all too well, arched an eyebrow and asked, “This is way too sedate for you. What gives?”

Shrugging apologetically, Eric replied, “You guys insisted on a joint party and nothing wild, so what could I do?”

Chase didn’t believe him for a second.

Dinner was served, and afterwards, Eric unveiled his first surprise: the cake. As it was wheeled in, he waited for Brandon and Chase to look.

Brandon saw it first: a large, flat cake, dark in color, with a few decorative designs applied in colored cream. He paid them little notice, his gaze transfixed to the items on the cake itself. Two large coconuts, side by side, and where they met, a large banana angled towards the sky. The suggestive display was made anatomically complete by a nest of palm fibers at the base of the banana.

“It’s a fruitcake,” Eric said with an evil grin.

Chase stared at the cake, especially the tip of the banana, which had been carved to resemble a swollen glans. “I knew you’d come up with something,” Chase said with a chuckle and an approving nod.

“You should have seen the baker’s face when I ordered it,” Eric replied, as he handed Brandon and Chase a large silver knife.

With the cake sliced, Eric waited patiently while another round of drinks was served. Taking note of a few suspicious glances from his band mates, Eric handed his scotch and water to Brandon. “Try it if you want. It’s just whiskey. I’ve kept off tequila, I swear.”

Brandon handed the drink back untouched. “Thanks, Eric, for that, and for doing all this.”

Wearing an innocent smile, which her eyes belied, Linda asked Eric, “I was wondering what kind of decoration you ordered for the wedding cake?”

With an evil chuckle, Eric turned, and said in a voice low enough that Brandon and Chase couldn’t hear, “You’ll see.”

Half an hour later, lubricated by the open bar, the guests were beginning to make use of the dance floor. Jim and Linda made a game try, playing their role in Eric’s plan, and Eric even managed to coax Brandon and Chase onto the floor.

Jansen strolled over to Linda and Jim, asking with a formal bow, “Would the lady care to dance?”

“Be my guest, I’ve got two left feet,” Jim replied per the script, and sat back to watch the fun.

Jansen danced two sets with Linda, along with Brandon and Chase. On cue, Keith joined in, dancing with both Linda and Jansen.

Jon, sitting with Eric at the table, was the first to catch on. “Since when do resort staff join in at a party?” he asked, mainly to make Eric squirm.

“Keep that to yourself,” Eric replied, hoping that Brandon and Chase wouldn’t figure it out too. Fortunately, they were oblivious: half-drunk, and doing their best to try to dance.

Not able to resist the temptation of further needling his brother, Jon said, “What’s the deal about the volcano on the island? I overheard one of the guests say it was erupting.”

Feeling his stomach clench, Eric said, “I’m sure it’s nothing. Please don’t bother Brandon and Chase about that, okay?”

Jon nodded, having no intention whatsoever of telling Eric that Brandon and Chase were already aware of the volcano’s activity.

Jansen loaded a custom-made CD into the sound system, and after waiting to make sure it was playing, made his way over to Keith’s side. With a subtle nod from Keith indicating that it was time, Linda took her first try at acting and said loudly, “Okay, I’ve gotta rest for a while, so why don’t you guys dance?”

Laughing, treating it as a joke, Jansen and Keith began to dance, side-by-side, in a disco version of a line dance. Linda laughed, clapping to cheer them on, and several of the crew joined in. Playing their role to perfection, Jansen and Keith began to ham it up, appearing in every way like two straight guys who thought dancing together was nothing short of hilarious.

A circle of clapping, laughing guests formed along the dance floor’s perimeter, egging Jansen and Keith on. Brandon and Chase joined the circle, laughing, as the two dancers became ever more outrageous, switching between disco, waltz, and tango, in spite of the unchanging music.

Judging that the timing was right, Keith made a show of flicking the top two buttons of his shirt open, and Jansen, on his next pass, laughed and snapped open the next button down on Keith’s shirt. The two dancers, still in character, played it up, launching into a game of outrageous one-upmanship that soon had both of their shirts open to the waist.

Waiting until the sudden mid-piece change in songs from the CD which marked the actual beginning of the sound-track for their act, they turned to dance with each other, suddenly dropping all pretenses of humor and comedy, and Keith reached out with a smooth and practiced move, pulling Jansen’s shirt off in one fluid motion.

Confused as to what they were seeing, the guests clapping died down. Seizing the moment, Jansen and Keith spun to stand side by side, and moving as one they grabbed the waistband of their slacks and pulled, opening the tear-away seams, and then throwing the pants in the air and turning to dance again, all pretense gone, in matching flame-print boardshorts.

The murmur of cheers spread around the room, as the guests, including the guests of honor, realized that what had gone before was a very skillful act by two highly practiced dancers.

Stripping down to blue speedos as their first act came to a close, Jansen and Keith dragged Brandon and Chase back onto the floor for a dance, Jansen taking Chase, and Keith dancing with Brandon.

To Eric’s relief and thrill, he could see that Brandon and Chase were loving every minute of it.



While Jansen and Keith danced with Brandon and Chase, Jon made a trip to the bar, and on his way back stopped to chat for a moment with some of the crew. He made a request, and with a grin and a wink at the puzzled crew members, returned to his seat beside Eric.

Doing as he’d been asked, one of the crew members Jon had spoken with walked up to Eric and said, “Great party. Hey, want to join our betting pool? We’re taking wagers as to whether the volcano will erupt before the wedding.”

Stressing over the offer and what it threatened, Eric didn’t notice at first that the crew member, a lighting tech, had walked up to him and asked out of the blue, while ignoring Jon. Eric was about to reply when he saw the crewmember’s quick glance in Jon’s direction, and his brother’s evidently feigned disinterest in the situation. Eric didn’t know the tech well enough to read him, but that wasn’t the case with Jon. Sensing that Jon was up to something, it only took Eric a moment to figure out what. Nodding at the tech, Eric said, “Yeah, put me down for five bucks for after the wedding.”

The confused tech nodded and returned to his table, wondering what was going on. Fixing Jon in his gaze, Eric said, “I know you had something to do with that. Come on, please don’t let Brandon and Chase find out. They’d kill me.”

Jon smiled, and nodded, hoping that Eric wouldn’t figure out that they already knew.

Eric didn’t get the chance to study Jon any further. Bandon and Chase returned to the table and as they sat down, Chase said, “I should have known you’d get strippers. Great set-up. I had no idea until they started getting serious. Hot as hell, too.”

Brandon laughed, and then added, “Not just hot, but they know how to dance. Thanks Eric, they are the perfect choice.”

Jansen and Keith began dragging Brandon and Chase back onto the dance floor, and they eagerly went. So far, the party had gone as planned, and to Eric’s relief and thrill, he could see that Brandon and Chase were enjoying the party he’d planned for them.



Jansen and Keith performed their second routine half an hour later, and even though almost half the audience consisted of straight males, received a solid round of applause for their skill and precision. Later that night, though it had not been planned, the two dancers staged a third routine, one that Eric had not yet seen, based on ballroom dance moves intermixed with some stylized gymnastics.

Eric, sitting at a table with Brandon, Chase, and Jon, watched the routine intently, never taking his eyes off the two hot, sweaty, contorting bodies.

Jon, who had no interest in the dancers’ performance, glanced around the room in boredom, until his gaze fell on Eric. Seeing the rapt attention his brother was paying to the dancers, Jon’s mood darkened slightly, and he downed the remainder of his drink in one gulp, before setting off in search of another.

Closing their act, Jansen and Keith took a bow, and then spent the rest of the evening mingling with the guests, paying special attention to Brandon and Chase, coaxing them once again onto the dance floor.

An hour later, with the dancing done, Eric stormed to the center of the dance floor and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Pool Party!” Ripping off his shirt, he ran for the pool, flipping into a roll off the lip, hitting the water with a resounding cannonball splash.

Jansen and Keith followed him in, diving in perfect unison, graceful and sleek. Within a few seconds, Jon, Brandon, and Chase, along with a few of the crew, joined in, and the party rolled on.

A few hours, much alcohol, and three water-fights later, seeing that people were beginning to leave, Eric signaled Keith with a wink. The two dancers, in tight wet speedos, began handing out party favors and noisemakers. Eric scrambled out of the pool, grabbing a noisemaker to announce, “Three cheers for Brandon and Chase!” and sounded them off, by blowing his noisemaker for all his was worth, and the cacophonous din of noisemakers and cheers filled the sultry pre-dawn night air.

Jansen and Keith headed for the bar in order to serve a last round of drinks as the party wound down and the guests began to leave.

Eric strode across the room, heading over to see Brandon and Chase, intending to share the final drink of their party with them. Jansen, carrying the drink tray, followed along behind. Brandon and Chase, weaving slightly, sought out Eric. Chase reached out, pulling Eric into a bear hug. “Thanks bro, for a night we’ll never forget.” Turning to look at Jansen, Chase said, “You guys are hot and that was one hell of a show.” With his eyes still on Jansen, Chase said to Eric, “Great choice, man.”

Grinning, Eric said, “I just wanted to make this night right for you guys.”

Brandon, holding onto a table for support, slurring badly, laughed before saying, “This was great, thanks.” Brandon reached out and shook Eric’s hand, and then pulled him into a hug. By that gesture, Eric knew that the ghosts of what he’d done in Telluride were finally going to their graves.

Jon, only slightly less drunk, walked up to say, “I’ll get these two back to their suite. Great party, Eric. Even if the strippers were the wrong gender for you or me, they still put on a good show. That first act was a riot.”

Eric nodded once, and then gave Jansen a nod before saying to his band mates, “One last drink, just the four of us.”

Jansen handed them each a shot of whiskey, and then Eric said, “To Brandon and Chase,” and the four members of Instinct raised their glasses and downed their shots.

Feeling a little sad that the party was over, and also due to Jon’s choice of words, Eric watched Jon, Brandon, and Chase stumble off. He allowed himself a little sigh of relief; the party had been a success, and now all that remained was the wedding and the reception. He hoped that they would go as smoothly.



After three days of hard training, General Bradson gave the mercenaries a day off. He was pleased with their progress; they were working smoothly together and seemed to have a decent grasp of the tactics needed. He’d devoted most of his time to drilling the five men he’d be leading on the assault on the guardhouse, and he’d ended up learning more than they had: all five were ex-special-forces and hadn’t lost much of their edge.

While the mercenaries rested, the General went to his appointment with The Scar. Entering the house, he was ushered into a chair by Yuri, who then took a seat by his boss’s side.

Smiling, The Scar said, “General, one of the three C-130’s is en-route to us. I’ve made arrangements for it to land at this island’s airfield, and I’ve made sure that the local authorities will not interfere. This aircraft will take us to our rendezvous point in Somalia. The rest of the equipment you specified will be joining us there.”

The General nodded appreciatively. He’d already been told all this by Felecia, so he wondered what The Scar was leading up to.

The Scar did not keep the General waiting. “I have satellite Internet here, and you may now use it, with Yuri’s supervision. I also have three men and another C-130 waiting for your airfreight shipment to arrive in Malta, and they will fly it to Somalia. At this point, I need to know what sort of weapons are in that shipment.”

Smiling, the General replied, “No weapons or other contraband. Just some computers and other electronic gear, plus some garage door openers and rectifier-based 110-volt power converters. The weaponry I’ll need is all on the list; I hope there was no trouble in obtaining it?”

With a self-assured smirk, The Scar replied, “None at all. Some of my people took delivery yesterday of the final third of the five thousand hand grenades, and they will be bringing them to us in Somalia. The rest of your list is already there, under guard. Now, there is one other matter. As I’m sure you can appreciate, I am in a dangerous business and must be mindful of security. I take nothing for granted and trust no one. For that reason alone, I am still breathing. Therefore, Yuri and I examined your belongings upon your arrival and took note of your encrypted files. I am assuming from their file size that these are satellite imagery?”

Unsurprised, General Bradson replied, “In part, yes. I also have a frequency list of Iranian air-search radars, and also the frequencies used by their fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missile sites. As you surely noticed, the radar detectors I brought along have been modified to detect those frequency bands.”

“I would like to see the data,” The Scar asked.

The General was well aware that, though phrased as a request, The Scar would insist if need be. He’d expected as much, and for that reason the satellite images had been downgraded in resolution in order to obscure the satellite’s true abilities. “The password is scorpion, with a dollar sign after the ‘p’.” The General had no doubt that a copy had been made.

Yuri tapped the password into The Scar’s computer, and moments later reported that the file had been opened. The Scar leaned over to look, and having never seen an actual recon satellite photo before, was quite impressed with even the degraded image.

The Scar asked a few more questions concerning the details of the mission, though he never took his eyes off the satellite image, and then, with a nod, he said, “We’ll leave for Somalia in seventy-two hours and launch the mission, weather permitting, forty-eight hours later, assuming we don’t encounter any difficulties in the final preparations.”



The next morning, as he settled into a chair in Keith and Jansen’s suite, Eric beamed. “Guys, last night was abso-fucking-fantastic. It went perfect, better than I’d hoped. You guys, man – you rocked!

“Glad they liked it,” Keith said, smiling with pride.

“So, what’s next? You in any hurry to get back home?”

Keith glanced at Jansen, and seeing the pleading in his brother’s eyes, said, “We need to hit the pavement and find new jobs when we get back, but we’re okay for a few days.”

Nodding and smiling, Eric said, “Good, because otherwise I’d have had to kidnap you. Anyway, there’s something I’ve wanted to talk you about: that two-night gig at the Oak Leaf. I want to know why you thought you could draw that much of a crowd so easily. You did, but I want to know why you thought you could.”

Unaccustomed to Eric asking business questions, Keith looked askance at him for a moment before replying, “Basically, because it was different to the bump-and-grind crap like you saw us do at our old club. The other part was opening it to under-twenty-ones; that hooked a college crowd, because many of ‘em can’t get into clubs that serve alcohol.”

Eric nodded. “As you knew it would. Okay, tell me why there aren’t any clubs like that?”

Wondering where Eric was heading, Keith replied, “It costs a shitload of money to set up a club. To get a loan, they have to have a promising business plan, and lenders don’t like anything other than the tried-and-true. That’s one part of it, another is that most clubs get the majority of their profits from drink sales. Our angle was to offer something different, both in the act and the setting.”

“Okay, so, why can’t there be a club with two separate halves; one side has alcohol, the other is just soft drinks for a younger crowd. Run shows for both, classy acts like yours, shirtless bartenders, and bring in a few live bands, mainly hot emerging groups with some buzz, for themed events. Have some nights where the focus is on female dancers, targeted at a different crowd.”

Jansen, who usually stayed out of business conversations, was the first to realize what was going on. “You’re not just shooting the breeze, you’ve thought this through,” he said.

“Yeah, I have,” Eric replied, deciding to lay his cards on the table. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since those two nights at the Oak Leaf. I phoned Helen a couple of days ago and had a long talk with her. She’s a hard-ass when it comes to business and even she thinks this could work… I can get bands, good bands, easy. I also saw the way people react to your show. They like it for the same reasons I do; it’s classy, it’s hot, and it’s different. I know you guys don’t want to go back to cheesy strip club acts, and I had a blast at Oak Leaf. I also think there’s real money to be made here. So, I’m offering you guys a deal; I supply the money and connections, including a real club that’s large enough. You supply the know-how, your own routines, and managing the dancers and the club. I get half the profit. We’ll hash out the details later if you’re interested. Think it over; what have you got to lose?” Eric stood up, and said with a shrug, “Look, we can stay friends no matter what you guys decide, but I think you’d be out of your fucking minds to turn this down.”

With a cheerful wave and a smile at the stunned and silent dancers, Eric let himself out.

Jansen and Keith stared at the closed door after Eric’s departure. Keith was the first to give voice to his thoughts. “Holy… Fucking… Shit…” he said, his eyes still riveted to the door.

“That about sums it up,” Jansen said numbly.

“Why would he make us an offer like that? That’s beyond generous… I’d have offered us ten percent, not half, if I was in his shoes,” Keith said, trying to make sense of the news.

Jansen nodded, and then shook his head. “Yeah, but how well would that work? He wants us motivated. We’d be developing new routines for us and other dancers, selecting and managing other dancers and the club, everything. Besides, tell me this; do you think he’d get a good return on his money out of half the profits?”

Keith sat silently for a moment, thinking it through. “Yeah, a mix like that, good routines, themed nights, and a suitable building in a good location, mixed in with some gorilla and viral marketing campaigns, yeah, I’d say he’d be making a healthy return on his investment a year after launch.”

Jansen began to smile. “So it makes sense – from a business point of view.”

“Yeah, it kinda shocked me, seeing him turn all businesslike. But when friends do business, that’s about the only way to make it work out,” Keith said.

“I think he knows that,” Jansen chuckled. “So… got any reservations, oh business guru?”

After staring at the ceiling for a moment, Keith replied, “There’s no real risk to us, and it’s not like we’d be quitting safe jobs. This is what we’ve always wanted; a stake in a club and a chance to make it work.”

“I think he knows that, too,” Jansen said.

Keith took a deep breath. Picking up the phone’s receiver and looking at Jansen, paused. After receiving a nod from his brother, Keith dialed. Eric answered on the first ring, and Keith said, “You’re right, we’d be fucking nuts to say no.” Keith listened for a second, and then returned the handset to its cradle, and stood up. “He said he’d be right over,” Keith said, as he headed for the door.

Keith opened the door and Eric strolled in, tossing himself into a chair with a thud. Waiting until Keith took a seat, Eric stared at the two dancers, before asking, deadpan, “Well? What’s the answer?”

Keith exchanged a confused glance with his brother before asking, “Didn’t we just say yes?”

Eric shook his head, “No, you said you’d be fucking nuts to say no, and given that you’re both fucking nuts anyway…”

Keith and Jansen laughed, and the tension in the room eased. “Okay, wiseguy, the answer is YES!” Turning serious, Keith added, “You do know that it could take up to a year from opening to build up a buzz and get the word out, right? We’d be looking at six months minimum of running a negative cash flow while we developed the business.”

Eric nodded. Helen had already pointed that out to him, as her first of many objections. She’d been even more pessimistic, stating flatly that the success of the business hinged on getting the word out. Wondering if Jansen and Keith would like his remedy to the problem as much as Helen had – though in Helen’s case she’d yelled at him for a while first, before conceding that it was a workable plan – Eric said, “I get that, but I think there’s a solution. All we need is a lot of press coverage. I want to call the club Carlisle’s and be very public about my ownership of it. I also want to be billed as one of the acts for the opening weekend.” Going on stage as a stripper was something Eric had not mentioned to Helen, but he saw no reason to complicate the discussion with that little detail.

“Yeah, having you publicly involved would give us the kind of buzz and name recognition that celeb-owned restaurants gets. I can only see one problem with part of it…” Keith let his voice trail off, trying to think how to phrase the issue.

Jansen was more comfortable with Eric, so he just said it outright, “If you go on stage, you’ll be a total disaster. You can’t dance and you can’t strip.”

Nodding, Eric said with a smile, “I know. You guys are going to have to teach me.”

“We’re not miracle workers,” Jansen remarked dryly, before grinning and adding, “But we can probably teach you enough to get by for a really short routine and that’s all you’d need.”

Relaxing a little, Keith added with a chuckle, “Yeah, I think teaching an elephant to tap-dance would be easier. We’ll see what we can do with you, but even without you on stage, your name and connections would get us off the ground fast. We’d need a good location; the Oak Leaf is way too small and it’s in the wrong place.”

Eric grinned at the dig. “Yeah, I figured it was too small, but I’ve got no clue on location. Got an area in mind?”

That one was easy. “Yeah, the Newport Beach area, it’s got the right kind of crowd and its close enough to some major campuses,” Keith replied.

“Work up an idea of what we need and I’ll phone an agent so we can start looking when we get back,” Eric said, looking forward to the venture. Changing the subject, he said, “The wedding and reception are tomorrow. Brandon and Chase want you to come and so do I.”

Jansen arched an eyebrow in surprise. “You want us to strip at a wedding reception?” he asked in disbelief.

Laughing, Eric replied, “No man, we want you there as guests, not entertainment.”



Walking down the Learjet’s steps after landing in Idaho, Helen saw a tall, thin woman standing on the tarmac a few feet away, buffeted by the gusting wind, cradling a gift-wrapped box with one hand and holding a small suitcase with the other. As Helen approached, the woman set down the case and extended her hand, her face a mask of reserved dignity though undercut by unease. “Hello, Helen,” Jane Carlshitski said.

“Pleased to see you again,” Helen said, picking up the case and ushering her guest aboard. It was by no means an accident that Jane’s seat was next to Helen’s.

As the plane climbed out and banked to the east, Helen began to engage Jane in an outwardly innocuous conversation. By the time they were over the Atlantic, Jane had relaxed enough to confide, “JT has always been a stubborn, opinionated, hard-nosed man. I regret going along with him, but it was so easy to believe that if we stood our ground, Chase would see the error of his ways. Then Jon and Eric took Chase’s side and I’d lost all three of my sons. JT was all I had left. I still don’t approve of what Chase is doing, but it is his life… and I want to see my sons again.”

Nodding sympathetically, though still harboring a tinge of dislike for the woman who had hurt Chase, Eric, and Jon so deeply, Helen realized that Jane’s presence beside her, in likely defiance of JT, was a profound statement in and of itself. “I hope that Mr. Carlshitski wasn’t too upset regarding you going to the wedding?” Helen asked.

With a casual shrug, Jane replied, “It wasn’t an issue as I haven’t told him yet. He kept the invitation from me so I felt no compunction to tell him of my trip. Perhaps he’ll notice when I don’t come home tonight.” Jane’s calm, dignified smile hid her inner turmoil, though not well enough to fool Helen.


© 2009 C James

Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.

Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"



Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.

Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.

A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.

Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Copyright © 2009 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Eric came up with a fantastic idea for the club. I do see a problem with splitting the club, half twenty-one and over and half under twenty-one. What's to prevent the underage kids from going into the other section? They'd have to be given wristbands or something, signifying that they're underage. But then again, they could pay other customers to get them drinks.


On another note, I thought going into business with friends was the WORST idea! lol I think I heard that somewhere...


Now it's countdown time for the General. I hope he figures out what The Scar is up to before it's too late.


Another riveting chapter, CJ! :)

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