Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter Seven)

I walked quietly back to the workshop area to see if I could find Bergman. I saw a squat, little man standing at the Move ‘N Shaker table. He was wearing a faded blue work shirt, red velvet suspenders and a ratty, old cab driver hat. He held an unlit cigarette between his lips and his expression was just plain grumpy. He appeared to be squinting at the parts as he put them together. I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hi, are you Monte Bergman?” I asked, smiling. It was so unnatural for me to do this. I rarely smile unless I’m flirting and I was sincerely hoping he didn’t think I was here to ask him out on a date.

“Eh, who’s asking?” he said.

“My name is Jenny Herman,” I said, “I’m doing some market research for Mrs. Clos.”

He put down the parts he was working on and bowed to me slightly as he took my hand. He placed a soft kiss on my hand and said, “Glad to meet you, Ms. Herman.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. He looked scary, but he was actually an old-fashioned gentleman. “Good to meet you, Mr. Bergman. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about working on the Move ‘N Shaker line. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure I do, and you can call me Monte,” he said with a wink.

Well, this wasn’t what I had expected at all. I asked him a couple of questions and he responded much like the others had. He had days when he was stressed, but for the most part he enjoyed the work. It was a job and there weren’t many out there these days. There especially weren’t many out there for old ex-cons like him.

After I finished talking with him, I felt terrible. I had hoped that he would be a bad person so that I could wrap this investigation up and go home. Just before I went to leave, I asked him about Tony Albertson. I hadn’t seen anyone working the cart the entire time we had been talking. He told me that Tony was a good man who regularly attended St. Mark’s church but that he had been sick for the past two days and was now in the hospital with pneumonia. I wondered why Mrs. Clos hadn’t mentioned this.

I headed home feeling like I had wasted a few hours badgering people who had no clue that they were being singled out as potential criminals. Most of them seemed okay in spite of their quirks. What didn’t sit well with me was that the Move ‘N Shakers were coming up missing, yet no one on the line seemed to be doing anything wrong. It was puzzling.

When I reached my apartment, I let myself in and went straight to the refrigerator. The sandwich from earlier was waiting there to be reheated. I removed it from its wrapper and stuck it on a plate so that I could microwave it back to edible. Within a minute, I had a burger and a Coke sitting in front of me and I was preparing to eat my high cholesterol, high fat midnight snack. Before I could get the first bite, there was a knock at my door.

“Who the hell?” I said, not completing my own sentence, but completely understanding what I meant.

I walked over to the door and looked out the peephole. It was Trey. I had forgotten that he was coming back by tonight. I opened the door and let him in.

“Hey, Toots,” he said, smiling and winking.

“Toots?” I said, “Who wants to be called Toots?”

He grabbed me and kissed my cheek before chucking me under the chin. “I thought all women liked being called Toots.”

“No wonder you’re still single,” I said. I’m not a nice woman.

“Ouch,” he said, “What’s wrong with you tonight? Somebody piss in your Wheaties or something?”

“No, no, I’m just having a tough time figuring out this case I took yesterday,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, what’s it about?” he asked, “Maybe I can help.”

He looked so cute standing there with his arms crossed. I couldn’t even remember what the case was about when I looked at him. Damn, this was distracting.

“Uh, well, I think this lady thinks there’s someone stealing from her company,” I struggled to explain.

“Well, that’s part of the problem, are you even sure what you’re working on?” he laughed.

This snapped me out of my trance and I slapped him on the back of the head for that, “Yes, I’m sure.” I hated for someone to question my intelligence, even when it wasn’t obvious to them that I knew what I was doing.

“Okay, then, who does she think is stealing?” he asked, rubbing the back of his head.

“There were five people that she asked me to check into,” I said, “but they all come up fairly clean and after talking with four of the five, I’m pretty sure none of them are stealing.”

“So it has to be the fifth guy,” he said. “Case closed.”

“Nope, he’s in the hospital,” I said, “and, he’s an old guy who goes to church and all of that. I don’t think he would do it.”

“Okay,” he said, “maybe no one is stealing from her.”

I gave him a look that said, “Are you stupid?” He put his hands up and shrugged his shoulders, “Well?”

“Then why would she come and talk to me about it?” I asked.

“Maybe she’s pulling some kind of insurance fraud and wants it to look good, so she comes to you to investigate something that isn’t really happening?” he said, “It’s an old gag, but it works.”

I thought about this for a moment. Trey knew a lot about fraud; he’d done time in jail for it. And Mrs. Clos was a little screwy.

Come back tomorrow for more of the story!

Until next time…

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Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter Four)

I studied the paper for a moment and then folded it and slipped it in my pocket. “So, there’s no problem if I come in and talk to each of them during their shifts?”

She brought her hand to her chin as she thought for a moment. “I don’t see any problem, but what reason can we give them?”

We both sat for a few minutes trying to come up with a ruse. “I’ve got it!” she said, nearly jumping out of her seat. “You can say you’re coming in to talk to them about their experience making the product, like it’s part of our new marketing campaign or something. How would that be?”

It made sense, so we decided that I would talk with the lady who worked first shift before I left this morning. Though I hadn’t seen any workers other than those gathered in the kitchen area, she assured me that they were all present. I would come back at around ten this evening to catch the second shift worker and then just wait around for third shift to come in. We got up from the table and she walked me back to the “workshop” as she called it. This time, instead of ten empty stations, there were at least twenty people bustling about. At each station there was someone who was putting something together. There were four people roaming around with carts, picking up completed items and then there were several people huddled in the middle of the room throwing papers about and speaking loudly amongst themselves. I wondered where all of them had been when we were in here earlier. This place was just bizarre.

Mrs. Clos approached the Move ‘N Shaker station and introduced me to a skinny woman in a green velvet smock. “Violet, this is Ms. Herman,” she said, “She needs to talk to you about your experience making the Move ‘N Shakers. She’s going to be helping us with our marketing.” She winked at Violet and patted her on the back before pushing me forward and walking away. I extended my hand to the lady.

“Hi, my name is Jenny Herman,” I said, thankful to have remembered who I was today, “I’m doing some market research for the company and I wanted to take a few minutes of your time to ask you about the Move ‘N Shakers. Is now a good time?”

The lady pursed her lips, but did not stop assembling her pieces to shake my hand. Instead, she nodded and finally broke into a smile before saying, “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

“Your name is Violet Tooney?” I asked.

She nodded again, still putting together one piece with another. I watched her, mesmerized by her efficiency. She didn’t fumble around with the pieces; she simply picked them up from the bins and put them exactly where they went. I admired people who could do things like this. I wasn’t the least bit handy.

“Can you tell me a little bit about the product and your experience making the Move ‘N Shakers?” I asked, thinking this sounded like the right thing to say.

To my surprise, Violet started talking up a storm. She told me all about the different pieces she was working with and how each one worked with another. Today, she was working on the consoles, but that could change from day to day. Some days, she worked on controllers. Some days, she worked on both. She had worked here for several years and had just been moved to the Move ‘N Shaker line about two years ago. This hadn’t been a popular item until earlier this year, so she hadn’t had so much to do until this Christmas season. Before, she had been able to work on both controllers and consoles at the same time. She told me that she enjoyed putting the machines together because there weren’t very many pieces and they usually all fit together without any problem.

“It’s a good job and I’m lucky to be here,” she said, “so many people out there right now don’t have anything.”

I nodded to show that I was listening. “I know, it’s rough.”

“My sister just lost her job and she’s got three babies to take care of,” she said, shaking her head. “I give her any extra money I make with my overtime.”
That was interesting. A sister that needed money might be willing to sell off some stolen consoles if things got bad enough.

“Does your sister live here in Nevada?” I asked, hoping she would think I was making conversation and not fishing for information.

“No, she lives in Baltimore,” she said. “We hardly see each other because we can’t afford airfare. We just talk on the phone a lot and I used to try to get out there at least once a year. The problem is that I don’t have a lot of vacation time and if I take off, I lose money, too. I haven’t been able to make the trip for two years now.”

“You don’t get vacation time?” I asked.

“Oh, I do, but I used a lot of it when I fell last January,” she said, “I was laid up for about three months with a busted knee.” She stopped working long enough to point to her left knee by way of explanation.

I nodded again. We talked for a few more minutes and then I told her that I thought I had enough information. She smiled politely and told me to come back if I thought of anything else. “You can pretty much find me here all of the time.” She stopped assembling again long enough to reach out and shake my hand. Then she smoothed the sides of her graying hair back away from her face and set back to work. I walked away feeling not one way or the other about her. She didn’t seem like the type of person who would be running a scam. I took the paper out of my pocket and unfolded it. Jordan Sinclair and Monte Bergman were the other two assembly workers I needed to see. Dirk Morris and Tony Albertson were the two stockers. I hadn’t seen Dirk when I was talking to Violet, but he’d probably be there later when I go back to talk to second shift. I couldn’t wait.

Come back tomorrow for more of the story…

Until next time…

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Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter Three)

This is what woke me from my slumber: The smell of cookies baking. I heard a knock at my door and sat up with a jolt. I shook my head and then looked across the room at my clock. It was midnight. Who the hell would be at my door at midnight and why did I smell cookies?

I got up and walked over to my door to look out the peephole. Rolling my eyes, I unlocked the door and opened it.

“Can I help you?” I said crossly.

“Hey, babe,” it was my friend, Trey. Well, to be exact, he was my ex-boyfriend from a while back.

“Trey, what are you doing here at this hour?” I asked, “Don’t you know that normal people sleep at night?” I had a lot of nerve putting myself in the same category as normal people.

He must have thought the same thing. “Who’s normal?” he said, “I hadn’t talked to you and I wanted to see what you were up to.”

“You’ve heard of the phone?” I asked.

“Aw, now, let me in,” he said, moving past me and walking into my kitchen.

“Come on in,” I said.

“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” he said, looking around my apartment.

“You’re just weird, you know that?” I said.

“You never know,” he said. Then he grabbed me and planted a kiss on my cheek.

Instead of letting go of me, he attempted to pull me in closer for a real kiss but I put a hand up to stop him.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“What?” he said, “I can’t get a kiss from my favorite girl?”

“Oh, now I’m your favorite,” I said, “What happened to your girlfriend from the other day, what was her name, Tina?”

“Oh, that,” he said, “That’s over.”

I marveled at how quickly Trey jumped in and out of relationships. I had to admit, it almost made me jealous. I fancied myself somewhat of a contender in the area of romantic conquests, but he made me look like an amateur. The sad thing was that if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the thought of cookies, I might have kissed him back.

“What happened there?” I asked.

He shrugged, “Nothing, really, she just wasn’t you.” He grinned and I had to smile at him, the big dummy. He was so damned good-looking.

“Hey, do you smell cookies?” I asked him.

“Well, yeah, I thought, and I don’t know why, but I thought you might have been making them,” he said.

“What would ever make you think that?” I asked. “I was just having a really weird dream about cookies and then you knocked at the door.”

“Was it a kinky cookie dream?” he said, still grinning.

For this, I slapped the top of his head. “No, ass,” I said. “I was actually dreaming that I was watching someone make a bunch of cookies. It was really stupid.”

“You probably just dreamed that because someone on this floor is making cookies somewhere,” he said, “too bad you’re not friends with your neighbors or you could get in on the cookie action.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, “Whatever.”

We both sat down on the couch and Trey flipped through my channels. He stopped at an episode of the Rockford Files and we watched for a while without saying much. I only had to slap his hand away from my knee three times while we sat there together. After that, I got up to go to bed.

“Need some company?” he asked.

“Nope, need a blanket?” I replied.

“Yep,” he said.

It was difficult to leave him on the couch, but I knew that we couldn’t keep having these little interludes if I was ever going to move on. We could be friends, but that was going to have to be it. Besides, I wasn’t going to make things that easy for him.

When I woke up the next morning, Trey had folded his blanket and left a note on my kitchen table. “Missed you out here last night, see you tonight.” Evidently, I’d see him later. I took a shower, got dressed and then grabbed the stuff from my desk that I’d put together for my fake presentation to Santac. I found a manila folder in my desk drawer and stuffed all of it inside to keep it from getting wrinkled. When I had finished my morning routine, I grabbed my purse and the folder and headed to the car. I was off to Santac for my meeting with Mrs. Clos.

When I got to the address that she had given me, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Instead of a manufacturing plant, as I had expected it to be, I drove up to a large house that was situated in the middle of a large lot. The building was surrounded on all sides by parking lots, but there wasn’t a car in sight. I checked my watch to make sure I hadn’t arrived too early. It was about 10:15 a.m., yet no one appeared to be here. I drove around to the back of the house and there, I saw a large, red Suburban parked at the rear of the house. There was also a row of what appeared to be large dog kennels lining one side of a fenced area along the back. This was just creepy. It was almost exactly the same as what I had seen in my dream last night. Except for the fact that there was no snow and that I hadn’t actually seen any animals.

I parked the Jeep and got out to look around. I quietly walked across the parking lot and took a peek inside one of the windows of the house. Another feeling of weirdness crept over me as I looked inside. There were about fifteen people inside, standing around a table and they appeared to be decorating cookies. “Wow!” I heard myself say. “What is up with all of the cookies?”

I heard a door open and I quickly jumped away from the window so that I looked less like I was spying and more like I was trying to find a way inside.

“Can I help you, Miss?” a woman asked. She was about four feet tall and she was wearing a bright, red velvet dress that was trimmed with fake white fur. This was suspicious.

“I’m here to meet with Mrs. Clos,” I said, digging in the manila folder to retrieve a card.

As I handed her the card, she looked at it carefully. “Do you have an appointment, Miss Herman?”

“Yes, she’s expecting me,” I said, crossing my fingers behind me.

“Right this way,” she said, leading me into the house.

Christmas music was playing softly from somewhere. The same music I’d heard in my dream last night. I wanted to turn around and run back to the Jeep to get the hell out of this place, but I remained calm. Maybe I was just extremely intuitive, though that wasn’t something I’d been plagued by in the past. The woman disappeared into another room and when she came back, Mrs. Clos appeared behind her. She smiled at me and then walked over and extended her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Herman,” she said, “We can talk in here.” She pointed to a room off of the kitchen in the opposite direction of where she had just been. She didn’t say anything else until we were both sitting at the table together. She looked over at me and asked, “Would you like some hot chocolate, dear?”

“You do remember talking to me yesterday, right?” I asked.

“Oh, of course,” she said, “Will you need to look at our inventory today?” She winked.

I tried to think of why I would need to do that. I guessed that it might be helpful to get an idea of what kinds of products we would be pretending to promote. “Sure,” I said, “I guess that’s a good place to start.”

We didn’t get any hot chocolate. Instead, she led me out to another room in the house where I could see about a hundred different stations had been set up in a large open space. There were about ten tables set up and behind each of them were stackable crates full of parts and pieces that I guessed were used to make whatever it was that Santac manufactured. Mrs. Clos showed me the first station and indicated that this one was where dolls were made. She pointed to the other side of the room where a large conveyor belt had been set up. “One of our stockers comes around and collects the things that have been made at each station and puts them on the belt so that they can be sent down to be packaged,” she explained.

I nodded. “Okay,” I said, “What is your most popular product?” I was hoping she knew that I was asking about the product that had been coming up missing.

She walked a couple of stations down to a larger station that had a variety of parts stacked along the wall behind it. The parts included all kinds of cogs and wheels and other things that I didn’t quite recognize. “What is this?” I asked.

“This is our most popular product, the Move ‘N Shaker,” she said proudly.

“What’s a Move ‘N Shaker?” I asked. I admit, I have little to no knowledge of what kids are into these days.

“It’s a video game that kids can play by using special virtual controllers,” she said, “it’s like they’re in the game.”

“Oh, really,” I said, still trying to figure out why this would be so great.

“Come with me,” she said. We walked out of the room and she took me into a smaller room where a large screen television had been set up. In front of it, there was a console that had all kinds of wires hooked to it. She flipped the television set on and then reached for a headset that was lying on top of the console. She put the headset on and then hit the switch on the console. The screen lit up and the television showed what appeared to be a large field covered with snow. This just kept getting more and more strange. She pulled another item from below the console and I could see that she now had a set of handlebars in front of her. They were tethered to the console and there were all kinds of different buttons on them.

“Watch,” she said. I watched as the front end of a vehicle appeared on the screen.

It was a snowmobile, but I was looking at it as though I was sitting on the thing. Mrs. Clos pushed some buttons on the handlebars and the snowmobile started moving across the screen. It was pretty cool actually. She “rode” the snowmobile around for a while and pointed out the changes in scenery. This was the Move ‘N Shaker. It was a virtual reality game console and evidently, it was the hot ticket this year.

She started putting things away and we headed out of the room and back towards where we had started out. When she had closed the door, I waited until we had gotten settled back in at the table to ask her any questions about the game. “So, about how many of these things can you make in a day?” I asked.

“We are supposed to produce at least three hundred each day here at this location,” she said, “but our inventory has been coming in at about two hundred and sixty every day.”

“Are you sure that three hundred are being made each day? I noticed that you don’t have any cameras up or at least none that I can see,” I said.

“Oh, we’re sure,” she said, “There are enough parts for three hundred consoles given to that workstation every day. Each shift is to make one hundred consoles during their eight hours here.”

“Is anybody lagging behind or are all three shifts pretty much doing the same number?” I asked.

“First and third are doing fine, it’s the second shift that seems to be having trouble,” she said. “But I hate to think that she’s doing anything wrong, she’s been with us for years.” She went on to explain that the assemblers work in tandem with the stockers to move the merchandise from the assembly line to the warehouse.

“I’m going to need the names of all of the workers associated with that station, can you get me that?” I asked.

She nodded and took a pad and pencil from her apron. That was odd; I hadn’t noticed she was wearing an apron before. In any case, she wrote down five names and beside those, she wrote down which shift they worked. She handed me the slip of paper and said, “There are only two stockers who work twelve hours a day. Like I said, I don’t think it’s either of the two ladies who are working assembly. It’s the other three I’m suspicious of.”

Come back later today for another chapter of this story…

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Not Even a Mouse: A Rona Shively Short (Chapter Two)

I collected my mail when I got to my apartment building and was surprised to see only a couple of bills in the pile. The rest were flyers and advertisements for products or services for which I had no use. I removed the two bills from the stack and chucked the rest in the trash can as soon as I got in the door. It was about three p.m. and somehow, I’d forgotten to eat lunch. The meeting with Nellie had left me feeling unsettled and I hadn’t even thought about food until I reached my apartment. I was starving so as soon as I got in the door, I checked the refrigerator to see if anything had miraculously appeared in there since this morning when there was nothing to eat for breakfast.

Sadly, there was only about a half gallon of orange juice, two slices of American cheese, one pickle and what was left of a deluxe pizza that I had ordered three nights ago. Anyone who knows me knows that I have practically no culinary talents. There was really nothing I could do with two pieces of cheese and a pickle that would make me less hungry, so I picked up the phone and dialed Paco’s. My old favorite, Micelli’s had gone out of business a couple of weeks ago and Paco’s had opened in their old location. I hadn’t tried their pizza yet, so I decided on a large Italian sub. Since orange juice didn’t go so well with Italian food, I also ordered a six pack of Coke. That accomplished, I plopped down on my couch with the two bills in my hand. Reluctantly, I opened the first one and pulled out its contents.

It was the bill for my renter’s insurance and it looked like the premium had actually gone down from last month. At least that was something good. The next bill wasn’t quite so wonderful. Last month I had to have some dental work done after an altercation with a rather surly individual I’d encountered as part of a case I was working. Some words were exchanged and before I knew what was happening, a couple of fists were flying. One of those fists had connected with my jaw and knocked out one of my teeth. In short, I still owed about $475 for the time I’d spent in the dentist’s chair. I tossed the bills aside and got up to go to the bathroom. I went down the hall and did what I needed to do. By the time I made my way back to my living room area, there was a knock at the door. Thank God, I thought. I took a twenty from my pocket and opened the door. I handed the money to the delivery boy and took the bag and the six pack.

I was so frigging hungry. The sandwich smelled heavenly, if that’s possible. I unwrapped it and took a bite. This was just what I needed. I opened one of the cans of Coke and put the rest of the six-pack in the refrigerator, still holding the sub in one hand. I wasn’t about to put this sandwich down. Once I had settled down, I realized that my attachment to the sandwich was worrisome. I really needed to find a hobby. It’s a sad thing when the most exciting event of the day is unwrapping an eight inch sub. Though it might have been more sad if it had only been the six inch.

After I had finished the sub, I opened up my laptop to do some research. If I was going to play the role of a salesperson, I needed to come up with something clever to “sell.” It’s not like you can go into a business and say, “Hi, I’m a salesperson, please let me come in and look around.” After about an hour, I stumbled upon an idea that I thought might work. I couldn’t find much in the way of products, but I figured that any business needs decent advertising. Since I hadn’t been very effective in marketing my own services, I wasn’t sure how I was going to come across in a sales presentation but hey, who really cares? All I needed was a business card and maybe a flyer or two and I could at least look like I knew what I was doing.

Though I’m not highly computer savvy, I opened up my Word program and started working on a template for a business card. I had recently taken one of those free classes at my local library where they taught me how to do some basic stuff with Word. I had liked the class so much that I had gone out and bought myself a couple of tutorial programs that I worked on in my spare time. After selecting a business card template from the menu, I filled in a fake name for myself, Jenny Herman. It was the first thing that came to me that didn’t sound like something out of a cheap movie. From there, I added the fake P.O. Box number that I use for all of my undercover endeavors. After that, I decided that my “company” really needed a name. Like I said, I’m not terribly good at this marketing stuff. I sat back in my chair for a moment and looked at the ceiling. Often, ideas came to me when I stared at the ceiling. I’m not sure what’s up there, but it usually sparks some creativity. As I studied the grid of the suspended ceiling tiles, the name came to me. I typed in “Criss-Cross Advertising Solutions.” After that, I pulled a graphic into the document to spiff it up a bit. I was pretty impressed with myself. Just a month ago, I couldn’t have figured this shit out and now here I was making fake stuff like a pro. Cool.

I pulled out a sheet of business card paper that I had purchased for making my own cards and stuck it into my printer. I hit the print button and within five minutes, I had my very own set of cards for Criss-Cross Advertising. Now, all I had to do was come up with some pricing and services. To do this, I just looked online for some advertising companies and copied from them. Most of them offered the same types of things, but I stuck with the ones that looked like things I understood. Pricing was a little more difficult. For that, I had to make a couple of phone calls.

“Hello,” I said as the receptionist for AAA Advertising picked up the phone.
“Can I help you?” she asked in a polished, professional tone.
“Yes, I am looking for a company that can do an advertising campaign for my business,” I said, not really knowing what to ask for. “What kinds of services do you offer?”

She ran down a list of things and then said that she could connect me to a Marketing Specialist. Before I could object, she had put me on hold and transferred me over to Ted in Marketing.

“This is Ted, what can I do for you?” he said cheerily.
“I’m looking to do some advertising for my business, can you tell me how much an advertising campaign might cost?” I asked. That sounded really stupid.
“Were you looking for print, direct mail, tv, radio?” he asked and then added, “Or maybe online?”
“Well, I don’t really know, what do you think works best?” I asked. I hoped he would be able to explain some of this stuff to me so that I could just repeat it all when asked later.
“What type of business do you have?” he asked.
“I make and sell stuff, all kinds of things like toys, knick-knacks, you know,” I said, remembering Donella Clos’s words.
“Okay, well, then you’re probably going to want a mix of all of these to reach the largest possible audience,” he said, “Where is your business located?”
“Here in Crystal Ridge,” I said.
“What kind of advertising do you use currently?” he asked.
“Currently?” I said, “Well, I really don’t have anything right now.”
“How long have you been in business?” he asked.

I didn’t know the answer to that one, “Five years,” I blurted out.
“You’ve managed to stay in business for five years with no advertising,” he asked, incredulous.
“Well, yeah, I mean, there’s word-of-mouth I guess,” I said, cringing.
“Sounds like you’re going to need a lot of help,” he said. I could hear him smiling like an idiot on the other end of the line. He was no doubt thinking that he had caught a live one with me. “Can we meet to discuss some of your options?”
I hesitated, “Well, right now, I’m really just calling around to get some idea of what an ad campaign would cost. Can’t you give me a ballpark figure over the phone?”
“It’d be better if we could talk in person,” he said, “But, I guess the type of campaign I’m thinking of might run you around $15,000.”

I nearly fell off my chair, “$15,000?” I said, “What would I be getting for that?”
“Well, of course there’s brand development and some really great market research that we could gather for you to help you target your customers more effectively…” he went on and on after this and I could feel my eyes glaze over. Finally, he finished up by saying, “I have some time available today if you’re free.”
“Uh, well, I’m going to need to get back to you on this,” I said, “I didn’t really plan to spend so much.”
“We can work with you on payments,” he said, “our goal is to get you results.”
We went back and forth a little before I was finally able to get him to hang up the phone. I had jotted some of what he said down as he spoke so that I could capture some of the key phrases. I looked at my paper; market research, brand promotion, print, direct mail…none of these meant anything to me. Maybe that’s why my P.I. business never really took off.

I spent a little more time putting together some materials for my performance and then picked the phone up to call Mrs. Clos. No one answered, so I left a message telling her that a “representative” from Criss-Cross advertising would be stopping by tomorrow morning to talk with her about her recent inquiry. I hoped she would recognize my voice and that I wouldn’t take her by surprise when I showed up there.

Party animal that I am, I curled up on my couch at around 9 p.m. and fell asleep. I had strange dreams as I tossed and turned on the small sofa. Why I didn’t just get up and go to bed is beyond me. I just felt restless and I couldn’t get my mind off of how weird this little old lady had been. My dreams took me out into a snowy field where I saw a Santa Claus-like figure loading boxes into the back of an SUV. There were reindeer, I think, or maybe they were some other kind of animal. I’m not good with nature, so they could have been horses for all I know. Through the whole thing, I heard Christmas music playing in the background but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I floated through the field until I came to a house that was decorated up with all kinds of lights and other holiday junk in the yard. I walked up to the window and I could see my new client inside. She was baking cookies, but not just one tray of them. There were literally thousands of cookies coming out of the oven. I could actually smell them baking.

Come back tomorrow for Chapter Three!

Until next time…

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