In the shallow Escondido valley, hugged by rolling hills, the morning fog cleared in June, 2013. Long shadows of trees became visible. Patches of grey rocks rested between horse, cattle and ostrich ranches. Above the valley, California coastal sage and chaparral grew between groves of avocado, orange, lemon, and grapefruit.
Alan Rifkin waited for Jim Robles at Coco’s restaurant on Valley Parkway. Alan, tall and stocky with fair skin, slouched over his iPhone, looking at Cars for Sale ads on Craig’s List.
“Morning,” Jim said. He took the booth seat opposite Alan.
“How you doing, Jim?”
“Good. What’s going on?”
“You won’t believe this,” replied Alan, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. “An almost new Cadillac for one hundred dollars!”
“You’re right. I don’t believe it.”
The waitress came to the table with a pot in her hand. “Coffee, gentlemen?”
“Thanks, Michelle,” Jim said. “The usual for me. How about you, Alan?”
“I’ll have oatmeal and a small orange juice.”
“Coming right up,” Michelle said.
“Listen to this,” Alan said. “A 2013 Cadillac Escalade. Heated seats, accident avoidance technology, DVD entertainment system, rear vision camera, Bluetooth Phone and sunroof.”
“You’re drooling, Alan. What’s the mileage?”
“Only five hundred!”
“Alan. That car, when it’s new, costs eighty thousand. It probably was in a bad accident.”
“Maybe. I’m going to respond to the ad.”
“Alan, listen to me. I heard about a young man who saw a Craigslist ad for a MacBook. He went with his girlfriend to get it and they were robbed of their money and cell phones.”
“If the car is still available, I’ll just check it out.”
Jim shook his head while breaking into a cynical smile.
Alan made an appointment to view the Cadillac and convinced Jim to take him to the owner’s home. Jim drove out of the busy Escondido streets to Rancho Del Mar Estates, a gated community fourteen miles away. The guard at the entrance confirmed that Alan was expected. Jim drove slowly through the wide, quiet roads lined with palm trees, while observing the big houses with California Spanish exteriors, spacious gardens and large areas of oak and eucalyptus trees. The men smelled the fragrance of freshly-mowed and watered lawns.
Clubhouse signs pointed to a golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool and exercise facility. Jim continued for a mile until he arrived at a long driveway guarded by large statues of seated lions on either side of the entrance. He drove onto the paved road, surrounded by large pine trees, towards the circular area in front of the five-car-garage house, where a fountain threw water six feet into the air.
“Wow!” Jim said, as he opened his door and detected surveillance cameras around the house.
“What do you think now?” Alan asked.
“Doesn’t feel right.”
Alan rang the front door bell and they heard chimes. A maid with almond-colored skin opened the door and gave a friendly smile. “Good morning. Mrs. Perry is expecting you. Please come in.”
They walked into the entrance hall with a wooden floor, a high vaulted ceiling and a six foot aquarium where brightly colored fish swam among the corals.
“Please sit down,” said the maid, pointing to chairs along a wall. “I’ll tell Mrs. Perry you are here.”
Alan and Jim looked at each other, raised their eyebrows and sat in silence.
A short, stout woman with dyed-black hair strode towards them. “Hi, I’m Mona. Which one of you is Alan.”
“I am. And this is my friend, Jim.”
The men shook hands with Mona.
“My chauffeur is bringing the Cadillac to the front. Let’s go see it.”
The silver metallic car came to a gradual stop at the front door. The grey-haired driver turned off the quiet engine. Alan and Jim examined the cashmere upholstery with cocoa accents, the engine and the trunk.
“Do you want it, Alan?” Mona asked.
Alan looked at Jim, who gave a quick nod.
Alan answered, “I’ll take it.”
“Let’s go into my office. I’ll sign over the ownership, give you a receipt and extra keys.”
They followed Mona into her spacious office and sat at a round table. Alan gave Mona a one-hundred dollar bill and Mona completed the paperwork.
Alan said, “I can’t help wondering why you’re almost giving the car away.”
“I don’t mind telling you. You see, my husband died six months ago. He collapsed while putting at the eighteenth hole, just the way he wanted to go. This was my third marriage. In my husband’s will, he stipulated that the Cadillac should be sold and the proceeds go to his mistress — that bitch waitress at Hooters.”
“Ah,” Alan said, slack-jawed as he and Jim stared at Mona.
She gave a broad smile and handed the car keys to Alan.
Clive Aaron Gill’s short stories have appeared in the on-line magazine of short fiction and poetry Pens on Fire, in the literary magazine Shark Reef, in Larks Fiction Magazine and in 6 Tales, the on-line magazine of short fiction. Clive has worked as a salesperson, mediator, farm hand, information technology manager and school bus driver. Born in Zimbabwe, he has lived and worked in Southern Africa, North America and Europe. He received a degree in Economics from University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Diego.
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