2021 Short Story Writing Contest 2nd Place Runner-Up
By Lorrie Morales
I saw it fall out of his pocket just as we were being shoved and pushed along the aisle of the sky-train. No one else seemed to notice, so I quickly reached down and grabbed the little black book before it was trampled by the rushing passengers, eager to get home to their television sets, their diverse families and takeout dinners.
“Sir,” I yelled waving the little leather book in the air like some stock broker in the trading room on Wall Street, but he was oblivious to my plea. I started dashing after him, but I quickly lost sight of him as he strode into one of the grand hotels that dominated the area.
My frantic look must have startled the tall doorman as I pushed the turnstile into the lobby, eyes darting to every male within my gaze.
“Excuse me, miss. Are you alright?”
“I’m looking for a man…” and I suddenly faltered. How was I to explain to this stranger that I was looking for a man I didn’t know.
“He had on a black suit jacket.” And then I realized the absurdity of my remark and my futile quest because right before me was a rather large crowd of young, elderly and middle-aged men in an array of black, brown and navy suit jackets and outfits.
“Is there some kind of convention or something?”
“Oh, yes. It’s the annual city fundraising charity meeting.”
“What’s that? Oh, never mind. I need to find the man who owns this,” and I held the worn leather book up to show the bewildered doorman who simply nodded and turned to welcome the next guests.
I started slowly meandering through the lobby crowd, not really sure how I was to identify someone whom I’d only seen the back of for a fraction of a second. There were white tablecloths draped elegantly over an assortment of tables that were strewed with various appealing appetizers, wine glasses filled with spirits and delicate desserts that were piquing my appetite when I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. My stomach growled.
My thoughts were interrupted by an announcement that came over the hotel intercom inviting everyone into the elegant ballroom. I was swept along with the crowd feeling rather out of place with my flowery blouse and faded jeans. I was slinging my overloaded purse onto my shoulder when I bumped into a rather handsome younger man.
“Oops, sorry,” I muttered under my breath.
As I took a closer look around, I realized that the female ratio to men must have been at least twenty to one.
“Are you a reporter?”
“Pardon? Oh, me?” I stuttered for a moment and then quickly lied, “Yes.”
“Well, if you’d like to sit with me way over at that table,” as he pointed to one of the many round tables set up in the room, “I could give you some background for your story.”
Was he flirting with me? Or did he really want to share some valuable news with me about what was happening in the room at the moment? I’d have to take a chance and say “yes” if I wanted to stay and learn more.
I followed him on his heels through the maze of bodies, chairs and tables and found myself sitting very close to the front of a stage at a table of well-dressed men. I hoped they wouldn’t ask any questions because I wasn’t sure if I could continue with my charade. I fixed a fake smile on my face and clasped my hands. Then I realized, I was still holding the black notebook in my hand.
I reached into my purse and dug around for the pen in the bottom. I might as well play the part.
“So, tell me what this is all about?” I questioned the young man who had been so gracious to offer me the seat at his table.
“I see you have a little notebook for jotting down your stories. Isn’t that old school? Most people have cell phones these days.”
The lies were dripping like honey from my lips. “Oh, I like the feel of the pen on the paper.”
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Well, this Charity Fundraiser has been going on for 25 years now. It started…” and then he was suddenly disrupted by a squeal from the microphone at the podium on the stage.
“Gentlemen and the few ladies in our midst. Honored guests and fellow politicians, businessmen and philanthropes, we are pleased you could join us for this, our Silver Anniversary Charity Fundraiser this evening. Tonight, is a very special evening because we are going to be recognizing one of our very own rags to riches man. You all know him as Ben, but we know him as Booker Benny!” and the crowd broke out into loud laughter and applause. Several fists banged the tables to clatter the cutlery and plates.
And that’s when I looked up to see the man, or rather the back of the man, I had been pursuing earlier, stride confidently up the steps and onto the stage. My heart jumped to my mouth and I froze.
“Good evening, gentlemen and yes, the few ladies in our midst.” His hazel eyes smiled warmly at the smiling faces in the room and then locked eyes with me. I felt a jolt of lightning flash through my veins. If there had been an electrical line connecting us, it would have lit up the city skyline. The hairs on my arms stood on end. I was hypnotized.
He continued, “I want to thank this organization for believing in me – yes, a charity case – all those years ago. If I seem a little frustrated tonight, it’s because I had wanted to show you my little black book that I had recorded bets and IOU’s for my infamous gambling game. It was a symbol of the success I now have today, but I have somehow lost it on my way here.”
I don’t know what possessed me, but I suddenly jumped up from my cushioned seat and yelled in a squeaky voice, “I have it!”
Every eye in the room accused me. Every head swung round to see who the thief in their midst was. The murmurs began as a low hum and increased to a rising crescendo of angry male voices. I felt like the bull’s eye on a target or Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the truth be told, I ended up as the prince’s Cinderella.
Many years later, close to Valentine’s Day, my young granddaughter was over for a visit.
“How did you and grandpa fall in love?”
I tell her the story about that crazy night and let her know that, I had been so embarrassed about what had happened because there had been a genuine photographer-reporter there in the ballroom that evening who had snapped a photo of me standing proudly with my hand raised above my head showing the little black book and smiling the biggest smile of the universe.
“The story ran in all the major newspapers and , but the best part was that the Charity raised the most money it had ever raised since its existence in 25 years!”
“So did grandpa take you on a date because you made the Charity famous?”
“Oh yes,” as I gently venture back into my memory bank.
“Grandpa took me out on many dates after that evening. He was the rag to riches man and I was the fake reporter. We fell in love and, well, you know; we got married and we had children because your dad is our son. But that’s not all.”
“It’s not?” she inquired.
“No, the really amazing part of our story is that because of all that, your grandpa wrote a book. I don’t know if your dad ever showed you.”
She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a scrunched-up face.
“Well, when you write a book, you get royalties. Do you know what they are?”
Again, she nodded no and waited patiently for me to finish the story.
“They are basically the money you make when people buy your books. You grandpa earned $20,000 of royalty cheques from the book he wrote and we deposited $20,000 to our bank account. We decided that would be the amount we would donate each year to a charity. Can you guess which one that is?”
This time she nodded yes. She knew the answer.