amelia beamer

One Hour in Cuffs

By Amelia Beamer
(originally appeared in Cantaraville Six)

“You’re very kind to take me to brunch,” Dana said after the champagne arrived. “The girls from the agency all spoke highly of you, and it was just sheer luck that I got assigned you.” In fact, it was because all of the senior publicists had already been booked, but she wasn’t going to tell him that.

“Dana, you flatter me,” John said. “I tell you, I have no idea where I am or where I’m going, and I love it.” He smiled and held up his glass for a toast. “So it’s the least I can do to blow some of my publisher’s per diem on a relaxing meal with you.” When he talked, Dana saw that his lower front teeth were crooked.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a sip of champagne, and then a sip of water. They’d spent much of the last three days together, her shuttling him from this restaurant to that bookstore, then making calls on her cell phone while he talked with booksellers or signed books or gave interviews. This was their first meal together.

“What are you writing now?” she asked. Such a dull question, she knew. But she’d already told him all of her jokes, even the “what-do-you-call-a” and “what’s-the-difference-between” ones she remembered from middle school. He particularly liked the puns.

He shook his head. “Nothing, Dana. I won’t get going on the next for a few months at least.” He drank from his champagne glass, then from his water. “To tell the truth, if this book tanks, I’ll probably be looking for a new publisher.”

“You’re kidding.” She leaned forward, elbows on the table, as if she hadn’t heard him. In the sunlight from the tall windows, she noticed the Celtic filigree on John’s wedding ring.

“It’s no comment on your publicity services. Your care has been superb. I think it’s because my publisher didn’t spring for front-table placement at Border’s and Barnes and Noble this time around. I don’t know if you have access to Bookscan numbers?”

She shook her head. “Not directly.”

“Well, my editor told me the new title’s doing OK, but not bestseller. My fear is that if it doesn’t at least break even with the last, I’ll be taken off the bestseller track. So I’m hoping that all the indy booksellers will like me enough to hand-sell.”

Dana ran her finger around the rim of her champagne glass, unsure of what to say. What advice could she possibly give him?

“But I’m not upset about that, believe me,” he said. “My publisher doesn’t owe me a career. The entire genre doesn’t owe me anything. I sure like writing for a living, but there’s always the small presses, and pseudonymous first novels.” He took a sip of champagne.

“Your lack of ego is refreshing,” she said, charmed.

“But, Dana, before you give me too much credit. There’s also been talk of a series. That stays entre nous for now.”

She mimed zipping her lips, then put the key in her pocket.

“My son Zack does that, only he swallows the key,” John said.

“I’ll bet he’s old enough,” Dana said, then stopped to grope in her pocket for the imaginary key. She unzipped her lips. “Whoops. Almost forgot. I was going to say, he’s probably old enough to know why that doesn’t make sense. You can’t swallow the key if your lips are zipped.”

“He’s twelve, yes. But for some reason we still encourage him. He’ll definitely like your pirate jokes, particularly the one about how he got the eye patch. ‘Me first day with the hook!’ It’ll lose something in the telling, because I’ll have to say that a pigeon pooped in his eye, although ‘shat’ is always funnier. I try not to swear at home. Set a good example and all.”

“He sounds like a great kid,” she said.

“In trouble now and again, but very intelligent and a good sense of humor,” John said. “It’s that old cliché, he hangs around with the wrong crowd. And I know better than to forbid him his layabout friends.”

“What kind of trouble, may I ask?”

Their food arrived then: platters of steamed vegetables, dumplings, potstickers, savory pastries, fried onion cake, all carried by a waiter with thick hands. There was plenty of opportunity to drop the subject.

“He was brought home by the cops once, drunk.” John picked up his chopsticks, and only after he served himself did Dana pick up hers.

“I tell him, it’s not that he can’t drink, but that he should do it at home where we can take care of him if something happens. Then he wants to have his friends around when he drinks—”

“Of course,” Dana interjected.

“But it’s a different proposition when you, as a parent, are getting someone else’s children intoxicated. Difficult, legally, and while it’s unlikely as hell that I’d be prosecuted, I don’t want something to happen. But he’s going to want to experiment, and a glass of wine with dinner and his fuddy-duddy “parental units” isn’t going to cut it. I tried talking to the other parents about it, but the best friend’s parents are pretty uptight. The kids are young.”

“So you’re just hoping he’ll grow out of it?” Dana said. “Zack?”

“Pretty much. I do feel lost sometimes. Being a parent, it’s all sorts of emotions you didn’t expect. There’s so much that goes into love, and trying to make the right decisions. It’s absolutely paralyzing at times.” He smiled then. “Listen to me giving you all the inside baseball. Stop me, Dana, please.”

“Don’t stop on my account,” she said. She liked him better for letting down his guard. “I always like to hear about the real things that are going on in people’s lives. Makes it feel more like,” she picked up a dumpling, then paused. “Like this meal isn’t just a gesture you’re making to be nice to me, or filling space because you didn’t have a better offer, but that we’ve actually got some kind of actual connection or friendship.” She filled her mouth before she said anything else.

“Three days stuck in traffic together will do that,” he said. “But you’re very sweet. Too much for me. I’d better change the subject before I start waxing romantic.” He broke eye contact to glance at her hands on the table, then back up. He had such a gentle expression. She felt a blush of warmth in her belly, the same delicious feeling she got when the lead actors in a good movie finally kissed.

“Anyway, save me from all of this food,” he said, helping himself to half of the onion cake. “Please.”

She obliged by taking the rest of the cake. A champagne brunch on a weekday was surely a glorious thing. Normally she skipped breakfast, and lunch was eaten out of the plastic she’d microwaved it in.

“So what about you, Dana? Will you have children?” he asked.

Dana usually avoided talking about herself with clients; she took pride in being professional. “Eventually, I think,” she said. “I do really like kids; my sister’s got a baby, and last time I was visiting they were all frazzled by the time I got there, and they handed me the kid, and I calmed her right down. Rocking and walking, you know.”

“You don’t forget,” he said. “And it’s hard work, but I think it’s worthwhile. Funny thing is, you think it’ll get easier once you’ve gotten through the majors — potty training and drivers training, the latter of which I’m not looking forward to — and it certainly gets less time intensive, but there’s always a new struggle. But after this job you’ll probably have the patience for kids, too.”

“You mean after dealing with a bunch of cranky tired people? Present company excluded, of course.” She smiled. “The authors are not as high maintenance as the actors, but the athletes are entirely unpredictable.”

“Details?” He raised his eyebrows.

She shook her head. “I do not dish. Sorry, my dear.” She looked at the traffic outside the window. Most of her time was spent in the office making phone calls and sending emails; John was only her third client. The more senior girls were the ones with salacious stories.

He sighed theatrically. “And I could get such good gossip from you. Just tell me the worst story. You don’t have to say who it was. And have some more champagne, for Christ’s sake.” He poured for her.

“Give me a moment, I have to think,” she said, trying not to show her anxiety. She wanted to tell him something good.

“Anyone hit on you?” he asked. “Pray, tell. You can make it up if you don’t have a good one.”

She considered. “Only once. This woman, she—”

“She?” The corner of his mouth twitched up, ready to be amused.

“Yes.” Dana was telling another girl’s story. “A local trade show had hired my agency to do publicity, and we ended up handing out flyers and running around carrying boxes of books. Not the most glamorous work. And this woman took a group of us out to lunch, and I ended up sitting next to her in the booth. She had her hand on my thigh the entire time. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. And I’m ticklish! I mean, it’s not like I’ve never been with a woman, but that this one was so very not my type. Butch, short hair, bookseller. I shouldn’t say more, lest you recognize her.” Dana thought of the coworker whose story this really was: Myranda, a slight, outspoken pixie of a woman. She realized, too late, that Myranda had been flirting with her.

John laughed appreciatively. Then he reached across the table and ran his forefinger across the back of Dana’s hand. She turned up her palm, frightened by how nice it felt. She allowed him to lace his fingers into hers for a moment, then pulled away.

The waiter came then, and placed the bill on the table. “Take this to go?” he said of the leftover dumplings and vegetables.

Dana looked to John, who shook his head. “No thanks, staying in a hotel.” Their waiter moved to talk with another table while John counted out some cash and placed it in the black vinyl case that held the bill.

“Thank you, very much,” she said. She could sit here with him all day. “We’d better go,” she said. “You’re due to sign stock at Border’s this afternoon, and they’d really like to take you out for a drink if there’s time before your reading at Waldenbooks.”

“All good things, I guess,” he said. “Back to the coal mines, then. As long as you’re with me.”

They stood. She felt lightheaded, but it had to be the champagne. As they walked to the car, she clasped her hands together so as not to thread her arm through John’s.

They got in the car, on the freeway, and then off after a few miles. First she saw traffic. Then she saw the traffic cones, and then the squad cars. By then it was too late to turn away.

Adrenalin flooded her, making her hands shake. “Maybe it’s a license checkpoint,” she said.

John whistled. They could see people in business wear being handcuffed and put into squad cars, in broad daylight. There was a sign: Sobriety Checkpoint.

“Shit,” Dana said. She clawed at her purse for her license and insurance.

“Calm down, Dana. Listen to me. They may not stop you. They’ll probably do every third car, or something like that.”

They were stopping every car.

“Here, take a shot of this.” John handed over a tube of breath spray from his pocket. “It’ll mess up any Breathalyzer readings.” It tasted of cinnamon, and a tiny part of her mind registered that this is what his mouth might taste like.

“I’m so sorry, John, please believe me.” She took deep breaths, trying to decide whether she felt at all buzzed. She prayed to be let through.

A young woman cop beckoned to Dana, then hitched up her gear-laden belt. Dana had a hard time not glancing at her gun.

“You’re OK. Calm down, Dana.” John touched her hand. “I know a lawyer in the city, an old friend from my Greek days. That’s Greek as in fraternity. Just don’t admit to anything.”

She nodded, then rolled down her window. There was a deep and horrible feeling in her gut. She was panicking already. Wishing that this had happened when she was alone, and not on the job.

The cop took Dana’s license and registration. She sniffed. “Have you been drinking, ma’am?” she asked.

Dana thought of the cop shows she used to watch. “I would like to see a lawyer before I answer any questions, please.” Her voice shook.

“Do you mind taking a Breathalyzer?” the cop said.

“Do I have to?” Dana asked.

“No,” the cop said. “But there are implied consent laws. If you refuse, I could arrest you, and you’d have to come down to the station and take a blood alcohol test.” She wore sunglasses; her expression was unreadable.

Dana exhaled into the black plastic mouthpiece, as the cop instructed, and then did it again. Both times the digital red numbers registered .08.

“I just used breath spray,” Dana said. She felt sober, and frightened.

“I don’t have the time or the resources to do field sobriety tests,” the cop said in a weary tone. “So I’m going to take you downtown. Your car will be impounded. Here’s your insurance paperwork,” she handed Dana the paper but kept Dana’s license. “Your license is suspended. Tell your dad to call a cab.” The cop took off her sunglasses. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.”

Dana couldn’t believe it. Her dad? This will be funny someday, she told herself as the Miranda warning washed over her. “Just leave the keys in the ignition, and get out,” the cop finished. She went on to the next car.

Dana directed her words at the steering wheel. “We’re within a few miles of the bookstore. If you walk up to Market, that one right there,” she pointed, “you can get a cab. Or you can call one to here, but I don’t think they’ll let you wait in the car. I’m so sorry about this.” Funny someday, she told herself.

“You OK, Dana?” John asked. He placed a hand on hers, and she let him. “I’ll have my lawyer friend meet you at the station,” he said. There was such kindness in his voice.

“No, no, please. Don’t go to any trouble. I’ll sort it all out. It’ll be fine.” She tried to pretend she wasn’t humiliated. “Call the agency, and they’ll send someone else to take care of you, get you to the reading tonight.”

“I won’t let you go off alone, that’s that,” he said. He squeezed her hand. They both got out of the car. In the sun, he squinted just like everyone else. “I’ll check on you. Keep your head up, Dana,” he said as he walked away.

Dana spent an hour in handcuffs, sitting in the back of the stifling patrol car. The front windows were open, but there was no breeze. There was another woman in the car already, with nicer jewelry and shoes than Dana’s. They didn’t speak. Dana looked straight ahead at the cage, and tried to breathe quietly. She’d surely lose her job for this. Maybe she could get out of the lease on her apartment, and move back home. Or move to another city. Somewhere with public transit.

At the station she was booked, given a blood test (which read .05), fingerprinted, and photographed. Her earrings and purse and shoes were taken away, and she was given paper booties and led into a cell. None of the other women spoke. All of the seats were filled. Dana leaned against the wall, resting her head in her hands.

After a few hours, Dana was let out to see a visitor. It was a young man in a suit, from the law offices of something that sounded like Colin and Pick, one of whom was presumably John’s friend. This was clearly a junior member. She felt a strange kinship with him.

They were allowed a closed room, where she told him what had happened. “This is not the end of the world,” he said. “Most likely, you’ll be out today. I’ll try to get you out on your own recognizance, but the judge may set bail.”

Dana swallowed. “Bail?”

“Somewhere between two hundred and a grand, most likely,” he said. “Just to make sure you show up to your trial. Do you have someone nearby who can float that?”

She shook her head. Abruptly she felt homesick, not for her apartment but the town where she grew up. She had friends there.

“I’m assuming you have a credit card. Any of the bonds companies will do. These guys handed me a flier on my way in.” He showed her a postcard that read Bad Boys Bail Bonds. The number was 1-800-BAIL OUT.

“Because your momma wants you home,” Dana said, quoting the radio commercial.

The lawyer smiled. “When you see the judge, I’d advise you to plead not guilty, and we can probably get this cleared. Sobriety checkpoints are legally questionable, and the police are required to observe you for fifteen minutes before administering the Breathalyzer, which you say didn’t happen. I’ll also request a drivers license suspension hearing to get your license back, and help you sort out getting a temporary license from the DMV for the meantime.” His handshake was strong, and his business card was printed on thick, creamy paper. Dana wondered how much this young man cost, and how she would pay for it.

After the meeting, she was Breathalyzed again, and when it read .00 she was taken to the courthouse to wait. Within the next few hours — it was hard to keep track of time since they’d taken her cell phone, and all of the clocks in the building ran on different schedules — Dana had seen a judge and received a court date. She hugged her lawyer after, when it was clear she would get to leave.

Dana was surprised to find that it was still light outside. Out of habit, she tried to remember where she’d parked. She started walking, trying to think. The impound lot was closed already, and she’d have to try and get a temporary license before she could pick up her car anyway. She was tempted to flag down a cab, but didn’t have enough cash to go all the way home.

After the sun had set, Dana sat down on a bench, cursing her heels. People were out in eveningwear by now, laughing and talking, many of them on cell phones. She took out hers. There was one message.

“Hi, it’s me,” John said. “Hope you’re doing all right, and that you’re out. Give me a call to let me know, please.” He gave her a phone number, then repeated it.

She didn’t want to call him. Didn’t want him to offer to help her again. The walk had cleared her head. Maybe she could call Myranda, the coworker whose story she’d told John at the restaurant. Maybe she could take a bus.

Her phone rang in her hand, and she nearly dropped it.

“Just get in a cab, and come to the Marriott,” John said, after she’d given him the short version. “Surely you’re hungry, and the least I can do is buy you dinner.”

She hesitated.

“I won’t take no for an answer,” he said. “Really, I mean it, Dana.”

Dana could just see the towers of the Marriott up the hill. She was hungry, and as much as she didn’t want to, perhaps seeing John again would help give closure to the day’s events. “I’m pretty close by,” she said. “I’ll just walk over.”

“Great. Wait in the restaurant for me, I’m just wrapping up signing here. See you soon.” He hung up. Right, he’d been scheduled to read tonight. It felt as if days had passed since brunch. Her face grew hot, speculating about the conversation he’d had with her boss, and which of her coworkers had been dispatched to cover for her. Dana paused under the bright neon signs of a sports bar, trying to decide if a drink would help. She walked by without going in.

But then she ordered a glass of house red at the hotel restaurant. She read over the menu; expensive French food. The waiter brought her a second glass without asking. By the time John arrived, she was no longer afraid of him. She stood, conscious of how she must smell after a day in jail and a long walk. John hugged her, kissed her forehead.

“Dana,” he said. “I’m so relieved.” He pulled away to look at her at arm’s length, then embraced her again, as if they hadn’t seen one another in years.

“You’re relieved,” she said. She could feel the movement of air in his chest and throat when he spoke.

“Sit, sit,” he said, pulling away. They sat. He drank from her wineglass. “A thousand pardons, madam.” She saw it as a gesture of intimacy.

“How’d the reading go?” she asked.

“Listen to you,” he said. “Silly, dear girl. Tell me about your afternoon.”

She did. When the waiter came, John ordered a bottle of Merlot and a steak. Dana asked for risotto, the cheapest entree on the menu.

“Just so you know, I didn’t tell anyone,” he said when the waiter left. “Walked to the bookstore, which would have been a very nice stroll if I hadn’t been so worried about you. They were all too happy to drive me to the other bookstore, and I took a cab back to the hotel. I’ll cab it to the airport tomorrow.”

She looked away, overwhelmed. Maybe she’d still have a job, if she could somehow keep this secret. “You’re too kind,” she said.

“Not at all, Dana. And to be clear, the lawyer’s fees are on me.”

She reached for his hand. “I can’t let you do that.”

“It’s as much my fault as yours,” he said. “And were the situations reversed, you’d do the same for me.” He kissed her hand, then held it with both of his. “And you’d better let go, lest you give an old man the wrong idea.”

Dana let go, then impulsively brushed the side of his face with her fingers. She decided to stop worrying. They talked about movies while they ate, finding their tastes were similar. They ordered ice cream and brandy for dessert.

“Come up to the room for a cup of coffee?” John said after he’d signed the check.

“Thought you’d never ask.” Dana finally felt in control. She took his hand as they walked to the elevator.

Dana waited until they were in his room to kiss him. It took her a few seconds to find his mouth, which tasted of dinner but was very skillful. His hands wandered, too fast, and she tensed. She turned her head to expose her neck. Normally she’d like what he was doing there.

She decided to buy some time. “Do you mind if I shower?” she asked. Dana shut herself inside the bathroom without waiting for an answer.

It wasn’t that this was the end of the chase, which she always found a little disappointing. It wasn’t that he was unattractive, or had poor technique. She undressed, and nearly lost her balance while taking off her panties. Naked, drunk, and smelling of old sweat, she understood what it was. He’d seen her humiliated.

The water ran over her. Dana placed a wet palm against the shower wall, as if it would let her through if she only pressed the tile in the right place. It was too late to call anyone, and the buses had stopped running. She washed the institutional smell of jail out of her hair. After she’d dawdled as long as she could, she dried with a thick towel that smelled of bleach, and put on the white terrycloth robe hanging on the back of the door.

John made coffee then, true to his word, and produced a flask of cognac. Dana added a liberal amount to her coffee, and drank. She sat on the bed, resigning herself. Maybe it would be like smiling while you coldcalled; the person on the other end could hear the smile. Sometimes, after a while, the smile would start to feel real.

Twitter