Cover image for One night
Title:
One night
Author:
Dickey, Eric Jerome, author.
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Dutton , [2015]
Physical Description:
355 pages ; 24 cm
Summary:
An unlikely couple from opposing areas of society check into an upscale hotel and share twelve hours of passion, con games, and violence that culminate in bliss--and murder.

They have twelve hours to relish the night of their lives. On a cold and rainy night during the Christmas season, a woman who has suffered a great personal loss and a successful businessman from Orange County meet by chance at a gas station on the edges of Hawaiian Gardens. She is living hand-to-mouth, about to be evicted from her apartment in Leimert Park, out of viable options, and she needs quick money to be able to survive through the end of the year. He's prosperous, impeccably dressed, and dealing with personal demons, the kind that money cannot erase. They are an unlikely couple and have nothing in common, but as they engage in conversation and move from con games to assaults to robberies, they end up in an upscale hotel room where they continue to confide in each other as they try to come to grips with their problems and their seasonal loneliness. By sunrise, once they are on the other side of erotic interludes, jealousy, and violence their worlds will have changed. One will have changed for the better. One will have changed for the worse. For one night, their passion is boundless, but with every tick of the clock, their separate pasts close in. They push the limits of time, devotion, and even the law as they attempt to catch a glimpse of the future. They need each other for a lifetime but will have only one night.--Dust jacket.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780525954859
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Item Holds
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Urban Fiction
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Urban Fiction
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Urban Fiction
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
Searching...
Searching...
FICTION Adult Fiction Urban Fiction
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

For one night, a couple checks in to an upscale hotel. The pair seem unlikely companions, from opposing strata of society, but their attraction is palpable to all who observe them; or overhear their cries of passion. In the course of twelve hours, con games, erotic interludes, jealousy, violence and murder swirl around them. Will they part ways in bliss, in sorrow or in death? Filled with all the hallmarks of an Eric Jerome Dickey bestseller, erotic situations, edge-of-your-seat twists and turns and fun, believable relationships, One Night will delight fans!


Author Notes

Eric Jerome Dickey lives in California.

Eric Jerome Dickey was born in Memphis, Tennessee on July 7, 1961. He received a degree in computer system technology from the University of Memphis. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked in the aerospace industry as a software developer. Soon after starting his job, he decided to become an actor and a stand-up comedian, which eventually lead him to a writing career. He attended UCLA's Creative Writing classes and in 1994, his short story Thirteen appeared in the IBWA's River Crossing: Voices of the Diaspora - An Anthology of the International Black Experience. His books include Milk in My Coffee; Liar's Game; Chasing Destiny; Between Lovers; Thieves' Paradise; The Other Woman; Sleeping with Strangers; Waking with Enemies; and An Accidental Affair. He received the awards for Best Contemporary Fiction and Author of the Year (Male) at the 2006 African American Literary Award Show.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Dickey's (A Wanted Woman, 2014) newest erotic adventure covers an entire relationship in one night. Jackie, still reeling from the death of her young daughter, unexpectedly hits it off with a man she is trying to con. They meet later at Denny's to talk about art, culture, his unhappy marriage, and her inattentive boyfriend. They end up at a luxury hotel, where their loud passion brings security to their door more than once. They fight; he leaves. His wife comes to kill Jackie before her cheating husband tries to kill his enraged spouse. They reconcile and hint at a future together while waiting for the police. Jackie is a sympathetic character as a grieving, troubled soul involved in a palpably intense situation with her unnamed lover, who is harboring dangerous secrets. Skilled best-seller Dickey spends an awful lot of pages detailing the appearance and explicit sexual acts of his characters, but he certainly does make the rapidly shifting emotional stages of the encounter between Jackie and her one-night partner realistic, from the first kiss to the dramatic conclusion.--Alessio, Amy Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Set against the backdrop of the Christmas season in Los Angeles, this erotic, romantic thriller is a clean break from Dickey's recent sprawling adventures (A Wanted Woman, etc.). Here he presents a relationship with the lifespan of a mayfly. Every element is controlled to preserve the anonymous nature of the couple-Dickey withholds even basic information such as character names-but this technique enhances the tension and passion. The events of the plot are basic, with meeting and consummation proceeding at a fleeting pace. When the erotic content verges on the unwieldy-as in a single paragraph that continues unbroken for three pages-the lyrical use of repetition and dynamic imagery redeems it. Though on its surface the story is a romantic one, it also encompasses a crime thriller by delivering flashes of the news on television. The resolution of the couple's relationship is as ambiguous as the rest of the story, but there is a note of hope for the future that feels like a gift to the reader. Dickey has taken the anonymous one-night stand into the realm of art. Agent: Sara Camilli, Sara Camilli Agency. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Excerpts

Excerpts

6:31 P.M. . . . and then sirens interrupted my unlawful transaction. Law enforcement sped in our direction. I winced, cursed, and shivered. The Hawaiian Gardens Police Department and the sheriff's department were coming to arrest me. The abruptness of the sound of so many sirens caused my body to shake, caused adrenaline to rush, triggered my fight-or-flight mode. The prolonged scream of sirens became louder. Came closer. The darkness that had arrived long before five o'clock in the afternoon deepened as a perpetual winter rain, cold as ice cubes, intensified the misery on this frigid, colorless night. I turned and confronted the man in the expensive gray suit. He was tense, twitching as if he had also experienced the sudden heat that comes from fear, from fight-or-flight, but a man dressed like he was would never have anything to run from. He looked like he knew the cops were coming here. I snapped, "Are you with the police? Are you a friggin' cop? " Winter rain was being spat from the miserable skies, traffic was bumper to bumper; there was no way I could get to the truck that fast, nowhere to run, and the sirens called my name as they sped closer. Closer. The truck. They were coming for me because of the goddamn truck. Brow furrowed, the well-dressed man made fists and turned toward the incessant wails. I wasn't ready for this. I didn't have an exit plan, not under these conditions. A winter storm had been going since morning and had caused at least six hundred traffic accidents in three hours; at least five of those were within spitting distance. Traffic was a bitch with PMS, and all the diehards were out Christmas shopping. Cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and hearses clogged the entrance to the Long Beach Towne Center, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, and every strip mall that made up this waterlogged city. That made it impossible for me to get back in my ride and speed away. And if I did manage to get to the truck, the world before me crept toward the 605 at three miles per hour, and traffic heading in the opposite direction on Carson Boulevard couldn't be breaking five. And as the sirens sang, my frustration was like a slow ride to hell in a flooding dystopia. Closer. Closer. He remained tense, his jaw tight, not blinking, his body language speaking of nothing but trouble. This was unexpected. Fear arrested me. I almost let my weapon slide down to my hand. Closer. Closer. Closer. Patrol cars sped by with their fiery lights flashing, raced toward Lakewood, toward Long Beach. We were underneath the shelter between two gas pumps. Behind us was a nonstop line of traffic, a line that stretched both in the direction of the 605 freeway and deeper into Hawaiian Gardens. The man in the suit took a hard breath, opened and closed his right hand, his face thunderous Voice trembling, feeling my fear, I asked, "Now, where were we?" "You parked your truck and came to me with an interesting proposition." "I can let the MacBook Pro I have go for seven hundred. Cash." He said, "Really? Seven hundred dollars for a stolen MacBook Pro?" "Once again, it's the fifteen-inch, and this sells at the Apple Store for over two thousand dollars. If you get it for seven hundred, you've saved at least thirteen hundred." "You don't save money by spending money." "Well, that'll never be on a billboard on Sunset Boulevard. Saving is bad for the economy." "Really? You're expecting to get that much for a stolen computer that has no warranty?" "Well, how much are you willing to give me?" "One hundred dollars." "Dude, you're crazy. This has the latest-generation Intel processors, all-new graphics, faster flash storage, and retina display. This bad boy has over five million pixels. That's better than HDTV. The battery lasts up to eight hours. Don't tell me you're a PC guy? You look too hip to be a PC guy." His left eye was bruised. Maybe he had been mugged, or involved in a Christmas brawl. Customers throw hard blows for two-dollar holiday sales at Walmart, and there was one up the street, its lot packed--but his suit and car were made for Rodeo Drive. He considered something beyond me, glanced at the battered old white Nissan truck I was driving. He said, "Best Buy sent you to do deliveries in that truck?" "I had to drive my own vehicle tonight. Company cutbacks." A few minutes earlier I had driven from my resting spot by the Towne Center and the Edwards Cinema into a Chevron station. There were seventeen gas pumps, all but three occupied, and the twenty-four-hour Subway attached to the gas station was just as busy. I had pulled up to pump number 17, stopping opposite pump number 12 and a brother in a modern gray suit. When I eased out of the truck, he was holding his gas hose, his shoulders hunched like he'd never been rained on in his life. I put on a cheerleader smile, walked halfway to him--bouncy and perky like Katie Couric--told him that his whip was very nice--used that praise as an opener--then engaged him with a flirty smile and started a conversation. I eased closer, whispered that I had a MacBook to sell, asked him if he might be interested in a deal. He had paused, inspected me. My wig was long and loose, like a bad-hair day, and I wore a stolen yellow polo shirt and Dockers that had come at the same five-finger discount, both too big, and a stolen Best Buy badge on my jean jacket. He stepped closer and asked me to repeat what I had said. I told him I had a new laptop in the truck, asked him if he wanted to buy it before I sold it to someone else. I told him the price. Then sirens had echoed and passed. Now we were back to haggling in the rain. He evaluated me from shoes to eyes and asked, "Are you Egyptian?" "Am I Egyptian? Are we in Egypt?" "You look Egyptian." "I'm part broke and part black, all mixed with hard times and frustration." He looked down his nose at my uniform, my face. "Your tongue is pierced." "Yeah. So what?" "What do you do at Best Buy?" "That's not important. You want to buy the MacBook or not?" A frigid breeze kicked in and chilled his condescending attitude. His phone buzzed. He held it up, read a message, then scowled at the traffic. I asked, "Need to go so soon?" "A long text message from my wife." "You okay? Look like you just received bad news." "She's just arrived at a hospital." "Is she okay?" "Distraught. Family friend had an accident. Someone close to both our families." "Do you need to go to her?" "I'm not a doctor. Nothing I can do but watch her break down and cry." "Need to text her back?" "She's type-A, not a woman that many men can date, let alone marry, because she is always stressed out. She will have a fit if I don't respond right away. For her, everything's urgent. So I won't." "Type-A. She's the type of person who loves to win at everything." "She is." "You know how she is, and you're going to leave her anxious. That's cold." "Cold like winter in Siberia." "So do you want the computer or not? You're making me miss out on other customers." "Tell me again, how did you manage to get a brand-new MacBook Pro?" I turned up my jacket collar, shivered, shifted from one hard-toe shoe to the other, and told him I worked the stockroom over in Hawthorne, just east of the 405. It was a rainy Wednesday night and I had been sent on deliveries. Despite Amazon running the world, I told him, Best Buy still did drop-offs. The man in the gray suit asked, "How'd you manage to come across that . . . that laptop?" "Told you. They had an extra one. I went over the electronic invoice and it wasn't listed. So it fell into a black hole. I never signed for this one. It won't be reported. It will simply vanish from the database. My dilemma is trying to decide if I am going to take it back and get somebody in trouble for the screwup, or see this as a sign and sell it and make enough money to pay my rent this month." "You're short on your rent." "Most of my income goes to paying frickin' rent. Like everybody else in L.A., I'm always short." I had said too much. That admission gave him bargaining power. Another police car zoomed by, forced angry people to pull to the right, made a bad traffic evening a lot more frustrating. The siren was so loud I had to wait for the downside of the noise to go on talking. He asked, "How much is your rent?" "Dude, it's cold out here, and it's raining. Half the people in L.A. are coughing and the other half have the flu. So before I end up getting sick as a dog, do you want to buy the MacBook Pro or not?" "Might be a way that I could help you out." "I'm only bargaining with the laptop. Nothing else is for sale." He said, "Three hundred. Take it or leave it." "Six. That's my bottom line." "So you better take that stolen computer to eBay." I was about to curse him, but he pulled his wallet out and let me see a fresh row of greenbacks inside. Couldn't remember when I'd had that much cash and it wasn't being used to pay a bill. I said, "You can afford the six. This laptop cost over two grand. Don't rip me off." "I could afford to go the Apple Store and buy one brand-new with a full warranty." "Do better than three hundred. Three hundred is below Black Friday prices." "You're a pretty woman." "I'm almost as pretty as that silver wedding ring on your left hand." "You're wearing a pretty nice ring as well." "On my right hand." "Why is it on your right hand?" "Because it won't fit on the middle finger of my left hand." "But that is a wedding righty, right?" "Your ring is on your left hand. That means you bought the cow." "Yours on the right hand means?" "It means I'm no one's cow. So where's your cow? Where's the woman you make go moo?" He said, "We're estranged. I guess that would be the best way to put it at the moment." "At the moment? What, you're estranged until you get home? Then you make her go moo?" "It's been a long day for me; a long day with lots of driving and lots of stress, and anger, and too much drama. This traffic is starting to look like they're evacuating Los Angeles. We're both going to be trapped in this dull city. Let's go somewhere warm and dry and grab a bite to eat and talk about it." I said, "Buy your wife this laptop, maybe stop by 7-Eleven and pick up a hot dog, find her some crotchless lingerie at the ninety-nine-cent store, go to redtube.com and look at some hot porn by Belle Knox or Lisa Ann, role-play, and I guarantee you that by tomorrow evening you two will be tight." "Mind if I take a look at the merchandise first?" "It's hot off the press and still factory-sealed. So, yeah, I mind the box being opened." "Mind if I check out the five million pixels and retina display that's better than HDTV?" "I'm in a rush. You can open the box when you get home." "I can't do it now? I can't open what you're selling me from Best Buy now?" His tone darkened, sent a chill up my spine. He repeated, "Open the box. Let me turn the computer on." 6:36 P.M. I didn't back down. "Open your wallet." "Show me what you're selling." "Show me the money." "Let's see the laptop that Best Buy lost in the system." "I'm not opening the box for you until I have the money in my hand." "Two thousand. I'll give you top dollar for a stolen laptop." I paused, nose wanting to run, shivering, hunger pangs gripping my belly. "What's the catch?" "If I open that box and there is actually a laptop in there, a brand-new MacBook Pro, and it has the paperwork, and it turns on, you get the two grand. If it doesn't power up, or if you're trying to do a version of the old rocks-in-a-box scam, then it's a new game. So, who's zooming who here?" "Nobody is trying to run game." He said, "But if it's not a laptop, two hundred for a blow job." "You're disgusting. And someone married your ass?" "You're leaving? I thought we had a transaction going on here." "Have a good life, and tell the cow you make go moo I send my sympathies." "Hold up." I said, "Don't come any closer." He put his hand on my jacket. I thought he was attacking me, but he just stuck something in my jacket pocket. His hand felt my breast when he did it. I went ballistic. I snapped, "Don't touch me. I don't friggin' know you like that." I allowed what I had in my jacket sleeve to slide down to my hand. The box cutter. If so many people hadn't been around, if it had been only him, I would've cut him deep. There was a camera. Traffic wouldn't allow me to escape. I wasn't much of a runner. I snapped, "This is America, asshole, and touching me like that is sexual harassment." He said, "Look, I might have come at you wrong." " Might have? Really? Your disgusting ass tries to get a blow job for two hundred and you grabbed my breast and you might have come at me wrong?" "By accident. I touched the tits by accident." "What is your issue? I'm not a whore. Go screw your goddamn mother, asshole." I reached into my pocket and looked at what he had crammed inside. It could have been scraps of paper with less value than shinplaster, as worthless as a Canadian twenty-five-cent bill. But it was American money; hundred-dollar bills. I counted them quickly. Twenty one-hundred-dollar bills. My hands and voice shook. "What the hell are you expecting for this much money?" "Merry Christmas." "You're serious?" "And I hope you have a happier New Year than I'm going to have." This was a setup. I knew this was a setup, but I didn't know what kind of setup this was. I said, "Damn. I knew it. You're an undercover cop." He reached into his pocket, and I waited for him to flash his badge and ask me to turn around so he could put me under arrest. But he took out a gray business card and handed it to me. He loosened his tie, took the box, said, "Sure this isn't a MacBook Pro?" "Disgusting. You're disgusting. You should drop to your knees and apologize." "For what? Looks like you came out on the winning end of this con game." "You insulted me. Suck your pathetic dick for two hundred? I don't care how much money you give me--that was the most insulting thing you can say to a woman, besides calling her a cunt." He barked, "You insulted me first." I barked back at him, "How did I insult you?" "I saw you across the street. You watched me. You picked me to be your target." "You saw me?" "You pulled up into the gas station, eyes on me. Twenty other people here buying gas, and you looked at my car, jumped out of your pickup, came right to me, hurried to get to me before I left, came to me smiling like an innocent little girl, all fake, trying to be a sweet, sweet, sweet grifter. You picked me. So give me a goddamn break. You tried to con me. You insulted me first. Act like a con, and then expect to be treated like what, a lady? Act like a con and get treated with the respect you deserve." I snapped, "Take your money back." "The box is mine. I'll go home, give this to my unworthy wife as a Christmas present. She loves presents more than anything in the world. I'll watch her open it and see what it does for our marriage." "You're going to give it to your wife?" "Perfect timing. She surprised me with one of my Christmas presents this morning. We usually do that twelve-days-of-Christmas thing, but we're skipping it this year. Got mine early. So this will be one of hers. Was going to try to get to our cabin in Big Bear and go skiing--lots of snow coming in. Was going to be me, her, her second dad, and his new girlfriend, but I think this will be a better present." "You're joking. You are not giving that to your wife." "Unopened. Might slap a pretty little bow on it and buy her a nice Christmas card to boot." "No. Don't. Look." "My wife loves presents more than anything in the world." "It's two kitchen tiles with a printout of a computer on both sides." "You should've used one tile. Then the weight would've been about right. Don't quit your day job." "Give it back." I stood there with his money in my hand, angry, now all but begging him to give me rocks in a box for a smooth two grand. Wasn't a thrill; there was no win if he knew it was a con. Honestly, I would've taken three hundred for the box, but he looked wealthy, so I had played hardball and doubled my price the way stores at The Grove overcharge for the same rags that will sell at T.J.Maxx in six months. He asked, "Which one of these guys pumping gas here is your accomplice?" "I'm alone. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision." "That's not smart." "I'm tougher than I look." "A lot of dead women have said that." "I'm more vigilant and tougher than a lot of dead women." "How much is your rent?" "Not as much as your car note." "How much?" After a few stubborn breaths, I said, "Eight twenty-five a month." "How far behind?" "Two months." "That's rough. You're about to be evicted." I said, "Was about to be. I just need to get my second wind, time to think, that's all." "Then you'll be able to pay your rent." "Don't do this." "Do what?" "Go from being the King of the Assholes to being . . . being all nice." The rain fell a little harder. Cold, damp wind blew the disgusting flavor of the city in my face, sent drops of rain into my open mouth. Tonight this area tasted like tongue-kissing a girl with bad breath while she had mushrooms, eggplant, and semen in her mouth. Even in the rain the streets smelled like dogs humping, a pack of lions, butt crack, and a cheap dentist's office in the far reaches of Pacoima. He took a breath. "Ever heard of a place out in the Valley called Houghmagandy?" "Afraid not. I don't party out that way anymore. Don't really party at all." "Ever heard of a place called Decadence?" I said, "Why do you keep looking at me like something is wrong with me?" "Does that piercing hurt your tongue?" "Stop looking at my mouth. Eye contact or look at the ground--those are your options." "Part of me just wishes that I actually had a chance to have a conversation with you." "Why would a guy like you want to talk to a girl like me on a night like this?" "To vent. To see if I'm wrong." "You probably are, but I'm sure you can afford to hire a professional to sort that out." "Would rather talk to you, a regular person, to get a woman's perspective." "To talk down on your wife with the same mouth you eat her hairy pussy with?" "Just to talk and figure out things. For a moment, part of me wanted to talk." "The part of you that needs a two-hundred-dollar thrill from a woman on her knees." "Look, if I wanted to get sucked off, I'd stay in the 714, not come up to this filthy county. And she would be much prettier than you. Okay, I shouldn't have said that. Despite you coming at me like you thought I was an idiot, I should not have offered you cash for fellatio. At least not that much cash. Fifty is the going rate for a piece of ass; less if I went to Santa Ana and picked up a Vietnamese whore." "Go to hell." More sirens. This parade of police more severe, a carnival of bad news approaching. The man from Orange County reacted with heavy breathing, more intense than before, like he had a fear of sirens. Only he was tense, like he was witnessing a balloon being blown up, watching it get overblown, and waiting for it to explode. His eyes followed the police cars until they disappeared. My eyes did the same. The man from Orange County didn't move. His cell phone rang, and that broke his trance, but he didn't answer, only hurried away from me. He took his package and opened his vehicle, dropped the box inside, then hopped in his car without looking back. His car started, the lights came on, and then the engine revved and he pulled away, into the mess of vehicles on Carson Boulevard, but ended up twenty feet away. He was stuck. His lips moved rapidly, expressed bottomless anger as he talked. 6:42 P.M. L.A. was a beautiful woman with a complex soul, a woman who had good intentions but had learned to be loyal only to herself, because she was all she had. L.A. was a bitch, and I related to her. I really did. I sat in the battered white truck for a moment, in shock, two thousand dollars in my right hand. Christmas songs came from every car that pulled in at the gas station. Sensory overload. This whole season was sensory overload, and was hitting me harder than it had last year. I just wanted to get to the twenty-sixth, wanted to get to the other side of Christmas and Christmas trees and joy and excited children. I didn't want to be around people, and at the same time I didn't want to be alone. The white truck at my disposal, I started its engine with a screwdriver. The truck's radio played an all-news station. Same news I had heard ten times since I had been in the streets this afternoon. A thirtysomething woman in Torrance had stabbed her three children. The oldest of the brood was only three years old. I spaced out. The news went on, said that near Malibu an older hotshot businessman--a prominent gentleman in his fifties--had been found beaten. It was the time of year for robberies, a Christmas tree being a sign of brand-new goods in the home, and they thought the guy had walked in on someone trying to burgle his home. Teenagers in the Dominguez Hills area had been arrested as masterminds of a sex-trafficking and prostitution ring; they had used social media to bait Asian girls. There were more horrid stories like that, the rest mostly shootings, because people in California love their guns as much as they love their cars. I sat staring at the rain, stuck on the news about the mother who'd broken down and killed her kids. Three babies had been slaughtered. All I could wonder was what could make a mother harm her children like that, when being a mother was hard, but the best thing in the world. I turned the radio off. Didn't care about that bad news because it wasn't my bad news. Moments later I ditched the stolen truck--dumped it about a block away, closer to the casino. I had stolen it from the grounds of the casino, so I wanted to go a few more blocks, but the traffic had a mental disorder, and I didn't want to be in a hot ride too much longer. That jerk from Orange County could've been on his phone calling the local police, could've been giving them all my info. I still wouldn't put it past him to claim he had been robbed. Two thousand dollars would make me a felon, and being a felon would send my life on a trajectory I couldn't imagine, so I remained on edge. California lawmen are as nice as rattlesnakes, only there is antivenom for rattlesnakes. There are still a few loons with badges putting people into permanent sleep in both L.A. and Orange County. Like I'd been taught by Vernon when I was growing up, I wiped away my fingerprints, then hurried back west. Accident up ahead. Two cars. One on fire. Plenty of looky-loos. I didn't gaze at the accident as I walked by. Didn't want to see a dead body. Didn't want to see anyone on fire, never again. I held my breath, averted my eyes, moved as fast as I could. Hot and sweaty, heart beating like a beast demanding to be freed, I caught my breath at the Denny's parking lot. That was where I had left my true ride, my first car note, my candy-white convertible Beetle. The filthy car was four years old. I bought it when it was a year old from a certified pre-owned VW dealer. That car had been an important purchase, the only serious purchase I'd ever made in my life; probably more important today because it was a safe car. And it was a convertible. It made me a true L.A. girl. My entry into the world of ragtops. Only had forty thousand miles on the odometer. I had been approved for my own loan. Didn't need a cosigner. Was independent. We loved that car. I still did. I still loved the car. More sirens came closer, then the sound faded. More flashing lights did the same. I went to my VW, removed my ratchet wig, let my long, healthy dreadlocks hang, ran my hand over my damp hair and evened it out. My mane had been washed and braided until yesterday, so now my locks were über curly. I called them my Ledisi locks, like the badass singer. I fixed my hair, then tossed my damp jean jacket into the backseat; it landed in the child seat, then tumbled to the floor, where it mixed with about two dozen Barbie dolls, broken Happy Meal toys, stale french fries, and only God knows how many types of crumbs. I looked at my phone. No call, no text, no Facebook, no tweet, no Instagram, nothing from my boyfriend. Anxiety, irritation, and disappointment combined and changed into anger, mumbles, sighs, curses, and head shakes. I was about to text him again. Was tired of chasing him, like cat chasing dog. Had texted him so much I felt like I was a stalker. Was going to ask him to meet me at Roscoe's Chicken &Waffles, tell him the Obama Special and Arnold Palmer would be my treat tonight. He'd complain about the rain. He wouldn't want to meet me in the rain. But I was antsy. Couldn't stand this weather, couldn't bear the combination of dreariness and yuletide solitude, so as the world shopped to buy Jesus nothing for his birthday, I texted my boyfriend and told him that chicken and waffles would be my treat. I told him that I wouldn't talk his ear off tonight about Natalie Rose, told him I was in a good mood and really needed to see him this evening, then added a few X s and O s. I waited two minutes. No response. That was my third message since eight this morning. Yesterday was no more. Today was what it was. Tomorrow could only be better. I pulled the money out, looked at the twenty hundred-dollar bills, counted them twice. I had money. I could pay my friggin' rent. I could by a tank of gas for my goddamn car. Could get my hair done by Sheba. Could buy two-ply. Could splurge at Whole Foods before I settled my big bills. I wanted to live and eat like I used to live and eat for a week. Needed to let food be my medicine and let my medicine be healthy food. No. I wanted Whole Foods, wanted that status, but Whole Foods took up whole paychecks and was too expensive for a chick like me. I'd use my Whole Foods bags and go to the Food Barn and buy survival food at reasonable prices, let my malicious neighbors see me coming back home with three Whole Foods bags filled to the top. If I played it smart, I'd survive another month. The rain. The wintry chill. The desire to not be alone until the sun came up. But sometimes it was better to be alone. Nobody could hurt you. My boyfriend. I broke down and called him. No answer. Didn't leave a message. I took out the card from the guy at the gas station, ignored his name but looked at his number. I called him. No idea why. But I looked at the digits, at that area code from a faraway land, and I dialed his area code, exchange, and number, and listened to it ring once before he answered. "Good evening. How may I help?" I said, "It's me." "Who is 'me'? This call came up blocked." "Guess I'm lucky you answered." "Who is this?" "The girl you just met at the gas station." "The grifter who tried to con me, threatened me, and cursed me out." "The one and only woman who went off on a well-dressed insult in a suit." "What can I do for you?" "Wanted to say thanks." "Still think I'm disgusting?" "Men are worthless, so that hasn't changed." "We may be, but you can't live without us." "You love your wife?" "Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell. Joan Crawford said that. And that is where I am now, in a house that is burning down." "I don't care for that quote." "It's true. For me, it's true." "How did you mess up?" "What do you mean?" "There are two hundred and ninety-two ways to make change for a dollar using pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars. There are twice as many ways to piss a woman off." "Then there must be three times as many ways to make a man walk away from a woman." "You have an answer for everything." "Actually, no. I have more questions than answers. I'm good in my office. I'm great at work. My problem has always been in the social arena. I really don't know much about the heart of a woman." "Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. And wish you a Merry Christmas." "Do you really work at Best Buy?" "No. And don't give that present to your wife. That's why I called. That's really bugging me." "Didn't think you worked at Best Buy. The outfit really doesn't fit you." "Stole it. Some Mexican guy left it in the laundry room where I live." "Well, what you're doing now, give it up. You're too pretty for jail." "I'm too pretty to catch a city bus, but I do take that risk from time to time." He asked, "Since you're not Egyptian, where are you from?" "I grew up on a farm in Kansas, but before that, after my mom and dad were killed in a dark alley following a night at the theater, I was put inside a spaceship and sent to this planet, where I was bitten by a radioactive spider, so now when I get mad I turn green and get as big as the Jolly Green Giant." "Yeah. Right. Just when I felt bad and wished I had met you at Starbucks." "Do you really wish you had met me at Starbucks?" "Would've been nice to have met you and maybe chatted over coffee." "Was nice of you to say that, if you meant it." "I meant it." "If not, still nice of you to tell that lie. It's the time of year when people lie a lot, so it's cool." "A chance meeting at Starbucks could've been a much better first impression for both of us." "That's another part of the reason I called you." "What do you mean?" "I called you because . . . this version of me . . . tonight . . . this is not me at my best." "Not me at my best, either. Today is not the day you'd want to be my friend." "Life has been hard on me. The last couple of years, maybe three, have been trying." "Sorry to hear that." "In public, around people, you at your best, me at my best, would you have approached me?" "No. But I would've spoken, been friendly and said a thing or two, nothing remarkable, then would've sat down and enjoyed looking at you, admired you until someone better-looking walked in." I said, "I probably wouldn't have noticed you." "Probably not." "Where are you right now?" "On the 605. Was trying to get to the 91. Only made it to the next exit." "There is a Denny's off the 605, city of Lakewood side, at the Carson exit." "What's up?" "Want to eat, but don't want to sit in a restaurant and eat alone." "Is that an invitation?" "I get migraines real bad if I don't eat, and I feel silly sitting in public places by myself." "Do you want company? Is that why you called?" "What's the real deal with your wife?" "What do you mean?" "Is it that you're not getting any? You're rich and think you're entitled to any poor chick on the side of the road? You want to know if you've still got it? You couldn't control yourself? Or is it that your wife disgusts you because she gained weight and can't get her chi together? Or you just don't love her anymore?" "That sounded personal. Was that your issue with whoever you were seeing?" "No reverse psychology. Answer me. How did you get to your current state of misery?" "I'll sum it up. She pushed for commitment. She got what she wanted. She lost interest in sex. I began to wonder if she was interested in someone else a long time ago, wondered if she was either physically or emotionally cheating. The marriage has basically been vacillating for the past few months." "Is your little Ann Coulter attracted to someone else?" "I married a good girl. I married a churchgoing woman. I married the perfect résumé." "What did you do to make the marriage get that way?" "Always the man's fault. Men are blind to the things that women can do." "Always is the man's fault. Cause and effect. So, entertain me with your tale of woe." "You want me to sit in traffic and have this type of profound conversation?" "If you feel like coming back this way, to casino town, it's an invitation to talk face-to-face." "You're not planning on robbing me, are you?" "I've already robbed you." "I was robbed long before I met you." "You haven't been robbed until you're robbed by me." "You plan on robbing me again?" "Come back to Denny's and see." 7:27 P.M. As rain flooded the parking lot, I sat in a pleather-covered booth at the Denny's in Lakewood. Two thousand dollars were in my pocket. I still expected the money to be counterfeit. I was wearing a golden Lakers jacket. Had owned it almost five years and it showed. I dug in my purse, took out a worn paperback by Asimov so I'd look like a studious, rather than desperate, chick. And it gave me a reason to keep my head down, mind my own business, and not make eye contact with random guys that could be misconstrued as more than two people in the pointless universe who happen to be looking in opposing directions at the same moment. I had come in alone and a couple of guys had checked me out, had looked at me like they were thirsty and wanted to sip from this Coke bottle. Those guys were with girls. They were disgusting for doing that. There were a dozen booths and tables. I wasn't the only person who was alone, but there were plenty of people rushing to grub. Gear associated with every university or junior college or sports team that had ever been part of Southern California covered the heads and bodies of most, that gear being the tuxedos and suits of the area. The news was on, and I was once again pulled in by the story of the mother who had killed her three babies. I fell into that story, into a trance, wondering what the mother's mental issue was that she would do something so horrible at this time of the year, wondering if that monster called Depression had its hooks so deep in her that she lost it. I was in a zone of numbness until a server passed by, shocking me with the heat from a flaming meal being carried on a tray. The fire felt like it had leapt and taken to my skin. I screamed, threw my book down, jumped up, slapped my arm a dozen times, checked my dreadlocks, looked for the flames, and made sure I wasn't being burned alive. The smell of burnt flesh. Fire ignited a memory that sent a chill down my spine. I stood there, in front of everyone, eyes wide, the news mixing with chatter and clatter from utensils against plates. I wasn't on fire. I picked up my book, pulled my dreadlocks from my face, checked them again. There was no fire. I sat back down. The waitress dropped off her order, then hurried back, apologized for startling me. By then I was back in control, but still off-kilter and a little ashamed. She wore dark makeup and dark lipstick and had dark tattoos, body piercings, and a rebellious, gothic appearance. She was sexy. I liked her look a lot. I said, "No problem. I think I startled you as much as you frightened me." She ran her hand over her blond-and-red Mohawk, studied my face, and said, "You look familiar. Wanted to say that when you came in. Now that you've put on makeup and stuff, you really look familiar. I know that face from somewhere. Swear I do." I fake-grinned a bit. I had gone to the ladies' room and transformed from hard grifter to very feminine. MAC Strobe cream. Nivea eye primer. Garnier BB cream. Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place concealer. Chanel Vitalumière Aqua. Had used powder to set the concealer. MAC bronzing powder. Lumene brow gel. Cranberry lip liner. Snowberry lipstick. Mary Kay berry fresh lip gloss. Added length to my lashes with Clinique extreme. The cosmetics I had had been bought on Crenshaw Boulevard after somehow falling off the back of a Macy's truck. Being broke and looking broke are two different things. I had styled my dreadlocks, made them look a little wavy, loose, and fancy. I looked like a hipster, a professional hipster who lived on the West Side or in Culver City. I did it to be ready to go see my chicken-and-waffles-loving sex partner. Plus, if the man from Orange County returned, I didn't want him to see me as feral, as savage. I told the waitress, "Sweetheart, I've had more than a few jobs. Way more than a few." "Were you in a film?" "Did student films at UCLA, USC, and all the community colleges. Few small nonunion movies. Had parts in a few indie projects. Did a commercial for the Gap about four years ago. Nothing major." "Something is different about you, and it's not the hair. You gained a little weight?" "I was a size zero back then. Was either a vegan or juicing and living in 24 Hour Fitness." "I knew you were an actress. I mean, everyone around here is, but you carry yourself like one." "Based on my W-2, not really. I'm a substitute teacher." "At least you have a job. All the other actors I know work here or at Starbucks." "Sweetheart, I've worked every restaurant from the Valley down to Crenshaw Boulevard." She laughed. "You should be a comedian, I love the way you say things." "I was a comic. I gave doing stand-up a shot. Went at it hard for three years. Made it to being a middle act at some spots, meaning I was on stage for thirty minutes. Hard business for a woman." "You're a natural. I bet you had everybody applauding your jokes and stuff." "Behind the scenes ain't fun. Promoters fail to pay. Men try to screw you, and women are jealous if you get two laughs more than them. Did lots of stage time in dive bars that run blenders over your setup and punch line. Some nights it would have been easier to teach a dog to meow and a cat to bark." "You are too funny." "I have my moments. I was a huge fan of Leonard DuBois. Modeled my career after his, but times have changed. Anyway, haven't been on stage or inside a comedy club in over two years." "Wait a minute." "What?" "Was your hair long and blond back then?" "Yeah. It was. That was back in my Brazilian hair days." With a quizzical look on her face, she said, "Is your name Jackie?" "Yeah. Wow. You know my name?" "I saw you do comedy before. Oh my God." "And you remember my weave and my name?" "Because my name is Jackie, too. We have the same initials--that's why I remember your name." "We have the same initials? What's your name?" "I'm Jackie Faye Stevens. And your name . . . is it Jackie Francine Summer?" "Close. Jacqueline Francesca Summers. But people call me Jackie, as you know." "You said you worked in the Valley. My God, you're the one with the kid. The little girl that died." I paused, lost the faux happiness in my tone. "Yeah." "Your daughter, Natasha, in the fire up in the Valley or something." "Natalie Rose. Her name is . . . was . . . Natalie Rose. I didn't think anyone noticed." "Lord, how did that fire happen? I'm sorry--is it okay to ask you that?" I nodded. "A Christmas tree. A spark from faulty wiring. A drunk father." "That happens a lot." "She was with her father. She was with my husband. Well, we had split. Divorce was in process. We divorced and contributed to the population of disassembled communities and broken families from coast to coast. So I guess that I could say she was with my estranged husband when it happened." "You were supposed to be the next big thing in Hollywood." "In black Hollywood. You can be famous in black Hollywood and no one in the world knows who you are. Anyway, before my daughter died, I was doing so much. Acting, stand-up, theater, auditioning, and still had to have a full-time job to pay the bills. And I was trying to be a good mommy. I was trying to do it all, be successful, and make money to care for my child. I had a . . . breakdown . . . when she died. None of that seemed important anymore. Nothing did, actually. Everything seemed so false." "You were good, talented, and you're more beautiful than anyone on television. You should've been on one those shows right now. Right now they love smart, strong black women on television." "Thanks. Gabrielle Union took my spot for one television show." "That wicked bitch." "Then Lola Mack beat me out for a big part in a sci-fi film." "Hollywood really should be after you." "Hollywood, if they want me . . . I'm not hard to find. It's a different world for a black woman in Hollywood. Black and Hollywood have always been oil and water. The odds are never in our favor." "That's too bad. How are things going?" I shrugged, smiled, tried to not have a saturnine expression, said, "One day at a time." "Every week, the same bullcrap all over. It's so damn hard to make it in America." "So damn hard." "Maybe you'll meet another nice guy and start over." "I'm done with love, and not for the lack of trying. I've kicked the habit, and now I am free. Love ain't nothing but another progressive disease." "What does that mean?" "Progressive disease? That's like a physical illness whose development in most cases is the worsening, growth, or spread of the disease. Every day you're more dependent than the day before." "Like an addiction?" "Like alcohol. Like crack. Like cocaine. When we buy love we purchase our own pain. When you fall in love, you're depending on the person on the other side of the table to feed that addiction." "That's weird." "I'm weird." "I like you. Stay weird." "You do the same." "Again, sorry about what happened to your little girl." "Thanks, Jackie. Means a lot to hear you say that. Especially this time of the year." "You're on Facebook?" "My name on Facebook is Natalie's Mom." "When I get to my phone, will look you up and send a friend request." "I'll look for it." "I'm getting off work. Have to do some Christmas shopping for my boys. I tell you--and I'm being honest--if I lost my boys, I'd buy some rope, or step out in front of a truck, or lie down on a train track." She hurried away. Book lowered, I looked across the room, saw a young man with his little girl. I almost started crying. Almost grabbed my things and left the joint. But the little girl smiled at me, made playful faces. I focused on her. I peeped through my fingers, made a dozen silly faces. She laughed. I made my lips move like I was singing the alphabet up to the el-em-en-o-pee part, then changed and lip-sang to her the Strawberry Shortcake song. She laughed a little more before she went back to her father. He played with her. I wished that she had come to me, to sit with me, to play with me. I looked inside my bag, moved things aside, and saw what I was looking for--a bag of balloons in a rainbow of colors. Had been in my bag for more than two years. I was going to give the bag to the little girl, was going to lighten my load, but she was focused on her daddy now. I didn't intrude. Time moved slowly, and I watched them for a moment. Watched with mild envy. My father never played with me, not like I saw other dedicated fathers playing with their children. He never taught me to ride a bike. I had to learn on my own. I had to fall on my own. Get up on my own. Even when I lived with him, his second wife became the one in charge of my existence, and when he was around it was more like living with the friend of an uncle, and that friend of an uncle never gave me hugs and kisses. I was an inconvenience. Wasn't pretty enough for him. That was my foundation. This rose grew from that rock in a world of backhanded compliments. Backhanded compliments are as valuable and useful as a bag of three-dollar bills. I saw Jackie moving around behind the counter. We made eye contact, smiled. She put on her coat and hurried out the front door, to her family, to her boys. I ran my hands over my dreadlocks, remembered when my hair used to be pressed, or permed. Conformity. Had to rub my eyes. I rubbed the tattooed flowers on my shoulder, and then I sighed. I was starting to think the arrogant, affluent guy wasn't coming back to my world. I couldn't call him again, because after I had called the number on the business card, without reading the rest of his info, I had thrown it away, then had deleted his number from my phone. I did it in case later on I hooked up with my boyfriend and, for whatever reason, he decided to creep my history while I was sleeping and went through my phone, then woke me up wanting to know whom I had been calling. The man from Orange County had said that my number had come up blocked, which meant if he had changed his mind there was no way he could call me, either. He didn't have my name, didn't have my number--he only had the box of tiles I had sold him. I was about to get up and leave when xenon lights exited the 605 at Carson, turned right, and pulled into the parking lot. Those headlights announced the arrival of the luxury car. I saw him when he pulled up and found a place to park right out front. Lucky bastard wouldn't have to walk far in the weather. Seemed like the rich got all the perks. I sat back down. Wished I hadn't called. I put my Asimov away, saw a wealth of red and blue flashing lights, heard more sirens shrieking this way, and felt high-strung, like a reluctant criminal. Imagined him arriving with the police. Imagined him bringing them inside and pointing me out as the con, the thief. This was a random dude, the man I had tried to run a con on. This was the man who had offered me two hundred dollars to perform fellatio. The clock on the wall announced that it was 7:35. 7:36 P.M. The man from Orange County came in from the rain, brushed water from the shoulders of his gray suit coat, wiped the soles of his deep-brown shoes on the dirty mat. Sartorial elegance. He handled himself with a self-assurance that made him stand out as he stood near the cash register like he was a damp bawcock, a handsome rooster. A couple in the first booth was loud now, the woman louder than the man. She wasn't happy about something, and he was unhappy that she was unhappy while he tried to eat his dinner. The man from Orange County looked down at them, shook his head, then took a step and scanned the room. The wail of sirens faded, as did the illumination of their red and blue lights. I took a breath, sighed, regretted that I had called him, then put on the golden no-nonsense Jackie face, nodded, and waved for him to come over. He still didn't realize that I was the same girl. I had changed my clothing; rather than an oversize Best Buy uniform, I had on glasses, purple Timberland Nellie Chukka Doubles, and black jeggings under a fitted, sleeveless, flowered dress, so he could see my true shape as well as my eclectic style, which gave the middle finger to the coldness of winter. I stood up for a moment. I waved at him again. His eyes locked on me, and he saw that I had dreadlocks, black, a few light brown and Rihanna red, all down and loose; most cascaded down my back. He did a double take, still wasn't sure. I stuck my tongue out, showed my tongue ring. He nodded, then came from the counter area past three booths and just as many tables. I stood. We shook hands, like it was a business meeting, then he stared at me. He still wasn't sure it was me. He evaluated my dreadlocks, my face. Was taken aback. I felt like I was at an audition. I became a new kind of uneasy, felt my heart in my mouth, experienced a heightened state of anxiety, experienced fear, and to hide that sensation I created a smile. I sat down and said, "You came back. I'm surprised." He said, "At least three games are on, and they're playing the local news in here." "I would think they'd be playing a basketball or football game." "So you don't think they will change the channel?" "Not with all these people so into the news." He unbuttoned his suit coat, eased into the opposite side of the booth, and said, "You look different." I stuck my tongue out again. He saw the piercing. He nodded. "Still wouldn't have recognized the new face." I said, "Going to see my boyfriend in a little while. Had to change and put my face on." "Pink fingernails are the only things that look the same." "Oh, yeah. My favorite color. I always wear a splash of pink." "Didn't see your white truck in the parking lot." "Wasn't my white truck. I borrowed it for a while." "A night of crimes and cons." "Walk into any store. Shoplifters galore. Seems to be the season made for breaking the law." He said, "Rocks in a box." "You said that someone got to you before I did." "Ten years ago. I was in Newport Beach and a white surfer guy approached me at a strip mall and offered me a bargain on a brand-new VCR, microwave oven, and TV. Said he worked for a trucking firm. He showed me what looked like good merchandise, all of it still packaged in the original boxes." "All of these boxes were sealed in plastic, with a picture of the item on the box." "Just like yours. Of course he was in a hurry, just like you were, and we made the transaction fast, the same way you wanted to make your exchange. The déjà vu inspired some of my anger." "Which did you buy from the white surfer guy? And saying white and surfer really sounds redundant, by the way." "Everything. I bought everything. VCR, microwave, and a TV." "Damn. You are a low-level con man's dream date." He nodded. "It was close to Christmas, so I went home and wrapped everything up without opening the boxes. I took it to my girlfriend's place, put it under her Christmas tree." "Oh, no." "She opened the boxes on Christmas morning, in front of her family, and found a lot of rocks." "What did she say?" "She called me that morning screaming, and I hurried to her place. And as Mariah Carey sang a Christmas song, I stood between my girlfriend at the time and her parents and relatives, looking down at a mountain of dirty rocks. They had made a pyramid. I thought they were joking with me, but the way she was crying, telling me I had ruined her Christmas, all I could do was tell her what had happened. When I told her and her family what I had done, how I had been conned, she told me I was stupid and cheap. That from a woman who had a bootleg of every movie made since Gone with the Wind ." "What you lost in money was worth it. You learned a lot about her that day." "Learned she was self-centered and immature and had no empathy. That's funny to you?" "Hell, yeah. Nothing like a breakup on Christmas morning. Crying over her presents like it was her birthday? She forgot who died for her sins. Hypocrites. You and your rocks in a box. Her with all those bootleg movies. Stockpiling bootleg movies? You dated a felon. And you're judging me? Both of you were hypocrites. Honest, law-abiding citizens will put their morals on hold to get a good deal." "You've done it before." "Few years ago, I did a little thing in Santa Barbara and sold an iPad for two hundred. Did a fifteen-hundred-dollar notebook for a couple hundred. Had both in shrink-wrap, so they looked legit." "People are pretty stupid. If I hadn't been taken before, you would've had me tonight." "People don't care where it comes from. They're as bad as the ones who steal it. That's how Bernie Madoff scored billions, and that's how every other pyramid scammer got his cash. From the honest, yet greedy. From hypocrites. People know it's too good to be true, but fall for it anyway." Feeling warm, I took my Lakers jacket off. The sleeveless dress allowed him to see that my left arm had tats of roses from my shoulder to just below my elbow. He nodded, took a breath. "You've turned your body into a canvas." Again uncomfortable, I asked, "You have tats?" "Nah. My family thinks tats are for sailors, convicts, and the lower class." "Your family--are they Christian?" "They are. And to prove it, they go to church every Sunday, except Easter." "Funny how the most agreeable people you meet will have body art, will be covered in tattoos, and the most judgmental assholes in the world are the first to run to church on Sunday." "Except Easter." "Except the day the ones who don't go to church buy new shoes and suits and dresses and go like they're going to a prom featuring Jesus. Yeah, that really changes my perception of them." "Guess I'll change the subject." "Would hate to have to call your wife and tell her you were crucified in Denny's." He looked at my midsection. "Your waistline." "It's small. Makes it impossible to buy jeans or slacks that fit me properly." "Gives you incredible definition." "Raise the level of the conversation, or go back to Orange County." "You upgraded yourself. Mind if I get over looking at you? Beauty can be shocking." Excerpted from One Night by Eric Jerome Dickey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.